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Darkness Revealed Update 9 - How We Build Levels at Pixel Cows (Part 1)

Hello, everyone!

How's it going? This next update will be split into two parts because we have a lot to show: In part 1, we'll talk a bit about our map editor, and you'll be able to clearly see the results of the graphical changes shown in last week's devlog. And next week, in part 2, we'll show the rest of the map editor and some cool features. 

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So let's get started!

If you're not an indie game developer yourself, have you ever wondered how companies put together their levels and worlds? What kind of interface do they use? If you do happen to be a game developer, I'm sure you wonder from time to time what other developers are doing in that regard (heck, we think about that all the time!)

Ok, here's how we're doing it nowadays!

An engine within an engine

When we started using Unity, one of our core priorities was to stop wasting resources every time we moved from one game to the next. Every game is a new project, but there are certain building blocks that are used every time, and using previously built technology gives you a great head start. With that in mind, we started building our core toolset of technologies, which eventually became the Lotus Engine, our custom framework within Unity! (and because we love it so much, we gave it a name and a logo as well... Yeah, we're that kind of people) 

The Lotus Engine is the tech backbone of all our recent games. Because every game also has its own specific requirements, every time we build a game in Lotus, we develop it a little more. Last Dive is the first pixel art, tile-based game we ever built on Lotus, so we embraced it as an opportunity to make a really strong editor.

We think making levels should be easy and fun, and so we decided to create our own Mario Maker inspired level editor, creatively named... 

The Lotus Maker!

Ok, nothing too fancy here: the work area is on the left, and a library with different types of tiles and other game elements is on the right. As we continue to create platforms, enemies and traps for Last Dive, they are neatly organized in there.

Lotus Maker handles all repetitive work, so that we can always focus on the design aspect of things. There is also a big concern for keeping it very What You See Is What You Get, so that as we build levels, we can also get a feeling on how it's shaping up from an aesthetical point of view. On that department, you'll see that the tile borders are properly placed without the need for manual positioning. We just draw the obstacle area and the program handles the rest transparently. Realtime lighting also works in edit mode, to give us more control over the levels' mood and ambiance. 

There's also a neat automatic decoration mode. When enabled, this tool will randomly position decorative props like the algae seen above. Of course this can - and should! - be overridden by manual object placing, but this gives us a nice head start.

That's it for now guys! Don't miss part 2 of this update next week, we'll show more of the Lotus Maker and explain some cool functions like: layers and realtime editing. If you want more frequent updates be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, by clicking the cow down here! Thanks and till next time!

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