Ninja Raft Developer Diary #1: Level design is so awesome that you should do it

Hi. Don Kirkland here, one of the two developers on Ninja Raft. Ninja Raft is a tower defense game with a twist. The game is played out in two phases, rather than a continual struggle of resources and tower construction.

First up, you build a raft controlled by Ninjas full of precious cargo and you must defend it against attacking Pirates.

We’re now on week three and we’re pushing to having our first fully playable level.

I say level, but I’m actually not a fan of the word. Levels imply a structured progression system, like a checklist, that you tick off and move on to the next. We’re trying to move away from that, instead aiming towards a more customise-your-experience approach.


Since neither Rupert (the art guy) nor myself (the code guy) are level designers, we have decided to dump most of the level design on (hopefully!) you, the player.

This is something I’ve been toying around with in my spare time for a while now: the idea of pushing the task of building the game content onto the players. There are plenty of games out there that have fantastic mod scenes, but modding is basically amateur games development; it’s all the fun and stresses of games dev without the getting-paid part.

My thinking is “why not make the level building part of the actual game?” I might be biased, but I think making content is fun. Imposing some rules on what you can build with and making a super-clear, easy to use interface for it should open it up to everyone. Well, that’s my current thinking. I reserve the right to be wrong (I really hope I’m not!)

Will Wright stumbled onto this when making a game back at the dawn of time (the 80s), turning the level editor into a game in its own right. No-one has really heard of Raid on Bungeling Bay, but its level editor spawned Sim City – which I reckon you have heard of.


All that said, we realised that asking players to build levels when they don’t know what any of the bits are or do is a bit of a tall order. So we’ve been working on some nice introductory play-modes where you get to experience the action-pirate-combat part of the game first, then get to try your hand at constructing your own raft.

What is nice is the stripped-down defense-only part of the game is still fun. It feels a bit like half a game – but then, it is half a game. So that’s probably okay. Soon enough we’re hoping to have a pre-alpha playable up and running in which you can actually do something – at which point it’ll be up online for everyone to play, poke holes in and critique.

Next up: musings on the importance of story.

Content writer

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
More content