Platform: Windows PC
Development Platform: Unreal Engine 4
Team Size: 5
Development Time: January 2019 to February 2019
A 3D platformer shop management game in which you play as an alchemist's apprentice keeping the potion shop open while searching for a potion recipe to turn your teacher back from gold!
About the Game
Potion Seller is a 3D platforming shop management game. Playing as an alchemist’s apprentice, you must keep the potion shop running while figuring out a cure to return your master to normal after he turned himself to gold in the quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. Needing to make potions quickly and accurately, the player must balance the customer’s requests while searching for a reversal potion, all while keeping the shop from getting shut down. It is a game of responsibility and exploration.
Level Concepting and Iteration 1
Potion Seller was the second of three one-week prototypes. As soon as my team agreed upon a game concept for this prototype, I immediately began on the level. Since the player takes the role of an alchemist's apprentice, I wanted to recreate a magical wizard's tower to invoke a feeling of wonder. With thoughts of the first two Harry Potter movies and the TV series Merlin, my initial design included a round tower with a small storefront, a winding staircase, and walls covered with book and ingredient shelves. I wanted to place the cauldron in the center of the room on the bottom floor so that the player would have an easy and central location to return to after collecting ingredients while managing customers. Without the roadblock of having to search for the cauldron and instead, having easy access to it, this would encourage the player to explore the level more for the various ingredients since their goal is always visible and quick to reach. Also, by putting the cauldron in the center of the main tower room, positioned in the player's view at the start of the game, sets the magical tone of the environment immediately.
Inspiration from Harry Potter
Inspiration from Merlin
After I sketched out some ideas on paper, I started off by blocking out my original concept for the first floor in Unreal Engine 4. As I was blocking out the level, I was trying to keep everything to the grid to help me size up how big the play space should be and give accurate measurements to Grace Magnant, Potion Seller's environment artist. I struggled to get the default staircase geometry to fit inside the tower floor how I wanted and decided to move it to the outside where it would be enclosed in the future but left open as I was building the level. When I found out that Grace had made models of flat bookshelves, I immediately adapted the design of the level into a hexagon so that the bookshelves would be able to sit flush against the wall and it would save Grace the time from making curved ones.
Once the level was adjusted, I began working on the higher floors so that the player would have more to explore and the game would become more of a platformer. I started with three floors total counting the bottom floor. I made the floors wrap around the center of the room so that the player would always be able to see the cauldron and the player could jump down the floors if they needed to get to the cauldron quickly. The second floor was wider than the third and had smaller gaps that the player would have to jump. With this easier to navigate than the larger gaps on the third floor, the more common potion ingredients were be located on the second floor and the rarer ingredients on the third floor. The only way to move up between floors was the staircase on the outside. With only four potion ingredients currently in the game, I placed two kinds on each floor with the golden statue of the master alchemist also on the third floor. I placed Grace's bookshelves and other assets around the level, and by the time the end of the week approached and the prototype was due for class, I was able to finish the level block out with the open staircase.
Level Gameplay Blockout
First floor level sketch
Level Adjustments and Testing
When we decided to continue development on the project, my first task was to enclose the staircase and front room. Additionally, I wanted to add ingredient alcoves that would act as small themed rooms off-shooting from the tower, making the level slightly larger but also rounding out the theme and context. Since players kept confusing the salt and ash assets, for the alcoves, I made small place-holder props to identify the ingredients in the alcove. Although I was not happy with the original block out of the level, I wanted to complete it so that when it was tested, players would have a true idea of how the environment and level would feel. Once that was finished, I added lighting and Grace's textures to the new areas and put the level in front of players. I then put it in front of players to see their reactions and get their feedback.
Before I got the results, I already knew many changes that I wanted to make to the level. I did not like the platforming feel of the game which players confirmed that the placement of the gaps in the floor on the higher levels felt arbitrary. Additionally, players called the level claustrophobic and tight. Providing pictures of pre-existing games that had a similar concept, players agreed that having ascending spiral platforms around the edge of the level would improve the platforming feel and still fit with the theme of the tower. With my suspicions confirmed, I started right away on the new level.
Sketches of level ideas and changes
Second level iteration
With the feedback from testers and my ideas for the level, I built a new level from the ground up. I kept the same radius and hexagonal shape., being able to reuse assets from the previous level. I still wanted to have the center of the level open, maintaining the view of the cauldron and allowing players more room to jump around and navigate easier. Additionally, I was able to make the level feel more open by increasing the verticality of the level and using the platforms to actually ascend the tower with a small section of stairs to lead the player up. Although I was not able to test this new level with players, I was much happier with it and felt that it better upheld the fantasy of the game.
Third level iteration
Production II at Champlain College
At Champlain College, we take a class called Production II during the spring semester of our junior year. The production classes have students from all four of the game majors--Game Production and Management, Game Design, Game Art and Animation, and Game Programming. Each section of the class is considered its own studio and within each class, we are put onto teams of about four to five students to make our own projects. The first three weeks are focused around rapid prototyping--one for each week. At the end of the three weeks, each team picks one of the prototypes to refine over the course of two weeks leading up to what we called mid mortem. Finally, at mid mortem, the teams pitch their games to the studio and the students in each class will decide which games will continue development with the guidance of the professor who decides the number of games to continue. The teams that are cut are moved onto the games that will be continued, simulating real-life studios and letting us finish the semester with a strong game we helped to make and valuable team experience.
Team Spear-It and Making Potion Seller
We formed our own teams within our classes. My team consisted of Michael-Paul Ho-Kang-You (producer), Zach Phillips (designer), myself (designer), Kelly Herstine (programmer), and Grace Magnant (artist). With each section of the class considered as a studio, we called our studio Business Birds Studio and we dubbed our team Team Spear-It.
We started the rapid prototypes off with a fun cat-and-mouse type game we called Change of Danger. For more information about this prototype, read the blog page. For our second week of production, we decided to begin again with brainstorming, keeping the extra ideas from week 1 as a backup. A lot of those ideas were rather similar--two-player asymmetric competitive games. We wanted to make something different for the second prototype and really wanted to challenge ourselves. After spending a lot of time debating and reminiscing about old wizardry games we used to play, we realized that we were all very interested in alchemy and potions and decided to make a game focused around potion-making.
After much discussion and finding inspiration from Moonlighter, it was decided that a shop management game would best allow us to experiment with crafting potions and by combining it with a platformer, we would be able to add in exploration that would give the player more freedom to gather ingredients and discover new things in the level. Once we solidified the game idea, we debated about making the game in Unreal Engine 4. Most of the team was unfamiliar with the engine, having worked mostly in Unity, but with many studios moving towards visual scripting and Unreal having better level design tools, we decided to take on the challenge and made the prototype in Unreal.
Visual Design Document
As soon as the design was finalized and the engine was agreed upon, everyone started working immediately. I began with concepting the level and finding audio files while Kelly began on implementing the crafting systems, and Zach started working on implementing the customer orders. We were able to get very basic systems and an initial level implemented by the end of the prototyping week. We finished the week with the the player movement, a multi-tiered level, and the ability to collect ingredients and drop them into the cauldrons to create potions in the game. Although we were not able to implement any of the shop management aspects, the team worked really hard and the prototype looked good for what we had. Since we were still new to Unreal Engine, the potions each needed their own cauldron to be made, the customers remained a work in progress, and the level was small and untested. Proud of our work for the week, we presented it to the class and then started on our third and final prototype, Heat Lamp. For more information about this prototype, read the blog page.
Continuing Potion Seller and Mid Mortem Presentations
Once the three weeks of rapid prototyping ended, we had to choose one game to move forward with for the mid mortem presentations and cuts. The team was mostly torn between continuing with our first prototype called Change or Danger and Potion Seller. Change or Danger was a concept that everyone immediately had fun when playing even in the prototype stage and with it being made in Unity, my team was confident that we would be able to get it to a pretty polished state for the presentations since we had three people on the team who knew C# programming in Unity (Kelly, Zach, and I). Potion Seller, on the other hand, was a game that we were all very excited about but we were all still very new to Unreal and knew that it would be a challenge to get it to a playable state. It was a hard debate, but in the end, I was able to convince the team to move forward with Potion Seller because not only was it a challenge I believed that we could take on but it also provided a safe opportunity for us to really learn and work with Unreal, especially since the Champlain Game Studio is focused heavily on Unity. With the rest of the team finally on board, we figured out right away what we wanted to accomplish for the next two sprints.
For the first week, we directed a lot of time and energy into getting the potions contained and working with a single cauldron, the customer ordering system implemented and improving the feel of the game. I finished the first level by enclosing the storefront and the staircase so that players would be able to get a full feeling of the environment of the game when testing it. Once I finished, I put it in front of players and got their thoughts and reactions which most stated that the level felt too small and cramped and was difficult to navigate. The next day, I immediately started working on a brand new level, working to make it as clean, intuitive, and interesting as possible so that it would fit the fantasy of the game and get players excited to look around and explore.
Overview of level iterations
We spent the last week polishing the game for mid mortem presentations and practicing the presentation. With the new level done, I spent a lot of time making sure that all of the slides on the presentation were consistent, interesting, and not a block of text. As the week wound down, we decided to stop working on the prototype as there were minimal bugs and we did not want to risk adding new mechanics and systems that could mess up the game. I finished the week with preparing for onboarding new teammates by making sure that all documentation and pipeline steps were complete and easy to read and understand so that people would be able to start on the game right away.
At the mid mortem presentations, the game pitches went very well and Potion Seller had a great reception--the audience audibly gasped at the first view of the level in the trailer. However, after heavy deliberations, the game did not make the cut due to the talent we had in the class section and the allocation of it. With the end of Potion Seller, I moved onto Team Perfect 10 to work on Gaze of the Abyss.
Mid Mortem Presentation