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Halen: Ballad of the Blade Thief

Single Player 3rd Person Action Platformer

Level Design, Game Design, Environment Design, Concept Art, Production

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What is Halen?

Halen is a single player, third person, action game I created with a team of students as our final capstone project in University. The project was to create the game from scratch in one year.

You play as Halen, a thief in a distant galaxy sent to an ancient planet to retrieve an sword artifact. However, when you get the artifact, it merges with you and reveals a sentient AI within, and the two of you must escape the temple alive.

You are pitted against a small roster of marooned robot enemies ranging from projectile to melee types, using a ranged gun and the sword for fast melee combat. The core design of the combat is inspired by games like Hyper Light Drifter and Dojo of Death, where liberal use of a fast dash is necessary for combat and traversal.

Alongside combat, the player has a variety of nimble movement mechanics at their disposal, such as a vertical wall run, double jump, and roll. These are used for the platforming and exploratory parts of the game, and offer a skill based reprieve from constant combat.


Level Progression

The game’s level progression was marked by 3 major narrative beats; the arrival and retrieval of the sword, the introduction to full combat and platforming in a relatively safe environment, and finally the test of combat mastery in a more complex environment followed by a steep platforming challenge.

The first level sees the player land centrally, and I use obstacles to force them to learn the navigational tools; such as a short hole they have to roll to get through, cables in their way they have to shoot with the gun, or a collapsed pillar they must jump over. Once they have the sword, enemies are introduced in a cluster to incentivize learning the benefits of the dash attack, which can pass through multiple enemies. Further tests like chaining double jump and dash to clear long gaps, wall running, and introducing ranged enemies present themselves towards the end of the level.

The second level tests the player on their master of the basic melee and ranged enemies, but introduces the remaining enemies in the roster, a heavy enemy requiring a weak spot attack, a long range enemy that tries to evade you on approach, and a passive enemy that drops mines on an area. Each floor of the large cylindrical arena introduces the new enemy, but doesn’t demand much platforming finesse while fighting them, to allow the player to focus on a single learning objective at a time. Finally, the last arena features a teleporting boss character that puts pressure on the player to keep situational awareness. The arena is designed with a number of points of cover around and elevated platforms that produce a risk reward decision making process, between a clear shot on them, or cover from their hitscan attack.

The third and final level is a test of mastery for the player (as far as a 30 minute student game is concerned), where the platforming is more precise, and combat happens in tighter quarters with less player advantage. Culminating in a run for the exit where the player must navigate a platforming challenge, alongside enemies, in which the platforms are falling away beneath them.


Production Process

As a designer, it was my first project working in the Unity Engine, a tool I was entirely unfamiliar with at that time. I was able to draw on my experience with the various iterations of the Unreal Engine, as well as the Source and idTech Engines, to build a basis in which to learn about the new workflow. That being said, I did not enjoy Unity as a tool, particularly for level design and environment art.

Outside the game and level design, I held a position as a producer on the project. Managing the other team member responsibilities and tasks, and liaising with our stakeholders (professors), to keep the project on track for delivery. In addition to managing the projects marketing and behind the scenes content.

Finally, I upheld a number of smaller positions within the team during the project including directing the voice talent and mocap acting and system for the characters, concept art for character and environment design, sound effect recording and managing user experience testing at key intervals. That last part was actually one of the main learning moments for me in this project. Having a host of playtesters of varying skills come in and test out the mechanics and level design really helped us hone the experience. This left a lasting impact on my approach to level design.

Check out the official SkyPyre page on Halen, or download the game from for free!

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