I felt it was neccesary to include this next section before finalizing all of the components of Part 2. Here is a helpful guide to use when planning individual level layouts. I'll complete the rest of this blog post anothetr time.
Core Interaction Loop Walkthrough
This image is an example of how to lay out a level for a Metroidvania style game. The glossary should explain what the symbols on the map represent. This layout could be for a side-scroller, an overhead view or even a fully 3D game.
The scales and shapes of the rooms are meaningless. They can be whatever size works best for them once you start building. This just helps you orient yourself when mentally walking through the game in the planning stages and helps you remember where you need to put things. For the purposes of this example I’ve made the layout mostly linear. Now to walk through the design philosophies used to create this layout.
1. Players enter this world where you see the start label.
2. The standard entries are doors which players can open with the abilities they have at this point. They are labeled as green.
3. If your game will include save points rather than a save anywhere system then you might want to have one at the beginning of the world so that there is minimal back tracking if players die.
4. Room A1 is the players introduction to this world. This is the first thing players see that shows off the world theme. The room should be impressive and introduce some new element to catch the players attention.
5. Exploration in Room A1 may reward players by allowing them to find a secret. This can be important or trivial based on what you have to offer players.
6. Players exit A1 and go through a transition area before reaching A2. Transition areas can be used for variety, allowing players to get a break from action or even to mask loading if your engine requires.
7. A2 is a room that only needs to serve one purpose. This room needs to ensure that players will immediately see an area that requires the use of an ability they don’t have yet. This is a blocker preventing the player from progressing. I’ve labeled it here in red. This room funnels the player so they are forced to see this blocker and it needs to stand out. It needs to be framed in such a way that it imprints in the players memory. It is the only important, attention grabbing part of this room.
(In order to make this blocker stand out you have a few tools at your disposal. You can use lighting in order to highlight the area. You can place a memorable landmark such as a statue or a symbol here in order to make it stand out. You can also shape your room in such a way where this location opens up. Do whatever needs to be done to foreshadow the point leading into the area the player can’t quite get to yet.)
8. After seeing the blocker in A2 players are routed back towards the only available new exit. They can see another blocker on the way here but this one shouldn’t be emphasized. (You will understand why this second blocker is placed like this later)
9. Players eventually make their way into A3. This could potentially be a puzzle or exploration based area. Players can solve the puzzle in the obvious way in order to gain access to A4. If players are cleverer then they can find out how to get into Optional B1. This route is not required but you should make B1 worthwhile by hiding a secret there.
10. Eventually players will be routed through A4. This could be a combat heavy room or area which is where the meat of the encounters should take place. It still shouldn’t be too difficult because you don’t want players to die right before a save.
11. The save point follows this encounter room if you are crafting the save locations. This way if players die in the next room or in a boss encounter they don’t have far to go in order to try again. You don’t want to put the saves too close to a boss room because then it can become too predictable when a boss encounter is going to happen.
12. The Last area before the Boss is A5. In this layout this room serves two purposes. The first is to tease an even more distant future ability which will give players the motivation to return to this world after obtaining it later in the game. The second is to provide a slight challenge before facing the Boss. This also allows players a chance to refill any ammo or resources by farming them right before the boss. (There is a secret hidden in the room that players can’t reach yet. This is here to leave you a way to incorporate something you haven’t planned. This secret could be a power up, an expansion or even a route back into this level from another world.)
13. You’ll notice that there is a One Way Entry indicator on the door leading into the ABoss room. This One Way Entry can be as simple as the door locking behind you or it could be more complex like being forced to drop down into an arena. The point is you don’t want players getting back the way they came.
14. If your game includes Bosses then this is the place where you would want to place the encounter. If you aren’t going to include bosses then just treat this as an area dedicated to obtaining a new ability. Once you defeat the boss here then you get the framed reveal of the “Special Thing You Want”
15. The New Ability should be enticing to players. It should be located in a place where it feels intentional and special.
16. Once the player obtains the new ability then they must use this new ability to exit the room. This is how you enforce that a player learns what a new ability does. Most often you don’t even need a tutorial because they can’t fail here. They have to use the ability to move on past the barrier which is labeled in Red. It should be obvious to players.
17. Once players have used the ability in order to get past the barrier then they are required to use it again in the next transition area. At this point you have just reminded them of what the new ability does. Here is where the magic happens.
18. The exit they just came out of by using their special new ability just created a shortcut to exactly where they needed to go next. It even points them in the right direction. They have now entered back into A2 directly facing the most memorable landmark in the level.
19. Players went through a long level sequence in order to gain a new ability and they didn’t have to walk back through the level they just fought through. (This is an important part of the polish in a crafted Metroidvania flow) The levels should be built to reveal shortcuts upon gaining new abilities. This doesn’t just happen by accident. You have to intend it.
20. Players then use their new ability to get past the special attention grabbing barrier and they are rewarded by getting into the next area. They used a new ability 3 times in a row. Players will now be more inclined to remember they have this new ability even if they don't use it again for a while.
This is the basic philosophy you can use for crafting your levels. You never want to repeat the same things so you’ll have to get more and more creative when it comes to differentiating your layouts. Next up I will show you how to connect your world layouts so they merge together to make traversal convenient and empowering as the game progresses. You will want to include back tracking but you always want the back tracking to have a purpose.
To Be Continued…