How are neon white levels created?


When writing, the fastest speed of White neon lights The “Smackdown” level is 9.56 seconds, earned by the player “earlobe” on September 6, 2022.

On the contrary is the work that went into it. According to designer and creative director Ben Esposito, the earliest iteration was in March 2019, more than three years before its release in June 2022. At that point, there were more than 50 other iterations. together. Sometimes the changes are small. Other times, they basically changed levels. Every designer who has worked on the game has touched on Smackdown in some form. However, download it now; chances are all that labor is invisible to you. Before I sat down to write, I beat it in just 11 seconds.

Neon White is a game built on speed. Level is short. If you’re playing on purpose, you’ll barely notice your surroundings before continuing. But the only way it works is if the levels are meticulously designed to facilitate that movement; they must be made so that the player feels natural to fly over them. Creating a level that you hardly think twice takes a lot of effort.

For the most part, it works. We gave Neon White a score of 9.5 and our review mentioned the game’s level and design, saying it feels “as easy as if you’ve been practicing for years, not just 15 to 20 minutes.”

To understand how that ease is achieved, we spoke with Esposito, game/level designer, programmer Russell Honor, senior designer and environmental artist Carter Piccollo, who worked on walked us through the process of creating Smackdown from concept to completion.

March 2019

March 2019

Neon White talks about running speed. But not every level emphasizes that point.

As Esposito said, before Smackdown a lot of levels were built around the idea of ​​teaching specific mechanics. But when they started working on Smackdown, it was the first time the team tackled the idea of ​​playing iteratively through each level individually, optimizing timing and exploring different paths and shortcuts. Of course, Neon White still teaches you its mechanics, but Smackdown has caused the team to rethink the game as a whole.

“This is specifically about discovering, ‘What if we don’t teach you something new? What if it was watching it over and over again,’” Esposito said. “And the things we ended up learning at levels like this created new ways of thinking about the rest of the game.”

He took the earliest version, which runs in the Unity game engine. It’s a gray box, with level geometry but without any artwork (see picture). While some of the core ideas are the same as the shipped version – some enemy positions and level layout – there is one immediate flaw: ambiguity. It’s not always clear what you need to do.

In this iteration, the level starts with the Godspeed card and the enemy stands on the right. It tells the player to take a card, this card allows to rush forward, before killing the enemy, this card then drops the Advanced card, creating a double jump. But as Piccollo pointed out, there’s nothing to use that Elevate tag. Neon White is all about using what you have right away, he said.

To reduce ambiguity, they’ll need to remove the Advanced card, tell the player they need to jump left instead (not twice, remember) and then dash forward through the next group of enemies. However, that dash also presents a set of problems of its own. Two enemies stand facing each other for a small distance, and when you approach them, you have two Godspeed cards. Enemies are set so that the player has to dash through both, but it’s unclear if they have to dash twice to kill them or if one will do the trick.

This issue is a core issue.

“If you’re ever confused about what to do, the game doesn’t feel good and it starts to fall apart,” says Piccollo. “Your first time needs to feel really clear. And the timing where you’re fully optimized also needs to be really good, or else you’ll feel like you’re doing it wrong, even if it’s faster.”

Esposito says, removing ambiguity is the main job of building levels. The less ambiguity, the more confident players feel. The more confident, in this case, the more fun they have.

Honor and Esposito both point to a card placed in this early release. It’s the Bomb tag used only for shortcuts. This in that particular context works, but ideally the player won’t know or see the shortcut on their first run. It means this card is useless for the rest of the level. That reduces player confidence.

“People will pick up the card and not understand what they have to do with it [and think they] missed something,” Esposito said. “That’s another rule we had to establish; Every card must have a clear purpose the moment you pick it up.”

May 2020

May 2020

We leap in time 14 months, seeing a later iteration from May 2020. The most notable change is all art; it’s starting to look like Neon White.

There is now a straight runway at the top, which takes the player into the level. It has both a Godspeed and an Elevate card, although it’s laid out in such a way that you can’t see the latter behind the former. It is an issue that is resolved in later versions.

Problems from the first iteration also appear here — the dash is still unclear, it’s not immediately obvious which tag you should use, and as Esposito says, “a lot of work is going on. “\

But the first half of Smackdown is starting to take shape. The second half is a different story; it is completely different from the factory version. Esposito points to an experiment that “failed” when the enemy was behind bars. The idea is that the player can shoot through these bars to kill enemies, but not through themselves. The setup still shows up in different forms throughout the game, but in this case it was cut. “Just because it’s a confusing concept for people,” says Esposito. “It feels very important, but actually it is completely unimportant to the concept of levels of distraction.”

No average number of changes or edits between iterations; it ranges from minor nudges to complete remakes. That said, the quick math reveals the scale of Neon White’s growth. If we assume it shipped with 100+ levels, the team made “doubles” of that on the removed levels, and Smackdown alone had over 50 changes made to it, then We face thousands of tweaks and redesigns throughout the game. Neon White was made to play as fast as possible, but getting to that point is a long and epic quest.

In addition, the team came up with new ideas later in development and re-added them to the entire game. Smackdown, done from start to finish, is one such level. It acts as a prototype for the Neon White stage and what it takes to succeed. That affects the rest of the game and requires new lessons to be reapplied throughout Neon White.

We’re moving forward to January 2021. Runway fixed, both start cards showing up perfectly. The first enemy to the right from before no longer drops cards. Dash still needs work, but it’s getting closer. In the middle, there is an enemy at the top of the stairs, but you can ignore that fact at first glance. The ending is almost identical to the final version, possibly in a transferable state, but still a bit messy.

Eight months later, the two cards are initially placed further apart to give the player more time to react. Much longer distance to make it clear that you need two dashes to take out both enemies. Enemies at the top of the stairs will now shoot you down, so you can see where it is. Overall, Smackdown is now giving players more information, making it easier to navigate. It is becoming clear. The epilogue is stable, but the path to the optional gift is unclear. It can be accessed by jumping on the columns around the back of the level. But where players need to do it is not, as Esposito calls it, inviting. It looks like a place that the player has no intention of approaching.

But Smackdown is almost done. And in a few months, it will be shippable.

March 2022

March 2022

Honor’s last changelog was on March 5, 2022. Esposito’s last fix was on March 27. He didn’t elaborate, but Esposito says this final version contains a lot of small tweaks. . The art is finished and the whole thing looks like the Smackdown you probably know.

The most significant change is the gift at the end. It’s much more obvious now that there’s a path around the back of the level leading to its hideout; now it looks like part of the stage, not a background element. Finally, two wooden planks are placed in the direction of the gift as a final push for the player.

Three years later, Smackdown is complete.

It is not possible to run down every edit and change made during level development. Sadly, there were a lot of things we had to let go of, and almost certainly dozens of things that the team didn’t have time to review with us. However, an overview of three years of development distilled through the prism of a short level — even one that can be completed in seconds — highlights the sheer scale of game development at every scale. tissue. Neon White is a game made to be played fast; it can be digested in short passages. Its development is anything but.

From the total redesign to the minor additions, players won’t have to think twice, it’s the sum of its parts more than anything.

Unless you’re Honor who turned the success of Smackdown into a small decision.

“I think when those two boards were put down, that was when it went from bad to almost perfect,” he jokes.

This article originally appeared in No. 350 of the Game Information Provider.


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