Hi again everyone! I’m pleased to be back with another update about Strawhart:
For this week, I wanted to go a bit more in depth about something our lead artist talked about on Polycount recently: how we go about designing our puzzle pieces to be readable to the player.
The piece in question here is called a “ballast.” Like almost all of our puzzle pieces, it can exist in three different states. What state the ballast takes depends on player input. The states are as follows
- Default: The ballast is a simple box that can interact with physics, be carried around by the player, jumped on, and pushed around.
- Amplified: The ballast becomes much lighter and floats upwards a fixed distance.
- Concentrated: The ballast becomes much heavier and no longer can be moved. If it is in motion, it will damage or destroy objects that it collides with.
The ballast can fluctuate between these states nigh instantaneously, and there is no time limit for how long the ballast can stay in a modified state. Therefore, it became very important to communicate to the player when the ballast’s state was changing, and what effects the new state had.
First we designed the ballast’s default state. It is a translucent box that houses a strange substance. The substance inside the box is actually a separate mesh which functions as a morph target, meaning that it can deform into different shapes during gameplay. In the default state, the substance fills the entirety of the box. The object is simple enough here, and players are familiar enough with movable boxes in puzzle games that they could immediately surmise all of the use cases for the default state.
(Note that the materials and colors used here are placeholders)
For the amplified state, we had to communicate in a plausible way why a box would start levitating. Since our game is in a fantasy setting, this isn’t too unbelievable. When the player amplifies the ballast, the morph target inside shrinks into a small sphere, and we use a material offset to make the sphere pulse and ripple, like a water balloon (this way the object no longer seems solid). We also play an audio cue that sounds like a balloon rising.
These three factors all combine to communicate to the player that the ballast is now lighter than it was before.
For the ballast’s concentrated state, our work was a little trickier. It is difficult to communicate an increase in weight to the player when dealing with a stationary object. What we ended up doing was making the morph target inside of the ballast swell up to the point where it exceeded the bounds of the original box. We then altered the ballast’s material instance so that the texture of the morph target appears similar to that of a boulder. In this way, the ballast is now associated to a traditionally heavy object, both in shape and appearance. The final thing we did was to swap out the audio cue for when the ballast hits another surface. Whereas the old impact sound was hollow and wooden, the audio cue for the concentrated state sounded like the heavy thud of a boulder. Since the ballast is now visibly larger, and sounds heavier, players are willing to try to use the object in new ways, like weighing something down, or using the ballast as a battering ram.
Of course, art can only do so much and eventually it is up to the designer to communicate a puzzle piece’s function to the player. To that end, we introduce the ballast in a simple isolated puzzle, structured so that the player must use both the amplified and concentrated states to progress. We also chose not to introduce the ballast to the player until a few levels into the game. The reasoning behind this this was that in our playtests, the longer a player played, the more certain their reaction to a new puzzle piece was. In the early levels they would approach a new piece with curious timidity. But by the time of the ballast’s introduction, every player would immediately charge up to it and begin amplifying and concentrating.
Thanks for reading! Please feel welcome to post any comments, criticisms, or tips! Also, if you want to check out more Strawhart, we have an IndieDB now!