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  • Postmortem: Kraven Manor

    - Benjamin Roye
  • [Student designer Benjamin Roye takes a look at how his team approached Kraven Manor, an ambitious horror game that narrowed its scope significantly during development.]

    This article is reprinted from and therefore is intended for both game industry and non-game industry audiences.

    What is a postmortem?

    Hi, my name is Ben Roye and I am the Game Designer for Kraven Manor. A postmortem is an article written to expose very transparently all of the good and bad things that happen during development of a particular game -- in this case, Kraven Manor. It also takes a look at what the team learned, and how that knowledge could be applied forward to future games made by the team, or to game development in general.

    In the beginning...

    Some of the core ideas for Kraven Manor were based on a board game called Betrayal at House on the Hill. Ben Klingler already talked about this is a previous post; however, in order to give context to what I'm about to go into, I will recap. Betrayal is a very modular game. Players draw "room tiles" and place them wherever they want and wherever they fit. This allows players to essentially create the mansion's floor plan in front of them -- it gives players a grand sense that they are the architects of their own game. It's a powerful emotion. We wanted to incorporate that emotion into Kraven Manor early on in the design process. Betrayal also had "haunts" -- cooperative objectives that, if satisfied, would win the game for the players. Kraven Manor also had haunts early on. The statue haunt, now the entire Kraven Manor experience, was meant to be one of many haunts that would occur semi-randomly for the player. This would give the game some replayability and potentially a longer sales tail since the game could be played through more than once.

    Games start with cool ideas. Great games have cool ideas and great execution throughout...

    We knew even before we started developing the game that we had some pretty neat design principles set up. Kraven Manor would essentially be a player walking from room to room, with new content popping up semi-randomly in front of them. When the game started, the game's tech picked 1 of 3 random haunts for the player to complete during their playthrough. The structured random experience was intended to take the player through a game not unlike Blizzard North's Diablo. There were certain story bits and larger mechanics that the player would experience in an order of the level design team's choosing; the order of the rest of the content -- the minor details -- would be left up to the game's technology to decide. Specifically, we said that there had to be distinctions in the type of rooms that the tech would call for:

    • Story rooms: rooms that held story-based content and drove the narrative forward and the haunt closer to completion. The player had to find these in a linear order in order to make sense.

    • Exploration rooms: these rooms sometimes included hallways and sometimes were just dead ends. They held gameplay that I will discuss further down the page, but were mostly just for giving the player something to do in between story moments.

    • Puzzle rooms: these rooms specifically held puzzles that the player had to solve to progress further into the manor. At this point in time, the puzzles all were 3D map puzzles. (See side story below.)

    • Safe Haven rooms: These rooms were the only safe rooms in the manor. They contained a projector that players could turn on to access the game's interactive game menu. Projectors also allowed the player to play film reels that they had been collecting all around the mansion in order to glimpse small segments of a longer backstory film.

    • The 3D Map: Early on, the lead level designer and myself came up with an idea that the player would encounter rooms that they could move and rotate by interacting with an map. The map doubled as a way to show that the rooms were moving in real space when the player interacted. There was a problem with 2D maps because they didn't connote the Z axis very well. So we prototyped a 3D map that would better illustrate how the rooms were moving in relation to one another. This 3D map prototype later became the room table in the entryway.

    • The Proof of Concept: Technology was a success internally. In fact, the team had accomplished their semi-random experience design goal. The art team created highly functional modular assets. This allowed the level design team to quickly create an astounding amount of content for our first milestone. In two and a half weeks, we had created a concept demo that took around 20 minutes to walk through. However, there wasn't much in the way of content, other than walking around and refilling your flashlight's batteries.


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