Originally, the level was a sprawling complex that we referred to as the Throwback Warrens. Players entered a cave-like opening and traveled through dirt-walled tunnels that opened up into part of a research lab and then returned to more tunnels and finally a bit more lab. Because there were no doors that could conceivably lead to the surface, the level itself really made no sense. Given the name, unsurprisingly, it was filled with Throwbacks, mutant humanoids who vaguely resembled cavemen or "throwbacks to an earlier time."
Over the course of our design, the Throwback models changed quite a bit, and when we had the opportunity to rework the level as part of overhauling Old Kingman County, we jumped at it. My teammate Jared Beaulieu worked closely with artist Justin Johnson, designing the level based on the kinds of missions we were writing. Jared also chose the placement and size of the level to encourage players to enter the lab multiple times as they complete missions in the area.
Because we wanted players to have multiple reasons to enter the level, we left the level open rather than creating it as an instance. In this regard, the mechanics of the research facility level are more similar to the Hoffa Bunker, which my fellow designer Wes Platt wrote about a few weeks ago, than to instances such as Old Kingman or Sunset Cemetery, which I detailed in earlier journals. Unlike the Hoffa Bunker, the placement and size of the Needle Eye Research Facility allows players to easily explore the entire level and be back in town for dinner.
Armed with a hefty handful of mission goals, players enter the lab and find two possible routes - a set of stairs and a catwalk. Both lead to the same area, but players can avoid a few mobs by jumping from the catwalk down to the large open room below rather than taking the stairs.
In this main room, players see two NPCs. The first, Jack, protects the entrance to a nearby corridor, fighting off an onslaught of Throwbacks. The other, Marty, asks the player to rescue some of the refugees who were recently kidnapped by the Throwbacks.
The captives are held in two locations. One group is trapped in a large closet inside an old office. Here, Throwbacks have smashed the office furniture, and dead bodies litter the ground. As the Throwbacks attack, players must save at least one of the captives in order to complete the mission. The second set of captives is in a room further inside the complex.
Exiting the office and exploring deeper in the facility, players find a large, locked blast door. Someone - or something - has tunneled around the blast door into the research section of the facility. In this short tunnel, players begin seeing evidence of the fungal blight that has plagued local farmers in Needle Eye. The tunnel then opens into a large lab infested with Throwbacks and littered with bodies.
One of my favorite mission groups in the area focuses on the White Crow Battalion, a paramilitary mercenary force. Players who have taken missions from Grigor, a White Crow operative, can confirm the backstory of the Needle Eye Throwbacks while exploring this part of the level. Players can also get a hint about another interesting plotline here. The facility was supposedly used for agricultural research by GlobalTech, the mega-corporation that once governed the area. Looking at the four large vats filled with red liquid, players may realize that GlobalTech's research wasn't simply to find a better fertilizer.
A large set of stairs in the back of the room leads to a computer console center. The second set of captives waits for rescue in this small control center. After saving the Throwbacks' prisoners, players can return to Marty for further information, engage in repeatable quests offered from Needle Eye, or continue to the final room in the level.
A short, curved hall leading from the research lab features large windows. From here, players see a massive room filled with fungal blight. In the middle of the fungal blight is a giant Sporekill, a type of carnivorous fungus. The Sporekill is a boss fight and intended for a group of players. One of the interesting features of this fight is that because the Sporekill is a stationary target, it can utilize an Area of Effect attack. If the Sporekill locks on a target outside of its physical attack range, it will begin to emit a green cloud of toxic putrescence that can quickly kill an unprepared party.
In the Needle Eye Research Facility, we hope to offer a balance of engaging story, repeatability, and a fun boss fight for groups. By the time players finish all the missions available for the level, they'll have gained a ton of information, a good amount of loot, some solid experience, and a lot of fun.