Spirit of the Totem

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Note: this is a school project. All rights reserved to the NHTV Breda. 

Primary Role: Level Designer
Project duration: 2 weeks
Team size: 9
Game genre: Platformer

About: Spirit of the Totem is a 2D puzzle-platformer centred around a shaman and his spirit animal. The player takes control over the shaman by default, but can throw a small totem to summon a ghostly bear. Once the bear is summoned, the player takes control of the bear for a short amount of time. Each of the game's puzzles requires the two player characters to work in tandem to solve tricky block, pressure plate and lever challenges, in order to ultimately get the shaman to the end of the level. 
Spirit of the Totem was designed as part of a Game Marmalade project, with the goal of designing a game based on inspiration from a single piece of art. 

Tasks on the project:

  • Establishing a level design vision. 
  • Creating concepts and scoping for the puzzle mechanics. 
  • Creating level design sketches. 
  • Designing level flow and difficulty progression in cooperation with other level designers. 
  • Aligning a coherent level vision with other level designers. 
  • Blocking out level concepts in Unreal Engine.
  • Testing and iterating on level designs in Unreal Engine. 

To try out the game for yourself, click the download button to the left to download a .zip file with the latest build. If you want to get a better idea of the game without downloading the build, the right button will take you to the trailer. 


PROJECT RESPONSIBILITIES

The following section describes some of my key tasks on the project - as briefly listed in the section above - in more detail, all the while providing examples of my work and documentation to look at for those who are interested. 


Level Design - Onboarding

 First onboarding stage in the game as designed by me, meant to teach you the utmost basics of the gameplay. 

First onboarding stage in the game as designed by me, meant to teach you the utmost basics of the gameplay. 

I was responsible for creating all of the onboarding level segments in the project, though the final segment is a combination of a design made by me and fellow level designer Son Thai Ngo. I approached the design in the following way: I distilled the game down to its most basic forms of gameplay together with another level designer and discussed what we needed to teach, and based on this I made sketches for level concepts that could teach these values. My aim was to create a more organic way of learning about the mechanics for new players, while also keeping in mind players that already understand the mechanics might want to move on more quickly. 
Based on these criteria, I came up with 4 short level segments that explain both the mechanics and controls through gameplay and unobtrusive imagery in the background respectively. The player is taught about the main powers of the shaman and the spirit in full detail to make sure they know everything there is to know through the skill gating in these level segments, making sure there will not be ugly surprises for them in later levels. However, due to the short nature of the level segments a player who already understands the gameplay more quickly can easily get through this section without too much delay. 


Level Design - Intermediate and expert challenges

 Example of one of the puzzles I designed, in this case the 3rd portion of level 2. The drum currently holding down the pressure plate has opened a bridge to another pressure plate, which will need to be pressed down in order to open the level gate and help the shaman to the other side of the gap.

Example of one of the puzzles I designed, in this case the 3rd portion of level 2. The drum currently holding down the pressure plate has opened a bridge to another pressure plate, which will need to be pressed down in order to open the level gate and help the shaman to the other side of the gap.

I was responsible for creating three out of five of the level segments for level two, namely the third, fifth and sixth sections in the second level of the game. Additionally, I was in charge of balancing and iterating on the full level.
For these levels, I sat down with a fellow level designer to come up with beginner, intermediate and expert challenges for each of the game's main mechanics and level objects. Afterwards, I created sketches based on what challenges I wanted in a particular level. For example: I would decide that I wanted a level with advanced-level block puzzles, and intermediate totem throwing. I wanted each level to have a new way of engaging with the main mechanics in tandem with the level mechanics. 
Each of my levels in the full product encompasses this design approach:

  • Segment 3 tests the player based on their ability to think with pressure plates and drums across different height levels, a more advanced challenge.
  • Segment 5 tests player timing when in spirit form as well as puzzle solving across multiple height levels, again a more advanced challenge. 
  • Segment 6 is a fully advanced challenge that combines all of the central ideas of previous puzzles and combines them to create a unique set-up.