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RagBrawl_Logo.png

An online multiplayer party game

Platform(s) - Windows PC

Unreal Engine 5

Date: September 2022 - Present

Team Pi7dgeon Party

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During the development of RagBrawl, I acted as Level Designer and Systems Designer. I have been primarily responsible for the development of maps for the game and detailing sections of the game work. However, given our relatively small team size of thirteen I was also able to assist in many other aspects of development.

The release trailer for RagBrawl!

RagBrawl is a competitive online multiplayer party game where you battle up to 12 players in a variety of game modes within imaginary childhood inspired locations.

Some background about the development of RagBrawl!

We had lofty dreams for the initial concept of RagBrawl. The team knew that we wanted a multiplayer experience and dragons. The original pitch for RagBrawl was a game more like playing 3D Snake against other players in a wide open arena. We wanted to keep the party game aspect at the forefront.

After more concept refinement the idea spawned of players fighting over a moving dragon objective controlled by another player. We tested this idea for longer than anticipated and came to the realization that we were trying to make two games at the same time. We opted to go for the “Find the fun” approach which ended up being running, jumping, and grappling around an arena made of childrens toys and household furniture as little floppy ragdoll characters called Tufflings. Thus, the groundwork for RagBrawl was laid.

Early concepting board art that imagined players fighting each other and piloting a dragon, all while collecting a resource on the map called "soul".

Setting the Stage

Map concepting evolved and changed as did the final vision of the game over time. One of the few things that stayed consistent during the entire development process was that the stages of the game would be made of only childrens toys, old furniture, and cardboard. We wanted the game to look like it was hand built by a child.

DESIGN CHALLENGE: Make the map accessible to smaller players and larger dragon entities. Dragon riders needs to be able to participate in objective based gameplay without being left out. If the dragon rider can’t actually play what's the point?

The first map was inspired by the idea of a pillow fort. The kind made out of couch cushions and chairs with a large blanket covering the entire thing. I took this idea and ran with it, beginning to make the initial architecture. At the time the game was still being pitched as a game where players would battle each other while riding on their team's respective dragon so in order to encourage player engagement, we wanted a largely central focused map. I got to work within Unreal Engine 5 taking advantage of its modeling features to create various pieces of basic geometry.

This was one of the first times I had worked with Unreal Engine but I found that greyboxing was similar to Unity with the ProBuilder plug-in. Although I initially struggled to shape more complicated pieces into what I’m looking for, I was able to finish the initial level concept. The arena was circular with a very tall cat tower in the middle acting as the central objective location players would gather around. There were also two smaller towers on opposite ends of the arena. The peaks of these points would be where the cloth would drape over to enclose the space, as I eloquently demonstrated in a screenshot edited in Microsoft Paint. The cat tower also offered a lot of space for our dragons to weave through the map to perform some kind of objective. Keeping in line with the original snake idea, the dragons were serpent like, representing more eastern dragons than traditional western dragons.

 

Overall, the first iteration of the map went over well with the team and fit what we were planning for the game. This did not last long as the idea of RagBrawl was shifting every sprint. 

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Tuffling for scale! We wanted the player to feel small compared to the layout of the map, so the initial stages of blocking out was figuring out what scale felt right.

DESIGN CHALLENGE: Players need to have an enjoyable time maneuvering the dragons while still accomplishing larger objectives.  How can we make the map accommodate large moving objects while still being interesting?  How will players compete when they are isolated on their individual dragons?

Map concept two spawned from countless team discussions about how much the dragon would be a part of the game. We wanted a more player objective based game, and for a multiplayer game it made sense that this would create a team dynamic. The game was re-envisioned as two teams that would be fighting over objectives on the map using their dragons as heavy support. A few ideas for decentralizing the map were proposed, but we settled one involving a series of bridges. The gameplay would take place on two sides of a large central ravine with bridges spanning across leading to different levels of both sides. The map idea was inspired by the Narrows map in Halo 3 called Narrows and a Garry's Mod multiplayer map that our technical artist Brynn liked. but was never able to find a trace of.

 

I quickly conceived the prototype of this new map, starting from scratch. The central ravine had plenty of space for the dragon to move around in. I also wanted to include more of the verticality that the previous map had since the player would now have the ability to run, jump, and grapple around. I also created indents on both sides of the map, which I had planned to eventually carve into smaller corridors and hallways inaccessible to the dragon. Since the game was becoming more player focused and less dragon focused, I felt that having locations that only players could reach would incentivise those objectives. With the focus on mobility, I wanted there to be many paths in which players could move around the level to explore. I didn’t want to create any dead ends.

 

The concept was well received  by testers but the team was not fully satisfied. The artists and designers came together to make a blockout of a map that combined the best elements of both previous iterations to create something greater. This stage became the iconic playground of RagBrawl and has not changed significantly since.

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Before

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During

After

Designing the Tutorial

Map concepting evolved and changed as did the final vision of the game over time. One of the few things that stayed consistent during the entire development process has been that the stages of the game would be made of nothing but childrens toys, old furniture, and cardboard. We wanted the game to look like it was hand built by a child.

DESIGN CHALLENGE:  Introduce players to the game mechanics and play style before they enter a multiplayer match.  What skills do they need in advance?  How can we introduce these in a fun and interactive way?

The development of RagBrawl was getting rocky at times, needing the occasional rescope or rework of some of our initial concepts. Despite it all the game was coming out great. One of the main issues we noticed during testing was that players didn’t know how to play. Our game took advantage of some mechanics that were not immediately obvious to a player just sitting down to try it. Our solution was a single player tutorial section of the game where players can go and learn all of the basic controls and mechanics of the game to prepare them to play with others. I was given full responsibility for the development and testing of the tutorial. 

 

My approach to the tutorial was a simple linear progression through a map where players were informed about what they are able to do and how things work. The first version of the tutorial was designed to have the player run through a series of cardboard boxes. The tutorial followed a loop of an initial prompt explaining a mechanic or controls, then the player would need to proceed by engaging in said mechanic. Once they completed this task, they were given another prompt with additional information until they had seen each basic mechanic. The “basic mechanics” were any features that would be present in all of the game modes available, which includes movement, grappling, combat, and interacting with gravity objects. The final section of the tutorial would be a small sandbox where players would use everything they learned to achieve an objective, after which they could return to the main menu.

With all of the cardboard assets we had available, I wanted to make the tutorial feel like the player moving through various cardboard boxes filled with household items and toys, as if a family was just moving into a new home.

The tutorial would offer both text-based and vocal instructions from the narrator (myself) for the sake of clarity and accessibility.

I primarily focused on exposing the player to each mechanic and allowing them to try it rather than on gameplay as a whole. This focus caused the tutorial to be more informative than fun. In addition, the map design was very closed off, which was not necessarily representative of the rest of the game which featured wide open traversable maps. Despite the limited amount of time available, the tutorial did achieve the goal of introducing the player to key gameplay elements in an accessible clear way. After Greenlight, I was able to go back to write these wrongs for full production.

In hindsight, for all of the movement options we had to offer, much of the tutorial felt cramped, never letting the player the kind of movement you would be able to experience in game. 

The final version of the tutorial pre-greenlight.

The Tutorial: Revamped

The tutorial for RagBrawl was one of the few things on the project that I had a soul hand in designing from start to finish. When RagBrawl began its next stage of production, I wanted to go back and make a significant overhaul to the level in terms of visuals and mechanics to help onboard new players. The effort was well worth it in the end and the level was met with resounding praise by playtesters

RagBrawl Zombies

Infection!

After our game was given permission to go into full production, one of our focuses was creating more game modes for our party game. The only game mode available until this point was essentially a free-for-all mode that we didn’t feel fully showed off the potential of the game. Three of our designers, myself included, were tasked with working with our programmers to develop the prototypes for three new game modes.

 

The game mode I devised was a play on an infection style game mode where most players would begin as a living player and fewer would start as infected. The goal of the infected is to infect every player in the game and the living player's objective is to survive. The game involved heavy use of our combat systems and movement systems as this mode would be a dangerous game of hide and seek.

I wanted to make changes to the infected formula to make it our own. I wanted to add some sort of objectives for both teams to play around to add a layer of depth beyond simply killing each other. Unfortunatly, due to scope, these additional objectives would not completely make it into the final game, leaving it as a more traditional infected style of play. 

Documentation I made to demonstrate the systems and mechanics of the Infected game mode.

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Bubbles!

Using the Niagara VFX system inside of Unreal Engine 5 I was able to quickly whip up a good looking soap bubble effect to be used within the game. 

The original inspiration for the idea was to use the soap bubbles to represent a player holding on to the soap item, a mechanic that was initially going to be apart of the infected mode. The idea would be that fresh players were trying to stay clean as opposed to the moldy players trying to infect them. I created a prototype of the player collecting the soap item in game and having bubbles come from them after for a short time. 

Though this mechanic never made it into the final version of the game I don't feel like the time was wasted. This only took me a few hours at most and the bubbles were later used as to show slippery surfaces on the bathroom map.

Check out Ragbrawl on Steam!

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