"BALLUNATICS" is a four-player platformer party game where odd, round creatures fight each other to reach the moon. On the way upwards players will uncover a world where the rules of gravity have muddled. The game was designed to be as simple and approachable as possible, requiring only one hand to play – the only input is to aim in a direction and launch at varying speeds. The screen constantly scrolls upwards creating a frantic battle to navigate the level, be on top and knock down opponents.
Whiteboxing / Level design / Game design / Blueprint scripting
The tone of the single “Ballunatics” level is a product of the game’s mechanics. The initial prototype of the player characters were simple rolling spheres. In face of the short development time the spheres became spherical creatures, both cute and bizarre. I opted for that the tone of the level should grasp for the same divergence.
In cooperation with the art team three main areas where mapped out: suburban house, sky, and outer space. The loss of gravity-theme meant we could mix and match assets, not restricting specific assets to specific areas of the level – creation became economical as they could be reused anywhere in the level.
Taking inspiration from dioramas, rotating blueprint actors in the fore- and background created depth and the feeling that players were traveling to the source of whatever’s caused the gravity shift.
An unintended but welcome outcome was seeing some playtesters cooperating to reach new heights. These playtests revealed that the level narrative, experiencing what would happen next in the level, trumped competitive play.
When exiting the house, the players enter the loop. The maze is similar in design to the tutorial, but the horizontal space widens giving opportunity to avoid other players and focus on the platforming. Scattered across the maze are small structures meant to break up the zigzag jumping patterns.
A low tension-area that is less about contact with other players and more about trying to get ahead in the race with other players.
The level transitions from positive space to negative space, from low-tension to high-tension. Here players will fight for control on the small floating platforms. The Arena is safe at its lowest level catching falling players, but the floor is also an opportunity to launch into opponents sabotaging their jump trajectories.
The open, undefined space gives players oppurtunity to take unique routes. Jumping and bouncing on walls to land on platforms or jumping on each other.
Switching between two types of level structures, “arena” and “maze”, is the foundation of the vertical level design in “Ballunatics”. The concept originated from playtesting in the prototype phase and is intended to play to the games mechanical strengths as well as creating variety in the level design.
Defining and following the maze-arena formula facilitated the blockout for the level. I could stack arenas and mazes on top of each other, make small alterations and then immediately assist in the set dressing saving time and effort for the team. All areas of the game are variations of maze and arena "blocks".
The first part of the level is inside a suburban house where walls restrict horizontal movement. The platforms are evenly spaced from each other making each jump almost identical to the last. This area is intended to get the players to get a feel of the physics and launching the characters.
In such a small space the players are bound to bounce into each other frequently, familiarizing them with the fact that this isn’t exclusively a platformer.