”HORDE HAVOC" is a Real Time Strategy game - and an adventure game with puzzles. The player controls a horde of Orcs, sacrificing them in a variety of grisly ways to pave way through the human world and breach the castle.
It's a comedic game about trying to keep order in the unruly ranks and creating emergent situations, while toying with the fantasy trope of the expendable orc.
Losing orcs to traps, falling boulders and burning arrows can be just as fun as saving them.
Whiteboxing / Level design / Game design / Blueprint scripting
The Castle is the fifth and final
level of the game, incorporating all the essential gameplay mechanics of "Horde Havoc". The player's objective is to climb the stairs to breach the castle.
The difference in elevation visually guides the player towards the goal – for every step the level becomes less spacious and the movement of rolling boulders harder to predict. Subsequently the pacing intensifies as the player inches closer to the goal.
The level is built with an alien atmosphere in mind. By this point in the game the Orcs have finally broken through and entered the human domain. Architecturally the player is transported from the open negative spaces of previous levels to a closed off positive space.
Its angular shapes and towering structures
reinforces the tonal shift of stepping out of
wilderness into civilization.
IDENTIFIED PLAYER ARCHETYPES
The action-oriented player prefers to use the horde as one single entity, always on the move. These players are more interested in overcoming the timing-based challenges such as traps and boulders, and enjoys watching the orcs take a beating.
The puzzle-oriented player prefers to micromanage their orcs, sending small groups or single units out to experiment in safe environments. These players carefully and deliberately interact with oil and fire to unlock alternative paths and preserve orcs.
The intro cinematic highlights the goal of the level and then sweeps across the map to the start position. The sequence suggests the direct path to the goal for the action player (but gives the puzzle player an overview of their options).
The placement of the swinging axe trap gives the action-oriented player a clear direction – the archway shape encourages to pass through it. As the action player is a sensation seeker the swinging blade comes across as inviting, and adds tension right from the start.
Crossing the water the action player ascends the stairs and sees the oil barrel placed in a straight horizontal line from the bridge. The oil works as a waypoint and marks the only safe space on the staircase. Here the player can catch their breath and predict the boulders' movement.
While resting by the oil barrel the player inevitably picks up a few oily orcs – both a blessing and a curse. Oil is needed to blow the final obstacle but fire arrows rains down in rapid succession in between the rolling boulders. The player needs to time their final climb to squeeze by the boulders and the arrows and not blow up the horde.
"Luring" the player into the oil and making them create their own challenge significally raised the stakes at the end, adding tension for the sensation seeker.
Fire is needed to ignite the oil covered orcs and blow up the rocks. This final obstacle tests the player's memory of previous levels: the woodlands. If the bridge starts to burn with the orcs on it the player destroys the easiest (but not the only) way to the level goal. The player must place their orcs on the other side of the bridge before igniting the fuse and then proceed to the level goal.
The wooden bridge was an uncertain element to implement at such a late stage in the level, but I felt it had potential as a comedic bit to the design. Players responded well to the accidental burning of the bridge as it fits the context of the game – a small oversight can end in disaster.
Forgetting how wood reacts to fire became the punchline of the level and in addition gave it much needed personality.
The puzzle-oriented player typically prefers to explore the map before proceeding with their orcs. Off to the side of the starting area is a catapult – apparently a shortcut. To effectively use a catapult the player needs to micromanage their orcs and send them in groups.
The landing volume for the catapult randomly places orcs within it and partially overlaps with the sawblade. The puzzle player will have to consider the other option, the archway with the swinging axe, creating a dilemma instead of a clear-cut solution.
There are several options for igniting the oil trail: the player can go through the swinging axe with a burning orc or send it flying with the catapult, alternatively they can send an oily orc back to the bonfire to ignite the fire from there. Separating the tools (fire and oil) between obstacles are important for the puzzles in "Horde Havoc", rewarding outside of the box-thinking.
Squeezing through the narrow walkway to the second level the player is rewarded for their patience and overseeing of their orcs: a catapult placed in a safe space (at the same horizontal point of the level where the action player gets a breather by the oil barrel).
The catapult circumvents the dangers of the boulders and the fire arrows. If the puzzle player haven't scouted the map and brought any oily orcs with them at this point, they can send out a small party to retrieve oil from the middle of the stair. The careful player remembers that the catapult is the most effective way back to save their orcs.
Just as the action-oriented player the puzzle player must ignite an oily orc to blow the rocks. (An alternative way to do so is by letting the oily orc get hit by a burning arrow thus avoiding the boulders on the route to the nearest bonfire).
MIX AND MATCH
The benefit of identifying two archetypes and designing the level to cater their specific needs is that a vast play space opens for the player wanting to “mix and match”. The player that prefer a combination of both action and puzzle-segments, taking a more reactive
approach inresponse to the events of the game and changes their playstyle from moment to moment. All the segments of the action and puzzle path can be utilized by the player to create their unique way of completing the level.
I created a set of level concepts exploring how the player character, the orc horde, could be utilized in different environments. These small, sectioned prototype challenges was meant as inspiration and framework for designers, a modular set of challenges that could be mended together or broken apart to create levels.
( 1 ) Fire, its limited lifetime (before killing the burning orc) and spreading it was a key emergent gameplay element that created a plethora of challenges. The player has to set fire to wooden structures spaced apart, creating a relay run to finally burn what’s obstructing the level goal.
( 2 ) The player must blow the wall to the right using an oily orc, but the space is limited and the oil barrel (blue sphere) is located behind the horde. Going against RTS-conventions and dramatically restricting the play space made for chaotic moments and comedic micromanaging.
( 3) & ( 4 ) These two concepts fused together are the starting point for what later became the Castle level. The initial idea was to create a level that began with a low-tempo puzzle segment where the tools (the oil barrel represented as a blue sphere, and the bonfire) to blow up the rocks in the upper right corner are separated. Adding a catapult (pink box) circumventing the swinging axes provided an extra layer of strategic opportunity, forcing the player to contemplate how to best utilize their orcs in combination with the different elements.
The level would then transition high-tempo action level where the player must climb a hill, finding safe spots to avoid oncoming boulders.
Eventually the prototype transformed into the Castle level where action and puzzle elements exist side by side, creating the branching and open mix-and-match experience rather than a linear action to puzzle-structure.
( 5 ) The swinging axe as a gameplay element originated in my initial sketches. The idea was to create an obstacle for the level that was deadly but also completely avoidable. It carries a balance in itself, adjusting its speed depending on the orc killcount.
SWINGING AXE TRAP BLUEPRINT