God of War Analysis: Impact of Level Design

The Impact of Level Design on Gameplay Within God of War 4

God of War released for the PS4 in April of 2018 to massive critical acclaim. It is one of the most sold games on PS4, selling over 3.1 million copies in its first three days (Quizilbash). God of War 4 tried to distance itself from its previous iterations, focusing more on story and exploration than its predecessors. In fact, Rob Davis, the Lead Level Designer for God of War 4, said in a lecture at USC that the game has three central pillars: exploration, narrative, and combat. Despite pulling God of War into a new direction, many elements within the game are made as concessions to the established audience so God of War 4 doesn’t feel too foreign. These concessions and usage of the three pillars are most evident in the level design, since the level design determines the affordances given to the player.

God of War 4 largely succeeded in creating a sense of exploration and providing incentive to explore. Comparing God of War to Horizon: Zero Dawn elucidates this success, as both games strive to create similar experiences in terms of the three pillars. The presentation of the two respective maps as shown below immediately elucidates the differences in the level design between these two games.

H0DandGoW SideBySide

Fig 1: World map from God of War 4 (left) and Horizon: Zero Dawn (Right)

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Tiny Trees

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Tiny Trees is a competitive tree-building game for 2-4 players where you are a nature spirit trying to become the next Demigod of Trees!

Unlike most board games that lie flat on your table, the trees you grow branch out into the third dimension! Whether you want to relax and creatively grow a tree or focus on the deep-rooted strategy to win, you’ll be creating something you can be proud of from the moment you open the box.

Click here to view our presskit!

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Tiny Trees has been showcased at 4 conventions including Minefaire Houston, Minefaire LA, USC Games Expo, and Indiecade 2018. Tiny Trees was selected as a Indiecade 2018 Finalist!

Tiny Trees also successfully funded on Kickstarter in July 2018, raising over $8.5K from a goal of $5.8K!

Tiny Trees was originally selected as a final project for USC’s cornerstone Game Design Class, where I spearheaded a three-person team in the creative direciton and iteration of mechanics and gameplay.

The game is designed to make players feel proud of what they have created in the process of the game, which led to the creation of a competitive but not adversarial game system.

I have proctored this game in over 70 playtests throughout development, with a focus on delivering upon our user experience goals and easy understanding of our rules.

Tiny Trees Website

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Tiny Trees Post Mortem: How Math Helped Design a Game

An integral part of designing a game is following user-centric principles and iterating in order to provide the player with the best possible experience. However, some games have difficult components that are expensive in both money and time in order to iterate upon. This was the case with the game that I am the lead developer on that will be on Kickstarter later this year. Tiny Trees is a competitive Tree-building board game where unlike a large number of board games, it doesn’t lie flat on your table, but instead becomes a physical object in three dimensions. As you grow your tree, you have to try to earn the maximum number of points while also literally balancing your tree so it doesn’t collapse.

Building

The game consists of 42 hexagonal cards that you slot together in order to grow a physical three dimensional tree. It was extremely time consuming to iterate on these components since the prototype needed high quality cardstock and had to be cut out by hand and individually drawn on. As such, the design process had to be predicated more on math and statistics rather than continuous playtesting in order to not waste valuable resources.

We had to determine what arrangement of cuts in the cards we wanted. The very first prototype had cuts on all six sides of the hexagonal cards, but I found myself growing roughly the same tree every time since there was no restrictions on what I could grow. Additionally, if each side of the hexagon had only one slit to reduce complexity, each side would have only two states: cut and not cut, represented below with a six digit binary equivalent.

BinaryDiagram

 

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Going Up

 

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Going Up is a single player puzzle platformer for the PC where you are a slime trying to escape a steampunk factory!

Gravity is all out of sorts in this factory though, so whenever you let go of a surface, you fall to what you concieve is “up”. However, there is no true up. Will you be able to escape the factory or will you get disoriented and never find your way out?

This game was selected to be developed as a final project in the University of Southern California’s Introduction to Game Development class.

I spearheaded a two-person team in the ideation and iteration of core mechanics and level design. The levels are designed to create interesting puzzles through a simple set of mechanics. As part of this level design, I also tested the levels to ensure functionality and that they were challanging the player.

I was responsible for over 80% of the programming within Unity. As part of the project, I designed the stages with usability tutorialization principles to make teaching learning the game’s mechanics fun and engaging while also being educational.

In addition, I created a press kit for this game, which you can see at goingupgame.github.io. The final level of the game has a large jump in difficulty, since it was intended to showcase the complexity possible with the game’s simple set of mechanics.

Overwatch Analysis Essay: Callois Within Overwatch

This research essay was written for a class final.

Callois Within Overwatch

Video games can be defined almost entirely by how their characters move. As Anna Anthropy said, “Verbs characterize the hero… Verbs are the rules that allow the player to interact with the other rules…”. As such, within nearly every game tutorial with the verb of “move” available to the player, that is the the first verb presented. Thus, the movement of characters within games is one of the most important aspects to how a game is received. For instance, Non Player Characters (NPCs) that you have to follow walk slower than the player’s movement speed, as otherwise even a minimal amount of distraction would cause the player to lose the NPC’s location. Getting lost would cause the player to get frustrated and not enjoy the gaming experience, potentially resulting in giving up entirely and ceasing to play. Another example within the game design industry, is “…a term called ‘coyote time’ for when the player walks off a… ledge… but the jump still works,” said by developer Chevy Ray. When a game lacks “coyote time”, the jumps feel difficult and frustrating, often leading to a player giving up on the game. However, movement often contributes to more than just how it’s received. In a game like Overwatch, the mobility of the heroes in such a diverse cast defines how the game is played.

As one of the most influential game theorists, Roger Caillois correctly identified that one of the integral types of play to be Ilinx, more commonly referred to as Vertigo. Players that enjoy this type of play “seek ecstasy by whirling about with movements” (Roger Caillois). This is the core reason that many games have physics that don’t translate accurately to the real world. For instance, nearly all Overwatch characters travel at 5.5 meters per second (SpriteGuy_000). In reality, the average person walks at about 1.25 meters per second, with running occurring at about 2.2 meters per second (Susan Paul). This means that the average Overwatch character moves at the speed of an Olympic Marathon athlete and never gets tired even without breaks (Michelle Hamilton). Despite this unrealistic standard, many characters within Overwatch like Lucio can even go much faster than 5.5 meters per second, easily reaching 11.66 meters per second. However, he is also capable of surpassing this 11.66 meters per second, as seen from the users on the LucioRollouts subreddit reaching maximum velocity with Lucio. This is achieved because when Lucio jumps off of a wall, he gets an additional speed boost that stacks if the jumps are chained together.

Lucios

Fig 1: The Overwatch hero Lucio in various skins

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Firefly

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Firefly is a gamejam game developed for the 2017 MEGA Newbies and Vets game jam, where the theme of the game was Color.

You play as a small firefly lost in a forest trying to light lanterns to light your way home. Change your color and get past obstacles in order to light the lanterns you need!

On the five-person team, I was in charge of Level Design and led the creative process for conceptualizing the core game concept and mechanics.

The level was designed to be intentionally confusing and make players feel as if they were lost in a larger forest. This is achieved through twisting paths that loop back in on themselves in a labyrinthine style, and the double layering of the asset feels as though you are looking through a set of leaves that also further disorients the player.

Firefly is available for download here!

Gear’s Restoration

As a steampunk enthusiast, I was determined to create a game where the mechanics themselves felt steampunk and the game was distinctive, not just a skin applied to another genre of game. My solution to this dilemma is Gear’s Restoration, a puzzle game which is focused around how gears actually interact in the real world. While I currently only have 10 puzzles, the mechanics are deep enough to easily generate a hundred more.

The first version of the game concept was created out of a hotel notepad, and has undergone playtesting and multiple iterations and revisions to get to the paper product where it currently stands. Once I master Unity, I plan to create a digital prototype. If you want to see a sample playtest questionnaire, please click here. These questions came from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop book.

If you wish to see the solutions, please click here.