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Supergiant lay bare the building blocks of Hades' underworld

Out of all the -tober suffix trends, I think Blocktober might be my favourite. The now-annual level design hashtag has become a fascinating insight into the grey, blocky roots of all sorts of games. As a bonus, this year sees Hades developers Supergiant jumping onto the bandwagon with a distressingly art-free look at the mythological roguelike’s level design process.

While its worlds may look like they were hand-painted by artisans in an isolated retreat, but it turns out there’s actually a good deal of design work behind the underworld’s dungeons. At least, that’s according to Supergiant designer Ed Gorinstein, who posted some early peeks at Hades’ level design process in a thread this week.

Beyond explaining his process for blocking out stages with placeholder tools (basic cover, blocking, enemies and traps), Gorinstein also breaks down the broader design goals for each biome. Tartarus’ decently-roomy chambers are designed to be “forgiving for players learning about the Cast” while offering plenty of walls to slam foes into. Asphodel’s vast magma plains, meanwhile, were built to be a complete break from those hallways – though the lava fields offered their own AI traversal challenges.

Like any videogame, Hades also used a whole lotta smoke and mirrors to keep the world feeling consistent. Chambers will flip themselves so the entrance direction matches the previous room’s exits, for example. Asphodel’s Barge Of Death, meanwhile, doesn’t actually go anywhere – instead, the rest of the world moves around it, creating the illusion of hurtling down a river of lava.

Gorinstein also closes with a few notes of adapting roguelike conventions to the studio’s house style. Hidden rooms or destructible walls, a la Binding Of Isaac or Spelunky, were a tough fit for Hades’ intensive art pipeline. In their place, we have the smaller urns, fishing spots, and Chaos gates found in the game proper. Less dramatic, but a whole lot easier to fit within pre-existing map layouts.

It’s these sorts of insights that make events like Blocktober endlessly fascinating for me. Even if I’ve dabbled a bit in level design myself, there are games – like Hades – that seem to defy my knowledge of how games are bashed together. Seeing that veil lifted, even just for a tweet or two, is always a delight. Even if there’s something profoundly unsettling about seeing these spaces without Joanne Tran’s incredible environment art.

Cheers, Kotaku.

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Natalie Clayton

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