4 Act Level Design In Synthalaxy

The game that I worked on my spring 2017 semester was a joy to work on. We had a very interesting chance to implement a great level design technique that I learned from a YouTube video. In this video from Mark Brown called "Super Mario 3D World's 4 Step Level Design | Game Maker's Toolkit" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBmIkEvEBtA) he talks about an interesting design technique used for the most recent platformer Mario games. 

The 4 steps in Mark Brown's video are great but don't work the same when you have split the game into 1 World and 4 smaller levels. Because they didn't really work for everything I came up with my own theory/technique. The 4 acts that I came up with to design ANY experience, big or small, go as follows:

1) Intro - The intro act is the most obvious yet the easiest to mess up. The main parts of the intro include teaching the main mechanic or interesting portion of the game/world. Next letting the players get a feel for the game/world. Letting players get a feel for the world is the hardest part, some designers think that the teaching is the main part. Letting players get a feel for whats to come builds anticipation and sets expectations. This portion of the game is usually safe and players generally don't lose or die in this portion.

2) Ride - The ride act is simple and pretty straight forward. The player in this section must use the mechanic or interesting portion of the intro in order to complete the ride act. This gives the player some reinforcement of theme and mechanics setting them up for the next act.

3) Twist - The twist is when we design a portion of the game that the player must use the already taught mechanic in a unique, interesting or different way than previously.  This new twist is also not explicitly taught to the player letting them use their intuition and discovery to solve the puzzle or understand the plot/theme. This is great because it makes the player feel smart when they understand the twist in the plot of a story or solve a puzzle in a way they never thought was possible.

4) Climax - This is the final boss, mastery, challenge level or climax to the plot of the game. All plot has been pointing to this moment and the player must use all of the previously used and taught mechanics to get passed the level or boss. If you skip out on a previously taught mechanic or skill then the player might feel like what they played previously was useless. This is the same when a plot line is not wrapped up in a story. The Mastery act lets the players master the skills taught in order to get a huge pay off and some of the best and most memorable parts in video games are in the climax.

Overall this theory/technique has its flaws, but I think it does a good job at fitting any part of a game. This technique was used when designing the 4 levels to each world in Synthalaxy, as well as the overall world structure for the game. For example world 1 - 1 let you learn movement and pulling enemies in a safe environment (INTRO). World 1 - 2 let you move around in a less safe environment (RIDE). World 1 - 3 introduced the turret enemies, but was still about pulling and killing enemies (TWIST). World 1 - 4 was the final level making you master pulling enemies in an interesting way (CLIMAX). Overall all worlds are structured in the same way.

Thanks for reading my design technique that I learned from designing Synthalaxy. Taking inspiration from both Mark Brown's wonderful video, and some of the narrative techniques taught by my Game Analysis and Theory 211 professor, Boyan Radakovich. 

Here is Synthalaxy available for download: https://games.digipen.edu/games/synthalaxy#.Wd04PGhSzcc

More blog posts to come...