David Ferriz, Director and Game Designer of the team, on level design of King Lucas.
1.000 rooms is a round number, it sounds nice and that’s why when we launched the Greenlight campaign press wrote headlines such as “The game of the 1.000 levels”. 1.000 rooms is a great number for promotion but in fact it’s not real, King Lucas’ castle is made of more than 1.000 rooms, exactly 1.223.
In previous posts about King Lucas I told you that we discarded procedural design for the levels so, together with my partner Laura Suárez, I was in charge of designing them one by one, drawing each single tile, gauging each jump and placing each danger so that the player finds them in the right place. To design such a large number of rooms may seem a heavy task (and it is) but thanks to that work we can empathize with the user at every single room in order to deliver a good bunch of details, references and thrilling or chilling moments that an algorithm wouldn’t have been able to design procedurally..
Defining the rules
Even though the level design is not procedural, the disposition of them inside the castle grid is done (almost) randomly, so when we designed them we had to define some basic rules so all of them could fit together:
They’re all the same size (40×30 tiles).
They all have 4 doors to enter/exit.
When a player gets inside a room he has to be able to reach at least one of the other doors.
In addition to the rules for connecting rooms, we also had to take into account the speed of the hero as well as the height and length of his jumps, because in every platformer is very important for the player to feel that any tile is there for one reason (Super Mario games are a good example of this). For this we designed several prototypes and tested with different users until we found the ideal speed and jump for an optimal control of the character (3 tiles high and 4 tiles long).
We know the parameters of the character’s movement are far away from the frenetic canons that actual platformers set (that let the player move faster, double and triple jump or even bounce on the walls), but this is completely premeditated because we always had clear that the character moves had to be as close to the 8 bit classics as possible.
Facing the challenge of designing more than 1.000 rooms was complicated, we needed a tool to design them as easily as possible as well as design them based on tiles so the game wouldn’t weight several Gb’s (and get minimum loading times). With these factor in mind we chose Tiled(Tiled Map Editor), a free tool great for 2D level design. Thanks to Tiled we could design rooms at a pace of 5 to 10 rooms for day, what meant designing all the rooms in 5 months working full time.
Although the game was going to be completely 2D, when we experimented with the possibilities of Unity we decided to extrude the platform tiles to get some depth and reach a 2.5D style. This, together with the dynamic lights, gives a more modern touch to the graphics of the game.
The pieces of the puzzle
The elements we used to build the rooms of the castle are absolutely inspired by the 8 bit classics and, as you can imagine, it won’t lack lava pits, spikes, ladders, sliding platforms, water, barrels, secret passages, enemies and NPC’s.
When Laura and me began the design of the rooms, programmers couldn’t work full time to this game (they were working on several advergames for external clients), so most of those elements weren’t designed yet and we couldn’t used them in the rooms. Along the first weeks we created aproximately 100 rooms that only had spikes and ladders, something quite boring but it was great to get used to Tiled and, by the way, create some quieter rooms that add some relax moments to the narrative of the game. The programmers implemented the rest of the game elements little by little and each time they delivered a new one we squeezed it to the maximum and this is why you’ll find some rooms full of slugs, or spiders… probably it will be because we had that new element the week when we designed that room and we were looking forward to use it! That’s all!
The developers finish all the elements when we had about 700 rooms so we still had time to create some hundreds of rooms that included a more balanced number of different elements and this way get a more homogeneus castle.
To design levels is funny and the proof is that many people pays for it in games like Little Big Planet or Mario Maker, but it is also true that when you spend 8 hours a day doing it it’s easy to run out of ideas. It’s because of this why we found inspiration in our daily life and you’ll find in King Lucas’ castle rooms to celebrate moments like the day we designed the 700th. room, affection blinks to my partner Laura, a lot of hidden messages, christmas trees or even the castle of my hometown (Villena), where I usually go to walk with my dog, Willy (that is a character in the game too).
When everything fits
As I’ve said in other posts, the main income source of DevilishGames is the advergames we make through our advertising agency, Spherical Pixel, and indie projects such as King Lucas are an undercurrent task for the team members who are not working in other more inmediate projects.
Usually, our development team is busier than our art directors and, in some way, this fact has conditioned the development of King Lucas because for a long time we have had to design and test rooms alone without being able to visualize the whole castle, the whole game. It may sound incredible but in almost 4 years fo development we only have been able to test a complete beta version 4 or 5 months ago, when we finally could check that all the rooms fit magically as we imagined (even better). No doubt this testing was a tipping point that led us to change our company strategy and invest more resources in King Lucas instead of looking for external clients as we do usually. Whether we are right or wrong only time and Steam players will say!