Room 1 - Beginning
The first room has the task of introducing the player to all of the mechanics that will be used for the remainder of the level. The main room with the first puzzle wall remains largely what I originally mapped out, however I added the entire first area to allow players to get introduced to each mechanic individually rather than all at once. Plus it feels a bit more grandiose than the original simple room that I had planned.
As for the mechanics themselves, they were born out of my own constraints. I was tasked with making a level all by myself in under four months, and any mechanics had to be created by me. Seeing as I'm a level designer and not a programmer, that kept me pretty limited. I came up with the simple pick up/drop ball concept first, then added the extend/retract mechanic. The simplicity of the mechanics were not only born out of necessity, but I also wanted to challenge myself to create something that was fun with such simplicity. Additionally, the mechanics allowed me to get my feet wet with Unreal's visual scripting system Blueprint, which was a major goal of mine in doing this project.
Room 2 - Elevators
This room is where I wanted to get players comfortable with moving around while using their abilities. The difficulty is kept rather low by having all movement of the environment being dependent on the player's actions.
Originally I intended for there to be more than double the amount of elevator platforms, and I wanted players to have to find their way to each button platform by guessing the right elevator platforms to trigger. I tested this, and it felt more tedious than fun. I reduced the elevators so that there was only a single path, yet it remained rather trivial. Finally, I removed several more, which forced the player to jump farther lengths in certain spots. This change made things more fun while still keeping the difficulty at a low level like I wanted.
As for the buttons and ramps, I'm really happy with the way they offer three little rewards to the player as they progress through the platforming, and the bridge at the end that allows players to shoot across the room feels satisfying and relieves the tension that players might have built up while platforming. And of course actually sending the ball down the completed ramp into the turn-in hole is fun as well, though I do wish that I had gotten the ball to move a bit faster.
Room 3 - Wall Puzzles
This room ended up being the most faithful to my paper design, minus the end. Both puzzle walls ended up working fairly well, and they begin my goal of getting the player used to having to react with their abilities in a timely fashion. This is the first time that components in the level are moving without the player's direct input, and I think that I was able to give a nice incremental increase in difficulty that doesn't feel too jarring.
As for what was supposed to be the second part of the room (and the final part of the entire level), I completely scrapped it. If you go and look at my paper design and what I had planned, it involved the player standing still while reacting to the ball's movements. As I was looking at it during production, it just looked more and more like a terrible idea that would sap any potential fun that the player could have. The curve of slowly making the player move and react more would have come to a standstill in the level's final moments. To prevent this catastrophe, I scrapped this area and started fresh. When I did, I was ahead of schedule, so I was confident that I could create a final room that was a more worthy end to the level. To finish off Room 3, however, I placed a fun pneumatic tube-like elevator at the end that would dispense the player's ball after the puzzles they just completed. I think it resulted in a fun little payoff for completing the room.
Room 4 - Launch the Ball
When starting work on this final area, I had several goals in mind. First, I wanted to bring together every mechanic that I had used so far, but use them in ways that the player hadn't experienced before. Secondly, I wanted to switch up the formula of the past three rooms that involved a rectangular room with a start and a finish with very few (if any) elevation changes. The fact that this area was designed after the initial three rooms gave me the opportunity to react to my previous design choices, and the "flatness" of those rooms was a major complaint of mine. Lastly, I wanted to provide players with a bit of a grandiose finish to conclude the level. Launching the ball into a huge turn-in circle seemed to be a great way to provide that spectacle, so I designed the room with three normal sized ball turn-in's that would provide access to the final large one.
From here I went about designed each of the three "sub rooms". The first was born directly out of my goal to take existing mechanics and turn them on their head. Here I took the player's understanding unlocking doors - ball goes through green turn in = red locked door is unlocked - and made it a platforming puzzle. Players put the ball into the elevator, and the ball proceeds to "unlock" the three red doors as it falls. In this sub room, the doors are used as platforms, and players must run and jump across to the other side while out-pacing the ball. I'm really happy with the way this one turned out.
The second sub room was initially designed as a harder version of some of the platforming from Room 2. Elevators would have "ceilings" about as tall as the player, and players would have to move from one elevator to the other as one rose and the other fell. I couldn't get this to feel good, however, and I ran into numerous issues with it. I liked the idea of forcing players to jump and react to a change of their own doing (something I explored with Room 2, but the stakes are higher here), so I changed it to the more simplified version seen above.
I really like sub room 3's unique feel compared to the rest of the level. When sketching out Room 4, the locations of sub rooms 1 and 2 were easy to place, but I couldn't quite think of where to put the third. Eventually I came up with the "underground" concept, which gives players a break from the wide open area to something more cramped and simple. Again, this room puts players on edge by requiring them to think on their feet after triggering the first door. After having players jump around during the first two rooms, I utilized dodging as another way for players to have fun with movement, and the quickly moving bridge allows for a momentary burst of unique gameplay. I kept the bridge sequence short in order to keep the time-to-completion similar to the other rooms, and I think it's brief timing is beneficial to the sequence. One of my favorite parts, however, is the end in which players ascend with an elevator and a ball turn-in hole to the main area. It's seamless and really rewarding by having a feeling of pushing a piece of a puzzle into place.
With all three sub rooms finished comes the part that I designed Room 4 around: the launcher. This was a ton of fun to do, and I was so glad it worked out how I imagined it. Having players' final action be activating the bridge from across the room is really rewarding, especially since it comes through the ball turn-in circle and players get to walk through it to the finish. Out of everything I did with this project, I'm most proud of this room and the way it turned out.