Happy Holidays from Volume

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Happy Holidays from Volume

Hi, I’m Mike Bithell and I’m the chap in charge of Volume, a Robin Hood inspired stealth game for PS4 and Vita, due next year. Me and the team wanted to drop into Playstation.Blog and give you our own festive message.

We decided to spend a few hours more in the office before running off for presents and chocolate to have a bit of friendly competition.

You see, Volume (The game I’ll be repeating the name of a fair few times, so as to market to you effectively, it’s what Christmas is all about.) is all about user-generated content. Along with all the levels we’re making, you’ll be able to play maps created by your friends, while combating the evil Guy Gisborne (played by Andy Serkis).

I set the team a challenge: show just how awesome our tools are by making some slightly cheesy Christmas levels for the Playstation.Blog crowd. I didn’t tell them that I would be judging them, and crowning a winner for your entertainment.

Every level here, as with all levels in the final game, was made in the exact tools you’ll be getting when the game launches next year!

Volume: HoHoOhDear - 1

Level Name: Ho Ho Oh dear!
Creator: Andrew Roper
Day Job on Volume: Server Coder

The first of the levels in the “maps shaped like Christmas” genre that quickly emerged. The player gets to mess around in an open and shadowy space (the face and beard) before going into the more confined hat area for some clever avoidance and wall play. This level uses teleporters to join up separate areas and make for a compact, but well paced environment. There’s even a blackjack in the bobble on Santa’s hat, which allows for a fun run back to the exit, knocking out guards as you go (but only for a few seconds, you’ll need to be quick).

Gameplay – 2/5 – fun gameplay, but slightly ambiguous puzzles in places.
Art: 4/5 – It’s a pretty good likeness, and the teleporter eyes are cool.
Story – 0/5 – There isn’t any, as far as I can tell.
Christmassyness – 5/5 – Hard to imagine this feeling more festive

Overall – 11/20 – A solid level

Volume: NorthPole - 1

Level Name: North Pole
Creator: Hamish Lockwood
Day Job on Volume: Level Designer

This is a fun level. The player is spawned uncovering weird, creepy toy collections. They’re unclear of where they are, or what’s going on, but start pocketing goods as they find them. Of course, it’s all a fiendish plot from Gisborne, who successfully tricks them into robbing from Santa himself, thus spoiling Christmas!

This sequence of puzzle rooms tests the player’s skills nicely, and some fun text triggers give good story context. If we were making a game this silly, we’d put the map in as is. Instead, we’ll likely tweak this one with new story context.

Gameplay – 4/5 – This is a fun level, with some clever bugle action for the player to get into as they progress. Some ambiguities keep it just off that perfect 5.
Art – 2/5 – This could stand to be a bit prettier… prop work is a bit light, and I’m not sure the colors sing quite as well as they could.
Story – 4/5 – A fun level which starts as a heist on a weird Toy collecting character, but a last minute twist let’s us know it’s another one of Gisborne’s tricks. I enjoyed that.
Christmassyness – 5/5 – While Roper’s level showed us Santa’s face, this level showed us his entire operation, this feels like the most “Volume” Christmas level made in the competition.

Overall – 15/20 – This one does well across the board. A little more art love, and this could be a great level.

Volume: Tree - 1

Level Name: Tree
Creator: Hamish Lockwood
Day Job on Volume: Level Designer

Tree is a great, minimalist level. Simple shape, but really tightly woven challenge. The lack of gadgets forces the player to rely on their wits, and whistling, to get the gems and exit the level. This is the stuff Hamish excels at, and has done a great job of in the main game. Stripped down, back to basics Volume gameplay. The kind of level I love to play.

Gameplay -5/5 – Really solid gameplay which requires some awesome, pure stealth from the player.
Art – 3/5 – An impressive tree, and the green / red color scheme is nice and bright.
Story – 0/5 – Another “no story” level here.
Christmassyness – 4/5 – A pretty impressive tree, but I’d have needed some tinsel to give this one the full 5 points.

Overall – 12/20 – Great level design (unsurprising, given Hamish’s job on the game) but a lack of story, and of a Santa, hold this one back from greatness.

Volume: Nakatomi - 1

Level Name: Nakatomi Plaza
Creator: Sam Robinson
Day Job on Volume: Level Designer

Sam’s a smart guy, and here he is pandering directly to my tastes. I love me some Die Hard, and this level is just a massive celebration of it. It certainly works, with some notable scenes.

Where it gets particularly interesting is in its layout. This level does a great job of looking impossible, right up until the moment where you figure out one specific thread to pull (in this case, flushing a toilet to distract an enemy across the map) to bring a watertight security setup tumbling down. Grabbing a figment gadget to misdirect enemies as you return to the exit provides for an empowering end to the level.

Gameplay – 5/5 – tense difficulty and a fun toilet maneuver lead up to a fun blackjack run. This one’s going in the game.
Art – 4/5 – Great prop use. I’d want to take a pass at a bit more saturation, but this level looks great.
Story – 3/5 – This level is full of references to one of my top ten movies of all time. Pandering? Yes. Copyright Infringing? Absolutely.
Christmassyness – 4/5 – It doesn’t get a lot more Christmassy than Die Hard jokes. A winner.

Overall – 16/20 – Solid, solid level. It’s going in the game.

Volume: Winning - 4

Level Name: Winning Christmas
Creator: Kerry Dyer
Day Job on Volume: Planning and Logistics

Kerry, who (as well as being the love of my life) handles the nuts and bolts of keeping everyone on the project moving, asked to dive in and produce a level. This was her first time using our, or anybody else’s, level editor. She did an awesome job. A fun puzzle, a quirky story about a kid aiming to outdo everyone else with their present giving, and some fun, tight use of the Bugle gadget. I was so impressed, I’ve set Kerry going on a bunch of other levels for the game.

Gameplay – 2/5 – really fun, with some great loop backs, thanks to the level shape.
Art – 2/5 – Bright, vivid colors, and a house floor plan that makes sense thanks to good prop choices. I’d like to see some more interesting floor / wall breaks, but other than that, cool.
Story – 3/5 – A child aims to beat their family to the punch with better presents, by checking what they’ve received. Festive and fun.
Christmassyness – 4/5 – A level about a family home at Christmas, and it’s in the shape of a present? Metachristmas.

Overall – 11/20 – Cool work, from a first time designer no less. She’s now making levels for the full game.

So, there it is, Die Hard fanboying wins the day. You’ll be able to play these levels when the game launches, along with the 100 core levels we’re already working on. This time next year, we’ll run the competition again, hopefully you’ll join us!

Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

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