Terranova is a metroidvania prototype I made in the fall of 2020. It was made over the course of about 3 months, though at the time I was also working on visual effects for Drosera, so my time was split between the two. I’m going to break down what I did in my prototype to create an effective tutorial level.
This is the first screen that players see upon booting up the game. Right away, they’ll see a number of platforms to jump up on to the left, and a red door to the right. They’re positioned close to the platforms so most players would jump on them to see where they go. The jumps start out easy to let the players get used to moving the character. If they did decide to try to open the door, they would discover that they can’t with the moves they start out with. This sets up a long-term goal for the player to work towards. If they don’t try to open the door, they’ll at least see it, and that should set them up to remember it when they get the ability to unlock red doors.
After jumping up the brick stacks at the beginning, they’ll come to some one-way platforms. These are positioned to teach the player that they can jump through them. The player doesn’t need to stand on the higher platform to progress through the room, but the player is practically forced to jump through the bottom of it to do so.
Further into the room, we have the first difficult jump in the game. It’s not pixel perfect by any means, but it tests their understanding of the jump mechanics and ensures that they realize you can jump higher by holding down the jump button.
Next, they come to their first blue door, and they’re told that they can press D to attack. This both tells them how to attack and implies to them that attacking opens blue doors (which it does). When they get this close, the next room is revealed and they can see breakable blocks inside. These give the player something to do with the attack skill they just learned without introducing dangerous elements like enemies. Indeed, the next room is all about attacking and breaking these breakable blocks.
Here, we see some rocks that the player will naturally want to jump and attack. When they try to do that, they’ll find out that you can’t attack in the air. Originally, I had planned on including an aerial attack, but as the project progressed I realized that I didn’t have the time to implement it the way I wanted to, so I scrapped the idea for the purposes of this prototype. That makes it important for me to communicate that there is no aerial attack to the player, and this part of the room does just that. Additionally, if the player has read the README or played the game before, they might realize that they can roll under that one-block gap on top of the rocks. This makes the room flow really well and is a fun “Aha!” moment for players who’ve played the game before.
In the next room, the player first has to make a difficult jump onto the sandstone bricks to their left. On the other side they’ll come to a one-block gap, and some tutorial text telling them how to roll. This teaches them that they can roll to go through one-block gaps.
Coming into the 4th room, there’s some basic platforming, and then the player sees this discolored block in the pillar here. Using the roll they just learned about, they can go through this fake block. Doing so will take them straight through a fake wall and show them their first major collectable in the form of a heart piece. I put this here for a couple reasons. First, I want to teach players that they’ll be rewarded for exploring the level. Second, I wanted to teach them that sometimes rewards are hidden in the level, but that careful observation can show them how to find those rewards.
The next part of this room is designed to give the player a more full understanding of their jumping ability. First, they come to a jump where they’ll bonk their head if they hold down the jump button too long. This teaches them that sometimes they might not want a high jump. Then, they have to jump up this stack of stone bricks and jump up through a one-way platform. In order to do that, they have to get to the highest brick and jump as high as they can. This teaches them the limit of their jump height. Together, these jumps test the player’s knowledge by having them use a really short jump and the highest jump possible.
Here, the player has to roll through this one block gap and then jump in mid-air to get to the other side. Most of the text up to this point has just been for button prompts, but here I felt like I needed a text prompt to explain how the jumping and rolling mechanics interact with each other. I normally like teaching mechanics and their interactions through level design, but I felt like there wasn’t a good, intuitive way to teach this particular interaction outside of text.
The next room introduces danger to the platforming mechanics that the player has already learned. The challenge in this room steadily increases in intensity, as the player has to make longer jumps onto shorter platforms as they go through the room.
Here, the player sees spikes on both sides of the pillar, and a platform to the right. The spikes on the right side are there to encourage the player to think before they jump. Once they reach the platform on the right, they’ll see another platform below which leads them down to the door.
The next room introduces the player to enemies. I start them with an enemy right above them that moves towards them once they get into its line of sight. This gives them the chance to see that there is an enemy near them before they have to fight it. It also teaches them that enemies move towards you when they see you, and that they’ll walk off ledges to get to you. The area here is nice and large, providing them with a flat, open space to deal with their first enemy encounter.
The next enemy you fight can’t see you until you hop up on the ledge. This re-enforces the idea that enemies don’t move towards you unless they can see you. This encounter also adds additional difficulty to the fight by making you fight the enemy in a much tighter space. Right above that enemy you can see another enemy that patrols the area, moving from wall to wall. This encounter introduces patrolling enemies, and makes the player think about when they should jump up to fight.
The final encounter in this room pits the player against two enemies, but they have some control over when they fight each one. If the player stays to the left, the enemy on top of the one-way platform can’t see them and they can dispatch the enemy on the right before dealing with the one on that platform. If they instead move to the right to fight the enemy over there, then the one on the one-way platform will run down and the player has to deal with both of them at once. This tests the player’s knowledge of the way that enemies work and encourages them to be more thoughtful in combat. As a whole, I designed this room to slowly become more challenging and complex as the player gets used to the combat mechanics. Also in this room, we have the next fake wall.
When the player goes through here, they see another red door. Behind that door is another heart piece, but the door itself is here for a reason. Provided that the player finds the door before unlocking the power you need to unlock it, the door serves as a reminder of the player’s long-term goal of opening that door from the beginning. If they didn’t inspect the door at the beginning, then this might be the first time they realize that they can’t move through red doors, in which case that door from the beginning takes on a new importance as they realize it’s locked off for now.
In the next room, the player is presented with a spike covering up a one-block opening. This teaches the player that their roll makes them invincible for a limited time. They may not want to roll through the gap since there’s a spike there, but by making that their only path forward I ensure that they can’t progress without learning that rolling gives them invincibility.
After getting through the one block gap, they come to a column of spikes that they can only pass by rolling through. This re-enforces the idea that rolling gives them invincibility.
At the end of this room, they come to a group of patrolling enemies. The idea here is that they’ll understand that they didn’t take damage from the spikes while rolling, so the same holds true for enemies. By placing a combat in such close proximity to them learning about roll invincibility, I’m trying to tell the player that it’s not just invincibility from stationary hazards, but that it works against enemies too.
In the next room, there’s an enemy staring right at some spikes, standing in the way of the player’s progression. When the player hits them, they fly into the spikes and die. This sequence re-enforces the idea that enemies will only be aggressive towards the player if they can see them, and also teaches the player that they can hurt enemies by hitting them into hazards like spikes.
As the final challenge in this room, the player has to fight against two enemies in a pit with spikes on either wall. This adds extra complexity to the combat as the player is forced to contend with the spikes and the enemies at the same time. It’s the most challenging combat test in the tutorial, and it comes close to the end. It’s also the only time that the player is really forced to contend with two enemies at the same time. In film terms, this is like the climax of the level.
After getting through the hardest combat challenge in the level, they’re rewarded with a power-up. this power-up allows them to shoot fire at the expense of their mana. When they pick it up, their mana bar fills, and the tutorial text telling them how to shoot is placed to imply that they can use it to get through red doors. At this point, the player can choose to go back to the red door they found earlier to nab the other heart piece, or they can continue through the doorway here.
If they decide to continue, they’ll come to a hole in the floor that astute players may realize links up to a hole in the ceiling from the very first room. Even if they don’t realize it, though, it is the only way forward so either way they’ll drop down and find themselves back at the beginning, where they can finally go through that red door. If I were to expand the game from here, then that door would lead to the first real area of the game. In the prototype though, it leads to the credits
If I was going to change anything with this design, I would make it more obvious that the hole that you come to after gaining the fire power-up leads to the room you started in. I don’t like that that’s basically a leap of faith, but besides that I think this level is a pretty good tutorial. It teaches the player all the basic mechanics they’ll use throughout the game while simultaneously introducing the game’s structure. It shows them that exploration and careful observation will be rewarded, and that they should expect to revisit areas to progress forwards or find rewards. I think it does a good job of getting the player on-board with the ideas and feel of the game in a timely fashion.