From combat to puzzle solving everything in the game was build around the main mechanic of tossing a flame between the two players. The flame is primarily used for:
Puzzle-solving by igniting different kinds of torches within the level.
Fighting the three different enemy types by hitting them with the flame.
To make the whole mechanic more tactical and increase player cooperation, the flame can only be held for a limited time and will diminish the players’ shared health pool if the time limit has passed.
Design Notes - the Flame Toss
Originally, the flame toss mechanic was concepted slightly differently: once in range (the glowing circle) a player had to actively catch the flame by pressing down the button and would release the flame once said button was released. If not caught in time, the flame would hit and damage the player. This was changed to an automatic catch and active when too many playtester’s complained that focussing on catching the flame was too distracting when they had to juggle combat and puzzle-solving as well. And since the flame makes up this game’s core mechanic it had to be enjoyable for our players so we ended up adapting.
The primary means to solve puzzles in this game are the torches and there are three different versions of them:
The Regular Torch is the most versatile of the three. First and foremost, only lighting them correctly opens the door to the next room. And while there are rooms that simply require all torches in the room to be lit other rooms require a specific approach. Those areas don’t feature any enemies and the players can fully concentrate on the puzzle and often have visual hints in the environment. Furthermore, the regular torches also play a role in combat, especially against the Wraith that can only be damaged in proximity to a lit torch.
In this entry room to the Nursery, the players need to beat the house in a round of Tic-Tac-Toe to open the door. The torches in the middle correspond to the 3x3 field that is shown on the blackboard.
Originally, this part was supposed to be an interactive “game within
the game” but due to time constraints it was simplified and the players now have to follow the steps shown on the blackboard
While the Altar Torches don’t affect the players or rooms directly, they must be lit in order to complete the game. Each of the five districts ends in a room where the altar is located and the players have to defeat all the enemies before they can light the altar torch and subsequently leave the room. Compared to the previous torches, those on an altar feature a unique design that corresponds with its respective district.
Hover on Map to see the Districts
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Perhaps the most experimental, the Nursery theme features a music box and a singing child. In combat, the singing becomes a choir and a heartbeat rhythm is added.
Since the Nursery is mostly occupied by Wraiths, many of the rooms have the required torches located at the other end of the room. Additionally, some of the rooms (especially the altar) are dominated by holes in the ground to change the room’s layout.
To create a spheric and mystical atmosphere, the Observatory’s theme mainly uses a synthesizer and spices the combat music up with the addition of French horns and kettledrums.
Narrow corridors and wide open spaces alternate in the Observatory, which is mainly inhabited by Dullahans. In comparison to the other districts, it is also the least linear one and even opens a shortcut to the Nursery.
The Greenhouse theme combines woodwind instruments (mainly bassoon) and harp music. Once the player is in combat, the music adds a staccato of flutes.
Narrow pathways characterize the Greenhouse, so the players have to maneuver around the shelfs and flowerbeds. It has primarily spectral enemies like Wraiths and especially Banshees that can move through the obstacles with ease.
The Lounge’s music keeps the string instruments from the main menu but replaces the music box with a piano. In combat, the strings play at a more rapid pace.
In terms of difficulty, the Lounge is a bit of a continuation of our tutorial part, featuring less enemies and bigger rooms to allow the players to move more freely. With the exception of the Ballroom it also has the largest altar room.
Once the Ballroom is opened, the music will change to a waltz version of the main theme. The music of the final fight is another, more dramatic variation .
Initially, the Ballroom was supposed to be a bigger and more complex district but due to time constraints it ended up being a huge combat room with many enemies. The enemy surges are designed as waves and even feature a final boss.
The HUB music is the only track that doesn't feature the game’s main theme. Originally, it was supposed to be played in the Observatory, which is why the instruments are similar.
Signified by a different, calmer music track and lacking enemies is the area that serves as the level’s HUB. All of the other Districts branch from this courtyard and it is dominated by a large glowing pentacle on the ground.
The Tutorial section doesn’t really have a combat theme but the background music is similar to that in the start menu to enable a smoother transition.
Those first rooms serve as the Tutorial and introduce the main mechanics as well as the three enemy types, featuring one per room. The last room also harbors the Golden Torch which is the way to restore player health in this game.
Design Notes - the Pentacle Symbol
Aside from looking neat, the pentacle symbol actually serves two other purposes:
as a simple diegetic map that has color-coded candles that correspond with the five districts in terms of position (e.g. the lower-left green candle signifying the Greenhouse which is located south-west in the manor).
every time the players manage to light an altar, the corresponding candle on the pentacle is lit up as well, thereby signifying the players’ progress.
One of the biggest decisions we had to make for this project was what kind of focus the action-puzzle game should have:
Should we generate more puzzle content, thus having more different objects and set up a higher number of unique puzzle rooms?
Or should we go for combat and develop a bigger variety of enemies that required specific attack strategies?
Since had to take the project’s time constraints into consideration, we ended up deciding on the combat aspect and expand on the enemies because they would generate more synergy and could be re-used more easily. To keep a bit of the puzzle aspect though, we tried to tie our torch-lighting mechanic to the enemy behavior as much as possible, mainly with the Banshee and the Wraith.
Those two ghosts are also more spectral and can move through furniture in the room. The Dullahan, in comparison, walks on the same level as the players and has to maneuver around objects.
Hover on enemy picture for more details
Design Notes - Efficient Recycling
Something that had been a major problem during the previous game project concerned the 3D models of our enemy variants and the fact that our artists had only time to do a single one of the originally four concepts and gave them individual textures and heads. Having learned from this key moment, we decided early on that we would re-use as many assets as possible. This resulted in all of the three ghosts having the same base body model with swapped heads (or lack thereof in case of the Dullahan).
Design Notes - Creating the Ghosts
Something that has been unusual compared to the previous projects was the fact that our initial enemy concepts barely underwent any changes. After the artists in our group requested a darker, gothic setting, us designers quickly decided on ghosts as the main enemies. Additionally, the basic enemy behavior, forms and even the names we used as placeholders in the GDD remained the same. Ideas for elite-versions of our three enemy types were concepted but in the end - and once again due to time - they were scrapped and the only glimpse that remained from them was the final boss.
The Banshee is the only enemy that does not attack the players directly but follows a set route instead where she releases her screams every 5 seconds. The scream takes the shape of a circular area of effect that damages everything within. Independently of doing damage, she also extinguishes all torches in the room whenever she screams.
Design Notes - a real Banshee indeed
Creating the SFX was a task that fell onto us designers and since only two of them were female, the choice was pretty obvious. The player characters mainly required generic pain grunts (I voiced player 2, the lady in blue) - the enemies, however, were a lot more fun! The Banshee’s voice… er scream acting was done by my designer colleague who could screech at quite a loud volume due to her
choir practice. And since the only room suited for recording was inside of the school, all other students had the pleasure of listening to her.
The Wraith is the fastest of the three enemies and has a fast attack rate as well. Her damage output and health, however, are very low. To make her more challenging, she remains spectral and therefore invincible in her normal state and only materializes in proximity to torchlight.