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In this article, we're presenting a major redesign of one of our areas, as well as a number of new screenshots and gifs on completely new ones that we're currently incorporating into the game. Enjoy!

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Like last time, we've managed to stay quiet for a bit too long :). There are a lot of big and interesting things happening right now with both our company Decemberborn and Cathedral itself (stay tuned, we'll post about it once we can).

Some things we do want to share this time, are a few redesigns of an existing area, as well as adding a couple of new areas.

Redesigning Shade forest

Aron and I spent a lot of time a while back fleshing the major structure of the game out and getting it written down in our design document for the game. Seeing how it all fit together, and trying to concretize the specific emotions, feelings and thoughts that we want a certain area to invoke in a player, I realized that our current invocation of the area called "Shade Forest" wasn't up to par with the rest of the game, especially not the newer areas.

For reference, this is the old version of Shade Forest:

shade old

It's not bad, but I could do better. A few things about it has been bothering me:

  • It actually looks a bit too modern. Even though we "cheat" with what the NES could do all the time, the style clashes way too much. There's too many colors on-screen at the same time and too many parallax scrolling layers (it's easy to get carried away with features like this).
  • We initially envisioned this to be a dark and haunted forest, but for a forest, it lacks the necessary depth and darkness that we were initially thinking about.

So, I present the complete overhaul of this area. Still called "Shade Forest", but featuring new graphics, and Aron is currently working on a new soundtrack for it:

shade 1

shade original hud

This style works a lot better with the current areas that we have, but please do tell us what you think. We're always interested in feedback and opinions :)

Finally, before starting to take a look at some of the new areas, we have one last screen for you for our current work-in-progress which is a transition from Shade Forest to a new area called Poison Pavilion:

shade pp entrance

Now in order to actually gain access to Poison pavilion, you'll have to perform some minor quests first. But I won't spoil those :)

New area #1 - Poison Pavilion

So of course, the next area that comes to mind that I want to show, is Poison Pavilion. Accessing this area will allow you to finally reach the second dungeon of the game, the Necromancer's Den. The necromancer is slumbering deep inside these walls and you need to wake him up in order to acquire one of the seven elemental orbs in the game from him. To do so, you need to fight your way through Poison Pavilion, find the den and finally figure out a way to wake the Necromancer up:

poison pavilion 1

The following gif turned out pretty big, so it might take some time to load:

New area #2 - The Meadows

We haven't nailed the name for this one yet, so I'm currently just going to call it "The Meadows", even though we have a few other names we're throwing around. It's one of the brighter areas of the game, connecting a few different parts of our game world.

Don't let the sunshine, bed of flowers and fluffy clouds fool you though. The Meadows is a deceptively difficult place with a lot of dangers that might not be entirely obvious at first.

meadows 1

I had a lot of fun designing this area. We wanted to have some buildings such as watermills and maybe a few windmills in the background too. I played around with the watermill design. You can also see the color cycling effect in our water sprites in this animated screenshot:

meadows 2

Finally, there's one other design aspect coming into play here. Basically, I decided early on that:

  • If there's a visible door, you're supposed to be able to go through it, sooner or later. In a nutshell - I don't want to place doors as props only. If it's there, it's something you can interact with
  • There's no such thing as a bottomless pit. If you can jump down somewhere, you should end up in a new location.

With the second one in mind, you can of course jump down all of these waterfalls and end up in a slightly less bright location. Here's a zoomed out view of the current work in progress for The Meadows:

meadows full

The screenshots we've shown you so far from both this and the other areas, have been relatively limited. There's a lot more ground to cover than what we're showing here, but hopefully we've shown you enough of the style to get an understanding of where we're headed.

As always, feel free to comment and tell us what you think.

// Eric Lavesson. Founder and lead programmer of Decemberborn

OJeskulke - - 94 comments

Nice rework on the forest. The old one was not bad but you are right, the new one fits the intended mood far better and looks more like the NES.

I also like your idea that you could not fall into the void. This is often done but this does not fit with the "real world" and so it may take your mind off of the game. Clearly it is a bigger workload for you to flesh out the areas below but I think it will be worth it. In my opinion you should put some ancient artifact loot down there so exploring the whole level, going into dark places will be rewarding.

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Lavesson Author
Lavesson - - 13 comments

Thank you!

Yeah, I've thought long and hard about the level design around pits. I think the whole idea of "bottomless pits" can work fine, as long as it's really clear what's going to happen if you fall down it, which often seems to suggest some linearity in the gameplay. The problem arises when you start mixing both variants (using a pit to progress as well as having pits where you could die from falling down), especially in levels where you can backtrack and go both up/down.

In linear games such as in the Megaman games where you have both, it usually works out pretty well. Most often because it's apparent in the level design what a pit does. Often, it's the only logical choice in order to progress for instance.

We're doing kind of a Metroidvania-style thing. Even though there's some fairly linear sections of gameplay, you can still backtrack to previous areas. Distinguishing between pits that you can jump down or pits that are simply death traps is hard.

So I guess in a sense we have the mechanics of "bottomless pits", but instead doing it by putting some obvious hazard there, such as lava or spikes :)

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OJeskulke - - 94 comments

I think mixing both is fine if you give small hints to the player. Depending on the gameplay you can reward the cautious player for example if the player moves to the edge of a pit and if it is bottomless then some stones might break loose from the rim. But this could break the flow of course. What I have in mind here is Spelunky, where you CAN rush through but sometimes you get hurt because you didn't look for traps.
Maybe you can also build in some kind of "last rescue" for the unlucky or careless player. If he jumps down a pit and it is bottomless, the camera may stay over the ground and the player keeps falling, so that is a hint u did something wrong here and as soon as you realize that, you have to react very fast (under half a second or so) and throw a rope or something. So someone who likes to rush can do that and do a gamble on each pit: jumping in and hoping to react fast enough? And the slower player can examine carefully if he should jump in.

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