Metaverse Adventures is an in-house learning project meant to be deployed eventually this year on Decentraland. It consists of a series of seasonally themed Escape Rooms for players to enjoy inside the virtual world.
Some friends to test the game out
For a week and a half, I worked on a vertical slice of an Escape Room, building it from the ground up. The focus was on simple mechanics with even simpler input controls, and we aimed for a low-poly aesthetic to fit within Decentraland's smallest parcel limitations.
I had the pleasure of collaborating with Laura Usón as an Artist and Javier Diez as a Level Designer (go give them a follow, they're both great). Additionally, some other friends from Polygonal Mind served as testers, ensuring the puzzles' difficulty level remained consistent throughout the experience.
I cannot stress enough the importance of having a fresh pair of eyes, especially after working for a few days on something and developing tunnel vision. It's crucial to invite friends from diverse backgrounds, including hardcore gamers, mobile gamers, casual gamers, and non-gamers, to playtest your creation!
If you haven't been living under a rock, you probably already know this. But for those who are still unfamiliar with 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 to escape from a locked room before the timer runs out. The typical duration of these experiences is around 60 minutes. Escape rooms come in various types, such as logical, physical, with actors, military-themed, zombie lab-themed, and many others.
Beating the designer's blank page block
Like most aspects of the game development industry, the beginning of the process consists of a brainstorming session to get a feel for what we're trying to achieve. During this stage, there are no good or bad ideas; they're all just ideas.
Some key factors we had to keep in mind were:
Keep it simple, with a small room that fits within the 16x16m LAND size limits of DCL.
We decided early on that we wanted it to be a World War II-themed military bunker escape room.
Incorporate at least 4 puzzles, each with a different focus: skill, hearing, logic, and investigation tests.
Level Design and iteration
After deciding what kind of puzzles we were going to use, we proceeded to do a simple blockout for level design. Personally, I prefer to do it in 3D and then test whether it is good or not through testing and iteration. However, this time the team decided to start with an overview on paper first and then translate it to a 3D blockout.
Once that was out of the way, we made a list of the props that would be needed for the room, in order for Laura and me to work at the same pace. She made the models and handled texturing, while I took care of the sounds, puzzles, and coding.
I started using the FPS Controller from the Standard Packages in Unity. I tweaked it to disable jumping and camera bobbing, and then began experimenting with the puzzles.
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. They weren't attached to the radio, but this confused players.
Ultimately, the players associated the sliders with sound, and it became a lot easier to understand that higher frequency sounds go up, and lower frequency sounds go down. This wouldn't have been fixed without playtesting.
Every puzzle I went through the same iteration process as shown above:
TVs making a logical order started as paintings that you had to order in the beginning.
The valves followed a simpler pattern instead of the more random-like pattern they have now.
The lighting statue one was just a matter of perspective.
After all the puzzles were coded and working accordingly, we merged the props in the scene and relinked everything to work with the new visuals.
It ended up looking great!
The cherry on the top
After fixing small bugs and errors, tweaking the player speed, and adding a UI, the only thing left was to polish the whole project, ensuring the player experienced the room as we initially intended.
I added some sounds, particles, and screen effects that go off at specific times, aiming to make the player feel more stressed out as the timer approached its end.
The whole team made a great effort to make this project work in a short period of time. We chose Unity because it seems to be what Decentraland is going to end up using. Although most of the post-processing tweaks we added won't be available for use in DLC anytime soon, we still 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 your comfort zone and make you focus on what's important: making it work and shipping it on time. You cannot get lost in polishing or get stuck in 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 :)