Back in the Spring of 2016, developer Foam Sword raised £126,447 to fund the creation of their hand-drawn adventure, Knights and Bikes. While they haven’t been able to complete the game in time for their estimated Spring 2017 release, they have continued making progress behind the scenes. This includes completing the first-pass for another level.
The current level the team is finishing up happens near the end of the story. Not wanting to spoil anything, Foam Sword’s Creative Lead, Rex Crowle decided to instead give backers a look at his process for designing levels. Since this is the process he learned while working on stuff like Tearaway and LittleBigPlanet at Media Molecule, it’s worth a peek.
The first step of creating an imaginative and fun level for Knights and Bikes is the concepting phase. “We start off with a rough idea of what might be an interesting gameplay theme for the level and what would contrast with the other locations,” Crowle explained. This part tends to include lots of research and doodling in sketchbooks.
In order to make sure the idea fits with the rest of the story, Crowle creates some example scenes. “By making these little scenes I can feel confident that it’s going to be possible to make a final version of the level, without actually making it all at this early stage.” They can also begin developing audio at this point to help define the atmosphere of the level.
Next up, the team comes together to build interactive objects and characters skewed towards the specific theme of the level in question. This allows Crowle to begin creating room-sized scenes to test out the different elements. Afterwards, he’ll have a nice stock of gameplay pieces to incorporate when laying out the full level.
The Nitty Gritty Of Layout
Once they’ve determined the flow of the level the blocking out process begins. This is where the team uses basic atmospheric-scenes and combines them with gameplay-scenes to built the level’s overall shape. This also includes adding gameplay, mechanics, and encounters while keeping everything nicely framed with cameras.
After the bare bones of the level have been laid out, the creative team takes another pass and adds character interactions. “This process is like looking at the level through the eyes of Nessa and Demelza, and thinking about how they’d react to the environment and the gameplay,” Crowle explained. “So we get the most from the setting and extra emotional connections with the characters as they explore it.”
Now the team plays through the full level and takes notes. This way they can identify any fixes, changes, or improvements they’ll need to make. This can take awhile. Like, a really long while. Eventually the team completes their final iteration and is ready to move on. After a quick break it’s time to dive back into things.
Next the devs work on the integration of story, completed art, and atmosphere. This is where they lock-in all the important story moments, color matching, and item positioning. The team takes a few more passes after this for adding non-vital tidbits and final polish. The audio also gets a final full run-through to make sure the experience ties together properly.
Finally, the level is deemed “completed” and everyone gets a celebratory nap before moving onto the next one. Foam Sword’s Kickstarter update gives us some insight into how long and taxing this process can actually be. Knights and Bikes may not have a release date just yet, but nobody can say the devs aren’t working hard to reach one.