Darkmoor Dungeon Design!
We’ve had a lot of fun lately providing the community with our “KI Live” events. During a recent event we were asked, “What is our favorite “dungeon design” out of the new gauntlets in Wizard101?” To get your answer went straight to the source, and asked our game designers this very question!
Jesse “King Artorius” Scoble
As the Creative Lead on Wizard, I’d have to go with CASTLE DARKMOOR (although Shangri-Baa was also tremendously fun, in large part because one of our other writers, Mike “The ThunderSnake” took point on it, so I got to supervise without doing the hard work).
For the level 100 gauntlet (or “dungeon,” we use both terms more or less interchangeably) we knew it had to be epic. We didn’t have time to build out a full world, of course, but we wanted to reward players who had made it to the end of the Morganthe Arc in Khrysalis with something new. And we had recently hinted at DARKMOOR during the Five B.O.X.E.S event, so both Design and Art had already put some effort into what we wanted it to look and feel like. We kicked around a few alternate ideas (“Nodor? The lost City of Alissar? An extension of Aquila?”) but DARKMOOR felt most appropriate, especially once we decided it would end with a climactic battle with Malistaire the Undying.
Now I’ve been quoted as saying that I never intended to bring Malistaire back – and this is true. But last we saw, Malistaire had been sent tumbling into the Outer Void, and upon reflection it felt like his story hadn’t quite been wrapped up. But doing it during the Morganthe Arc would have taken the spotlight away from her. Yet I certainly didn’t want Malistaire to be the Big Bad of the Third Arc, as endless repetition is the death of creativity. Thus the idea of exploring his fate during a contained “mini-world” or gauntlet seemed like the perfect opportunity to deal with his story, and how it relates to your Wizard(s), and to do so it an epically challenging fashion.
Additionally, by revealing Malistaire at the beginning of the quest with his very direct challenge, it made the gauntlet much more personal, rather than having him be a surprise twist at the end (which would inevitably have been spoiled by Test Realm and YouTube streams).
The last remaining question was: where in Darkmoor would Malistaire be? Darkmoor is heavily inspired by the Universal Monster films, and of course the older horror classics that began them. It’s also influenced by modern takes on these legends. And I think it can be safely argued that Dracula is the “king” of the monster/horror genre, so a Castle Dracula / Transylvania style locale seemed most appropriate. So we started with the idea of a grand, Gothic castle in the vein of Dracula, Castlevania, and Ravenloft, and worked out from there to include as many horror references and tropes as we could – from the Wolf Man, to Dracula, to undead paladins, zombies, and gargoyles. We actually have a whole page of other ideas we couldn’t cram in there, so we’ll see where they end up…
I created a pitch document that outlined the general ideas – the core characters we would need, the basic environments, a rough sense of progressions, and so forth – and passed that over to one of our veteran designers, Valerie. And I’m going to let her explain the rest of the process:
And now from Valerie!
Before the art gets created and before the story gets fully fleshed out, it was my job to come up with a rudimentary top down map of the flow of each dungeon. In order to do this, I worked closely with Jesse to get the details on paper; where bosses should go, how the puzzle should function, and how many fights should take place within each dungeon. Once the top down is created Art then uses that map along with a vision document for each dungeon to build the world assets and environments.
Once all the art is done is when my job really gets interesting. It’s my task to build all the quests and take the assets created by art and make them function. One of the hardest aspects in scripting Darkmoor was making the Lens puzzle function. It took several versions and a lot of editing (this is what we in the industry call “iteration”) to make the puzzle function in a way that made us all happy (ideally not too simple, and not impossible, but appropriately challenging). The most interesting aspect about building this puzzle was creating a scenario in which the puzzle would reset if the player failed. It was also important to make it so players can use the puzzle’s elements to spawn a rare mob. After the iteration process was complete on the puzzle it was then time to move onto Darkmoor mobs (the creatures and bosses you fight).
The most intense aspect of creating a dungeon is also the balancing that goes into the bosses and normal mobs. I worked closely with another designer, Brandon, who came up with the ideas for the boss cheats and combat triggers. After a lot of testing, balancing, and player feedback we eventually have the finished product we call Darkmoor!
Overall, I’d have to say this was one of my favorite dungeons to build because of how important it was to collaborate with each team member to bring this area to life. Since Castle Darkmoor is an optional dungeon we, as a team, really wanted to dig in and make it a challenging but also fun experience for the players. I have to say, putting together the finale cinematic for this area and working with several key artists to get it just right was the icing on the cake for me. And I have to admit, play testing against some of these boss fights was so much fun! Being able to share this experience alongside our players is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I enjoyed building it.
Thanks to our great game designers for answering this fan question! What do you think on the subject?