Made in 2020 (9 month project)
Group of 8 team members
Created with Unreal Engine 4
Themes: Sailing | Solitude | Journey
Pitch: A few months ago, a storm tore Elea from her ship, the Höfn. Miraculously, she escaped drowning and now survives in wrecks where the sea left her.
One morning, as she is finishing the last repairs on a sailboat she is refurbishing, a bottle is washed up ashore on the beach. A message left by her father, the captain of the Höfn.
Will Elea retrieve her family ?
Haul away takes place in an 18th-century setting, on a nordic ocean speckled with forsaken islands.
The player embodies Elea, a teenage woman who navigates a small sailboat alone, searching for the Höfn, the lost ship of her relatives.
As the sea is hostile and ruthless, Elea must constantly improve her skills, her boat and learn to master it.
With my teammates and I, Haul Away was our graduation project, released at the end of June 2020.
I was very enthusiastic to work on it, as it felt like fighting "the final boss" of my school. I used every bit I learned during my schooling, in order to deliver an awesome game at the end of the year and finally obtain my diploma!
Working as a level designer, but also as a producer, this project had for purpose to challenge the skills I wanted to put in practice, but also to learn from it.
As we feel the project has some potential, we're trying to continue to iterate on it during our free time to improve it and exploit its full potential.
For more details on our project, please check our final presentation document right below.
Here's as well a gameplay footage of our game, if you want to see what this is all about right below.
Our "metroidvania" level design limits the movements of the player in this semi-open world game while still giving him/her a sense of exploration and freedom. Divided in three clusters, each one of them challenges the players on diverse aspects (observation, dexterity, anticipation...).
I was responsible for the last cluster, which includes the final island to explore, Rökkur, and the storm, the "boss" of our demo. The storm consists of being a mix of all the sea's challenges (squalls, haze, natural obstacles...) to defy the player on his full mastery of his sailboat. Besides that, I also worked on the wind points and ocean currents placement (thanks to the great tool made by our programmers).
I tried to place them in a manner so the player would need to constantly manage his sailboat to maintain his course.
As a consequence, the level design also pushes the player to strive to master his boat to reach new horizons. Luckily, some craftable upgrades for the Skref (Elea's sailing boat) can be found on small islands by exploring them to ease the player's navigation, as well as some landmarks that will help him to better get his bearings.
Feel free to have a look at my level design document just below to get more intel on the work I did on this project.
Regarding some management documents I created, here are our production pipelines for each team (design, art, tech) on the project to understand what are the different validating steps for every task, as well as an example of retroplanning for the end of our production phase.
In a 9 month production, things can't flow at ease without good management. This is why my role mostly consisted of making the work go as smoothly as possible. Therefore, I used to check if the documentation was clear and understandable for all the team members and used compelling management tools to be more efficient, such as a RACI matrix, a Gantt chart, Jira, or even Confluence, tools widely used in the game industry. I also planned meetings (stand-ups, daily reviews...) to check their progress with the leads and team members, so as to measure the risks of the upcoming tasks.
We applied the Agile methodology and SCRUM/Kanban frameworks which gave us more flexibility and adaptation to the current situation. My job was also to adapt the production with the leads, as we faced some unexpected events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. When this happened, we tried to re-examine our objectives, our task priorities and try to come with solutions to face these problems.
What I've learned...
Making and giving the feeling to the player to evolve in an open-world isn't an easy task.
In terms of level design, we took inspiration from other open-world games, watched/read some design videos/articles... We learned interesting insights from all of these (the use of landmarks, what are the codes of a Metroidvania game, how-to guide the player while still giving him a sense of freedom?...) which will definitely prove useful in case I'll work on games of this genre.
Haul away was my first project during which I practiced the role of being a producer. Even though things didn't go as planned and could have gone better (for instance, due to the COVID pandemic) it was a very enriching experience. Maybe it wasn't the right time to take this role due to my inexperience, but I'm very happy and proud the team gave me their confidence to play this role in the project. I've learned a lot of it in terms of organization, on the human side, and of course, management.
Furthermore, our graduation project was our first full-time video game production. With my co-workers, we felt like a little studio, each of us putting our own knowledge into the project to try to make the most of it. I tried to find and communicate with a lot of outsourcers to be able to offset our weaknesses through their help. We were finally professionals, working responsibly and being committed to our project (but we still kept a bit of fun here and there while working.)
Technical game designer