I have come up with a new approach to designing and drawing a level and I wanted to share it. Read on to see how I am taking the first steps toward building a sprawling island/mountain full of monsters.
This is an approach I have been thinking about for a few years, and I am thrilled to be working on a JRPG again so I can give it a try.
Have a look at this:
I have split this mockup into 16 screen lengths. Lets call them zones. I am going to roughly flesh out the world like this. I am addressing monster placement, treasures, save points, and more. I will try to keep an average monster and treasure count per zone.
Again just like the mockup, I want to keep things very rough and easy to change. As choices become more set in stone visuals will get refined, but not before then. This gives me the least wasted time and effort, and the most flexibility.
I split it into 16th screen lengths because that is about what my machine can handle comfortably. I am keeping everything in layers and groups. This is not only a way to sketch out and plan levels, it is also going to tell me which assets will need to be drawn.
Let's go over which each area means.
A. represents the start of the zone, characters will enter here from the previous zone.
B. represents a treasure! I know it's just a brown square now, but imagine the player walks their character over there, hits a button or taps the treasure to open it. Treasures are important and serve as rewards for exploration.
C. represents a battle with a monster. Monsters will be placed on the actual map and will wait there for the player. Similar to a game like Chrono Trigger, there is no "battlescreen".
Monsters will re-spawn after time. Time or conditions of re-spawn will depend on factors of the game. I was thinking monsters will repopulate a zone after you leave and return. This creates a problem of possible sudden, jarring re-spawning. Do you warn players when leaving a zone? It would feel a bit unnatural to do so. Now I think smaller re-spawn areas or timed re-spawns may be a better solution.
D. is a cave, players can go right through and take a huge shortcut but they will miss out on some treasure.
E. Shows an area that is broken up in interesting ways, players will have to do a bit of back tracking to make sure they got everything.
F. Is a save point. Save points are kind of retro and it is easy to, these days, go with an auto save solution. Save points also serve as a kind of pacing and place to manage your stats/skill and gear. See the way a game like Dark Souls uses the bonfires and you will get what I mean.
G. Is a battle with an airborn enemy. Much of this game takes place in the mountains. That lends itself to airborn enemies. In this game airborn enemies will have some special properties, eg if you hit them with specific attacks they will not be able to fly for a certain amount of time and will be more vulnerable.
H. This is the boss of the zone, has the same airborn properties as the enemies.
I. Is the gateway to the next zone which I hope to show you soon!
One thing to note is that it is great to show players hints of the past and future - Eg looking down on an area that you have already been (like around the B area), or the place they are headed to on the horizon.
That's it for now! Stay tuned for more!