Level Design Essay

Swipe It! – A Burglar’s Quest is a 2D puzzle-platform game available on all iOS devices. Rather than using fake buttons on the touch screen, you control your character by swiping and tapping the screen. You use these inputs to run, jump, and punch through 13 levels, each with branching paths and unique obstacles. The primary

  • Hoards of coins and jewels to collect
  • 60 hidden diamonds that unlock new stages
  • Dozens of mechanics to create puzzles and challenges
  • A classic 8 bit art style

Swipe It! – A Burglar’s Quest is an iOS game I made with my dad. He handled the programming and sound design, while I was responsible for all the other jobs. I drew all of the visuals for the game using Pixen, a pixel art animation program. 

The arrangement shown below is the first of its level. This very first screen is introducing the player to a new mechanic: the penguin. The penguin always faces either left or right, depending on which side of it the burglar is on on the x axis. Every three seconds, the penguin will throw an ice block straight forward. This projectile can hurt the burglar, but can also be used to his advantage, since they can be used to activate switches (the purple block to the left) and break certain blocks (the yellow block on the right). The player is never told any of this explicitly, but it is important information they need to player through the level, so how will I tell them?

This segment is a tightly constructed tutorial which cannot be moved past until the player has absorbed all of the information above. Not only that, the room itself is constructed in such a way that they will likely figure this out with little trouble.

In the starting position, there are no blocks that the burglar is in range to interact with, nor is there a way out. His only option is to wander the limited lower space. Since the penguin is the only object on screen that the player is not already familiar with, they will be paying attention to it and trying to figure out how they could use it to progress. In this time, the player will realize two things about the penguin.

  1. The penguin can be affected by the burglar simply moving around. Since the penguin always faces in whichever horizontal direction the burglar is, the player has some minor control over what the penguin does.
  2. The penguin throws a projectile on a timer. Every three seconds, an animation plays of the penguin reaching behind its back, and then it throws an ice block straight forward.

Putting these facts together, the player will realize that they can control which way the penguin throws the ice block. They make the penguin throw the ice left since that is the only way the player could possibly make anything happen, and then the switch is flipped, causing the columns of purple blocks to disappear. The player then has to make the penguin throw the ice block to the right so that it will hit the breakable block. This ensures that the player knows how to manipulate the penguins direction (since the penguin must throw in each direction in order to complete the arrangement) and demonstrates to the player that the ice is affected by gravity.

Now that the player has demonstrated that they have understood all of the important information about the penguin, the level arrangement allows them to proceed. The segment functions as an incredibly natural tutorial that is guaranteed to teach the player everything they know. It only takes a few seconds to complete, it doesn’t take the player out of the interactive experience, and it communicates in no words what I just tried to say in several paragraphs. It has the added bonus that experienced players who already know about the penguin and don’t want to sit through a boring text lecture on how it works don’t have to! They just make the penguin throw in both directions (which takes six seconds) and immediately get to move onto the level proper.