Sponsored By

Navigating strategic tiles amid the rising waves of Land Above Sea Below

The co-founder of Glasscannon Studio, tells us how the striking look of fall by the seaside inspired the game's creation.

Joel Couture, Contributor

November 28, 2023

9 Min Read
Images via Steam.

Land Above Sea Below is a puzzle game about building up islands above a rising tide. Players need to carefully place various tiles to keep their island above water, all while steadily building a beautiful waterside place that defies the tides that aim to constantly drag it down.

Game Developer sat down with Péter Takács, co-founder of Glasscannon Studio, to talk about how the striking look of fall by the seaside inspired the game’s creation, the thoughts that went into creating a tile system that was striking as well as useful for knowing gameplay information, and how the game was carefully designed around the capabilities of the studio to ensure it was something they could deliver.

Land Above Sea Below is a game about keeping islands from getting flooded. What inspired you to create a game around this concept?

The primary goal was to develop a chill game that is relaxing but has depth and provides a sufficient challenge for those who seek it. We based this on both visual and audio elements and, of course, the gameplay loop.

What drew you to the specific concept of working with a flooding island? Why this particular environmental situation?

I love nature very much, especially its two extremes. The meeting of the ocean and the mountains has always captivated my gaze for some reason. Only one thing could surpass this: the color palette of autumn forests. The way objects submerged in the water stand out in the sea provides a truly unique and somewhat mystical spectacle. These things mostly determined the direction in which I started developing the visual theme of the game.


The game sees players placing tiles on an island to keep it above an ever-rising sea level. What thoughts went into creating this gameplay mechanic?

The rising of the sea level establishes the challenge in the game. Additionally, the submerged but still visible tiles provide excellent visual contrast. In the initial versions, this mechanic didn't matter much, and there was no negative impact on the gameplay if a tile sank. However, we noticed that the challenge quickly disappeared, so we built the other game mechanics around this to address it.

What thoughts went into designing the specific tiles around the island theme? How did you turn natural places into gameplay tiles that players could easily tell apart and know their functionality?

The formula is fundamentally quite simple. We used color coding for the various base types to clarify to players which tiles belong together. The additional subtypes (river, special, and the Tree of Fall) are consistently found in every main type, and the rules are the same regardless of the main type. There is one exception, the castle type, which can only be encountered with village-type tiles. Of course, the user interface plays an important role in helping players understand what they see on the screen. The icons and colors associated with the tiles make it even clearer what type of tile or tiles the player is looking at, so after a little time, just a glance is enough to know what kind of tile to place and under what rules.

Tiles have synergies with one another that can have wide-ranging positive effects. What ideas went into this system? Why did you want to create these connections between certain tiles, and what effect did you want them to have on the gameplay?

Synergies make up the puzzle aspect of the game. The more skillful the player is, the further they can progress in the game or the more points they can score. The goal was for the player to think ahead and not necessarily always place the next tile in the position that yields the most points or the greatest synergy, but to consider the tiles not yet placed in the current season and find the best strategy based on them.

Can you tell us about the synergy system and how it works?

Synergy rules are the following:

Place the new tile so that it is adjacent to at least three similar tiles to raise their level.

If these tiles also have a synergy level of at least x3, then they also trigger a cascading rise of the affected neighbors and so on. The number of neighbors of the same type calculates the synergy level of a tile (x0-x6).

Each rise is worth a score point, so the larger the area affected, the more points you get. The higher the synergy of the tile triggering the chain, the higher the multiplier on score points.

To help you identify synergies, the game highlights all affected land tiles.

A tile can only be raised once each day (step).

How did you design the rewards that players earned from creating good synergies? What sorts of ideas went into creating things to encourage the player to do well? And how did you balance these rewards so they didn't make things too easy?

It was important that we reward the player for every placed tile, but under no circumstances should the game immediately penalize the player if a tile is placed in the wrong spot. We iterated a lot on the reward system. Perhaps the most challenging aspect was determining when the player should receive extra moves within a season. Additionally, it wasn't clear from the beginning at what level of synergy the island should start to rise.

The mini-objectives were introduced relatively late in the game, although we knew they would be necessary to provide the player with both short-term and long-term tasks. However, when we implemented this feature, it completely disrupted the balance, and we had to rethink all other rewards as well.

As you had to rethink your rewards, can you tell us how the rewards worked initially, as well as how you arrived at the current system in the game?

The idea and the goal from the start were to reward the player to some extent for everything. In the initial versions, the reward system was based on the player earning points for the placed tiles and receiving action cards at certain milestones, which they could use at their discretion. The change came when we reduced the original 12 steps in a season to seven and introduced the concept that players receive extra steps for synergies of level 4 or higher and for completing mini objectives. From this point, players had the opportunity to develop strategies.


The tiles serve several gameplay purposes but also allow the player to create beautiful island places as well. How did you work on designing this system for beauty alongside utility?

The development of the visual world came first. It was important for us to see what we could achieve visually from the very beginning of the development and to ensure that what we were creating would catch the players' attention. We constantly monitored feedback to make sure that players and potential customers would perceive the game as we intended: a game with rich autumn colors and a soothing atmosphere that provides a pleasant visual experience even after a long time.

What design decisions went into the visual style? How did you design the tiles for beauty and gameplay clarity in Land Above Sea Below?

The visual style was a personal preference, but of course, it was crucial for us to make the game stand out in some way. The foundation was to work with low-poly objects, as in the case of larger islands, a lot of assets appear on the screen, and our limited resources directed the development in this direction. The tile design was based on using asset packs that matched the base color of each main type, and each main type had some thematic elements.

Why was it important for you to design the visuals first? How did your capabilities in visuals affect the game you wanted to create?

It was most important for us to be able to present a visually captivating demo as soon as possible that we could pitch to publishers. And, of course, we also enjoyed working on the visuals; perhaps that was the most exciting part of the development.

As you are a small studio, what thoughts went into designing the game in a way that would work with your talents, capabilities, and available time?

I started the development on my own, and from the beginning, it was important to plan the game in such a way that I could handle every aspect of it if I couldn't find suitable collaborators. During the project planning, I took my competencies into account, as well as the currently trending genres, and selected the ones that also resonated with me. Then, I set a relatively short timeframe of 1 to 1.5 years to complete the game.

Taking these factors into consideration, I made all the decisions in the beginning, and later, even when working with others, these principles determined whether we realized an idea or discarded it because it didn't fit within the timeframe or genre or we didn't have the necessary competencies for its execution.

How did you make all of these elements work with procedurally generated tiles? What drew you to use procedural generation, and what do you feel it added to the game?

We are a very small studio. We have one developer, one graphic artist with limited time primarily focusing on the UI, and one composer. So, it was crucial for us to create the most diverse visuals from a small number of assets since we didn't want to prolong the development for many years.

You have crafted a game with a calm atmosphere but one that has an ever-present "danger" coming from the rising waters. How do you balance creating tension with the tide level while also making a game that feels peaceful?

Without the rise in water level, Land Above Sea Below would be an endless game. We wanted to ensure that players are forced to consider when and where to place the tiles, and if they are not skilled enough, gradually, the water will engulf certain parts of their island. In addition, we were very attentive to ensuring that this does not pose an immediate threat to the player. If someone is already familiar with the basic mechanics, the danger of the rising water level becomes negligible, but, of course, one should still pay attention to it.

What do you hope players take away from this experience of keeping wild lands safe from flooding? Is there something you hope to spark in the player?

We have received feedback from various sources regarding the game's connection to global warming. Although this topic is important to us as well, we do not want to give the impression that the game is related to it. We simply wanted to deliver a light and enjoyable gaming experience to the players.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like