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  • Lessons From World 1-1: How To Design An Introductory Level

    [10.10.17]
    - Louis-Nicolas Dozois

  • So far, none of the level's jumping challenges have asked players to jump over bottomless pits. Remember, your players are still learning. Your first level should be very easy, in fact all the World 1 levels in Suzy Cube skew to the easy side of the scale.

    Where could this lead?

    Moving on, players may be tempted by this break in the guardrail to attempt this treacherous looking jump. 

    A sneaky trick

    Brave players are caught by these yellow blocks which appear in the nick of time. Their reward? A secondary path leading to more coins and another Extra Life!

    A nice place to stop

    Moving along, players have a chance to take a moment and enjoy the view.

    Know where you are heading

    In fact, stepping onto the lookout gives a view of the level's goal. This isn't just to rip off Super Mario 3D Land, sprinkling in these unexpected touches helps to surprise players and surprises keep them engaged.

    Giving Suzy a boost

    As players make their way to the end of the level, they will be faced with a more aggressive variant of the Skulls as well as a plateau which can only be surmounted by use of the Jump Pad. Notice how the column of coins hints at the Jump Pad's function. Incidentally, the Jump Pad also foreshadows the second level's core concept.

    And down to the goal

    After a quick climb up a set of rocks, players will find themselves face to face with the level's last challenge as a Star hangs in the air. Players who fail to get the Star when jumping down will still be able to reach the goal, but a deft jump is justly rewarded.

    Let's Wrap This Up

    As you can see, Suzy Cube's first level is not based on a singular concept. Your game's first level is not the time for gimmicks. It should, instead be a preview of what's to come. In a previous article on variety, I wrote about the value of making each of your game levels distinct rather than filling each of them with a smorgasbord of gameplay mechanisms. This is not the case with your first level. It should give players a sense of what they are in for, what they can look forward to.

    So, to recap.

    • Give players a space to learn and get a feel for the controls and introduce basic gameplay concepts.
    • Give players a taste of the variety the can expect from the rest of the game.
    • Surprise your players! Surprises lead to player engagement and should cause players to wonder about what other surprises the game may have in store.
    • Your first level should be easy. Your players are still learning, it's not the time for harsh punishment. Players who give up on your first level are lost forever.

    In Suzy Cube, Level 1-1 acts as a setup for the whole game. In a way, it's the game's most important level. It must engage new players and entice them to keep playing. This is true of any game's first level, so don't neglect it. 

    As a side note, when I started work on designing levels, I chose to tackle this one first, but there's an argument to be made for leaving it to the very end of development. I wanted to make sure it received the most opportunities for iteration, but it can certainly be worthwhile to leave the design of your opening level to the end of the project when you've got all the experience from designing the rest of the game's levels to apply to this unique and uniquely important level.

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