Doomsday Clockwork: An Action MMO Dungeon
In the depths of the abyss an ancient weapons facility lies dormant, a place it is forbidden to visit due to the dangerous remnants lying around. Something has activated deep in the ruins, the facility could not handle it and is now potentially going to explode, the player must quickly dive in and find the source of the problems and take it out before the facility goes sky high!
Create a tightly combat focused level
Create a Warframe like player character
14-16 minutes of gameplay with a boss
Keep the player on the path, without it feeling like a corridor
To start I needed some inspiration for world mood and setting, and for this project I've been inspired by the world building of the manga/anime Made In Abyss.
I set out to create a town around a Weapons Facility built into the Abyss Wall, a place dedicated to refining destructive power from the more fantastical elements of the Abyss.
It's an old and long abandoned locale, one in a state of disrepair and ready to fall apart.
Image source: Made in Abyss
Image source: Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula
Image source: Warframe
I have 2 primary inspirations for the gameplay, Warframe for the combat and mission structure, and Final Fantasy XIV for the Level and Boss design.
When you load into a mission in Warframe it's basically never a question of where to go or why you are there, you know the objective and the fun comes from performing skillfully and mastering the traversal that is kept interesting with a procedural level creation.
In Final Fantasy XIV it's much the same, except that the levels are static, and as such rely much more on a spectacle in the design of the level.
Views made with the purpose to impress, staging scenes for the sake of the intended emotion. And over all basically very entertaining corridors, a bit like a roller-coaster of combat.
For this project I wanted to organically find the design of the world. I quickly iterated several ideas of a "Flow" for how the level were to wind around and overlap itself.
This is how I arrived at the idea of putting the town on stilts, this is to make use of a small space and get a motivated verticality in the world design. This is when I opened Unreal and started rough blocking to get more specific metrics for the different areas.
I adjust my workflow to fit what the current project needs, for this Dungeon project exploring and looking into nooks and crannies was decidedly not part of the wanted design, and as such sticking with simple primitives would be more than enough to block.
I start by blocking the boundaries of the level, and then work my way inwards. Having started with the big unique buildings, walls and the Stilts of the heightened town, to let them be the dominant force, and as such build the town below around these factors.
REFINEMENT & ITERATION
/// Iteration 1 /// Iteration 2 /// Iteration 3 ///
Containing the player
Even though gameplay conventions of a "dungeon" would have been enough for the player to know they must only move forward. I wanted something more natural, and spent some time experimenting how to approach the ruins.
I settled for a Bridge that will collapse once the player has crossed it, locking the player into the ruins and promoting forward momentum, as there is no way back.
/// Iteration 1 /// Iteration 2 /// Iteration 3 ///
The door fake-out
Partway through the lower city, I wanted the main path to be blocked by a big gate. The player must now scramble to find a way to open it, but upon activating the switch will find that not the door they expected opens up, and now they must find a different way up into the facility.
Originally the layout of the area meant that the new door would be behind the player, and its cause and effect would not be so obvious, so I spent time iterating to get a good staging where the failed door, the new door and a future threat all gets presented.
/// Iteration 1 /// Iteration 2 /// Iteration 3 ///
Introducing boss mechanics
Some boss mechanics are not obvious at a glance what they will do, to combat this I chose to create a little set piece where the big Cannon gets introduced, in a situation where you are unlikely to get hit as a player.
This makes it so when the Cannon intrudes on the boss fight the player should already be aware of what that means, and I as a boss designer can quickly start to play with such expectations.
THE CONTROLLED CHAOS
Warframe, My Guide
For this project I wanted to create a boss fight, but I felt to even be able to start creating a decent boss I needed some proper gameplay, so I set out to create a tool kit that would fit into a game I'm familiar with, Warframe.
Warframe I like to describe as controlled chaos, player characters flying through levels at mach 5, everything exploding and VFX making it difficult to even see whats going on, but it sure does make the player feel powerful.
I wanted to create a Set for myself, with abilities with multiple uses and have potential for depth in the play.
Ability 1: Vertical Mobility
Ability 1 provides an escape from being surrounded and a view of the combat from above.
It also gives the option to press the button again to launch the player in the aimed direction to get away.
Ability 2: Horizontal Mobility
Warframe levels are big, and the base movement of a player character in that game is one of extreme mobility, I was only aiming to create a Frames toolkit so I wanted to incorporate some way to quickly traverse open spaces.
Upon ending the charge enemies nearby get launched into the air and take more damage for the duration.
Ability 3: Builder
The core of this frame is to build up an army of star orbs and keep them burning.
To do this the player needs to keep an eye on the orbs, and shoot them before they extinguish, eventually building up a field of damage to kite enemies through.
Ability 4: Spender
When its time to go to the next location, you wanna finish with a bang, so Ability 4 allows for just that.
Cause all the Star orbs on the field to explode for big damage while cleaning the area of VFXs, to get a clean new start as you build up the army again.
Some choices I made
The original version of Ability 1, was just a dash in the direction the player is looking, and while this felt good to play on the PC it relied on being able to flick around quickly, something that is awkward on a controller. To create a version of Ability 1 I decided to add a part 1 to it, the hover, to give all users time to aim where they actually want to go, increasing usability.
For the main mechanics of the star orbs, they started out by not interacting with each other in anyway, this was boring. To spice it up and add something for the player to juggle while dealing with enemies, I created the entire mechanic of the orbs expiring.
This was a good first step, as now the player did not just fire and forget their abilities, but they had to keep track of them and shoot at them.
But this proved to finicky to deal with, so I made it so orbs exploded when they extended, and this can snowball to refresh all orbs within range in a very satisfying way. But now I ran into a different problem, there was simply too many orbs, so as a final revision for this project, I made it so the orbs attract each other, and if they collide they explode for big damage and leave behind 1 of them.
So now the game play has evolved into trying to spread orbs in such a way that you can set off big chain reactions of orbs colliding, and I personally find it quite engaging.
BOSS DESIGN & PHILOSOPHY
Source: Heigan the Unclean, Naxxramas, World of Warcraft
Did you bring your dance shoes?
When I design a boss the first thing I ask my self, what ways can I force the player to move around the arena this time? I ask this because, in my opinion, the so called "Dance bosses" have something fundamental about them that is just fun.
A dance boss is when they have phases that task the player with learning a series of moves, and a series of locations they need to be on to survive the mechanic.
The main way of creating engagement in these types of fights, is not making the patterns needlessly difficult to perform, but rather it is by adding a layer of translation to the telegraph. A boss could require you to learn that "I'm glowing blue now, respond by moving away" and that little layer of translating changes the experience from reactionary mindset, to one where the player is actively thinking about what the boss is doing.
If the boss is too hard though, it will loop back around and become a reactionary thing when the player no longer has to think about the telegraphs. As such the ideal time for a boss to die is just before the player no longer is actively thinking about the mechanics they have been taught.
MY BOSS: THE REVOLVING DOOM
The Main boss itself has 3 different Telegraphs, they are all shown as a glowing hologram in front of its chest and each has a different response.
Full orb, get away.
Donut, get close.
Four small orbs, strafe in a circle around the boss.
The humongous weapon the player had to get past to even get to the boss gets hoisted up and becomes a part of the boss fight. The 8 barrels on the gun corresponds to the 8 outer squares of the boss arena.
The gun will telegraph where it's about to shoot, and the player needs to translate what barrel equates to what square.
The equation to solve
Now I can have both the Gun and the Automaton telegraph attacks, and delay the attacks in such a way they impact at the same time.
While understanding to either stand "in or out" while at the same time "avoid corners" is not that difficult, it requires the mind to pay attention to two separate things, and even on a small degree it adds a nice spice to fighting the boss.
Rotations on different planes
So for my boss I wanted something to happen mid fight, that surprises the player, and makes them re-consider how mechanics work. I accomplish that with a simple rotation of the Doomsday guns barrel, a small "twist" on how the gun works, and suddenly the mechanic has a new life and restarts the learning process of the player internalizing how to translate the telegraph.
This time around the players will generally learn it much faster, as learning a twist on a concept is easier because the player should understand the base concept by now.
The reason this adds difficulty, is because a clockwise rotation of the gun, equates in a anti-clockwise rotation of what the targeted square is on the ground.
THE BLUEPRINT SCRIPTING
The event based logic
I created all the functions for both the boss and the player in Blueprints, making use of Custom Events and good variables to get the behavior I wanted.
I work a lot with breaking up things into smaller actors, the boss it self is split into 10 actors, that I use the BaseBoss to spawn in cool combinations with each other.
Did I achieve my goals?
In the end I can say I reached my design goals in game-play and boss, obviously I would've liked for the boss to swing a weapon and have "Downtime" between the special attacks, but that would've been a journey into Animations which is not for me.
I rather quite like my little "Warframe" I created, would actually like to see something like it be added to that game as just watching the star orbs chain explode ate away a bit of development time.
My biggest personal disappointment is that I am not satisfied with the Level-design, I feel like here is an idea that could work, but I have not given it the time it deserved, there are issues in parts of its flow, and over all I needed some more time to make the enemy encounters leading up to the boss more interesting. I think the introduction of the Doomsday Gun is the best part of this over all experience.
Thank you for reading this far down, now go and check out my other portfolio pieces and have an amazing day!