The topic on the Platformer games is a very interesting one. This genre of games is one of the best places to start if you are a beginner-level Game Designer or for that matter, a developer. This comes from the fact that the Platformer has enough action in it to make it fun, yet it is simple to design and build. You don't have any real constraints here to hinder you and you actually have a lot of freedom in designing your game.
In this article, I will concentrate on the Game Design of a Platformer game. We will craft out a game that will have a total of three different levels to go through.
Now before we go venturing into the game's core, let's brush up on what this genre actually stands for – platforms. Our main goal in the game that we are currently going to be designing is going to be to get from point A to point B by jumping from platform to platform. We will also encounter some enemies along the way as well. Some traps here and there too. Some small (and I do mean small) puzzles as well. That's to say – we will certainly add features but the core experience has to come from jumping from platform to platform in order to get to your current goal.
Let's kick things off with the most important thing in a game – the player. We would need to have a specific set of skills for our character to possess in order to complete the game. Let's take a look at a picture of what we are going to be able to do with our player.
As you can see from the picture, our character will be able to move forward, backward and jump. The jump directions are going to be handled by the forward/backward motion that can be executed on performing a jump. I'm going to include only these basic movement patterns in this article. This is beginner material so we don't want to go into an overload.
Our player can also shoot. Why shoot you ask? Why not stomp our enemies by furiously jumping on their heads? Well, for a number of reasons. The idea behind the current platformer is to jump on platforms to get to a certain point. However, we have to make things hard for the player. So – we add enemies (and later on other stuff too) to make our life miserable. However that would not be the case if you can jump all over them from the platform above, right? They would be much more of a threat (that does not imply in all cases – just in the current design) if you fall from a platform onto them and you die. Yeah, not too realistic, though platformers are not too good at being simulators either. So, back to the point – why shooting and not something more complex or original? Well, because, again, this is a beginners article. Just basic stuff.
And lastly, the player should have the ability to “use” things. Why? So we can put some kind of puzzles in the game, make it a bit more complex then just plain grinding jumps. We will see an example of why we need this later on.
We are going to go in-depth on the levels further down in this article. This is an overview.
We are going to craft out three levels. The levels will be structured to make the player go up in difficulty. The higher the level, the harder it will be to get through. We will also implement a change in the gameplay directions, however you will see how that goes later on. By doing so we will shift the dynamics a little bit but we'll get to that shortly.
Now, to make things look a bit more interesting, we will implement an objective. The player has to get from his starting position to an exit door. On some (most) of the levels, this door is going to be locked, so the player has to find a key to open the door. Simple but it's all we need for the purpose of this article.
So without going further into overview details, here are the levels.
With Level 1 I want to illustrate more in-depth the process of designing the level itself. As we go further, we are going to go more into the pure mechanics design and less on the level parts, however the platformer is very very level-centric so we need to do this.
To start off, let's just have a player starting position and a door.
So we have a plane here and on it we have our player and our door. Great! Where is the challenge in that? Let's get down to adding some things – an enemy and a jump.
So now we have a pit through which we can fall and an enemy. Note that the enemy will patrol back and forth. This will go for all of the enemies you will encounter from here on out through this article. However, back to the matter at hand – this is just not a platformer. There is nothing interesting to do here. So how do we make it a platformer? Well, we totally block the path to the door with an obstacle and we add the meat to the game – the platforms. And to make things worse, we will add enemies to some specific locations where they can cause trouble.
Now to get to the door, you need to jump on the platforms, get past the enemy on top of the obstacle and jump from there. Really intense. Yeah. We need to upgrade this. Let's say that this door is locked and we need a key for it. How about this – we put this key in a harder place to reach. Somewhere on top of the level. And let's make things more interesting. Aside from the regular platforms, let's add a slippery platform that can cause the player to fall.
As you can see in the picture, there are a couple of things the player can do here – if we go down the same path we had as in the previous picture, we'd get to the door. Great, however that door is locked. We should get a nice message that we need to find the key. So we go off again. We jump on the other obstacles and we get back to the big one. From there we take the route on the other platforms. So what to we see while jumping around? More enemies. So we jump, we shoot them, we jump some more and we get to the point where we have our slippery platforms. Now what happens here? Well, if you overdo your jump – you fall. And you fall back to the big obstacle you came from. And maybe right on top of a re-spawned enemy. Oh happy times. So now let's say you manage to jump and get the key. Though you end up falling from the key platform. No worries – a spiked platform is there – it's waiting for you. Well, let's get this over with and say that you did everything right. From here you can find your way back to the door and finally leave this blasted level.
So, up until now, in the previous level we had a pattern of movement where we would jump back and forth on the platforms but mostly in a forward-like motion. Our objective was always in a forward path in relation to our point of view.
Now, let's switch up the dynamics – let's have our objective be in an upward path – that's to say that our objective will be above us in relation to our point of view. To get a better perspective of this, let's take a look at this picture.
As you can see, we start at the bottom and the door is at the top. So basically we are going to be doing an Icy Tower kind of thing (just a reference). That's also one of the reasons why I decided to remove the key from the equation for this level. We are going to make it challenging enough to simply jump up through the level. So without further distractions, let's look at a demo of what we are headed in for.
As you can see, we have made a nice mix of regular platforms, slippery platforms and spiked platforms. In regards to making the level harder, we will build on the slippery platforms and in some cases we will make them smaller and way harder to jump correctly on. We will also introduce the concept of having your enemy patrol back and forth while you try to jump on a specific platform that may slip. You just might bump into your opponent without even wanting to. And last but not least, we introduce to you the soft comfort of the spiked platforms that will insure your untimely demise in case you fall from a platform.
Now let's take a look at the real thing and analyze it.
Now this is getting intense. The slippery platforms are getting smaller, further apart and the enemies grow in numbers. That's nothing to say of the big spiked platform in the middle of it all. The further you go up, the harder it gets. That's the total point of all of this – a new dynamic and a new perspective of platform jumping. After you've gone through the big amount ofweird platforms, you are finally ready to go through the door and move on.
Now it's time to remove the safety wheels. After we've gone through two different types of dynamics and after we've explored the danger of the platforms themselves, let's blend this into a mixer and add some other stuff for taste.
Our first (and sadly – only) puzzle for this article is here.
Do you remember the switch from the Player section of the article? Well, here is your use case. Here the key makes his triumphant return, only to be locked away behind a dropdown bridge. So … this is how it's going to work. After you pull on the switch, the bridge falls. You will have some time to get to the key before the bridge goes back up. How do you know how much time is enough? Well you have to play through your own game to find out. This is best calculated on a trial and error basis.
Now, let's get down and dirty with the level composition.
Now there is something new – after combining the different approaches from the first two levels, we get this insane jumping platformer. So let's take a look at what we have – we need to go up in order to get to the door. However, going up is implemented in a forward-like motion. You would need to explore in order to get to the point you need.
Here we introduce a lot of small and slippery platforms, along with the normal ones and, of course, the spiked one. We have a lot of places from which we can fall and we have no particular direction that points to our exact goal, so we have to explore a bit by jumping.
However, this level seems a little too quiet and safe. Let's get the danger meter up a little.
Now things are starting to look better. Let's break down what we have here. First off, lots of enemies. Even though in this current design they are not so hard, they can still be pretty annoying. Their placement makes them tough as well. The new thing we have here though is the Trap Door. What does it do ? Well, what a trap door does – it opens and you fall through it. Pretty simple. Thing is here, that you fall to another region in the level. This sets you back and in some cases, that's a lot. I thought of including a trap door that leads to a spiked platform, though I trashed that. You can experiment if you want though. And last but not least, we have our first dead end – in the far left of the corner, just underneath the key platform. What's it's use? Well, to make you explore more. It is actually a really probable path to go down.
After you've collected your key, you can go past the door and complete the three levels.
This is an important point here. In this design, I had my mind set on the camera to reveal only a small portion of the level. There are a lot of platformers that show big parts of the stage, however that's not a path I want to go through with. What should be a good camera view here is the standard “Super Mario Bros” kind of thing (again, using this game only for a reference) where the camera is following our character throughout the level. However, in this regard, we should keep the line of sight a bit smaller. I'd say that for this design, I would want a camera that would be three character forward jumps in width (that's calculated on a basis where the camera is not following the player) and two character normal jumps in height.
Normally this kind of game would include a scoring point system. I've purposely left that out as the article is getting too big and the information might get too much.
There are other points to be made here, like number of player lives, timers etc., however, I'm going to leave this out as well. This is something that has to come after playing your own product and seeing just how hard you've made it.
The Platformer is a good genre to experiment. You can also put it on all sorts of devices and still have similar gameplay experience.
Experiment with these kind of games – it can benefit you a lot.