Role | Lead Designer Duration | 1 Week Tools Used | Unity
Vodonaut is a top down traversal horror game set in the irradiated depths of the Bikini Atoll nuclear test site in which the player must locate a missing submarine while being hunted by the mutated beasts that now inhabit the area.
This project was created for the Black and White Game Jam with a team of six people covering disciplines of design, programming, concept art, and production art. Vodonaut is a game of survival in the deep dark.
The Black and White Game Jam allowed for us a wide array of different design opportunities that we could explore, with us landing on a 2D top down traversal game so that we could fully utilize the skillsets of our talented artists as well as how the black and white visuals would intrinsically work with our deep sea horror setting.
With the black and white theme constraint, the gameplay aspect that we wanted to hone the project around was the visibility of our player, or lack thereof. In Vodonaut, the player is equipped with three different tools that grant varying degrees of vision and knowledge which they must utilize in tandem to avoid being preyed upon by the creatures inhabiting the Bikini Atoll.
Creating an immersive horror experience for the player from a top down setting required us to design different player mechanics handling visibility that would have interactions with enemies and the environment in ways that would allow them to progress through the game but still maintain the tension and atmosphere of a horror game. With the player's goal in Vodonaut to reach the end destination of our levels while avoiding and repelling the various predators after them, we wanted each tool and mechanic to work in tandem with one another to create strategic and engaging gameplay.
The first tool and mechanic available to the player is the player's Light which grants perfect vision and scares away the predators hunting you down. Acting as the primary means of defense for the player while also providing navigational information, we made it so that the rotating speed of the player's Light moved at a slower rate.
The second tool and mechanic in the player's arsenal is the Infrared Beam which reveals the visual outlines of both terrain and predators. Not being able to be used as a tool to fend off creatures however, the design intent of the Infrared Beam is to act as a tool for scouting and gathering information reflected in our decision to make the rotation rate of this tool faster.
The final tool available to the player is the Sonar, which upon activation sends out a radial wave that reveals the outline of terrain for a short period while also marking enemies with a dot, though it does not distinguish between which specific type of enemy is detected.
The player's main threat in Vodonaut is a creature aptly named as the Stalker. The Stalker is a large mutated predator that will constantly seek out and follow the player throughout the level, with most obvious tell of its presence being the circular movement pattern it has before directly charging at the player. Unlike standard enemies, repelling the Stalker requires shining the player's Light on it for an extended amount of time. After being repelled the Stalker will inevitably return to hunt the player, acting as an ever-looming threat and the primary challenge of the game.
Art by Janet Lin, Allie Irwin, and Mehul Sahai
With visibility and traversal being the core game aspects of Vodonaut, the level design of our map became a crucial design element. In order to create a visually interesting level that accurately conveyed the natural appearance of a deep sea environment, our concept artists created a series of modular level pieces that allowed us to flexibly and easily adjust the layout and paths.
Bomb crabs were another form of creatures in the game that acted as environmental hazards that impeded the player's path and traversal towards their destination, pushing and damaging the player if stepped on which created another interesting aspect that we could play around with in our level design.
In 1958, the last of the Hardtack I Series Nuclear tests finished in Bikini Atoll, reef having endured 23 nuclear explosions. Two years after the final test, a Soviet Submarine investigates, hoping to learn from the US’s tests. It only manages a few hours below the waves of the Atoll’s inner lagoon before it disappears, the last message states the existence of a great ‘wall’ of coral, over twenty miles in length.
You are Valentin Begichev a member of SOL, a joint operation team between Sharashka penal research facilities and the KGB. The special research vessel known as свет now carries you to the wall beneath the atoll, with intent on discovering the fate of the missing submarine, and the truth of what lay beneath the wall. Even the beauty of the world of coral, to one who has endured the Sharaska, is bleak as snow and ash.
TAKEAWAYS AND CHALLENGES
Our biggest challenge working on Vodonaut was developing an in-depth enemy AI for The Stalker that would accurately convey the threat and horror that we had intended for the creature in gameplay. Though we were able to capture of predator-like stalking circular movement, actual attacks from The Stalker felt unimpactful due to a combination of a lack of feedback from the attack as well as the look and animations carried out by it.
My contributions towards Vodonaut entailed implementing the player mechanics: the light, infrared beam, and sonar, and how each of these mechanics interacted with the visual layering system we had attached to our level pieces and enemies. I started by separating out the graphics of our enemies, visuals and environments into 3 layers, a fully black layer that shows the players view in the dark, the outlines of the level pieces and enemies when shown by the IR Beam and Sonar, and the fully lit visual of when the interactable were fully shown with the light. I also did the gameplay sequencing which connected gameplay moments to our cinematics and did the level design for the third level of the game. I also helped ideate on the story and narrative with the other designers on the team.