6 person team
A top-down stealth game playing as an alien parasite with the ability to invade and control the bodies of enemies-
WHAT I DID
Programmed the guard behavior and vision cone + shader.
Sketch, block-out and set dress (together with environment artist) two levels.
Organized and conducted playtest sessions.
The player is the monster. But the monster is scary because it is clever, not strong.
Suspenseful moment-to-moment gameplay.
Get in, kill your target, get out without being seen.
LEVEL 4: "My Research!"
DESIGN GOALS FOR THIS LEVEL
Challenging but clear and fair.
Players engaged best with our mechanics when mistakes or poor planning were punished.
I wanted to do this without ever making it unclear what the player should do or making the challenge feel arbitrary.
Precise and fast-paced
The strongest part of our system and stealth games in general is stringing toghether a perfect sequence.
HOW I WENT ABOUT ACHIEVING THOSE GOALS
I broke the level down into shorter sections that had clear dominant strategies.
Theses are essentially puzzles with 3-6 steps needed to solve each. These steps don't all have to be executed perfectly, some can even be skipped.
Doing it well enough naturally leads to a satisfying sequence.
Example: First section of Level 4
Avoid guard, players who want to can wait behind the crate and observe the path it follows.
Possess crewmate watching the door, dump body in corner behind boxes.
Hiding bodies felt really satisfying to me so I try to encourage it, but not doing so is not punished very hard.
Avoid guards, if players hesitate or misstep they can use the crates for cover.
Possess keyholder and cut through the section to go to the next one.
Satisfying reward for beating the section, doesn't waste the players' possession resource.
Guidance and Clarity
For players to effectively plan for these sections they needed to be able to immediately take in what the problem was.
They didn't need to see every step, but the blocker and solution should be immediately apparent.
Too many guards and overlapping vision-cones made spaces hard to interpret and build a plan for, so I try to avoid overlapping vision-cones entirely.
I use the minimum amount of guards possible by only putting them in positions where they matter to the section. Guards' patrol-paths are kept short and simple.
Hover over boxes for visuals
Example: This section lacked clarity — this is how I fixed it.
Moving the entrance to the top of the room made moving downward feel more natural and vent more visible.
Rotating and moving back the red door made it more visible and let's players see it from the start.
Lowering the obstacle in the center made the room feel less cramped and easier to take in.
GENERAL LEVEL DESIGN PROCESS
References & top-down
First I gathered references of real world versions of the types of spaces I'd be making, so in this case science labs, hospitals, nuclear plants etc. and distilled those into rough top-downs.
Since the game didn't have any verticality I looked a lot at floor plans.
What I'm looking for here are beats and layouts that spark joy.
As soon as I had some solid ideas and top-downs to experiment with I jumped into blocking out part of one to get a better feel for scale and dimensions.
If something felt off I'd adjust it in the blockout until it felt right and then go back to the top-down.
Then, once I had a top-down I was happy with I started blocking our the whole thing.
Finding the sweet spot
For the more minute, moment-to-moment aspects I look at what space and situation elements of gameplay works best in.
For example, what does it take to make it to interesting to kill a guard.
I boil that down to it's core, and then build upon that core.
I feel like this exercise makes it easy reuse and play with that interaction and gives me a point of reference for others.
Iteration & Rapid Prototyping
Proof of concept
This first playable was purely for looking at how it felt to interact with the most basic parts of our system and to see what dimensions where appropriate, not making corridors too wide or rooms too small etc.
First try - open and branching
I tried a more open layout with branching paths, trying to focus on intentionality, inspired by Dishonored.
This gives players more freedom in how they could to approach engagements,
but our system lacked the verbs to populate that space and create interesting choices for the player.
The result was a level that felt sluggish and unclear.
Second try - cut it in half and keep the good parts
I took the parts of that level that worked best and made this one, which grew more linear and compact with every iteration, the final version of which made it into the game.
Specifically this bit worked very well and made it clear what pace and dimensions worked best.
This is what led to the compact, sectioned design of level 4.