Time-frame of project: spring 2011
Project status: complete
Play it here: http://www.kongregate.com/games/erferf/access
Role: Level/Gameplay Designer
About: Access was completed over seven weeks with a five-person team for the Game Design as a Cultural Practice course at Georgia Tech. Before the project was assigned, we were given a few ground rules: the game must be made on Flash and released online by the due date, the game cannot have any violence, and the game could not be set in a fantasy or apocalyptic setting. After a few brainstorming sessions we decided to make Access, a game where players control a character in a wheelchair and must navigate through real-life environments.
In essence Access is a maze game with a unique wheelchair control scheme that takes inspiration from games like QWOP that make navigating simple environments hard to do without at first mastering the controls.
I had several roles on the project, but my two biggest contributions were helping create and iterate the controls and designing and implementing all the levels in the game. The longest process in the development process was refining the controls, and we went through many versions before settling on the final layout.
As the sole level designer I was responsible for creating and implementing the game’s three stages. My process involved looking at real-world examples of environments that would highlight the game mechanic (IE places that seem like they would be hard to navigate in a wheelchair). Combined with some real-world research where myself and other members of my team were able to borrow a wheelchair and “try it out” for a while, I decided on the following environments: a “hospital” level that functions like a tutorial with large corridors and easy turns, a park level that features many terrain types that inhibit movement, and a school hallway level with heavily populated corridors making for tight spaces.
After many re-dos of level plans as the deadline approached and many features were cut from the game, I was able to create the basic prototype for each level in our 1st XML-based level-editor. By the end of the project we changed level editors two more times, which meant that I had to re-create each level two more times. This worked to the design’s advantage however, as I was able to constantly test and tweak the levels with each new iteration (although I never got to test the levels out as well as I wanted to due to the final control scheme only coming to completion a few hours before the deadline).
This was the first project I worked on that involved its own custom level editor (three of them to be exact!), with the final version of the editor being a mix of spreadsheet tile lay-out and XML for NPC placement and pathing. I also learned a lot from testing not only for bugs and quality assurance but for playability and fun, as I made several changes to levels to try to make sure players never got stuck or bored (such as creating branching paths in the park level or numerous NPC placement changes in the hallway level to make sure players always knew that it was possible to progress down a certain route).
Read my design reflection about it here: http://lcc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/lcc4725/blog/?p=2995