Today I reworked a couple of levels to solve some rather obstinate visibility issues. Thought I might write a bit about one of them here! The left pic is Hopscotch, previously at #5, and on the right is 05_Easy_B_Revision which I created today to replace it.
The level at #5 is the game's first puzzle, the first level the player encounters after learning the basic mechanics of the game (Intro / Edu levels 1-4). It must be challenging enough to be intriguing, but not hard enough to cause frustration; the player should feel smart for realising the solution, not foolish for not seeing it immediately; and it must reinforce the playerr's understanding of the death, incrementation, bouncing, and falling mechanics they've just learned. Additionally, I want this level to remind the player that blocks can be approached from multiple angles, and that a block in one place can have multiple uses depending on how the player interacts with it. This last lesson is important in preparing the player for the next puzzle, 06_Med_B_Exam.
A tough ask, perhaps, but Hopscotch fulfilled these goals admirably! It requires the player to die from the high platform (reinforcing lethal height), repeat the process to bounce and create a line of corpses (reinforcing bouncing, line creation), climb the third corpse to access the central pillar, then jump onto that same corpse to create a line in the other direction (reinforcing multiple uses for corpses, incrementation as the older corpses disappear, approaching from multiple angles). Finishing that line of corpses, the player can then climb the furthest corpse to access the stairs to the exit.
There were only two problems. First, despite its central position, many players had difficulty understanding that they should make use of the central pillar, and failed to realise they should climb the third corpse from behind to start a corpse-line in the other direction. Second, when players realised their mistake, they felt foolish for missing it for so long. As I see it, both of these problems stem from the central pillar and the visibility issue it poses. The player needs to climb the third corpse from behind, which means that both the pillar and that corpse are obstructing the player's view for that action. It also blocks a clear view of the first line of corpse-blocks, which makes the incrementation less clear. I watched one playtester die in the same way repeatedly, making and remaking the same line of four corpses six times without ever realising they could climb the central pillar. It had to go.
The new level is very similar. The line of corpse-blocks goes away from the screen, and in front of a short pillar, so that the player's 'alternate angle' approach is now clearly visible, and their bounce is back towards the camera. There's a wall at the other end of the line, so that it's clear the player isn't expected to keep extending the line further. And, both to draw the player's attention to incrementation and the 3-corpse limit and to avoid any attempts to bounce along the line onto the pillar at the end, the player's first death is to a static hazard. This also serves to make the player's first move clear – we've found players usually go straight for static hazards when presented with new levels, and only then pause to think about what they can do from there. This makes static hazards a wonderful guiding tool for us, that we're making full use of in many levels.
As always, playtesting will show if there are problems I have not foreseen, but I'm quite happy with this new level for the #5 spot.