Calexi is an abstract single player level with elements of puzzles and exploration made in UDK 3. The level started out as an assignment for the Advanced Level Design course and grew to something much more. The map is heavily inspired by Caroli shopping mall, an actual place in Malmö, Sweden.
But in contrast to Caroli shopping mall I wanted to create a more abstract experience and at the same time have an environmental conflict to encourage gameplay. That’s why I chose to work with hexagon modular pieces to act as a floor that has gone haywire. I also took inspiration from Mirror’s Edges aesthetics to enhance the abstract feeling of the level.
The player starts in the most abstract part of the level. The first the player see is a white void and doesn’t have much information to rely on. In other words, the players vision is very limited. That is why the information to rely on is very crucial. I placed a few hexagon platforms to guide the player in the right direction. Out from the white void and in to the actual level.
The reason I chose to make the beginning so empty and bare is because I wanted to make it memorable for the player. The beginning has a strong connection with the end since it shares the same simplicity and visuals.
THE FIRST PUZZLE
When the player enters the first actual room she is immediately presented of the levels conflict. The floor has gone haywire. This is where the player must solve her first puzzle. The puzzle has a simple solution and it’s purpose is a camouflaged tutorial. The main statue in the middle of the room act as a focal to hint about the goal of area in order to progress. Note that this statue has a very similar design to the statue in one of Caroli Shopping Malls entrances.
In this tutorial the player needs to realize that the red hexagons works as pressure plates and these pressure plates affects other platforms nearby. The goal of the puzzle is to reach the large red hexagon which the statue rests on. But the last platform leading to the statue must be raised. The shape of how these platforms are raised points to the pressure plate the player must step on to raise the last hexagon platform to it’s proper height.
Another reason for the placement of the red hexagon is for the player is to get a good view of the next area before she can reach it. By doing this the player will get tempted to get there and this would increase the motivation to finish the puzzle.
When the player steps on red hexagons it was crucial for me to give feedback to the player. The player must be informed and feel rewarded every time she has completed a task in the level. That is why I worked with material instances i UDK to boost the emissive effect of the parent material. For every red hexagon in the level a material instance is connected to it. And when a player touches a trigger the emissive effect switches on. It was a simple, yet effective way to enhance feedback. However, because every trigger required a unique material instance it could be hard to manage if the level was larger.
THE NEXT CHALLENGE
After the player has completed the first puzzle and passed through two small rooms she arrives at the next choke point. This time the red hexagon isn’t visible in front of the choke point. The solution to this challenge lies in the next room where the player have to use her platforming skills to achieve her goal. Should the player fall down it’s easy to jump up and try again.
However, the challenge somewhat falls flat and will be corrected if future iterations occur. In order to create an interesting platforming challenge a larger room or a collection of room would be needed. The hexagon assets are designed to have a size so the player stand safely on a single platform, it becomes natural that they demand more space than this room. But at the same, I didn’t want to overscope the map or overwhelm the player, since this is only her second task.
THE HUB ROOM
When the player completes the second challenge she is allowed access to one of the largest rooms of the map, which has a strong resemblance to Caroli Shopping Mall. The room consists of two playable sections and acts as a hub room, because most of the map is connected to it. At first the player can only traverse in the right side of the room and this share the same principle as mentioned before. The feeling I want to encourage in the player is exploration and curiosity; the player can see another area but can’t access it yet. See map below to locate the current position.
THE MAIN PUZZLE
In The Hub Room the player must solve the most complex puzzle of the level to reach the other side of The Hub Room. The puzzle has similar game mechanics to other platforms in the map; step on a red hexagon to activate a platform. The difference lies in two factors. Normally when player activates a pressure plate she has activated a platform permanently, but here the triggers can be used several times.
The second factor is that the platforms the trigger affect are in direct contact with a red hexagon. This means that the middle platform and one side platform will always be activated. In other words, this challenge has similar characteristics to a combinations puzzle.
The goal of the puzzle is to raise all these platforms to be able to reach the side room with the three red hexagons (see below). But the player can not raise all the platforms, because they are uneven in numbers. The player must realize that she doesn’t have to affect the platform on the top left, because the player don’t need it to reach her goal. And this realization increases the psychological difficulty of puzzle, without adding more mechanics to the puzzle as a whole. If the player should trigger that platform anyway it’s easy to step on the trigger again to reset it to the previous position. Otherwise you could simply jump over it.
Still, if the player should get confused I also added a reset trigger. Even though it is not possible do something wrong it can be comforting for the player that a reset functionality exists. But it is bit dangerous as well. If a reset button exists, maybe the player thinks that she can do something wrong. It is a bit of a double edged sword in this case.
The platforms are connected via bools in Kismet, which means that they can only be at two vertical states: ground level and raised up. For example, the player steps on a trigger when the middle is raised and the side platform is at ground level the platforms will “switch polarity”.
Another important design choice was to balance the puzzle so the player isn’t able to simply activate the last platform. At first I tried to make the trigger into a activate mechanic. However, this presented me with two major issues. The player has always interacted with red hexagons by standing on them, but why should she suddenly press E to interact with these triggers? It was inconsistent and confusing. The second issue was that the player could cheat, because of the range of where the player could press E to interact. No matter how small the trigger was the player could just activate it by standing on the platforms instead of the red hexagons. That is why the player have to touch the trigger, like everywhere else in the level.
Another balancing choice was to has really fast animations for the platforms, otherwise it was also easy to cheat. The only platform that has a slow animation is the bottom right one, which dictate where player must start. And the height of other platforms dictate in which order the player must navigate through the platforms.