Headventures in the Underworld is a 3D isometric Co-op game that casts you and a friend as two young teenagers: Gus and Olivia. After Gus and Olivia lose their heads to the tricksy Beelzeboss, they must travel to the Underworld and use the spirits of their lost heads to solve devilish puzzles and defeat enemies. Players control their body and their heads seperately using an Xbox One or Xbox 360 controller. Players move their body with the left stick, and their head with the right stick, and swap between 3 shapes of their heads to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Headventures was developed over the course of 5 months with a team of 6. As a level designer on the project, my core responsibilities included:
- Collaborating with team to create original concept, core mechanics, design philosophy and pillars, and maintaining clear and consistent documentation.
- Working with co-level designer to determine the overall level design philosophy and ensure consistency between levels.
- Leading development of overall mechanics and progression of final Boss Fight.
- Designing and implementing 2 unique levels in addition to Boss fight, from paper plans to whiteboxing, to art passes.
- Assisting in defining playtest objectives and targeted surveys, as well as monitoring playtests and playtest feedback to gather data for level iterations.
- Designed and created all FX using Unity's Shuriken particle system.
Headventures in the Underworld was my final project at VFS, and created over the course of 5 months. As an isometric action/puzzle co-op game developed with a co-level designer, several design challenges were very important to overcome. First and foremost, a clear level design philosophy had to be established to ensure consistency between my and the other level designer's levels. Second, the difficulty of the game had to ramp appropriately in every playthrough despite randomized items and levels. Lastly, and most importantly, we had to ensure that both combat and puzzles made use of our unique mechanics, and were equally satisfying for players.
When designing levels for Headventures, I tried to constantly keep in mind both common player goals, and individual player goals. As a co-op game, it was very important for us that each player felt that they were contributing to the overall objective in their own unique way. By using a wide range of enemies (4 different types), and a combination of asymmetric and symmetric puzzle design, we encourage players to work together, even when they must accomplish individual tasks. This could mean, for instance, that one player must block a hazard using their head, and stand on a pressure plate in order to allow the other player to open an area for them. This interlacing of player objectives was a key design challenge we took on.
One of my primary responsibilities on Headventures was to develop the core mechanics, progression, and level design of the final boss. When developing these features, I worked with our AI programmer closely to ensure that we could accomplish the unique boss behavior. The Boss fight of Headventures in the Underworld is designed to accomplish two things: first, it combines combat and puzzles at the same time (the first time in the game this is done) in order to escalate the pace of the game in the final stages. Second, players must now fight an enemy using the same abilities as themselves, and solve puzzles using someone else's head, as opposed to their own. This decision to require the puzzles to be solved with someone else's heads came from a desire to create something special by turning the mechanics of our game on their head (pardon the pun). Overall, I approached designing the Boss Fight as though the Boss himself was a puzzle that needed to be solved, a method I believe worked well.
In addition to my contributions to level design, I had a primary role in writing our Game Design Document, and assisted our artist in creating our Art Bible. The Game Design Document was written to favor diagrams over text, and I created roughly half the diagrams in our GDD. For us, the GDD was useful for defining our core pillars and establishing a hierarchy of important features as they related to these pillars. Overall, the process of writing the GDD was incredibly helpful to our team, and especially our audio collaborators, who weren't always able to be on site with us to see the design of certain elements. Below is a selection of pages from our GDD, but you can download the PDF here if you'd like to read the whole thing.
In addition to taking a lead role on writing and editing the GDD for Headventures, I assisted our artist in writing and editing our Art Bible, as well as providing some content related to particles specifically. This process was important for me to be involved with, mainly because of my experience with writing, but also because my particles had to match the tone and style of our main artist's vision. Below is a selection of pages that I was directly responsible for (writing and creating imagery). You can download our Art Bible here.