DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Discussion and analysis of graphics, story, levels, and so on.
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XkyRauh
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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Fri Jun 16, 2017 12:14 am

Dude, Fleexy, that "Draw Links" thing is super keen. :) That's really awesome!

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by CommanderSpleen » Wed Jun 21, 2017 6:47 am

Some commentary on Bloogton Tower before it gets buried.

I actually always quite enjoyed this level. A bright, open space and upbeat tune in contrast with the claustrophobic factory level and dank deserty vibe of the world map. Due to its proximity to Bloogton Manufacturing, I always interpreted this tower more as an office building than a hotel, though there's certainly nothing stopping it from being both. I'd never really noticed the lack of scenery, but it would definitely make it feel more complete and lived-in to add in a few props Keen 3 style, maybe taking some inspiration from the Jetsons. Given the apparent Bloog culture of corporate over-consumption, I would actually be inclined to give it a call center appearance. Some areas may need to be enlarged (and probably the whole level with them) in order to make room for the extra details.

There are some frustrating aspects but the consequence is usually delayed progress rather than death. I'll agree that point and ammo distribution definitely needs a lot of work.

The window for catching the second elevator is far too brief. Removing the foreground could work to allow you to see it coming, but that was a nice part of the level's aesthetic IMKO. It would be preferable to put a window or two along the shaft so you can see the elevator approaching in time to catch it.

The top switch to activate the elevator right above it is pretty redundant, so I'd move the switch elsewhere or get rid of it altogether. Could almost get rid of the goplat and make it compulsory to catch a beetle ride, but I'd prefer to instead put a few points right along the bottom as a reward for the more difficult trip.

The keycard area is a bit cramped. Of all the levels to have a visible route to the exit following a map item, they put it at the very top of a tower? Makes me suspect the keycard was more of an afterthought here. I'd close off that wall, get rid of the EXIT sign and bring in that right hand ledge a few more tiles with the keycard more centrally aligned to it and hovering another tile up from the floor.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Wed Jul 12, 2017 4:40 pm

Before we meet with the Grabbiter (is it pronounced grab-biter, or more like rabbit-er?), it's time for a good ol' kick in the pants down in Bloogville! And if you're using the Abiathar online, I think I got the link working right here! :)

In my Keen opinion, Bloogville is a Keen3 level at heart. The area with two trees and a scattering of Blooglets (where the Yellow Keygem is) reminds me of the area with three trees and a fountain in New Vorticon; the way the base/earth of the level slopes and dips reminds me of the Beens; and the way that the hallways thread vertical and horizontal together reminds me of Fort Cavort. This makes sense in my mind, for some reason.

The level itself has a blending of positives and negatives. I really like the fact that there's a clearly labeled Hazard/optional area; I appreciate the way points are scattered throughout the level offering guidance and a method of tracking where the player has been (like Pac-Man!); and I appreciate the way the level integrates both nature and civilization. However, I feel like there are way too many Ceilicks and Giks in this level. Why is Bloogville infested with them, instead of Bloogs? (My earlier theory about Keen coming to Fribbulus Xax during a weekday seems to hold true--maybe the Giks are babysitters or serve a housekeeping function? They're all over what seems to be the Bloogs' primary living spaces, while the Bloogs themselves are out at work...)

A few things in particular that bother me about this level, almost all of them related to backtracking and player movement:
- After the Red Keygem door, the player is dropped down next to a laser with no concrete method of backtracking without doing the Impossible Pogo Trick.
- There is no way to get directly to the Blue Keygem door from the Green Keygem door without a whole lot of circular backtracking.
- Climbing the 'vines' hanging down from the trees doesn't allow Keen to ascend directly onto the branch they are attached to.
- What is the point of the Red Keygem? A player can completely circumnavigate both the Door AND the Keygem.

This level always frustrated me as a youth--looking at it now, I think I understand why a bit better. The design feels much less concrete than the awesome Guard Post Two we just came from. I like the scenic rooms that we encounter--I definitely borrowed the "setpiece" design for XkyKeen2, insofar as the level is a handful of scenic rooms connected by hallways and tunnels--but I wish the level wasn't so dull, for lack of a better word.

Also: Why does the sign just past the Hazard warning say "OK," while the sign floating innocently above the trees in the park say "DIE?"

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Thu Jul 13, 2017 11:54 am

Grabbiter makes sense as Grab-biter, on account of that being what it does. (It even as hands to grab.) and the two 'b's and one 't' in the word.

The Giks are housepets, the Bloog equivalent of cats. (Like cats, when they lie on their back they may be begging to be petteed - or waiting to attack any nearby hand.) The Ceilicks are pests, the equivalent of mice, and the Bloogs are too stupid to exterminate them from their holes.

I think the red gem and door were an oversight, like a few things in Keen 6, which has an overall rushed feeling to me in level design.

I rate this level pretty neutrally, it has some cool areas, like the black background hazard area and its tech-natural theme is nice. (The indoor trees remind me of domed parks, islands of green in a concrete jungle.) But it also has its share of annoying features, that Xky has already covered. Overall I don't feel strongly about it.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:49 pm

I get the feeling this level was added rather late, as filler. It just doesn't have the right 'feel' to it.

Out of curiosity, Levellass, what levels DO you feel strongly about?

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:52 am

XkyRauh wrote:
Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:49 pm
Out of curiosity, Levellass, what levels DO you feel strongly about?
Bloogwater Crossing, 1st Dome of Darkness, Control Center, Tower. For various reasons.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by Ceilick » Wed Jul 19, 2017 5:55 am

I'm betting that originally the red gem door was an alternate path to the blue key gem, and at some point the yellow key and door were added, which basically negates the red door route as useful in any way.

I think this is generally an ok level. I think I'd want to remove the yellow key, make some adjustments to ceiling heights so that some areas are less cramped, and I'd definitely want to spice up the enemy variety with some Bloogs.

Speaking of enemies: the Flect's presence on this level always struck me as an odd choice. It's really only there to be annoying. I suppose the low ceiling in most of that lower area contributes to utilizing it's behavior, but I still feel it's just odd. Kind of the same way, I suppose, the pea pod is super odd in it's one appearance in keen dreams.

I feel the the backgrounds in this level could really use some variety. The black room is excellent but the level really needs more, even just subtly different, backgrounds. Also while plentiful in points, the variety is pretty awful; soda on the bottom areas and choco bars for miles everywhere else.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by Plasma Captain » Mon Jul 24, 2017 4:29 pm

This thread is basically covering many of the reasons why I don't like Keen 6 (and have not played more than the demo levels in the years since I was a kid):
  • Rushed, sub-par level designs, reminiscent of Keen 3 but with less personality.
  • Many levels have no real sense of atmosphere or purpose to them. Factories with sparse conveyor belts that go nowhere, factory equipment positioned on ordinary walkways, living complexes with no semblence of actual housing, etc.
  • A lot of hazards just seem randomly placed, especially the spikey floating things. It often feels like there are traps for meta reasons alone.
  • There are spots where stuff appears to have been randomly copied and pasted for no real reason other than filling out a level, such as that chunk of smallish slanted slopes, the area above it with the three nigh-identical oval rooms, and again, hazards.
  • Open, empty spaces. Sooo many open, empty spaces.
  • Palette usage, or lack thereof. Levels where every single wall, background, floor, even extra passable platforms, and of course keygem doors are blue... and then there are blue enemies on top of it all. The pipey background might look kind of nice at a glance, but in my opinion, it is a pretty big offender - it's worse than the plain teal windows of Bloogton Tower because of how hectic and distracting it is. At least Keen doesn't scroll as fast as some other games, so it's not nauseating.
  • Points seem to be often placed in arbitrary locations, there are big gaps with no points (or even just scenery), and even Vivas are strangely sparse considering the distribution of Raindrops and Vitalin in the other Galaxy games.
  • Underuse and misuse of enemy characters, such as the Nospike and Flect, which have already been discussed at length.
At some point, I grew to wonder if maybe the whole "Bloogs are bad at construction" thing was just tacked on as an excuse for how rushed and terrible the general level design was in this game.

There are other things I just don't like about Keen 6, but they go beyond the scope of this discussion, and are more opinion-based.

I feel that, aesthetically, the strongest level designs in this game are the ones which have more of a logical layout bespoken of their titles, which utilize more of the game's tileset for environmental progression (such as the outdoor and underground areas of Guard Post 2 - even the subtle detail of utilizing the criminally-under-represented grey background tiles goes a long, long way), and which place hazards and enemies in locations that make some orderly sense and don't simply scream "I thought there should be something here so I pasted in more spikey balls".

For a game set on a planet that appears to be stuffed full of an epic length of intestines, Keen 6 seems incredibly inorganic and stilted to me in comparison to even Keen 2's sets.

From the levels which have already been discussed, I feel like these are the better ones (bear in mind that I haven't played most of this since... possibly the early 90's, and am judging based on map layouts and vague recollections):
  • Bloogwaters Crossing. The scenery here is great and is what should be expected from a Galaxy game. Its biggest problem is probably its linearity in comparison to the introductory stages of the other two games.
  • Guard Post One. Generally decent layout, and it even tells a story. I agree that the post could have used more metal background, particularly in the upper room. It is also strange that all of the guards are placed up top, where they don't even have to be confronted.
  • Guard Post Two. This is the best one so far in my opinion. There is atmosphere and a clearer sense of progression. The optional upper area is a cool addition. I agree that the points near the red Blooglet should be moved - possibly down to the ramp below, so the player sees that the points lead up to the enemy.
  • Bloogville. After all these years, the only thing that I remember about this level is the little "park" and the indoor trees. That's a good thing though. That means that there was something of actual interest in this level - it wasn't just another boring trek through endless blue or red/purple with no sense of direction or variation. Stumbling upon that tall room with the trees was really cool and unexpected as a kid. Though, I would also consider the vines to be a design flaw - at the very least, Keen should have been able to drop from the tops of them onto higher branches, like nearby and under the branches holding the vines.
On rare occasions, I'll have a dream about Keen. My dreams are always about Keen 6, even though it is the one game I've played the least. The dreams are invariably about a labyrinthine level full of guts and repetitive tiling where it's impossible to tell how to progress and get out. In my waking reflections, I feel like this speaks volumes about the impact that the game impressed upon me even back then.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Tue Jul 25, 2017 12:05 am

We must join together to produce Keen 6+, and free you from the endless dream loops.

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XkyRauh
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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:11 am

Okay, let's move on to BASA, also in Abiathar.

It's culprit number two in the campaign to make Xky hate dark cyan! I wanted to like this level because it's the friggin' Space Administration for Fribbulus Xax--it's all space-agey and modern! At least it's supposed to be! Exclamation marks!!!

This level does like.... two cool things. First, surfing on a Gik to get the Yellow Keygem is a fond memory of mine--reminiscent of using Scrubs to access bonus points. Second, in -theory- I like the "ride the platform behind the scenes to access the next area" thing. It's sort of like the mid-level transitional elevators in Crash Bandicoot and the like.

Unfortunately, this level does many more bad things. My biggest complaint with this level is the Fleex sitting in the little rut before the Green Keygem Door on the lower right part of the level. For real: how do you playtest that encounter and think "Yup, that's the kind of obstacle I think is both fun and appropriate!" in any way?! This Fleex was the reason I learned how to save scum--I'd jump down, shoot once, jump out, and save after each hit. Infuriating to young me!

The huge Yellow Keygem door reeks of lazy design. (I must gate your progress, so here is the tallest door you can imagine!) The inability to turn off many of the switches makes me wonder how they got in their level-starting positions in the first place. The point and Viva distribution seems to be almost formulaic, which ordinarily I don't mind, but in this level just seems out of place. In many places I'd want to swap the Fudgcicle and Bloog Soda distributions. The Pudding and two Queen Vivas hidden underneath the middle post in the level I honestly never had any clue about--are they even possible to get and escape alive from? I think the whole reason they give you two lives is because you're going to HAVE to give one up...

Finally, there's simply not enough ammunition in this level. There are 15 shots available (plus five if you're unlucky enough to start the level with fewer than five shots remaining) but 29 shots' worth of enemies to dispatch (24 for the Fleexes alone, +5 for the annoying Blooglets). Even if you don't miss a shot, you're still short half the ammo you need to complete your task. Heaven forbid you die once or twice along the way and end up ammoless.

At least the level's optional, right?

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Wed Aug 23, 2017 5:01 am

A middling level for me. I find it on the whole to be ok but:

* The ground is too dull, blank with big screws in it. At the least this should have had more black lines\squares in it, like at the start or near the top of the yellow door. Better would be some sort of encased machinery\science tiles, pipes or gears or whatnot.
* The yellow door is too tall. The upper or lower part should have been a wall (Since unlocking one gives you roundabout access to the other.)
* I always managed (Or tried) to get through the level hitting only 2 Fleex. (Blue gem one and one before the two green gem ones.) The others could be evaded. (The ending one is easiest, pogo to the ground above him. The one in the green gem pit, wait till he's by a wall and jump over. Save scumming oft needed. Same with the top two who you can wait to get into the big dip.) I always assumed this was part of the level difficulty.
* As a whole the level seemed rather dull to me, especially with the music that plays.

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