In this series, I will break down levels of games that I love or find interesting. We’ll do an analysis of different aspects such as: lighting, camera, critical path, occluders, airlocks, streaming, and well… honestly, I am going to forego a *lot* of the technical terms until I am a little further on in my understanding of level design. I’ll compile a dictionary of sorts as I progress.
The first game we’ll look at is Costume Quest (Double Fine Productions). You play either Wren or Reynold, a new kid in a new city. Your parents let you and your brother go trick-or-treating (and making friends) in the neighborhood of Autumn Haven. I played as Wren! Wren’s starting costume is a robot and Reynold’s is …… candy corn. I don’t know why, but it seems like everyone in this game world REALLY hates candy corn!
You discover that there is some evil plot afoot and that goblins and a witch named Dorsilla are stealing all of the candy (including your candy corn wearing compadre). You’ll have to trick-or-treat and end the corruption of the goblins or else get in a LOT of trouble for losing your sibling!
What I Love Abt It
The animations when the kids change into their costumes for fights is probably what tugged at me at first. There’s this lovely appeal to the nostalgia of wearing costumes as kids, and the power of imagination. When I was a kid, I pretended to be an otter, a witch, a Jedi knight, a chipmunk, and I orchestrated ridiculous dance routines and action sequences for myself and those who dared play with me! I didn’t grow up in North America, so the elements of nostalgia were a bit lost on me.
The levels in Costume Quest follow a really nice sequence of child fantasies of Halloween. You start in a small town and then go to a mall and then a carnival and finally a creepy maze. The location that stood out most to me was the mall. And the design that felt the weakest to me was the first town level, Autumn Haven.
Quick look at UI (my graphic design roots)! The UI for the game complements the theme well. The hand-drawn effect makes the UI feel like part of the narrative itself – it’s the player’s journal and resource!
The only thing I would change re: the UI and how it affects level design are how the costume parts and the levels interact with each other. The designers give some info about where certain costume parts are located, but I think that could have been developed further to contextualize the costumes in the same way that the way into the mall adds context to the Space Warrior. For example, I kept hoping that the vampire costume would somehow have an effect on the characters in the space, or be part of interaction with another NPC to give a different costume piece through “hypnosis”.
This could sit in the notebook under the costume section with a hint to see a certain someone, or give a hint about what the costumes can do in the levels.
There are five levels: 1) the town, 2) the way to the Mall, 3) the Mall, and 4) the Halloween fair, and 5) the maze & boss-fight.
The one that stuck out to me the most was the mall! The traversals between levels were largely done by cutting between one scene and the next, so 2), the way to the Mall felt out of place. As far as I can tell, its role is to provide context for the Space Warrior costume, which would be awesome if it carried through for more of the costumes.
The first level felt like it should have appealed to this nostalgia for the fantasy of walking around and trick-or-treating in a nice neighborhood, but there was something about the initial level that left me feeling like it wasn’t that interesting.
What I’d Do Differently (abt Level 1)
One of the things that I found most remarkable about Costume Quest, is that it reuses assets effectively, and the single camera when you’re exploring never felt annoying! Super smart direction. So, in order to stay within the guidelines of the game itself, I would change the circuit that the character follows in the first level!
My first step is to use LE GOOGLE to find some ideas!
I think I’m intrigued by the possibility of intertwining aspects of Colmar with Barrie!
I’d add some more depth to the town by way of breaking up the architecture with more of the open spaces, height changes in the terrain, and a character to the central points in the first level. For example, in the park (where you get the first bobbing for apples game), I’d make sure that there were some more Halloween decorations, add lighting, and play around with the buildings a bit to make use of space and empty space! I’ll doodle this out later!
Why the Mall was the BEST!
The Mall had the best design (for me) because of its use of levels, lighting, and the ability to capitalize on (pun intended) the store-fronts. There was great flow from the ground floor to the top floor, and the hidden areas felt really great to discover. The actions the players could take in the space made it feel more fun! There were so many great interactions with other NPC’s in this area as well – it made it come alive for me.