Making Hardcore levels for Casual
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
This is my first time to write some tips for level designers cause I’m still so Newbie in it! BUT I assume after working 5 years on several projects like Side-scroll Platformers and Action-Adventures, I think it’s a suitable time to share some of them.
When we started to work on Shadow Blade, we knew we wanted to make something casual but with old school feel, it was kinda risky cause we were not sure the current generation of gamers had any feelings for NES or Genesis games.
At first Shadow Blade was based on sneaking and stealth platforming with swiping controls, but after reconsidering and redesigning some of the mechanics, it came out to be fast-paced platforming with some fluent combat to makes it quite unique. We prototyped many styles of level design and at the end we decided that short - arcade styles levels were something that we were looking for.
These are my experiences during these five years and mostly on Shadow Blade:
- Avoid the sucks Tutorial! Tutorials are one the toughest parts and everyone knows it! So keep it simple, short and a bit challenging. Try to train him with basic movements and challenges in the first 3 or 4 minutes. Boring, slow and full of texts tutorials are FAIL! Don’t even think about them!
- Visibility of the main path: Always try to show the main path, the levels should be completely visible and neat. Put something cool and bright in the path that players can follow it. It can motivate the player to grab all of them and follow the lead. Coins, orbs or similar stuff are good examples.
- Explorations and Secrets: Exploration and secrets are always good and recommended, especially when you want to give depth in levels to attract hardcore players. Plus it can give replay value to that level. Keep it in mind that some players are always looking to collect three stars.
- Let them play with their own style: For satisfying hardcore players and those who mastered your game, the levels should support speed-runs, you should think about it from the first moment, so don’t try to force them how to play or play slow. Make them relax to do whatever they wanted.
- Level length: Length of the level is so much important. Usually short levels are much better, because they are not risky. If the player is starting to get bored, next level will refresh him with new challenges, mechanics and atmosphere.
- Dealing with new mechanics: Try to introduce new level mechanics whenever you think it’s the right time, don’t insist to show them exactly on new chapters or on specific time. Introduce it with some simple challenge, Try to master him step by step, mix it with the other available mechanics and when you realize it’s the time, show him a new one. And remember to not spoil it!
- Lovely Checkpoints: If you think the player passed some tough challenges or level is starting to get long, put a checkpoint. Because coming back from all those challenges is kinda unfair for casuals and be sure after two or three tries they will drop the game. Remember that you are aiming for the casual audience.
- Cooldown time: A small cool-down after a challenge is always nice, if you can mix it with a reward, it would be much nicer. It doesn’t mean to put reward on every challenge, don’t spoil it either.
- Step by Step: The level sequences are one of the toughest tasks because they have a strong relationship with difficulty curves, try to select them with the result of feedback and challenges inside of the levels. Try not to be a torturer! Small mistake will cost a lot here!
- Let them know what they’ve got: Show them the important stats at the end, try to convince them to go back and play it again. Juicy visuals can boost this issue.
At the end I would like to thank you for reading a rookie level designer’s thoughts and it would be awesome to hear about your opinions and comments about my experiences.
Best of luck