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The Gravity Labyrinth, one of the most iconic parts of the level.
Surprise the players through the mechanics
The main goal of Terra's Dream with mechanics never seen in any The Elder Scrolls games, but which still felt consistent with the Skyrim universe. Thanks to the Dream setting, the level features two unique and fascinating mechanics: the power to see beyond the villain's deceptions, and the power to walk on ceilings.
Create an interesting story with relevant choices
The whole level takes place inside a Prince's dream, in a plot surrounded by mystery and deception, which attract players' attention and triggers their curiosity. Not only that, but players get to choose which character lives and which one dies at the end of the level. Their choice radically changes the end of the quest.
Let players win
Whatever ending the player's get to see, the quest always end with the Prince waking up and thanking the player. Player's choices, however, affect the quality of the reward they get at the end, as well as the fate of some of the quest's secondary characters.
Riverwood Bridge: introduces players to the first quest character, and gives them a brief overview of the quest's story.
Royal Palace: once in Terra's Royal Palace, the player meets the rest of the quest's characters, and learns about the Prince's illness.
Dream Town: The Dream Town lets the player see the different quest areas: the Wizard's castle, the Dream's Inn, and the Solitude Cave. However, only the Dream's Inn and the Solitude Cave are accessible to the player at the beginning.
Solitude Cave: The Solitude Cave exposes the player to the first level mechanic, the Clarity Spell, and offers a simple tutorial where players can use it in a simple way.
Dream's Inn: In the Dream's Inn, players can practice the Clarity Spell, and transform the Inn occupants into animals.
Wizard's castle: the Wizard's castle offers a new use for the Clarity Spell, and introduces the final mechanic of the level, the Gravity Portals. It is in the Wizard's castle where the player has to make the choice that affects the level's ending.
The map has 6 distinct areas: Riverwood Bridge (real world), the Royal Room (real world), the Dream Town (dream world), The Solitude Cave (dream world), the Dream's Inn (dream world) and the Wizard's Castle (dream world)
DESIGN BY AREA
Riverwood Bridge - Triggering players' curiosity
At Riverwood Bridge, players meet the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister gives players some details about the quest, but he is purposely vague when talking about the most interesting details of the Prince's illness. The Prime Minister's mysterious story triggers players curiosity, who have to accept the quest if they want to know more.
Map of the Riverwood Area (click to open full version in new window).
The Prime Minister's enigmatic behavior results in players wanting to know more about the quest.
Once players accept the quest, they use a Portal close to the Prime Minister's tent to go to the Kingdom of Terra.
The Royal Room - Keeping players engaged
Once players get to the Royal Room, the Prime Minister tells them about the Prince's illness, and asks them to enter the Prince's mind in order to save him. Players also get to know all the other quest characters, including the Prince, and a Royal Guard who entered his mind but never came back. This additional information fulfills players' desire to know more, while the promise of entering a dream setting keeps them interested and engaged.
Map of the Royal Room (first visit)
The Royal Room has several decorative elements that are characteristic of the royalty, such as gold utensils and royal banners.
The Royal Guard is sleeping in the Royal Room. She tried to save the Prince before them, but she never came back from the Prince's mind.
Dream Town - Time to explore
After entering the Prince's mind, players get to explore the Dream Town, which serves as a HUB. Players can either go straight to the Solitude Cave and continue with the quest, or they can enter the Dream's Inn and talk to the villagers.Players can also see their ultimate goal from the Town: the Wizards Floating Castle. Its imposing figure creates anticipation for later, when players can finally access it after getting the keys to the Castle's walls.
Dream Town overview map
A view of the Dream's Inn, with the floating Wizard's Castle (innaccessible on the players' first visit) in the background.
The unusual roots that protect the Solitude Cave catch players' attention and drags them towards the cave.
Solitude Cave - Creating a simple tutorial for the Clarity Spell
The Solitude Cave introduces the first mechanic of the level, the Clarity Spell. Players can use the spell on any item with a purple glow, which reveals the real form of the item. To teach players about the spell, the Cave includes a simple tutorial challenge, where players need to use the spell on a purple-glowing rock that is blocking their path.
Overview Map of the Solitude Cave
Players get the Clarity Spell inside the Solitude Cave. The villagers dialog, and the Royal Guard's diary, hint that the Cave is the player's next destination.
Right after getting the spell, players have to use to unblock the path to the Cave's exit.
Dream's Inn - Using color coding for gameplay elements
This part of the quest reinforces the idea that the Clarity Spell affects purple-glowing objects: as soon as players get out of the Cave, they can see that the Town's villagers are glowing purple. Players have fun revealing the true form of the Town's villagers, which usually transform into animals. One of them, however, transforms into the Royal Guard, who gives players the key to the Wizard's Castle.
Overview Map of the Dream's Inn
Players quickly learn that they can use the Clarity Spell on any purple-glowing object.
After using the Clarity Spell on one of the Town's villagers, the Royal Guard appears.
The Wizard's Castle - Making it harder by introducing new uses for the mechanics
In the Wizard's castle, players get to show their mastery the Clarity Spell with the introduction of a twist: some objects in the castle only start glowing purple after players find the buttons that activate them.
Overview Map of the Wizard's Castle.
The entrance hallway inside the Wizard's Castle.
The Wizard's Castle introduces the masks, which only glow purple after players find the buttons that activate them.
The area also introduces the gravity mechanic, where players can use portals to travel between the castle's floor and the ceiling. Color coding lets players know which portals are connected, helping them orient themselves in the labyrinth. For instance, a yellow portal on the floor sends players to a yellow portal on the ceiling.
Overview Map of the Gravity Labyrinth.
View of the Gravity Labyrinth in its normal state.
View of the Gravity Labyrinth when it is upside down.
OTHER DESIGN CHALLENGES
Giving the players meaningful choices
At the end of the level, players need to make an important choice: whether to kill the Royal Guard in the castle, or the Royal Guard in the Inn, because one of these Royal Guards is an imposter. If players kill the wrong Royal Guard, they experience an alternate ending to the story, which includes a battle between Terra’s Prime Minister and an assassin. Players also get different rewards based on the decision they made.
Players witness the first ending when they kill the Royal Guard in the Inn, who is the Wizard in disguise.
The Royal Guard in the castle is the real Royal Guard. If players kill her, they trigger the second ending when they get back to the Royal Room.
In the second ending, players witness a battle between the Prime Minister and an Assassin.
Letting players win
Visual cues in the level give hints to players, telling them which Royal Guard they should trust. If they decide to trust the wrong Royal Guard and get out of the dream, the Prime Minister still offers them a chance to go back to the dream and find the level’s villain. In that case, players receive a smaller reward, but still get the satisfaction of completing the level successfully and waking up Terra’s Prince.
The Prince wakes up regardless of the players' choices. The Royal Guard only wakes up in the first ending.
Using other visual cues to reinforce gameplay
In the level, visual cues give the player gameplay and story hints. For example, areas controlled by Terra’s Royal Family have pink banners with a dragon symbol, while areas controlled by the evil Wizard have red banners with a gold background. When players have to choose between killing the Royal Guard in the Inn or the Royal Guard in the castle, they can pay attention to the Royal Guards' clothes, and realize that the Royal Guard in the Inn is wearing the "evil" symbols on her armor.
The dark banners cover the path to the Wizard's Castle The banners also populate the castle's interiors.
The dark banners on the Royal Guard's clothes, help the players realize the Royal Guard in the Inn is an imposter.
The Royal Banners are purple and display the silhouette of a dragon.
Creating the Gravity Portals' functionality
One of the early design challenges of the level was conveying the functionality of the Gravity Portals. During Whitebox and Gameplay, players had a lot of difficulty understanding that the portals were teleporting them to the ceiling. To solve this problem, I added several objects of reference, such as tables, lamps and chairs, throughout the Wizard's Castle. Seeing this familiar objects upside-down, helps them understand that they are on the ceiling.
Early iteration of the level, which didn't have enough points of reference.
Several objects hint the Gravity switch in the final version of the level, such as upside-down torches, lamps, or chairs.
The Gravity Labyrinth proved to be an extra challenging area for players. Even though they understood the Gravity Portals functionality once they reached the labyrinth, they couldn't predict which portals where connected and which were not. To address this issue, the portals in the final level are color-coded. That way, if a player uses a green portal on the floor, he knows he destination is the green portal on the ceiling.
Connected portals have the same color, so players always know where they are going.
Fixing a confusing final puzzle
The final puzzle of the level was very confusing to players in its initial implementation, for several reasons:
It introduced a completely new use of the Clarity Spell that players hadn't seen before.
It forced players to revisit a room, which looked like a dead end on their first visit.
It didn't give players any feedback in response to their actions.
Players got easily frustrated with the first iterations of the puzzle.
The puzzle required several changes, which made it a lot more intuitive and enjoyable:
Players learned the mechanic progressively throughout the Wizard's Castle.
A sound plays when players complete a puzzle piece, giving them instant audio feedback.
Players get visual feedback of their progress every time they go back to the main hallway.
The final version of the puzzle uses visual and audio feedback to help players, and it has a more adequate layout.