Today we get a special look into the design behind one of the more mind-bending levels in Marble It Up! – GORDIAN
You can watch the video here! And read the full interview below:
I had the chance to sit down with Alex Swanson, our level-making mastermind, and ask him a few questions about the design philosophy behind this knot-like level.
How did the idea for Gordian come about?
Gravity Surfaces opened up so many possibilities for level design that I had thought about for previous games but deemed too impractical. Gordian evolved from the idea of a spherical gravity level – it wasn’t achieving the feel that I wanted so I started experimenting with using curved Gravity Surfaces to connect what were essentially the facets of a soccer ball. Once I realized that I could use these to bridge through the center of the sphere, the current knot-like design (and the inspiration for its final title) quickly emerged.
It is common that I start a level with a particular vision and through the process of creating it end up somewhere quite different. Perhaps the gravity sphere concept will return for a future level.
What does Gordian do that the other levels in MIU don’t?
Gordian rewards a really strong sense of spatial awareness. I think that it is rare for an action platformer game to have levels that feel like a puzzle box or brain teaser. Gravity levels are one of the best ways to achieve this and I think it is something that really sets Marble It Up! apart.
Gordian has multiple paths at the start, how was freedom of choice a factor in designing this level?
Gordian presents a huge variety of possible routes while still breaking those routes into discrete choices at each platform. This creates a branching decision tree for the player that I think gives the level a unique feel – and of course the shortcuts between gravity paths add another layer of complexity.
There are multiple “platforms” that each have their own challenges, is that a something we could see echoed in future levels? What did you have in mind for the paths between platforms?
Levels with several separate puzzles can often feel a bit static – like a bunch of haphazardly placed playground equipment. I think that Gordian manages to avoid this feeling by adding the spatial navigation challenge on top of the puzzles. The puzzles keep the platforms visually distinct so that it is harder to get lost and switching back and forth between puzzles and gravity bridges prevents the level from feeling like a one-note routing puzzle.
What type of player would enjoy this type of level most? Who is Gordian geared towards?
Players who love routing puzzles will really enjoy Gordian, though I think that the delight of rolling on the long gravity arcs and watching the world tumble around you will make it more generally popular.
What design goals does Gordian accomplish? How does the Gravity system help do that?
Gordian was always intended as a showcase for Gravity Surfaces. One of the great things about gravity levels is how compact they can be due to more efficiently utilizing all angles of their geometry. A level similar to Gordian that was built without gravity would be broad and sprawling. By condensing everything into a small space gravity levels can really feel like you are exploring the facets of a jewel or other intricate space – in this case a knot. It has allowed me to craft levels that are at once beautiful and unique.
How do power-up and gem placements factor in to the design? When/where in the level-making process do you decide which game mechanics to use?
Gem placement is always intended to encourage the player to either explore a level or to take a particular path. Some levels, like Thread the Needle, only need a single gem to prevent you from finishing the level as soon as you start. Others, like Gordian, are all about finding the most efficient way to grab all of the gems. These levels are generally non-linear, so the correct number and placement of gems is that which gives the player a reason to interact with all of the key elements and challenges of the level.
As to when powerups types are selected for a level – that depends. Some levels start with powerups as part of their core concept, while others evolve the need for a powerup. Archipelago, for example, was conceived as a Feather Fall challenge. Gordian gained its powerups in a different way: I wanted to provide the players with the tools to go beyond just finding the gems and to explore the other surfaces of the level. Some of the greatest challenges in Marble It Up! Come from looking at a place on a level that you are obviously not supposed to get to (like the “outside” of Gordian) and finding a way to abuse the physics or the powerups to get there anyways. I try to reward people for finding clever ways to color outside the lines by hiding Trophies in such places.
Thank you for the insight, Alex!
And thank you all for tuning in – we hope you’ve enjoyed this peek under the hood!
– Fletcher Armstrong