Design Document: Arcana Manor

Design Document

Arcana Manor

3D, first-person action-adventure/platforming game about leaping, swinging, and crawling through a surreal funhouse while battling demons

Genre and core mechanic:

  • Action-adventure game from a first-person perspective
  • Environmental obstacles and platforming elements: swaying bridges, tilting rooms, staying alive while negotiating perilous environments
  • Spell-casting in combat and to solve puzzles by altering the environment (e.g. raising platforms, lowering bridges)
  • Combat with demons who have overrun the funhouse (see narrative section below)
  • Magic system based on the symbols of the minor arcane and their elemental correspondences (wands = fire, pentacles = earth, cups = water, swords = air), which are acquired as pick-ups and deployable through combination

(The player finds the spellbook/architectural notebook that belonged to Knossos. This becomes the game’s journal/interface, from which spells are cast. A tarot-based pattern to the layout of the funhouse (22 rooms of the major arcana))

Level design and visual style:

  • A twisted funhouse
  • Surreal
  • Hearkens back to 1950’s funhouses, but twisted and drenched in arcane symbolism
  • Bright, primary colors
  • Surreal, bizarre graphics
  • Artistic Influences:
    1. Giorgio de Chirico
      The Tower by Giorgio de Chirico

    2. M.C. EscherRelativity by M.C. Escher 3. Christopher Manson’s Maze

  • Pervaded with symbolism, like Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, which could inspire tarot rooms (walking around inside tarot cards)

Small sample map (a section of a part of a level)

  • Strange marble sculptures
  • Sigils and runes and surreal paintings on the walls, maybe hinting at a way through the maze, or maybe red herrings (as in Manson’s Maze book)
  • Stairways running in every direction (on the walls and ceilings, like Escher)


  • Funhouse built by mad genius who was dying of cancer, evangelizing about the necessity of play for the human spirit
  • He was an architect and engineer, a connoisseur of optical illusions and paradoxes, who entered unwittingly into a Faustian pact in order to bargain for time enough to complete the funhouse and the magic to make it truly wondrous.
  • The funhouse architect’s name was (several possibilities)

Dedalus Knossos, the Hierophant

Maximillian Knossos

Dedalus Minos

Dedalus de Chirico

M.C. Knossos

  • Knossos is sort of like The Alchemist in The Holy Mountain (mysterious figure taking followers on a journey of initiation).
  • He summoned minions to help build the funhouse but did not understand that these servants were actually demons.
  • Now the architect has disappeared and there are demonic enemies in the funhouse, who are taking it over, corrupting it, destroying it. (In metaphorical terms, these demons are all the perils of creativity, the fine line that any eccentric artist must walk: obsession, isolation, madness, addiction).
  • The architect’s beautiful and eccentric granddaughter, Ms. Emily Knossos, has called for the assistance of the player to find out what happened to her father. Did he die of natural causes? Was he abducted by demons? Is he still trapped in the funhouse somewhere?
  • Only by finding out what happened to Knossos can the demons of the funhouse be destroyed.


Prototype in Unreal 2 or Unreal 3 engine

Maya PLE or Blender for 3d models

Photoshop (GIMP temporarily) for concept art

Later, transfer to Torque or Torque X with a $150 dollar indie license (versus 350,000 dollar license per programmer of Unreal 3)

A combination of Torque X and Microsoft XNA would yield a game that could be played on both PC and Xbox Live Arcade

torquex 3d builder + torquex + microsoft xna 2.0 + visual c# + Microsoft XNA = 3D Xbox 360 game, distributable on Xbox Live Arcade

Comparable Titles

Undying (a FPS with spell-casting in a haunted mansion), but Arcana Manor is not a shooter and has more environmental puzzles.

Psychonauts (for surrealism and bizarre level design), but Arcana Manor is contained within a mansion and can be accommodated in a more standard, less resource-heavy engine.

Early graphical adventure games for stark, minimalistic surrealism (The Demon’s Forge, The Labyrinth of Time), but this has more exciting action than a point-and-click adventure game.


Need concept artist(s)

3d modeler(s)

Programmer(s) (UnrealScript, C++, and/or C#)

Vocal talent


Almost none

Use freeware, middleware with indie or semi-commercial licenses


Web for PC

Xbox Live Arcade

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