In the end, this game came together well because the team was now very comfortable creating quality content for the Skylander's universe. Giving the player the ability to create their own playable Skylanders characters finally fulfilled the dream that Skylanders fans had been asking for since the first game. Because TFB changed game engines at the beginning of the project, the challenge for the level design team was to create even better Skylander levels using an unfamiliar and less robust tool set.
The Abandoned Amusement Park Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
I originally pitched this level as a junkyard adventure where the Skylanders assemble a super cool giant robot out of unique parts and pieces collected throughout the location.
However, Art had different plans - a large creepy abandoned amusement park. The actual thing the player was building changed form, along with the gameplay mechanics, several times over the course of development, due to art, story, and publisher feedback. While this process was a challenge, the finished level was still fun and playtested well with the kids.
My goal was to create a simple platforming traversal level with gentle ramping and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. I organized and paced the layout using small gameplay challenges, hidden areas and a variety of enemy encounters arenas.
I created clear panoramic level viewpoints to help the player preview the different areas before they reached them. The level traversal was broken up into several theme park inspired zones: Haunted Overlook, Pirate Sea Land, Birthday Cake Surprise, Space World and the Winterland Summit.
I am fond of the jumping shark in the Pirate Area.
Dark Realm Elemental Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
After doing several different rolling ball/pinball style puzzles in the previous Skylanders game I wanted to create a complete level with similar mechanics. A side benefit of using the new game engine was it could handle physics puzzles more gracefully than the old TFB tools.
I used darkness to shroud the level and the player was required to use the Light Ball to find their way and light up the path as they progressed. Because I was limiting the player by using the darkness as a challenge we kept the enemy encounters and level pacing very forgiving so the player could take their time and enjoy exploration.
The lights were a heavy performance load, so I was happy I took the time when building the level to have a plan for dealing with potential issues, once the level was filled with assets. I took great care in their placement, making sure they were used efficiently. I also added a few extra, that could be removed later, as a way of adding a performance buffer.
With jump finally added to the Skylander's character abilities a whole new world opened up for the level design team to explore. Wii support proved to be a useful technical challenge.
Time Town Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
This level started off well. I quickly realized I was having lots of fun playing around with clockwork themed platforming. While doing visual research I was inspired by intricate skeleton clocks and the glockenspiel clocks found in some common spaces.
This level was used as the "vertical slice" example for Skylanders: Trap Team. I worked closely with Mike Ebert to confirm the layout and level progression. His support was a big help in getting this level finished so quickly.
The Earth Elemental Area (Video) in this level was heavily influenced by the first screen of the Sega arcade game Congo Bongo - 1983.
Nightmare Express Level Pack First Half - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
On this expansion pack, I designed the first half and Ray West created the last half. The start area was wide open with a number of areas to both discover and explore. Line of sight to "hidden" locations is provided for the observant player. The next area is based around a 3 lock door with enemy tanks providing a challenge. The player then enters the "Temple of Boom" interior and the gameplay pace is relaxed slightly with a push block challenge and some light platforming. The last challenge involves rolling a large bomb through "mini golf" inspired terrain to destroy a Mid Boss Tank blocking the path.
Midnight Museum Ball Room #1 - (Video)
Midnight Museum Ball Room #2 - (Video)
Midnight Museum Ball Room #3 - (Video)
Dark Element Gate - (Video)
Confident from the early success of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, we set out to quickly build a quality sequel with a one year turn around. The toy evolution (bigger size, deeper characters and now with lights!) proved to be a safe and smart decision. The level design team was brimming with new ideas and the stage was set for continued success.
Drill-X's Big Rig Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
Because Skylander characters STILL did not have a dedicated jump button, I continued to do a variety of platforming setups by using the Bounce Pads in creative combinations with other elements. I gently ramped conveyor / crusher gameplay at the beginning then moved on to more platformer-like setups in the second half. The best work involving Bounce Pad setups can be seen in several of the hidden interior rooms and in the Earth Elemental Area found midway through the level.
Lost City of Arkus Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
I like putting small backtrack secret areas at the beginning of a level for curious players to discover. This level has one of my favorite examples because is it harder to find, contains some simple gameplay and gives an nice area overview.
Lost City of Arkus evolved into a large level using a wide variety of gameplay mechanics. It utilized platforming and barrel hazards, ball rolling challenges, pushblock laser beam puzzles all together with an expansive layout populated with carefully hidden elements and locations.
Kaos' Kastle - entrance/dungeon areas - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
I utilized two stand alone pushblock puzzles as the foundation for this layout. The first pushblock puzzle is in the pool directly after we “gate” the player with the locked front door to the Kastle. The second pushblock puzzle is in a “Goonies” inspired underground dungeon area that must be explored to find a way inside the Kastle. It eventually exits back to the surface leading to an enemy battle arena that finally unlocks the front door.
I joined the Toys for Bob Skylanders Team during the final year of development. Confidence was high due to the "Toys-to-Life" hook testing so well with children.
It was very easy to get started at TFB because the robust scripting language allowed for rapid iteration and there were many already polished examples of levels and gameplay mechanics to learn from.
Skylanders very conspicuously did NOT have a jump button, but I knew I could do a variety of platforming set ups by using the Bounce Pads in creative combinations with other objects.
Crawling Catacombs Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
After getting up to speed using the tools, I was given the opportunity to create whatever I wanted. We were on a tight schedule, so I designed the level quickly, and re-purposed unused mesh for the "low-light" section, saving me and our level artist time. It was an interesting and enjoyable challenge to create gameplay that fit into those spaces well.
Stormy Stronghold Air Elemental Area (Video)
Battlefield Undead Elemental Area (Video)
Creepy Citadel Air Elemental Area (Video)
This project was a challenge because I came onto the team with one week to learn the game and play with the tools before I went into full production. It was a "digital only" release and was not the A-list Tomb Raider video game being developed on other side of the studio. However, core ideas for this game were so rock solid that I could not resist: Twin stick shooter inspired by Robotron/SmashTV with a wide variety of physical puzzles. Co-op gameplay with tons griefing opportunities. Tomb Raider theme, retro game feel with high quality art and animation. Two minutes after seeing it played for the first time I told them that I wanted to work on this game.
Twisting Bridge Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
I used a simple twisting path with vertical elements and a hub layout to help guide the player. Flap platform traversal puzzles and enemy battles were the key challenges. The rolling boulders hazards on the end of level staircase was one of those rare cases where the first time implementation worked correctly right away and pretty much remained unchanged.
With the success of LOTR: Two Towers, EA moved development of LOTR: Return of the King back in-house to EA Redwood Shores. Times were good as the assembled team was excited about the potential for more success. We created a AAA movie-based next generation console video game that actually received good reviews! Amazing! Lets make a better one!
The Southern Gate Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
This was the proof of concept level for the 2 player co-operative hack and slash gameplay. I set up a simple and effective enemy spawning/movement framework that worked similar to the offensive/defensive movement dynamics in a soccer match. I demoed the level at E3 2003 and won a Special Merit Award for my work on the design implementation.
Shelob's Lair Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
I have to admit the real star of this level was the sound design and it contains some of my favorite voice over work.
Shelob's Lair was a linear level paced well with light exploration at the beginning of the cave. Torch and fire related interactions mixed nicely with enemy setups. The flammable web barriers and the spider swarm pools were effective in gating the players speed of progression and provided light puzzle opportunities. Several key cinematic moments rounded out the experience.
The demo at E3 2002 received strong positive feedback and raised everyone's expectations. I joined EA right after the show and led the redesign and completion of the Westfold level. I had worked at Stormfront Studio on Blood Wake for the Xbox, so it was familiar and easy to rejoin the studio now working for Electronic Arts to help finish up LORT: TT.
EA and Stormfront followed through with a great movie video game worthy of the LOTR film series rising popularity.
The Westfold Level - PLAYTHROUGH VIDEO
I shaped the gameplay in this level to emphasize explosives. Placed bomb stashes and suicide bombers spawns provided the foundation along with traditional melee enemies attacks. Strategic bow usage rewarded the advanced player with blast splash damage payoffs. However, the mindful player must use some caution as space is somewhat limited and the enemies are constantly encroaching.
Most of the design tasks involved some layout adjustments, camera scripting, enemy spawner work along with hooking up all the story related elements.
This was my first real lead game design opportunity. I was brought in to wrap up the final game design, create the majority of the remaining level layouts and finish the game. Most of the work was done in Budapest requiring frequent travel.
Coming in at a hefty 32 MB, this was the last Sega Genesis game published by Sega of America. Appaloosa (formerly Novotrade) had significant 68000 experience and very mature Genesis game design tools due to their productive history creating games with SOA. Most of the stunning game art was created by Zsolt Balogh who did excellent work on the Ecco the Dolphin games.
I created manageable hub maps to give level progression variety. A light use of gameplay mechanics with vehicles inside the hubs reinforced exploration and helped mask linearity. The level maps themselves used simple ramping and layering of mechanics. Exploration, nested puzzles with pretty much no empty dead ends was the order of the day.
The game was packed with features and supported single player and co-op player across all gameplay modes, even in the vehicles and boss fights. It had a cool minimap (that no one ever used), 6-button joypad support and 3D rendered sprite animations that were so hip at the time.
Rough Road is my favorite level. (video).
I have very good memories of working on this game. The team in Budapest treated me like family. I was very fortunate to have this kind of experience so early in my career.
In the fall of 1983 I wrote and self published a strategy guide for the arcade smash hit Dragon's Lair. My Father loaned me the money to print up 500 copies and place a single 1/6 page ad in Electronic Games magazine. It was a surprising success that eventually netted over $5,000. I bought a Black Knight pinball machine for $400 and started planning another strategy guide for Space Ace which was soon to be released in the arcades...
In early 1984, my Dad purchased a used 128k Macintosh computer and I was in computer heaven. The Mac remained in my father's den for several months, pretty much only being used by me until I "liberated it" and took it to my room. My Dad said nothing.
Learning to use Mac Paint and Mac Draw in combination with the ImageWriter Printer it became clear that I could produce a Mastering Space Ace strategy guide digitally.
I was still waiting for the arcade release of Space Ace to begin studying the game documenting the patterns. I called the major Portland area arcades regularly to ask if they had it yet. Finally, the Eastport Plaza Mall arcade got one and my Mom would drop me off so I could play for a few hours at a time learning the game. Soon the game was available in arcades much closer to my home and I got a drivers license. It became much easier for me to continue documenting the patterns.
Grinding on that game to discover the patterns by myself and laying out the strategy guide digitally was my first true taste of tedious video game related work and I was ok with it.
In the end, I figure I pretty much broke even on the Mastering Space Ace guide. Video games and arcades were crashing hard at the time. I was happy to learn how to master Space Ace on my own and was satisfied with the profits already in the bank from the Mastering Dragon's Lair strategy guide.
I am a huge fan of coin operated arcade video games; especially the games created during the "Golden Age of the Arcades" (1978 - 1983). I am especially fond of the Williams Electronics Big Four: Defender, Stargate, Robotron: 2084 and Joust. Defender is my "Desert Island" game.
I enjoy fixing, restoring and maintaining these old machines. This has become much easier because of the internet providing communication and access to resources. It's fun doing the basic electronics work and it helps that the systems are so simple.
Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar have autographed my Defender, Stargate and Robotron: 2084 marquees. Sam Decker signed my Defender Marquee. I plan to get John Newcomer to autograph my Joust and Joust 2 Marquees. I also will get Lonnie "LON" McDonald to put up a 9,999,999 on my Joust.
Wanted: Gravitar, Reactor, Spy Hunter, Super Sprint and a Warlords cocktail.