A Good First Impression
What does the first level do to get you excited for the adventure ahead?
First impressions are very important to any game. They can win over a player or make someone drop the game forever. So how do I go about creating the first few levels? For some, these may be the only levels anyone ever plays if they aren’t impressed. To create a good first play session, a little setup is required. Today, I’m going to show you how I went about creating the game’s first level and how I believe it serves their purpose.
Let’s begin with the setup. Every time you boot the game, a short cutscene plays. Of course, you have the option to skip this cutscene if you so choose, but I would encourage players to at least sit through it once. Why? This opening gives a lot of context as to why you, the player, are doing what you are doing. In War Ender’s case, it’s a very simple premise. It’s a revenge story. It’s about an angry guy in a coat who wishes to avenge his dead friends. As soon as he learns who committed the crime, he goes after them.
Thus ends the story setup, but we’re not quite finished. There’s also the tutorial, which introduces the players to the game’s mechanics. Thankfully, because of the player character’s limited range of abilities, this is the only tutorial they have to go through. After a few minutes they are introduced to all the player character’s abilities and examples of where to use them. Now with all this in mind, they can jump into the action that awaits within The City.
And yet, just before the game begins proper, they get one more little story tidbit. Once again, they can skip this, but I think it helps put a player in the right mindset for the first level. Something is going wrong, and you’re the one who’s going to fix it. Now the game begins. But at first, there aren’t many enemies. In fact, there’s no enemies at all at first. I want to allow the player a little time to adjust to the physics of the world before they start getting into firefights.
Once that’s done, enemies appear. But they’re pretty basic, All they do is walk back and forth endlessly until you shoot it or you run into it. Almost immediately after that, another enemy type appears. What does he do? He fires a single bullet every couple of seconds. Just in case you took some early hits (and first timers most likely will take damage), there’s a health box that restores three of your health points, which will most likely get you to the first checkpoint.
At that point, I’ve seen players do one of two things. They might walk right into it, like any other checkpoint. Here they see that their health gets fully restored and they now come back here if they die in the next section. However, I’ve seen some players instinctively shoot the checkpoint. Then of course it shatters and they realize what they’ve done. It’s actually kind of funny to watch. But it also teaches an important lesson: you can destroy the checkpoints. Later on they may notice that clearing a level and destroying these checkpoints in the process leads them to additional content such as more lore for the Lore Book and entire bonus levels.
The level continues. This is now where concepts presented in the tutorial come back to test the player. In fact, the immediate structure of this section is reminiscent of the early part of the tutorial, is it not? There’s a few enemies to shoot, straight in a line, followed by a wall. They need to run and jump to progress. Next, another section from the tutorial has made its way into level 1. Shoot floating is given a proper case scenario, once involving enemies and another involving a large gap. You must shoot-float in order to make it past the gap. As for the enemies, it is recommended that you shoot-float but it is not required.
Not long after this, another checkpoint arrives. Beyond this checkpoint, the geometry begins to get a little more complicated and a whole new enemy type arrives. The stationary turret enters the fray, and it takes five shots to destroy. It fires the same bullet as the basic shooter enemy from before, but at a much faster rate. Learn this enemy and you’ve effectively learned the entire level. At this point, the remainder of Level 1-1 exists to test your knowledge of the game so far.
Is there anything I would have done different with the first level? There is one item: I wish I had incorporated something involving the dodge mechanic. Of course the player is shown this ability in the tutorial and can use it anytime, but there’s no scenario where they are forced to use it. At the time, I think I wanted to avoid overloading the player with too many things to think about. I wanted to keep the first level to the bare essential: movement, shooting, jumping, and shoot-floating. Those four things form the bulk of War Ender, and I wanted to make sure players understood this. But I probably could have found a way to remind players of dodging.
Beyond that, I think the game’s first level does its job wonderfully. Of course, I might be a little biased. But I do believe it eases players into the world before them, showing bits of the game at a time before it all comes together near the end in a simple test of knowledge. Get past the first level, and you get to the second. In this second level, the level structure changes and there’s more new enemy types to discover. But we’ll have to dissect that level another day. As mentioned in a previous dev blog, I’m going to spend a lot of time going over elements of War Ender I’ve not touched on before, and that includes many of the first levels. I’d also like to take a deep dive into the different bosses and look at how they came to be. But this is all in due time. And besides that, some days I’ll have some important info about my next project.
Speaking of future projects, I suppose I can give you a little update on those. They are coming along nicely for the moment. The smaller project is getting close to having 50% of its basic content coded in. I think it will soon be time to start properly getting some art and music together for the game. Being a game based around narrative choices, it will also soon be time to work on how those choices affect your story. There’s one area that I know can affect the story in a major way, but there’s lots of potential for smaller decisions to change the game in small ways. We’re talking as small as a sentence changing based on something you said a few minutes ago.
Also, with it being 2019 by the time this goes up, I could maybe give you an idea of when you might start to see more info about these projects. The aforementioned small project is intended to be released this year. Preferably sooner rather than later, but at the same time you never want to rush something. Ideally, the game would release in Spring. Though I don’t know if you should actually count on that. The bigger game is still a long ways away, but I’m thinking about putting some early prototype images together for your viewing pleasure. I’d do the same with the small project, but it didn’t exactly stay in the prototype stage for long and there’s not much to show. And I’d personally rather not show it off too early, given the scope of the game. Look forward to a great 2019! I know I will.
Until next time!