Despite the strong positives and negatives of Montreal Joue, the next week of production work had reminded me of all the communication issues we were still facing. Over the course of looking at my re-design for Level 1, I started realizing some very obvious problems with it that I had neglected in my superfluous crunch. Coming back, I had expressed to our lead designer that I wanted to take a week to fix the problems in the level. In response, I got a terse “I thought the level was supposed to be done”, even though we were both aware that the time frame it was created in was far from ideal.
Still, I had the opportunity to fix it before talking with the artists about how to approach asset creation. There were two main issues I had with the level at the time: the first one involved having the player pick up a radio that a major character would talk to them through. In the vertical slice level, however, there was no way of making sure that the player would pick up the radio without walking away. Unfortunately, that was an aspect I had overlooked while first creating it.
I had initially thought about having the player crawl into a ticket booth office through a vent, but that was quickly shot down by the art team (with good reason). Instead, we reused the ticket booth asset that was already in for last semester, and had an electronic door unlock after the short conversation that started on its pickup. It felt a bit game-y, but it definitely solved the problem.
I was also unhappy with some aspects surrounding the monster towards the end of the level. Previously, the player just hit a button to call an elevator, and a short while after, the lights would go out, followed by the enemy a few seconds later. I didn’t think that having the player standing around waiting to be attacked was terribly jarring. As I mentioned in an article on level design in horror, the best time to scare the player is when they’re either thinking about a problem or when they’re anticipating the completion of a task. In order to reflect this better, I moved the monster attack to when the player is opening a keypad door right after the elevator. This way, it interrupts the player’s expectation of the door unlocking.
A diagram from my article showing when in the gameplay loop to scare the player.
Looking at the layout of the office area, I also noticed that there was really no way to circumvent the monster once it was given free reign to hunt the player. Though we were trying to be horrific in a way that Amnesia and Outlast are, it was important for us to remember that the biggest pillar of our gameplay was stealth. With this in mind, I added some doors between some of the rooms in the office, to give the player more room to evade the enemy.
I’m glad to have taken the time to put these improvements into the level; now I feel more confident about the quality of my work on it, as well as the way it achieves its intended learning outcomes. Hopefully this experience would carry into the creation of Level 2.