Level Design Milestones

I recently played The Wonderful End of the World. It is a cousin to Katamari Damacy, with less depth, variety, and humor, but it is still whimsical and benefits from PC controls. It is inexpensive and has about 3 hours of gameplay, or at least that is how long it took me to complete the game, get an A+ rating on every level, complete all the achievements, and mess around a bit with modes and options.

There need to be more “roll up the world” games. There are a few points that you look forward to in a well-designed level, and these could fit well in our MMO world.

  • Barrier Becomes Fodder: If you start by picking up paperclips on a tabletop, hemmed in by books, you must later pick up those books. If you start in the garden, rolling over the garden gate to start consuming the city is a critical moment. In your MMO, if something stands between your newbie zone and the “real world,” the player should get a chance to destroy it. Slay the ogre at the edge of the valley or destroy the alien ship that is sending in the enemy forces. Show the first mini-boss from the first instant and crush him.
  • Rapid Growth: You change the scene by giving the player a line of things to consume very quickly. Depending on the size, this could be a line of gumdrops, a row of hedges, or a parking lot full of cars. You rampage over them, and suddenly you are playing on a different scale. The later, bigger levels may have a few iterations of this, moving from “smaller than a human” to “I wonder if I can pick up that volcano” in 3 minutes. The lines also serve to guide the player, steering them from one part of the map to a new one that provides new growth potential. It gives the player a moment of feeling really awesome, facilitates the scene change, and provides a trail of breadcrumbs. The player ends one phase of life on a high note and has a running start as s/he sees the next tier of available.
  • Return to Start: You broke through that barrier on your way out, but at some point you must go back so that you can see how much you have grown. You start out dodging ducks, but you come back for the boats in the pond. You pick up the table you started on. Some levels make this the finale, but others make it the half-way point, and the last level might do it repeatedly as you pick up the ducks, the boats, the entire garden, the entire block, the entire island… The earliest levels may be too short to do this, but the later levels should include going back over the same territory and picking up that house, garden, etc. where you played the first few levels. Besides highlighting how awesomely huge you have become, it makes the game world feel like a more coherent place. The hero’s journey ends with the return home.

: Zubon

2 thoughts on “Level Design Milestones”

  1. Very interesting thoughts as always, Zubon. I have to admit I never finished tWEotW, but that’s more to do with the size of my Steam game list than the game itself – as are all of Dejoban’s efforts. I’m a big fan of the studio.

    I wish more MMO devs looked outside their own genre for inspiration and good design to rip o– …Er, be inspired by. The MMO industry has become a perfect example of the creative stagnation that occurs with excessive growth.

    That’s OK, who needs another AAA MMO when we have Realm of the Mad God? :)

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