Song of the Bardbarians
Responsibilities: Game Design & Level Design
Development time: 9 weeks
Team size: 18
Genre: Adventure Hack n' Slash
Tools: Unity 3D, ProBuilder, ProGrids, Visual Studios
Song of the Bardbarians is a single-player Adventure Hack n' Slash for PS4 made in Unity 3D. The player controls Chitara, a fierce elf who is armed with an ax that works both as a weapon and an electric guitar, she forces her way through musical orcs.
The player will venture down into the home of the evil Orc-estera to clash with musical brutes and rescue Chitara's kidnapped band members.
In terms of game design, I was dominantly involved with the design and balancing of the player character mechanics as well as enemy balancing. Both of these areas contributed to what the combat finally resulted in.
Chitara can run, perform a three-hit combo or one powerful Heavy Attack (at a large cost of Action Points), dodge (at a small cost of Action Points) as well as play the guitar to buff herself and release a self-centered shockwave.
The success of finding the balance of the player character consisted of vigorous playtesting. The programmers made an abundance of editable values for the protagonist (and enemies) that I could test out and change in Unity. In time, this led to the protagonist's final state where she plays as a nimble warrior who swings a giant axe that feels like one as well.
By timing the button press correctly, the player can perform a three-hit combo. This condition also aided in making the player methodically press the button. The protagonist lights up as an indication of when the player should hit the attack button in order to continue the attack combo. The final attack deals a large amount of damage in an area.
The player character's swings with the weapon were to feel heavy and impactful; slow during the wind-up, but swift during the actual swing. In addition, she fights using a massive weapon and I needed that weight to be felt by the player as they battled.
For that to happen, the slow wind-up of the attacks were necessary, otherwise there would be a higher risk that the player would dash into every battle and mash buttons.
Besides the three-hit combo, the player can do a Heavy Attack. By holding down the attack button, the player can charge their attack. This transform the attack into a Heavy Attack, which deals a massive amount of damage in an area, but at the cost of Action Points.
I didn't want players to overuse The Heavy Attack since it has a high reward (the damage). In order to make sure that landing a Heavy Attack felt exciting, it was important to me that the player was aware of the consequences of attempting to perform said attack.
Besides that the attack requires a high number of Action Points to even be able to start charging, the duration it must charge is the second factor. During that period, the player is vulnerable to enemy attacks.
By successfully handling these two factors, the player is rewarded by dealing a significant amount of damage to all nearby enemies. In other words, while the Heavy Attack does come with a high risk, it also offers a high reward. The key to success lies in choosing the moment to begin charging.
By pressing and holding down L1, the player will enter Guitar Mode where they can become stronger by hitting notes that appear. The longer the solo goes on, the better the buffs. However, the difficulty of the solo increases as well.
When the player stops playing, the buffs become active for a certain amount of time. When the time is up, the accessability to getting buffs from playing the guitar solo will be on a cooldown. The buffs include:
Faster health regeneration
Faster Attack Point regeneration
Increased damage output
While in Guitar Mode, the player is open for attacks from enemies, so they must choose the right moments to actually play the guitar. I did not want the player to feel punished from entering the Guitar Mode and therefore suggested that they release a shockwave when they finish playing. That way, any enemies that manage to approach them are pushed back, which allows the player to adjust themselves. In addition, time is slowed down as long as the player is in Guitar Mode which also helps the player focus on the falling buttons rather than any approaching enemies.
There are three types of enemies in Song of the Bardbarians: The Melee Goblin, Orc and Ranged Goblin.
Much like with the protagonist, I was involved with balancing their different states by testing and changing all of their various values in Unity. My intention was to make each enemy to feel like their own creature.
For instance, both of the goblin types move fast, but the Ranged Goblin can notice the player from much further away which is helpful since it shoots projectiles. The Orc on the other hand does not notice the player until they are fairly close and also has a slower reaction speed than both Goblin types. To make up for that, the Orc has the most health of all enemies by far and deal large amounts of damage if they can get close enough.
Melee Goblins who can perform dash attacks. They are fast, but have low health.
Orcs are melee enemies who are slow in terms of movement and reaction speed when it comes to noticing the player, but they have a lot of health and deal a large amount of damage.
Ranged Goblin who can notice the player from far away and fire long-ranged projectiles.
For Song of the Bardbarians, I was the feature owner of level design and was responsible for the level design philosophy. Finally, I was responsible for creating the second of three levels. In the second level, two things are introduced: the Orc enemy as well as the tar hazard.
Since the focus of the game is combat, it was important to me that all combat segments stood out. This resulted in the idea that after a fight, the pacing should slow down for a short moment before speeding up again when the player thows themselves into another battle. This led to the birth of Combat Rooms and Calm Rooms, which is what the layout of all three levels in Song of the Bardbarians consists of. Blocking the doorways between Combat Rooms and Calm Rooms are statues that the player must play a solo for in order for said statue to magically move aside.
Combat Rooms are specific areas where enemies are spawned and come in three levels of difficulty: low tier, mid tier and high tier. The low tier Combat Rooms offer a small challenge and can be conquered quickly by the player. However, the higher the tier of a Combat Room has, the higher the difficulty.
What sets the difficulty are the types and number of enemies, how well the layout of the specific Combat Room offers advantages to the player as well as the number, size and position of hazards.
Calm Rooms are smaller areas that serve as moments where the pacing slows down for a moment and allow the player to recuperate.
Calm room 1
Calm Room 1 is the first area of the second level and where the tar hazard is introduced. It is in a safe space when the player cannot be harmed, so they can test out the effects of the hazard as much as they want. The tar is marked by the orange rectangle.
calm room 1
There is no way to walk next to the tar, since it takes up the whole hallway. In other words, the player must experience the effect of the tar in order to get past it.
By entering the tar, the player's movement speed will drastically decrease. The dodge speed doesn't decrease when the player is in the tar, but the Action Point cost to perform a dodge is doubled.
combat room 1
Combat Room 1 is the first area in the second level where combat takes place and is considered mid tier in terms of difficulty. It has two known enemies (the Orc and the Melee Goblin), but the area also includes the newly encountered tar hazard. Melee Goblins are marked by circles. Orcs are marked by triangles.
combat room 1
Since it is the first Combat Room of the level and has hazards that slow down the player's movement, I designed the area to initially be fairly spacious in order to give the player space to move around. The player begins on the lower floor and must ascend one of the staircases to progess. On the second floor, the space becomes more cramped.
The inspiration for the layout comes from a local library where I live and I found that it was easier to create a solid level design by making actual locations rather than bland rooms with objects in them. Hence, the room is covered with bookshelves, tables and chairs that both serve a narrative purpose as well as functioning as blockades.
There are three main paths available to the player; the blue path, the green path and the yellow path and they all offer their own callenges. However, since it is the first Combat Room, I wanted to guide the player towards one path, the blue path, in particular so that they wouldn't run around on the bottom floor for too long. However, I did not want to punish those who did choose another path, which is why the player is free to choose how they progress in Combat Room 1.
combat room 1
blue path breakdown
The blue path has a low amount of enemies before the player reaches the end of Combat Room 1. As a way to subtly guide the players along that path there are three things of importance. First of all, the blue rug is rotated to point north-west, the the direction of one of the staircases. The player may not think notice that and just simply take a different route.
To increase the chance that the player continues in the direction that the rug is pointing towards, a fallen pillar lies further along and points in the same direction. The pillar also serves as a shield that protect the player from enemies that await on the other side of said pillar. To put even more emphesis on the blue path, there is also a light source shining on the pillar as well.
combat room 2
Combat Room 2 is an area with a low tier difficulty and where the Ranged Goblin is introduced. Ranged enemies are marked by squares. Unlike Combat Room 1, which is more of an open area, Combat Room 2 follows a different layout: wide->narrow->wide->narrow. The number of enemies is low, but the design of the level makes them challenging regardless. The inspiration for this area was ancient wine cellers and how their narrow corridors twist and turn around every corner.
Combat Room 2 is overall stuctured to complement the behavior of the Ranged Goblin, who benefits from being out of harm's way while also firing at the player when there is little space available to dodge projectiles.
combat room 2
breakdown part 1
The player arrives at an open area with one Melee Goblin, but on the other end of a bridge is the very first Ranged Goblin. The idea was that the player would notice the ranged Goblin after entering combat with the Melee Goblin. Furthermore, dodging the projectiles is harder to do while crossing the bridge, since there is a risk that the player would fall down into the lava.
combat room 2
breakdown part 2
After descending the stairs, the player is met by more Ranged Goblins, a tar hazard and one Melee Goblin. This part part of Combat Room 2 has a more narrow shape, which will make it more difficult to avoid the projectiles from the Ranged Goblins. In additions, these Ranged Goblins are out of harm's way since the player cannot reach them. This serves as an introduction to a more dangerous scenario that appears again in Combat Room 3.
The player and the Melee Goblin are separated by a tar hazard. If the player didn't get a chance to see that the tar also slows down the enemies' movement speed before, they will definitely do so now. The Melee Goblin will dash towards the player and thus end up in the tar.
combat room 2
breakdown part 3
What was introduced in part 2 of Combat Room 2 is expanded upon in part 3. There is more tar that separates the player and the enemies, but this time the enemies are Orcs instead and the area is more spacious. Tar covers the most of the area, so it will be harder to escape a slower movement speed, which makes the player an easier prey for the Orcs.
In addition, there are once more two Ranged Goblins that the player cannot harm.
combat room 2
breakdown part 4
The final part of Combat Room 2 narrows the available space once more, but offers a couple of small extrusions as well. These extrusions are where the Ranged Goblins from the previous part are standing and can now dealt with. However, if the player does go for the first Ranged Goblin as they climb the small staircase, they will likely be attacked from behind by a Melee Goblin.
In other words, even though Combat Room 2 does not offer many enemies at one time, the position of the enemies and what layout said Combat Room has does create a small challenge. After all enemies have been dealt with, the player can progress with ease.
combat room 3
Combat Room 3 has a high tier difficulty; all three types of enemies as well as the tar hazard are present, but in addition the player has fewer favorable conditions compared to Combat Room 2 (which also had all three enemies in it).
While designing Combat Room 3, I imagined a desperate dash towards the finish line while enemies are attacking from every direction. This resulted in the setting of Combat Room 3 being a fallen outpost; reminiscent of how the mines of Moria are portrayed in the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I wanted the player to truly struggle in this Combat Room and muster all of the knowledge of the combat scenarios that had been presented in Level 2 so far.
combat room 3 breakdown part 1
At first, a large staircase leads the player down where a stray Melee Goblin awaits. This single Melee Goblin serves as a contrast to the onslaught of enemies that comes next. I was intending for the rest of Combat Room 3 to have a much larger impact because of how simple the difficulty seemingly is at first. In a way, the encounter can be seen as the calm before the storm.
combat room 3 breakdown part 2
After reaching the beginning of the large, broken bridge, the player will be attacked by at least one Ranged Goblin. It, and the three other Ranged Goblins are out of harm's way since they are on a platform that the player cannot reach. The bridge, much like the narrow corridor in Combat Room 2, has large puddles of tar covering it.
The player can either run or dodge over the tar hazards or walk along the sides. However, the space that is available is narrow and poses a risk, since the player is so close to the edge of the bridge and therefore may fall down if they are not careful. The further the player progresses on this bridge, more Ranged Goblins will begin firing their weapons.
Halfway through crossing the bridge, another scenario from before returns: Melee Goblins on the other side of the tar hazard, but in larger numbers than in Combat Room 2.
When reaching the end of the bridge, there is a doorway. A doorway in Level 2 has always symbolized the shift between a Combat Room and a Calm Room, but Combat Room 3 doesn't end after this doorway. I am a firm believer of sticking to the rules that your game consists of, however if rules are broken at the right places it can enhance the experience. I wanted Combat Room 3 to do just that. By fooling the player and thus continuing the combat even longer, I intended for the climatic victory to feel even more satisfying.
There is not much difference between the two paths (blue and green) that the player can take to reach the second floor. The big difference is when the player decides to encounter an Orc; at the start of the second floor (by taking the green path) or at the statue by the doorway (by taking the blue path).
combat room 3 breakdown part 3
I wanted to end the challenge of the second level with a circular composition. Therefore the final part of Combat Room 3 is designed to be a smaller, more concentrated verison of Combat Room 1.
It has two floors and two paths that lead to the upper floor. Just like in Combat Room 1, there is tar in the middle of the bottom floor. The difference is that in this room, the tar hazard covers the majority of the floor and has a concentrated group of Melee Goblins in it. While they might be slower, there is one Ranged Goblin on the bottom floor that can hit the player as soon as they enter the area.
Calm room 4
The inspiration for the layout of Calm Room 4, the very ending of the second level, came from two things. Firstly, the end of the game Journey, where the protagonist slowly, but surely follows a trail into a light after a long struggle. The second -and primary- inspiration was the end of the training montage in the first Rocky movie where the titular protagonist dashes up a massive staircase and then celebrates at the top.
calm room 4 breakdown
After the final Combat Room, the second level was initially supposed to end and have a door that led to the third and final level. However, since the final Combat Room in the level that I created continues for such a long time and is the only area that is of a high tier difficulty, I wanted to ease the pacing first before the level ended.
Hence, I added a small Calm Room right after Combat Room 3. It is purposefully simple in its layout; just a straight, ascending path towards the shining doorway which leads to Level 3.