Initial Concept and Intent
Unnatural Selection is a 1-4 player crowd-combat based hack-and-slash where the players must slay hordes of enemies. But, with every enemy slain, that enemy will fuse and morph together only to become larger, stronger, and more formidable each time. The players must work together to continue to slay these reverse-hydra-like entities until finally the last fusion is defeated.
The player or players must get stronger and stronger to keep up with the increasing strength of these enemies. As the enemies upgrade from their fusions, the players must upgrade their own arsenals of skills in order to keep up and, eventually, overcome the final enemy of all the enemies fused together.
This game is created in Unreal Engine 4.
- Created initial concept prototype
- Lead Level Designer
- Helped concept the multiple iterations of the UI
- Temporary acting producer
Initial Concept Prototype
When first starting the project, we started with a ton of different ideas, as one usually does. Within the first couple days, we narrowed it down to three:
- A 1-4 player crowd-combat based hack-and-slash with an emphasis on blurring the line between couch-competitive and couch-cooperative gameplay in which players progress by claiming and integrating dropped parts of enemies into themselves.
- A competitive multiplayer stealth game where our players compete to grab as much loot they can while diverting the attention of the guards away from themselves and to their opponents.
- And the game we ended up going with
When deciding what game to go with, we first ended up eliminating the stealth game. As cool as it sounded, scope sounded like it would be an issue with the game, as it would require a lot of careful balancing in order to actually get our intent across. We then wanted to choose between the two 1-4 player crowd-combat hack-and-slashes, and after some talking, we decided that Unnatural Selection would open a lot of interesting design space and would allow for our programmer, who specialized in AI, to do interesting stuff with enemies. On top of that, it just sounded like a more unique idea with a unique game loop that would be fun exploring.
However, we still made all three prototypes. This was so that even if we thought one was better, we could actually try it in practice and prove to others and ourselves that a certain concept was better. And I ended up creating this prototype.
My role as Lead Level Designer
When creating the levels, I took inspiration from our system. One problem with our design is that we found it better for each monster to have a single defining attribute, so that the player would easily be able to see what attribute would transfer when the monsters fused.
And so, in order to better differentiate these monsters, I gave each monster its own biome. The intention was for the areas to make monsters feel more unique, along with adding more environmental storytelling to give these monsters a sort of origin.
Below is the first initial layout of the level I created as a quick throw-together to show my team my high-level concept.
After creating that, I jumped into Unreal and decided to jump into creating terrain. This was my first time creating terrain, but I put it early so that I could ensure that the different segments on the map felt like different biomes. On top of that, this allowed the artist to then recreate the terrain in Maya afterwards while still maintaining the environment layout I created. I also decided to make each environment unique from each other to easily allow the player to navigate where they are at any given time.
There are 3 different types of attributes, each of which have 2 different attributes within them:
- Attacks: Chargebite and Spitefire
- Aspect: Fire and Ice
- Body: Armored and Flying
I based one of each of the areas on the map on these 6 different attributes. I organized them so that the 3 different types of attributes would be across from one another on the map to give some organization to how the area is laid out. This, combined with the unique environments, helps with the player's ability to navigate from area to area.
This is the Steppe Plateau Zone for enemies with the flying body attribute.
I decided that an important part of the zone featuring the monster with the flying attribute would be verticality. And so, I decided to feature an environment that was very vertically prominent.
This is the Glacier Zone for enemies with the ice aspect attribute.
A glacier was the most obvious area to do with an enemies that shoots ice at the player. On top of that, our artist had experience in creating an environment made of ice, so it was a good use of the resources and time we had.
This glacier is right between the steppe plateau and the next zone, the savanna. As such, I wanted to transition the elevation between the two smoothly, which I did with glacial shelves.
This is the Savanna Zone for enemies with the chargebite attack attribute.
One of the attacks an enemy could have was the chargebite, an attack in which the enemy rushed the player before chomping on them. To me, this sounded similar to the way an animal like a lion or tiger pounces on their prey before biting on them. And so, I decided to get inspiration from where animals like that may be seen. Hence, I created a savanna.
I decided to keep this one more simple, with it being mostly flat like most savannas. This would also be a more barren area as well, matching the glacier on its left with the low amount of features and differentiating it from the heavily-populated rainforest on the right.
This is the Temperate Rainforest Zone for enemies with the armored body attribute.
Much like the savanna, I looked for inspiration from animals. And so, the armored enemy that came to my mind was an armadillo, which are native to temperate rainforests.
One important thing to mention now is that we are basing the art direction and some of the combat of our game on traditional RPGs like Dragon's Quest. And so, like in many RPGs, water kills the player. So, I wanted to have water in this level act as an environmental hazard, leading to me creating a river flowing through the whole area and leading to a waterfall.
This is the Volcano Zone for enemies with the fire aspect attribute.
I decided that the zone belonging to enemies that use fire should be one of the hottest kind of areas on earth - volcanoes. Since each zone is only a portion of a biome, I decided creating this zone on the side of a volcano would work well.
I decided it would make the area feel more intense if I added flowing lava throughout the level. The intensity would differentiate it largely from the rest of the zones, which tend to be fairly relaxing apart from the monsters inside of them.
This is the Desert Zone for enemies with the spitfire attack attribute.
Yet again, I decided to base the design of this zone on an animal. In this case, a snake. More specifically, the spitting cobra, which tends to live in dryer areas.
This actually proved to be one of the more difficult zones, as it was hard to make the sand dunes feel wind-swept like they are supposed to be in deserts.
Lastly, I created a central platform afterwords so that the player start at a higher ground. This was so that right when the players spawn in, they can look at the area around and play more strategically. We wanted to promote strategic play that encouraged players to think about what enemies they killed and fused with other enemies, so starting the player off at a strategic viewpoint benefited towards this goal.
We decided as a team that the best course of action for the level design was to only work on two different areas. This was because we only had a single artist, and so we could only have them do so much. So, we decided on the glacier environment, since the artist already had ice materials made, and the steppe plateau since that would be a very interesting and compelling environment to look at.
And so, the artist redid the environment in Maya and added mono-colored materials to different parts of the environment so they could be stretched without a problem.
Afterwards, the artist created environmental pieces such as stalagmites, different types of trees, and large stone blocks. They also created many different materials and textures to match the classic RPG-looking environment.
And so, I then worked on placing them around, using the trees and the stalagmites to differentiate different areas. Areas with more water would have more lush-looking trees, while areas with less water would have less lush trees. I also used the stalagmites to break up completely open areas and guide the player to different pieces of environment.