As development is ramping up for SAGE 2021, I find myself engaged in the thing I am least proficient in, or comfortable doing... level design.
It's not that I don't have an idea as to what makes a good level (or "map", in this case), it's just that it takes me forever to drudge up the creative energy to design a decent one. What has been helping me make some progress, however, is coming up with some constraints around how maps should work so that I can start to build out a way of objectively judging whether a map is "good" or "needs work".
These constraints include:
- If there's an enemy in a map, the player should ideally not be forced to fight. They should be able to either stealth past it or map kill it somehow.
- Most maps should probably have at least "one thing" that "one character" can use their special ability on.
- Make as many things scannable by Sally as possible.
- Either keep walkable area narrower than screen width/height, or add something like a dirt path to signal potential paths for a player to travel. This allows players to maintain a sense of direction.
- Use chests to encourage exploration. Put chests in strange little corners of a map, as well as the main path. Chests that are hard to get to should have high value items.
- Map regions (e.g. Knothole, Great Forest, Dark Swamp, Forgotten Area, etc) should have some central "point of interest". (SPOLIER (Highlight to read): For many map regions, this would be a puzzle room feature, similar to what Breath of the Wild did with Shrines, known as the "Trials of Mobius")
- If you are on a mission level, add some foreshadowing of the boss you will eventually fight to build tension (Here's a great discussion of how this technique is used in Metroid Fusion to build fear and make the bosses not feel dime-a-dozen)
So those are the main constraints that I tend to think about when designing a map or region of maps. Doesn't always help kick the mental block, but it does at least give me a way of making some progress.
Do you have other constraint ideas for what makes a "good" Sonic RPG map? Do you think some of my constraints are too limiting? Let me know in the comments below, or on discord. :)