HellBlade II: Senua’s Saga

via GIPHY

Game Description: The sequel to the award-winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Senua returns in a brutal journey of survival through the myth and torment of Viking Iceland.


Platform:
 Xbox Series X/Gamepass Genre: Third Person, Action-Adventure

Role: Experience Designer (Contractor) Date: Sept 2021 – July 2022

While contracting at Ninja Theory I worked on two projects Hellblade 2: Senua’s Saga and Project Mara. During the development of HB2, I was an Experience Designer which as Rahni Tucker described the role to me ‘The director of the level’. I would design the level, while taking in considerations of the already scanned part of Iceland, and design the mechanics needed to best elevate the story. Alongside implementing the dialogue & narrative moments within the level.

The two levels I had involvement in was that of the opening level Chapter 1: Reykjanesta  &  Chapter 5: Bardarvik best known for its moment in the announcement trailer (Video above)

I worked alongside Matt Watson on this level as the brief we had, was that the level needed to be roughly an hour long in duration, introduce us to some of Senua’s new crew as well as the ‘darkness’ haunting the Island, in the form of that of viking lore Draugrs.

Level design on this project was extremely different to other studios I have worked at, as we really wanted to stay true to the real world environment as much as possible. So much so, that the Enviro team had scanned a lot of the areas that the game would take place in. Which did not always give us a lot of freedom to ‘design’ the locations. This meant research was really important to us as a team.

For the opening the player start on a slave ship, which was also a great start for us to introduce not only the new cast of characters for the journey but also the harsh environment of Iceland, along with the twisted world of the darkness as well. We took inspiration from this scene from the last Kingdom.

The main themes for the first level, when I was working on it was:
– Loss
– Uncertainty
– Fear


As this was a whole new island, which Senua did not know, we really wanted to focus on keeping up the pace of twists & turns Senua would see in the first chapter. We used the area to help achieve that with Black Sand, Geysers & Draugrs as the enemy type.

Meaning Senua could not fully catch her breath as she would explore, along side that of showing Senua has grown since the previous game and has more control over psychosis.

I was not there, to ship the game with my contract ending, but the Designer who took it to final was Arran Healy who did a great job!

Earlier I mentioned that it was not just my job to design the level but also to design mechanics as well. Which would help to sell the world & feeling of Senua. The valkyries were such a memorable aspect from the first game, I wanted to try follow that lead.

Iceland is an incredible part of the world, but one thing that it does not provide for us as developers is that of natural boundaries. It is extremely hard for trees to grow in iceland, so this was a real challenge for us, and how we would tackle it. So I came up with an idea to to have Senua’s guilt and psychosis cause a barrier for her.

While contracting for Ninja, I was still based over in Poland, one of their most renowned artist was that of  Zdzislaw Beksinki, whose work was currently being displayed all over poland, which I decided to attend to look for inspiration. Which I found in this picture:

During development of HB2 sadly athe author of Berserk had passed during this time, in which I was currently reading the manga & watching the animated films. There was a certain scene which also really depicted the struggle of loss & haunting of those who are no longer with us.

Senua in the sequel would no longer be alone on her journey which made me focus on the weight and the impact of loss for her, if she was to abandon them and turn away from her journey.

Here I wanted to show, that the further the player got away from their path the heavier that the guilt would feel on Senua. Leading up to a wall of skeletons of those who Senua lost along the way (I know my blender model of the skeletons did not have the same impact haha)

After feedback from the team, I focused on turning this into a prefab in which there were multiple stages so it could be used in differnet chapters as not all levels contained loss of characters. This way I broke it up into stages:
– Fog/Mist
– Valkyries telling Senua to turn back
– Spirtis communicating to players
– Spirits come clsoer
– Wall appears
Each step would slow the player’s speed down so you could feel the weight too. This was the final product:

I had mentioned earlier that I worked on Chapter 5, it was much different as we were working on the actual chase of the Troll, how best to involve gameplay. I had worked on a prototype in that of puddles causing players to slip, losing their footing.

An aspect I really enjoyed was the fact we were using a ‘Oner’ camera so we had to think about this in our designs as well. I played around with the camera & how it should look with my own camera.

The Final mechanic I worked on with Huw Warren-Roberts as we wanted to work on the totems to make them grant certain abilites by that of some of the Norse Gods. Which was very different to how the ended up in the final game.

In the final game, they are more of ‘collectibles’ that give players more lore of the world around them. Orgianlly we found that the first settlers in Iceland would place these totem/poles around to appease the gods/mark their path.

What Huw and I thought would be a good idea that if these totems would give us ability that we could only use when close to these totems, which could be used to gate the player and give a different spin on puzzles the players had to solve to advance.