Constructing Chroma

Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.


Thought I’d write a short blog post to detail some of the weird and hopefully interesting methods I’m taking in the development of Chroma in terms of level and world design.

Base facts:

  • There are no power-ups or upgrades that alter the character in game beyond getting the light/shadow power at the start
  • There is only one level, the entire world is one large seamless map with no intermittent loading.
  • The player can go pretty much anywhere straight away, there are very few areas that are locked ‘until you get item xyz’ type things.
  • It’s mostly non-linear; different areas generally have multiple connective nodes, so there’s not often ‘only one way’ to get somewhere.

So with those things in mind I can tell you it’s a brain explosion inducing thing to design. Teaching the player without pointing things out is very important to me, yet in a non-linear environment there’s a chance a player can encounter something new that seems very difficult or advanced or obtuse as they haven’t been introduced to it before. This is pretty interesting, because I kind of like that.

I see Chroma as a metroidvania type exploration game with a puzzle backbone. Instead of collecting a new power to access a new area, the player behind the keyboard learns or figures out patterns and advances these methods themselves to figure out escalating puzzles. So they might find something really strange and can’t work out how to use it, then later find a different version of it used in a different manner and think “oh snap” and realise what they need to do at the previous thing they found.

That said, they should never be totally stuck, if they can’t do a puzzle there’s always a different way to go, leading to new adventures. Also if people crack harder puzzles early on without seeing some of the pre-cursor then that’s fine too, they’d probably feel pretty smart, which is a good thing.

Since the world is just one big level, and the game revolves quite heavily on the ‘where? why? what? and who?’ the world you are in has purpose and meaning, the actual environment needs to be a certain way with functioning areas for a bigger purpose, so I have to design around this.

So far I have mapped out a fair bit of the start and middle of things, and added a few puzzles.
Here’s the optimal method of designing for this non-linear environment as I see it:

  • Place general areas + purpose on paper
  • Subdivide into more specific purposes (this is story/environment based)
  • Put into the editor the rough, physical view of this paper map
  • Analyse paths that can be taken and assess where puzzles can go and how to escalate their difficulty/complexity
  • Design puzzles that fit in around the purpose of each section and build them into the map, altering the base physical structure where needed.
  • When rough puzzles are in you can start pumping more back story into everything and polishing the environment.
  • Iterate (a lot)

That’s a rough breakdown of what I think the best way to do things is, I don’t totally follow this, however. I like designing the puzzles and testing them in game and building around them, and for things like the IGF I had to get SOME puzzle bits in, but admittedly the IGF build was very bare and lacked gameplay, ended up being more of a tech demo (which is why I think I don’t have a chance at this years IGF but not to worry).

So in theory if I followed my own rule set the game should get exponentially better, since it starts off massive and barren  but I think you need to use common sense when approaching it too, sometimes you need to make sure things work the way you imagined, and that things fit together properly before going all out on stuff. I have a terrible habit of starting to polish things before I’ve nailed the basics but I’m getting a lot better with this at the moment (everything outside the start area looks desolate at the moment due to lack of polish!).

Not sure why I’m writing this or who for, mostly so I can re-read and take a look at how I do things and see if I can improve it. Either way I thought it might be interesting to someone to see how I do/think about things in design. It feels like I’m doing things the best way, but a really weird way, and means that the game lacks a lot until I get round to iterating more on it.

Hopefully it will end up being fun and interesting anyway!

(started out by using the phrase “short blog post”, error).

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