Sim­i­lar to the play­er design process, the lev­el design process start­ed off with basic sketch­es, with the aim of teach­ing the play­er how to play through lev­el design — rather than hav­ing a hand hold­ing tuto­r­i­al. So the sketch­es began, with designs and game­play fea­tures that would end up being dropped until a lat­er time, but they gave me designs to work off and begin pro­to­typ­ing the game with.

There are three goals for each level:

      1- Com­plete the level
      2- Com­plete the lev­el with­in Par
      3- Col­lect all the zom­bie heads

The lev­el Par is the low­est amount of way­points pos­si­ble used to reach the exit, the play­er can use as many as they wish, but should­n’t be able to use any less.

I want­ed the first lev­el to be easy, and to help the play­er learn what the goal is — place way­points to cre­ate a path to the exit. The first lev­el is easy, it’s impos­si­ble for the play­er to die and only 1 way­point is need­ed to be placed. There are zom­bies, but they’re trapped behind a set of bar­ri­cades, at such a dis­tance that they will see the play­er and try to attack him, but be unable to because of the obstruc­tion — thus show­ing the play that zom­bies will chase Jim if they see him.

In the screen­shots below, you can see in the sketch that the start posi­tion isn’t in line with the exit, this was changed dur­ing devel­op­ment to ensure that the play­er would go past the zom­bies. We can also see how the UI start­ed out, and how it fin­ished — though it did go through a cou­ple of oth­er looks before reach­ing the fin­ished state.

When the zom­bie head col­lec­tables were added, dur­ing play tests, play­ers were avoid­ing the heads as well as the zom­bies — it was my hope, ini­tial­ly, that the UI in the top left (along with the lev­el Par for lev­el 1) was obvi­ous enough to show that these are to be col­lect­ed, and not avoid­ed. Due to this bit of feed­back the instruc­tions will be get­ting an update to add this info in.

On to lev­el 2, anoth­er tuto­r­i­al lev­el, which is exact­ly the same as the first lev­el, except for 3 differences:

      1- The bar­ri­cade block­ing the zom­bies was removed
      2- The col­lec­table heads have been moved down 2 rows
      3- The play­er has moved up 1 row, and is no longer in line with the exit

The bar­ri­cades removed to allow the zom­bies to chase the play­er, and turn him into a piece of steak if caught. The col­lec­table heads moved down to show the play­er (gamer) the cor­rect path, by putting 3 squares in between the zom­bies and the heads, I’m attempt­ing to show that this is the dis­tance that the zom­bies can see — 3 squares infront of them­selves. Last­ly, the play­er was moved 1 row up to show that it’s pos­si­ble to walk on the pave­ments, as well as the roads, many testers were unaware of this at the start.

In the paper sketch, for lev­el 2, you’ll notice that there are two cars present, this lev­el was orig­i­nal­ly planned to demon­strate how to climb objects, how­ev­er this fea­ture was left out to be intro­duced into lat­er lev­els — even­tu­al­ly being left out of the game entire­ly, until a lat­er time.

From ear­ly on in devel­op­ment, I knew I want­ed each lev­el to be set dur­ing the day and at night — night time hav­ing more zom­bies, less light, and a hard­er solution.

The solu­tion for lev­el 1 at night is the same as it is dur­ing the day, the main pur­pose of this lev­el is to dis­play that night time has more zom­bies. It is lev­el 2 where the play­er is taught that night time has a dif­fer­ent solu­tion to the day time ver­sion. The Par for night time lev­els is usu­al­ly high­er than the day time versions.

To make the lev­el cre­ation eas­i­er, so that any changes for the day time ver­sion would­n’t then need to be copied to a sep­a­rate scene for the night ver­sion, each lev­el has 1 scene for both day and night. When a lev­el is loaded it grabs a pub­lic vari­able, set at the main menu, to load the cor­rect set­up, it finds all the spawn points for the ene­mies and all the lights in the lev­el. The ene­mies have two types of spawn­ers, a nor­mal one that spawns ene­mies for both day and night, and then a night spawn­er, which is only turned on if the lev­el flag is set to night. All the lights are turned on by default, the script goes through turn­ing off the lights which aren’t need­ed for the lev­el flag.

In the screen­shot below, you can see 4 types of spawn points:

  • Green: Play­er start posi­tion. Though the play­er is not spawned, as it’s already in the lev­el, it is just moved into the cor­rect position
  • Red: Exit point.
  • Yel­low: Ene­my spawn points, for day and night
  • Dark Yel­low: Ene­my spawn points, for night only
  • Blue: Col­lec­table head spawn points, both day and night spawn points are the same colour here, but eas­i­ly tracked which is which in the hier­ar­chy as they are childs of sep­a­rate emp­ty game objects
Enemy and collectable head spawners
Ene­my and col­lec­table head spawners

Some­thing I found when cre­at­ing a cou­ple of Por­tal 2 maps, was that it’s incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to judge your own puz­zles — you know the answer, is it too easy? too hard? This was even more preva­lent devel­op­ing Shh, Zom­bies — each lev­el need­ed two lots of puzzles/ solu­tions, one of which affect­ed the oth­er. Game sta­tis­tics were added ear­ly on in devel­op­ment, to track play­er deaths and suc­cess­ful com­ple­tions, and a lot of iter­a­tions were done before reach­ing the launch designs for each level.

Build iterations for desktop version
Build iter­a­tions for desk­top version

Since release, gath­er­ing more stats it’s become appar­ent that the big­ger lev­els aren’t keep­ing the inter­est of the play­ers, lev­el 4 had a 50% drop rate of peo­ple com­plet­ing it, com­pared to lev­els 1–3. I believe this to be because of the big­ger size in lev­el from 3 to 4, and the dif­fi­cul­ty spike isn’t quite right — an update was released which changed the posi­tion of the play­er start to make the solu­tion a bit sim­pler. Mov­ing for­ward with the new set of lev­els cur­rent­ly in devel­op­ment, I’m using this sta­tis­tic to cre­ate bet­ter lev­els, I’m already hap­pi­er with the ones com­plet­ed thus far and think them to be bet­ter than a few from the orig­i­nal bunch.

I’m going to fin­ish this blog post off with a screen of lev­el 11, the first lev­el in the next update, which shows off the look of a new ene­my type — if you’ve played Shh, Zom­bies already, reached lev­el 10 and have a keen eye, you’ll already have spot­ted a pre­view of the new ene­my type.

Completed level 11, coming in the next update
Com­plet­ed lev­el 11, com­ing in the next update