Hey hey! I’ve been doing a lot of work the past few weeks on remodelling my sewer level – it was in a near-complete state, but I had a few issues with the level layout that I thought could bear some improvement. I’m thinking a lot about level design and I’d like to talk a little about that.
I made a decision early on to not have too much ‘conspicuous platform game stuff’, as far as environment design goes. It’s completely common in many platformers to see platforms that are literally just platforms – floating things that don’t fit into the level aesthetic and which are clearly just there for you to jump on. Even some of the most winningly designed games in history do this – the great Yoshi’s Island, for example – and without meaning any disrespect at all to YI (it’s one of my very favourite games and honestly was just the first thing to pop into my head), it’s kind of a strange trope. I think this subliminally says to the player, “this is all here for you. The world exists for you to jump on.” Which, in a platform game, it does, of course.
I’ve been trying to think about it a little bit differently, though. I’d like the player to feel as though they are exploring a world that existed before they got there and was not necessarily constructed with them in mind. Platforms must have a structural logic and appear to belong in the space – in the sewer, you will encounter concrete pillars, floating barrels, and pipes you can stand on. They may not make perfect logical sense – why would there be a pipe there, really? But I think – I hope – that it helps to cement the idea of a world with its own internal logic. There are certainly no anti-gravity pink rectangles just rotating in the air for you.
At the conclusion of the sewer level, players will encounter both a new character and a new aspect of the game: while Down To Earth‘s primary plot is about trying to get our stranded alien protagonist back to his homeworld, there is an optional, but significant, side-quest concerned with the making of friends. Throughout the game there will be a number of characters with whom you can foster a rapport, if you are so inclined. Milton – the homesick alien – is on Earth for only a temporary time, assuming the player succeeds in the main quest, but is it possible for him to make a connection with any of the characters he meets along the way?
Meet Horace, the lonely fish mutant who lives in the sewer and dreams of life above ground. Self-esteem is not his strong suit, but he has a keen curiosity about the world, reads voraciously, and collects the various artifacts of human civilisation that somehow find their way down to him. He also never receives visitors, so it seems that his encounter with you may have a lasting effect. How will you behave around him? Other characters may invite you to spend time with them and discover more about them and the world; but of course you don’t have to. It’s up to you.
I’ve also been working on a new title screen:
It’s not yet finished – in fact it has some pretty gnarly bugs (I’m having some problems with controller support, but I’ll have that sorted out soon). I also have yet to make the Options menu, although the game engine does support various customisations (music and sfx volume adjustment, the ability to disable footstep sounds, text scroll speed, and I’m considering adding support for custom keyboard mapping); I just haven’t yet made an in-game interface to control them all.
Anyway, watch this space! I have a few really interesting and fun ideas for new mechanics to introduce later in the game, and I’m looking forward to refining those into something presentable! Thanks again for your continued support, everybody – particularly my long-suffering friends who regularly get roped in for testing! It’ll be worth it in the end, guys – I promise!