For a week and a half I had to work in a vertical slice of an Escape Room building it from the ground up, while focusing on simple mechanics with even more simple input controls and a low poly aesthetic to fit among Decentraland's smallest parcels limitations.
I had the pleasure to work with Laura Usón as an Artist, Javier Diez as a Level Designer (go give them a follow, they're both great) and some other friends of Polygonal Mind as testers, who made sure the level of difficulty of the puzzles stayed consistent throughout the experience.
I can't stress enough how important having a fresh pair of eyes is, specially after working a few days on something to get rid of your tunnel vision; grab some friends from all the backgrounds (hardcore gamers, mobile gamers, casual gamers, non gamers...) and make them play your stuff!
First things first, what's an Escape Room?
If you haven't been living under a rock, you probably already know this. But for the people out there who still don't know about the existence of these fun group experiences, an escape room is a themed timed challenge where with the help of other people you try to solve all the puzzles necessary in order to get out of that room before the timer goes off, usually lasting around 60 minutes. There are of many types: more logical, more physical, with actors, military themed, zombie lab themed, and so on.
Beating the designer's blank page block
Level Design and iteration
After deciding what kind of puzzles we were going to use, we proceeded doing a simple block out for level design. Personally I prefer to do it in 3D and then test whether is it good or not by test and iteration, but this time the team decided to do an overview on paper first, and then translate it to a 3d block out.
Once that was out of the way, we made a list of the props that would be needed for the room, in order so Laura and I could work at the same pace, she made the models and texturing, and I took care of the sounds, puzzles and coding.
I started using the FPS Controller from the Standard Packages from Unity. I tweaked it to disable jumping and camera bob and then began with the puzzle experimentation.
Here's a video of how the sound slider puzzles looked in the beginning (they were wall levers, and the controls were click + drag instead of just left click or right click):
Here is a video comparison where you can see the progress on the sound puzzle.
I went through a couple of iterations, where the sliders were still levers but a lot smaller than the wall ones in the first video, and they weren't attached to the radio, but this confused players.
Ultimately, the players associate the sliders with sound, and it's a lot easier to understand that higher frequency sounds go up, and lower frequency sounds go down. This wouldn't have been able to get fixed without play testing.
Every puzzle I went through the same iteration process just showed above:
The cherry on the top
All the team made a great effort to make this project work in a short period of time, we used Unity because it seems to be what Decentraland is going to end up using. Most of the post processing tweaks we added won't be available to be used in DLC anytime soon, but still we wanted this small demo to shine.
I had a blast working with skilled peers and although I usually work as a 3D artist, I love doing some coding and SFX work from time to time.
Small challenges with tight deadlines push you out of the comfort zone, and make you focus on what's important, making it work and shipping it on time. You cannot get lost on polishing or get stuck into improving your code, if it works, just move on to the next thing on the list.
This was an awesome experience and I'd be pleased to do more stuff like this in the future!
Soon we'll be releasing a link to download and play the Escape Room :)
Alejandro Bielsa is a junior 3D artist working at Polygonal Mind's in-house team.
Passionate about videogames, vivid tutorial drinker and cat lover.