jQuery PageSlide Demo
The White Abyss. Part 3
Level Design

by: Richard Terrell  @KirbyKid

March 3, 2014

Every mission in Starseed Pilgrim starts off on a cube floating in the middle of empty white space. It doesn't take long to realize that the real experience, the goals of each level are off screen and out of view, floating somewhere in the white abyss. Players must construct platformable paths from their starting location outwards in search of keys and three-key doors. Though the game doesn't explicitly state it, the goal of Starseed Pilgrim is to enter the fleeting world, amass seeds, explore to find at least one key, return via the single-key door in the flip worlds, explore the overworld to find every pilgrim explorer, and eventually conquer each pilgrim's three-key challenge to collect the ten golden seeds. For any fleeting world level, the essential player objectives include farming seeds, exploring the area, and either returning to the overworld via the single-key door or exploring the fleeting world further to find three-key-doors; these objectives will be the focus of the remainder of the level design analysis.

#Level Design

Starseed Pilgrim's gameplay can be thought of as two genres in one. The first is the puzzle genre: Where the core gameplay revolves around taking these spatial pieces (seeds) and fitting them together, thus stressing player knowledge of the starseeds. The second is the platformer genre: Where the player controls a character in 2D side-scrolling space featuring gravity, which makes navigating vertically distinct and more engaging than navigating horizontally. With platforming, players must not only gauge JUMP distances, but also be mindful of the timing of nearby hazards and obstacles. Out of the five core types of skill (DKART: dexterity, knowledge, adaptation, reflex, and timing) puzzle games stress knowledge most of all, while platformers tend to stress timing and reflex. So when analyzing the gameplay and level design of Starseed Pilgrim, we should consider how the level limitations and mechanics shape the puzzle and platforming challenges, including how these challenges blend together.

Knowledge Dexterity Timing Reflex



















Everything discussed so far with Starseed Pilgrim's level design has been about the direct result of actions initiated by the player. It's hard to consider the seed platforms and flip world as cases of level design when the player is the one creating the structures. Ultimately, in the fleeting world, exploring the white abyss, there is no clear direction or level design. Only the hope of finding a key somewhere just off screen that drives players. And while the randomly arranged star blocks do a good job of focusing player strategies around using seeds to maneuver to or around these floating goals, their arrangement isn't consistent enough to analyze level-design-wise. That only leaves us to consider the three-key room challenges.



















The three-key rooms are what Starseed Pilgrim offers that is closest to designed levels. The stage layouts for the three-key rooms are the same every time, and each room challenges players to navigate to the floating heart using the seeds left over from progressing through the fleeting and flip worlds. Outside of these rooms, the level design in Starseed Pilgrim is very open, variable, and unable to focus the gameplay in specific ways like Tetris or Boxlife. The three-key rooms are the opposite. Instead of the same starting block and white abyss dotted with randomly arranged keys to find, each three-key room is specifically designed around the nuances of the seed and pilgrim design. For example, for the purple pilgrim who can't DIG, its three-key room is one where there are two main paths to the goal. (see image 17 and 18 above) One path goes down and to the right. The other goes upwards. Though requiring a bit of luck, the low path is far more efficient to take. Because you can't DIG, though, you have to be careful which seeds to use, or you can easily fail. I wish more of Starseed Pilgrim was designed like these three-key rooms.


Starseed Pilgrim is more puzzle than platformer. Still, restricting seed use via avatar position is quite elegant.
Read the next article in this series:
The White Abyss Part 4: Randomness
comments powered by Disqus

©2014 Game.Play.Critique. All rights reserved. Designed using Adobe Muse

v 1.2, April 2014

status: live