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Basil and the
Isles of Spice


Level Designer,

Tech Designer




Team Leviathan (DigiPen Institute of Technology)




  BIOS is a Nintendo-style 3D platformer with puzzle elements. This 3-month project is a continuation of our previous semester's pre-production project Scale.

   BIOS features core platforming gameplay and adds several additional game mechanics that deepen the gameplay, allowing the player to glide, spin-jump, and run on water.

   The project had a panel at Geek Xyravaganza 2023 where it received warm acclaim from players of all ages.


My contribution

   Level and Tech Design were my main roles in this project. Before we continue I'll explain the core gameplay loop for a better understanding of everything below.

   The game is split into 3 islands located in an open sea. The first island is the starting island where the player learns the core gameplay mechanics in a safe environment. The second island develops the ideas from the first island turning them into challenges, and the third island is a volcano obstacle course that has the highest difficulty and leads to the ending of the game.

 The player is free to move around the sea surrounding the islands using the water run ability, however, islands 2 and 3 are covered with a magical fog that prevents the player from landing on them.

   In order to reveal the next island in the sequence from the fog the player has to find 3 crystal shards on the island they are currently on and bring them to the magical leviathan bone located on the same island. Each island has 4 crystal shards and 1 leviathan bone. Therefore to unlock island 2 the player has to find 3 shards and bring them to the bone on island 1 and to unlock island 3 player has to find 3 more shards on island 2 and bring them to the bone on that island

Level Design:

   Exploration was one of our design pillars for this project. It had a huge effect on our level design philosophy. The islands had to be non-linear and encourage free roaming and exploration. Also, due to the fact that the islands were located in the open sea and could have been accessed by the player from any direction we had to thoughtfully design the orientation of each island as well as entry and exit points for our levels so that no matter how you land on the island you still get a decent and player experience.

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   I was assigned to build the second island. The first prototype layout was drawn on a piece of line paper and then block meshed in unity using pro-builder. That allowed me to plan out the 3D space, allocating challenges, viewpoints, and points of interest.

   The main topic of my level was "Jungle". I had to showcase a variety of art props for vegetation and build a level that would make the player feel like they are in a forest, yet providing them with a tailored experience avoiding big and empty, repetitive, or exclusively corridor areas (those might have expressed the concept of being on a forest path but would go against our exploration pillar). Also, I wanted to avoid backtracking as much as possible, providing the player with a unique path no matter what order they find the crystal shards in.

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   I decided to start with a hollow circular lagoon. Such landscape broke the level into the outside segment and inside segment, creating an enclosed valley effect inside and allowing to make great ocean views on the outside. The ocean views are great, however, constantly seeing the ocean might have opposed the feeling of being in a deep jungle, which is why I had to implement lots of tall landscape elements into the level to break the line of sight creating an illusion of being surrounded by land.

   I broke up the level into 4 routes each of which contained challenges that led to one or more crystal shards. Each route had its theme, expected player path, and connectors that led to other routes. I was inspired by subway system layouts, which consist of several lines connected by transition stations or corridors. Usually, you can use those connectors to build your own unique path around the subway system without having to "backtrack" through the same path over and over again. That is the type of navigation I wanted to see on my level.


   The level has 2 entrances. The primary and the secondary one. Both entrances lead to the central area of the level, which acts as a hub and is connected to all the routes on the level. The secondary entrance is hidden from the initial player's POV and is used for better landing accessibility for routes 2 and 4. The primary entrance is the main expected entrance point to the level. It has several details that guide the player's attention to it, such as a tiny satellite island in front of it, shiny collectibles, and an info billboard. Interacting with the billboard displays the level from a bird's-eye view, helping the player to immediately spot the bone and several crystal shards. Following the line of collectibles, the player goes through a crevice chokepoint that builds up visual tension and serves as a gate to the level, hiding its inside area. Once the player exits the crevice, the tension is released as they find themselves at the center of a giant open-air grotto. This design was inspired by the Cuban patio house layout and makes the player feel spacious even in enclosed areas. Once the player enters this central area of the level, they can see several visual and compositional clues that will lead them to all 4 routes of the level. From there the player is free to choose which route they want to follow.

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Route 1

   With lots of tall landscape elements came lots of vertical space. I wanted to put this vertical space to use as interior designers do in loft apartments. The most important element on my level that has to be as easy to find as possible is the leviathan bone. Whereas you can pass the level with any combination of crystal shards as long as you have 3 of them, the bone is a single element that always has to be found for every playthrough. This is why I decided to dedicate the highest point of my level to the first route that led to the bone so that it's always visible. With the help of the art and tech team, we decided to implement wooden bridges and platforms into the level to highlight the jungle theme and help build vertical gameplay challenges. Route 1 has a connector to routes 2, 3, and 4. It also has a "ladder" sponge that you can activate once you reach the top so that you won't have to climb the whole route again if you decide to drop down and collect additional crystals from other routes.

   Another reason to locate route 1 and the bone on the very top of the level was the gliding ability that was granted to the player after bringing the 3 crystal shards to the bone. The end of route 1 has a wide cliff that at first only serves the viewpoint purpose, however after the reveal of the 3rd island from the mist and activation of the gliding ability, this cliff implies that the player shall test their new ability by gliding down that cliff towards the newly revealed island. That way it also serves as an implicit tutorialization challenge.

   Route 1 is the core route of the level because it leads to the bone and has to be completed to finish the level. It concentrates on precise platforming challenges, showing many beautiful views of the level's inside and outside areas, some of which might give the player a clue about the location of the crystal shards.

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Route 2

   Route 2 is dedicated to the concept of exploring a jungle. I made this route to be a maze to enforce the feeling of wandering in the woods. Yet this posed a new challenge of creating a maze that wouldn't be too complicated for our target audience (children 6-12) and keep their attention during the playthrough. At first, I started with building a pretty simple maze that was easy to solve, however, it was way too boring for many playtesters and felt more like a challenge created to extend playtime. After having a discussion with the design team, I came up with the idea of implementing different color gates blocking the path through the maze. Each gate could be unlocked by interacting with a respective color sigil somewhere in the maze. That way I was able to use all the space in the maze (there were no more pointless dead ends). As the paths blocked by gates indicated the path leading to the exit, I was able to make the completion of the maze more straightforward yet avoid a straight corridor design by placing the sigils that open those gates all around the maze, making the player explore the whole maze before completing it.

   To make that possible me and the art team had to design a gate system that would look and play intuitively.

   Also, I built small visual compositions around each sigil to improve their visibility and make them look more distinct and interesting to the player.

   Route 2 connects with Route 1 to make it easier for the player to get back to the central area from the outside part of the island and with Route 3 to create a circular path around the whole island that allows the player to complete the game with no backtracking.

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Route 3

   Route 3 is pretty simple. It's centered around a cliffed seashore, containing several simple platforming challenges and a lore NPC interaction. It also plays a very important role in the path dynamics of the level, completing a circular path around the level, making it possible to play through the level in any path order without having the player go through the same locations and challenges several times.

Route 4

   Route 4 is themed on the topic of a sunny beach. It gives the player an open water area with no movement restrictions allowing them to freely water-run around and explore the lagoon. It has a main path indicated but not enforced by a couple of arches that lead to the crystal shard. From there the player is free to return back to the island shore using an alternative route visible from the crystal shard location or explore the area a little more. To reward this exploration I decided to add an extra crystal shard located on a secret island in that area.

   At first, the secret island was just a tiny sandy shore hidden behind a hill that had a bonus crystal shard hidden in a breakable rock. However, later I decided to redesign it into a mini-island on its own to make it more interesting to land and explore, rather than just give out the reward.

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   Everything written above is a hugely simplified version of the whole design process that me and my team went through while working on this level. A big part of the design decisions taken were based on playtesting data rather than just pure intuition and required many weeks of iteration before getting to the state where it is right now.

   Yet if I were to return back in time and have a chance to work on this level again, I would still consider making additional iterations on this level. I would improve the visual clarity of the expected player path to make it more intuitive as well as add more details for possible environmental storytelling. For now, the biggest problem identified through playtesting is the location of the leviathan bone. It's hard to spot without using the billboard or the map due to it being located at the highest point of the level. Unclear visual clues at the crystal location of Route 1 make it difficult for some players to find out the continuation of the route after collecting the crystal. This as well as several other smaller issues can be addressed during the polishing phase.

   During the recent Geek Xravaganza 2023 event, our game stand had a huge success with the target audience. We had to connect an additional machine so that all the kids who wanted could play our game. Such involvement gave us lots of useful insight into how the young players interact with our game and what their expectations are.

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