Roles and Responsibilities
During the development of this project I was a level designer. Within that role I was responsible for:
- Greyboxing and 3D concepting
- Budgeting and breaking down design workloads
- Designing and iterating upon minigames
- Creating final environments
- Using the environment to tell stories which progressed as the player moved through the seasons
- QA testing
- Creation of release materials such as advertising videos and high resolution image compositions
This title used vanilla Minecraft as a starting point and added minigames and a seasonal system to push the potential of what activities players could engage with and what was possible within a Minecraft world.
The environment was a large city comprised of the various districts expected in real world cities.
Players started in spring and had three available minigames themed to that season. Completing these and returning to the starting player home would advance the season to summer.
This season change updated the environment, such as foliage and flora growing, and changed the level design too with road works moving around the city, buildings were erected over the seasons, and added annual festivals to open spaces for Halloween and Christmas.
Designing a City Environment
As a level designer on this title my role centered on communicating each city district through use of space and visuals, creating the environments which would support the minigames, creation of the level's seasonal changes, and ensuring the city was easy for players to navigate as it progressed through all seasons.
The level design team researched the most easily navigable cities of the modern day and replicated elements of their layouts in our own city. We supported this with landmark locations, such as the Empire State building-esq skyscraper, Large mountains, and an ocean side beach to name a few, to help players quickly gather their bearings around the world.
To support navigation further we gave each city district a distinct visual style in its architecture, road layouts, and purpose within the city.
Seasonal Environmental Storytelling
Every room in the city was explorable and fully furnished. It was important that each interior, and its associated items, were contextual to the city district which it was located within.
To achieve this goal each area of the city was mapped out and then the content to be present in each area was listed by the level design team. We planned small stories to tell in different offices, building sites, boat yards, or suburbs. Each story was broken into 4 beats which could progress as the seasons updated.
Designing an Evolving Environment
We did all of our pre-production and early production work in the Sprint environment until we felt we could sign off on the base version of the level. Once this was approved we split into three smaller teams to create each subsequent season. Each team created a dependency map to gather information they would need from the previous season. We worked around these dependencies to unblock one another as fast as possible.
Our minigames were designed for an audience of 7 to 14 year old players, our core base. Due to this we needed the games to be quickly understandable and accessible, whilst accounting for the limitations of Minecraft's UI/UX feedback.
A game which exemplified this was the Spring flower delivery game.
This game challenged players with delivering flowers around the suburban district. Each delivery point had a colored delivery point which matched a plant in the player inventory. Plants had to be delivered against the clock for success.
As a level designer working on minigames such as this it was important to continually test and iterate upon the positioning of delivery points to ensure that challenge was balanced based upon the time frames and optimal routes between delivery points.
Through testing with other team members it became clear we required greater signaling on the delivery point. We moved delivery locations into better framed locations and put them against neutral backdrops so their colors stood out more.
Another game which required level design input and iteration was a summer car race around the city.
Players had to race one another around the city on a checkpointed route.
As a level designer on this minigame it was important that all checkpoints were clear and that framing was used to highlight the intended route to players.
This game presented unique challenges based upon how the cars moved in the build. Too steep an incline would cause issues for vehicle movements. Due to this many road ways in the city required iteration which was highlighted by this game.
Navigation and framing were handled through segmenting the city into distinct islands connected by bridges. From each bridge point it was clear through visual differences what the challenge the next district presented.
Quality Assurance Testing
QA testing on this title focussed on more than environmental testing as in other Minecraft titles. The testing on this title focussed more heavily on performance and on vehicle and minigame bug testing as well as the environment.
Due to the use of custom entities within the build, and the vehicles around the city allowing for faster movement and as such requiring faster render times, the build required a lot of performance testing.
I was a member of the team on this testing and took part in the iterations to improve performance in areas of the map that caused frame rate drops.
I also tested on the minigames in each season. As many games were multiplayer I was part of a test team which tested each game running from 1-4 players to ensure that each was achievable as the player count scaled up or down.
Any bugs detected in the minigames were logged and passed back to the rest of the development team for fixes to be decided upon.
If fixes to minigames were achievable through editing the level I was part of that iteration team and would then repeat test throughout the fixing process to ensure the new solution was effectively addressing the bug in question.