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Developer Diary: Exploring Levels in Fallen Earth

Dev Blogger

Starting today, Massively is proudly hosting a brand new developer journal from the Fallen Earth team. This five-part series will explore various levels in Fallen Earth, their storylines and how they make the player experience richer. This first one takes us through Kingman Prison, and was written by Grace Hagood.

From high on a hilltop, gray prison walls cast a bleak shadow over the town of Old Kingman. Designed to keep society safe, Old Kingman Prison's purpose has been perverted. The tyrannical Casta Gaunt has captured the stronghold, and now leads his raiders from the safety of its cell blocks and guard towers.

Old Kingman Prison is the first major instance available to players in Fallen Earth. The level offers a compelling end to one of the early overarching plotlines in the game, and provides interesting group gameplay through a structured series of encounters. When we created the prison instance, we agreed on a few rules for our design. We wanted players to contribute directly to furthering the plot. We wanted the instance to be easily accessible. And of course, it had to look great and have enjoyable fights.

Our design took some intensive planning. Kingman County consists of three towns under attack from Gaunt's Raiders, Casta's gang of thugs. Multiple strands of Casta's story intertwine and lead players to the prison, where they can further the plot with sideline missions as well as the main mission to kill Casta. In the sideline missions, the player solves some of the mysteries surrounding Casta and serves up some well-deserved strong-arm justice, ensuring that the player's actions are a driving force in the plot.

Providing easy access to the instance at first seemed at odds with our story-intensive design. As a designer, you hope players will enjoy all the juicy plot you offer, but some players just want to "get in your base and kill your dudes." We finally agreed that the former player type will likely explore all the related missions before entering an instance anyway, and the latter shouldn't be penalized for preferring a more aggressive play-style. So the main mission stands alone, independent of other plot points, while sideline missions offer additional story.

With the caveat that the main mission to kill Casta should be available without much trouble, we returned to a plot-based design that would support players who had completed missions relating to Casta's backstory and current misdeeds. This design choice informed our decisions about the art we wanted for the prison and the kind of encounters we needed. The structure of the instance offers clear goals with multiple encounters in a stark, evocative setting. Further, the main mission leads players through a progression of enemies that subtly echoes Casta's story arc.

Since the instance is one of the earliest areas of the game where group play is essential, we designed the courtyard to provide a location for new teams to practice their tactics. Players then enter the instance from a back door and crawl through a hole in a wall to access the oldest part of the facility. Here Gaunt's Raiders have taken up residence in the old cell blocks. We differentiated the area visually by including rusty cell doors with open bars and brick arches.

Enemies in this area include both melee and ranged raiders, encouraging players to try different tactics. Because Fallen Earth is a classless, skill-based system, players may build their characters in myriad ways, so our encounters are designed to accommodate varying strategies. By the time players find the first boss encounter in the execution chamber-complete with an old electric chair-they should have determined their team's strengths and weaknesses. This fight provides players an opportunity to hone their team play skills before moving into the second section of the instance.

After defeating the executioner, players work their way through corridors previously used by prison guards. This section is a bit less linear and includes some iconic prison settings: the showers, laundry room, boiler room, and a guard tower. The second boss encounter takes place in the dining hall where Casta's lieutenant, Grinder, awaits. The level design again works with the kinds of fights we wanted. The long, narrow corridors offer some close-quarters fighting, while the dining hall is large enough to hold a boss fight with multiple waves of attackers.

The last section of the prison includes newer construction highlighted by steel cell doors and wire-reinforced windows. The final room is a massive four-story cell block with a large guard tower in the center.

This is Casta's sanctuary. Once again, this encounter uses the environment to its advantage. The fight ranges from the bottom of the cell block up to the walkways, and finally to the top of the guard tower.

We wanted a strong end for earliest important villain in Fallen Earth, and Old Kingman Prison suits perfectly. Standing on top of the guard tower looking down on the destruction they've wrought, players can be proud of how far they've come and enjoy their well-deserved rewards for removing such a notable threat to the Grand Canyon Province.

Gallery: Fallen Earth | 69 Photos

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