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Substratum: Into the Depths is a co-op dungeon crawler game. The main purpose of the game is to create a branching narrative that gives the player multiple gameplay paths and outcomes depending on the choices made. The main objective of the game is to get to the end of the dungeon, explore the temple, and find out what's causing the disturbances on the archaeological site. When doing this, the player can interact with various NPCs that will either aid or hinder outcome of the quest. 

I started making this in 2019 as a personal portfolio and design development piece with a small team of three people. Consisting of myself, a programmer, and concept artist. we all worked together on the different aspects of the design and production to create what we consider a fun and engaging game, with a rich branching narrative. Development for this title is still ongoing inbetween my masters degree studies, and we hope to showcase this off as a reflection of our experience and expertise later in 2020/early 2021. 

Design Goals
  • Design and implement a branching narrative that gives a wide range of outcomes for the players. 

  • Designing narrative elements, such as the Grimoires, to make sure the player subtle hints on which direction to go in the level. 

  • Create engaging side quests that further support the main narrative. 

  • Design fun and intuitive game mechanics. 

  • Design modular assets and textures that will be able to be re-used in different parts of the map.

  • Create an interesting story with a well-constructed characters and world.

  • Use and re-design well known mechanics to fit them into the story and gameplay, giving purpose to each direction the player chooses. 

  • Design the level to reflect the mood and overall feeling of the main narrative.


Microsoft Windows


Unreal Engine 4.23


C++, Blueprints


2019, Ongoing

Tools Used 

Unreal Engine, 3ds Max, Maya, Mudbox, Substance Painter, Zbrush, Adobe Photoshop CS6


Level designer, gameplay designer, UI/UXdesigner, 3D artist, whiteboxing, narrative designer, Graphic designer

Core Mechanics

Even though this list isn't extensive, it covers the main and interesting aspects of the level.


Being both a narrative and UI tool, the grimoires help guide the player through the level and story.


Narrative and level tracking –

With the UI enclosed inside, players can open and us the grimoires as menus. In these they can access various settings, save and load the game, keep track of the overall narrative of the game beyond the level, and change/add new spells to their arsenal when levelling up.


Player guidance -

When approaching areas of interest or importance (e.g.: quest points, loot caches) the grimoire will start to glow, with different colours representing different types of interests. The more intense the glow, the closer the player is to the target.

Magic Combat

Being the main focus of the game, players use magic as their main offensive and defensive tools.

Basic –

Consisting of light and heavy combinations, these are designed to be used in close quarters, and when the players are waiting to use their extended spells again.



Extended Attacks –

Players have access to a wide range of spells depending on the classes they chose, that will affect how they navigate the environment, and engage in combat differently. For example, a pyromancer’s extended attacks focus on higher levels of damage and lingering status effects; while the necromancer’s focus on support and crowd control.

AI Roles

The various mobs act in different patterns to throw the players off, and keep them on their toes when navigating the level and during combat sequences.


Attackers -

Quick to rush into the players, these are the main mob type.


Blockers -

Heavy hitting but slow attacking, these mobs take a reserved and defensive approach to fighting.


Support -

By buffing or healing other mobs, support characters can make for extended encounters unless dealt with quickly. Supports are also blocker’s primary defence target.


Jumpers -

Fighting in an evasive pattern, jumpers are opportunistic and attack in small burst before retreating and circling around to try again.

Concept by Tumo Mere, click here for more of his work

Environment Mechanics

Different elements of the level help aid or hinder the players in their journey, especially with combat sequences.


Traps -

Being triggered by a ranged attack or action close by, traps can be activated by players or enemy AI. These will either damage, slow, or confuse the affected target. An example of it’s use is the explosive barrels on the bridge, triggering these will deal high levels of damage to targets in range, and block the pathway beneath the bridge.


Blockages -

Similar to the traps, these can be triggered players or enemy AI. The main purpose of the being to reroute AI pawns, giving the players more time and breathing room before they arrive.


Power Cores -

The are two power cores on the map, infested by the eldritch boss and mob enemies. Destroying these will reduce the difficulty of the boss battle at the end, taking away some of the mob spawns during it.

Concept by Tumo Mere, click here for more of his work

Story Design

In the early stages of production, a simple gameplay chart was made as a guide in planning the different narratives and outcomes the players could take. This practice was much similar to the use in 'The Escape' due to how helpful it was in scoping out the overall picture of the game. This time with the addition of the outcomes of key actions layed out in a logical and easy to read way. This addition further helped the communication of ideas between different members of the team, this time being the programmer and concept artist. 

With this chart I could see the narrative options and paths the players can take, as well as what needed to be developed more. With this we could make design decisions that would best benefit the narrative and overall experience. In addition to this chart, a similar one was made solely for the side quest to detail the narrative choices and intricacies that would effect the main one, and how so (chart can be seen in the gallery below). Overall, the use of this practice continued to help greatly with the design of the game from the start to current. Any developments to these charts will be added in the future as seperate images to show how the design method changed and improve across developments.

Click here for a closer view of the chart.

Level Design

Designed by myself and the concept artist on the team, the Temple Ruins follows a realistic, PBR style seen in many similar games before, such as Warhammer Vermintide 2. The whole level is derelict and full of broken down structures, roads, and caverns. As of yet there's no audio added, but is planned to be added at a later date for the foley, dialogue, and sound effects. The soundtrack will be mystic themed to closely match the eldritch mood of the main narrative, changing to a high BPM soundtrack for combat instances. Alongside this, creature audio will match their nature, mostly distorted and creeping being of the dark. 

We set out to design the level in a modular way, which led to it being re-drawn due to the various design decisions made along the way. The main affecting decisions revolving around the editing of the overall narrative, and the inclusion of side stories. Environmental mechanics were designed in a way to be implemented at various points of the level seamlessly, and could work around the level map changes instead of being a causing factor.


In addition to this level, and smaller but more light hearted one was create in a small village to act as a hub location for the players. In here, they can rest, pick up the main quests, and interact with the various NPCs and their story-lines. 

The story and history of the level was told in the overall architecture and mise en scene. Such as the derelict homes and storefronts, hints of the past occupants lives. Being a more widespread level, these story hints appear in various locations, mostly in quest action areas such as the monoliths, stalactite cavern, and throne room. Story can also be seen as the player nears the temple, and delves downwards into it, transitioning from ruins to an otherworldy realm of eldritch effects. 

The ruins where the players spawn were designed with winding roads and dead ends, naturally formed around the supporting stalactite structures. These were done with the intention of getting the player to explore the area and it's lore/stories. The overall lighting of the scene was designed to mimic a crossover between fantasy and thriller genres. Similarly to 'The Escape' a lighting system was designed to guide the player around the level. Highlighting key areas and points of interest with different colours depending on their nature.

Throughout the level there are various sign posts left by the previous occupants that guide the player around. For example, a billboard might mention a service at the temple, while the road signs nearby point to the direction it is. Other guides to different events can be seen in the pipes, blood trails, and carriage tracks across the level. 

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