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Project Summary

Below, I'll break down my inspirations, workflow, goals, and the many challenges I overcame on this project.

Role: Level Designer, Environment Artist, Programmer

Team Size: Solo Project
Engine: Unreal Engine 5

Duration: April 2023 - May 2023

Status: Complete and released on itch.io

A single-player horror level set in a haunted estate:

You're housesitting on a stormy night when the power goes out. Grab a flashlight and confront the creature upstairs.

My Role:

Working solo, I carefully designed the level, set dressed the space, and playtested extensively to ensure I was releasing an intense, immersive, and polished experience.

Preproduction

I spent time during preproduction experimenting with a highly detailed paper map. While I've since learnt the importance of fast prototyping, the extra time spent helped me understand the right level of detail required to convey my ideas.

 

Adding clear materials also helped me get in the headspace for my level in terms immersive art, which is especially important for the horror genre!

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Full Size Horror Map.png

Level map.

I spent many hours in preproduction taking extensive notes on popular horror games, including Outlast, Amnesia, Darkwood, and many more. Through studying, I learnt the importance of immersion, pacing, intensity ramping, and keeping the player in fear of the unknown.

Darkwood study.

Scripted Scares

Working alone forced me to keep the project's scope low. I spent time carefully finding assets I could use to scare the player, such as Mixamo animations and free sound effects.

I also made several modifications to Horror Engine's blueprints, including removing the inventory system, modifying key bindings, and automatically unlocking doors after finding the right key.

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Modified key blueprint.

Chilling Challenges

In prior projects, I've struggled to justify my layout due to my lack of architectural knowledge. By choosing to design a small home, I decreased scope and was able to confidently craft a realistic space, emphasizing important details like pantries, closets, light switches, and plumbing.

Despite this, I still encountered several challenges with level layout, pathing complexity, and player guidance.

Pathing and Intensity

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New collisions with boxes.

I’ve also used various push and pull techniques to help guide the player and build tension.

 

In the upstairs, I’ve placed a leaky faucet audio source to pull the player forwards. For this half of the level, they are forced toward the creature against their better judgment, passing blood stains and entering a claustrophobic bedroom.

 

Once the player reaches the bedroom, the level flips, and they must run from the creature. This diversifies pacing, reuses space, and builds tension in a completely different way.

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Creating a realistic layout required placing many doors that weren't on the critical path; Players were often confused by the unclear pathing and tried to open every door they saw.

 

To solve this, I placed boxes to block off these routes, which helped build out the space's ambient storytelling and clarify the way forward. This solution balanced the realism and immersion with clear guidance

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Bathroom and updated map.

To illustrate the way I build tension throughout the level, I've made an intensity graph synced to the playthrough below.

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