Since my last post I have completed the design of the level and finalised the general gameplay. I created the maze within the tomb of my level and added events to trap the player as well as a way to exit the tomb to complete the game.
I chose to make a very simple maze that, while not particularly challenging to complete on its own, becomes more difficult due to the darkness that can easily cause the player to get lost and disorientated. The addition of the chasing enemy will also give extra complexity and danger to what is in fact a very simple game. The beginning of the maze starts when the player collects the statue towards the entrance of the tomb causing a large boulder to block the exit. I created this effect by making a simple blueprint that would move the rock when the player interacts with the statue using the "E" key. This then makes the statue disappear, suggesting that the character has collected it, and triggers the movement of the boulder. Later in the project I will add audio events for both the statue collection and the boulder movement which will be implemented via the blueprints.
I added various hallways, doorways, false paths and pillars into the maze to hopefully slow down the player as they try to escape from the enemy in the game. Using a similar blueprint to the statue collection, I created a button in one of the rooms that would move another boulder, this time allowing the player to exit the tomb and win the game. I placed this button at the furthest point from the start in order to challenge to the player as they avoid the enemy.
The above image shows a top down view of the whole maze area. The green area on the floor is the NavMesh which represents the area that the enemy can move within and is used to calculate how it should chase the player using pathfinding. Once the enemy senses the player, it will then start chasing the player along the shortest path within the green area.
Setting this up is very important for my game as it not only will allow the enemy to chase correctly, it will also allow me to dynamically impact the audio of this enemy based on how far away it is from the player along the shortest path. If I were to set up my dynamic sounds to be affected only by the distance to my player, there would be unwanted moments where the player is technically close to the enemy but there is a wall in the way. This means that the path to the enemy is much further away, therefore the danger is minimal and the audio should reflect that.
The enemy in the game is currently represented by a large cube that fills the hallways of the game maze. When the player walks near the enemy, it will relentlessly follow them until it either touches them, killing the player and resulting in a game over, or until the player escapes and wins the game. As the player cannot walk around the enemy in the narrow corridors, it will have to be kited around various obstacles to strategically manoeuvre it out of the way.
I am planning for the enemy to be invisible so that the player will have to carefully listen to their surroundings in order to locate it. This concept will need to be thoroughly tested however to ensure that it leads to fun gameplay rather than frustration. As a contingency, if I cannot get it to work as intended while invisible, I will explore other options such as having the enemy be adaptively invisible or a flickering light source.
Or maybe I'll just keep the big terrifying cube!
Through the ideas stage of designing my game level, I decided that I wanted my cave section (where the enemy will reside) to include horror elements. Following this decision, I began to look for inspiration in various media to find out how exactly horror is achieved through audio specifically. I started by research with Layers of Fear by Blooper Team.
In Layers of Fear you play as a disturbed painter trying to complete his most important piece of work, his "Magnum Opus". Due to his mental instability while traversing his home, scary and strange things begin to occur causing frights to the player. The game has simple gameplay where the player mostly walks around a large mansion-style house, interacting with doors and items. While the game doesn't include any sort of the enemies that I am planning for my game, the way the ambience and sparse use of sound effects build tension as you walk through this building is something I am looking to recreate.
The initial area of the game is the porch of the building where the audio is completely diegetic, consisting of muffled rain and thunder sounds from outside and footsteps when the player moves. This grounds the player into the game world, making it feel believable straight away. As soon as you enter the foyer of the building, the peaceful yet slightly unnerving non-diegetic piano music begins. From this point the player is able to explore some of the unlocked rooms in the house at their own pace. As the music is constantly present throughout this section, it gives the player a sense of security in what is a creepy and lonely environment.
The way tension is built is initially showcased when the player makes their way down to the basement. Upon descending into the darkness, the music cuts out completely. This instantly instills dread into the player, causing their senses to heighten as they become very aware of their surroundings. After clambering around in the basement and hearing the odd rustle and squeak of a rat, it is apparent that this moment is ultimately a red herring. After leaving the basement, the music is introduced back into the mix. As an introduction, this is an effective way of putting the player slightly on edge as a taster of what is to come.
When progressing further into the game, the ability to freely explore is taken away as the perceived architecture of the building warps into a more linear experience while the character's mind deteriorates. The music shifts from the coherent classic piano tune, to a more abstract drone based soundtrack. At this point the game uses similar technique to build tension, now with added jump scares to frighten the player. I noticed an audio sequence loop within the general ambience while playing. It would begin with louder environmental diegetic sounds alongside non-diegetic drones in the background. This would then quiet down as the player approaches an interactable such as a door. Once the door is opened there would either be a loud jump scare followed by a scary visual to match, or the soundtrack would revert to the initial state with the drones. This varies the outcome of such events to subvert the player's expectations, attempting to avoid repetitiveness. However, I believe this trick would more often than not lead to a jump scare which I eventually began to anticipate, reducing its effectiveness.
Overall the soundscape of the game is very impressive. I particularly enjoyed the use of silence when approaching uncertainty. Unfortunately the game often has some cliché jump scares and audio assets such as frequent use of dry ice on metal to create screeches, which I personally think is overused in horror. In my project I will take inspiration from the sparse sound design during quiet moments to build a false sense of security, ready for when I need to ramp up the tension.
The main focus of my project is the audio (asset creation, implementation and innovation). With that in mind, I needed to spend as little time as possible on the level and game design elements. I knew that I wanted to have the level begin in a forest area, progress into a cave which would then lead to a hidden temple. For a quick way to generate a game area, I used the landscape tool to generate an area and carved out the gameplay zone with mountains at the edges to be used as the bounds of the level. I then applied a grass material to the landscape and painted on materials to simulate a dirt path and the outline of my cave. Using materials in Unreal Engine will come in handy later when I add my footstep sounds as I will be able to switch the surface sounds based on the material being walked over.
The next step was to created my cave. I used simple geometry to map out the area of my cave and then surrounded it pre-made rock assets. I sped up this process by reusing multiples of the same rock shape and rotating them, giving the illusion of unique rock formations.
Once this was completed I finished off my starting area by adding trees and a small lake to create a forest environment. While adding these details is mostly unnecessary, I wanted to include them as inspiration for my final forest soundscape.
Within the cave there is almost no available light, preventing the player from being able to see. While I like this idea to an extent, as limited visuals will allow me to rely on my audio abilities more, complete darkness would make the game near unplayable. With is in mind, I created a simple torch light using blueprints that could be toggled on and off. Within the cave and temple this will be the primary source of light for the player.
The final stage of my level design was to create the temple area, where the bulk of the game will take place. Using geometry I created a large enclosed box that will house the dungeon-style gameplay area where the enemy will hunt you down. Once the mazy interior is completed my level will be finalised and I can fully focus on the audio orientated gameplay aspects of the game!