Volume: Replayable design with overlapping symmetries

Volume is a top-down puzzle sneak ’em up, focusing on traversal, stealth and enemy avoidance. With a built-in editor and a small set of mechanics, there a lot of creative challenges to explore.

High level design goals

Volume’s levels are small but make good use of that space. An optional timer encourages speedrunning, and the system driven mechanics presents various ways to achieve this. I wanted to create a level that explores this by following certain principles:

  • Speedrun friendly
  • Create player familiarity through symmetrical layouts
  • Overlap different symmetries to create more possible paths
  • Create replayability by breaking symmetries on smaller scales, enabling new possible path combinations on each replay

Level layout

In Volume, there are three types of walls:

  • High walls, blocking enemy vision
  • Low walls, blocking enemy vision if player is crouching
  • Jumpable walls, low walls that the player can vault over

Spawning in the middle, the level offers multiple directions to head towards. Clear lines comunicate possible paths. Most of the walls are high and give total cover from one or more direction, while certain areas are more exposed with low walls used for temporary cover.

The main square outer symmetry helps the player to not feel lost. Inside the square, the level gets broken up in smaller pieces of symmetry: horizontal, vertical and diagonal. These in turn are sometimes broken up into yet symmetries.

Symmetry can become too predictable. To counter this, most symmetries have a few smaller differences. For exmaple, the bottom left and top right triangles have the same shape, but one has low corner walls.

The gems needed to open the exit follows the same idea: symmetry to easily understand where they are, with minor asymmetrical placements to not become too predictable.

The player spawns in the middle, and fittingly needs to return there once all gems are collected.


Guard patrol patterns

Guard placement follows the same principle.

Guards in symmetrical areas move in identical yet mirrored patterns. To again counter familiarity, all symmetrical pair of guards move with different timings from all other guards.

This leads to mirrored parts of the level feeling predictable in their guard patterns, while both mirrored sides still require unique approaches, since their guards move at a different tempo from guards nearby.

Notice the blind spots in vision cone overlap, to give the player safe areas.

Conclusion

The theme of symmetry combined with unpredictable asymmetry is implemented in all layers of the level. The player always has clear paths to follow, without ever being shown an optimal strategy. All areas can be approached from several directions.

Thanks to deterministic yet asynchronous guard movements, faster routes are always possible but rarely obvious.