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Uncapped is a first-person puzzle-platformer game developed as part of our capstone project for our fourth-year at Sheridan College. Gameplay consists of shooting "energy-balls" into switches to energize objects (doors, bridges, enemies, etc.) within the environment. Switches are often located in indirect and out-of-reach places, so players must strategically use the surfaces around them to bounce the balls in. As an additional layer of complexity, balls and switches have two different states, yellow (“capped”) and purple (“uncapped”); the balls change from yellow to purple after being bounced, and are only able to energize switches of the same color.
This project was created during our capstone, an intense seven-month period where we simulated a studio environment. Our team was only three large, so we each had to wear many hats throughout the development process. My roles included game design, level design, and scripting, among other things. Please read below to learn more about each role and the specific tasks I performed.
Played major role in developing the main game concept.
Scripted prototypes and created game documentation which was used as reference by team.
Developed visual language to ensure mechanics were understood both functionally and thematically by both dev team and players.
Deeply explored the design space of our unconventional ball-bounce mechanic.
Created many environmental puzzle concepts, cataloguing them with explanatory diagrams to aid design process.
Continually evaluated and adjusted player and weapon feel to create gameplay which felt tight, and game metrics which best suited the game’s mechanics and levels.
Conducted formal playtests to assess difficulty and overall usability of game.
This is an excerpt from the visual language document I created. Our core mechanic was broad in application, allowing for interactions ranging from static switch-based puzzles to dynamic combat puzzles.
This is an excerpt from the document I made exploring our core mechanics. Here, I was exploring possible configurations for ball–surface interactions.
Whiteboxed then used ProBuilder along with a modular level kit created by a teammate to create one of three main levels as well as the demo level showcased at Level Up 2017.
Ensured proper pacing to maintain player interest, shaped sightlines to guide player and to ensure puzzles and game moments were as coherent as possible.
Explored symbolism and mood through level design.
Successfully taught complex and unconventional mechanics entirely through level design (no text, dialogue, etc.). This was achieved using a skill chain diagram to precisely assess and tune complexity of puzzles, and sequence them so skills they taught were logically introduced, reinforced, and expanded on (see images and description below for more info).
Implemented special effects such as fog and smoke. This was both for ambience and to prevent players from having too great a view distance. Also implemented several camera-related special effects such as sun shafts and skyboxes.
Placed all enemy spawn points and paths, and set up dynamic enemy paths using Unity’s pathfinding system.
Placed and optimized level lighting using both baked and dynamic lights.
Created player respawn script, and set up all player respawn points and kill boxes in level.
One of the things I find most impressive in a game is a good tutorial, particularly those which “invisibly” teach the player: instead of relying on pop-up text or dialogue, or by taking away camera control to forcibly show something, the player is taught entirely through the environment—through level design and other elements within the game space. As a team, we all agreed, and decided this would be one of our main design goals for Uncapped.
We developed a skill chain diagram (above, left) mapping out all of our mechanics into a hierarchy of complexity. We created and compiled a large number of puzzles (above, middle) and assessed their complexity using the diagram by seeing which skills they involved: if they used skills lower on the chain, they were considered more complex because they required prerequisite skills higher up the chain to be properly understood. We sequenced our puzzles to first introduce basic skills from the top of the chain, reinforce them so players could gain mastery of them, gradually introduce more complex skills lower on the chain which naturally built upon previous ones (versus introducing entirely unrelated concepts), and repeating this until all the skills in the game were understood. The diagram also made it easier to pinpoint any potential gaps in skill progression, allowing use to precisely tune our puzzles to more effectively introduce and reinforce skills, or sometimes, inspire us to create entirely new puzzles to do so.
Our skill chain diagram ended up shaping the majority of our levels, and proved to be invaluable: it resulted in a smooth, precisely tuned learning curve which comfortably taught players while still challenging them and keeping them engaged, and when we unveiled our playable demo (above, right) at Level Up 2017, players were almost always able to figure out our (often fairly difficult) puzzles with zero written instruction or prompting from playtest conductors. Success!
Created functioning prototypes to develop and test mechanics throughout entirety of development.
Created robust finite-state machine for enemy AI behavior with 12 different states. Enemies also feature a 3-step detection system (proximity, field of view, sightline).
Created a player respawn script which would respawn the player in set positions and rotations after dying. Also implemented it in-game, setting up all respawn points and kill boxes.
Scripted several one-off game sequences. The first sequence involves an enemy staring at you through a window, where if you look at him, he scuttles away into the darkness. The second sequence involves an enemy who ambushes you from around a corner as soon as you open a specific door.
Like switches, our killer robot enemies can only be deactivated by balls of the same color, resulting in "bounce-based" combat which feels cohesive with our puzzles which also typically require ball-bouncing to solve.
Created final in-game art asset for our novel "adaptive reticule" using Adobe Illustrator.
Created all promotional material for the game (logo, posters, postcards, t-shirts) using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
Simulated a studio setting, and used relevant productivity software (GitHub, Trello, Slack) to maintain schedules and track deadlines.
Our adaptive reticle shows where the ball will land and whether or not the landing point is within sight.
Presenting Uncapped to members of DrinkBox Studios, who awarded the game the title of "most unique mechanic".