Wisp is a team-based, multiplayer game in which two teams of fairies venture out into the night and compete to gather the most wisps, or spirits of the forest. As fairies, players traverse a forest landscape while ringing their bell to attract wisps. The player then returns to their home base to turn-in the wisps that they've collected. Some wisps are special, though. Some offer the player special abilities like a speed burst, a decoy that can be dropped to trick other players, or the ability to steal an opponent's wisps.
I acted as a lead designer on Wisp, my senior game at Champlain College. I focused specifically on level design, overseeing the design of every level and designing one of my own.
The level that I worked on the most was called Great Tree. It was the first level that was created in the game and it evolved with the development of the mechanics. The first iteration of the level was built to test out our idea for the game. At this point we knew it was a game featuring two teams that collect wisps. The level was flat with large blocks that players could jump on. Wisps were scattered around the environment and players could jump and run around to collect them.
This first iteration proved to us that the idea was enjoyable and testers liked to compete to collect the most wisps. What they didn't like, however, was jumping. Jumping wasn't extremely intuitive and it was difficult to jump accurately. There was a lot of smashing into walls. What I learned from this is that environments shouldn't need to be traversed by jumping.
For the second iteration, I did a way with jumping obstacles, but I still wan't some verticality. This is a game about fairies, after all. How interesting are fairies that are confined to the ground? Not very.
The ground is basically flat with some lumps in the terrain to make it feel more natural. On top of that I added some towers that have spiraling ramps so players can easily get on top, and they can move from tower to tower using bridges. Players liked this style of verticality, so I decided to optimize on that.
I decided to make the focus of the level be a giant tree that was partially hollowed out, and that had roots that acted as ramps that the players could climb up. This tree had two stories that the players could move between and it also had a large pit under it. This was an attempt at making verticality that went in both directions. The pit was pretty deep and could only be gotten out of by a long spiraling ramp. The issue with the pit goes back to the awkward controls. It was difficult to get all the way up the ramp, and players often made it pretty far up and then plummeted back down to the bottom. This wasn't fun at all! In fact it was pretty frustrating. What I learned from this was that players like verticality but only when it doesn't trap them in a pit.
Fourth (and final) Iteration
Up until now, all of the versions of Great Tree started the teams on opposite sides of the map. This works for a lot of competitive shooters, because the objective is to shoot members on the other team, but that's not the objective of this game. Wisp is much more passive, with objective being collection of wisps in the environment. Because of this, opposing teams often did not encounter each other at all. They were just minding their own business, collecting wisps.
For the final version I put the team bases on the same side, so right from the start there are players interacting with each other.
As for the layout of this map, I got rid of the annoying pit. I made the tree itself something that can be easily moved on. There are two stories inside the tree and then a space under the tree. This ended up working very well. Players could interact with each other, using steal and speed boost wisps, and they could climb to the top of the tree and jump off using the floaty glide of the fairies. I also made sure that the sides of the map around the tree were somewhat expansive so players had some room to move around and explore if they wanted, which was something that our target market appreciated.