Training Grounds is a Single Player Arcade Shooter where the player has to rely on their eye-to-hand coordination to hit as many targets as possible before the time runs out.
The game was made in Unity 2020 entirely by me over the span of 3 months.
My focus areas in this project were User Interface Design, User Experience Design, System Design and Level Design.
The UI that I had to design for this game included the HUD, the reload bar, the main menu, the pause menu, the end of level screen, the end of game screen and least but not last, the credits.
Given the low context nature of the game, I went with a semi-minimalist visual style, highlighting buttons using semi-transparent squares and framing them with thin contrasting lines, a style inspired by Killzone: Shadowfall start screen.
The player HUD, given the eye-to-hand coordination based mechanics of the game, was designed to be as noninvasive as possible with elements such as timer, bullet counter and score relegated to the far corners of the screen, while the crosshairs was designed to provide contrast no matter the background; such result was achieved by applying a white outline to a dark, notchy crosshairs.
The reload bar, conceptually inspired by the Gears of War franchise, had to be immediately noticeable and afford a near-instantaneous readability.
Originally, the reload bar featured bright red, yellow and green colors to indicate the reload action quality, however, after a couple of Iterations, I noticed that users started to complain that, in fact, was too visually aggressive.
After some rapid fire iteration to test different concepts, I concluded that the best solution was to replace the bright colors with a bronze, silver and gold scale: the user familiarity with the Olympic medals rating system was enough to retain the immediate conceptual readability of the red-yellow-green combination.
On top of that, the bronze, silver, gold color combination resulted to be easier on the eye than the other, and harmonized better with the predominantly greyscale surrounding environment.
The main menu design revolves around the rules of thirds, focusing on simplicity in order to emphasize the real centerpiece of the screen, the 3D composition that foreshadows the two main elements of the game: the gun and the targets.
The buttons follow the aforementioned semi-minimalist visual style with the semi-transparent box and subtle line framing when highlighted, and a dark fading overlay cover the left third of the screen in order to create a sleek visual separation between the buttons area and the 3D composition area.
For this project I wanted to provide a layered and juicy feedback system that would react to every single player action.
The feedback system is designed to include audio, non-diegetic UI and diegetic VFX signifiers for every interaction that is available to the player.
For example, when the player successfully hits a target, they will receive the following feedback:
1) The non-diegetic UI element of the scored points hovering above the target.
2) A satisfying diegetic metallic ping sound, which changes in pitch and volume in case the player scores a headshot.
3) A satisfying non-diegetic hit feedback sound inspired by the Call of Duty franchise, which changes in pitch and volume in case the player scores a headshot.
4) A bright particle system that replicate sparks in the location the player hit the target, and a subsequent bullet hole.
A variant of the aforementioned feedback system has been also designed in case the player hits a civilian target.
When I designed the particle system I tried to replicate to the best of my possibilities the core visual elements of shooting a real weapon, layering particle and light effects to create the muzzle flash to including the sound of bullet casings falling to the ground and playing them on random intervals and pitches.
I also feel it’s necessary to mention that there is a confirmation screen for every destructive action the player can perform during gameplay (leaving the level/game).
Given the time and the scope I was given for this project, I opted to include a graded score system with the aim of increasing replayability and player retention.
Points can be earned (or lost) by shooting targets (or civilians), and headshots, which hit area is roughly 5 times smaller than the body, provide three times the amount of points.
Originally, the points scored by a hit were also depending on the reaction time of the player, however, after multiple iterations, it became evident that the complexity of factors for the player to take into account during the split second in which they select their next target became too much to process, leading to multiple episodes of analysis paralysis; to simplify the heuristics development process on a micro level, said feature has been removed and the player engagement largely benefitted from it, as now is easier for players to get “in the zone”.
The grading system is a letter based one, ranging from A+ (perfect score, the player has performed headshots every targets in the level) to F (the player missed more than half of the targets without performing any headshot).
The D grade works as a baseline for unskilled players, as it's designed to be earned when shooting down every target without performing any headshots, when getting a headshot for every three targets missed or anything in between.
One of the main challenges that I had to overcome was to prevent player to spam the reload action, as in early development it had no cost; I solved that by including a sub-minigame upon reloading based on reaction times, as a bar will pop up and depending on when the player stops it the reload will be either immediate (perfect result), have a 0.5 seconds delay (good) or a 2 seconds delay (bad).
The most challenging part of designing the system was to prevent the player to abuse the reload mechanic, as it the early iterations of the game was immediate, had a very short cooldown and did not provide any significant gameplay tradeoff (in both difficulty and time).
This problem was solved by looking at how the Gears of War franchise handles reloading, which led me to develop a system that adjust the reload time of the weapon according to the position of a sliding line on a score bar (perfect: immediate, good: 0.5 seconds delay, bad: 2.0 seconds delay).
This mechanic allowed me to double down on the hand-eye coordination mechanics of the game and provide a gameplay interception that would break the flow of the game and provide a further element of tension and challenge to the player.
Each level features one gameplay expansion, such as moving targets on level 2 and civilian targets on level 3, and one gameplay evolution, such as shorter availability times for targets on level 2 and moving civilian targets on level 3.
The overall progression of each level and of the overall game has been designed to follow the 3 to 1 tension-to-excitement ratio and is structured to include one hook, two engagement pits, three engagement spikes, and a conclusion.
Given the scope and time that I was given to complete the project, the game does not feature any movement, which was both a blessing and a curse when I had to move onto the level design: on one end, scene composition was relatively simple to pull off, and visual guidance was aimed only towards helping the player identifying the targets, without having to worry about spatial navigation.
On the other hand, I had to find ways to create three interesting static levels that synergize with the system gameplay expansions and evolutions and provide elements of novelty to the player.
Level One was designed with one goal: learning. Given that this would be the level in which the player would get accustomed with all the core mechanics of the game, simplicity was paramount.
This led me to include no more than six targets in the level space, without any large covering or visual obstruction, carefully placing lights to emphasize the target location to the player.
Level Two is where challenge gets added to the mix. The central column creates a division that splits the areas of gameplay interest, forcing the player’s aim to switch back and forth between the two halves, something that during the user testing phase of this level took the name of Aim Flow Interruption.
Level Three expands the spatial division gameplay theme by creating three different divisions through the use of two columns, and expands on it by adding elements of verticality trough the inclusion of elevated platforms, further splitting the areas of gameplay interest in five sections (extreme left, vertical left, extreme right, vertical right, center) and providing better opportunities to create tension trough the use Aim Flow Interruption.