Cathedral of the damned

Specifications

Time Frame: 4 Weeks Half-time

Genre: Souls-Like

Engine: Unreal Engine 4.27

Additional Tools: Blender

Inspiration: Dark Souls, Bloodborn, Traditional RPG's

Goals

  • Recreating the Combat system from Dark souls 3

  • Creating a small-scale grim-dark environment

  • Creating a climactic and original end-encounter

  • Experimenting with trying to make a Labyrinth interesting

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Focused Experience

The project aims for a smaller scaled level with a heavy focus on recreating the mechanical feel of a souls-like title

the aim is to have a solid combat system in an environment that challenges the player to use the environment to their advantage

Overview
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The focus of this project is to create a Grim-dark setting that would be appropriate for a souls-like game, meaning open combat spaces, Tight almost claustrophobic corridors as well as unique other unique environmental hazards and interactions, m a

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Experimenting with formula

The souls-like formula has been used bay a countless number of games by now, and some of them try to build upon it by adding unique elements and features

With the core mechanics in place, I resolved to do the same, and implement some personal ideas to try an enhance the experience.

Mechanics
Lock-on

The souls franchise has a fairly iconic lock-on system, as such i found it essential to include a similar system, and modify it in order for it to mirror the behaviour of a souls-like game

Note: the targeting system form the asset store that was built upon

Note: the animation system was acquired from the unreal market place, i have built upon it by implementing the underlying systems and functionality

Combat system

Souls-Like games boast tight and responsive combat as such, a lot of the time spent this project was dedicated on creating combat system that would feel varied and responsive.

 

Once i acquired a suitable animation pack i went ahead and implemented functionality for the move sets i felt were essential:

  • Light Attacks

  • Heavy Attacks

  • Guarding Attack

  • Guarding (shield)

  • Spear Throw

  • Shield Throw

  • Plunging Attack

  • Directional Dodge Rolls

  • Back-step

Systems

Some of the systems such as the mana system were left unused as the planned spells got cut from the project due to time restraints

My goal was to recreate the core systems available within the souls franchise excluding anything related to player progression due to the scope of this project

what i ended up with are the following systems:

  • Health & Damage

  • Stamina

  • Mana

  • Physical impact

  • invulnerability Frames (I-Frames)

  • Attachable projectiles

  • Hit-/Hurtboxes

  • Blocking/Partial damage reduction

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Destructible Enviroment

I've personally considered that the souls like genre might benefit from more intractable environment, such as breakable/falling chandeliers, destructible objects

With that in mind I've added support for that functionality and made it so that some of the enemies take advantage of it. such as ogres breaking down fragile walls instead of pathing around the obstacle

The impact damage is exaggerated in this clip to showcase the functionality

Process
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Pre-Prod

The first order of business in my process, is to make a solid plan and try the reference game, make notes of what makes a souls-like a souls-like.

following that i start gathering reference images, making notes of what mechanics were core for the experience, as well as making some rough overviews.

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Rough Blockout

Deciding upon making a Cathedral as it allows for a fair bit of verticality in a fairly small area, the walkways, aisles in combination with the nave and and altar area resulted in a fair bit of flexibility when it comes to limiting the players combat area, or opening it up for bigger encounters

Additionally, i added an underground section below the cathedral

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Refined Blockout

Starting to finalize the grander strokes of the level, and gamifying the layout of the cathedral adding additional walkways and exaggerating some shapes

I started going through different iterations of the underground area

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Whiteboxing

Moving on to the next step, I made a Developer Gym where i could use unreal blueprints to recreate all of the core mechanics present in a souls-game

at this stage i also made a very rough version of the main level, basing it of my initial sketches. At this point the level went through multiple iteration, with me finally settling on re-creating a church I've visited, and gamifying it after the fact.

Challenges & iterations
Designing an encounter

The secondary underground level doubles up as a boss arena, although it's not what I aimed for at the start, cuts had to be made due to the time restrains

Once the player falls through the pit, they end up in a smaller enclosed arena with seemingly no exit, upon getting close to one of the walls an ogre bursts through and starts the encounter

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Itterations

The boss arena went through a plethora of reworks and  redesigns , The initial design just a simple square arena, much like what's usually the case in some minor bosses in the Dark Souls franchise.
 

After a brief discussion with my educator, we concluded that i could use this opportunity to make a short study in boss room design.

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The Labirynth

Using the myth of the Minotaur's labyrinth as inspiration, the arena is designed so that the player has to navigate narrow corridors with many twists and turns and bait the the ogre to crash into the walls to open additional paths and buy time as it gets temporary stunned when hitting a wall.

The hanging lamps foreshadow when the ogre is getting close, the swinging of lights and shadows signal the approach of the ogre

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Lessons learned

The current iteration easily confuses the player and easily makes them lose track of their surroundings, the space feels tight and un-inspired since the player never gets to take in the entirety of the arena due to the overwhelming amount of twists and turns.

additionally due to the boss bursting out of walls, causing the player to have to change directions, I never give the players enough chance to build a mental map of the labirynth

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Conclusions

Ultimately, after having play-tests with other players I came to the conclusion that using a labyrinth as a boss arena is not great, At least not in the way I made use of it. Given time I'd redesign the entire encounter from scratch.

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Be that as it may, it made me grow as a designer, and I'm happy that I've taken the opportunity to try something different when the cost of doing so is so low.

Final Thoughts

Looking back at this project, this has certainly been a learning experience, as much as im not entirely happy with the final design of the final encounter, it has been very educational to try something different have have players experience it.

The scalability of the systems invites further work and could definitely be developed further, but all in all I'm fairly happy with most of the project, it has definitely made me grow as a designer, and i think there's potential in perusing something in this general direction.

 

The David vs. Goliath type of boss encounter, where the boss is much more powerful than the player can be a great tool and a very satisfying challenge to overcome, IF done correctly, Although the cathedral project didn't manage to reach that point it certainly is a stepping stone along that path.

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