Project: Final Act
Position: Lead Level Designer and Sound Designer
Duration: 6 Months
Engine: Unreal Engine 3
Final Act is a team based, third person, Real-Time Strategy mod for UT3. The forces of Light and the forces of Dark compete to destroy the opposite team’s Soul Well. Players can use Soul Shards to build different structures including automatic defenses, jump-pads, teleporters, traps, and repair turrets.
As Lead Level Designer, I helped define the gameplay systems and the overall gameplay theme of the levels. In Final Act, players can build eight types of turrets, anywhere they want on the map. The players cannot directly shoot each other, but they can shoot and destroy enemy turrets. The object of the game is to destroy the other team’s soul well. To be successful on this project, we had to switch gears and rapidly prototype levels during pre-production, think about level design from a totally different angle (i.e. players cannot directly harm each other in this game,) and create design standards that took advantage of the mechanics. During development, I helped design and iterate on the game’s mechanics, helped find what was fun about our game and established design standards accordingly, organized schedules for the design team, gave personal level reviews and design feedback, held group playtests, and also created and imported all sound for the game.
Credit goes to Jason Glenn and Shaun McCarty for designing and building the levels we shipped with!
Co-designed the Mechanics
During pre-production, I helped work out the game mechanics with the Lead Programmer. We brainstormed turret ideas and game win conditions and created the initial excel spreadsheets of damage, range, rate of fire, and utility usages for each turret and iterated on them with the entire team to make sure they were balanced and meaningful. With complex moment-to-moment gameplay, we decided that the win condition needed to be simple– destroy the enemy’s “Soul Well” inside their base. Over the course of the project, we kept working together to tweak the game mechanics based on the levels’ needs, and to provide updated information to the design team about mechanics changes.
Found the Fun
The design team’s first task was to identify what was fun about these mechanics we had created. We realized that building something in the game world invests the player into the gameplay space, so we made the decision early on to use discretely separated islands as the main gameplay space. This gave the players the chance to become invested in the game on a very meaningful level– players use their Soul Shards to build up defensible positions on each island and treat them as mini-bases, which encouraged them to then go on the offensive and attack enemy’s defensible positions once they were out of shards to build with. Over time, the players’ shards regenerate so once they die, they can respawn and rebuild before going out to attack again. This closed the game loop, allowed players to seamlessly transition between offense and defense, and also allowed for dedicated attackers and defenders to have fun by building turrets in currently contested hot-zones.
Established Clear and Specific Design Standards
During production, one my tasks was to review the gameplay in each level and come up with ways to incorporate meaningful gameplay scenarios in each one, revising the design standards as necessary. As a part of the feedback process, each island was given a certain amount of room in which to build turrets, the islands were laid out in a way that made buildable jump-pads useful, small nooks were placed on islands so players could hide expensive teleporter stations, and the chains that connect any islands together could be traversed on foot and guarded with paralyzer traps that when tripped by a hasty player, made them fall off to their death. The end result was a strategic, fast paced multi-player game that makes the player consider how the levels are structured in order to succeed.