Game Design

the wall, a game about berlin during the cold war (game dev process)

The Wall is a stealth game based on the political climate of Cold War Germany and its effect on the citizens of Berlin.

The game’s four levels reflect the structural evolution of the Berlin Wall and its “Death Strip”, with the addition of fortifications and improvements from a simple wire fence to the intimidating concrete structure that was razed in 1989.

Players attempt to move as many East German defectors across the wall as possible without being detected by the guards, using historically accurate methods that were used to cross to the West. These methods include running, jumping from windows, ziplining, swimming, ballooning and tunneling.

The game uses more than 50 historical facts and real biographical portraits to gain a more personal insight into those who were successful and unsuccessful in crossing the Berlin Wall from its inception in 1961 to its fall in 1989.

It is our hope that The Wall will not only serve to educate and inform others but allow them to connect with and learn from the people and events of Germany in a time very different from how it is today.

Read more of my thoughts on inspiration and designing a game for learning here.


I thought it’d be interesting to share the brief design/game dev log we kept showing how the game evolved from prototype to the final version over a very quick development cycle.

Development Time: Approx. 2 weeks
Team: Wenyu Jiang, Cheryl-Jean Leo, Akshay Ramesh, and Julian Toker

1. Initial Concept

Date: 27 Nov. 2014

After stuffing ourselves full of Thanksgiving dinner we, instead of passing out like any group of responsible people, decided to design a game for change. We brainstormed and paper prototyped late into the night and by morning we had the initial concept for The Wall.

Initial brief:

The Wall is a stealth game in which players try to sneak East German defectors across the Berlin Wall.

Design goals:

Our chief design goals are to educate our audience about the structural evolution of the Berlin Wall and the various means by which defectors crossed it via an engaging core mechanic.

Considerations for a “game for change”:

  • This is a game for learning about the Berlin Wall, mechanics need to serve learning while balancing fun and gameplay
  • We need to be largely historically accurate and respectful to the stories of people involved
  • Lots of research needed to educate ourselves first
An early paper prototype of The Wall.

2. Digital Prototype

Date: 9 Dec. 2014

We’ve gotten the digital prototype up and running and are exploring our core mechanic in earnest.  The digital prototype looks awful but it does the job of letting us to figure out what assets we need and allowing Julian to tweak the levels with placeholder assets.

That said, we are ready to bring an artist on board.



We are refining our team’s workflow as we work in parallel.  Akshay mainly programs discrete parts of the level that Julian can manipulate in his working design.

Cheryl-Jean continues research into the Berlin Wall and in particular the stories of those who attempted to cross it.  One of the first things to get built was a template for the game’s transition screens, so she can create assets for the newspaper headlines she writes and put them directly into source control without disrupting Akshay’s workflow.  Akshay pulls these assets once in a while and adds them to our build, where he has written a script to randomize articles for each screen between levels.

Scripting the guards’ vision cones to provide an engaging gameplay experience is currently our top design priority.  Akshay is communicating with Julian about what parameters (time, angle, direction) of the vision cones can be exposed so Julian can have as much freedom as he needs to iterate on the vision cones’ cycles for each level.

Design challenges:

We are also faced with the challenge of layering, since there are multiple ways across the wall but a limited amount of space on the screen, which makes it cluttered when everything is shown at once.  The goal is to introduce more forms of interaction each level without overwhelming the player with on-screen clutter.

Additionally, balancing the difficulty and timers of each level is something else Julian will be considering as we refine the game.  We are still considering what a “win” condition per level is (or whether we will even have one).  We are also debating between displaying an explicit score or a progress meter.

3. Release

Date: 12 Dec. 2014

We have an artist!  Wenyu Jiang joined the team and immediately provided an elegant solution to a pressing problem.  He came up with the clever idea of having the characters as board game pieces, which removed the need for complicated character animations.  This helped us out immensely in the short timeframe we had.

Wenyu created beautiful art assets that gave the game its unique look.  His creative problem solving led to a really cool visual style, and his artistic skills gave The Wall polish and finesse.


Final art assets for The Wall.

Here’s the art in action during gameplay: