Hollow

Platforms:
Flash supporting web browsers

Engine:
Sploder (Flash)

Team Size:
Individual

Role:
Level Designer

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Overview:

Hollow is a 2D platformer game originally built for a level design assignment at university where the task was to create a series of levels using Sploder, a browser-based game creator. The game depicts the journey of a child who, after falling down a canyon, enters a mysterious cave in hopes of finding an escape. The game features five uniquely themed levels, and several standout mechanics such as wall jumping, bounce pads, ice surfaces, and keys and locks.

I treated this project as a deep dive on level design for platformer games—and to better understand the discipline, instead of designing levels in a more free-form manner, I decided to follow a structured design method. The individual elements that game challenges were composed of (e.g., spikes, enemies, moving platforms, etc.) would each be individually introduced to players, repeated and expanded on with increasing difficulty, and eventually, combined into challenges with the other game elements. Following this basic method not only helped in effectively filling levels with content, but resulted in sets of cohesive game challenges which logically increased in both difficulty and complexity as the game progressed.


Process - Level 1:

For the first level, the design goal was to teach players how to control their horizontal momentum while jumping, as the Sploder engine has an unfortunate quirk where player movement is significantly faster when airborne. Since jumping is a core tenet of platformer games, it was very important that players had the opportunity to learn this skill before I increased the complexity of challenges any further.

 

Level Breakdown:

  1. The player must jump over a rock. This is a training wheels challenge with no penalty factor.

  2. The previous challenge is essentially repeated, but evolves qualitatively with the addition of a penalty factor: the spike pit.

  3. Players must jump towards the left onto a platform, but control their horizontal momentum while doing so, as at the far end of the platform are spikes which kill on contact, restarting the level. This is the signature challenge of the level, and is repeated multiple times to condition players into learning how to control their momentum.

  4. The signature challenge is repeated, but difficulty is—for the first time—increased quantitatively: the space players have to slow down is numerically reduced.

  5. The addition of a patrolling enemy (which, like spikes, kills on contact) is a qualitative evolution of the signature challenge which requires players to combine two skills: control of their momentum, and their timing. As well, there is now a spike wall on the right-side platform. Like the previous iteration, the amount of safe space for slowing down is further decreased.

  6. For the final challenge, difficulty is increased quantitatively in two ways: there are now two enemies (one on each platform) and—like every previous iteration of the signature challenge—the width of the platforms are reduced.


Process - Level 2:

Level 2 continues to expand on platforming challenges with the introduction of moving platforms. As with the previous level, the pattern of introduction, repetition, and expansion is followed, with difficulty gradually increased both qualitatively and quantitatively in the following ways: with a gradual reduction in platform width, a gradual increase in successions of moving platforms in a row without rest, and a gradual increase in threat density with the presence of enemies. This increase in difficulty over time can be seen by highlighting safe areas (green) and hazard areas (red); dashed outlines represent a moving object's path.

 

Process - Level 3:

For level 3, I decided to take advantage of a wall climbing glitch and instead introduce it as a mechanic. Also introduced in this level is the ice surface, which is used to restrict the paths that players can take—an obstacle which I felt was mechanically and thematically fitting for wall climbing challenges.

 

Level Breakdown:

  1. The player is free to assess the behavior of icy surfaces, and attempt to reach the key.

  2. After failing to do so, if they have not already discovered the wall jumping ability, or do not realize they must use it, they perhaps jump angrily at the locked door, accidentally executing a wall jump.

  3. Cannot climb ice wall, forced to perform alternating wall jumps to reach top.

  4. Evolution of challenge with moving walls. Player develops better wall jumping by practicing timing with no penalty factor.

  5. Again, but with penalty factor in the form of spikes.

  6. Evolution of alternating wall jump challenge featuring ghosts, further increasing difficulty.

  7. Reach key, door below opens.


Process - Level 4:

Level 4 introduces the final mechanics: bounce platforms and revolving objects. This level also utilizes all the other mechanics introduced up until this point. Like the other levels, the pattern of introduction, repetition, and expansion is followed, and difficulty is gradually increased in various qualitative and quantitative ways.

 

Process - Level 5:

Level 5 is a challenge level designed to test all of the players skills learned throughout the game. This level was more of a free-form exploration: I simply tried to push the game's mechanics to the limits and combine them in interesting ways to create the most extreme and difficult level possible.