Half-Life 2 – Quest for Dog’s Spark

Level Summary

Development Time: 5 months

Level Description: This singleplayer Half-Life 2 level takes place within an old underground temple located within a mountain. The game space consists of three mian areas: a small desert exterior just outside the entrance to the temple, the interior of the underground temple that contains several dangerous puzzles, and an additional small exterior on the outside of the temple’s exit. The player’s objective is to traverse through the temple; making their way past the puzzles, in order find Dog’s spark and then give it to him.

Goals:

Link to Level File

Quest for Dog’s Spark.zip

Documentation

Level Design Doc

Create a series of well balanced and compelling puzzles

> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle Index:

> Return to Puzzle Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 1 Example Index:

Puzzle 1 – The Arrow Wall

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Created a puzzle with floor triggers and walls that shoot arrows
  • WHY: To force the player to sprint to complete the puzzle
Sprint forward to avoid a quick death

Additional Details

The first puzzle was one of the easier puzzles to balance, as most people that played it did not have a problem figuring out how to solve it. This was due to the straightforward text hint of “A true hero sprints towards his destiny”, which essentially tells the player to sprint to get past the puzzle. However, I did have some problems early on with the puzzle when some people would just immediately start walking right into the puzzle and then die because they were unfamiliar with the fact that my level had deadly traps. I created a solution to this problem by having an Antlion spawn and run into the trap to die. This shows the player that the temple has some deadly traps and they had better be on their toes.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

> Return to Puzzle Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 2 Example Index:

Puzzle 2 – Moving Pistons

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Created a large piston that drops from the ceiling followed by two smaller pistons with sawblades at the height of the player’s chest
  • WHY: To force the player to sprint and then duck to complete the puzzle
Run to escape danger…or be squished
Duck to avoid surprises…or be cut up

Additional Details

The second puzzle, along with all the puzzles after it, was where the puzzle balance and redesign of puzzles really began. While this puzzle has a pretty straightforward text hint “Run to escape danger, duck to avoid surprises”, meaning sprint past the first piston and duck past the two remaining pistons, I again had the problem of players running into the puzzle unaware of the danger and then getting themselves killed.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 2 – Door of Bars

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Added a door of bars to the entrance of the puzzle
  • WHY: To prevent the player from prematurely activating the puzzle
Bars to slow the player down

Additional Details

Initially this was because the puzzle did not activate until the player stepped into it. The first piston would come crashing down as soon as the player stepped underneath it and if they did not immediately sprint out of the way they were killed. I tried fixing this problem by spawning an Antlion and having it run through the puzzle activating the pistons before the player got to it, but some players would still manage to start the puzzle before the Antlion. The way I fixed the problem was by putting up a door of bars that only opens after the Antlion completes its death march through the puzzle. This in turn forces the player into watching the puzzle turn on and get a glimpse at how it works before trying to get past it.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

> Return to Puzzle Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 3 Example Index:

Puzzle 3 – Safe Tiles

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Created a puzzle where only the safe tiles to step on spell the word “water”
  • WHY: To add my own twist to the puzzle seen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Spelling “water” reveals the safe path across

Additional Details

The third puzzle had two main problems with it during the development of the level. The first was the original text hint that accompanied it which was “The element that gives life leads the way.” This wording lead to confusion about what I meant about element and when some people went to solve it they tried spelling out words from the periodic table and when that did not work they would get frustrated and ask for help or quit. What I actually meant by element was earth, air, water, and fire. So I changed the hint to “Of the four elements that give life, this one leads the way” in order to narrow down the possible words and get the player thinking closer to the word “water.” Another problem was the fact that jumping from one safe tile to the next was a bit difficult, especially for those not used to jumping in Half-Life 2. The way I fixed this was by making the collision box of the safe tiles slightly bigger than the actual tile itself, giving the player a little bit of wiggle room when attempting to land on a safe tile.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 3 – Breakable Tiles

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that the unsafe tiles can be broken by physics objects
  • WHY: To let the player solve the puzzle another way
Using an Antlion to break the unsafe tiles

Additional Details

In order to make the puzzle solvable in more than one way I changed the way the floor tiles break. Originally, they only broke when the player stepped on them. Therefore, I made it so the floor tiles break when a physics object touches them. That way the player can quickly reveal some of the unsafe tiles by either throwing rocks or even an Antlion at the tiles.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

> Return to Puzzle Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 4 Example Index:

Puzzle 4 – Knock Debris Down

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that the player has to knock down debris held up by wooden planks
  • WHY: To have the debris land on the bridge and reveal where the collision is for it
Knock debris down to show the safe way cross
Lots of fallen debris reveal where the bridge is

Additional Details

When designing the fourth puzzle I toyed a lot with how I would get the player to reveal where the collision is for the invisible bridge. What I ended up going with was debris held up by wooden planks in the ceiling above the bridge. The idea being that the player breaks the wooden beams in order to cause the debris to fall down on to the bridge, revealing the safe place to walk.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 4 – Hint 1

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that a few of the wooden planks break on their own when the player approaches
  • WHY: To give the player a hint on how to solve the puzzle
Debris falls to give the player a hint

Additional Details

However, I soon realized through having people test the puzzle that no one really seems to think to look up. To fix this I made it so that when the player first triggers the puzzle hint that some debris automatically falls nearby to give the player a hint at what they should do to solve the puzzle.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 4 – Hint 2

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that an Antlion runs across the bridge to get to the player
  • WHY: To give the player a hint about where the bridge is located
Ant Lion runs across bridge

Additional Details

While this solution seemed to work, players were still having problems understanding what to do to solve the puzzle. Therefore, I made an Antlion spawn every so many seconds at the other end of the bridge. The Antlion serves as another hint to an alternative way of solving the puzzle, because if the player watches the Antlion they should notice it walking on the invisible bridge as it makes its way over to the player.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

> Return to Puzzle Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 5 Example Index:

Puzzle 5 – The Wells

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made six wells, one of which the player must jump in
  • WHY: Wanted an interesting way to have the player progress to the final area of the level
6 wells, which one is the safe one?

Additional Details

Players seemed to have a lot of trouble with the fifth puzzle. Numerous times through developing the level players would be stuck at this puzzle not sure what to do to solve it.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 5 – Drop a Rock

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that in order to solve the puzzle the player must drop rocks down the wells
  • WHY: To go along with the idea of dropping a penny down a well to hear it hit the bottom
Drop a rock down a well to find out

Additional Details

In order for the player to figure out which well is the safe one they had to start by dropping a rock down one of the six wells. Getting players to do this ended up much more difficult than I anticipated. It was not until near the end of developing the level that I came up with a good solution. I made it so that when the player walks in front of the wells a piece of the ceiling breaks open dropping a rock into one of the wells allowing the player to put one and two together.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 5 – The Wrong Well

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that a wrong well expells a flaming rock that explodes
  • WHY: To give the player a clear indication that they chose incorrectly
A wrong well expells a flaming explosive rock

Additional Details

When the player drops a rock down an unsafe well, the well makes a clunk noise and shoots out a flaming explosive rock. In the original design of my level the wells did not expel anything out of them, they only made the clunk noise and the player had to try to figure out which well was the correct one just by listening. This quickly proved to be a bad idea, as I would see players just camp near a well continually listening even after the initial clunk noise. Therefore, what I ended up doing was adding the flaming explosive rocks in order to be a more obvious indication of the wrong choice.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 5 – The Correct Well

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that the correct well expels a splash of water vfx
  • WHY: To give the player a clear indication that they chose correctly
The correct well splashes water

Additional Details

When the player drops a rock down the safe well, the well makes a splashing noise complete with a large splashing vfx signaling the player it is safe to jump down because there is a pool of water below instead of solid stone. Just like the wrong wells, this was not how it was originally designed. I originally designed the correct well to just make a splashing noise, but again that was too subtle. Therefore, I made it so the well spawns a large splashing vfx that serves as a sharp contrast to the dangerous flaming rocks that shoot out of the wrong wells.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Puzzle 5 – Bottom of the Well

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that the bottom of the correct well is an underwater cave
  • WHY: To give the player a clear indication that they are approaching a new part of the level
Safely down the correct well

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Create a memorable finale

> Return to the Top of the Page <

Finale Example Index:

Antlion Trap

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that antlions spawn when the player attempts to take the spark
  • WHY: To surprise the player
Antlion trap!

Additional Details

In my original design plans, the level just ended in a small room with the spark on a pedestal. The player just grabbed the spark off the pedestal and the level would end. After feedback from some players, I realized this was kind of a letdown so I decided to go about making the ending epic. First off, I made the room a lot bigger and then made it so that the first time you try to grab the spark a series of bars raised up around it and three Antlions came out of the ground to attack you. Once all three Antlions were defeated, the bars lowered and you could grab the spark.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Platform Overview

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made platforms that spiral up from the bottom of the room to the top
  • WHY: To give the player an interesting way to leave the temple
Player must climb from the bottom to the top of the platforms to escape

Additional Details

I then added platforms that the player had to traverse in order to get to the top of the room. While I felt this little edition was definitely better then my previous ending to the level I went two steps further and added a couple more things. I made it so that when the player reached the second platform a wall broke open and an infinite number of Antlions began to spawn two at a time. This made it so that the player going up the platforms has to race for survival which in turn makes it more exciting. Once the player reached the final platform, the Antlions would stop spawning.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Feeding the Barnacles

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made it so that some of the platforms have Barnacles hanging over the platforms
  • WHY: To up the tension the player feels as he/she tries to escape the temple
Feed the hungry Barnacles above the platforms to safely pass

Additional Details

On top of that, I added Barnacles over some of the platforms in order to add one last puzzle. Initially this added puzzle was received quite poorly as many players were not sure how to solve it. Therefore, I added one last text hint on what to do “feed those that hunger above” explaining to the player that they must feed the Barnacles to the Antlions in order to safely pass on to a platform with a Barnacle overhanging it.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <

Free to Leave

What I Did and Why

  • WHAT: Made is so that when the player reaches the top of the platforms with the spark a hidden door opens that leads to the exterior of the temple
  • WHY: To give the player a sense of satisfaction that they made it through the temple
After making it to the top of the platforms the player is free to leave

Additional Details

In my original redesign of this room, just getting to the final platform ended the level. However, after some additional feedback I decided it would be a good idea to let the player escape the temple and find Dog. My initial idea for this was to make the window bars in the Well Puzzle room movable and have them open when the player got to the top platform with the spark. Sharing this idea with other people they pointed out that re-traveling through the entire temple again seemed somewhat tedious. Therefore, I added a new exterior just outside this final room of the temple and connected it via a secret door that only opens when the player makes it to the final platform with the spark. Upon making their way out of the temple, the player finds Dog who waves at them excitedly and then runs towards them.

> Return to Example Index <
> Return to the Top of the Page <