Level Design Heavens Vault

Are levels open and nonlinear, or tightly controlled and scripted?

The levels are open and non-linear, you act as a detective and archeologist finding out pieces of information and then returning with that information for more of the story.

“And what we have now is this system where you’re walking around in this environment but the game is feeding conversation options in from a bank of conversation it has all the time, which is triggered by the knowledge model that it’s tracking in the game.” (Ingold)

How often do levels require back-tracking or revisiting areas?

How is the game narrative communicated through the level design and environment art?

The game narrative and environment art are stunning.

We were really lucky when we hired Laura Dilloway, who’s our lead environment artist, because she had done some level design on LittleBigPlanet and other titles…and so we ended up with a process where I would kind of write a scene and say “this is what I think the characters are doing in this scene and this is roughly what I think the geometry needs to be like to make that work,” and she would take that and turn it into more of a level design space.

How does the level design control the player’s line of sight and guide them through the environment?

Are there good examples of well-placed hazards, enemies and obstacles?

Are there examples of well placed collectables, rewards or secrets?

Are there any examples of interesting missions, quests, puzzles or tasks the player is asked to perform?

How is difficulty progression handled, for example does the game get harder as it goes?

Do players lose progress for failure, and are there checkpoints within levels?

A mini playtesting week after Level Design, feedback suggests

  • Collectables
  • Not challenging
  • Got lost, didn’t understand where to go
  • Took ages to find the second level
  • Not fun enough
  • Very Abzu, not enough Ori and the Blind Forest

Further Level Design Ideas- responding to feedback

  • You need to care about Phorkys death more
  • You get two hits and then you die, making the game harder, face periods of intense danger and then nice relaxy fun.
  • You hit an object and then you trigger a catastrophic event.
  • Dire Death Scene
  • Do I need a health bar?

Heaven’s Vault

Her Story

Her Story is a non-linear game, where you have access to archived police footage and play the part of a detective. The visual aesthetic, vignette footage, supports the audio and dialogue. “Barlow says “The aesthetic is True Detective via Blair Witch.” you are immersed in a dialogue with the interviewee and figuring out who murdered her husband.

The dialougue and performance by Viva Seifert are what makes the game standout, a game solely about seven interview clips.

Notes from dialogue design in Games research

  • Game design is narrative design
  • Story implied by Game
  • Emotion journey
  • What is Phorkys/Pen doing? Are they fighting etc
  • The meaning of verbs, is Phorkys attacking, defending, stealing, swimming?

Level Design for Phorkys

For this week’s challenge, please design the levels, environments, mission and quests for your game. Exactly what this looks like will depend on the kind of game you are making, but could include drawing maps, blocking-out levels in a game engine, creating 3D environment models, configuring enemy waves, writing quests or NPC dialogue, setting up puzzles and so on. (Falmouth University 2021)

Porky’s level design is inspired by games like Jotun, Ori and The Blind Forest and Child of Light. In all three games, nature inspires the environment, puzzles, enemies and immerses you in a fantasy world. Jotun features a series of environmental hazards like blizzards, this has inspired the wave of dangers like nets, pollution, chemicals and the natural demonstration of the power of the ocean like tidal waves. Environment effects, pollution, nets, litter leave you weak before moving into the lost city where you need to find materials to get stronger again.

Environmental puzzles – Threats to the ocean


Penelope and her robot are investigating ancient civilisations, like the ancient lost Atlantis like Lemuria in Child of Light. You also investigate forts, trading posts, shipwrecks and other buried mysteries that sunk 1000’s of years ago. Some mythological cities will be well-known, others obscure. Board Games like Lost City, Underwater Cities and many more have explored our fascination with artefacts and lost treasures buried under the sea. While this is a work of fiction each level/city will explore real and debated mythologies, learn about ancient civilisations, languages and literature.

We only have 12 weeks to create our games, so I plan to complete one full level where you discover the lost Lyonesse. I plan to have a wave of environmental puzzles in the first few levels, and hard zones in the underwater cities with one final boss fight to finish.

Narrative and Dialogue

The dialogue and storytelling are inspired by games like The First Tree, Heavens Fault and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. While playing Heavens Vault you converse with your robot while continuing gameplay, this is the approach I plan to take with Penelope and Phorkys. Like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, I want to tell a story without breaking immersion.

I’ve begun writing dialogue to implement into my game because this is an extensive document I plan to complete this task next week while also working on sound design.

“With conversation as a game pillar, we wanted to make dialogue vital, and make characters who are rich, and meaningful, and are full of hidden depths. I outlined the approach we took to Heaven’s Vault’s dialogue in a talk at Adventure X in 2018 entitled “Sparkling Dialogue”, which goes through the process of determining the subtext of each major scene, and then building choices and responses in order to reinforce and develop that subtext.” (Ingold

Special powers

Following in the footsteps of classic Metroidvania games like Hollow Knight and Song of the Deep ,Phorkys will be able to obtain special powers to help solve the puzzles at each level.

I’ve begun designing different animations and visual images for the special abilities Phorkys will adopt during Level One.

  • Speed
  • Light
  • Forcefield

Forcefield ideas



Maps and Level DesignMaps maps maps!

To start planning the puzzles and level design in Phorkys I looked for inspiration in other games and map creators!

Plotting my levels

Fig 5. Parrallel Design, Fundamentals of Game Design

“Even though the parallel layout does not require the players to pass through every available path, most players search them all anyway if the game lets them do so” (Adams: 446).


Materials on level design have been a major distraction this week!

Level Design is wide-ranging, in 3D environments it’s generally accepted that you will ‘block out’ your environment art and levels. Level Design in 2D games is a little more complicated, there are tilesets for 2D platformers but what about hand-drawn games. Concept art in the Child of Light often went straight from into the game.

Level Design has been a challenging week because my game falls a little outside of ‘typical’. I started to regret my underwater fantasy this week. The scope is so big and all my experience in writing and drawing is on-land. I’ve never thought about how to create a rich underwater world before which means I can’t pull out any old ideas I have had.

I’ve started to ‘block out’ levels with simple shapes and now I am beginning to think about how to tell a story through the environment. Thinking about how to add emotion and story-telling is the challenge this week, and I’m feeling a bit of ‘indie-games-development-block’ – my approach is to ‘push through it’. Little by little grinding through the ‘creative block’ and just keep building, trying not to stress that it isn’t going as fast as I would like this week.


Achieve a polished game that demonstrates across game design, programming, narrative design, art direction, animation, level design and sound design and especially in illustration and narrative. To give myself time to focus on art direction, animation and narrative design I am going to concentrate on the conversation between Penelope and her robot Phobot and the environment art.

List of Figures

Figure 1. Writers Map

Figure 2. Writers Map

Figure 3. Child of Light

Figure 4. MEDIEVALISTS.NET. 2014. ‘The Isles of Scilly, Lost Peaks of Lyonesse?’ [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 Mar 2021].



The Nature of Order in Game Narrative [Film]. n.d. Available at: [accessed 11 Apr 2021].

Storytelling with Verbs: Integrating Gameplay and Narrative [Film]. n.d. Available at: [accessed 11 Apr 2021].

‘Designing Investigate Conversations’. 2021. [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 Mar 2021].

FRANCIS, Bryant. 2021. ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Vault : How Inkle Designed Its First 3D Game’. [online]. Available at: /view/news/341692/Knockin_on_Heavens_Vault_How_Inkle_designed_its_first_3D_game.php [accessed 24 Mar 2021].

The Importance of Abzu [Film]. n.d. Available at: [accessed 11 Apr 2021].

CROSS, Katherine. 2019. ‘Heaven’s Vault Rewards Replays by Forcing You to Live the Theory You’re Investigating’. Polygon [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 Apr 2021].

Heaven’s Vault: Creating a Dynamic Detective Story [Film]. n.d. Available at: [accessed 11 Apr 2021].

‘Designing Investigate Conversations’. 2021. [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 Mar 2021].

ADAMS, Ernest. 2014. Fundamentals of Game Design. Third edition. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

‘Take a Look Behind-the-Scenes with Design Documents from The Legend of Zelda!’ 2021. Nintendo of Europe GmbH [online]. Available at:–1169414.html [accessed 24 Mar 2021].

‘What Is the Effect of the Lighting Design Process on Game Aesthetics and Its Influence on the Gaming Experience ?’ 2021. [online]. Available at: [accessed 24 Mar 2021].

YARWOOD, Jack. 2021. ‘How Blasphemous ’ Level Design Iterates on Classic Metroidvanias’. [online]. Available at: /view/news/353207/How_Blasphemous_level_design_iterates_on_classic_Metroidvanias.php [accessed 24 Mar 2021].