The Thief's Trail
Action - Stealth
Unity 5, SVN
4x Game Designers
4x 3D Artists
2x 2D Artists
Product Owner - Level Designer
Game vision & main features; Level design; Weekly stakeholder update; Pitch delivery
In The Thief’s Trail, you play as young thief Alexis, trying to save the town of Rosenburg from an invading army. To succeed with your mission, you need to sneak through a labyrinth-like part of the town, while avoiding ferocious mechanical Minotaurs. The enemy is bigger and faster than you. Confrontation is not an option. Use your wits and agility to evade your enemies. A tense stealth experience, taking place in a political environment with a palpable sense of danger.
- Creating, adapting and communicating a shared game vision
- Designing level pacing and navigation for a stealth game with divergent paths
- Building a narrative arc and implementing environmental storytelling
- Blocking out and set dressing a level in Unity
- Designed level from start to finish (paper prototype, blockout, testing, polishing)
- Set up enemy AI path nodes and behaviour in the level
- Communicated design ideas and worked with Artists and Programmers to adjust required scripts and props
- Assisted Environment Artists with level decoration
- Create an environment full of danger, while offering opportunities to hide from and bypass enemies
- Enhance the feeling of enemy invasion in the fictional town environment
- Implement a 2D representation of the world inside the level (required by the assignment)
In “The Thief’s Trail”, the player is asked to find an item hidden in the town. The game is based on exploration, stealth action and building a narrative around the invasion and the player’s mission. To further enhance the stealth element of the game, the player cannot fight the enemy. They can only perform a takedown behind their back while unnoticed, and run away from their blades if noticed. To create the feeling of intimidation even further, the enemy is twice the size of the player. The myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth further inspired other aspects of gameplay and level design. The feeling of exploration is driven by the twists and turns of a sprawling medieval town, narrative is built through environmental storytelling.
To design an environment full of risk and danger, the setting had to offer certain disadvantages. Through prototyping and testing, we noticed that the game’s hide and seek element works best in narrow environments with many corners and reduced visibility, as tight corridors made being chased by the enemies a lot more stressful. Fitting with the medieval theme of the game and a geometry relying on corners and corridors, it was decided to build the level inside a fictional central European “old town”.
The old town design also offers opportunities to employ verticality in the level design (platforms in different heights to enable bypassing of enemies). The player’s small size can also be utilized by creating hiding spots the enemy cannot reach, helping during an escape segment. The 2D representation of the game world could be found in the form of billboard maps, found around town with clues towards the player’s next objective.
When starting the game, an introductory cutscene sets up the game’s narrative, raises the stakes and explains the player’s objective.
The player begins the game in a safe alleyway. On their way forward, the player notices a poster saying “Follow the roses”. Inspired by the myth of the Labyrinth and used as a navigational cue, a trail of roses is often used in the level as a red thread to guide the player through the town.
When in doubt, the player only needs to look for the red rosebuds that stand out against the dark blue backdrop of the town.
In order to continue on the narrative set from the cutscene, there are posters and graffiti throughout the town, signaling a place under siege. Some of the posters are from the invaders, urging locals to join their army, others are from the residents who detest the invasion and want the invaders gone.
The controls are being introduced through tutorial prompts in relevant situations. The first interaction between player and enemy requests sneaking through, in order to emphasize the intimidating size of the enemy and the stealth mechanic.
If the player fails at sneaking, they will be chased by the Minotaur. Red light emitting from the Minotraur's eyes signifies the change in alert status and adds drama to the chase.
The player is exposed to the weakness of the enemy within a narrative context. A dead enemy lies on the player’s pathway with a metallic rod stuck in them. By picking up the rod, the player unlocks the Takedown ability. The image of the dead Minotaur emphasizes the notion that the enemies can be taken down.
The player then has the chance to sneak towards the enemy standing on their path and perform a takedown. The enemy is conveniently facing to the other direction.
To further assist with navigation and sense of purpose in the game, the player comes across “billboard maps” in the town. The maps do not only tell the player where they are, but they also include hints left by the local resistance on where to go next.
All the streets and alleyways have names that can also be read on the maps. Street signs can be found in the game, to inform the player. The ones that are part of the player’s critical path are marked with roses.
The player encounters an alleyway with a patrolling enemy at the end. Climbing blocks and elevated platforms utilize verticality in the level, helping the player to inspect their surroundings and avoid combat.
By exploring the town, the player can find themselves in alleyways that are not part of the critical path. Such diversions often feature additional enemies and dead ends, but are connected with the critical path and enhance the feeling of exploring a non-linear environment. At such crossroads, if the player is unsure where to go, they only need to look for the roses.
The player reaches the area pinpointed by the first billboard map and finds themselves in a small square with a patrolling enemy. The square works as an arena and the player needs to reach the center to read the second billboard, while avoiding the Minotaur. The player can only enter the area from an elevated point, giving them a time advantage in assessing their approach.
By exiting the square, the player finds themselves on an elevated platform, above the visual cone of the enemies below. This further emphasizes the importance of verticality in exploring the town and creates a feeling of imminent danger if the player falls down.
The player is required to walk through the narrow alley, avoiding encountering the enemy. The player can test their platforming skills, by climbing upon a pile of boxes nearby and jumping over a set of bridges. The tight corridor, the fear of a misstep and the top-down action, allow for a dramatic surveillance of the enemy’s patrol route and a different experience in traversing through the corridor.
In the final area, the view is focused on the main fountain, where the rose trail ends. To reach the final objective, the player has to sneak through the remaining enemies, climb on the platform close to the fountain and then jump towards the item hidden in the middle.
Once the player reached their end goal, the screen fades into an outro cutscene, confirming the success of the mission.
LEVEL ART - MODULARITY
The main theme for the game was old, medieval town architecture and feel. The game takes place at nighttime, so the key colors were blue, purple and yellow-orange coming from light sources.
The town was made out of a group of 5 housing blocks, with additional modular decorations layered on top. Other props were used to decorate the streets and also provide foliage for the rose trail.
SET DRESSING - CRITICAL PATH THROUGH THE LEVEL
SET DRESSING - ALTERNATIVE PATHS & DEAD ENDS
Project Management - Product Owner
As the product owner, I was responsible for shaping, communicating and executing the game’s vision and adapting the Scrum methodology to the team’s needs. This included:
- Creating and presenting the game's design pitch to stakeholders and teams, helping communicate the vision, and maintain its relevancy during all stages of development.
- Setting up the initial 7-week plan with target milestones to help with the team's prioritisation. The plan was adjusted at the end of every weekly sprin
- Moderating the retrospective meeting at the end of every weekly sprint, making sure every team member has the opportunity to express their thoughts on the team's progress and what can be improved
- Helping the team define the weekly sprint's development sprint goals (based on the game's asset list and feature list, the team's progress and the feedback from teachers - stakeholders)
To help with the administration, I made sure to take notes and keep track of the team’s decisions and progress on the team's task backlog. I was also responsible for helping out with the creation of the game trailer (directing the storyboarding and selecting footage).