Thanks to Inktober (and to a lesser extent, Inkvember) we’ve seen a spike in awesome Guacamelee! fan art. If you like a piece, click on it to see the artist’s page and tell them you like it!
Hi, I’m Jason, Game Designer at DrinkBox Studios, specializing in Level Design. We’re all hard at work on our new game, Severed… and if you’re an eagle-eyed Back to the Future fan, you know that it’s coming out… someday.
From a Level Design standpoint, Severed is quite different from our previous titles, which were primarily Platformers. As a first-person action-adventure game, the player travels through, and interacts with the game world in a much different way than in, say, Guacamelee!. For the design team, this has not only created a few challenges for level design, but has also allowed us to learn some interesting new ways to approach level design and world building.
When designing a Platformer, you have to think about how the player will move through the environment from a gameplay perspective. The player has to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, so you have to think about all of the gameplay opportunities that you can insert into the world to make that journey from ‘A’ to be ‘B’ as interesting as possible, and as difficult as you desire. The most important element of Platformer design is understanding, and leveraging the player character’s movement ability. If the player has the ability to jump, then make them jump! The more options the player has at their disposal, the more fun it is to move around the world.
That takes us to Severed, which obviously, is not a Platformer, and therefore needs a different approach to level design.
Movement in Severed
In Severed, the player doesn’t have as many movement options as in a game like Guacamelee!. Firstly, the player doesn’t move freely around the screen, the player instead moves through the world in steps. A movement action is a single “step”, a constant distance that separates all of the game’s rooms (also known as ‘nodes’). The design team quickly learned that instead of thinking of this as a limitation, it is instead a useful concept for creating levels in Severed. With this unit of measurement we can plan out levels much more carefully and create a finely tuned experience for the player. For example we know that the player will be exactly 3 steps away from a point of interest and the level designers can use that information to their advantage.
The world of Severed, as you have probably already seen, is beautiful, fascinating and sometimes terrifying. And being an action-adventure game, it’s very important that we allow the player to fully explore and take in this world we’ve created. There are many dangers in the world of Severed, but the player does not have to be afraid of moving around. The standard ‘step’ is not inherently dangerous… it can lead the player into danger, but the player doesn’t have to worry about falling into a pit or jumping over a flaming spike ball.
This has also affected the early concept and planning phases for level design. When designing a Platformer, I personally find it very useful to just roll up my sleeves and dive right in to the tools. However, Severed has required a great deal more planning before the actual creation of levels begins. It’s very, very difficult to simply jump in and begin creating. This is partially due to the way that the levels themselves are constructed but also due to the importance of what we want the player to see, and when we want them to see it. Something as simple as a path that approaches a deserted temple is carefully planned and structured to provide just the right feeling at that moment. This means that many of the levels in Severed went through multiple iterations of paper designs before any of the dev tools were used. Because of Severed’s node structure, I found that spreadsheets were incredibly useful in designing Severed’s levels.
Severed is hardly devoid of level design gameplay. There are plenty of deadly enemies that inhabit the world. Deciding what enemies the player will face, and where they lie in wait is a very important element of the level design. And as with all other elements of the level design, everyone at DrinkBox has helped to inform these decisions. The enemy behaviors, combat difficulty tuning and reward systems have all factored into placing twisted creatures into the world of Severed.
So, what does all of this mean for the level designers on Severed? Well, for me, it has meant a shift away from pits, spikes, and Tule Trees, and shift towards building and fleshing out a world, one that is constantly telling a story. And don’t worry, there’s still plenty of opportunities to add traps, treasures, creatures and secrets! As a Level Designer you can’t always rely on your old methods… sometimes you do have to learn new tricks.
Hey internet, this is Augusto.
Chris and Dave here. This week we start our first internal playtesting for Severed! A DrinkBox mantra is to playtest early and often. Basically this means harassing family, friends, and amazing volunteers to play our game.
The average playtest is streamed to the entire studio so many members of the team will be able to watch in real time. Despite this, we feel very strongly about the benefit of logging playtest data – this is information recorded to the Vita in the form of a text file while somebody plays Severed. Log data is really good at giving the macro view of a playtest session, which can help us as a studio tune the game for maximum ultra uber fun.
So what does our log data look like? Initially, tens of thousands of lines of this – taken from a recent playtest by one of our artists:
Raw playtest data
But after we import this into our analysis tool, it runs various statistics on the data and spits out something much more readable to give a high-level view of the play session:
The ‘level summary’ section of our processed logs
We have a target in mind for time required to complete each level in Severed to ensure people get a good value for their purchase. Immediately we see that this level took around 55 minutes to complete, which is actually on target. That’s great.
As I look closer at the data though, I see the majority of monster parts collected was Coral and Tentacles. Coral is an early level item which is appropriate for the Father level, but the Tentacles is not. Tentacles are used for later game upgrades, and therefore should be collected later in the game. This becomes a task for a Designer to investigate and balance out appropriately.
Further down the log data we look at player deaths – perhaps the most important piece of information. Recording deaths allows us to eliminate difficulty spikes, a great bane for many developers. You can see that node (B1, 12, 1) has 12 deaths, which is very high compared to the next highest at node (B1, 9, 1) with 3 deaths. For Severed, the disparity between these two difficulties is too spikey for our liking and we actively review the fight that takes place in (B1, 12, 1) to determine why our player died so often.
Node (B1, 12, 1)
Even if we’re seeing a lot of deaths here, the solution isn’t necessarily to just nerf this particular fight. Also in our handy-dandy log analysis is a summary of how each individual battle went, to give us more detail to diagnose the issue…
On this attempt, despite parrying a lot, using a spell and holding out for two minutes, he still died, which is quite painful.
And we also produce a general breakdown for each enemy, which collects data across all of the battles in which that enemy appears and helps us try to guess how often they’re an issue:
We have to get those Bad Barrys down.
We might notice by looking through here that Strongarm is one of the top enemies killing the player, and that it does higher damage on average than most; a possible red flag that it’s the culprit, at least in this battle’s particular mix of enemies.
We’re still developing these tools, and trying to get an accurate picture of what’s really going on through abstracted stats will always be tricky, but by coming at it from these diverse angles – plus reviewing the recorded video and, of course, talking to our intrepid playtester – we end up with a powerful set of tools for analyzing what’s working and what isn’t in Severed.
Hi! I’m David Rusak, one of the designers at DrinkBox Studios. Here’s a recent episode from the creation of Severed that I thought would give a little insight into the twists and turns of the development process:
Severed’s world is split into several levels which each comprise dozens and dozens of nodes. For a while, when things went wrong, we were writing bug reports like: “When you walk into the first dungeon, the second outdoor area you get to, that node after the weird-looking tree with a path going East and West, has a misplaced piece of art…”
A lot of these kinds of requests made their way down to the design team, who would then have to sort out tracking the offending node down themselves. After a while, the designers wanted a better way to identify the nodes that make up our levels. It was easy to imagine that programmers could devise a system to do this automatically — but free coder time is often a scarce resource, especially when it comes to problems like this that are a little less than life-or-death, so (as often) the designers just went ahead solving this inconvenience in the least-janky way available to them.
They began to just put a ‘Node ID’ object in each node, visible when testing with debug visuals, that showed a number unique to that node. Ensuring each node’s number was unique was easy enough, since we can search object names in the level, and it really wasn’t such a big job just duplicating this ID object across the whole level one time, and then copying it along into any new nodes we added along the way. It was fairly lightweight and gave us a very convenient way of talking about single nodes.
But there comes a time when rough fixes must be sternly revisited.
We were going through a wave of big level revampings as we approached our Alpha milestone. New work had been done by designers less familiar with the Node ID ‘solution’, or who hadn’t yet gotten around to adding all the IDs back into still-half-rebuilt levels. The IDs were also now expected during testing. And the code team caught wind of our appallingly manual solution to this straightforward, systemic problem, dealing the deathblow to it.
This new node ID thingy may look similar, but it’s placed automatically, by code wizardry. It tells you the grid position of the node you’re in and the floor it’s on, providing even better info than the old arbitrarily-numbered IDs did. As a bonus, it became easy with these labels to add the ability to debug-jump the player to any specified node, causing QA to weep tears of joy.
Should a request to set up a system like this have been insisted on right off the bat, added to the avalanche of front-loaded work the programmers are already tasked with? The new system actually has some weaknesses compared to the old manual node-naming: if we moved a whole chunk of the level around, everywhere we’ve referred to those nodes by these location-based names would become completely inaccurate. But at this stage, it saves us tons of trouble — now that we’re at a point where we can take certain things for granted (nodes won’t be drastically moved around much from Alpha onward, they’re always on a grid, etc). This was a pretty extreme case because the code fix was pretty easy, but it’s one good demonstration of the principle that no production decision is simple — knowing The Right Answer to a problem is never enough. For many cases like this, the janky stopgap measure really is the right move, until things become better solidified. When you add new cogs to the machine, you never just solve a problem — you also create debt.
Hi, I’m Mayuran, and also a coder at DrinkBox. A few weeks ago, I was given the task to write the logic for a Jellyfish NPC – a creature that would add a bit of spooky atmosphere to the game. The artists had animated it already and I was to write the logic to hook up with the animation.
But this was my chance, to fulfill my 2nd grade dream of being a marine scientist!
I thought jellyfish were similar to squid. I found out watching the documentary “The Future Is Wild” that squid were destined to take over the earth after mankind dies. Just like the Ghostbusters, we have already chosen our method of destruction.
It was obvious that the internet doesn’t care enough about jellyfish or squids. So I went to the local aquarium.
Finally arriving at the jellyfish I stood there for what felt like minutes, furiously taking notes. Curious children asked me what I was doing and I ignored them, a scientist has no time for education.
After many dollars in business related expenses I was finally finished. If anyone would like my info for any jellyfish related science journals, please contact me.
In the end, I noticed these creatures had a push and glide mechanism, so decided to go with a logic that used a sine wave function as it’s velocity. This seemed to be a nice replication of the jellyfish movement that can be seen in-game below:
Principal = Main
Skinner = Someone like Matheus Meneguette who has done great work tweaking Guacamelee to create some truly wonderful and unique playable skins.
After our PC launch, I’d check the Steam Workshop pretty often to see what people would create and share with the community. We had some some pretty stellar creations 6 months after release like Juanny Bravo, Zangief, Samus Aran, The Tick, etc. Then along came this Bayonetta skin…
It totally floored us. I’d never played Bayonetta, but I could see how much care went into making the custom animations for super moves like the Dash Punch and Frog Slam. Matheus made so many awesome custom skins with custom animations that we had to write a blog about it to share them with everyone, Guacamelee Steam Workshop Awesomeness. And we’re blogging about his work again!
We got in touch with Matheus and asked him to join our team to help us make our latest DLC, the ‘Frenemies’ skin pack (out now on PS4 and Xbox One). He was able to take characters from Guacamelee, and give them their own character-appropriate animations for a full set of moves required of a playable character. Take Xtabay and Uay Chivo for example:
Definitely try those out! If you have Guac STCE on PS4 or Xbox One, we’ll give you a code if you participate in our #GotGuac Contest, back for one more week.
As for Matheus, he’s helping us with our next game, Severed, holding down the fort in DrinkBox Brazil. You’ll still have to wait a while before we can show you that stuff. In the meantime, check out his work on deviantart and give him a follow on twitter!
Do you have Guacamelee! STCE on PSFour (4)or Xbox One (1)? Do you have some guacamole in your fridge? If you answered yes to both questions, this contest is for you.
Here’s Michael, our new programmer showing you how it’s done.
- Tweet us a photo of your Guacamole moustache for a chance to win one (1) of ten (10) Frenemies Skin Packs for Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition.
- Send photos to @drinkboxstudios with the hashtag #GotGuac?
- Winners will be randomly selected on
Monday, June first (1st) Twenty-Fifteen (2015)Friday June 26th
- It must be real Guacamole on your face! No wasabi, no green paint, NO PHOTOSHOPS!
If you don’t like sharing photos, the DLC is 40% off for PS+ subs until the end of May. Be sure to get Guacamelee STCE while it’s still free on PS+!
FRENEMIES SKIN PACK DETAILS
Now you can put to use Javier Jaguar’s noble strength, FlameFace’s scoundrelous wiles, X’Tabay’s deadly sorcery and Uay Chivo’s legendary mastery in the fight to save El Presidente’s Daughter and the world from Carlos Calaca.
All four characters are decked out with new animations and unique attributes that will change the way you play. Put your skills to the test to unlock the new trophies — and maybe find an easter egg or two…
Matt here. A couple weeks ago, we brought Severed and a bunch of merch to Bit Bazaar 5, a fun craft fair “celebrating the art & craft of games, comics and good food!” I’m always amazed at the cool crafts people make related to their games/comics: example1, example2, example3, example4, example5, example6, example7, example8, example9.
That’s our table up there.
A while ago, I attended a workshop that inspired me to make crafty things related to the games we make at DrinkBox. At previous bazaars we made postcards, posters, buttons, and t-shirts. I wanted to make something different this time around.
In Severed, the main character, Sasha, loses her arm and it takes on a life of its own. Watch (and listen to) the concept video to see what I mean. I thought to myself, “What would be more apt than a mini severed arm?” Unopposed, I went shopping.
I got the big arm from eBay. The smaller ones were removed from toys I bought at thrift stores and dollar stores. Do y’all have dollar stores, or is that just a Canadian thing? It’d be weird if Denmark had them since their currency is the krone and not the dollar. Let me know.
Check out those arm concepts for our next game, Severed.
I picked out four incandescent acrylic paints and a couple brushes. I’m not a crafty person, but I felt like I could at paint arms that resembled the Severed arm somewhat. Here’s a gallery of progress photos.
(Click on the green hand to see the gallery.)
I was pretty pleased with how they turned out. In any event, waiting for coats of paint to dry was a great opportunity to get caught up on Mad Men while playing Hearthstone on my phone.
Maybe I’ll add ‘arms dealer’ to my business card.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Well, we just couldn’t resist. Maybe it’s the arrival of spring, or our deep desire to fight as a goat-man or leopard-warrior, but we’re releasing a rad Guacamelee! STCE “Frenemies” Character Pack, featuring the game’s most legendary characters. Dive into the world of Guacamelee! as Uay Chivo, Xtabay, Javier Jaguar or Flame Face. You’ll find a few new surprises and challenges, with new trophies tied to playing as each character.
The “Frenemies” Character Pack is availlable today in the North and South American PS Store for $2.99, with a 40% discount for PS Plus members this month. It’ll also have the same deal on European PS4s on Thursday. Hot Diggity!
If you didn’t know, you can now grab Guacamelee! STCE for FREE in the May Instant Game Collection – so if you’re trying it out, or looking for an excuse to play again, this is the perfect way to do it. And with our recent 4-player local co-op update, you can cooperate with 4 frenemies at once!
Check out how great these costumes are:
Work out Flame Face’s most deep-seated issues
Harness the unmatched magical power / disdain levels of a Uay Chivo + X’tabay tag team.
And now YOU get to be the most difficult boss in the game. Need we say more?