LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]: The Scenarios

Hi, it’s Oz with the last written chapter of the LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] developer diary series. This time we’ll take a look at what was both the foundation of the game and the final piece of the process for us. I’m talking about the story we wanted the game to tell and the scenarios that reveal that story.

Many of the ideas for the LEVEL 7 setting were created before anyone ever began working on a game. When we sat down to start drafting game ideas, we knew the basics of the game’s story. In an early meeting Matt Wilson drew a rough map of the Subterra Bravo facility on the whiteboard, and we talked about the major landmarks in the building and which ones we wanted to use.

One of the first decisions that had to be made was how the game would be built in relation to the story. We could create it as one game session that would take the players from the beginning of the story to the end, or we could break it down into scenarios players would play over many game sessions. We knew there would have to be abstractions, but we didn’t want too much. The other consideration was game length: we wanted a game to last about an hour. As early development progressed we realized telling the entire story in one session would require too much time or abstraction in order to relate the entire experience we wanted to give players, We decided scenarios were the way to go.

With the decision to tell the story in a series of scenarios came a few more questions. For instance, how many would we need, and what would set each one apart from the others? The first question nearly answered itself. Since the facility has seven levels we would set one scenario on each of them, giving us seven scenarios. The answer to the second question took a little longer to develop.

We looked at the concept of the game at its most basic level to start brainstorming ideas for scenarios. The name of the game includes “[ESCAPE]” because that is the driving goal of the characters in the story it is telling. The fundamental aspect of every scenario would be the players’ journey from point A to point B, and each scenario would be unique based on what hurdles we set in between those points.

As this brainstorming continued, we started designing basic gameplay. Scenario 1 was the proving ground for all the core concepts in the game. When those basics were working the way we wanted, we started fleshing out all the ideas we had brainstormed. Some of them directly related to Subterra Bravo landmarks like the Tank Farm or events like the first appearance of the hybrids. Others were ideas we had come up with for interesting challenges, like “the boulder” and “a rock and a hard place.”

One of the last major additions to the concepts in the game was created as part of the scenario tuning process. During early playtesting of what would become Scenario 1, we decided we wanted every scenario to have a finale, a point where tension would escalate quickly. This became lockdown.

Several elements of lockdown add to the intensifying tension. First, we introduced a timer mechanic; any player who doesn’t reach the exit before that timer runs out loses the scenario. The second thing we did was increase the danger by adding more enemies or making them stronger and changing what happens when you are knocked out. Before lockdown, you usually go to the infirmary, but once lockdown begins, being knocked out kills you instantly. Together, these changes make lockdown harder to survive—and therefore a lot scarier.

Once we had established the core lockdown concepts, we began adapting them for different scenarios. For example, some scenarios use a slightly different timer mechanic, while others do different things with enemies. This gave us a way to add extra unique aspects to each scenario that fit into an existing framework, making it easier to play a new scenario without needing to learn a lot of new rules.

We brought together the scenario mechanics and concepts to create the seven scenarios you’ll find in LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. Together they tell the harrowing tale of the prisoners’ desperate attempt to make it through the seven levels of Subterra Bravo and escape with their lives. Soon, you’ll be able to test your wits against the dangers of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE], and create your own story of terrifying encounters and narrow escapes!