Monochrome Heights Devlog #11 – Designing a Level Layout

I’m making a level-based 2D platformer called Monochrome Heights.

I’ve spent a lot of time during the process of making this game thinking about how the levels should be laid out. What order should the different hazards and platforms arrive in? Should each area, or world, be based around one, two, or more such items? Should there be 3 levels together in an area? Four? Five?

It’s one of the design problems that I’ve spent the most time on and I’ve been iterating on my initial ideas for it since the beginning of the design process, before I even coded a single unique type of platform or item. If I’m being honest, I probably spent too much time thinking about this, and could have focused on making levels and letting it develop naturally, because ultimately that’s how I’ve arrived at the current state.

A screenshot of the temporary introductory area of Zone 1. IMAGE CREDIT: One Frog Games.

As of now, I’m calling the areas in the game zones. It’s a little nod to Sonic the Hedgehog, but it also feels appropriate, as they’re areas of a tower, not different worlds or islands, like in many Mario or Donkey Kong Country games. I’ve waffled quite a bit on the exact number of zones the game will have, and how many levels will be in each zone, and as of now I’m not 100% sure how it will end up in the final version.

However, I am a lot closer to the answer, even if it changes some down the line. I’ve built enough levels and tried a few different approaches. Until I build all of the levels and lock it in, there’s always the possibility of a change, but I think I’ve got it mostly figured out. Some of the issues I’ve struggled with include where to start the game, how to tell the story beats, and tutorializing new items and objects.

A screenshot of Happy the Robot in the placeholder tutorial section created for the playtesting version of the game. IMAGE CREDIT: One Frog Games.

Tutorials are hard. And designing around them can be hard. That’s the reason I’ve focused on making ‘regular’ levels, but I’m now realizing how important it is to consider introducing concepts, even if I’ve tried to do that somewhat in my level design so far. But I’m a big believer that the tutorial should be built in to the gameplay, and feel organic and, ideally, not even truly noticeable. 

And so with that thinking in mind, I’ve come to a conclusion on how to organize the zones and levels, at least for now. I’m currently building some test versions of this idea, and we’ll see if it works out as well as it is in my head. Likely I’ll have to iterate on it a bit, but that’s par for the course.

If you’re interested in following along in more detail, sign up for the Monochrome Heights mailing list here. You’ll get exclusive access to early demos and additional short updates. Until next time. Thanks for reading! 

Share any thoughts on the game in the comments below or come find me on the Boss Rush Discord.

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