ASCENT TO HEL
Role | Solo Project Duration | 4 Weeks Tools Used | Unreal Engine 4
Ascent to Hel is level design based around the level design theory seen in linear combat experiences such as God of War. The goddess Hel rises from Niflheim intending to purge whats left of humanity so that her domain may grow ever stronger.
LEVEL THEMATIC IDEATION AND VISUAL REFERENCE
With the assignment of creating a level design revolving around the linear gameplay of God of War, I wanted to set the narrative of the level around a similar thematic of Norse mythology, ultimately landing on a level in which Hel, the Norse goddess of the underworld, has begun unleashing unspoken evils from her domain a decrepit monastery that acts as the gate between the two realms. Visual motifs prevalent to Norse mythology and Hel herself such as the blood moon, religious insignias, and revenant masks were incorporated throughout the level to push the chosen thematic.
Moodboard and Reference
Following the gathering of visual reference and ideating on a theme, I put together a rough paper map to establish a rough foundational layout for the different spaces that the player would be playing through in this level and the intended golden path through said spaces.
Following the creation of the paper map, I hopped in engine an began the blockout process by first establishing the atmosphere and lighting that would persist throughout the level. With the blood moon being a central motif of the level's thematics, I utilized post process effects, lighting, and fog to fill the level with a saturated red. During this process I was also able to adjust the light rays of the level so that they shown directly behind the monastery which would immediately draw the player's eyes to it and creating a clear affordance for the level's goals.
ATMOSPHERE AND THE CAVE
The initial level beat in Ascent to Hel leads the player into a cave in which the player first experiences the influence of Hel through a base camp where the player will happen upon slaughtered NPCs and sigils signifying Hel's arrival. This also begins the player's first combat encounter with Hel's minions.
The appearance of sigils here on forth from the level also now act as a sign of threat, danger, and imminent combat encounters, acting as both an affordance and tell for the player as well as an opportunity to push the level's narrative through environmental storytelling.
AREA 1 - ROAD TO THE MONASTERY
After exiting the cave and getting a taste for the horror that Hel and her minion's have enacted on the town's inhabitants, I wanted to explicitly highlight the destination where they would face off against this foe by framing the monastery in the center of the player's path and view. Using the black silhouettes of the trees and the mountain range as framing tools, as well as the aforementioned light rays and post process tools, the elevated monastery becomes the center focal point in the player's camera in a majority of the areas the player traverses to from this point on.
Along the way to the monastery, the player's path will be littered with the gruesome scene of slaughtered civilians and increasingly difficult combat encounters with Hel's minions to push the level's narrative and to ramp up the tension of gameplay. The path to the monastery will eventually lead the player to a river and the outskirts of town, closer to civilization and more potential horrors.
AREA 2 - WATERFALL AND TOWN
The player will find themselves at a locked gate upon attempting to enter the town for the first time, causing them to venture through the river and behind the waterfall in which they will face off against Hel's lieutenant in a mini-boss encounter to retrieve the key to the gate.
Defeating Hel's lieutenant and venturing to the top of the waterfall will reward the player with the key to the town's gate and present another vista shot with posed NPCs that explicitly highlight the monastery as the player's goal.
After gaining entrance to the town, the player will be awaited by the grisly sight of the town slaughtered as they must fight off an onslaught of Hel's minions. The various segments of the town and the different buildings that were once inhabited presented good opportunities for environmental storytelling as each building could give the player a small glimspe into the life and story of this world and its people.
AREA 3 - OUTSKIRTS AND THE MONASTERY
The outskirts area following the town acts the player's final challenge before finally entering the monastery to confront Hel. The branching paths of the outskirts present additional environmental storytelling opportunities for the player through NPCs that managed to escape from the town that were now in hiding and an additional combat encounter where the player must face off against a hoard of Hel's minions in the process of enacting their wrath on the town's people.
The player will make their ascent up to the Hel after clearing out the encounters in the outskirts, traversing up the mountainous path to the monastery. The elevated placement of the monastery not only acted as a clear affordance tool beforehand but also yields a final vista shot that allows the player to look back on all the areas they had traversed through the level.
Knowing that I wanted to set Hel's innermost sanctum and the player's destination in a convent / monastic building I looked at monasteries with Gothic and Cistercian architectural styles, landing me in the realm of buildings situated in Eastern European areas. Taking a look at potential media reference that I could draw from for my level, I looked at Diablo 4 and Hunt: Showdown and the monasteries that were depicted in those games and cinematics.
The player can descend down to Hel's innermost sanctum located at the bottom of the monastery to start a boss battle and to face off against the foe in the level's finale.