About Project Tundra

Project Tundra (working title) is an atmospheric puzzle platformer, in which I served as both a gameplay programmer and, perhaps more vitally, the level designer. The game was developed with a team of six students as part of our “internship” – an alternative to working in an established company was to take part in a student start-up company, which seemed like an interesting opportunity to me.

While I was initially hired as a gameplay programmer, the indie nature of our team meant that some of us had to adopt multiple jobs – I became the level designer, which might have turned out to be one of my more apparent additions to the game. My love for sound of course also made its way into the game, as I was also responsible for sound effects and the music. For the music, I temporarily used two tracks from an instrumental album I am currently working on, as placeholder.

The Game

The game itself is a platforming game with simple puzzle elements combined to evoke interesting gameplay situations. It is set in a surrealistic environment, with the tundra being the central environment through which the player can access the various landmarks, all with a certain theme, like the lighthouse landmark, which features several floating islands and elements of a harbour.

The game’s central mechanic is the sword and the chain attached to it – the sword can be thrown or thrust into specific pinnable surfaces, but a chain constrains the player to it so that they may not stray too far from it. This also allows the player to swing from the chain and climb it when it is hanging. The sword being pinned also removes the weight of the sword from the player, allowing to move faster and jump higher.

Technology involved

  • Unreal Engine 4 (Blueprints programming)
  • Photoshop
  • 3Ds Max
  • Sourcetree (Github repository)

What did I do?

  • Level Design
    • Tutorial/introduction area
    • Floating islands
    • Lighthouse boss battle
  • Game mechanics design & implementation
    • Various things in the player and sword, but not main focus
    • Levers & mechanisms
    • Weighted platforms
    • Surface climbing (climbing flower patches)
    • Puzzle Piece collectible: one of two collectible types that require the player to piece together a scrambled picture in order to collect it. These pictures are currently surrealist art pieces, but will be replaced by custom art in the future.
    • Aiming mode
    • Black mass (cloud of black goo that can be slashed through)
    • Black goo puddles (puddles that lethally corrupt the player on contact)
  • Scrapped/currently unused features
    • Boss battle: I started working on a Zelda-esque boss fight with the “Fear Guardian”, but we decided to put that feature on the sidelines while we focussed on the rest of the lighthouse landmark.
    • Physics-based chain (scrapped): while the chain currently has no gravity or physics, I tried several methods to accomplish this at first, but it proved far too unstable/glitchy.
    • Turtle sailing: you can pin your sword to a turtle for an alternative kitesurfing-esque movement mode.
    • Twin statues puzzle: a puzzle in which there are numerous statues spread around, and your goal is to find the two statues in the same pose.
    • Maze, first iteration: the player needs to follow a firefly through a two-story maze via a pseudo-random path to get to the end of the maze before freezing to death without light to warm you. The firefly leads you to selected lanterns that are lit as safe places where you can warm up, from where you need to find the next lantern.
    • Maze, second iteration: another, short-lived take on the maze was a circular maze consisting of rings that may be rotated from the center. The goal here would have been to rotate all the rings so that a straight path is created, where a lightbeam could shine through. The difficulty here would be that multiple rings may rotate at the same time.
    • Fireflies: before a more typical lever-based system was used for the various mechanisms, I developed the firefly mechanic. When the player approaches a firefly, it will start to follow them around. Their light may activate mechanisms when approached, and. and they may be commanded to stick themselves into lanterns to activate mechanisms as the player moves about. As each added firefly intensifies the light they emit, this increased light range and intensity may activate mechanisms that are further away.
  • User Interface & related programming
    • Game HUD
    • Pause screen
    • Settings
    • Collectibles interface
    • Puzzle piece collectible
  • Audio & sound design
    • Original Soundtrack
    • Sound Effects
    • Ambience
  • Post-processing: outlines
  • Various materials and effects
The first level design iteration, every island has been heavily modified since.