Chris Johnson - Game Designer

The Last Light – First Person Survival Horror

The Last Light

An atmospheric survival-horror game about avoiding darkness

Developed By: “MindTree Games” Champlain College Senior Production, Fall 2015 – Spring 2016

Engine/Framework: Unreal Engine 4

Platform: PC

Type: Narrative-Focused First Person Horror

Development History

The Last Light is a first-person survival-horror puzzle game developed by MindTree Games, a team of senior game students at Champlain College. MindTree Games, and The Last Light (TLL) began in October 2015 as a proof-of-concept prototype created by what was then our four-person team: myself as the designer, Nick Comeau as the artist, Vincent Loignon as the programmer, and Zach Saxe as our producer. This prototype was iterated upon and expanded, and in December 2015 we presented a vertical slice of our game to the Champlain College faculty and our fellow students. This vertical slice was met with great enthusiasm, and we were approved to continue development of it. We took in eight more team members to bring our total team size up to twelve, and we continued working diligently to expand and complete this game. Completed at the end of our final semester at Champlain College, The Last Light was released on April 28, 2016 for free on itch.io.

TeamPhoto_small

Game Overview

In The Last Light, players play as Sophie Thompson, a seventeen year-old high school student who is riding a subway through the city to pick up her younger brother, Lucas. Without warning, the power in the underground fails and Sophie is left in complete darkness with nothing but a flashlight as the subway screeches to a halt. She finds that everyone has disappeared, and, fearing for Lucas’ safety, she sets out through the underground to find him. But there is a monster lurking in the darkness, the monster that is responsible for the power outage and the disappearance of nearly everyone. This monster is now stalking Sophie through the tunnels, and she finds that the only way to survive is to utilize the monster’s aversion to bright light, and to stay out of the darkness at all costs.

The challenge and the gameplay in TLL is created through various combinations and mixtures of both puzzle mechanics, and encounters with the monster. The monster appears as a black cloud of particles that hovers around the map, and can only travel through darkened areas. If the player enters a dark area, the monster will pursue them, and, when it reaches them, kill them after a couple of seconds of physical contact. The player has several defenses against this, outlined below:

  • Environmental Lights: Light sources are sparsely placed throughout the map, and provide safety. Some are static, while others can be turned on and off. These lights use power, and the player must manipulate a breaker box to route power to lights, gates, elevators, etc. The breakers can only power a few objects at a time, so players must think tactically, and carefully choose which objects they provide power to.
  • Shake-Powered Flashlight: The player’s main item is a flashlight that can be recharged by shaking it. It can provide a bright directional light to scare away the monster, but it’s battery only lasts for a few moments before it needs recharging. To recharge, the player must rapidly tap the left and right mouse buttons in alternation to shake the flashlight up and down.
  • Road Flares: These powerful consumables can be found hidden throughout the environment. To light them, players must complete a timed “active reload” mechanic. Once lit, flares provide a bright light in all directions, and can be held in the hand, or thrown anywhere in the environment. They will provide light for approximately one minute before they burn out.

 

A brief design reel explaining how the design of the flashlight and flares help to achieve the intended gameplay experience

Level Design

There were many different considerations to balance when designing levels for The Last Light:

  • Maintain good flow and pacing
  • Make the space feel organic and sprawling instead of linear
  • Provide hints to the path forward through the use of lighting, foreshadowing, etc.
  • Provide nonessential spaces for exploration and hidden items
  • Allow spaces for cutscenes and dialogue to play
  • Provide environmental lights to give the player safe areas from the monster
  • Deliver a satisfactory flow of new mechanics and challenges

To aptly convey my level designs to the rest of the team, I created the level diagram shown below. It is a layered PDF file, and each layer shows a different facet of the level’s layout: geometry, item placement, lighting, etc. The visibility of each layer can be toggled on and off by the viewer, so that they can only see the layers they want to see. This allowed me to fit all the relevant information about the level into a single document, without worrying about it’s appearance being too cluttered or confusing. Below, each of the document’s layers can be seen one at a time:

Game Design Portfolio of Chris Johnson