Galaxy Level Design and Basic Rules

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Ceilick
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Galaxy Level Design and Basic Rules

Post by Ceilick » Wed Feb 09, 2011 9:18 am

These are a set of basic rules, 'ten commandments', I've written for designing levels in Keen Galaxy. These rules assume several things about a levelpack or mod:

a) The original tilted perspective of Keen's 4-6 is used. If other perspectives are used (no tilted perspective, vertical tilt only perspective) some rules will not apply.

b) The aim of the gameplay is to be similar to Keen's 4-6. If other gameplay concepts are the intention of the levels (a puzzle style, etc) then some rules will not apply.

Without futher todo, here are the rules:

1. Thou shalt never create a room within a level with no escape, or with no escape but death.

For many players, this is particularly frustrating, especially if they saved in that room thinking they could escape but instead have to restart the level. A player should never be forced to commit suicide unless they run out of ammo.

2. Thou shalt never use more than one of each of the four key gem colors in a single level.

There are two official levels which break this: Bloogton Tower and the Pyramid of the forbidden. Bloogton Tower has only 4 gems, two of which are red. I consider this a mistake; one of those should have been yellow (there are no yellow gems in the level). The pyramid of the forbidden has 5 gems total (two red ones). This does look like the only good reason to have more than 4 gems (the first red gem is used in a very specific, limiting way which forces the player to get it and immediately use it).

Why only 4 gems? Because if a level is using more, that probably indicates it is too long, too hard, or uses gem doors in an excessive and pointless manner.

3. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate behind the foreground to reach the exit, unless the exit of the foreground area is within clear sight of the entrance of said area.

This means that Keen should never have to enter a secret passage to finish a level if the exit to that secret passage is out of sight. Keen should never have to go into a secret passage to find a key, or get to a switch, etc. This is because while Keen is in the passage, the player has no idea what is in there or where it will go, or even that the area was there at all.

4. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate invisible platforms to reach the exit.

Invisible platforms are only for optional areas. Period.

5. Walls shall never be less than 2 solid tiles thick. Borders shall never be less than 1 solid tile thick unless the border is within the same 'room' as the entrance or exit of the level, in which case the absence of border is permitted.

In Keen galaxy, because of the way the platforms are designed with their tile properties, a wall that is one solid tile thick results in Keen's hand sticking through the wall. This just doesn't look right visually.

Additionally, it is important to keep a tile between the level and the edge of the screen if Keen is indoors. Otherwise, this can easily confused players as to where the exit of the level is and will leave players wondering why they can't go further to that side. A wall tells the player exactly where the level border is. Outdoor levels that take place above ground do not need these borders.

6. The first level shall not contain key gem doors, more than one switch, or regular doors unless they lead to optional areas.

First levels in Commander Keen are traditionally the easiest in each episode and require only walking, jumping, and a little bit of shooting. Keep with this tradition to help familiarize your audience with what your game looks like and how it plays so that they are not overwhelmed right away.

7. Thou shalt never be more confusing than necessary with doors. This entails, but is not limited to, making door puzzles longer than four rooms, having more than 2 doors in a level when said doors link to areas that otherwise reachable by not entering doors, and using more than two doors to separate any single key gem and corresponding key gem holder more than once in a single level.

Doors can be extremely disorienting for players. The point of doors, generally, should be to take a player from one area to another, either as a shortcut or as the only way into a new area. Rarely should they be used to confuse players, as this can be very frustrating.

8. Thou shalt always include SGA letters or an indicator of some kind as to what a switch affects if the affected area is in another room or section of the level.

If you have a switch that affects a platform or bridge in another room, make sure they have matching symbols to indicate this to the player. It might be obvious to you when making the level, but your audience will appreciate these clues and enjoy your levels more when they don't have to guess what switches do.

9. Thou shalt never leave more than three fourths of a screens area of space devoid of accessibility.

When making Keen Galaxy levels, it's important to use your space wisely. If you have a big section of a level that doesn't have anything in it, such a place that is just covered with ground tiles, add some rooms and paths around this area. This will keep your levels feeling like there is plenty to explore without actually having to make the level dimensions bigger.

The above said, having big open rooms can be great in terms of exploration and just to convey a sense of openness to the player. Just make sure that open space isn't too open or boring! A few small platforms, some poles hanging from the ceiling, some moving goplats, ceiling height variation, etc.

10. Thou shalt never forget to place enough ammo, although too much ammo is an equitable sin.

The player should always be able to come into a level with zero ammo and be able to collect enough ammo in the level to complete it without having to grab ammo, die, and restart with that extra ammo.

This doesn't necessarily mean a player should have enough ammo to kill everything, but they should be able to get enough to get at least beat the level.

Apocryphal 11. Thou shalt never use more than three enemy sprites in a screen sized room, unless they can fly. More may be added as the room size increases.

Too many enemies in a room is a problem. It can be overwhelming to the player to have so much going on on the screen at once. This is a hard rule to maintain, especially when some enemies can wonder into rooms where they weren't originally placed. Being aware of the rule, however, will help prevent spamming of enemies and overwhelming a player.

Additionally, in Keen Galaxy there is a problem comparable to Long Hallway Syndrome which I'm calling Long Pole Syndrome. This is when a level has an extremely long pole which Keen is required to climb. Climbing a pole is a slow task and one which can bore the player quickly. Make climbing a pole more interesting by adding side rooms with points that the player can jump into on the way up or down a pole, or break up the pole directly with a room which leads to another pole.

Thoughts? Additional rules? Exceptions or disputes with the above rules and suggestions? Lets here it :)

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shikadi
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Re: Galaxy Level Design and Basic Rules

Post by shikadi » Wed Feb 09, 2011 6:14 pm

lets see what i think of it...
Ceilick wrote: 1. Thou shalt never create a room within a level with no escape, or with no escape but death.
agreed
Ceilick wrote: 2. Thou shalt never use more than one of each of the four key gem colors in a single level.
disagree, the focus of the level might be gems, gem puzzle, etc
Ceilick wrote: 3. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate behind the foreground to reach the exit, unless the exit of the foreground area is within clear sight of the entrance of said area.
agree
Ceilick wrote: 4. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate invisible platforms to reach the exit.
i broke this rule in my keen6 levelpack, where in a level the final section requires you to walk on invisible platforms.
Ceilick wrote: 5. Walls shall never be less than 2 solid tiles thick. Borders shall never be less than 1 solid tile thick unless the border is within the same 'room' as the entrance or exit of the level, in which case the absence of border is permitted.
this is just how galaxy works, right?
Ceilick wrote: 6. The first level shall not contain key gem doors, more than one switch, or regular doors unless they lead to optional areas.
disagree, i think 1 key gem might be acceptable, remember, mods wont be downloaded by people who don't know the original games, and therefore would probably not mind gems to much. i think you should be able to put in either a keydoor, a regular door OR one switch. it wouldn't make things to complicated.
Ceilick wrote: 7. Thou shalt never be more confusing than necessary with doors. This entails, but is not limited to, making door puzzles longer than four rooms, having more than 2 doors in a level when said doors link to areas that otherwise reachable by not entering doors, and using more than two doors to separate any single key gem and corresponding key gem holder more than once in a single level.
agree
Ceilick wrote: 8. Thou shalt always include SGA letters or an indicator of some kind as to what a switch affects if the affected area is in another room or section of the level.
i can't read SGA, using SGA letters wouldnt help me even a little bit, i am sure i ma not the only one. so having sga is for me the same as having nothing.
Ceilick wrote: 9. Thou shalt never leave more than three fourths of a screens area of space devoid of accessibility.
disagee, but only if it is required for the level, for place purpose, like space stations, underground things. to show of the black area out their to let you "feel" like your are in space.
Ceilick wrote: 10. Thou shalt never forget to place enough ammo, although too much ammo is an equitable sin.
disagree, the levels theme might be that it is scarce so you have to avoid most enemies rather then shooting, this seems more like something personal in your mods. where shooting enemies is a bigger part.
nothing.
Ceilick wrote: Thou shalt never use more than three enemy sprites in a screen sized room, unless they can fly. More may be added as the room size increases.
so if i place 11 blorbs in a single room its ok cause they fly?
Last edited by shikadi on Wed Feb 09, 2011 8:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Galaxy Level Design and Basic Rules

Post by XkyRauh » Wed Feb 09, 2011 8:18 pm

Rule #1 wrote:1. Thou shalt never create a room within a level with no escape, or with no escape but death.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this broken by the hidden area in the lower right part of The Cave of Descendents? :)

This is a strong reason to PLAYTEST your levels! Remember in Keen5's Defense Tunnel Sorra, it's possible to climb into a secret area just above the security door which is impossible to escape from!
Rule #2 wrote:2. Thou shalt never use more than one of each of the four key gem colors in a single level.

{...}The pyramid of the forbidden has 5 gems total (two red ones). This does look like the only good reason to have more than 4 gems (the first red gem is used in a very specific, limiting way which forces the player to get it and immediately use it).
Also, keep in mind that even though The Pyramid of the Forbidden does have a lot of gems, every single one of them is obtained in the same "room" it is used.

Arguably, the first red gem and the green gem are complete wastes and could be removed without damaging the gameplay of the level at all--but that's more of a nitpick. ;)
Rule #3 wrote:3. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate behind the foreground to reach the exit, unless the exit of the foreground area is within clear sight of the entrance of said area.
This goes for archways, too! Notice how carefully controlled the size of archways in The Armageddon Machine are--they're almost all the same size, between levels, with the exception of the exit to the Gravitational Damping Hub.

I point this out because archways approached from the left side appear to be blank walls--look at the leap for the Green Gem holder in Energy Flow Systems--if the archway ran a bit deeper, such that you couldn't see the right end of it, you might never leap into that upper right part of the elevator track! :)
Rule #4 wrote:4. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate invisible platforms to reach the exit.
Almost a subsidiary of #3, really. :) "Don't require secrets to finish a level!"
Rule #5 wrote:5. Walls shall never be less than 2 solid tiles thick. Borders shall never be less than 1 solid tile thick unless the border is within the same 'room' as the entrance or exit of the level, in which case the absence of border is permitted.
Can you clarify what you mean by the second part of this? I can understand "Walls shall always be at least 2 tiles thick, borders at least 1," and leave it at that--what's the special case for?

Level boundaries are important because they define the gamespace, and they establish the environment. I know I've made my own share of levels without accurate borders, and it's one of my biggest pet peeves in Vorticons mods! >:O
Rule #6 wrote:6. The first level shall not contain key gem doors, more than one switch, or regular doors unless they lead to optional areas.
This is a pacing issue, and very important to consider. :) Nicely worded.
Rule #7 wrote:7. Thou shalt never be more confusing than necessary with doors. This entails, but is not limited to, making door puzzles longer than four rooms, having more than 2 doors in a level when said doors link to areas that otherwise reachable by not entering doors, and using more than two doors to separate any single key gem and corresponding key gem holder more than once in a single level.
The exception to this would be the houses in Secret of the Oracle, which are almost exclusively single-screen affairs, functioning as diversions, not crucial pieces of level structure. :)

The other exception would be the inclusion of some sort of visual clue--The Bloog Control Center from Aliens Ate My Babysitter had extra bottles of soda over the correct paths to take, with the incorrect choices leading back outside. Annoying if you don't understand--now imagine the same setup without hints, or with twice as many doors. :P
Rule #8 wrote:8. Thou shalt always include SGA letters or an indicator of some kind as to what a switch affects if the affected area is in another room or section of the level.
Label your devices! I agree with this. One of the things I did to falsely add difficulty to the first "Final" level in Episode Null was add several switches that didn't actually do anything, without labels or visual indicators. At the time, I thought it was clever--but looking back on it, it's just plain annoying. This is a good rule!
shikadi wrote: i can't read SGA, using SGA letters wouldnt help me even a little bit, i am sure i ma not the only one. so having sga is for me the same as having nothing.
Not saying you need to have a sign that says "THIS SWITCH CREATES A BRIDGE IN ROOM TWO," just saying that if there's a bridge in room two that can be created by a switch, put a big letter "A" next to that bridge-space, and then a big letter "A" next to the switch later in the level. That way, when the player flips the switch, they know to look for the other "A" in the level to find out what the switch did! :P
Rule #9 wrote:9. Thou shalt never leave more than three fourths of a screens area of space devoid of accessibility.
This is a pacing concern. You should never present the player with too much information at a time. Look at it this way: When you first enter Defense Tunnel Burrh, you quickly see that there are three different "floors" to access, each with goodies. Technically, there are Sparkies down each path--but because of their placement, the player can not see them initially. The only "danger" the player is immediately aware of is the gun on the top floor, firing. The sound alone causes tension. Imagine how different the player's initial perception of this level would be if the Sparkies on each floor started at the far left edge of their path, adjacent to the pole! :)

On a similar note, having more than one path visible to the player at a time can quickly overwhelm them--look at the Pyramid of Shadows. Even though the player can SEE the alternate paths through the middle of the pyramid, it's not overwhelming because the paths are each rather limited in scope. Imagine how much more confusing the level would be if the path that dead-ended in a Lick and Neural Stunner actually connected to the room with the pole?
Rule #10 wrote:10. Thou shalt never forget to place enough ammo, although too much ammo is an equitable sin.
Every level should have one of those "If the player has less than five ammo, give them this power up" Neural Stunners. It doesn't have to be immediately in front of the player upon entry, but it should be accessible. Do not neglect this feature! :)
Rule #11 wrote:Apocryphal 11. Thou shalt never use more than three enemy sprites in a screen sized room, unless they can fly. More may be added as the room size increases.
The exception to this is if you are using the enemies for a specific purpose within the level--The Earth Explode's Moscow level has a lightswitch puzzle involving FIVE Vorticon Elites, but the successful completion of the puzzle means Keen never has to fire a shot--and The Armageddon Machine's Quantum Explosion Dynamo has at least five Shockshunds (and a Slicestar!) preventing direct/early access to the Blue Keygem. :)
shikadi wrote:so if i place 11 blorbs in a single level its ok cause they fly?
Not at all, unless you are specifically designing the level around such an obstacle--maybe asking Keen to rapidly navigate a maze, while the horde of Blorbs follows him?

This rule is saying, very clearly, that too many enemies in too tight a space = bad, and too many different types of enemies together = bad. In fact, enemy mingling is very rare in Commander Keen games.

In The Armageddon Machine, it's rare to see two different enemy types in the same place at the same time, the exception being Sparkies and Little Amptons, and Shikadi with their Shockshunds. Most of the time, if you encounter an enemy type, you're not going to encounter another enemy type in the same room/area.
The only exception I can think of is the lone Sparky who mingles with a Robo Red near the bottom of the Regulation Control Center.

If I could add a sub-rule to this rule, it would be to USE DIAGONAL BOUNCING ENEMIES WISELY/CAUTIOUSLY. The Armageddon Machine only had diagonal Slicestars in three places, if I recall correctly: Defense Tunnel Teln, by the Blue Keygem; the Neutrino Burst Injector, in the room before the fuses; and on the Korath III Base, right side red room.

...

Overall, these are excellent rules, and I think they can be applied to Keen:Vorticons mods just as readily as Keen:Galaxy ones. :)

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Post by Ceilick » Wed Feb 09, 2011 9:20 pm

I'd like to take a moment to restate that these rules are designed with the intention of reflecting the style of Keen 4-6. I did not want to imply that breaking these rules makes a level bad, but I think we can all agree that a level which follows the same standards as those of Keen 4-6 will almost always be good. These rules try to outline some of those standards.
disagree, the focus of the level might be gems, gem puzzle, etc


The original games have only 1 level that uses more than four keys, and that extra gem isn't even part of a puzzle. Gem door puzzles in keen 4-6 are never more than 4 keys and I think encouraging level designers to try to make puzzles with only 4 gems will lead to better use of door placement.
disagree, i think 1 key gem might be acceptable, remember, mods wont be downloaded by people who don't know the original games, and therefore would probably not mind gems to much. i think you should be able to put in either a keydoor, a regular door OR one switch. it wouldn't make things to complicated.
The main purpose behind this rule is to keep the first level simple. If the first level features an all new setting, graphics, or something else visual, the gameplay should focus on impressing the player with these, rather than making gameplay the focus with elements like gem doors.

While there aren't any gem doors in the first levels of keen 4-6, doing so might not be bad if the gem is located very close to the door. However, having gems located so near their corresponding door is often, i think, considered superfluous unless getting said gem involves some sort of challenge. The problem is some sort of gem attaining challenge doesn't belong in a first level. If the gem is located far away from the door, this means too much exploration is required and over complicates the first level.
i can't read SGA, using SGA letters wouldnt help me even a little bit, i am sure i ma not the only one. so having sga is for me the same as having nothing.
Being able to read SGA shouldn't matter, it's about having matching symbols. If a player flips a switch and has no idea what the switch did or has to guess, that is usually bad.

I'd like to note that this rule doesn't necessarily reflect the official keens, keen 4 particularly. But it does encourage level designers to think about how they place switches in relationship to what those switches effect.
disagree, the levels theme might be that it is scarce so you have to avoid most enemies rather then shooting, this seems more like something personal in your mods. where shooting enemies is a bigger part.
nothing.
This isn't disagreeing with the rule. The rule is only that levels should have enough ammo in them so the player can beat it without having to horde ammo acorss lives. If the player doesn't need to stun everything, then there doesnt need to be enough ammo to stun everything.

This rule mainly tries to answer problems of Keen entering a level with any number of ammo, 0 and up, and still being able to finish the level without having to grab a stunner, die, and restart with more ammo. As Xky mentions, the 1 free stunner sprite should always be placed and will help with this problem, but this alone won't necessarily fix it.

It's hard to find an official level which exemplifies this, since many of them are possible to beat without shooting at all. Take a look at the pyramid of shadows: http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/File:Ck4lv12.png In the middle section to the right of the door is a slug that keen MUST shoot to beat the level. According to the rule, this means this level requires at least 1 neural stunner to be placed in the level.
so if i place 11 blorbs in a single level its ok cause they fly?
The thing about flying enemies is mostly referential to Keen 4's use of skypests. Guess the rule needs some more work :)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this broken by the hidden area in the lower right part of The Cave of Descendents?
I...never knew that :0 If it is, I think we agree that it's an example of bad level design.
This goes for archways, too! Notice how carefully controlled the size of archways in The Armageddon Machine are--they're almost all the same size, between levels, with the exception of the exit to the Gravitational Damping Hub.
Great point, and I never noticed the uniforn size of archways!
...unless the border is within the same 'room' as the entrance or exit of the level, in which case the absence of border is permitted.
Can you clarify what you mean by the second part of this?
The last part is mostly a reference to keen 4 style levels: Border Village doesn't have any kind of border on the left or right sides of the level because they are above ground and make the level feel like it's part of the world, not an isolated arena.
Label your devices! I agree with this. One of the things I did to falsely add difficulty to the first "Final" level in Episode Null was add several switches that didn't actually do anything, without labels or visual indicators. At the time, I thought it was clever--but looking back on it, it's just plain annoying.
I don't particularly remember this in null, but I think using this feature in some sort of 'boss/final level' sense might be acceptable, providing the player can be clued into some switches being useless. Definitely not suitable for a regular gameplay feature though.
9. Thou shalt never leave more than three fourths of a screens area of space devoid of accessibility.


This is a pacing concern.
Hmm, I see your points. The main issue this rule tries to answer is unused space. Taking a look at guard post one from keen 6: http://www.shikadi.net/wiki/keen/images ... k6lv02.png , imagine if that room on the left with the four neural stunners wasn't there; that would be a huge chunk of unused space! How can the rule be written to address such a problem?
The exception to this is if you are using the enemies for a specific purpose within the level--The Earth Explode's Moscow level has a lightswitch puzzle involving FIVE Vorticon Elites, but the successful completion of the puzzle means Keen never has to fire a shot--and The Armageddon Machine's Quantum Explosion Dynamo has at least five Shockshunds (and a Slicestar!) preventing direct/early access to the Blue Keygem. :)
I can't believe I forgot this area! Trying to make an encompassing rule for enemy placement isn't nearly as easy as I thought. Any suggestions for working this into the rule, or should it be considered just general advice?
This rule is saying, very clearly, that too many enemies in too tight a space = bad, and too many different types of enemies together = bad. In fact, enemy mingling is very rare in Commander Keen games.
Absolutely right, and great point on the subject of enemy mingling. Seems safe to say that Keen's 4-6 never have rooms with more than 2 different types of enemy. I'll have to think on how this can be written into the rule.

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Post by XkyRauh » Thu Feb 10, 2011 7:30 am

Ceilick, re: unused space in levels wrote: Hmm, I see your points. The main issue this rule tries to answer is unused space. Taking a look at guard post one from keen 6, imagine if that room on the left with the four neural stunners wasn't there; that would be a huge chunk of unused space! How can the rule be written to address such a problem?
I don't think this is a problem at all. :) Asymmetry has its place, especially when it comes to hiding secret areas. If I know a level designer is a stickler for using every last bit of space possible, the secret areas become rather predictable. By allowing some parts of a level to be unused, we can add depth/distance/weight to certain areas!
Ceilick, re: enemy clumps wrote:I can't believe I forgot this area! Trying to make an encompassing rule for enemy placement isn't nearly as easy as I thought. Any suggestions for working this into the rule, or should it be considered just general advice?
No, your rule stands firm as it is presented: don't put too many enemies in too tight a space, UNLESS you are doing it for a specific purpose. Just because a technique is used twice over the course of eighty different canon Keen levels doesn't mean you have to make a notarized rule about it! :D

.

Really, level theory and modding design theory are very similar to music theory, which analyzes the way that music has been constructed, harmonically, for the past 400 years... which is to say, it is useful and can explain things about 75% of the time--but there's a great deal of material that directly circumvents, ignores, or flat-out goes contrary to "the rules." That's not bad design--that's genius. :)

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Post by Draik » Thu Feb 10, 2011 8:30 am

The trick there lies in flouting the rules in such a way that it still manages to work, of course.

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Post by Ceilick » Mon Feb 14, 2011 5:54 am

Asymmetry has its place, especially when it comes to hiding secret areas. If I know a level designer is a stickler for using every last bit of space possible, the secret areas become rather predictable. By allowing some parts of a level to be unused, we can add depth/distance/weight to certain areas!
I agree at the usefulness in having unused parts create depth and distance, and I think the space between the neural stunners and the popsicles in the room to the right of them is a great example of this. But I can't help but feel that at some point it becomes too much.

The only thing the absence of the neural stunner room accomplishes is possibly breaking a player's expectations about hidden areas, like you mentioned. I suppose it'll depend on the level, but it feels like such large amounts of unused space might be short-changing the player.

The above said, I know in my own levels I have an extremely hard time creating 'open' areas and utilizing affects of unused space.
Just because a technique is used twice over the course of eighty different canon Keen levels doesn't mean you have to make a notarized rule about it! :D
Heheh, I am a stickler about rules though :P As is the case with rules on creativity like these, there are often 'right' ways of breaking them, as you and Draik mention, but the harder and fewer ways of doing so, the more solid the rule. Nevertheless, point taken on the nature of exceptions and the meaningfulness of what the rule does present :)

I'm working on a pretty comprehensive modding article, a section of which is on level design, so I'll be trying to incorporate these comments into the explanations for the rules, particularly the enemy one, and possibly omitting or rewriting the rule on use of space.

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Post by MrBlack » Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:30 pm

To be honest, I've blatantly defied the "multiple enemies rule" quite a lot in my Keen4 levelpack so far. I find mixing enemies an invaluable way of creating new and interesting challenges. I only just read this after creating 6 levels but I haven't changed my mind.

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Re: Galaxy Level Design and Basic Rules

Post by Eros » Mon Apr 04, 2011 10:13 pm

1. Thou shalt never create a room within a level with no escape, or with no escape but death.

2. Thou shalt never use more than one of each of the four key gem colors in a single level.

3. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate behind the foreground to reach the exit, unless the exit of the foreground area is within clear sight of the entrance of said area.

4. Thou shalt never force the player to navigate invisible platforms to reach the exit.

5. Walls shall never be less than 2 solid tiles thick. Borders shall never be less than 1 solid tile thick unless the border is within the same 'room' as the entrance or exit of the level, in which case the absence of border is permitted.

6. The first level shall not contain key gem doors, more than one switch, or regular doors unless they lead to optional areas.

7. Thou shalt never be more confusing than necessary with doors. This entails, but is not limited to, making door puzzles longer than four rooms, having more than 2 doors in a level when said doors link to areas that otherwise reachable by not entering doors, and using more than two doors to separate any single key gem and corresponding key gem holder more than once in a single level.

8. Thou shalt always include SGA letters or an indicator of some kind as to what a switch affects if the affected area is in another room or section of the level.

9. Thou shalt never leave more than three fourths of a screens area of space devoid of accessibility.

10. Thou shalt never forget to place enough ammo, although too much ammo is an equitable sin.

Apocryphal 11. Thou shalt never use more than three enemy sprites in a screen sized room, unless they can fly. More may be added as the room size increases.

1. agree, it's pretty obvious actually.

2. disagree, what if there's an 'ultimate' challenge level, in the same spirit of PotF. a boss level where you must race around, avoiding a massive evil entity while rapidly placing gems and running away to conplete the level is understandable in my perspective. granted, it is a very flawed and biased perspective, but lets' not pick nits.

3. agree

4. disagree ONLY IF it's incredibly obvious where the platforms start and stop, or when the whole thing's an invisible, existing tile group. RE: KeenAsylum secret level Invisibility

5. um... agree...?

6. disagree, the first level of keen games are tutorials, so i don't see what logic prevents people from making a door that is immediately adjacent to the key.

7. ...i think you violated this in Defence Tunnel Surth...

8. agree

9. ...violated (several times, too) in Dead in the Desert, but i understand that it is wasteful and only wastes memory

10. i think the rule is 0.5-1.5 times the amount needed in the level, only if it's nearly impossible to waste very much ammo in the level immediately before it

11. disagree. i think it should say "Thou shalt never give oppertunity for more than three enemy sprites to chase you in a screen sized room, especially if they can fly."

the whole point of chasing enemies is for them to be in open spaces, so it makes little sense for flying enemies to get special privleges. RE: AAMBA level BASA, with the ~10 blorbs and ~5 babobbas in one cramped area, which immediately come after you when you flick a switch right under the area which you drop down from.

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Re: Galaxy Level Design and Basic Rules

Post by XkyRauh » Tue Apr 05, 2011 1:36 am

Eros wrote:
Ceilick wrote: 2. Thou shalt never use more than one of each of the four key gem colors in a single level.
2. disagree, what if there's an 'ultimate' challenge level, in the same spirit of PotF. a boss level where you must race around, avoiding a massive evil entity while rapidly placing gems and running away to conplete the level is understandable in my perspective. granted, it is a very flawed and biased perspective, but lets' not pick nits.
My counter-argument to that statement would be to ask why more than four keys are necessary at all.
If you want to railroad the player into spending time in an area, we've already got switches, moving platforms, and moving obstacles which can achieve the same purpose as keys. :)
Not saying you have to do away with the key system as a whole--just that once you use all four, start finding new ways to soak time.
Eros wrote:
Ceilick wrote:9. Thou shalt never leave more than three fourths of a screens area of space devoid of accessibility.
9. ...violated (several times, too) in Dead in the Desert, but i understand that it is wasteful and only wastes memory
I'm curious where. :) Please point out some specifics, because I think we may have a disconnect in what we're defining as "devoid of accessibility."

It is my understanding that Ceilick's definition of "devoid of accessibility" is basically "a solid wall," which means that, by Ceilick's definition, you should never have more than about 3/4 of a screen's area in a level blocked off completely. Basically, he's advocating that level designers use every last ounce of space available to them within their rectangle.

My own definition of "devoid of accessibility" has more to do with player movement and freedom. I don't want more than 3/4 the viewscreen to contain a part of a level I cannot reach, mostly because I find that incredibly frustrating as a player. If half of the things onscreen aren't immediately applicable to my situation, I get distracted and possibly overwhelmed.
A good example of this is to point out how the two halves of the Korath III Base are separated. At no time during your ascent on the left side are you influenced or exposed to content from the right, and vice versa. Now imagine how confusing/frustrating/boring it would be for the player if the two were both visible the entire time. Extra noise, extra movement, extra distraction--and less resulting fun. :P

How are you defining "devoid of accessibility," and how are you applying it to "Dead in the Desert?"
Eros wrote:the whole point of chasing enemies is for them to be in open spaces, so it makes little sense for flying enemies to get special privleges. RE: AAMBA level BASA, with the ~10 blorbs and ~5 babobbas in one cramped area, which immediately come after you when you flick a switch right under the area which you drop down from.
They come after you? Where? :O I don't believe I've ever experienced this! (Serious--I don't know what you're talking about!)

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Post by Eros » Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:32 pm

replying to what you said, most of the desert surface levels of DitD have it so that the sky is completely exposed, yet nothing of interest happens in that area, especially in Battle for the Ship, and the Dusty Dunes.

also, the level of AAMBA i'm talking about is the area with the 1UP in blog-BASA, with all the blorbs and the glowing hand sign. they don't exactly come after you, but there's enough of them to ensure that at least one is chasing you

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Post by Ceilick » Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:32 pm

3/4 of a screen length is probably a bad measurement on my part, but Xky's got my thoughts correct with ""devoid of accessibility" is basically "a solid wall,"".

The idea being if you have a 50x50 level that looks something like this:

Code: Select all

xxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx
the the level design shouldn't turn out something like this:

Code: Select all

00000000000
00000000000
xxxxxx00000
xxxxxx00000
xxxxxx00000
Where 0's are compose tunnels and paths and the x's are just a solid chunk of wall. I think ideally a level will try to use utilize the entire 50x50 square, although perhaps if a level has a very particular theme it might not do so.

There's also a danger of just creating too many areas, a problem which shows up often in Keen Vorticons levels. However, from my own experience and from observing the design of others, I feel like their is a tendency toward under utilization of space in galaxy design.

Where sky is concerned, being empty is really only a problem if there are areas way up high in the sky and the area between those and the ground is completely empty. How open space is 'fixed' is a bit different than how closed space is, the later being what I had in mind with the rule.
Last edited by Ceilick on Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by XkyRauh » Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:53 pm

Eros wrote:most of the desert surface levels of DitD have it so that the sky is completely exposed, yet nothing of interest happens in that area, especially in Battle for the Ship, and the Dusty Dunes.
Gotcha, and to some extent, I disagree. The use of sky as an open plane is crucial to helping establish an outdoor feel, but it can definitely go too far. Let's investigate.

I'm going to argue that Border Village, Sand Yego, and Guard Post Two are examples of how to use sky in a level well. That is to say, the presence of sky makes the level feel "open" in certain areas, and it is utilized in such a way that even though a fair portion of it isn't space the player will actually move through, its presence is not a hindrance.

In other levels, like either Dome ofDarkness or any of the Pyramid levels are constructed in a way that mimics their map icon, and provides theme for the level as a whole--I would argue that the use of sky/non-player-traversal area are thematic and fine.

However, levels like Hillville and, to a much lesser extent, Bloogwaters Crossing, have "bad" sky, the kind of sky I believe you were getting at, Eros. In both of these levels, the sky acts more as a barrier, a method of masking a hidden path and hidden goodies. In both levels, despite the sky being very open, there are only one or two paths to access the goodies in the sky, leaving huge swaths of unused space, which can confuse the player due to the large amount of potential scrolling that they aren't able to get to.

That said, there are some levels that contain "non-sky" area, which LOOK like sky, but are either functionally useless or outright deceptive. Levels like The Chasm of Chills and Bloogbase Management District kind of bother me. :)

I suppose part of the challenge in using large open space in levels, then, comes down to how much of it is immediately accessible, and how much of it is potentially accessible. No one is going to argue (I hope) that the secret areas in Hillville or Bloogwaters Crossing should be axed, and the levels would be better without them--but there is something to be said for the routes used to access them, and how much "blank space" is perceived by the player. (In this case, I think BC does a much better job than HV!)
Eros wrote:also, the level of AAMBA i'm talking about is the area with the 1UP in blog-BASA, with all the blorbs and the glowing hand sign. they don't exactly come after you, but there's enough of them to ensure that at least one is chasing you
Oh, AAMBA. Gotcha. :) I was thinking of AAMB, and I was very confused!

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Post by Ceilick » Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:46 pm

Your level analysis is always the best, xky :drool

Awesome examples, and the idea of "how much "blank space" is perceived by the player" is a big deal. If the player recognizes a large chunk of space within the level boundaries that they can't reach or can't do/see anything in (whether it is solid or open) it can result in confining emptiness, making the level feel contrived, or sprawling emptiness, making the level disorienting.

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