Ransacked is a 3D third-person thieving game where the player controls a thief who can steal just about everything. The thief has no limit to how much they can put in their bag, except how much they can carry. Players must balance risk and reward in the loot they steal while avoiding detection by the roving guards.
Ransacked is a PC game developed by a team of 12 over a 16 week period in Unreal Engine 4. It can be downloaded here for free on Itch.io. A controller is recommended for play.
What I Did:
- Designed the loot system, balancing spreadsheet values for a desired runtime and implementing curated-random spawner nodes for fresh loot distribution each run
- Populated set pieces and environmental clues in the neighborhoods and houses like breadcrumb trails to lead players towards rare loot
- Directed gameplay design and playtesting. Pioneered design decisions that fostered consistent risk-versus-reward choices
- Designed unique Heist missions that required players to solve riddles and out-of-the-box challenges centered around a themed house
- Designed and implemented the house layouts, themes, and changing hub world states for the 4 Heist missions
- Developed and maintained live documentation artists and designers used to create loot, UI, and level design assets
– Featured on PC Gamer’s Free Games of the week
– Featured on RockPaperShotgun’s Free Games of the Week
– Peaked at #9 Most Popular Games on Itch.io’s home page
– Over 3,000 downloads
– Lets Plays, featured in the comments of Ransacked’s Itch page
Tasks in Detail:
Loot Balancing and Population
The neighborhood in Ransacked is filled with many objects that can be stolen by the player. My biggest task on this project was organizing the gameplay surrounding them; creating, balancing, and populating the environment with them in ways that would encourage a player to release their inner kleptomaniac. There were 208 lootable items that had weight, volume, worth (gold), guard-awareness, and SFX values that I designed and balanced.
I was requested by the producer and creative director to balance gameplay variables for a “desired run”; a 4 – 6 minute experience with an average payout of 200 – 350 gold. These would help scale how many runs players needed to make to progress to the challenge missions. I placed loot in a way that kept houses below a set maximum in worth and spread valuables across houses that were next to each other so that players could have successful runs without needing to skulk all over town. This system worked incredibly well with our loot population system, and a dominant majority of our playtesters made desired runs each playthrough.
The loot population system was a curated-random method for making each run feel unique while adhering to house themes, desired run goals, and level optimization. Working closely with the lead programmer, we created a system of Blueprint-spawned houses that allowed us to swap out loot content within and stream-in spawner nodes only when needed. I created 60+ different spawners with unique arrays of loot that fit within a theme or rarity, so that houses wouldn’t always have the same valuables in the same location. Players would be trained to quickly check hotspots and then move on to other houses instead of farming specific ones.
Risk v. Reward Gameplay Direction
As lead designer, I was in charge of establishing and maintaining our design pillars in gameplay. The main theme we wanted in every moment of play was a constant assessment of risk and reward. When the player steals an item, the weight and volume of the bag increases, slowing them down and making them more visible to guards . Additionally, bag management was on a “last-in, first-out” basis; tossing an item that was taken earlier in the run required dumping out all loot taken after it. These were the core challenges faced by players, as well as needing to successfully make it back to the town center with their loot to complete the run.
I worked with the level designer during pre-production to establish design principles that would foster thief-like behavior and feelings of a thrilling break-in for the player. Alternate escape routes like windows and backdoors, tightropes connecting balconies together, and closet-sized crawl spaces to hide in were all features I designed as BSP prefabs so they could be moved around freely in response to playtesting feedback.
I also worked very closely with the art team throughout development to establish a set of aesthetic principles for loot recognition, like overall brightness or saturation. When the player steals an item, the UI displays name and weight, but not gold value. I wanted players to wager items while in the field, much like a burglar would have to do “on-the-job”. I categorized loot into 4 degrees of rarity with assigned colors that our tech artist made into a shader. With this in place, players could have a general idea of the worth of an item with respect to its’ weight the moment it was picked up.
While our initial plan was for an arcade-like repeatable experience, we were requested to have a defined critical path and elements of progression to show for a presentation. I was tasked with designing narrative-driven challenge missions that would work in tandem with our core gameplay of burglarizing houses.
I designed a series of increasingly difficult story missions based around stealing the most renown treasure of the town. These ‘Heists’ would be initiated by purchasing riddles from the Informant that would lead players to a particular themed house. Heist gameplay featured more vigilant guards, rarer loot, and unique puzzle mechanics relating to the purchased riddle that needed to be solved to acquire the loot. As they acquired the ‘Legendary Loot’ items from each Heist, the Thieve’s Guild hub changed to reflect the newfound wealth and status.
I designed the themes / riddles, challenge mechanics, level design of the Heist houses, and the changing Guild states. The design document for the first Heist can be viewed below, and includes a detailed breakdown of the level design methodology I used when designing the missions.