Stellar Void WAD – Part 2

If you have just stumbled across this post, I recommend starting with part 1.

The second level I started for my wad is called Solar Sacrifice and actually appears as the third proper level. My goal was to use sun shapes to form towers in a large open map to contrast with the carefully controlled flow from Lunar Palace. The general idea was to open up the central sun spire to finally lower the barrier around the “Shattered Sun” in the lower left corner to battle the boss and clear the level.

In the end this level is my favorite but it went though a number of significant revisions to the flow that are harder to articulate just in top town maps. I hope I’m able to convey the process in a way that is intelligible to someone who hasn’t spent several weeks staring at this mess of sectors.

First Sketch of the level

The first key would be inside a castle at the north of the map which was accessed via a rocky path up the cliffs. You can see the first version of the interior in the lower right, connected where the [A] is on the larger layout map. When the player exited the castle at the other end there would a switch that opened a part of the Central Sun Spire, unleashing a wave of enemies.

The second key would be through the connection marked [B]. There you would find a a lift up to a cliff where they would teleport between some spires inside the main area to a “flame tower” with imps in platforms that move up and down. At the top would be the blue key.

Sun Temple Ideas

I quickly realized that path was far too short compared to the castle route so I made the addition of the Sun Temple in a new addition to the central cave. This would give more space for combat before getting the key. You can see the revised main cave layout sketched in above along with one of the bonus spires.

Unfortunately I don’t have as many versions of this map saved off but I can talk through some of the changes from the original sketch.

A version with the layout mostly done, missing some details

Lava Everywhere!: I added lava all over around the Sun Spire because once I made it large enough to look impressive there was just way too much open ground for the player to run around on. It was easy to get lost at the beginning of the level. By reducing the ground and having connections grow over time the player is a lot easier to funnel towards the objectives.

Castle -> Sun Spire: My idea of lining up the castle exit with the central sun spire just never worked out very well. The interior of the castle would have to be SO big that it was almost its own level and the enemies spawning far in the distance weren’t very threatening unless I spawned a million Cacodemons. Instead I shifted the Sun Spire over and used the idea of a series of teleports from original path [B] to connect the castle to the “flame tower”. I felt safe stealing this idea from [B] because the new timed lowering key in the center of the sun temple provided enough gameplay.

Recycling the teleporter idea into path [A]

Separated Paths: You may notice that I have marked the Blue Key switch with a box outline in both of the editor shots so far – that is because it is the pivot for the player path through the first part of the level. In the original sketch I had both Red and Blue switches next to each other at the start but in the final version the paths are separated. The blue key instead reveals a path towards the Sun Temple which provides the Red Key. This makes each key part of a loop that cleanly leads the player to the next step. I wish the end of [B] was 100% guaranteed to be seen before getting the key but fixing that issue would require major surgery. I ended up adding the large chunk of rock that rises after getting the Red Key to try patching this issue.

[B] path loop

Flame Tower: The idea of a bunch of Imps moving up and down on platforms flashing high contrast red was really exciting but I could never get it to work well. Additionally the [B} ended up with a bunch of Imp’s up high were the player couldn’t get since they don’t drop ammo but have ranged attacks. I kept the tower idea but instead had the platforms just rise up to reveal first Baron of the level.

Revised top of the Flame Tower

[A] Path Return: My original sketch doesn’t have a return route from the Key at the top of the flame tower. In the final version I added a cave that connects back to the starting path, this way the player comes back to the Blue Switch head on, exactly the same way they discovered it the first time. It also gave me the chance to ensure the player gets the chain-gun if they miss the optional one earlier.

Return path for [A]

Length: Playing through the level throughout development I started to worry there were too many ideas crammed into the level and it was getting too long. Since I was pretty happy with the core of routes [A] and [B] I added a Cyberdemon boss inside the Sun Spire and revealed him from the Red Key Switch. This made the entire “Shattered Sun” area in the original sketch optional, a space you only could find via a secret. At the time I was thinking it would lead to the secret level and only be accessible after entering the Cyberdemon area.

You can download that version here: SUN_BeforeFinalPush.wad

Ultimately I couldn’t let myself cut corners and just throw away the reveal of a whole new area on a secret leading to a level I hadn’t even built yet, so in a final push one weekend I turned the exit near the Cyberdemon into a Yellow Key and put in a new switch station.

A yellow switch appears

There were countless little changes in that last push but this was by far the biggest. The old secret route to unlock the alternate exit instead became the home of the BFG9000 which makes the final fight a lot easier. I thought I had saved the smallest, easiest level for last, but Stellar Void would prove to be the hardest idea to translate into the game of all – continue on to Part 3!

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