Above the Wastes
Above the Wastes is a work-in-progress 2D 1 vs 1 fighting game made using Unreal. The game is a slow-paced fighting game focused on positioning and use of the environment. The game focuses on player's use of the map to gain advantages over their opponent.
Personal Solo Project
Prototyped 2.5D fighting game system
Conceptualized five potential characters for the game based on playstyles and archetypes
Balanced attack stats such as hitstun, damage, and recovery
A balancing sheet that would predict potential combos, links, and blockstrings with data.
Bringing the Map into the Match
Level Design in Fighting games is a relatively unused field of design. Usually relegated to one of two primary purposes, the addition of chaos, shown in platform fighters like smash. Or for creating memorable moments, such as in Mortal Kombat 11. And these two uses are important, But I feel they do not explore the depth of systemic changes that could be accomplished through the use of Level Design in Fighting Games. So, I decided to explore that with Above the Wastes.
Establishing a Goal
I first needed two things, a goal, and a method. I decided my goal as this "The Map is part of the matchup" what this goal means, is that I want players to consider the map as much as they consider their characters.
Once I had a goal, I started looking at methods, and what I found were three potential avenues. Environmental attacks are found in games like MK11, where the player can use a new attack by being in the vicinity of an object in the environment. Platforms and complicated terrain, seen in platform fighters like Smash. And terrain hazards, found in many board games, where the terrain has an effect on the player for the duration they are in the terrain. Once I had the three locked down, I began work in implementing a prototype of each.
For environmental interactions, I implemented them in two ways, an attack that can assist a player in combos. And a movement option that could help a player reposition quickly. The goal of Environmental Interactions was to create new options for players and reward knowledge and experimentation. To support this, I made the interactions work off cooldowns, this way players would be able to use them multiple times in a match in order to try out different things.
Hazards were the most difficult as I had no direct references to pull from. So I first created a goal to design the terrain around. That goal being
"Terrain should present a challenge for players to overcome or take advantage of." This goal highlights the point of the terrain. It should directly put a challenge in front of the player, preventing them from achieving a goal. And this challenge should act as an advantage to some characters and hindrance to others.
Negative terrain creates an obstacle for players. Players want to avoid it as much as possible. This creates an inoptimal decision when players need to pass through.
With my goal in place, I began diagraming how the different terrain types affect player decision space. The goal is to force inoptimal choices without locking the player into having no choices.
This situation is good because the close-range fighter must make an inoptimal choice in order to get close to the long-range player. And the long-range player has to correctly respond to maintain a strong position.
Cracks start to show when both players need to go through the terrain. Because both players need to go through it but also don't want to stay in it. It pushes both players to wait for the other one. Forcing the game into a stalemate.
This solution is to change the position. When players are split across the terrain it creates a conflict of interest that causes a stalemate. So we need to change the way we frame negative terrain.
This situation creates a side objective for both players. The blue player wants to push the red player into the zone and the red player does not want that. This adds depth of strategy without limiting it. But this is also quite limited and does not solve the previous problem as players can still end up in that situation.
Lower the Stakes
Another way to improve the situation is to make it more lenient. This situation changes it from a damage zone to a slow zone.
This solution makes it less of a negative to go through the zone. Because while the slow is bad, it does not directly affect a player's loss condition. It just puts them in a bad situation. They still want to avoid it, but it doesn't feel as key.
The last solution is to make the zone more of a mixed choice. By adding in a positive bonus. It makes it something players may want to fight over. That also changes depending on the fighters in the match.
This solution creates more dynamic situations for players. Where a zone can simultaneously be good for a player in one situation and bad in a different situation This best achieves the goal of opening the opportunity space through the use of terrain.
What Did I Do?
The terrain I settled on was the "Sand." In the sand, players have reduced movement speed and take reduced knockback from attacks.
The sand uses a combination of lowering the stakes and a bit of benefit. The lower movement speed provides a benefit to long-range players if they can keep their opponents stuck in the sand. But at the same time, they will be in an extremely bad position if caught in it themselves.
The sand rewards characters who do best in close range through the use of pushback reduction. This makes it easier for those characters to keep up their pressure if they can get the opponent stuck in the sand. But they also have to be careful of getting stuck in the sand themselves.