Process of design for ‘Caverns’

Post Mortem and Process for the game ‘Caverns’. Designed by Alex Massart, Aaron Sutton, Josh Garcia and Matthew Murchison.

Caverns is a 2D platforming game that focuses on emergent gameplay. You play as a triangle trying to collect points in a large atmospheric maze using three unique tools.
You can play the web version her: Caverns

A triangle explores a great maze
Emmergent – 3D

Day 1 – Design
The design process went really well with our group. We began before class was even finished, looking at what creates emergence in games and how we can use it.

We found that a toolbelt and open world lead tot he most emergent gameplay, where players could find their own unique solutions.
From this realization, we developed our first mechanic, scaling up and down. We envisioned a world of obstacles that could be scaled when selected. Only some of our group was around for this, but once we all got together the designed evolved further.

A cube is drawn on a white board with arrows to indicate scaling directions.
The sketches from the early design of Caverns

We decided to simplify our mechanic, by creating a cube that could be scaled, then iterated on that by adding more cubes with unique powers. These were:

  • Shrink/Grow
  • Float/Glide
  • Bounce
A list of powers associated with cubes for the emergent game caverns
The original list of social cubes for Caverns

From here everything fell into place, we had systems we could reuse from previous projects that fit with our needs. This led to the development of our cube world and helped shape the gameplay experience.

Day 2 – Development
Finding time to develop our game from the design stage was difficult, we had several conflicting work, travel, and school schedules on the team. We set a date early on to get together and pump out the game, to avoid unnecessary complication.

Once we got together development went smoothly, Alex’s coding skills were essential to the project, and while he built the backbones of the game, the rest of us focused on designing challenges that were open to many possible solutions in the world we were creating. This was a unique challenge, as I am not the best with puzzles. When josh combined all the designs into one huge playspace though the puzzles worked seamlessly.

A page of grid paper with walls marked in pencil.
The paper layout of the world map in Caverns

Once the level was laid out, Josh began converting the tiles to numeric values for Alex’s generation system. I began work on a visual style for the game.

A screen with 1s, 2s, and 3s maps out a level.
Josh converts the level to integers for the generation system.

I mocked up a system of primitive, yet visually unique 3D elements to build the game with, then slotted them into unity from Blender. In unity, we packed them into a shareable package and waited for the coding to be done.

Blocks, lights, and other data is shown on a computer screen.
Designing the art for Caverns

Once coding was complete we slotted in our assets, fixed a variety of errors and let Aaron loose with Sound Design. Aaron’s audio really brought the game to its final form, at wich point we tested it very thoroughly, looking for glitches, unnecessary damage, and any other unwanted artifacts.

Day 3 – Presentation
The big day, I may have slept in. I was half an hour late, to class, and I truly apologize to my team. Luckily the presentations had not yet begun. As it stood Alex had to head home via train that morning so we were down to three of us. Josh took care of most of the presentation and did a fantastic job. In the future I hope I can A) be on time, and B) have more to say during the presentation as I believe that it is a very important skill to curate.

At the end of the presentation, it was suggested that we might consider developing a larger game from this project, so I’m fairly happy with the peer reception.

It’s worth noting just how well our workload spread out, we weren’t always able to be there for everything but we manage to pass off work like informal shifts. Everyone contributed to the design, and then we took advantage of our strengths to create a fairly polished final product.

There game designers work at a white board
Our team working to design Caverns (and shoot pictures)

Our design process went very well and our development even better. Next time around we might consider some working times that don’t include overnights, but that would be my only major negative observation.

Our goal was to create emergence, and as early as our first playtest we found that different players were solving problems in unique ways.

In my opinion, the green ‘bounce’ block is rather ingenious. The block was sadly not my idea, but I have come to use it every time I play Caverns. It serves a standard role in the game, it can be placed, i bounciness controlled, and used for bouncing around. But the green cube also has some unintentionally, and very usefull features.

Whenever a player clips into an object, or gets stuck somehow, one click with the greenblock forces them back into the traversable area. So it unitentionaly fixes the only major problem with out game. It can also (spoiler alert) be used as a jet pack, if thats how you like to play.

To summarize, our team worked very well to make a really fun game with emergent mechanics.


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