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SubOptimal

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The Project - SubOptimal

  • My Roles: Level Designer, Gameplay Designer

  • Time: 4 weeks

  • Team size: 9

  • Tools: Unity, Perforce

  • Date: 2020

About:

On a mission to investigate a strange meteor that crashed in the ocean, The crew of a submarine wakes up finding their ship on the oceanfloor, and themselves transformed into cute animal hybrids. The player is the only crewmember with functioning hands, and must help repair the sub to get it seaworthy again.

Gameplay:

SubOptimal is a classic Point & Click adventure game with static cameras. The player must find and repair the broken parts of the submarine by solving puzzles & minigames, while finding out just what went wrong.

My Contribution

Level Design

  • Engine room - from concept, blockout, to final level

  • Ballast room - worked on the mapping, inherited the blockout, finalized level

Game Design

  • Engine Room puzzle

  • Ballast Room puzzle

  • Main menu

  • Cinematics

SCRUM Master

  • Held daily stand-up/sit-down meetings

  • Sprint planning

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Level Design

The premise for the level design was that the submarine had crashed face-down, so the entire game world would be flipped 90-degrees. This was a fun challenge as we had to plan the room layouts in a way that made sense from both game perspective and world perspective.

Part I: Concept & Mapping

Research & references

We benefitted greatly from a team of artists that provided references and drew up concept art - this helped us get our heads around visualizing what our end goal was. 

From these early references we figured out the main methods for dealing with the verticality. Since the ship was flipped we decided to add pipes and access shafts to transition between floors.

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Mapping & concept art

I did some quick and dirty sketches to establish a structure for the levels. Then one of the artists would overlay it on a reference image, and finally draw some concept art to help guide the design and list of art assets we needed.

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Ballast room doodle

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Refinement

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Same room drawn much better by artists

Onboarding & progression

I was responsible for developing the first level - the engine room. This would mean onboarding the player by introducing them to the different mechanics.

The pipes would be the sole method for transitioning between floors in the level, to help establish a pattern for the player. I made a habit of having 3 floors for every level i designed.

 

Each level would also have an exit door that served as a gate for the player to check by completing the activity in that room.

Finally I had to establish what the activity location would be, and make it stand out for the player.

The artists then drew concept art for the level, and I started to look at blockouts.

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Artists concept art - Engine Room

Part II: Making the level

We established a 5x5 grid for the static mesh assets to use as a base when building our levels. Then I went to work on the blockout. I cut out a section of the wall for the camera to see through from the outside, the effect was cool and was used for the final version.

One piece of feedback I learned from was not starting the player in the main room, as it would present information overload. Instead I moved the player start into the small computer room at the bottom. This would give the player a small space with limited interactions to help ease them into the game.

The starting room would have a computer that gave the player their first task, which also introduced the dialogue exchanges.

Blockout 

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  • Green placeholders indicate interactible progress points

  • Blue pipes show floor transitions

  • White square represents player scale

Camera locations

I then looked at where the camera would be positioned in the room, and framed the points of interest. The camera switching occured when the player climbed the pipes via trigger boxes.

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As more assets became available the room started to take shape. It was important that the room made sense from the perspective of the ship, so I added details like flipped floorboards and ladders to create maintenance shafts.

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When the room was finished the artists added various assets to add more chaos to the scene & proper lighting. This is the end result.

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Part III: Ballast room

The theme for the ballast room was dealing with water flow. The puzzle for the room was to blow the tanks to make the submarine lighter. 

I originally did the paper design for this room, but the blockout was handled by another designer while I worked on the Engine room. Due to changes in the workflow I returned to finish the level. This meant adding the meshes, implementing the features that handled progression, as well as the puzzle. 

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  • Water pipes

  • NPC

  • Ballast puzzle

  • Missing ballast valve

The task was to blow the ballast, which meant using the panel on the second floor. A missing valve on the device meant the player has to reach the bottom to pick it back up. The water flooding in this level served as a hard gates, making the player interact with the water valves to grant access to the other floors.

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Introducing the puzzle before they could complete it was a decision that was made to give players direction, give them a clue as to what to look for to progress.

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Puzzle Design

Each level needed a puzzle. We made repairing the ship the theme. I became responsible for designing the puzzles for the two levels i worked on.

Part I: Engine trouble

The minigame for the engine room was inside the engine itself. I thought of the idea of crawling around in the dark, navigating like a rat in a mechanical maze.

I drew the maze along a grid, so i could then block it out with modularity. This allowed me to make changes to the maze if need be, without having to redo whole chunks.

The goal was to have a start point, a goal point, then finally an exit point.

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Puzzle_engine_Blockout.png

The twist was that once you had repaired the engine it would start up, and a series of pistons would start actuating, introducing some intensity to the maze. Once the "piston gates" became traversable they could open new paths to reduce backtracking.

I had help from one of our programmers who created the controller for the character, as well as a modular script for the pistons, that I would tune to animate them individually. And an artist to create the final meshes for the maze and pistons.

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While this was a really cool idea in concept, the problem was that the controls had to work differently from the main game, so it probably wasn't the smartest choice to have this be the first activity in the game.

Part II: Valve puzzles

The Ballast puzzle was the last puzzle of the game. The player has to blow the ballast tanks to lighten the submarine, allowing them to escape. To do this the player has to interact with a panel, which is missing a valve.

The design itself was a 3-step combination puzzle, with the task of filling the air pressure to a certain psi. Over/Underloading the tanks would reset the puzzle.

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This puzzle would require a team member from each discipline. I drew up the first design on Miro to communicate the puzzle to the programmer and artist. The puzzle was further streamlined through playtesting and iteration.

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