Hip Hopper - [PC] - Personal Project
Christian Graham - Project Lead / Design / Development
Connor Lantz - 3D Models / Shader Artist
Logan Pace - Music
Hip Hopper is a first person platformer inspired by mascot platformers of the N64/PS1/PS2 era. The idea was to take a 3D Mario open world and re-imagine it from a first person perspective. The objective is to make a vertical slice demo running 12-15 minutes in length in which we showcase the movement mechanics, how they play into the design of the world, and an original hip hop score to tie it together. The game design philosophy will follow a 4-act structure in which an idea or mechanic is introduced, developed, twisted, and then concluded in a satisfying way. Development started in January 2018 and has made tremendous progress.
Getting Started - January 2018
While many variables have yet to be determined the movement / level mechanics, music, and many of the tools needed to build levels are already in place thanks to a proof of concept map built back in January 2018. Initially this map, dubbed The Toybox, was created in order to satiate my desire to know what interesting quirks might arise when designing a first person platforming level, but The Toybox quickly became a working prototype of a project that would go on to be called Hip Hopper. When I went to pitch this game to Connor Lantz I used The Toybox as a way to more naturally catch him up to speed. "Show, don't tell."
Below is a bit of music composed by Logan Pace after seeing The Toybox test map in action.
Dev Testing Environment (yes the pencil spins)
Video highlighting the first build and test map.
General Level Design Concept - February 2018
Hip Hopper features wall jumping, wall climbing, and wall running in a world interconnected by miniature hubs. These hubs allow interconnectivity between different parts of the level while allowing us to determine the level of difficulty between them. A player could get between hub A and hub B at the beginning of the level but would need a higher level of skill to get between hub A and hub D. This skill could be a mechanic the player hasn’t encountered yet and could be learned in the initial treck from hub A to B to C to D. Not every hub is connected, some paths are hidden, and some require progression to unlock. The hubs are centered around world mechanics and set pieces. The world mechanics vary from simple weight sensitive platforms to more complex shrines that require the players line of site in order to make a platform appear. Each of these are meant to exemplify an aspect of Hip Hopper whether that be indicudal movement mechanics or the very concept of a first person platformer.
Testing Level Design - March 2018
In order to test this hub based level design I set out to create a new map. This was the first time I experimented with Hip Hopper's movement / level mechanics outside of The Toybox. I quickly found that while the movement was fun and individual level segments were well paced, players weren't responding in the way I had hoped. Players were losing interest before progressing to the next area, but were responding positively to the general movement gameplay loop. This immediately tripped an alarm in my head. What if players were having fun, but weren't progressing because their wasn't a clear enough objective? For example, in Bob-omb Battlefield (one of the first levels in Mario 64) within moments of spawning in the player is naturally inclined to notice the huge hill and by instinct sets a goal to climb it. As of March 2018 the map had nothing like this and thus I went back to the drawing board.
The game doesn't necessarily have to tell the player every objective. Good level design naturally incentivises the player to set their own goals; this can help unique player stories emerge more organically.
Pushing the player forward - April 2018
Around mid-March to mid-April I started designing the map around the idea of "always push the player forward, but give them something to come back to". The idea of going back to a part of the level you had already been to fit with the original hub based level design concept because if player skill levels had increased (actual player, skill not stats) then taking shortcuts back would be much more accessible late in the game. In order to push the player forward I had to play up the original idea of creating set pieces in various hubs that would attract the players attention and cause them to set a personal goal. The first half was easier than the latter. In order to do this I broke the map up into two halves. One half would attract the players attention right away and cause them to search for a way over. Consequently this search would act as a driving force for the first half of the map as well.
The following is a video from early April 2018 showing the progress on both halves of the map including a brief tutorial area. It's worth noting that when you crossed into the second half of the map the sun would set as you jumped across; setting the mood for the last half of the game.
The Dark Age - May 2018
Towards the end of April I started to feel as though things weren’t right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, perhaps I had played the game too much, but the world itself wasn’t very interesting. I’ve neglected talking about the theme or narrative of Hip Hopper in the previous paragraphs because the narrative was never a core part of my vision for the game. More than anything I wanted the game to be fun to play, but around this time I realized that in order for the game to be fun to play the world needed to be interesting. I fully realize that sounds like an obvious thing, but up until this point I had been playing it fast and loose when it came to making the world feel interesting. You can see in the videos above that the core of the game was there and a rough version of the theme existed in the form of pseudo-Greek culture. Although you are probably also able to tell that the world scale is a bit off, the island is a bit too big, and that the world doesn’t feel “lived in”. Me and Connor wanted it to feel as tho you had found a long lost city where people used to live, but where there doesn’t seem to be any life. I think the design of the map in the videos above was a step in the right direction, but it was clear we needed to take a step back and reexamine what this island was going to look like.
The Renaissance - June 2018
With it finally being summer I had plenty of time to get to work on a new map for Hip Hopper. Before I began construction I needed to take a look at what this new map needed to accomplish. The previous map had lost the inter-connectivity that the The Toybox had, and so it was clear that must come back in a major way. In addition, the problems discussed in the paragraph above arose because the map wasn’t very interesting so we needed to add that to the list. To round it off, the map had general world scaling issues. All in all our grocery list contained three core issues that the new map had to address. (1) The world needed to be interconnected in interesting ways. (2) The world must feel believable or “lived in”. (3) The scale of the world needs to be addressed such that things feel appropriately sized. With all these issues in mind I set out to design a new map. Below you can find some crude renderings of initial designs.
The redesign took into account everything I had learned about 3D level design thus far. Upon exiting the tomb the player is greeted by an Aqueduct that separates the map in half. Connected to the Aqueduct is the vines of a giant flower sprouting from the Garden District. This marks a clear crossing point to the other side of the island. Any amount of movement will turn the players focus to the mountain range that covers approximately half the map. Atop the mountain is the players goal, a Cathedral. Within seconds of entering the world the player has a clear path forward, something to look forward to, and an interesting world to explore.
We Built This City on Rock &… Hip Hop - July 2018
With a clear goal, an eager heart, and several design documents I set out to build a new map for Hip Hopper. In the process of building the new map I thought it would be a great opportunity to fine tune some of the more specific level segments. For example the Mountain Range path had yet to be implemented and the areas under the mountain had yet to be connected. Below you can find footage of the first Mountain Range / Cave playtest after I “blocked” out the path. You can also briefly see how the new map connects together towards the end of the video. I was quite proud of how the first pass through went.
First playtest of the “blocked out” mountain range path.
Still Building the new map - August 2018
As of now not much has changed since my last development update. I am still working on building the new map and plan to be done sometime within the next few months. It’s taking much longer this time around as I am using everything I have learned in the past. This means that the level is coming together a bit slower, but I believe the final result will be all the better for it. I look forward to sharing more details with you in the future! Make sure to checkout the video I added above to see some of the progress!
Roll out the red carpet we’ve got a new market! - Setpember 2018
I’ve made a lot of progress on Hip Hopper’s new map throughout September! Specifically I’ve made a lot of progress on the section of the map known as the Market District. During the past 6 months the Market District has been the bane of my creative existence. Ever since the conception of Hip Hopper I’ve known several things: a Market area would be in the game, it would be one of the first areas the player had the chance to encounter, and it would explore the idea of bouncing off objects in the environment. Beyond that I was completely lost on where to start with the Market District. In previous gameplay videos you can see a small market area containing “Column Costco” and “Stallmart”, but not much else. All of that changed this month when I decided to take the challenge head on!
In between classes and tests I went to paper to start on a design for what would become the new Market District. The first thing I knew I wanted was an open area central to the market that would act as a quick transition point between parts of the market. In addition this open area would act as a playground for the player to make use of bouncing without much detriment. I then built around the open area, using it as an anchor. Several structures would surround the open area making use of the openness as a quick transition point between parts of the market like mentioned previously. I planned out several potential paths the player could take around the area on paper. With a brief idea of the direction the market would take I started construction.
Piece by piece I laid out the level as designed in my notes. Creating this area ended up being one of the most enjoyable parts of Hip Hopper’s development thus far. The marketplace is the true heart of most cities, and finding interesting ways to express that in level design was a rewarding creative challenge. For example, I used scaffolding to show that the world is falling apart in some areas, and to provide quick access to the rooftops from a part of the map that was underutilized. I designed a rooftop garden that would offset the structured feeling of the buildings and offer an area to bounce high above the market. When problems would arise I would take a step back and reassess what I had already built to see where the design of the level could naturally lead me. This lead to the creation of a storage room where the player must jump over boxes and fallen shelves to reach a star that they likely saw as unreachable in an earlier part of the level.
Design a play-space that makes use of the games core mechanics and uses the levels mechanics to expand upon that core.
Early Build of a Blocked Out Market District
Additionally I’ve been working to update the way Hip Hopper’s tutorials present ideas to players. One of the core “high level” mechanics of Hip Hopper is the idea that you can “save” your jump for any moment while in midair. Furthermore this can then be used to reset your momentum. While playtesting certain new areas, such as the Market District, we found that players were not aware of this concept. Updating the games brief “tutorial” area has been on my to-do list for a while, but as the new map grows and starts to come together I knew the time to update it was now. I decided in order to playtest properly I want to know exactly what mechanics the player is aware of based off the in-game tutorial. Below is an example of a couple instances I’ve been running players through to see how long it takes them to realize you can “momentum save” by saving the jump.