The Level Design Behind Fall Guys – A Junior's analysis
So, Fall Guys is a battle royale with less emphasis on the ‘battle’, it pits 60 players against (and sometimes with) one another to either outperform or outlast each other across a range of dynamic hazard filled levels. I have been playing and trying to analyse the design decisions to better understand how the team at Mediatonic has made these levels a success. This brief post highlights what I have picked up on the most.
Balancing Skill and Mayhem:
One of the ways fall guys always keeps you on the edge of your seat is through creating a fine balance between what is and what is not in your control. We will refer to these as skill-based and mayhem-based elements.
So, skill-based elements encompass everything within the player's control, their approach to levels, their mastery of the controls, their overall decision making. The more proficient a player is with these skills the more likely they are to outperform their competition in rounds, if this were the only effector on gameplay fall guys would just be another BR where the only thing you must worry about is yourself and what you do.
Most things arnt too difficult with one or two people around. (Dizzy Heights)
However, where fall guys set itself apart is with the mayhem that it brings into every match. No matter how you try and approach it there are always things happening completely out of your control. Whether it’s flying obstacles like the snowballs on Freezy Peak or the scythes and beams in knight fever there are always hazards that must be avoided, some being completely unpredictable. Couple trying to skillfully navigate these while the 60 players around you are jumping, diving, and grabbing onto you, it quickly becomes obvious why mayhem is a good term. The beauty of this is how you can never expect to just land into a level and repeat your performance from the previous round just because you know what you are doing.
Add half the lobby and things get a little more messy! Who knows where you will end up (Dizzy Heights)
Choke Point Level Design:
But this begs the question, in a game where the players main objective is to take care of themselves and reach a certain objective, how can you still ensure that mayhem will always be present, and players will always be forced to endure it? Easy, choke points, many of the levels within the game utilise these areas to funnel groups of players into small areas at a time, this results in large chaotic mosh pits where players end up jumping over, pushing, pulling, and outright abusing each other to try and get an advantage or progress.
We have all experienced a full lobby trying to get through one doorway on door dash. Never again D:
Without choke points players could far too easily speed run entire levels by themselves, resulting in the most skilful players often leaving others in the dust. It would also make the game feel far more like a racing game where trying to smash another player off the edge or trying to jump on someone’s head to reach the next platform might only slow you down. With choke points we get more emergent gameplay that is far more fitting with the art style and genre, they result in unpredictable moments that give players of any skill level a chance to come out on top. We also get the all-important slapstick element that the little bean fall guys so effortlessly convey.
Sometimes viewed as the holy grail of game design, flow, is a state where the player is completely involved in their environment, it is most often achieved through the perfect balance between difficulty and skill. Quite commonly across the levels in fall guys we see a ramping difficulty design, where hazards or obstacles become more challenging the closer you get to the finish line or the longer you survive.
In Ski fall for example we can see each of the three platforms has more hazards compared to the last, beginning with a simple slope without hazards or obstacles it serves as a great warmup for first-time players as well as a calibration for those who might now have played the level in a while. After this we get some simple obstacles blocking the player's path and disrupting their trajectory as they slide down, forcing them to alter their course. Closing with the final dartboard as a new style of target we have multiple flippers, fans, and blockers to prevent players from easily lining up a shot at the golden hoop. Combining this we can see that each phase of the level has an obvious increase in difficulty, presenting a new challenge for the player to overcome after each success. This helps prevent boredom from seeping in where players find themselves repeating the same challenge three times in a row with three hoops and forces the player to adapt and concentrate as they perfect their approach to each stage.
Ski Fall First Platform
Ski Fall Last Platform, a large difference in how you can approach these
We often see this throughout other levels in the game like Roll On where the rotating cylinders get faster and smaller further into the level, with a completely different style of cylinder at the end of the level to present a new challenge. Or In survival levels like Roll out where cylinders rotate faster over time and slowly lower into deadly slime.
Overall fall guys do a brilliant job of keeping players attention hooked into the game with progressive difficulty curves throughout levels, finding the fine line between skill and challenge as players reach checkpoints. The level variant system also improves this as it prevents players from memorising or knowing what to expect in every level.
The final area that rounds up the levels in fall guys for me is the choice that players get with different routes and styles of play to get that victory royale. Whether it’s choosing when to jump onto a seesaw or whether to take the shortcut with high risk to reward the majority of levels provide players with the opportunity to make choices that will affect their success. One of my favourite examples of this is the rotating hammers and flippers we see on some level variants that can launch players across entire sections. Whilst being incredibly hard to line up a good shot, often resulting in you flying straight down a hole, these small additions to levels can result in some truly clutch plays as one good punt can send you flying into the lead or back into the thick of the action if you are behind.
Do you take the easier options to the left and right or go straight through the high speed fan in the middle to save some time? (The Whirlygig)
The other benefit to choices like this is the emergent moments that they can generate for players. Do you help some fall guy drag a block in Wall Guys or do you wait for him to do it himself, so you are ready to jump straight on it before him? These experiences are what draw players back to games, they enhance replay-ability and memorability as there are always different choices to be made.
Fall guys gameplay is a well-rounded multifaceted experience due to the range of playstyles and situations the designers at Mediatonic have accommodated for. The emphasis on chaotic choice-driven gameplay results in no two matches being the same with truly emergent experiences being commonplace. Backing this up with strong level design practices like choke points and ramping difficulty levels ensure players are constantly focused and interacting with one another. A true masterclass in competitive multiplayer level design.
Thanks for reading my not so short take on the level design behind fall guys as an aspiring designer myself looking at games in this light helps me to understand what I should be looking for when designing my levels and how I can try to replicate the same enjoyment in my creations.