Level Design of Video Games – Hyper Light Drifter, a narrative world

I can’t express how much I enjoy Hyper Light Drifter, the mystery and difficulty of Dark Souls, paired with the aesthetic of the SNES, this game arrived at just the right time in the market.

The attraction of this game for analysis is the way in which its performs another unlikely pairing between the ancient and mysterious world the player inhabits and the science fiction context of the game. This combination is something I would like to achieve in my own project, particularly thrusting an older, well established setting into the science fiction context.


The combination of two settings in this way has become increasingly popular in recent years an example being a game like Destiny, which combines fantasy and science fiction in creative ways. You encounter enemies bearing the name of Wizard or Acolyte or Knight, giving the alien races a very ancient and mysterious appeal, also suggesting that their power is derived from a possible kind of magic which is then contextualised by the fact that the game is set in a future where outrageous abilities are conceivable.

Another example is the recent addition to the Star Wars film series. Star Wars has filled this science fiction fantasy genre for a long time with the Jedi Knights being very representational of chivalrous knights and monks who hold their order very dear. They also wield swords in an age where laser blasters rule the battlefield, yet their abilities allow them to overcome such weapons in displays of power which one who isn’t aware of the Force would chalk up to magic.The point here is that combining science fiction and fantasy brings you a rich mix of the fantastical which can be contextualised in a creative way through the lens of science fiction.

Hyper Light Drifter takes these same principle of science fiction fantasy and applies it to a world we know very little about. An ancient world world that seems to have forgotten its past, littered with ruins like monuments, is inhabited by the Drifter whose technological prowess enable you in your journey throughout the world. Much like Destiny enemies you encounter in Hyper Light Drifter bear the appearances of Wizards, Acolytes and Knights, (though without the names) even the Drifter appears in the style of a knight with a helm and cloak. All very romanticised in the context of fantasy but nonetheless the impression is there.

See that giant way over there

Characters aside the environment speaks to the science fiction fantasy setting in a way which leads the player through a world where the inhabitants have forgotten the past, so you the player learn about the world the same way characters would. The environment is full of clues such as ancient monuments and the corpses of giant beings strewn across the landscape. In this regard it is important to consider how the game projects its narrative through the world. Because one of the big points about the game is that there is no dialogue, and when NPC’s interact with the player their speech is converted to pixel art paintings for the player to interpret. In this regard the entire narrative is based on interpretation and feeling. The other benefit being that the game can be played by anyone anywhere and still be understood.

Here it is way over here

The last point I want to make on this game is the use of medium, meaning the game as a medium and the use of pixel art. What this game understands is that much like film or theatre every frame, every second of the game is a shot and a set. With that in mind the game is very conscious of its camera and framing. The camera will automatically pan to areas of interest, without restricting the players control but still framing the shot to help convey new information about the world.

Geometric pixel art aesthetic

When it comes to pixel art Hyper Light Drifter used this style to achieve the feeling of the old Zelda titles, but at the same time understanding the limitations of the medium and developing a style with those limitations in mind. This leads to a lot of geometric shapes in the art style, simplifying the forms. While the forms are simple the details in the assets are incredible to point of creating a very rich visual experience.

With this in mind it is crucial to understand the medium with which you are working to enable your design process and ensure that design is understood by the players.

– battz

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