Behemyth is a 3rd-person action game that takes place on the back of a giant turtle. It was developed by a team of 14 students at DigiPen Institute of Technology.
I was the writer, narrative designer, and level designer on Behemyth. I also served as the liaison between the design team and the other disciplines on the project.
Behemyth concept art by Amy Kim
The "Make It a Character" Rule
In the earliest stages of developing Behemyth, the team could only agree on one thing: we wanted to make an action game in which a persistent sense of space was important. There would be one level that the player gradually developed mastery over throughout the game.
As the narrative designer, I pushed to turn the level into a character.
If the persistent level is a character, then all the time the player spends familiarizing themselves with the environment can double as relationship-building. This also takes an action that can tend toward an imperialist narrative (Violence over ownership of land, stand-your-ground/Castle Doctrine implications) and shifts it toward the more universal desire to protect a friend.
Making the level a character also gives us the potential for an “omnipresent” voice that can contribute to signifiers, combat barks, and tutorialization.
Scope permitting, narrative can be improved when otherwise non-character objects become characters, however small. In God of War (2005), what could have been a simple button was implemented as a desperate man holding a lever down, just out of your reach. Once you gain the ability to throw lightning, you can kill the man to release the lever. This takes an otherwise unremarkable moment and uses it to give us a deeper look into Kratos’ personality.
I'm Also a Level Designer
Here's a brief look at my initial greybox level versus a more final version of the level:
A goal with this level was to create an environment on the back of a giant turtle, with a huge tree as a focal point. In the first image above, the black cylinder represents the tree.
Initially, the first greybox was meant to be the 2nd in a series of 3 linear levels. The team agreed to pivot toward a smaller, less linear experience, so I converted "level 2" into a single, interconnected level.
To support interconnectivity, walls were broken down and verticality was more deeply explored.
We needed to tutorialize the game but we also wanted an open level. I designed the level so that its first circumnavigation is linear, but upon reaching the end the level opens up. See the second video below for more insight into this.
Aspects of the level were made more symmetrical or repositioned to account for environment art needs - I stayed in a tight dialogue with environment artists as we built the final level together.
I included arbitrary "goodies" in my first iteration on the level to represent some yet-undesigned feature that could tempt players. That feature was never added, so they were removed.
In the greybox of the level, the most exciting area was off to the side (the disc platform with the red splotches on it). That area was centralized so that the action was also the focal point of the level and a strategically valuable location to hold.
Here's an internal video of me walking through the greyboxed level for the team:
And here's me playing through the final prototype level (with commentary):
Sadly, during the second half of development, the team making Behemyth fell apart and the game was never finished. I wish I had more to show for all my work, but I came out of it with a lot of lessons learned on project development and inter-team communication.