Level Design: Willow Run

This game was originally based on Willow Run, also called Air Force Plant 31, which was a manufacturing complex constructed by Ford Motor Company during World War II outside Detroit, Michigan. Willow Run was the first aircraft factory to utilize Ford’s methods of mass production, and produced a famous line of B-24 Liberator heavy bombers. Additionally, it was a woman employee at Willow Run who posed for Rosie the Riveter, the star of a campaign to recruit women workers to the manufacturing-heavy defense industry during the war.

Map draft and ideas, post-in class game testing of the paper game.

These images show some of my first designs for this collection-style game. Basically, I wanted to lean heavily on design and aesthetics to create a clearly non-modern factory setting. The actual gameplay mechanics were secondary to the creation of space and the punchline at the end showing, because you were a woman worker, the end of the war was a bit bittersweet as it likely entailed you being laid off, and women’s sphere in society contracting.

However, this idea was something I came up with in one night, and I became dissatisfied with it pretty quickly; this narrative felt reductive and the one-punch humor wasn’t amusing to me after working on it for a while. I ended up making the sprite something fairly arbitrary and ridiculous – a fly, instead of a woman. I felt I was in some odd centrist zone of mild war propaganda with a very watered down political message, but knew that I would have to essentially re-skin the entire game and do a lot of UI work to give it a political message that I would be satisfied with, so I chose to mostly depoliticize it instead, removing even the original ending message.

I tried to focus more on creating zones using game items, and have locked/unlocked door sprites as well as hard-to-see keys that I currently have unchecked, as I never got into gamestate, which would be the best way to code them.

Nevertheless, I think that my map is extensive enough that even without explicit barriers, there are zones and bounds created. Originally, I had the oil slick and broken glass obstacles affect the score by decreasing your points by one. However, I found that this made the game too short, as I had to set the number of points required to win to be significantly lower than the number of collectible objects, otherwise you could accidentally get stuck in a never ending limbo if you hit too many obstacles to reach the number of points required to end the game. I resolved this by inserting a second measure: health. Now, the oil and glass decrease your health by one  point, while your score is unaffected. The game either ends when you lose all of your health or collect every object.

Journal page – desk, welder, plane blueprints, bolts, key, engine, engine blueprints, propeller, notes on how to make it more interesting through use of UI.
B-24 Liberator heavy bomber sketches. 

I think that the main appeal of this game is in its hand-drawn animation and general aesthetics, but, as it stands, there isn’t much replay value. For most of the semester, I was thinking of working on a more full version of this game for conference, but I’ve spent so much time looking at it that I think I would rather pursue something fresh. However, it’s worth documenting my ideas for how to make this game better:

  • American flag sprite obstacle, freezes player movement for duration of a National Anthem clip (no health loss)
  • Oil slicks trigger movement slowdown (with health loss)
  • Timer (tested for exact time, probably between 1-2 minutes), time of completion and points collected displayed at end
  • Expanded map, not all visible at once – more maze-like
    • Different background music depending on where on the map you are
  • Glowing outline around sprites to show if they’re helpful or harmful
  • Functional locking doors and keys
  • Reskin to be more modern and about drone warfare rather than WWII
    • Within drone context, use text UI to convey specific sentiments
    • Also illustrate the stairs around the furnaces

This game is a pretty good base and has a lot of potential. I definitely value the time I put into it and the ways in which the process helped me learn the technical aspects of Unity and game making, as well as understand what I personally want a game to accomplish narratively in order to be satisfied and inspired.