Map Maker

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Been busy recently, lots of stuff to talk about, yet will probably talk about most of it later. Instead, I’m going to go into creating levels for Paper Zeppelin. If you’d look over yonder => at the Big List for Paper Zeppelin (a term which now appears on the first page for the Google Machine !) you’ll see that the first grouping of levels has been put together. So that’s 4 down and 13 to go. Thankfully I’ve begun to get a good grasp on actually building levels that are fun to play. It’s going to sound weird, but the level will “feel” wrong if it is incorrect. There’s a kind of tension level that the encounters can produce. Too much at the same time and I get the feeling that I’m being overwhelmed, and it stresses me out. Too little obviously, and I’m bored with the thing. The tricky bit that I’m finding is fiddling with the wee knobs that can crank the tension levels to the appropriate levels. Playing the Hard Path should feel more difficult. That level of tension is part of the fun. The Easy Path has the same thing, but less.
Really though, it’s dealing with difficulty curves. Imagine for a moment, a nice curved arc that starts at say, a 1 and ends at a 10. Got that? Imagine that’s the level of difficulty during a game in a kind of perfect situation. It slowly increases, and the level of difficulty is increased throughout the game. In The Legend of Zelda the 1st dungeon is easier than the 9th.
The thing is, that kind of curve is impossible. Instead the difficulty curve is all jagged, full of little peaks and valleys more like this. Those little jaggies are the moment to moment aspects of the gameplay. The little peaks the slow areas. This can be a very good thing. It’s the explicit difference between Level Design and Encounter Design. When I’m designing levels I want those little peaks to have a good rhythm and allow the player time to prepare for the next encounter. This kind of game rhythm is why Halo feels so good to play. Those peaks and valleys in the difficulty curve are tightly controlled for maximum fun.
Anyway, the bit about the difficulty is that the player needs the difficulty to increase throughout the game. Otherwise they will get bored once they have mastered the mechanics, which is always bad (remember games are supposed to be fun). So really, that tension that I was talking about, different player’s will have different tolerances based on their playing style and their previous experience with the game.
Consequently, these are things that I need to constantly be aware of when I’m designing a level for Paper Zeppelin. I’ll build whole encounters and find that they suck because they have too many things going on, less frequently being more. Or the encounters are happening too quickly after each other, disrupting the sense of flow that the game is trying to achieve.
To wit, the most recent level that I’ve built is the first Steep Hills level for the Easy Path. The hills are steep, the play areas are more limited and I can do a lot of cute things encounter wise. It’s also the easiest level that I’ve put together so far…it’s also the most fun to play. Like I said at the beginning, it just feels good. So I’m trying to figure out specifically why that is, but really, it’s just playing the level over and over getting it feeling nice. Not done yet mind you, that’s going to take a bit longer, but good. I get the feeling that these will start to go quicker now, since I’ve developed my touch a bit more.