Eira: Echoes of Adventure

Platform: Windows PC

Role: Level Designer, Technical Designer

Team Size: 22

Development Time: August 2019 to May 2020 (I joined January 2020 to May 2020)

A casual adventure game where you play as Eira and trace your grandfather’s footsteps to journey through an icy world filled with curious alien wildlife, spatial puzzles, and hoards of treasure.

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Development Platform: Unity 3D

About the Game

       Eira: Echoes of Adventure is a casual adventure game where you play as Eira and trace your grandfather’s footsteps to journey through an icy world filled with curious alien wildlife, spatial puzzles, and hoards of treasure. Use your powerful GalactiVac to terraform the frozen landscape in a sandbox abundant with riches and valuable gems. Rebuild a path through the broken world to follow the dangerous journey your grandfather once took. Track down the remnants of blueprints to upgrade your GalactiVac, unlocking new passages full of treasures and secrets to explore in every region. Will you be able to solve the mystery of your grandpa’s disappearance?

Project Contributions

Role: Level Designer

Work:

  • Designed and implemented the tutorial

  • Polished level 1

  • Created the vault

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Level Design

Creating the World

     When I first joined the No Scope Studios team, the game was under the title Vacuum Vault. The demo was a sandbox adventure game with terraformable terrain and a desert-pirate theme. Immediately, one of the first discussions we had as a full team in the second semester of development was changing the theme of the environment. We decided that a snowy/icy theme fit better with the core vacuum mechanic. Once we agreed on the new theme, the product owner and the other leads decided that they wanted three main levels, a separate tutorial, and a bonus vault level. They discussed it with Zach and myself--the two level designers--to figure out if that amount of content was in scope and after agreeing that it was, we began working. Zach and I started with building a map of the world so we would know how the levels fit together and to give the artists an idea of the environment in each level. Initially, as the player explores each area looking for their grandfather, the design included the player collecting a vacuum gun upgrade blueprint and a star chart at the end of each level. The star chart would tell the player the next location that their grandfather went to and the blueprint would help the player explore the next level, so we created a rough world map with each level in a different area on an alien planet. We divvied up the levels, deciding that Zach would work on levels 1 and 3 and I would work on the tutorial, level 2, and the vault. Later, due to cuts in scope (tutorial was integrated into level 1 and level 2 was cut) because of the switch to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, we shrunk the world map to the player progressing up a mountain on the planet to narrow down the necessary environments.

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Original World Map

     However, once we established the original world, I started designing my levels with the core pillars of the game in mind. The three core pillars of the game are exploration with a sense of discovery, interaction with level elements and wildlife, and collection of resources in the level and progress. Relating all features of the levels back to these pillars help to keep the gameplay cohesive and the experience the same across the levels regardless of who designs what. Additionally, throughout the designing process, Zach and I frequently referred to each other for critique and level ideas to further enhance the cohesion throughout the game. 

Designing Level 2

     The first level I worked on was what was originally going to be level 2. This level took place after the Cold Cavern and would be the first level that used and focused around the vacuum gun fire upgrade which could melt ice. It was inspired by arctic tundras and large glaciers. To create this level, I followed five main steps outlined below for my design process: research, identify constraints and important information, draft possible  experiences, and gameplay blockout.

Level 2 Before Content Cuts

     I started my design process for level 2 by researching tundra environments and similar games. I looked at various photos to gain inspiration in order to draft possible experiences within an icy tundra environment. It gave me ideas of how to create natural-looking level boundaries like a glacial wall, set pieces to center the level around like large ice chunks, as well as things that could be found in the level to make for interesting gameplay like a frozen lake with treasure underneath. Once I came up with a couple of ideas, I studied games with similar experiences and target audiences so I could see how those games approached level design. I started with Super Mario Odyssey

  • `Sandboxy and open levels

  • Exploration and discovery focused

  • Collect-a-thon

  • Ratchet and Clank series

    • Gadgets to unlock and further explore certain areas

  • Spyro series

    • Lighthearted kids game

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Level 2 Environment Inspiration

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Super Mario Odyssey Snow Kingdom Map

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Spyro: Year of the Dragon Icy Peak

  • ​​​Identify constraints and important information

    • Gameplay mechanics

      • Introduce and emphasize the fire upgrade

      • Repairable objects

      • Walruses

    • Story beats

      • Finds remnants of an ancient civilization

      • Finding grandpa's camp/notes/blueprints

  • Experiences draft

    • Show the player immediately where they need to get to in order to give them a goal to work towards

    • Break down icicles to create platforms 

    • Sees treasure under a frozen lake, must figure out a way underneath

  • Gameplay blockout

    • Blockout of the level with Unity Probuilder geometry, later with environment art assets

    • Place marching cubes snow and ice

    • Created a draft of the fire dispenser, created falling icicles (player initiated and scripted)

    • Place chests, repairable objects, and walruses

     Unfortunately, due to the switch to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, level 2 was cut to decrease the scope for he game.​

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Notes for possible gameplay experiences

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First drafts for level puzzles

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First level sketch

Designing the Tutorial

     Originally the tutorial was to be a separate level. However, due to scope, the tutorial was merged into the beginning area of level 1, teaching the player all of the necessary skills before they are able to enter the main area of the level. This level was originally inspired by rolling snowy hills but was then later adapted to the cave environment of level 1.

  • Research

    • Looked at different environments to gain inspiration to draft possible experiences within a snowy hill environment

    • Studied market competition

      • Slime Rancher

        • Large sandbox area

        • Tip bar on side w/controls

        • Info pops up as you do stuff

        • Pay gates to leave tutorial area

      • Subnautica

        • Controls pop up as player looks at interactables

        • Pop-up objectives

        • PDA with full info and context

  •  Things to address

    • Gameplay mechanics

      • Movement

      • Vacuuming and building with snow

      • Collecting blueprints and purchasing the upgrades

    • Story beats

      • Grandpa's wrecked ship

      • Finding grandpa's camp/notes/blueprints

  •  Intention

    • Create an open tutorial that allowed the player to experiment and learn the mechanics at their own pace to align with the core pillar "Exploration with a sense of discovery"​

  • Integrated tutorial

    • Separate level cut due to the scope from moving to remote work​

    • Integrated into the beginning area of level 1 in collaboration with Jared Ciano

    • Added, tested, and refined necessary objectives to fully teach the game mechanics

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First drafts for level puzzles

Designing the Vault

     The vault is an unlockable bonus level that the player can access at the end of the game. It is intended as a second narrative peak--the player's reward for finishing the game is finding grandpa and their reward for collecting all of the keys is unlocking the vault. ​To create this level, I followed a series of steps that helped me to concept and create the final vault.

     With most of my experience being on main gameplay levels, I started by doing research on bonus levels. Growing up, I played the Harry Potter computer games and the bonus beans rooms were some of the most memorable moments from the games when I was a kid. I revisited these games for my research to see how they made the bonus levels fun and memorable. Racing a time limit, you get to run around the level and try to collect everything with fun challenges to rush and use all of the spells you know, incorporating the main gameplay into a small bonus level. I wanted to make sure that the vault is satisfying to reach and to feel like a worthy reward for finishing the game so that the player has a good experience in the game in its entirety like how the beans room was always something to look forward to in those games.

     With my research done, I compiled a list of what needed to be addressed in the vault. The level needed to use all of the game's mechanics in easy settings, be a satisfying ending, and an ode to the original Vacuum Vault concept. I wanted the focus of the vault to be collecting items as opposed to the challenge of puzzles so it needed to use all of the vacuum upgrades and provide the player with all of the resources they need to use the upgrades. To balance out the lack of puzzles but to still make the vault a rewarding ending, I focused on the satisfaction of sucking up resources and filled the level with gold, gems, and chests, making sure that there was enough treasure to feel exciting. Finally, I wanted to make an easter egg reference to the original concept of the game. Looking through the first prototype, I added the treasure skull as a centerpiece to the level and we dubbed the level the Vacuum Vault. Knowing everything that I needed to include in the vault, I was able to start designing and making the space.

     Once I knew my constraints, I started drawing maps of the vault. I kept the design of the vault geometrical to keep it simple and modular in order to be built and polished quickly, allowing the artists to focus on the main levels of the game. I made the space slightly asymmetrical with the small side alcoves--one with a door and one being two-story--to keep the space dynamic and interesting while allowing for places to use the different vacuum gun upgrades to enter. Additionally and most importantly, I made sure that the vault was small enough that the player is always able to collect something no matter where they look. When I finished the vault map, I blocked it out in engine to test and prove my concept.

     The vault went through minimal iterations since the team was pretty happy with the initial blockout. Initially, the original design included a foyer that was going to have frozen grandpa, the locked vault door as well as a puzzle that the player would have to solve to exit. However, due to narrative tension and scope, the foyer was added into level 3 (the Mighty Mountain) and the puzzle to open that door was made the final puzzle to find grandpa.

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First vault blockout

First vault brainstorm and sketch

Final vault level

Polishing Level 1 - Cold Cavern

     Level 1 was designed by Zach Fugere, the other level designer on the team. During the second half of the semester, when we transitioned to remote work and cut level 2, he focused on level 3 and I focused on the tutorial integrated into level 1 as well as polishing the rest of level 1. My work mainly consisted of general bug fixing, making sure that there were no areas where the player could get stuck or leave the map. I also refined the gameplay through adding braziers and torches to help guide the player, balancing the rewards and resources that can be collected, adding more hidden treasure chests. Additionally, I added another goat walrus and multiple giant icicle interactions to give the player alternate routes and multiple encounters so that these systems would be more integral in the game instead of just encountered in the final puzzle to help round out the player's experience and the core of the game.

Level 1 Changes

Development Process

Champlain College Senior Year Game Development

     Both semesters of our fourth-year at Champlain College have game development courses. During the fall semester, Game Studio students have our capstone class. For this class, we chose our small development teams, groups of 4 to 5 students from each of the 4 different game majors. The class can be handled as the team sees fit, either starting with three rapid prototypes and then choosing one to develop further or working on the three prototypes over the course of the semester. At the end of the semester, we present our work and pitch our games to our peers and professors. The professors then play and discuss the games, deciding which should move forward for a second semester of development and which should be cut. Once the decisions are made, we have the draft in which the students whose games are continuing chose who will join their teams based on the talent and the needs of the project. Before the draft night, teams can make a firm agreement with an individual, securing that student on their team. A team can make up to 4 firm agreements--one for each game major--unless there are multiples on a team already like two programmers. If you were not able to make a deal with a team then you would be drafted and will not find out your new team until then.

     Once the class Senior Production starts in the spring semester, the games are back in development, now with the larger teams. This class is much more structured than capstone. Every team has to make certain deadlines--green-light, beta, alpha, release candidate 1, release candidate 2, and Senior Show content deadlines--though some of the dates can be discussed with each teams' professor based on the needs of their game. At the end of the semester, upon meeting all of the deadlines, the games are presented at the Champlain College Game Studio Senior Show. Family, friends, game developers, and recruiters are invited to watch it, showcasing the hard work of the students through their games and their demo reels.

Joining No Scope Studios

     Once every team had presented at mid mortem in the fall, the professors discussed the games to continue development. Unfortunately, game Yggdrasil was cut so I had to look for a new team to join. Five out of the eight teams that were moving forward reached out to me to join their teams with a firm agreement. After much debate, I ended up joining No Scope Studios. I chose this team because I would be a level designer (whereas on some teams I would be a systems designer), the terraformable terrain presented really unique challenges that would improve my level design skills, and I had not worked with most of the people on the team before so I thought that that would be good experience. After the firm agreements and the draft, No Scope Studios became the biggest senior team Champlain has had rounding out with 16 seniors.

     We met for the first time as a full team during finals week of the Fall 2019 semester. During this first meeting, we introduced ourselves to each other and discussed what we were looking for in our team culture, making sure that everyone would feel comfortable and know how to keep the team functioning well. Once we were all in agreement, we moved on to playing the current state of the prototype and ask the original team questions about the game so that everyone could understand the work that went into it and the work that would be needed to accomplish the current final vision of the game. Additionally, we discussed team structure, separating into two sub teams, the content team which would work on world building and planning out the features for the game and the systems team which would implement the systems and test the game. With the end of the meeting, a much needed winter break started.

Achieving Green Light

     With the start of the new semester, game development began again. The first decision we made as a team was to change the theme of the game. The original prototype centered around a desert pirate theme. The leads brought up switching to an icy Nordic theme and with the agreement of the rest of the team, the change was made. While the artists started from the ground up for art, the rest of the team hit the ground running with documentation, planning out all of the content we needed.

     Our first milestone to reach was green light. Each team needed to get their games to a certain state based on criteria in order to pass green light. If they did not pass it by a specific date, the team would be cut and dispersed onto the remaining teams. There were general requirements that all teams had to accomplish for this such as risk analyses and other documentation, but our professor provided more specific requirements based on our game. The biggest issues that she brought up after playing and analyzing the current prototype was that we needed a fun and complete game loop, a narrative, more research into our theme, and a new game name.

     We were able to start work on the systems and levels that we had already begun planning, but most of our discussion the first month of the semester revolved around the narrative and adding context to the game. Eventually, we settled on what we dubbed "The Lost Grandpa" narrative in which an elderly figure that the main character looks up to disappears and is believed to be dead by everyone but the main character who journeys to find their lost role model and finish the work that they had started. We started implementing this through interactables in the scene that the player would approach and the character's thoughts would be shown above a game object. With a narrative system in place, we came up with a new game title, changing it from Vacuum Vault to Eira: Echoes of Egil and finally to Eira: Echoes of Adventure. We did a lot of work in a short amount of time, all of our professor's critiques were addressed, and our efforts paid off--we passed green light.

Beta Milestone

     Our next milestone was our Beta build at which our game was supposed to be systems complete. We had a prototype of most of our final systems at green light, but there was something off about the game. Narrative remained the biggest discussion because the team felt that we were being pushed into making the narrative the main focus of the game when we wanted exploration and discovery to be instead. We did a lot of research and brought our concerns up to our professor. We decided that it was not narrative that the game really needed but context. With this in mind, we changed from the narrative interactable system to a cutscene system that ended up really bringing the game together.

     We had finally solved our narrative issue, but we ran into repo and pipeline issues throughout the entire semester. The sprints leading up to beta saw the worst of it. The pipeline for art especially kept being changed and never really followed, causing issues across the game. This resulted in people having to redo work multiple times and working past the required hours in order to complete their tasks. We tried to fix most of these issues for beta and was somewhat successful but still struggled with getting a stable build for a while, especially once we transitioned to remote work.

Working Remotely, Cuts, and Alpha Milestone

     When we left for spring break, the rest of the semester seemed promising--we were moving onto alpha, had solid plans for the rest of development, and it was the last few weeks of my senior year of college. However, during the break, the COVID-19 outbreak turned into a pandemic. Champlain College closed for an extra extended week of spring break to figure out a course of action, later announcing that students would not be returning to campus for the remainder of the semester and instead, finishing classes remotely. Students were allowed to retrieve their computers and other items necessary for their coursework, and the Game Studio made sure that all students had the equipment they needed at home since they could not use the labs on campus. It was a hard switch.

     The campus closure was disappointing news. With the extra week of spring break and the transition to remote work, the team had to quickly figure out how to alter our development and meeting schedule having lost a week and now finding ourselves spread across the country. The team structure was modified and our meeting schedule was completely redone. We began meeting as disciplines and across disciplines to make sure that everyone was always up to date with the work of everyone else. Additionally, having lost access to the QA Lab on campus, James Smith and Bryan Richardson focused on internal testing so that we still had a pipeline to find bugs and other issues with the game. To help the team in development and especially remote development, two of the programmers, Scott Aquino and Tyler Chapman implemented multiscene loading so multiple people could work on a level at once and found programs that they could use to help the rest of the team solve any technical issues on their home computers. 

     However, despite our efforts to maintain the same pace of development, we realized that we needed to pair down the scope of the game since we were all in uncharted waters regarding both the pandemic and remote teamwork. We discussed for a while about what could be removed from the game. Eventually, we decided that level 2 would be cut, the tutorial would be moved to the beginning of level 1, the penguin-gopher AI would be cut, as well as some other small systems. Read more about the cuts here. With the scope of the game more manageable for our situation, we approached our Alpha milestone confidently. The game was finally content and systems locked, leaving just bug fixing left.

QA Testing and Professional Critique

     With the approval of our alpha build by our professor, all we had left to do was bug testing and any final bits of polish. In addition to the two members newly dedicated to internal testing, everyone on the team was required to test the game for one of their tasks each sprint and report any and all bugs. While this was a requirement the entire semester, it became especially crucial when we had to switch to remote work, losing access to both the college run QA lab and our dedicated testers. During this time, I was one of the few people allowed in the build to fix issues that came up in the levels. All 16 team members played the game for at least an hour, writing down all of their thoughts and filling out bug reports. Most of the testing occurred in this form, however we were able to set up a couple external testing/critique sessions during our remote work. We reached out to some of the other senior teams to test each others' games and most importantly, we were able to get a critique session with developers from Rockstar games who gave us invaluable critique from a professional perspective. The culmination of all of the testing is the main reason Eira got to a polished and publish-worthy build.

Publishing and the Senior Show

     As the final bugs were fixed and builds made, we had to prepare for publishing and the Champlain College Game studio Senior Show. Our goal from the start of the semester was to publish our game to Steam. It was hard work getting it to a state that we thought would be worthy to publish, but we did it. With the game completed and in celebration of the Senior Show, Eira: Echoes of Adventure was published on Steam on May 8, 2020. As of May 31, 2020, we have 500000+ impressions, 55000+ visits, 500+ wishlists, and 5000 downloads. Play now for free!

     Normally, the Senior Show is done in person at Champlain College in Vermont at which seniors present their games and reels to their peers, faculty, friends, family, and recruiters. Additionally, all of the games are set up for visitors to play and speak with the developers. Unfortunately, this was not able to happen, so the Senior Show was completely digital. As a result of the new format, we had to create some extra content--as a team and individually. We were able to have the livestream professionally produced as well as a website professionally made for the show. Despite not being able to celebrate in-person with all of my friends, they show turned out great. Check it out here!

Team Members

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Michael-Paul Ho-Kang-You

Lead Producer

Scrum Master

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Scott Aquino

Lead Programmer

Systems Programmer

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Tyler Chapman

Systems Programmer

Terrain Tools Programer

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Karim Elzanaty

Tools Programmer

Systems Programmer

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William Gordon

AI Programmer

Technical QA

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James Smith

Programmer

Technical QA

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Nicholas Kline

Lead Artist

Technical Animator

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Hannah Greiner

Technical Artist

Environment Artist

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Max Laudenslager

Environment Artist

Material Artist

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Jared Ciano

Testing and QA Lead

Systems Designer

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Nicholas Deluzio

Lead Audio Designer

Content Designer

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Andersen Pinckney

Product Owner

Lead Designer

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Zachary Fugere

Level Designer

Content Designer

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Andrew MacDonald

Narrative Designer

Community Management

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Claire Yeash

Level Designer

Technical Designer

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Bryan Richardson

Development Support

Producer

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Abigail Scott

Marketing Lead

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Alexis Sophabmixay

Cutscene Artist

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Miriam Shuker

Dedicated Tester

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Nicholas Sanguine

Dedicated Tester

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Patrick Fagan

Dedicated Tester

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Rowan Minney

Audio Designer

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Claire Yeash

Game Designer and UX Researcher