Why have I opened with a screengrab from the Torture-porn – what a name for a genre! – series “Saw”?
The answer to that is that I’ve had to pretty much turn myself into the antagonist of the first few films, “Jigsaw”, in order to come up with enough variety for the survival levels in Fragmental. Actually, a much more accurate reference would be the film “Cube”, but that might be a bit obscure as it was a low budget indie film, and Saw has become a money making juggernaut. Plus I really wanted to start with that picture, so there. Aaaaanyway, the point of all that was that myself and Dave – who did the other half of the survival levels – needed to think of as many different / horrible / innovative / funny ways for players to be able to die as possible, while being mindful that the whole point was to be the last survivor standing.
Inspiration comes from the weirdest of places, and at totally random times. Personally, I find that a lot of inspiration for my levels comes from TV & films – who knew wasting so much time watching TV as a kid would turn out to be a good thing! Creating a level with just enough of a nod to existing media, can give a player that empowering feeling of “Ah, I see what you’ve done there, I know what you were thinking of when you did that”. To demonstrate, I’ll highlight a couple of my levels, and explain their genesis and development over time:
The Alien franchise is the best film franchise out there. You could argue for The Godfather, or Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings, but you’d be wrong. For the younger ones reading this, don’t even go there with Harry Potter or Twilight…
<Spoiler warning…actually it came out in 1992, I think we’re a little past spoilers>
For this map, I was specifically thinking about the climactic scene of Alien3, where Ripley and the remaining convicts attempt to trap the Alien in the Foundry, pushing it into the smelting mould with an automated piston. This idea of a trap appealed to me, though in the film it was a very slow shunt. For Fragmental, it would make sense for this to be a high speed ram that would catapuly players off the map. To increase the frantic nature of the level, I also included small alcoves, like in the film, for players to jump into to avoid the piston. The translation from film inspiration to in-game level was pretty close, the only question being how to activate the moving parts. We had enough levels that were automated, so for this level it seemed worthwhile going a different route and letting the players activate it – also in keeping with events in the film. The final touch was allowing any player to activate the piston at any point, so buttons were added into each alcove, potentially one for each player.
The end result is a frantic dash and then you play a bit of a cat and mouse game with the other players as you decide whether or not to venture towards their little hiding place. There are no back walls on them, so you can punch them off the level if you get the timing right. Get it wrong and you’ll be slapped off the level by the massive piston. It’s very simple, but it’s a lot of fun to play.
The 80’s were a golden period for animation. At least they were if you wanted a vehicle to advertise your toy range, causing parents across the country to search for weeks before Christmas for the one shop in town that was rumoured to have that latest Transformers / He-man / Thundercats figure. I’m writing this from a male point of view only, as I refuse to type ‘Young Girls toys’ into google…
Trap door was different. An exceptionally British stop motion animation, based around a blue, ummm, thing, called Berk, who worked in the basement of his faceless master’s mansion. The titular trapdoor was set into the ground, for reasons that over the mists of time now escape me. Anyway, if it was ever opened, something good / bad / random would come out. For my Fragmental level, I liked the idea of a big trapdoor that would suddenly open, causing players to drop to their doom. However, on testing this everyone simply stuck to the sides of the level , rendering the trapdoor pretty useless. The simple solution here was to instead make the centre safe, and the edges the trapdoors, so the best players will maintain a central position in the arena. Kind of like Sumo.
This level is also great fun, but there’s slightly less focus on specific tactics in this one, it’s more about getting the timing right for landing your melee attack properly.
This is possibly the least obvious inspiration of the lot. D.A.R.Y.L was a 1985 – notice a pattern in my inspiration yet?! – film about a kid who was really an AI experiment, who, umm, actually just watch it or IMDB it or something. It’s like all films from that era, you can pretty much guess the ending about 10 minutes in. Long story short, in one scene Daryl plays Pole Position on an old Atari, getting faster and faster until it’s impossible for a normal human to play.
I wanted to make a very different level to the rest so far in Fragmental, along these lines. More recently, this has been done in the ‘Zone mode’ in the Wipeout series. Now, being totally honest here, I have no idea why I thought it would look funny if they were running around a vinyl record player. I just did, so that’s why the level ended up looking like it does. This is one of my most Marmite levels, some of the Fragmental team love it while the others groan every time it appears, but more importantly everyone we’ve shown it to in public loved it. Get in.
There are plenty more survival levels, inspired by things such as Pinball, Snooker, The Clangers, and The Rancor pit in Return of the Jedi, but I don’t want to show off everything too early!