UDOB3 - Released for Copper Quake on June 20th, 2019
Exploration and discovery are my favorite feelings that games can induce. Older shooters like Quake, with their more relaxed themes and narrow, deep gameplay, provide the perfect chassis for undirected, nonlinear level design. With a relaxed inventory limit on keys in Copper, they provided the perfect goals to sprinkle around an open-ended, circular level packed with secrets.
The overall structure is simple: a four-way central hub is ringed by a continuous donut of varying space. Constructed spaces with stairs and lifts to the north give way to a ragged cavern with overlooks and treacherous ledges to the south. The player is thrown first into the hub, where a chaotic combination of Vores and Zombies encourages the player to exploit the Vore's explosive projectiles to do the work of cleaning up the zombies for him. A platform bearing a grenade launcher can be dropped on the Vores by finding four easy-to-see buttons, so if the player keeps a cool head and open eyes they can clear the hub room without firing a shot.
From here, the hub unlocks and they're granted free access to the entire outer ring. The main goal of the map is the exit arch, accessible right away but requiring three keys, which can be found by freely exploring the rest of the level (and fighting their guardians). These can be completed in any order, from whatever direction the player comes at them. Some players would take a depth-first approach, cleansing one corner of the level and getting all the way to a key before moving on to another sector. Others were breadth-first, doing a world tour to rack up all the accessible kills and 'safe' the map before experimenting with buttons and mechanisms.
This freedom to approach an open level that sits back and lets the player pick it apart however they like is sorely missing from a world of increasingly controlled, linear levels. Being allowed to learn to navigate a space is also more fun to me than being guided along a rail, even if it means I might get turned around once or twice in the process.
Building this mental map of a level becomes more rewarding when the player begins leaning on it to solve riddles and uncover hidden things. My attempt to accomplish this here was to hide no less than ten secrets, some of them even hidden within other secrets. Three of them are also locked behind (hidden) gold key doors. Each of three gold keys is tucked away, shyly visible adjacent to each silver, and harder to reach, requiring a higher degree of effort or investigation. They're hard to reach, but not hard to miss. These little winks by the level encourage the player to dig deeper, hinting at mysteries just behind the veil of a space they thought they'd already mastered.
100% of this content is optional, and players can technically find three silver keys and leave the map without ever looking any deeper ... but no one misses everything, and several multi-tier secrets only draw the player in further. This kind of discovery feels much more rich when the player is allowed to do it organically and investigate at will, and I feel works best in an open-ended map like this.