Level Design: Octavia’s Garden Party

When I was presented with the Ferro sample game, Angel Cakes, my first conceptual thought process had to do with working with a limited toolset. How should I build a world metaphor that works well with blocky tilesets and rather direct player paths, as well as an incredibly simple collection mechanic? I was trying to avoid feature creep or deviating too heavily from the parts of game design that this exercise was meant to highlight. Hedge mazes seemed like a good fit, and thus I roped in a previously existing character of mine, Octavia, in order to create Octavia’s Garden Party. It was heavily inspired by Octavia’s Dungeons & Dragons roots, ergo, goblins are her main enemy during gameplay. Because of this use of a visual narrative language I am already well acquainted with, I didn’t find it too difficult to conceptualize the style of the characters or the collectibles. Working in Piskel took a little bit of getting used to, but I hit few substantial roadblocks.

Original Octavia Concept Art

The map design process was fairly easy to do by a sort of self-monitored trial and error. I knew I wanted central zones for the goblins to spawn in, somewhat akin to PAC-Man. The map also has strict borders, given the narrative of being within a hedge maze, so players have little difficulty determining where they can and cannot go. These zones and bounds were put to the test during the paper test, and, thankfully, they were fairly clear. Only a few edits, such as more dynamic walls being added on the right, were made between the paper game and the final draft. Nevertheless, it was an important experience, especially because I got to see what did and didn’t work in other people’s drafts.

My difficulties with the game, from a development standpoint, more spawned from code issues than conceptual faults. It took a lot of outside research to fix some of the issues with the code, and, given that I have no instruction regarding coding, a lot of it was sheer luck. This process, excruciating and floundering as it felt, did lead to me discovering mechanisms within Unity that I might not have otherwise. This helped in terms of resource management, as some of the features I figured out how to use were tiling my background assets and automatically adjusting the size of a box collider to the dimensions of the sprite dynamically. This allowed me a little extra time to play around with the design of the map, adding less linear player paths and working on other elements that are more evident and pertinent from a player’s perspective.

Rough sketch displayed on losing the game

While, by Costikyan’s standards, the game is not particularly difficult given such a straight-forward base mechanic, I tried to at least make it a pleasant sensory experience with an air of fantasy and an implied narrative. There are few opportunities within the mechanics provided to give players engaging choices, and I have seen very few 2D games with static maps actually utilize negative collectibles in practice. In continuing to develop this game, I would probably add a few more features in order to instate some quality of life changes, both for me as the developer and for the player. For example, having a follow camera would allow me to expand the map. This would both allow me to increase the difficulty by hiding enemies or collectibles out of sight, as well as give the player a sense that they are exploring a maze of significant scale. I also would want to introduce animation and other aesthetic improvements, as well as a combat mechanic. As a proof of concept regarding Octavia in a fleshed out setting and what kinds of items she might collect, I am happy with this work as a start, and hope to re-imagine it in a different framework later on.

Rough sketch displayed on winning the game