On the magical Night of Nights, a young wizard’s apprentice and a witch break up under the stars, and in an attempt to win her back, the apprentice blows himself up when a dangerous binding spell goes terribly wrong, turning himself into a sentient skull and creating a monster in the process. Accompanied by the goblin thief Grinx, who is sent by a mysterious force, Yoric must find a way to reverse the spell, stop the monstrous moth he accidentally unleashed, and win back his love’s heart.
Night of Nights is a co-op narrative adventure-platformer romantic comedy, set in a high-fantasy world, and is a rework of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a sprinkle of Blackadder, and Monkey Island, as well as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and bit of Monty Python thrown into the mix.
The game can be played both as a single player experience, as well as a local co-op with the ability to switch seamlessly between the two mods at any point during its gameplay.
Role : Creative Director & Lead Designer || Pre-Production ||
The game had been pitched around as a sort of an update on the puzzle adventure game recipe from early on, with a focus on asymmetrical character gameplay, and an aimed experience being the fusion of Monkey Island, the Lost Vikings, and Limbo. After taking a couple of small prototypes, and investigating their potential for the Switch platform back in 2018, the game had to be rescoped and then redesigned holistically to deliver a carefully crafted and directed adventure experience while supporting a dynamic drop-in local co-op functionality at any point.
In order to achieve that scope and dynamic function with a small team, I focused on the development of agnostic core systems that could support this design, so it could naturally allow me to always be able to work the narrative aspect, while i work the directed gameplay, because the real time co-op control of the characters would have to be so unrestricted in relation to most adventure games at the time.
The project has had a two year period of both pure pre-production work, ( in the last year or so ) as well as a couple of sprints for holistic gameplay prototypes for PC and Switch, with development structures very similar to a vertical slice
During this project I developed the following skills:
Constraining the design around the core-creative pillars
The ability to deconstruct and re-structure core mechanics iteratively without having to change the entire architecture of the project
Taking the original structure of a “puzzle room” game, and translating it to a more open-world framework.
developing an internal framework for core game-play holistically expressible through level design.
While the term "holistic" is thrown around way too often when describing this game, it also happens to be the main design principle that holds together and balances a lot of traditional gameplay elements that can otherwise throw the overall game design into an array of contradictions with itself.
The challenge was to take the often used asymmetrical character mechanics (“Lost Vikings” & “The Cave”), and applying it to an otherwise much more self-immersive spirit of narrative from traditional adventure games (“Discworld” & “Monkey Island”) and focused level design for traversal and contextual puzzles (“Inside” & “Abe’s Odyssey”)
The design method was to keep the characters' core “symmetrical abstracts” while giving an emphasis on the “asymmetrical particulars”, and so the gameplay becomes much easier to start on, and expand its challenges later on.
By iterating on which character abilities are to be split among them, and which are to be shared, the overall design manages to maintain the meta-structure of a Point & Click adventure game, while running its core gameplay loop as a dynamic co-op puzzle platformer at the same time:
The emergent Core Gameplay Loop
Explore / read environment / gather information with character interactions
Discover the Main "Challenge" / "Puzzle Problem"
Overlay Puzzle Information with discovered / hinted clues about specific Character Interactions
Solve Puzzle & overcome Challenge..
Get intrinsically rewarded by progressing the story..
Get extrinsically rewarded with some set-piece comedic gag or another, about the contextual solution itself.
Level Design is one of the fundamental pillars that the game relies on, as it will be the canvas that supports both it's ambitious story, and asymmetrical Character / Puzzle-platform game-play.
The main purpose of each area is to be a scene for the story, and a stage for contextual Character Interaction.
Since the game is meant to be experienced in the tone of an animated film, there is a certain environmental and naturalistic fidelity that needs to balance out with the game's mechanics, and so a particular process is required to be followed while constructing each scene :
After we determine what we want to happen on each scene story-wise, we abstractly translate those beats into possible game-play and interaction verbs.
Each level usually accumulates all its individual interactions into a “thematic pattern” of sorts, and therefore could be contextualized as a "puzzle room" broken into various moving parts and interactions scattered around the level, that are systemic enough, to give the player an intuitive "mechanical" perception of the goal in accordance with the story
I then determine and place various secondary interactions as hints, environmental storytelling, and character development.
Thematic Interaction Pattern Examples
For the Graveyard Co-op Prototype, shown in the page, we took the quite common trope of point and click adventure game puzzles, of “Distracting the Guardian” and tried to flesh it out as a natural systemic puzzle, instead of a linear trial and error application of inventory items.
The players are going to encounter that type thinking first in a much more contained “canvas” with the Graverobber, and then on a slightly altered and more expanded way, on the level’s main puzzle with the Ghost Dimion.
The pattern is relatively the same :
The characters need to reach / acquire an objective, but there is an Obstacle / Guardian preventing them unless they are distracted by some systemic event or interaction, and the challenge is framed and disguised in some sort of contextualized systemic repetition, that will provide the player with feedback on each of the puzzle’s steps.
Example A )
The Graverobber and the Crowbar (Introducing the Guardian Distraction Concept)
The player(s) are guided via three different hints to steal a Crowbar that is used as a wedge for the Graverobber’s barely stable corpse wagon, without the Graverobber noticing.
The player(s) will need to agitate the vulture to land on the Graverobber’s “loot” in order to have him distracted by shouting off at the bird, steal the crowbar, and then agitate the vulture gain, this time to land on the Corpse Wagon and send it off the cliff.
The puzzle “resets” the Graverobber’s state every time the bird flies off, or if the character’s engage in a direct dialogue with him.
The vain Guardian Spirit of Dimion and his Precious Statue (Expanding the Guardian Distraction Concept)
The player(s) will need to use the crowbar to destabilize the Statue belonging to the Guardian Spirit of the Secret Passage, which will draw the Spirit out to magically repair his statue, and while doing so, the player will now need to use both characters to make their way into the passage, pick Yoric up, and use him as an Item on the Passage’s mechanism, and open the passage before the spirit returns.
The puzzle “resets” the Guardian Spirit’s state, everytime the spirit manages to restore the statue before the players make the objective.
Night of Nights is a story-driven experience, and it's designed to fuse the strong narrative immersion of a 90s adventure game, while doing away with text menus and lore reading exposition, and replacing it with free flowing voice dialogue.
The game uses a seamless mix of traditional in-game cut-scenes on pivotal points, and a gameplay narrative mechanic of the two main characters (and often two players) conversing while playing, with a dialogue system that's adjusting the different states of conversation types, on runtime, of as well a lot environmental storytelling happening, while the players progress through its mostly linear game-world.
Therefore the Narrative Design process is split into 3 different abstract layers that span through the different stages of its production and overall design :
Screenplay & Play Adaptation : Much like a theatrical production design, after we construct the core story into the framework of A Midsummer Night's Dream, we look at ways in which parts of that framework can be adapted into level specific interactions and mechanics and work these elements into the levels
Contextual Narrative Design & Progression : Having gone through the first step in combination with level design we then look to reinforce parts of the dialogue and the banter system to amplify character development, story progression and overall gameplay progress feedback.
( for example, the inter-character banter will dynamically shift to specific content, if the player is near a puzzle area or progression area, and if they met specific conditions, the dialogue will expose hints, and relevant location information. The same goes with Character development, since the story will change the main Characters outlook etc )
Gameplay and Story subtext : As the player progresses through the game, they will make certain decisions, some quite natural, and some story forced. The game will track these decisions via a couple of hidden systems and will attempt to reflect them at spread and appropriate points.
( for example, a simple dialogue line where the characters will comment on the player's traversal preferences, or the depletion of certain character abilities like Yoric's Possession of Grinx, that will eventually force the player into another pattern of gameplay..that will then be internalized as their own emergent consequence rather than a scripted event forced by the story )
Following a path inspired from the lessons learned from Forgotton Anne's production, and given the fact that this game has a much more ambitious gameplay scope, with almost half the manpower, the actual production of The Night of Nights, is reliant on the following cemented factors :
Consolidated Direction (Game Architecture - Narrative - Art Direction - Game Design - Level Design - Technical Overview and Tool Design)
Using pre-existing technology and design tools tested and mastered in previous productions ( The Forgotton Anne's robust level scripting technology, a modified and redesigned version of the dialogue system from the same game, various successful external Assets modified in the Pre-production stage, etc )
Extensive Pre-production period until Story Gameplay & Level Design have been Ironed out to work seamlessly
Layered Mid Production, where intermittencies have been worked out in the Pre-production ( for example, writing for tested greyboxed gameplay , will make voice over production framework much more accurate and easy to edit, etc)
Outside of the overall game development experience of taking a small personal project, and engineering it into a studio piece with different people breathing all sorts of new life into an ambitious game, the journey so far has been a second school for holistic design for me :
I particularly enjoyed designing these systemic puzzle setpieces which also had to immerse the player and portray the spirit of the story at the same time, and just fusing those two elements of immersion and character, into an intuitive puzzle is what attracts me the most in games. This kind of enthusiam becomes an amazing motivating fuel, which defies many international labor laws interestingly enough.
I also enjoyed finally discovering the organizational overview to work on something like developing the goblin follower Grinx, from a kinesthetic aspect while also detemining the low level design of his behavior, along with working on more high-level aspects of pushing the game forward at the same time.