Little Thorns

Jorian Rutten

Q2 2018

In-game view of 'Little Thorns' .

Little Thorns started as a project to create a vertical slice of an asymmetrical cooperative bossfighter in Unreal Engine 4, over the course of 8 weeks.

Three tiny players work together to defeat a giant spider. The players can create a human tower and throw each other to avoid attacks and platform through the level. Together the players can reach the weakpoints on top of the boss and slay the beast.

I was in charge of the User Interface and User Experience; the general information flow between the player and the game. My responsibilities ranged from helping design the boss attacks to creating in-game menus. I also oversaw all Quality Assurance and Playtesting of the game.

Development INSIGHTS

Player healthbars that combine to form a flower.

Onboarding gate that forces players to understand the core mechanic.

Diegetic User Interface

To avoid cluttering the screen, I focused on designing diegetic UI elements; elements that are integrated into the game world. For example; the boss health would be displayed by the amount of withering and dying flower petals on her back. Making the UI diegetic allowed me more freedom with the designs, which lead to more creative solutions.

The player health is indicated by flower petals underneath the player character. When the players stack up, their respective healthbars combine to make a flower. This metaphorically tells players that they need to work together. The health element also functions as a dropshadow, since it sticks to the floor. It's one of my favourite designs in the project.

To stay with the diegetic design for the game, I designed a lobby. This space would function as a minimalistic menu and an onboarding section, to get the players familiar with the core mechanics. I started using the health flower as an icon that signalled to the players to stack up. Using this in combination with a gate allowed me to make sure the players understood how to create a tower before taking on the boss.

During this project I made sketches - such as these - for nearly all mechanics. They helped me work out the design in detail, set a clear vision for the team, and helped with delegating tasks to other teammembers.


Early in the project I advocated for a data focused design approach, which would allow us to design and balance the game based on playtesting data. We set up a system to gather analytics from the playtests, with data points such as 'times jumped', 'damage taken' and 'time until first full stack'. We also created heatmaps to give a clear indication of how the players traversed through the level.

These analytics allowed us to spot problems more easily, and to adjust and balance the gameplay to create the bossfight we envisioned.

Heatmap of player movement in a playsession.

The boss casts a web that slows and traps players, while dragging them close enough for a melee hit.

Bossfight Flow

Over the course of this project I gained insight in how bossfights function, and what their key components are. The boss needs to provide a daunting challenge for the players, so avoiding attacks, doing damage and defeating the boss will feel satisfying.

Creating flow during the fight is equally important. Players should constantly shift their stance from defensive to offensive, depending on the boss behaviour. The fight needs to have moments of rest, but players should always stay alert and aware of the boss.

Creating a bossfight was an interesting design challenge, since it requires a lot of polish and coherency. Little Thorns sparked an interest, and I would love to work on more bossfights in the future.