Level Design - Temple of Haoma

Temple of Haoma


Project goals: Build a level to explore and utilize level design techniques such as flow, leading lines, bread crumbing etc.

Genre: Third-person stealth

Software: Maya, Unity, Photoshop, Illustrator, Visual Studio (C#),

Plot: A Forest spirit awakens in isolated forest. Strange machine like creatures have taken up residence in the forest. The spirit is tasked with awakening the great tree Haoma and protecting the forest from this strange presence.

Temple of Haoma is an early level in a stealth adventure game named Prowl. In Prowl the player is much weaker then the enemies you face and most focus on stealth game-play. In order to properly stealth the player must rely on observation and situational awareness. The player can sprint causing them to move faster at the expense of creating more noise or crawl moving slower but also better utilizing objects around them as cover.

The goal of Temple of Haoma was to create level that will holistically teach player the concepts of the game world and also explore various level design techniques. In fact the entire prowl project has been developed to serve as a case study into level design. In the samples below you will see a culmination of techniques used.

  • Working with metrics to establish proper scaling

  • Focus on framing to have proper flow between chambers of the temple

  • Pacing that leads to good balance and keeps the player engaged in different kinds of content.

  • Examples of clear object affordance and examples of implied affordance that we provide the player.

The above is just a few examples but the descriptions that accompany each image further clarify some of the concepts applied in the accompanying screenshot.

1 - Bridge

In the opening moments of level I want to accomplish several goals.

  • Create a landmark to center the level on

  • Provide player with a safe area to explore controls

  • Introduce stealth concepts to player

From the early design of the stage I decided the level would focus around a massive tree. Thus it was a natural fit to use this as an landmark that the player would want to head towards. In addition the giant tree serves as a point the player can refer back to if needed to orientate themselves .

Once the player emerges in the first area we do have an enemy up ahead but we also have plenty of space to move around before approaching the enemy. Stone tiles lead towards the enemy showing our route but a fallen pillars block this path. Two stone tiles lead off to the left and the route encouraging the player to move in either direction around the enemy.

When stepping into the grass the player is prompted to press the crouch button which will put them in a stealth state. This is further complemented by a crawl space on the right side closer to the enemy. The goal is reinforced using the crouch state to carefully sneak past the enemy.

If the player is crouched and sneaking past the enemy. I have scripted the event so the enemy will turn and look towards the player but be unable to see them.

To review

  • Landmark to establish a goal

  • Leading lines towards our goal but also suggest paths to get around the enemy

  • Tall grass and crawl spaces to encourage crouching & stealth

Once we move past the enemy we are on a long bridge high above a ravine below. This is a great vantage point that foreshadows several future areas of the level. The bridge narrows into a thin path while our player is navigating across an event will play with birds flying up through the gap in the bridge. My intent here is to have the player’s look down to make sure they see the area below and all give a sense of height and danger. This should also foreshadow the area below as a place the player wants to explore.

Once past this point the bridge culminates into a narrow ramp. Our leading lines point the player towards the ramp and this should encourage the player to jump across and head towards the temple.

2 - Foyer

Once inside the temple I immediately greet the player with three potential routes.

  • A sealed door with a root breaking through it.

  • A staircase leading into a main chamber with several enemies

  • A route to the left dimly lit by embers.

A challenge faced early on in development was always guiding new players choose the left path. Which has a more gradual approach to stealth then the path straight into the main chamber.

Utilizing leading lines & the warm welcoming light of the embers really aided in helping test players try this route first. In addition I also added a small platform that players would have to move around if they wish to proceed into the main chamber.

The center of the room also has two large roots extending into it. A device is attached to these roots and the player is required to remove the device to navigate forward. This activates our checkpoint and causes both roots to retract. The left retracts back the doorway guiding the player towards this path.

It is worth nothing that a careful player could move directly into main chamber and take an alternate route through the temple. Providing player’s with choice is important as it let’s player scale their experience to their skill and preferred play style.

3 - Sundered Library

Inside the left path we encounter another lone enemy. This time we have no tall grass to use so timing and utilizing objects in the space to sneak past the enemy are the key goals I hope to teach the player.

First I provide a small bit of cover as you enter the room to encourage the player to take a moment and observe the enemy’s behavior. I also placed an object in the center of the room to imply the enemy’s route around the room.

I spent time iterating over the enemy’s path and adding moments where the enemy would look out the windows and away from the center to further reinforce safe moments to sneak through the room.

At this point the player enters a library with the floor broken dividing the room into two sections. Across the gap we see light pouring in from a doorway that leads outside. This detail was incredibly important to get right. This should be established as the route for the player to take. They should immediately want to head here.

Leading to this moment I want the players to associate nature with safety and progress and structures with the enemies and danger. It is my goal to make the player want to reach the exit from the temple. This is hopefully reinforced by the outdoor area shown early on below the bridge.

When the player is ready a small ramp encourages a jump across the gap. However when the player lands on the fallen bookcase it slides back and forces the player to fall below into the barracks.

At this point the pacing of the stage shifts. The loud crash causes two enemies to converge on your location. The path behind you is blocked by roots and the player must quickly choose which room to hide in.

The area around the player is a barracks with many small rooms that can be used to hide. Once hidden it’s up the player to observe the enemies and find the right opportunity to sneak forward. Additionally the patrolling enemies will look into the rooms and it’s up to the player to use the objects to hide when this event happens.

The goal of this space was to put pressure on the player but also provide them plenty of options to move through it. Additionally we have a great opportunity for environmental storytelling as the nature of this space implies that people used to live here giving us clues about it’s origin.

4 - Flooded Chamber

After sneaking through barracks I dial back the tension and pacing and introduce a quiet flooded room. First the player will look to the broken staircase and see an inaccessible walkway. This serves as a reminder of the path in the library and gently reinforces that as one of our goals. From here I guide the player to see the open doorway in the middle of the flooded section and I further highlight this space by placing floating derbies to lure the player’s gaze to the doorway.

Once the player heads inside the doorway we reveals the source of the flood. A root has busted through the wall breaking open a water spring. The root has a device in it to be activated similar to the device back in the foyer. Upon removing the device the root retracts and the temple rumbles once again.

With the root device removed the player will have to backtrack to progress forward. This is indicated by a new root extending from the barracks that was not there previously. This root blocks our initial path through the barracks but opens up crawl spaces in the smaller rooms of the barracks the player can use this crawlspace to sneak through.

5 - Mess Hall

The mess hall contains stationary enemies whose line of sight covers most of the room. This presents more of a puzzle based challenge for players as opposed to the previous patrolling enemies.

This space in particular was difficult to get right. I had to balance a fine line of utilizing leading lines and lighting to suggest to the player where to go instead of explicitly showing it. I ultimately used the tables as cover to get the player in the right position to find the path heading into the kitchen area. This route through the kitchen gives the player access to new cover objects in the mess hall and allows them to reach the exit safely.

From here we return to the main chamber but from a new perspective. First we frame the exit to the other side of the temple right away so the player immediately knows where to progress. From the mess hall doorway the player can safely use the objects in this room as cover and sneak around the two enemies patrolling the room. The space is constructed to allow for multiple routes.

One route would be walking back behind all the seats and crawling underneath the stairwell to reach the other side. Another route can use any row of seats as cover and the player can sprint across the center gap in the brief windows of opportunity created by the enemy patrol routes.

6 - Storage Room

Once through the main chamber we find ourselves in hallway leading straight into a new room. There is a small bit of cover as the player enters the room but past the cover is a large stretch of ground with no cover and a lone enemy patrolling the hallway. To the right of the cover is crawlspace leading into a new room.

Moving through the crawl space opens into a storage room. Here we don’t frame the exit right away but instead frame objects that can be used for cover as we have an enemy patrolling the area.

An interesting challenge of this room is we are not directly framing the player’s objective but instead relying on their familiarity of the space. The player knows from the previous room that they want to head to their left. So here we frame the room an it’s objects as tools to make that objective possible.

7 - Garden

In the garden chamber I had to apply several iterations in order to help the player navigate this space. Initial play test had players wandering around until they stumbled onto the objective.

I changed the layout and created a vantage point on the far side of the room the player could see it as soon as they emerge from the narrow passage and it grabs their attention. In order to navigate to this point the player has to carefully move from cover to cover while avoiding the gaze of the enemies.

The goal of this room is to reveal a bit more of the space each time the player moves to new cover. Having the player improvise a path instead of planning it ahead of time.

7 - Plant Nursery

Once we move up the ramp we have an enemy to deal with and two possible paths. Past the lone enemy on right leads to a shortcut we can open up back to the checkpoint.

In this section it is my goal to frame the path to opening the shortcut. The tall grass serves to breadcrumb a route through the room. Once the player has moved to the third patch of grass they will spot a crawlspace allowing them to sneak through the room.

After this room a short hallway leads to another root with a device in it removing the device causes the wall to crumble and the player can proceed into the foyer.With the checkpoint open the player can safely resume the previous route.

Back in the nursery the player’s new perspective frames the second path. This brings the player to a new vantage point very close to another root puzzle similar to the one in the flooded room.

Once activated the dungeon shifts one more time breaking a wall and reducing the water level in the back chamber. An intact staircase is framed by the wall breaking open and the player can finally reach the upper level of the temple.

9 - Grand Gate

In this section I keep the player in rather narrow hallway but open into a large room with high ceilings. The contrast in space serves to show the player this room is of importance. In addition I reuse the statue at the other entrance of the temple. The reuse of the asset will also serve as a clue to the player.

The doorway on the right currently has no use to the player but the simple layout of this room is intentional to contrast the complex look of the door. Player’s will remember this object when the time is right.

For now the player moves on, and finally reaches the other side of the library and can head outside to explore the ravine area.

10 - Descent to the Ravine

As the player descends down into the ravine I widen the terrain a bit and block the exit by a root you need to crawl under. The player will have to look to the left to find the crawl space. This combination of widen terrain and looking to the left should aid the player in finding the vantage point.

Once overlooking the area below the player should see several roots spreading out and dried grass. At this point the level has been built in way to reinforce roots as a useful interaction that changes the level. I’ve actually spent a lot of time trying to tweak to the layout of this area so the player can actually see almost every root in the area below. You will notice each root is accompanied by a much smaller version of the grand tree. This is marked by their unique pink color and rounder leaf structure. Hopefully player’s make the association with the large tree and the useful of the roots.

In the ravine the player will step into the dried short grass which does not provide the ability of being able to hide in it. The dried grass does not provide the same affordance as the normal grass it is shorter and more sparse. Cover can only be provided by full grown normal grass which as the player has seen is thicker and taller.

When the player activates the first root puzzle the dried grass from the current root and the tree it’s pointing to will be hydrated and grow into normal grass. Thus allowing the player to use it to stealth. Once again this is a crucial moment and will be important for teaching the player how to pass through the next few sections of gameplay.

  • First root puzzle offers a split path with no enemies around choice: Left or Right path

  • Second root on left or right side offers no choice just reaffirms the concept of growing grass to sneak past enemies. Converges on third root

  • Third root is another split decision but this split will determine how you decide to pass the group of enemies.

  • Fourth or Fifth continues the path from the third root around the enemies and allows you to reach the gate at the end of the section.

11 - Lookout Post

When progressing past the third root the player has to deal with an enemy surveying the area around them. This requires careful movement from the player as the dried grass patches are spread further part.

The enemy is on a raised platform to ensure the player notices this while another enemy patrols the ground below. The enemy on the raised platform has an increased view distance and I help the player indicate this by creating a circle of dried grass around the area. Once the player steps into the open they are visible to the enemy.

Early iterations and play tests showed that players were unsure of enemies view distance. Refining the area around enemies to use the geometry to help the player gauge the enemies distance has been incredibly helpful.

12 - Encampment

Once the root puzzle has been solved a gate opens leading into a subdued forest where we can explore. This area provides a bit of a pacing break before the next challenge.

Ahead I’ve placed several structures and a spiked fence to indicate that danger lies ahead. Once again I also created an area using the grass to help imply a safe distance to observe from. The layout is attempting to reinforce the concept of observing before entering the area. The fence is meticulously placed but on the far right the pattern breaks and a few spikes are off. This is also framed by the path leading to the encampment. This is a clue to help plays find their way into the encampment.

Once inside the encampment the space has several structures and gaps that you can crawl through. It’s a tight space with lots of hard corners with several enemies wandering about.

13 - Bridge Pillars

The Bridge serves as a landmark and the central point of this encampment. Once the player reaches the bridge we see a tree root wrapped around the left bridge pillar.

My intent is to give the player a goal figure out how to complete this root puzzle. The second pillar has a root emerging from the water but only wrapped around the base of the pillar. This root is also extending into the water and pointing to the right of the player’s current position.

Looking to the right of the first screenshot I use the roots coming from the temple to point to an area hidden behind a rock. Additionally the rock has a root emerging from the bottom to further emphasize a hidden element behind it.

When the player sneaks behind the rock they find one last tree with a root and device attached to it. Activating this final root causes it to extend forward and break the second pillar.

One of the reasons I move the player to this point to break the bridge is to make sure they have a good visual of the bridge breaking from this new angle we can clearly see the height change and understand what happens. It also prevents the player from being hit by the pillars.

14 - Vantage Point

Finally on the way back I use the fallen pillars to lead the player to this new vantage point. Here the players gets a valuable hint about where to go next. I framed the cave players may have missed as they where approaching the encampment.

On the way back out to the small forested area a new root extends up and connects this pathway to return to the starting area.

The lowered bridge can now finally lead us back to some of the earliest areas foreshadowed.

15 & 16 - Inner Sanctum

After the collapsed bridge the player repeats a jump from earlier in the game but due to the lowered nature now ends up in a lower chamber.

A long hallway leading to a large structure at the end serves for a bit of dramatic emphasis. The narrow hallway opens into a wider space. From here we see an object very similar to the door in the back half of the temple. Upon activating the object. The player is given a new ability.

The player can now range stealth kill unaware enemies. The root extends upwards drawing the player’s eye to the small balcony above. Part of the floor falls and breaks off and the enemy standing in the middle of the main chamber has it’s back facing the player. The player will be able to climb the root and sneak up behind the enemy. Delivering their first stealth attack to move past the enemy.

Back to The Gate

At this point the player is tasked with returning to the back room and defeating as many enemies as they desire along the way. Upon reaching the gate the door reacts and opens up and reveals one final chamber in which we end the level. The ending is of interest because it allows to utilize our same space but in a different context I believe this promotes the player’s confidence and power in this final encounter.

Thank you for your time reading my longest blog post to date. The Prowl project has been an excellent opportunity for me to grow as a designer. If you’ve made it this far I would leave to hear your thoughts on the above images. Is there a techniques or concept I’m missing that can really help with the project? Please let me know and share your thoughts on the overall design.