The Solus Project is a single player exploration and survival experience, played in first person and developed in Unreal Engine 4. Set on a mysterious and seemingly uninhabited alien planet. Earth has been destroyed and mankind lingers on in a small fleet of ships near Pluto. As humanity's last hope, you are sent to scout a distant planet as a potential location for a colony.
On The Solus Project I assisted as a Level Designer and Level Artist, building an off-path area in one of the later levels of the game. Near the release of the game, the director - Sjoerd De Jong - wanted to fill the game with more secrets, off-path areas and hidden paths for players to find and explore since a great deal of The Solus Project revolves around exploration.
The area that I pitched and built was a type of dry dock out in the ocean, housing a great whale. The idea was that the aliens would feed this whale and care for it, like we humans might care for ducks or other pets. This concept was intended to give players a different perspective on the aliens in the game, making them more relatable and sympathetic. My goal was to sell this concept and convey it to players using nothing but the environment to tell the story.
Players can retrieve more information and lore about the aliens in The Solus Project from this area.
- Pitched the design to the creative director and iterated until the area was greenlit.
- Built the blockout.
- Level art that felt like the already established tone and style of the game.
- Optimization and final push until the area was ready for release.
- Came up with concepts for and worked with environmental storytelling.
The player is introduced to the feeding place with a simple standing stone lore text that provides the player with their only clue of how to access this area. The standing stone was written by me and in the lore of The Solus Project it was left here by the aliens. It was meant to give the player a clue as to the fact that there is something that needs to be completed or sovled here.
Above you can see the walkway that stretches from the beach near the standing stone and ends abruptly in the sea. I built it so that it would seem like it was not quite finished, the idea is that it should look like something is missing here or that it is clearly leading up to something until it suddenly just ends in the sea.
The player needs to press two buttons in order to make the feeding place rise from the sea. The first button is located at the end of the walkway. After pressing the first button, a door (above) will unlock beneath a stone staircase that stands at the very start of the hotspot level. Beneath the player can find the second button that they need to press in order to make the feeding place appear.
In the slideshow above you can see what the player sees as they are heading back to the walkway. Now they can see in the distance that some form of structure looms on the horizon.
Upon closer inspection the player discovers that the structure is indeed connected to the walkway. I wanted the player to feel like the gate to the feeding place was an epic structure. However, it was important that it did not distract from the main buildings and areas of the hotspot level. So that was a line I had to walk when building this gate. For instance, I held back on decorating the gate with statues and the like. I also tried to make the sides of the gate quite low-key whilst focusing the epic on the middle and opening of the gate.
Above you can see the first view that the player has when they enter the feeding place. I placed the player on a height above the whale because I wanted them to have a good vantage point and clear view of the whale and its surroundings. I also tried to make the lines in the architecture point towards the middle and frame the whale in to draw the player's attention.
Above you can see the player's view as they try to pass the whale. I built the walkway very close the whale's mouth so that the player had no choice but to get close with this big and scary creature. I wanted to sell the whale and I found that it was best to keep the player close to the creature so that they got a sense of how big and scary it was.
In the slideshow above you can see some examples of how I worked with environmental storytelling to try and sell the area as a place where the aliens would feed this whale. I placed these stone tables as places of offering where the aliens would place the fish that they would then throw to the whale for it to eat.
I wanted the area to feel like it really was built to serve a specific purpose. In the image above you can see how I shaped the docking area to look like it was specifically built to fit this whale. It was intended to give a unique look to the area and further sell the idea behind the area.
The Solus Project features dynamic weather and a dynamic day and night cycle. Therefore it was important that the area looked good in different conditions of weather and during both the day and night. Above you can see the area during the night and during a raging thunderstorm where the tide has come in and made the water rise.
The entire feeding place was built with the idea in mind that it had to fit in with the rest of The Solus Project. The feeding place was built when the game was close to completion and thus a tone and style had already been firmly set. I had to adapt quickly and find the tone and look of the game and build something that breathed the same energy and feeling like the rest of the game.