Mead Boy: Game Feel and Level Design

Posted by (twitter: @blubberquark)
September 6th, 2016 8:08 am

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play Mead Boy or read on:

This is not a post-mortem of the development process, but an explanation of the game design and what makes it tick.

Game Design

Mead Boy is a small platformer where your goal is to drink all the mead. The more mead you drink, the more laggy your controls get. Alcohol wears off slowly and linearly, just like real life. Also like in real life, a single drink impacts your reflexes enough to make many tasks perceivably more difficult. A tenth of a second of lag is already noticeable. In order to make players not just wait out the effects of the alcohol, and progress slowly, there is hunger clock and a time-based scoring system. Food pickups set back the hunger clock, and Gold pickups increase the score. One per mille of BAC creates a lag of one second and takes ten seconds to wear off. This should incentivise players to look for food while stillslightly drunk. Levels are small and take under a minute to complete. Levels should pose little challenge “sober”.

Each level represents a real city from the Viking age. There is an overworld map that shows you where the city is, and how a river connects it to the sea. There is some looting and pillaging, but no combat or violence against people shown.

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Game Feel

Speed and Momentum

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Mead boy is a game about going right, going fast, picking up speed, and jumping far. (At least when you’re sober. When you are drunk, you pick up speed and go too fast. Your first instinct if the character is not responding right away is to hit the buttons harder.) There are only three buttons needed to control Mead Boy: Left, Right, Jump.

Mead Boy responds to button presses instantly, but he keeps accelerating until he reaches a top speed of 5.5 pixels per frame. When you stop pressing the button, he decelerates exponentially. At speeds below 1 px/frame he stops completely (like stiction compared friction). This way there is no “long tail” of slow sliding after landing a jump, which feels weird and floaty and may make you fall off a cliff when you don’t expect it. The following diagram shows a plot of speed and button presses, where you can see a long attack and a quick release phase:

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Jumping

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Jumps are always the same height, and there is no way to increase or reduce the jump height. Like Mario or Sonic, Mead boy goes right fast. Mead Boy is not Luigi or Mega Man. The Camera only scrolls on the left-right axis, in order to de-emphasise going up or down.

No Turning on a Dime

Mead Boy can come to a standstill relatively fast, but turning around is harder: When he is still moving into the opposite direction, the slow acceleration takes longer than simply stopping first and then accelerating into the other direction. This makes the momentum feel “weightier”, but it is also kind of frustrating. Mead Boy is running really fast; you can’t just turn around. Well, now you know and can exploit the behaviour for speed running!

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Level Design

play Mead Boy before you get spoiled!

Haithabu

haithabu level

Haithabu Level – Click to see at full resolution

This is a kind of tutorial and sandbox level. There are only three units of alcohol and enough food. You have to jump out of some pits, but there is no way to drown or to get stuck. You spawn on the left and have to go right. You can also go back left. You have to use both running and jumping controls, so I know you can use them when you advance to the next level.

How the level fits with the theme: This level is inspired by the Viking city of Haithabu. The destruction of Haithabu marked the end of the Viking age. Haithabu is your home base and a safe place. That’s why there is no longship. You arrived on foot. Haithabu is your home.

Lindisfarne

lindisfarne level

Lindisfarne – Click to see at full resolution

The second level is much bigger. There is only water on the left and land on the right. After the first mead pickup, there are two food items that should reset your hunger clock. The only “dangerous” jump comes right after: You can fall and drown, and you might still be slightly drunk at this point. You have to make a leap of faith. After the next jump, you are free to take all the gold and set the buildings on fire. Jumping to get the gold or over the small bump after the cathedral may be tricky due to alcohol, but you can safely retry: No real challenge.

How it fits the historical theme: The Viking raid of the Lindisfarne monastery marked the beginning of the Viking age. There are stone buildings and churches that kind of look like an English monastery of the era.

London

london level

London – Click to see at full resolution

This was the first level I had designed. There is more alcohol, the same amount of food, and you have to jump over a gap to get food. The last bit on the right requires you to jump onto a small platform after two units of alcohol. Definitely harder than Lindisfarne, but not much.

Historical Inspiration: The building on the right is a mash-up between the tower bridge and the tower of London. London was raided by Vikings multiple times. The tower bridge was not there during the Viking age, please forgive my anachronism.

Paris

paris level

Paris – Click to see full resolution

Paris is a step up in challenge. There are two deadly jumps in the beginning, lots of going up and down and the buildings you torch are relatively small. You have to go back and forth to collect all the food or gold.

The Lore: Paris was attacked by Vikings a couple of times under Charlemagne. Once they paid ransom, once they didn’t. Guess how that turned out. Also red wine and the Eiffel tower (super anachronism) to make sure you get that it’s Paris.

Hamburg

hamburg level

Hamburg – Click to see full resolution

Hamburg is the last and hardest level. It has the most alcohol, lots of water to drown in, and gaps where you have to jump right and up or down. I expect you to lose this on the first try. Nonetheless you can make many jumps drunk. Losing is fun!

History: Hamburg is a port city and a member of the Hanse. It has trading post houses right in the harbor. Also a dike. Also vikings.

play Mead Boy and comment please

Compare with real places

I drew all the cities from memory, and used the iconic Frankfurt city hall as a stand-in for Hanseatic merchant houses. I also used Glastonbury as an inspiration for Lindisfarne. I have never been to Paris or Lindisfarne. There is no excuse for the Tower of London: I have seen it and it looks only vaguely like in my game. I have looked up the landmarks for this write-up, which I should have done during development. Go to these links to compare how close my pixel art got:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikingerhaeuser_Haithabu.jpg https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2d/Lindisfarne_Abbey_and_St_Marys.JPG https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower_of_London_viewed_from_the_River_Thames.jpg https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Domhof.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Am_Main-Roemerberg_19-27_von_Suedosten-20110307.jpg https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Freie_und_Hansestadt_Hamburg_%287256228590%29.jpg

and now look at Mead Boy!

get Mead Boy here

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