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Blocktober: About the 'lava to stone' mecanic.🔧⚙️

Blocktowhat? (not a Pokemon)

#Blocktober on Twitter (initiated by game designer Michael Barclay) celebrates the art of "blocking out" levels in video games.

“Blocking out/in” an area in a game is done to show the scale of an area and to plan how the player will move through it

It's one of the earliest stages of the level design process where level designers visualize how players will interact in the map and move through. Everything is extremely rough. There is no art, texture work, lightning and other pretty nice details.

To celebrate the Blocktober 2019, our level designer Simon Swinscoe will share with you the creative process of the 'lava to stone' mecanic (in the last levels of the Mountain of Fire world):

This feature was initialy conceived a long time ago when pitching ideas for the levels. The idea was that the player could get the Iron Fan from King Bull’s wife (Princess Iron Fan), and that it was so powerfull that it could cool down lava. In the original story, Wukong uses it to cool down the whole mountain.

So it was rappidly prototyped as a mockup, without great precision. The idea was that it was a platform that you could activate when a lava jet was coming out of the lava, it stayed for a few seconds, then it cracked, and after a couple seconds more the lava jet was flowing again. And for some lava jets, the platform created was breakable blocks by blocks, so sometimes you had to break your way through to go high enough to reach the next platform or to open up a way.

It was presented to the team who found it cool, but it wasn’t the priority to make this level at the time as it was one of the last levels of the game.

After that, at least 6 months passed until it was time to develop this level. Since 6 months had passed, we had even less time to code the thing and it was almost scrapped. The design team pushed it because we knew it was full of possibilities. So it was decided that we had to prototype the mecanic again but with a behavior that could be easily transposable in every way needed in one single object. And it had to be perfectly ready to be implemented in a finalized level until it was coded, and could be easily replaced by the final object without making changes to the level.

Then, a new prototype arrived, made with our visual scripting tool "Playmaker", but with cooler mecanics, like a physical behavior that made other blocks fall down, and you could break the lava column blocks by blocks but with smaller blocks than initially prototyped, respecting the size of the smallest hit of a player. You could also freeze the lava at any point from the beginning of its flow.

This prototype was rappiddly done as well. And it showed how much possibilities it really had. You could put it in all directions, you could make a wall through which you had to dig, you could wall jump between them, you could make timed challenges. A whole level was made using it in a lot of different ways, like all good GPEs.

But once it was given to the programmers, they said it would be a really complex object to make. It took much longer to code than to prototype, but of course, the coded object would be more optimized than the prototype. Because making every blocks of a column fall at once was costly on the CPU. So it was decided that the blocks would shake and then explode. This was cool because it allowed new variants in gameplay where you could stand on a rock floating in the air before it exploded.

Also, on the art side of the object, the lava flow was originally supposed to be organic. But since it would be made of blocks, it would have been even more complex to do it like it was originally thought. So it ended being lava blocks. And finally, since it respected LD rules, and was already put in the level as the prototype, once the object was coded, the prototype was easily replaced in the whole levels, and...it worked !