By: Tyler Lamon, Game Design ’21
I recently got an internship at Power Level Studios as a Level Designer to assist in making the levels and world in the game Soul Reaper. Power Level Studios was founded by Danny Forest, who is my direct supervisor. Power Level Studios was founded in 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, though Danny has been making games professionally since 2009, among other things. While still working at another studio, Danny founded Power Level Studios to work on an old-school RPG for mobile devices. However, he realized that this project was too large to work on without any help, so he switched paths and started creating a different game, called Rouge Sharks Arcade, which was later released in July of 2014. During its initial run, Rouge Sharks Arcade had over three million players. Now, however, Danny is back to working on his original idea for an old-school RPG and working on it full-time, now with the help of a full team of developers. No longer fully intended for mobile devices, Danny called this project Soul Reaper, which has been in development on and off for almost two and a half years. Soul Reaper recently released its first public demo on Halloween Day of 2019.
As a Level Design intern, I have been working on several different things for Soul Reaper. I started by helping to design overworld behaviors for many of the monsters in the game. Only about two-thirds of the monsters in the game had behaviors intended for the overworld, and Danny needed me to finalize them, as well as lay out behaviors for the rest of the monsters so that they could be programmed and implemented into the game. Using Airtable, I used preassigned behavior blocks to design entirely unique behaviors for the remaining monsters.
I have also worked on creating level outlines in conjunction with the full-time Level Designer that Danny also hired. We both worked together to create over thirty maps for the first zone in the game, Volcanheim, and to select monster placement to create unique challenges and unique reasons why each level would be fun for players. We then worked together on creating all thirty of the second zone of the game, Elysium, and monster placement on those levels.
After that, we went into Unity, and used its tilemap features to build out the levels for Volcanheim levels. I worked on painting the ground, walls, and static objects and decorations, as well as putting in the monsters and teleporters. I then created and updated several ruletiles and random tile brushes for Elysium to help create better looking environments, as well as importing new art assets for the platform walls and adding them to the tileset in a quickly usable and easy to understand way. I then worked on adding tilesets for all of the final zone of the game, Polarus. I added the ground tiles, the bottoms of the levels, and all of the decorations and obstacles and created ruletiles and random tile brushes for all of them. Next, the Chris, the full-time Level Designer, and I worked on creating all of the Elysium levels. In all, Chris and I created 75 levels together for Volcanheim and Elysium. Chris then worked on creating all twenty-six of the levels in Unity while I went on to work on monster formations.
My next task for the game was to work on creating monster formations for all of the levels in the game. For each monster placed on the map, we wanted to have a unique combination of enemy monsters to fight in a three by three grid. I started by going through the monsters and picking out which ones I thought were most appropriate to the lava zone. I then started entering their code names into text fields, separated by commas to denote which space they were in. For every monster on the overworld, almost all monsters have at least two different combat encounters that you can face when you battle against them. While some have only one encounter possible, many have three, four, and even up to six. While doing this, I kept track of how far into the game the players would be at that point, and slowly introduced more monsters per battle, as well as including newer and tougher monsters as time went on. After I finished adding monsters to the first thirty Volcanheim levels, I moved onto Elysium, and added monster formations to the first thirty of those levels. Next, I worked on creating monster formations for the twenty-six Polarus levels. However, the levels in Polarus were two to three times larger than the previous levels I had worked on, now with up to twelve or even fifteen monsters on them. Once I finished with those levels, I went back to add formations to the newest five levels in Elysium and ten in Volcanheim.
Not long before the release of the open demo, I created a map to show what areas of the game were accessible at what times in the story and mapped all of the connections between the levels and what powerups were needed to move through the levels. I then used this to map out what combat level all of the monsters would be to ensure a proper progression of difficulty throughout the game, with a proper difficulty curve giving hard challenges followed by easier breaks so that the player can rest after the difficult sections. Finally before the release of the demo, I went through all of the monster encounters and fixed typos and errors to make sure all of the encounters worked correctly and didn’t crash the game after it was built.
Now, I have been working on going through all of the Elysium levels and fixing all of the collision issues on them. Because of the way some of the colliders worked with the platform walls and some of the decorations, there were many places that the player could get stuck and wouldn’t be able to get out of unless they restarted their game. I started by updated the colliders on the sprites for the platform walls, which has fixed a majority of the issues all at once. However, it hasn’t fixed many of the issues for the colliders of the decorations and updating those colliders won’t fix the issue. I have been steadily going through all of the Elysium levels to find all of the areas where there are collision issues. Whenever I find one, I either move the position of, remove or add more decorations in order to fix the collision issues so that the player won’t ever get stuck inside of a wall or decorations, or even outside of the map.
So far, I have learned a few valuable lessons during my internship. My first challenge was being brought into a project that had already been started and being expected to learn everything about it as quickly as possible. Because of this, I know how to quickly go over what was already in the game and learn what the plans for the game were to get a full idea of what I will be expected to do, and how to do it. My next challenge was working with other team members who were working remotely. I quickly got used to using Discord to facilitate communication between us and allowed us to work together on the levels. I also have become much more confident in my ability to use Git effectively for version control, as well as solving conflicts when merging or from issues that other people caused. I have also grown more comfortable with Unity’s tilemap system, and even learned how to make new tile palettes for it, as well as updating some particle systems. Most importantly, however, I have learned how to better estimate how long tasks will take me, as well as learning how to deal with upcoming deadlines and getting work done on time for them.