LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]: Exploring and Event Cards

It’s Oz again with more thoughts on the process of making LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. Last time I explained how you go about overcoming challenges; now we’ll see where a lot of those challenges come from.

The tiles that come together to form the map evolved as much as or more than any other part of the game. We knew this would be a tile exploration game with a map that was created during play, but we had a lot more to determine beyond that. The first choice that had to be made was between a grid-based movement system and a tile-based one.

We experimented with a grid at first. In that early draft every tile was a 5˝ x 5˝ grid with a combination of paths and walls. As players explored they would draw new tiles to create an actual maze of hallways. The grid was interesting, but it didn’t allow some of the player and enemy interaction we wanted the game to have. The map needed to become more of an abstraction.

For the next draft, I made the tiles from squares cut from a cardboard box. I stripped away all their complexity; each square had arrows pointing from the sides to show where the doors were, and that was all. It was at this point the event system began to take shape.

The basis for the early event system was the event icons. A lot of the icons in the final game originated in the grid-based tiles. Some spaces on those tiles were scary, while others were dark or hazardous. As we moved toward the final tile design, those icons evolved along with everything else. Some were used for general things, but three of them became the event icons. We decided the three types of events that players would experience would revolve around human security, alien horrors, and the facility as a whole. I assigned the three types of event icons to tiles and set about making a deck of cards to interact with them.

A major feeling we wanted the game to have was of constant struggle to overcome adversity. We didn’t want the players to ever have a turn without some sort of tension. Replay value and unpredictability were also very important goals. Lastly, we didn’t want to include three separate decks for each event type. After generating some lists of events for each icon, I assigned them to cards, mixing them so no two cards had the same three events.

With the event cards drafted and the tiles in a place we liked, playtesting began. The final piece that makes the tile system of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] unique was added in those first few weeks of testing. It was always a goal to incorporate two kinds of movement into the tiles. Doors were very obvious, but it took a few tries to get vents working exactly how we wanted. At first they were basically just scary doors. As other things fell into place, we considered them more closely. They transitioned into a way for a player to jump from a tile with a vent to any other tile with a vent within a certain distance. Eventually we took a marker to the tiles and put a line along any tile edge that didn’t have a door. With that simple addition the vents turned into exactly what we were looking for: the ducts connecting the vents multiplied the options for moving around the map, but players had a little control over how things connected.

The game continued to evolve after this point, but in much smaller steps. Enemy icons, which I’ll explain more next time, were added to the event cards; the events on some cards were adjusted in subtle ways to have more of a global effect; and the relationship between doors and ducts was removed so they could both exist on the same tile edge.

We finally had a terrifying subterranean labyrinth to explore. All it needed was monsters…