Genre: Action Platformer
Technology: Unity, C#, Adobe Photoshop CC, GitLab, Discord
Duration: 6 Months
Team Size: 4
Role: Project Leader, Game and Level Designer
Cyber Alex is a 2D retro platformer that takes the best from the classic titles of the genre (Megaman, Super Mario Bros, and Metroid) and builds unique mechanics, puzzles, and challenges.
Cyber Alex encourages a tactical and creative approach to the challenges proposed by the levels. Sometimes is better to avoid the angry robots by waiting for the right moment and using the level layout in clever ways. Other times, instead, the best solution is the more practical: use the gun to take down the threats.
- A platformer game where the main protagonist is capable of teleporting around to the position of her warper which can be placed or thrown at different distances. These mechanics are regulated by a clock meter bar and time constraints.
- Puzzle and combat challenges that can be approached differently and creatively using the environment as well as the teleport mechanics.
- A variety of threats:
- Robots of different shapes and behaviours.
- Turrets capable of shooting normal ammo, rockets, or laser beams.
- Fast-paced actions thanks to the level layout full of dissolving and moving platforms, vertical progression, timed challenges, and much more.
Cyber Alex was born during a game jam and quickly developed over a weekend. We were satisfied with the concept of the game but not so much with the implementation since there were multiple bugs not fixable due to the limits of Construct 3 free version (the only engine our former programmer had experience with).
After some months, we decided to further develop the game using Unity with the help of a new programmer, Joeri Vervaat.
The pre-production phase started with the setting up of different platforms to handle the management of the project.
I created a Google Solutions hierarchy of folders containing all the documentation and assets required for the game (you can find the game design document here).
We also used GitLab as an online repository, a Scrum board with weekly meetings and review done on Discord, and a Risks/Requests, Issues, and Changes (RIC) document for keeping track of the project’s health.
I took responsibility for all the project management parts of the game.
I assigned tasks to the team and then I started to design what was needed for an early prototype of the game:
- Player mechanics (move, jump, shoot, and teleport related mechanics)
- Basic enemies (standard turrets and small robots called “Raptors”)
- A small level to test some ideas and level elements/obstacles.
We already had part of the tiles and units assets ready, so it was fast and easy to prototype on Unity even at this early stage.
Once ready, the level was played by the team (white-box test) and iterated based on feedback. The main purpose of this rapid-prototyping approach was to test the mechanics and rules of the game and to have a solid layout of the level.
We kept this development strategy for the first half of the project. The RIC system and the weekly review helped me to identify and address any potential issues and adopt changes where required.
Other than Project Management, Documentation, Game and Level design, I was also responsible for creating a small yet interesting story for the game.
Metroid was a great inspiration for Cyber Alex, so I was already designing non-linear and interconnected levels where the player would have been rewarded for exploring the extra paths.
For this reason, I decided to integrate the story elements through collectible items which can be found by exploring the levels. These collectibles contain written dialogues which, if linked together, give a clear idea of what is going on in the game.
During the fourth month of production, the development began to slow down since most of the team members started to work full-time (daily jobs); therefore, I had to change our scheduled routines to accommodate the team’s availability (a few hours over the weekend).
At this point, I reduced the number of levels in the game keeping the essential for the player’s learning curve of the mechanics, enemies, challenges, and encounters.
My main focus shifted to achieving a Nintendo-like pace for the levels to introduce each concept in a safe environment and then explore the possible combinations within the established design space. Keeping the player in a good curve of flow state was also crucial (raising and releasing tension).
Every time a new puzzle, an enemy, a combination of mechanics, or specific moves were required, I designed the level in a way to respect the above-mentioned principle: Safe Introduction, Challenge, Twist, and Conclusion. I also made some charts to track the flow of the gameplay.
After having designed and polished 5 levels, we decided to finish the game with an interesting boss fight. This final challenge would have made use of all the mechanics, behaviours, and challenges experienced during the game.
I gave also the boss, Junkscraps, its own arena and special abilities to surprise the player positively and fairly. I wanted the player to have enough window to learn and react and to expect what kind of danger this final room presents. For the latter, I took inspiration from the architectural design principle of the “Void” (contrasting small spaces, the corridor, with a large one, the arena) which is a well-established practice in Level Design.
Finally, I put a secret ending for the players who spent time and effort collecting all the log files. This extra scene answers all the questions regarding the story of the game.
The game is not available to the public, since the development has stopped, but you can have a look at an old version of the tutorial level in the video below. The project has been mainly carried out on weekends and now is closed (demo finished).
If you want to read more about the level design process click the button below.
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