Robits (previously known as Circuit Breakers) is my Senior group capstone project. It is a student game created by 11 team members. The game is about Zoe, a character in a futuristic cyberpunk universe who has the smarts to reprogram robots! 

My role on the team was the level designer. I had to create a corrupt and conglomerate corporate facility that manufactures robots. I mainly worked on layout, working with the design lead to create a layout that made sense with the game's combat encounters. I also worked with the team's other level designer and 3D artist, John Khaw on creating an asset list as well as environmental design to fill up empty spaces with those assets. I worked with Luke Mason, our VFX artist on incorporating a lot of the special effects such as fog lighting, decals, and other things that gave the level the artistic juice. Last and not least, I worked with Tristan Burnside, our UI and Lead artist who gave me pointers on lighting as well as how to give the level the proper aesthetic we wanted.

The game is a top-down isometric single-player puzzle game where you face enemy robots and you must program your own correctly to get through the facility. The game's goal is to teach simple programming concepts to players who have zero coding experience!

Robits has been awarded the Innovation Award at UC Santa Cruz's 2019 Games Showcase!

You can check out the Robits website here where you can meet the rest of the team and play the game yourself!

Here is a video walkthrough and some images of the level I worked on (click to expand each image).

Flow map.png

Before I go into the design process I want to briefly cover some of the more collaborated parts of the level. Of course, the entire level in general had work contributed by all departments but here are two areas, the office and the final arena, where other team members have put in a significant amount of work than I was able to which definitely worth mentioning.

Here is the office space in the level that was used as sort of a "break" from the combat. I had the idea of converting this blockmeshed layout into an office room for the player to explore. John worked diligently with his adept 3D modeling expertise to quickly create office equipment assets to bring the idea to life. Luke helped create the decals such as the paper on the floor, the whiteboard drawings, the computer UI (that is animated but isn't shown in the image) as well as the sticky notes on the corkscrew board.

My favorite part of this room is the swivel chairs that moves/spins around when the player interacts with it as well as the gallon jugs of water that has physics applied and can soak objects in the game world (namely the floor). John worked with our producer and programmer, Damen Birtola, to bring this nice little polish into the game.

Here is the final boss arena encounter. My job in this part of the game was layout. I helped assist with lighting.

John and Luke worked together to bring concept images from various different sources; They created sketches, placed elements, and placed decals. I was tasked with lighting from Tristan so I researched what smaller finer detailing I could do to give it the extra polish.







The Design Process

My team didn't have a concept artist so I had to be a visual designer as well. To begin my level design workflow, I looked at inspiration from other games. One of my favorite games that properly conveyed a futuristic universe is Mirror's Edge: Catalyst. Being set in the future, it gave off the perfect aesthetic.

I still needed to answer the question: What is cyberpunk? Mirror's Edge: Catalyst provides the answer to futurism but what does it mean for a universe to be cyberpunk exactly? To answer that question I looked at an upcoming game that wasn't released at the time of development: CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077.

After researching both of these games and studying their artistic choices, I was able to provide myself a definition of Cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk is a genre that involves the obsession of computer technology in a dystopian and corrupt futuristic society.

I had to come up with a color palette that I would stay consistent with. Cyberpunk colors usually contain a lot of vibrant blues, reds, pinks, and greens so I decided that I must incorporate them in my level.

These are the paper/whiteboard prototypes of the layouts that I created and iterated on throughout the development cycle (you can click on each image to expand them). The order of each prototype is from left to right, top to bottom. The level begins in an alleyway/street in which the character has to break into the building by punching a vent after climbing some stairs. They then go through a series of rooms to find robot parts to test their skills within the arena at the end. Initially, the level was set up in this way such that in each room, the player finds a robotic component that they can add onto their robot companion but after some design meetings we decided that in each room we wanted to have the player's robot fight another robot and THEN receive the component. This made things tricky because our programming team didn't have our combat system nailed yet so I couldn't test the level for balancing issues at the moment. I had to figure out where should I place health pads and checkpoints based on the game's difficulty. I worked with one of the lead designers on my team, David Kirkpatrick to create the 3rd and final layout. It accomplished the encounter design experience we were looking for and it resolved a level design problem that I go into detail just down below.

Here are a couple of pictures when the level was still in it's graybox stage.

The game was initially set to be in 3rd person but my team had another long design meeting about whether we should change our camera system to top-down isometric. Our team was split among what we wanted but we decided to go with the top-down isometric view. This changed the way I had to design the levels. Since the camera is now angled, I have to be mindful of where I place important assets in the level. Initially, in some rooms, the player could not see behind a wall which meant that they could not see where they are going. This was fixed when one of the programmers, Zack Lawrence, developed a Blueprint that would make walls become transparent when it is between the player and the camera.

I still faced another design problem: Player's can't see what's ahead if they are walking south (towards the camera). I had to change the way the level layout should be now! I looked at a Cyberpunk game called RUINER which had exactly the same camera angle as my game. I noticed that in RUINER, enemies would mostly come from the northern side of the screen. This way the player knew what to expect and weren't surprised. This lead to layout #3 (see above for whiteboard concept image) where the level was designed in a way such that the camera of the player always progressed north. This essentially solved the design problem I had. 

Robits has finally been shipped and it's been an interesting learning experience as a game developer as well as developing my technical skills as a level designer. Below, you will find images of the first layout iteration (the game has come a long way since then).

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