Hibernation

Level Design, Puzzle Design, Narrative, Level Art

Summary

A psychological horror experience based around environmental puzzles. The player wakes up trapped in their bedroom after having slept for days. By moving things, and finding important objects, the player manages to navigate through the apartment, and slowly find out more about the sleep epidemic that has hit the world.

 

Goal

  • To create a creepy atmosphere and make the player feel a slowly rising fear.

  • To build a level based on environmental puzzles.

  • To make an experience built on narrative, and through level design pace the narrative in a rewarding way.

  • To use level design to encourage the player to investigate their surroundings thoroughly.

Specification

  • 4 weeks half time

  • Unreal Engine 4

  • Assets and scripts from Unreal Marketplace

  • Individual project, no collaboration with others

 

Trailer - with sound

Content:

 

The Puzzles

Here I go over my thoughts regarding the puzzles - how I've paced them and what I wanted to accomplish with them. 

What I wanted from the puzzles

  • For me to be able to pace the game - often to make the player move slowly through the level.

  • Encourage the player to pay attention to small details in their surroundings. I wanted to tell a story using the environment, and thus I needed the player to feel compelled to investigate their surroundings and feel invested in what they might find.

  • The puzzles shall strengthen the atmosphere in the world and not feel illogical.

  • The puzzles shall be quite easy since this is the start of the game. They shall gradually teach the player how they can interact with this world.

 

The Story

Here I go over my thoughts regarding the story - what I wanted to convey and how I did it. 

Guidelines for the story

  • It shall make the player feel that there are interesting things to learn by interacting with the environment.

  • Create a creepy atmosphere of something very wrong going on.

  • Written text, short sequences, environmental storytelling and the puzzles shall all work together and build the same atmosphere and tell the same story but in different ways.

Specifics for the first level:

  • Give background and context. Where am I? Why am I here? Who am I? What do I want?

  • Establish that something dangerous and strange is going on in the world.

  • Establish the character Martha without meeting her (as a build up to finding her in a comatose sleep).

A bird falls from the sky as you walk out to the balcony. The text deepens the storyline about a dangerous "sleep sickness". Both events deepen the feeling that something's wrong.

 

Level Walkthrough

Starting view: give context by text + create a feeling of warmth and safety by the bed with the warm lights while the surroundings are dark and threatening.

Learn to turn on the lights with the red switch + use the darkness to highlight that someone walks past outside.

Environmental storytelling strengthened by text.

A chair blocking the way, outside a silhouette is barely visible.

The bedroom - giving context and teaching mechanics

The bedroom is focused on storytelling rather than puzzles. Here is what I wanted to accomplish with the bedroom:

Pacing

Make the player stay in the room for a while even though it's quite small and doesn't have any hard puzzles. To do this I:

  • made the room initially dark, which caused the player to spend some time figuring out how to turn on the lights.

  • I filled the room with a lot of interactible props.

  • I included a letter giving information about the landlady Martha and how she has quarantined the player.

  • I designed the room so that the way forward is (often) the last place the player explores (the shadow moving behind the door, and the letter at the side of the door, works to make the player explore that part of the room first).

  • I blocked the path forward, so that the player has to actively make it accessible.

Story

I wanted to establish what situation the player is in, what they want, and present signs of an NPC named Martha.

  • Start with a text message insinuating that the player has slept for a long time.

  • Use props to show that Martha has filled the room with things needed for a two week quarantine. The props are out of place in a bedroom and thus invites to investigation. I added text to these props to strengthen the out-of-placedness of them and establish that it is probably Martha who has placed them there.

  • Use level design and movement to draw the player to the bedroom door, where they can find a letter from Martha - fully describing that the player character is in quarantine and that Martha has blocked the door. Here the player also gets their goal: to get out of the room and find Martha.

Atmosphere

Create a small sense of dread by doing the following:

  • Have someone unknown walk past the door, casting their shadow through the door's glass. ​

  • Have a dark silhouette barely visible outside of the balcony.

  • Establish that something out of the ordinary is going on by having the room unusually propped, the door blocked and a letter describing strange circumstances .

  • Make the room gloomy and a bit dirty.

  • Make the player character unsure of what's going on while they are obviously affected by it, to make them feel vulnerable and insecure.

"Puzzle"

There isn't really a puzzle in this room, more a set up for later puzzles. I wanted to make sure that the player knows that they can move objects, I did this by having a chair block the way forward.

Outside - deepen the sense of wrongness 

In the Outside part I focused on the following:

Story and Atmosphere

  • Establish a strong sense of darkness by having the whole area be very dark and let the character react to this. This area makes it possible to play around with the sound design for when it gets dark around the player and through sound establish the darkness as something dangerous.

  • Create a sense of otherworldliness and danger by having the player walk into the darkness on smaller and smaller scaffolding.

  • Heighten the sense that something's wrong by having birds fall from the sky.

  • Show that the darkness is affecting people by including a suicide note from a construction worker who couldn't handle the darkness anymore.

Puzzle

  • Establish that you might need certain objects in order to make progress in this game, but keep it easy and only request one object.

  • Show the player the path back into the house by having the main path go by the window leading inside again.

  • Place a toolbox very visibly from the window, to there include a hint about a missing hammer (which is needed to break the glass and get inside).

  • Block the path to the hammer with several movable objects, also making the way to the hammer only visible if you're observant.

Pacing

I wanted to make the player feel like they made quicker progress now, compared to the bedroom, and also that they had to go deeper into the darkness in order to move forward. To accomplish this I did the following:

  • I included much fewer interactible props than in the bedroom, so that the pace becomes quicker. Also to make it easier to find the hammer.

  • I made the area bigger than the bedroom, with a focus on traversal rather than storytelling through text. The player learns to jump and crouch.

  • I included a narrow passageway leading into the darkness, to create a sense of leaving the normal world behind. This area also include falling birds and a suicide note to increase it's strangeness. This part was added after some iteration on the area.

The main path takes the player past the window. The light inside is yellow and inviting, while the light outside is blue and harsh. The red toolbox in the background gives the player a clue that they need a hammer in order to make progress.

A blocked path, the path visible but not obvious.

The hammer that's needed for progress, placed as a weight on a suicide note.

The first iteration of the area did not have the long walkway out to the right of the map, it was added to make the area more mysterious and create better pacing.

The jump scare - the high sound of the exploding light bulb helps.

The newly released rabbit and the key to the store room.

Flickering light and strengthening text on interaction draws the attention to the top shelf. The player then needs to get something to stand on, for example the vacuum cleaner seen in the corner.

Pacing

  • Make progress slow by including lots of interactible props. This also helps to complicate the puzzle of finding the correct objects.

  • Keep the player from getting frustrated in the search by making the area small and compact - keeping the player from traversing a big and cumbersome area back and forth.

Corridor and kitchen - deepen the characterisation of Martha and make progress trickier

Getting in through the window I built the next area for a slightly more complicated puzzle. These were my intentions:

Atmosphere

  • Keep the player on their toes by making a jumpscare. The jumpscare also involves a dark silhouette that will be important in the story later on. The jumpscare links the silhouette to darkness by having a light bulb explode as it comes close.

  • Keep the tension from the jumpscare  by slowly moving a silhouette in place at the area the player can't enter because it's too dark. This also works to further link the silhouette to darkness. When searching for the way forward the player'll have to walk past it and turn their back on it a lot of times, which keeps the tension nicely.

Story

  • Strengthen the sense that something's been wrong for some time, and build the character of Martha by having the kitchen filled with used food cans, and having the player character react at this.

  • Deepen the characterization of Martha as a scared old lady by having her hoard food and supplies.

  • Deepen the sense that the player character doesn't know what's going on and can't trust the surroundings anymore by revealing a secret room accessible from the kitchen.

Puzzle

  • Make a more complicated puzzle by including more steps to it.

  • Establish an obstacle the player needs to overcome by starting the area with taking the player past a locked door. Through the glass in the door the observant player can see a flickering light - hinting at the flashlight they will need to traverse the darkness.

  • Use a story detail to serve as a hint for the way forward by having the player release a trapped rabbit and then having the rabbit run into a hidden passage. 

  • Establish that the player needs light in order to continue further in to the apartment.

  • Deepen the mechanic of moving objects that are in the way by having the player move a shelf that blocks a secret passage.

  • Deepen the mechanic of moving objects further by having the player move an object so they can jump on it and reach the flashlight on the top shelf.

 

What I've Learned

I am very happy with the creepy atmosphere that I managed to create in the level. I think that the story and weirdness developed in a nice way. I'm a bit less satisfied with the puzzles - even though I believe that the difficulty level was suitable for the beginning of a game I would have liked to work on puzzles that are a bit more advanced as well, but well, another time.

  • Using level art, design, events and text to create a scary atmosphere.

  • Designing environmental puzzles that are suitable for the start of a game.

  • Design and prop an apartment and make it feel both logical and strange and to tell a story.

  • Writing and implementing text in a level. Using interactions with static objects, automatic triggers, letters, and interactions with movable objects to integrate text in the level in different ways.

  • Implementing script systems from Unreal Marketplace and modding them for my own needs.

Thank you for your time <3