They chose Slime Climb, a round that’s already making a name for itself as one of the hardest in the game. We talked through how Slime Climb was first born, the different forms it took during development, how it was nearly cut altogether, why it’s so horrifically tough, and how it might change over time. Here’s what they told me, in their own words.
What Is Slime Climb?
Joseph “JJ” Juson: Slime Climb is essentially a race to the top of a winding hill, a sort of gauntlet that comes back on itself. But instead of racing other players, you’re racing this slowly rising wave of slime. I think it’s unique to other races in the game because you don’t really need to worry about what other players are doing, as long as you’re staying out of their way. It doesn’t matter if everybody else finishes as long as you make it there, before this slime gets you. Layers in the level get more difficult as you go up, and then you get to this final bit with the finish line. You’re never safe in Slime Climb.
Joe Walsh: I think the place we started was looking at games that kids play in the playground, and things like that. One of those classic games is The Floor Is Lava. The most important rule we have is that our minigames have to be simple and easy to understand, and childhood playground games are very good for that because they have to be explained quickly and they have to be very extensible for lots of people in the playground to just join in. That felt like it embodied a lot of what Fall Guys is about – so it made for a really good starting point.
That was initially where we started – we knew we wanted to have a level where you were escaping some sort of rising tide. It’s also something you see a lot in classic platforming games as well, those levels where you’re trying to outrun the lava or outrun things. But we felt like lava was probably a little too threatening for Fall Guys, and so the idea of like a giant, stadium-sized bathtub that’s filling with slime felt like a really good starting point for a level. From that point, it was very much just trying to figure out what specifically we could do with that mechanic.
JJ: We kind of knew that if the lava is going to be rising the whole time, it needs to be that the player is progressively going upward. So for the first idea, I went really literal with it: it was just a mountain. A volcano erupting lava was the idea, and it would basically be 60 players around the outside, everybody just running up this mountain and trying to get to a point on the top. It sounds really cool, but when we actually started playing with that, it felt like the only way you could really progress upwards is by platforming, and that doesn’t really feel like it’s at home in Fall Guys – we have platforming in levels, but we try to make it interesting in other ways.
JJ: I was going through my notebook, and there’s a note where I’m just like, “I don’t know if this is gonna work. Does this concept fundamentally work?” Because for a long time, it wasn’t a race, it was purely survival.
JW: Slimb Climb was one of the most difficult ones [to make]. That was one of the games where we really had to sit down, scratch our heads a bit and have a proper conversation about whether or not this was actually going to work. Some of them you play once and it’s like instantly like, “Oh my gosh, yep.” But Slime Climb was on the cutting room floor briefly, before JJ figured it out.
JJ: [At one point] we were doing this sort of spiral version – there was an end zone, and you would just have to stay in it. It was really mean – there was a tilted slime bit, and there was a jump spinner on there as well, and you had to stay on there. You could make it all the way to the end and still lose if people didn’t get eliminated before you.
JW: I think another big moment as well was when we changed it to be this switchback design [the design that made it into the final game]. One of the problems with running up a hill with the lava behind you, in a third-person platforming game, is that you can’t see what’s behind you. So you would get hit by an obstacle and there was no tension – you just suddenly got eliminated because then you fall backwards into the lava. It was quite jarring; it kind of felt a little bit like a classic Battle Royale where it’s just a sudden, like, “Oh god, I’m dead? Oh well.”
As soon as we put the switchback version in, you can see the lava as you turn the corner. That was a really big moment. It’s like, suddenly I’ve got the same anxiety I get from playing like a rising water platforming level in Mario or something. That was quite a big moment for me: “This is starting to sing. I’m liking this one now.”
JJ: We were still trying [the elimination model when we changed] to this switchback version, and it was [creative director Jeff Tanton who] walked over and said, “Make it a race”. We did it and it was immediately so much more enjoyable when you know you have that end goal, when you know you’re doing all of this for something, when the end is in sight and you know you’ve, “ I’ve just got to make this last obstacle and then I’m done”. So yeah, that changed it entirely and really sort of saved the level I think.
The Final Result
JJ: It’s definitely one of our harder levels. You know, you’re midway for a tournament and that comes up and it’s, like, anguish.
JW: Generally, we have a rule of roughly 50% chaos and 50% skill from the game.
JJ: One of the things we really wanted to do was to be able to allow good players to get far enough away that if they make a mistake, they can kind of recover from that. So you either have this experience where you play really well and you make a mistake and you’re like, “OK, well, I’ve earned the right to not be eliminated here”, or you’re constantly in danger, but you can afford to maybe slip up once. It took a long time to get it feeling like most players were just ahead of the slime – that it felt fair but also challenging.
JJ: I think it’s interesting, because if you look at a general Battle Royale game, there’s this thing that these games need to be fair and balanced. But really, when you play a Battle Royale, sometimes you spawn and you get a pistol and that’s all you’ve got for 15 minutes, and the game has just given you a harder route to the finish line. That ebb and flow with having an easier or a harder game is really what makes those games replayable. So by [Fall Guys] having easier levels and harder levels, it creates this different route to the finish line each time you play that I think is really really important for creating something that is going to give you different experiences each time you pick it up.
JJ: Even in the form it is now, a lot of people on the team maybe suggested that it was too difficult, but we kind of felt like we wanted to have a level in particular that would come up and have that kind of mythos around it of being, “Oh, this is the really hard one.”
One of my favorite things about Slime Climb is that Meg, our lead level designer, consistently fails at it. Like, she really really struggles with it, and I love that – and she loves that as well. She really appreciates that we we have that in the game. When we’re sort of balancing this stuff, it’s really important that we listen to all these voices – with this level, it was like, let’s try and make a level for the more hardcore people.
JW: One thing we’ve seen is that people are creating shortcuts for the level, so there’s this evolving metagame. We didn’t expect people to be figuring out these things, but people have found that you can ping off of certain inflatable objects and skip certain parts of the level. But even over the playtest there’s been this evolving thing of, now everyone’s going through the shortcuts, it’s actually safer to go the way we intended. We’re quite looking forward to seeing what other weird shortcuts come out.
JJ: With all the levels in the game, we want to continuously update. So whilst we like the core of it, I want to get to the point where somebody thinks they know Slime Climb and then they come on one day and it’s different, and there are elements that they’re not expecting. We’re aiming to kind of do that for a lot of the levels in the game.
JW: I think it’d be really good to have people reminiscing about back when it was simple and they knew what they were doing. I think that’s the exciting thing about Fall Guys is that we have these 25 really exciting levels for launch, but as the game progresses we can just keep adding and tweaking and customizing all the ones that we already have. The idea is that you know, six months, a year down the line, Slime Climb is this gargantuan thing with so many variations. That’s kind of the dream for Fall Guys, I think, and where we see it hopefully going.