quinta-feira, 5 de dezembro de 2013

Observing level design in Gauntlet

I’m an old school gamer and, occasionally, I like to play NES cartridges from the 80’s. One of my favorite titles from this time is Gauntlet.

Gauntlet (1985, Atari Games) is a fantasy-themed hack and slash game, originally created for arcade with versions for NES, Master System, Mega Drive and other consoles. In the NES version, players could select among four playable characters: Thor the barbarian, Merlin the Wizard, Thyra the Valkyrie, or Questor the elvish archer. Gauntlet’s levels are full of orcs, spectres, skeletons, treasure chests and other classic elements from medieval Role Playing Games.

Each character has unique abilities, powers and weaknesses. So, it’s possible to explore different ways playing the game solo or combining different powers with a friend on the second joystick.

The gameplay is set within a series of top-down, third person perspective mazes where the goal is to find and scape through the exit in every stage. The video below shows Gauntlet’s mechanics.

Despite the simple interface and limited resources of this time, Gauntlet is a good example of level design management. The game has 100 stages and each of them is unique and works with the limited boundaries of the TV screen. The game uses the player’s memory with complicated mazes and has a life meter that works as a time pressure component.

The 100 stages are divided among five worlds, each one with special technical features. In Gauntlet it’s possible to see a well-constructed difficult/learning curve by passing the stages. The game hybridises the levels with the mechanics to offer the player a positive experience.

In this context it’s possible to say, “games consist of stages, or levels. As the player progresses through a game, the levels generally increase in difficulty and the story develops. The designer must create a series of challenges for the player as he progresses through a level. This means that the design of individual levels is closely linked to the design of the game mechanics” (THOMPSON; BERBANK-GREEN; CUSWORTH: 2007: p.93).

I think it’s important to analyze ideas from the past to establish new connections today. The beginning of the 80’s is a perfect frame to observe some conditions that are patterns of today’s gaming industry.


THOMPSON, Jim; BERBANK-GREEN, Barnaby; CUSWORTH, Nic. Game Design: principles, practice, and tecniques - the ultimate guide for the aspiring game designer. New Jersey: Wiley, 2007