How I Make A Level
The ins and outs of making War Ender's levels, revealed!
I don't have much of an update to give you kind folks about War Ender's current status other than that the game's final boss is nearing completion. And while I'd love to ramble on and on about the process of creating it, I must hold myself back from doing that since, as I say frequently, I don't want to spoil my own game. Believe me when I say that's rather difficult to do. So instead, I decided to take this moment to give you a behind the scenes look at War Ender and show off how I go about making the levels in the game. The only areas where the following methods don't apply as much is in the bosses and the bonus levels. Otherwise, the way I make levels can be seen in each level of the game.
For the entirety of War Ender's development, I've split the level making process into three phases. The first phase is level structure, followed by enemy placement, and then decoration. Level structure is easily the most involved of the three phases for one pretty obvious reason; EVERYTHING else in the level revolves around the way a level is built. Simply put, if you don't make specific spaces for enemies like the rocket turrets or even the basic robot enemies that just walk around, the level will most likely fall apart. I've often spent a few hours just making the structure of a level before even beginning to place enemies. And even after placing enemies I often find myself going back and changing sections at least a little.
Throughout building a level (and this applies to all phases) I do building in sections. I divide these sections up by checkpoint placement, meaning that in all regular levels there are four sections. Once I feel a section is complete, I will playtest the level up to that point. During the level structure phase, this means making every jump and utilizing every platform, all in the effort to make sure from a platforming perspective the level plays nice and has a good flow to it. On top of all this, if a level is meant to introduce a new element such as disappearing floors or torches, I will also be making sure the level properly shows you the mechanic in different ways to make sure you understand it. Once I am satisfied with the level structure's current state, I move on to placing enemies throughout the level, again in sections at a time.
Enemy placement is the phase I probably have the most fun with in any given level. If the level structure is a food dish, then the enemies make up the bulk of the spices. Like with new level elements, if a level I'm making introduces any new enemies I make sure to allow the player a moment to get introduced to the new enemy in question. Level 2-1, for example, introduces the Obsessor enemy and thus spends the bulk of the level getting you familiar with that enemy. From there, whether it be in that level or a later one, you get shown different ways that the new enemy can work with the other enemy types to make deadly scenarios for the player. Beyond that, it's simply a matter of setting up the enemies in a way that compliments the level design. Rocket turrets could be placed above you on floating platforms while moving turrets swarm in from the side to attack with basic robots serving as basically meat shields. This is before objects like torches or mines are placed.
Like level structure, enemies are placed per section, and I playtest the level after each section of enemy placement. The final phase, decoration, doesn't have that same amount of playtesting though. Of course, why should it? This phase simply makes the level more visually interesting. There isn't a whole lot to talk about here, as there's no need to balance anything on a mechanical level. Different levels require different decoration, of course. It would be rather strange to see clouds inside a factory, but that's about as involved as it gets.
Bonus levels and boss levels, as mentioned before, don't necessarily follow this development pattern to a tee. Levels like these, as mentioned in last week's dev blog, take a very specific idea in War Ender and essentially runs away with that idea. It'd probably be more appropriate to consider them experimental levels more than anything. The revamped first bonus level, for example, takes the idea of taking the War Ender mechanics to the streets of The City. Another one may have the entire level be made of disappearing floor, demanding the player be in constant movement. These bonus levels follow a more loose design idea.
Boss levels are even more different, as the focus isn't so much on the level design as it is on the boss character itself. Now, this doesn't mean there's some thought put into how the level looks and how it works with the boss in question, but it's lower on the priorities list. In the above photo I've shown off a sketch of the game's first boss and the layout of said boss. During this part of War Ender you're tasked with taking down a defense system simply named the Wall of Lasers. Between platforming moments you're tasked with taking down these cores that allow the system to work. The sketch doesn't show it but there's also regular enemies that try to stop you as well as defense systems within the core sections.
One of the other rules of making bosses is that none of them should feel like another boss. So the second boss has virtually nothing in common with the first boss or any of the others for that matter. Same goes for the third, fourth, and final bosses. At most, they may share a few projectiles and that's about it. But even then, the way a boss may use that projectile might be radically different from another boss's.
Hopefully you enjoyed this little behind the scenes look at War Ender development. It's always fun for me to geek out a bit and show off the technical and design sides of what's happening in the game. Aside from not having a whole lot to talk about this time around as far as progress is concerned, I also thought it would be good to talk level design now since it won't be much longer before I have no more levels to make. Oh yeah, you read that right. Between the last boss and a handful of bonus levels left to make, War Ender's content is so close to complete I can almost taste it. Can't wait to share that moment with you, but until then...