Journey to the mountain
This is a 3rd person puzzle and exploration adventure where you need to get
to the entrence on top of the mountain by exploring the world and
solving puzzles on your way.
It's finally time to make the journey. The shadow of the mountain grows tall over your home. It's almost like the mountain is calling your name. You don't know what waits on the road ahead, but you know it's going to be different from anything you've ever done. New places, threats and trials await you. Many have made the journey before you, but nobody returned. Now it's your turn to take the leap. It's your turn to prove yourself.
It's your turn to make the journey to the mountain.
Capturing the "God of War feeling" in my piece.
Create a linear experience that still felt interesting to explore.
Have smooth level-pacing and a balanced experience with exploration, puzzle and combat.
Create a clean and readable refined whitebox.
Individual portfolio project
7 weeks half-time
Created using Unreal Engine 5
Template used: "Basic Template" by Max Forsberg
Melee function and crossbow implementation created with help from Max Forsberg.
A few meshes used from template "Adventure Core" by Tommy Norberg.
Planing, collecting references and setting up the level flow.
I started with setting up a PureRef where I collected reference pictures, notes and my general thoughts of what I wanted to create with this piece.
Secondly, I set up a scrumboard for myself to make sure I was keeping to schedule through out the whole project.
I started sketching to get a quick feeling for what I wanted to do with the space and get a sense of the size for the level. The final overview as shown below is very different from my first imagining, but I kept key elements from my first idea, like having a very narrow path that opens up to a view, a cave area and such.
Building the level
Building process from blockout to final
My goal with this piece was to bring it from a rough blockout stage to a refined whitebox stage. The level went through many stages of iterations in the different areas. It was very important for me that the final product was clean and readable, to help understand the design quickly.
Pacing and implementation of 3-act structure
I focused heavily on the 3-act structure in order to get a smooth pacing of the level. Since this piece is less about tight combat encounters, and more about the puzzles, exploration and the feeling of progression towards the long term goal, the curve is focused on entering new areas, encountering new puzzles and reminding the player of the long term goal.
See end goal first time
See first enemy
I start with introducing the long term goal for the player, which is reaching the huge door in the mountain. Quickly making sure that the player receives a motivation for completing the goal.
I then raise the tension quickly by introducing the player to their first combat scenario. After, I give the player the choice for exploration in this area to find an additional ranged weapon and loot.
Optional ranged weapon
If the player chooses to explore the area before proceeding to the first puzzle, they can find a crossbow to use as a ranged weapon and some optional loot. The intention here is to reward the player for taking their time to explore.
Kill enemies, start first puzzle
I show the player their first mandatory puzzle, with only one variable. Press the button = gate opens. This also brings the tension down a bit by bringing them into a new area without enemies, but still meaningful progression from solving the puzzle to proceed.
Second act starts
I start off the second act with a new area. I present the player with loot, ammunition and setting them up for a "snack-kill". Foreshadowing that the coming area has enemies, but still letting them feel safe for a little while longer.
The player goes further into the cave and I try to raise the tension by forcing the player to solve the puzzle to progress at the same time as there are enemies lurking around. I also show the player optional loot they can't reach, but if they chose to explore further, they might find.
When the player goes outside again, they are immediately directed into a tight mountain pass. I wanted to make the player feel "small" and a little bit claustrophobic in contrast to the quite open areas the player have been presented to before.
Reveal, second act ends
I end the second act on a high note, with a "funnel before reveal" and a "red-harring". Showing them ammunition and a dead body, which draws the player into a dead-end. They turn back and see another way out. The player climbs up and is rewarded with a vista of the next area and the end goal. Showing them that they are progressing.
The third act starts with combat and way more enemies in one place than before. The puzzle here is figuring out how to get back up to the mountain pass to proceed forward. It starts with opening the two big gates and entering the cave.
Once again, you're forced into a tight space, and I make it even tighter than before by forcing the player to crouch and then showing the long-term goal once more. Pin-pointing that the finish line is closing in. This is where I feel the narrative curve has reached it's peak.
I'm trying to enforce exploration here by showing that the solution isn't necessarily in the exact same place where you encountered the problem. You climb up a level inside the cave and circle back outside, now being able to enter the mountain pass again.
Here I'm lowering the tension by showing that there are almost no obstacles left to cross. They can see the path to the end goal clearly. They get to walk behind the waterfall and proceed to the door. You get a chance to look back over all the areas you've passed through to get here, You can also see the spot at the beginning where you were presented with the end goal the first time.
Puzzle design and exploration
This is the first puzzle you encounter. It's designed to teach the player the main puzzle mechanic. You press a button = the environment changes so you can traverse new areas and eventually progress. All the buttons are intentionally placed to make sure that the player sees the effect of triggering the different mechanics.
In this puzzle, I try to challenge the player by showing them something I just taught them, but it clearly doesn't work as expected. So you need to explore the area and find an alternative solution. I also want the player to be surprised when the solution happens "by accident" when the platform pushes down the boulder, which turns out to be the solution, and not jumping on the platform. There are also a few enemies in this area, handing the player another variable to pay attention to.
The main challenge in this area is that there are quite a lot of enemies that the player needs to defeat/sneak past to progress. The puzzle in itself is quite easy, but I want to focus more on the feeling of progression when you enter into a cave, entering a new area, climbing up a level and then circling back to where you were, but one level higher and now able to continue into the mountain passage. I also wanted to change it up a bit by changing the gate into a huge wheel that rolls out of the way instead of the regular gate from before.
Here is the overview with the different areas highlighted and all the loot available for the player to find.
First sight of loot
Find the loot
Here are a few examples of where I show loot to the player from a position where they can't reach it, but if they chose to explore the area further, they are rewarded with the loot. I've also positioned it in such a way that you can always look back on the spot where you saw the loot from the beginning. This is something they do in God of War Ragnarök quite often, and very well. So it was important to me having this aspect in my piece as well.
What I took with me from working on this piece
Now that this piece is completed, let me share some of my closing thoughts and reflections that I took with me.
First and foremost, the documentation process turned out being way more time consuming than I thought it would be. That threw me off from from my schedule, and my time estimation for a few tasks ended up being too optimistic.
I realized from feedback and playtesting that the piece suffered a bit from gameplay fatigue in certain areas. Repetitive actions like climbing, walking, running and jumping quickly became uninteresting. This showed me that I has underestimated how quickly gameplay fatigue sets in. But with iterations, this was solved in most areas.
When designing the puzzles, I was very set on that they needed to be very intricate and clever to be fun. Being stuck in that mind-set cost me quite a lot of time from the process. After feedback and further iterations, I realized there were other ways to make the puzzles feel interesting and rather weave them together with exploration, combat and put them in different areas to make them feel different and fresh.
Towards the end of the piece, I realized that I hadn't worked with the general lighting at all, and I ended up not having enough time to make it as good as I would have wanted. I underestimated the work and time lighting takes. Especially since I have areas outside in bright sunshine and very dark cave areas.
Reflecting on the work, there are things I feel I managed to do very well which I feel is important to highlight as well. Nearly everyone who playtested or gave feedback said that they felt I had captured the God of War vibe very well in my piece. This made me very happy, since that was one of my goals.
I also feel that I managed to keep the end product clean and readable, whilst still creating an environment that felt natural and interesting to explore.
Finally I am very proud of my use of different areas and environment changes that were new and interesting, and still tied together well in the whole experience. Making the exploration feel rewarding and progression meaningful.
These are my closing thoughts! I hope you found something interesting to take with you.
Below are a few pictures from my piece in its finished state, and if you scroll all the way down, you'll find a sneak peak into my personal inspiration and motivation throughout the making of this piece!
Source of motivation and inspiration
Classics and bangers that I listened to frequently during the building of this piece,
to keep the design juices flowing.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers The Movie Snes Original Soundtrack
Fable Soundtrack (Full)