Revamped Bonus Levels
If you're gonna be rewarded with a bonus level, it should be pretty neat.
A couple weeks ago I received an email from someone who downloaded the demo and gave War Ender a whirl. Now, for this blog I'll just leave him as anonymous as I'm unsure how he would feel about using his actual name here. This nice fellow and I had a nice email conversation about War Ender, where it is currently, and where it could be improved. There were all sorts of things, from bugs he found to gameplay improvement suggestions. He was even so helpful he included a video of him playing to help me see where he was having issues.
Jump ahead a few emails, he told me he had gone through the game's hard mode (where you destroy checkpoints) and even unlocked the bonus level within the demo. This was quite an opportunity for me, as I have personally seen very few people try the game's hard mode and bonus level and almost no one commenting on it. So I asked him what he thought of the process of unlocking levels as well as the bonus level itself. He told me destroying checkpoints to activate hard mode and begin the bonus level was pretty neat (yay!) but when he unlocked the bonus level, he was underwhelmed. It's a good thing he was honest enough to tell me he wasn't too impressed by them, or else I wouldn't be writing this blog.
As you can see above, I took the time to rework the bonus levels. I spent almost an entire week asking myself "how can the bonus levels be more rewarding and interesting?" I eventually settled on this: make each bonus level something totally unique from the rest of the game. It wasn't easy getting to that decision, in all honesty. It would imply redoing all the bonus levels currently made and completely rethinking how they play. They couldn't just be regular levels without checkpoints.
The bonus levels already offered additional War Ender lore, but not everyone's going to be interested in that. On top of this, the game has no collectibles to speak of. It's a simple game, after all, so it would be a little overambitious for me to try and come up with something like the trophies from Smash Bros. or similar items. I believe making completely unique levels is what will sell the bonus levels to players and will make them want to try the game on hard mode to see what's inside. Now of course, not all bonus levels will simply take place on the streets. Another idea I had for one was placing the player on a moving object that they must stay on for the whole level, dodging enemy attacks as they go along. I could name off all the bonus level ideas, but...well, I can't give away all the game's secrets!
Making these newer bonus levels shouldn't be any more difficult than making regular levels. In fact, if anything, they'll be easier as each bonus level will revolve around a central idea or mechanic rather than having to accommodate every item in the game thus far. In regular levels, as the player progresses and the game gets harder, the levels have to change to allow more interesting levels. With bonus levels I don't have to think about that so much, instead focusing on a very specific idea. In the case of the first bonus level, that idea was taking War Ender's gameplay to the streets. Most of the game takes place inside buildings or on rooftops, but the game's first unlockable bonus level experiments with the game's capabilities and presents a street level.
Could the ideas presented in the bonus levels work in any level? Probably not. There's a very limited number of things I can do with a street level. Making bonus levels is now a double edged sword as the ideas in these levels can't really be explored in the main game, but it's that uniqueness that I hope will drive players to unlock them. Nonetheless, it'll serve as an interesting level design experiment for me personally. While the concepts and ideas tried out in War Ender's bonus levels may not be so applicable to the main game, perhaps in the future the ideas could be applied elsewhere...
Now we come to the most important question; when do you get to try it? I am counting on updating the demo next week. There's no exact date planned at the time of this writing, but you can follow my Twitter for the exact moment that the demo is updated. In addition between now and April there will be some updates made to this website, so be on the lookout for those as well. And maybe by the next dev blog I'll have an important update about War Ender's campaign. Maybe...
Until next time!