I seem to reinvent the wheel with each level, finding a different implementation process depending on the specific needs. In this case, because the shapes of these graves are such a huge part of the level design, I’m crafting the visuals in Photoshop first. (For levels where I can iterate over shapes and proportions, I implement straight into Unity with no graphics and when it plays well I bake out the outlines and fit art to them.)
I picked some of my favorite graves and arranged them in a few different combinations to consider which will be best.
Which of these would be best to explore two graves at a time as a “spider with human looking over its shoulder”?
One thing I am looking for is appealing composition. Since in Spider the camera is zoomed in such that you’ll only see two graves at a time, this is mostly about exploration as you move across the graveyard. For example I’d like to start with familiar shapes and evolve from there. On those grounds, I’m liking A or B.
But mostly I’m looking at the gameplay potential of these shapes. In Spider, the gameplay happens between surfaces the spider collides with. So what’s important is the negative space created by different grave profiles adjacent to each other.
Spider gameplay happens in the white between the black grave outlines.
Even more specifically, what to look for are surface normals that face (within a generous tolerance) other surface normals, because those are the spots the spider can connect a thread between. That’s why I like graves like the one with a triangle on top, or graves that have protruding bases or overhangs – they help provide planes that face other planes.
The spider can draw threads between planes that face other planes.
Using these criteria, I can evaluate A, B, and C for gameplay potential. In A, I don’t like the two graves to the left of the urn which create a gradual cascade from left to right; that’s going to lead players to start webs which are impossible to finish, so we’re better off without the leftmost grave. A also has a couple same-height graves adjacent to each other, which doesn’t add any options over adjacent different-height graves. Lastly A has more graves, which increases production burden and risks the level rambling on and on. As mentioned last time, each level in Spider changes when time and weather change in the real world. If we want players to replay levels, we should keep them short!
The spider must complete a shape with threads to create a web. Here are example web possibilities for B, where blue are normal webs and red are strong webs. A and C are left as an exercise for unusually enthusiastic readers.
B has at least two spots where the spider can make strong webs, a new feature in this Spider game which incentivizes the player to make larger, more complicated webs to trap the hardest insects. C has them, too, but it looks like A only has one.
B and C also share some features I like, including the grave with the three points on top leaning toward a taller grave and the grave with scooped sides a bit apart from a tall grave. In C, the triangle-top grave is with the main group, whereas it’s set apart in B. This is an aesthetics-vs-gameplay consideration. Its positioning in C is good for web creation, but it’s an unfamiliar grave shape right where I want the spider to start.
I should mention it took quite a while to develop these heuristics. Whenever Tiger Style invents a new type of gameplay, I’m at a loss about how to build levels until I experiment a lot and get the hang of what constructions leads to what results. Lots of levels get thrown out along the way!
Ultimately, I’m going with B. On top of everything else, it best appeals to my instincts and looks most like the graveyards I’m drawing inspiration from. Still in Photoshop, I flesh out my crude composition with decaying nature and some stuff we haven’t talked about yet.
Click for larger - What a Spider level looks like before a real artist gets to work on it.
If you have any questions, just ask them in the comments section.
Join us next time as we head into Unity!
Every level for Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon starts as a collection of source materials, including notes about the characters, their props, insects and new features to be introduced, exploration of the environment, secrets, achievements and so forth, culled from larger lists and spreadsheets that track the story, puzzles, and gameplay requirements for the entire game.
- introduce dragonfly
- trail of muddy bootprints goes through here? check the estate map
- headstones w/ initials and secret society engraving
- T Bryce has been playing with toys here, hid one of them
- one of the clues for the big puzzle
- swampy terrain on the periphery, lake/ship in background
A hefty portion of my job as a game designer is collating requirements like these and exploring to find what I hope is a great solution. There’s lots of fuzziness and creativity involved, since there are few mandatory, inflexible requirements and certainly no objectively best answer.
Source material also includes reference photos which are often the soul of a Spider level, from which we draw detail and texture. It’s sort of the opposite art style of cartoons which create abstraction and omit detail for the sake of strong simplicity. Spider levels have energy and substance that comes from real life nuance and richness.
In this case, we’re building a graveyard, the Family Plot level, and I’m getting most attached to these beautiful old headstones I photographed in Vermont, nicely complimented by some decaying fall nature.
(Click for larger versions)
I especially like the faded epitaphs on these old tombstones, somber sentiments from a past culture about life’s last stop. Fertile material for a clue or just extra character.
To get a more clear vision for how these things will come together to meet all the requirements, I start to sketch them out, making subtle additions and changes and contemplating how it will be to explore this environment as a spider. I try to imagine this level before it exists and play it in my mind, making the most obvious corrections before the real work starts.
Lastly, I check a list of this game’s cool, new features to make sure this level showcases them well. In some cases, this prompts me to brainstorm up new ways to leverage them, but this level is looking pretty good already.
- animating environment – falling leaves, swaying plants
- moving surfaces – cattails and bell blowing in wind
- strong webs – large space between graves
- hidden insets – crickets in grass, rare moth?
- multiple planes – possible top-down view to be added later if needed
- parallax - plants and landscape, sides of some monuments
The most important new feature is what we call “conditions,” which refers to the fact that Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon uses custom locational magic to learn where you are in real life and match in the game what you see outside your window. So if it’s a clear day in real life, you’ll see a clear day in the game. If it’s a rainy night, you’ll find yourself exploring a dark graveyard in the rain, under the moonlight.
- conditions – rain and wind fx, droplets from the tree, mosquitoes and dragonflies when it rains, fireflies and crickets (hidden) at night, put the one special thing that only shows up on a certain day here?
Each possible condition comes with its own population of insects, making for a very different gameplay experience set in the same location. It’s a lot like getting four Spider games in one!
.. To Be Continued ..
If you’re in the Boston area this April 11-13, come check out the PAX East Indie MEGABOOTH where Tiger Style will be showing off a super secret early version of Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon!
Press folks, we’d love to talk to you. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In February we debuted Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon at Austin’s local Juegos Rancheros meet up! Included was a presentation that analyzes the story of Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor and how that, plus some additional research, will inform the more elaborate and carefully planned story of Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon.
This is where Tiger Style’s Randy Smith first revealed that the Rite of the Shrouded Moon is based on a lesser-known secret society, and that the only way you’ll be able to unlock the deepest secrets of the game is by conducting your own research into this real life group. To hear that secret revealed, skip to 14:00 in the video above.
Unfortunately, Tiger Style won’t reveal any identifying information about this real life secret society until the game is released, so that no one can get too far ahead in solving Spider’s secrets. But, as promised, the slides from this presentation have been uploaded here, so you can scrutinize them for useful clues.
Check out the full report, including our debut of Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon’s gameplay, on the esteemed Venus Patrol!
Edge, the UK’s finest games publication, collects a handful of games’ best writers (including Tiger Style’s own Randy Smith) to submit elevator pitches for the upcoming Minecraft movie.
Read the whole article at Edge online!
Waking Mars, an exploration-focused platformer for Windows and Mac OS X in which you discover and tend to a robust ecosystem in Martian underground caves, celebrates its second anniversary. It’s creators, a small indie team working under the label Tiger Style, were kind enough to answer a few questions coming from GOG.com’s Tumblr blogger-in-chief, GDoc. Let’s join Randy Smith (story/design guy for Waking Mars and Tiger Style’s creative director) and David Kalina (the game’s lead developer) and talk about inspirations, game design, and the transition from AAA development into core indie scene.
Tiger Style is a distributed collective, which means we live in different places, collaborate over the internet, and we all share in project revenue on equal terms! The line-up changes from year to year. Give or take this is the 2014 team making Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon!
Proceeding horizontally from top-left: Adrian Lopez-Mobilia (programmer), Scott Barber (musician), Bobby Arlauskas (audio), Jef Drawbaugh (musician), Randy Smith (creative director), Terri Brosius (writer), Jason Rosenstock (artist), David Kalina (tech lead / designer), Nathan Black (evil wizard / stuntman), Damien Di Fede (musician / programmer), Amanda Williams (artist), Randall O’Connor (artist / designer), Rick Tossavainen (programmer), Brennan Hornburg (artist), Ethan Greene (musician).
One of Bungie’s fabulous concept artists titled this piece “Waking Mars.” We appreciate the homage! See more work here.
It’s official! Tiger Style is working on the follow-up to 2009’s Mobile Game of the Year, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor! The new game is called…
…and we hereby promise it is going to fulfill your every fantasy about what a Spider game possibly could be! It’s bigger, better, deeper, richer, and ready for more platforms! We’ve got tons of exciting feature announcements, development updates, glimpses into the story, and so forth coming in the future weeks, so stay tuned here to our blog and our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
What are you waiting for? Go check out the new website for Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon! Coming to you in Spring, 2014!
A few weeks ago when we launched the teaser at BlackbirdEstate.com, we also issued a press release that straight up revealed crucial secrets about our in-development new game.
Fortunately everyone was trustworthy enough to keep it secret, keep it safe. If after you scrutinize these documents, you feel a burning desire to share what you’ve learned, don’t worry. You only have to sit on it a few more days. We honor your trustworthiness!
Full size scan of the press release.