DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Discussion and analysis of graphics, story, levels, and so on.
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Ceilick
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Post by Ceilick » Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:39 pm

Kdash wrote:IIRC, the labels are either U or D, showing which direction the switch should be facing. Honestly I always thought this was a bit useless, since most of the switches are supposed to be flipped to the opposite position from which they start.
Lol, how did I not realize this? Probably because, as you point out, the up and down labeling is pretty useless. So I wonder: are the signs adding anything atmospheric, are they actually helpful for some players, or are they possibly a source of confusion for players (perhaps the player thinks as I did, that they have a corresponding sign only to find no such thing)?
Xky wrote:As it is, the in-level interpretation of the map screen's Guard Post is consistent. :)
Good point!
Xky wrote:...but the fact that the right side of the level is so barren and devoid of wildlife makes it more atmospheric to me
After playing the level again, I agree. Identifying these kind of areas, with that empty yet atmospheric feeling, is often tough for me, as is creating them in my own levels.
Spleen wrote:Although, interestingly, it doesn't introduce poles yet.
Nice observation! I tend to consider absence of poles in a level as negative, since they are a staple of Keen galaxy. Does this absence have any affect on the player? Does it give a different atmospheric feeling?
Spleen wrote:My favorite thing about this level is how you can impossible-pogo through the middle and avoid 80% of the level.
Personally I hate these kind of shortcuts for two reasons: the feeling of missing something important in the level often plagues me (and then by not taking the shortcut I'm plagued with the thought "did I make the right choice?"), and in designing my own levels I feel like the player is cheating me out of the work I put into the rest of the level. The nice thing about the situation here, though, is that not only is the exit right there (preventing the player from feeling lost; a shortcut that makes the player feels lost sucks), but the door on the other side of this shortcut takes the player right back to the start!

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Post by CommanderSpleen » Sun Aug 28, 2011 6:24 am

So I wonder: are the signs adding anything atmospheric, are they actually helpful for some players, or are they possibly a source of confusion for players (perhaps the player thinks as I did, that they have a corresponding sign only to find no such thing)?
I always found it handy to have for long-distance switch puzzles in case accidentally the switch a couple of times and might otherwise lose track. That would result in more confusion, doubling back to check the state of the target, and possibly having to identify what its effect should actually be.

However, maybe having labels that correspond to the target, as in Keen 5, would have been more efficient.

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Post by XkyRauh » Sun Aug 28, 2011 1:36 pm

Considering that Keen5's levels were actually designed AFTER Keen6's, it makes sense that the "label your switches" rule was more developed at that time. In the absence of an A/B/C/D labeling system, the U/D hint works just as well--it lets the player whose sole goal is to reach the ending know what is necessary to complete the level, and it lets the player whose goal is to collect everything know what potential variations exist.

(Even though Keen is not a multiplayer game, (before NetKeen,) the classifications of "Achiever" and "Explorer" from this article still fit, IMKO.)

Vague hints are preferable to no hints, but specific hints are best. :)

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Post by CapnClever » Thu Apr 10, 2014 7:20 pm

I may be speedrunning these games now, but I've long been interested in game design. So, in an attempt to revitalize this thread (which is rather enlightening, thanks for the tip on skipping GP1 on Hard) I'll share my thoughts on the subject matter.

To start, I want to go over Keen6's level design as a whole: maybe compare a bit to Keen4/5, but primarily look at it for what it is and how the player interacts with it.

The overworld map in this game is definitely my favorite in the Galaxy games: vivid, colorful, and a sense of progress as you make your way through the levels. There's some lack of detail in a few areas (particularly along the chasm and near the planet/space border), as well as some missed possibilities (a second outdoorsy level would have helped a lot in diversity), but I think it provides the best story through its imagery. There's an overarching goal (find/rescue Molly), but there are several gateway levels, as well as several unique obstacles, that must be passed in order to explore further. (How they're implemented into levels is another matter, of course.) Compare to Keen4's egg-hunt and Keen5's forced but justified linearity. I think, for the pacing of a game, this struck me as well-managed more than the others.

The levels themselves, for the most part, have some problems. As in, fundamental problems. This might have to do with when it was created: there are enough differences between the Vorticon and Galaxy engines, and the map design should reflect that, but Keen6 shows artifacts from the other games (even ideas not well-implemented from those games). Dubious usage of basic pieces, meaningless detours, claustrophobic mazes, and questionable difficulty differences are just few issues. There are also some neat novelties you don't see in the other games that I enjoy and leave a good impact, but these are fewer than the negative.

One of the biggest flaws in this game is an unnecessary amount of cramped spaces. I think levels like Guard Post Two and Second Dome of Darkness, and BASA) highlight this best: looking at the map in full, they remind me of pencil-mazes. You have a lot of areas that give you little to no extra space to explore, becoming more about navigating than exploring. Keen1's Red Maze City wasn't a good level (and please argue this with me if you disagree, maybe in the Keen1 design thread instead) but at least it was intended to be a distraction from the real prize, a secret level, so I give it some credit: Keen6 doesn't do this at all, however, since the mazes are only there to pad the level. In short, you don't want the player to feel forcibly blocked, and there's way too much of it here.

There's also a clear distinction that the some level designs were produced without a clear understanding of the game's mechanics. Bloogton Manufacturing is the easiest level to point to, with its numerous slanted platforms leading to what I call "infinite-loop ledge climbing" situations. Granted, I actually like the aesthetic these platforms provide, but they were clearly made without realizing the problem, so they could probably have been implemented better.

Really I'd say that there's too much emphasis on "indoors" in Keen6. The first level is great, because we're treated to this wonderful new world, filled with its own mysterious flora and fauna. The next time we get to see any fresh air after that is easily halfway through the game, as we're forced into underground apartments and factories. Even then, most of the open world is only alluded to (GP2, GP3, and even Bloogvile where you'd expect to see more of it) and we're left wanting by the time we hit Bloogbase which, ironically, is more open than the rest of the game! And it's not like Fribbulus Xax is highly-populated and the Bloogs are making use of available space: there is clearly a ton of empty land that could be expanded upon. The levels themselves feel like clustered hubs most of the time, running around in an effort that could be alternatively handled by simply passing around them.

That said, there are some good points in the general design. Bloogville does provide a good sense of terran housing: schizophrenic but considerate (as represented by the arboretum) and, although the gem-required exit is unnecessary, you really feel like exploring every inch of the level. First Dome of Darkness, by contrast, is clearly defined as underdeveloped, with the sparse modules on top and the hazardous disaster on bottom: although you never have to visit half of the level, it's right there when you start and so you're at least curious enough to look around. Bloogfoods is an excellent use of the factory theme, and although there are still some annoying pencil-mazes (and that incredibly frustrating obstacle taunt in the bottom-left) it's pieced together well and stays tense throughout, as it should. Honestly, a lot of the game strikes me as being aesthetically designed without considering the gameplay, which is unfortunate, since it looks nice but quickly becomes bothersome to get through.

Anyway, that's my few cents on Keen6 overall. What do others think of the general flow of the game? I'll leave my thoughts on each level later, if we can get this thread moving along again.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Wed Mar 01, 2017 4:47 am

Let's necro this thread, to keep discussion moving! It's been a long while since I've played Keen6, but I'm always eager to hear other players' thoughts on what are some of my most fondly recalled levels. :) I think the next map is the First Dome of Darkness?

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Wed Mar 01, 2017 1:27 pm

I have fond memories of that level, playing it instead of watching a fireworks display. Good times.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Mon Mar 06, 2017 1:23 am

Right, The First Dome of Darkness, then. I always felt pretty good about this level, in my youth, because I adored the Flect--the "must shoot from above/below to defeat" thing made me feel like a badass when I could successfully jump over the creature and shoot down at his head.

Looking at the level map now, on the Wiki, it feels really barren and lifeless.

Positives: I appreciate that all the Keen6 levels try to roughly maintain the shape of what they're based on (with Guard Posts having an outpost feel, Domes being shaped accordingly, etc.) and so I'm a fan of the bonus points hidden above/outside the dome. It's good that the level can be completed without going into the clearly labeled Hazard zone, and I like that the Hazard zone shows up in the Keen6 manual, warning players in advance that such areas are not critical to completing a level. Good labeling!

Negatives: So much wasted space, and so many points thrown around haphazardly. On one hand, rewarding the player for sacrificing time by falling from the upper platform with the Blooglet (above the blue gem) back to the level's start with 1500 points doesn't seem too bad. On the other hand, I feel that there is absolutely no reason to ever bother with the moving platform section beneath the level. Sure, there are nearly 3 extra lives' worth of points down there, as well as a Mother Viva, but realistically who in their right mind is going to bother taking the time to collect it all? Even when I was a cheat-happy youth, I didn't bother to float around and collect all the points down there. :\

From the standpoint of "introducing new hazards," I like that the Flect is introduced in an environment where he's not particularly deadly. He can disable Keen, if shot head-on, but the only way Keen can *die* is if he's pushed into the spikes all the way to the left... but the rest of the level is entirely unthreatening! I guess that's my problem with the level.

Bloogwaters crossing had 5 water pits, 2 Bloogs, a Babobba, and a set of spikes--that's 9 different ways to die in the first level.
Guard Post One had (depending on difficulty) a half dozen Bloogs/Blooguards, a few Babobbas, a couple Giks, lasers, and a long set of spikes. Lots of danger, balanced out by my previously-complimented atmospheric/barren trip down to the Green Keygem.

By comparison, the ONLY ways to die in the First Dome of Darkness are the set of spikes near the Hazard sign, and then the completely skippable, optional, not-in-any-way-necessary bonus segment beneath the level. Even on Hard mode, there's nothing more than Blooglets and a lone Flect, whose only method of attack is "push Keen in the direction they're moving, maybe towards the spikes over there I don't know." The balance on this one feels weak. :\

In defense of that, I'll give a nod to the puzzle-like aspect of the level. You cannot get the Grappling Hook without flipping the switch behind the Blue Keygem door, and you cannot get that without flipping the switch near the top of the right half of the level. The "difficulty" in this level is the environment itself, it seems--but is the trade-off worth it?

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Tue Mar 07, 2017 5:36 am

I think so. The issue with it, as far as I can see, is that it is a 'map item' level but not one located in a 'terminal position' such as BloogFoods or the rocket card tower. As such it's easy for an unmotivated player to simply skip pas it, or play the level once and quit at the first death. Doing so would cause the player to lose out on getting the first required map item.

In fact I see a subtle ingenuity in it; it is almost definite that the player will encounter the cliff first; it's located upwards of the initial approach which is a direction players tend to favor. So player will most likely approach the teleporter-area with the knowledge that they must obtain some sort of item to progress. When they obtain the grappling hook it will not have a mysterious function and they can backtrack and use it immediately.

The downside is, as noted above, that the level the first map item is in should be quite basic and difficult to lose. I believe the designers made a conscious decision not to make the level mandatory (In that the player must pass through it in order to immediately access a new area, like Bloogwater Crossing.) but instead have it as something with an interesting map entrance that the players are tempted to explore, being rewarded with the item.

Seen this way I think the level's shortcomings are part of a smoother overall game design; notice the repetition of elements on the map; guard posts are mandatory levels and are introduced quite early on, limiting Keen's progress severely and introducing the concept of a 'checkpoint level' to be overcome. Initially moderately easy they grow harder later on. Likewise map items, the first is simple enough to obtain, but later become far more difficult; indeed I would say that the remaining map item levels are some of the mos arduous in the game.

So to me, a completionist the first dome is more a stepping stone than a level that has to be showy and complex. In a way it's like the pogo shrine from Keen 1, as complex as it needs to be. And the optional area below works with this. If you wish to simply get in and get the item, that is fine. But a large part of the level is a complex point gamut that requires considerable skill to get through. For those with the skill it is immensely rewarding to do so without saving in one go. For those without it can be a tricky mix of jump and save, a challenge that stretches out the level.

In short, I like this level, I think there's more going on here than what's seen on the surface.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:11 am

That's a really good point! I hadn't considered the analog to the Keen1 Pogo Shrine, but you're right--it serves a similar atmospheric function. Thanks for that insight. :)

My only argument against what you've outlined is that the Grappling Hook itself is pretty difficult to see, because of how the screen scrolls and its placement within the level. I recall watching my cousins get the item by accident, while trying to pogo up to get the Vivas, and being disappointed that the acquisition ended the level.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:03 am

I consider that a point *for* my argument, both the grappling hook and pogo are centered middle-top in their levels at the apex or a pyramidal structure. This is symbolic of their importance.

The issue is that in the case of the grappling hook the method of reaching it is flawed due to how the screen scrolls and how the item simply 'hangs there'. Other items are more solidly placed, the passcard and Molly at the end of their levels and the sandwich with a big, important-looking sign. The hook would have been better suited atop a small platform at the apex of the dome, maybe on a 2-tile high pyramid for extra obviousness. It's possible the team *wanted* the item to be a surprise, or that they thought that the way of reaching it would be climactic enough. Certainly it could have used a revision.

On that topic we need to make a Keen 6 Unbugged version.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by Ceilick » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:30 am

Great points, Xky, I'm taking particular note of level shape conformity to the level entrance, the clearly labeled hazard zone, the introduction to the Flect, and the puzzle element to the upper playing area.

Excellent point on this being an analog to the Pogo Shrine, Levellass. In that respect it really justifies the easiness and lack of hazards that Xky identified.

As an alternate way to present the grappling hook, what if it were larger and actually dangling/hooked to the top of the level? What if the "This is neat" sign (or a better sign altogether) were located below the hook so the player has some warning that it's coming while riding the platform?

My first personal complaint for this level is how blocky and rectangular all the platforms are. To me this really adds to the feeling of wasted, uninteresting space. The platforms feel horribly basic. Slopes and additional platforms poking out of the main blocks would help.

My second complaint is how little graphical variation or interesting things to see there are. There are almost zero objects of interest drawn into the background or foreground. No large rocks, plant life, variations in texture, mining equipment, or anything for the player to see. This applies to the whole level but especially the hazard zone.
On the other hand, I feel that there is absolutely no reason to ever bother with the moving platform section beneath the level...realistically who in their right mind is going to bother taking the time to collect it all?
Would this area be more explorable if the player got to see something new or something different, even if that thing were something mundane that couldn't be interacted with like a big vibrant purple moss on the wall or stalactites or something?

Perhaps this big open goplat ride is just not worth it though and simply having a destination on the other side (even just a platform with an enemy and the extra life) would make it interesting and worth it.

Lastly, I'd maybe remove any hazard from the bottom of the hazard zone that could be jumped or pogoed into while navigating those floating platforms; it's just unnecessarily difficult for an optional area that the player really has to go out of their way for.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by XkyRauh » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:41 am

Edit: Woah, Ceilick! You wrote your post while I was writing mine! Hahaha. :) Cool to see you again, man.



Right, then. On we go to the Second Dome of Darkness. I don't think I've played this level more than 10 times in my entire Keen-playing life.

There are a lot of things I like about this level, though. :) The way the level offers bonus points for exploration--the sundae by the spike pit, the ammo near the spike balls, the little point bonuses here and there filling in areas that have no actual function. I appreciate the non-linear placement of the Red Gem, and the way each gem plays a specific role in the player's advancement through the level. I like the Babobba and the Gik's placements, and the opportunity to experiment with shooting up/down in mid-air at Bloogs. The level's length feels comfortable!

Both Domes have huge secret areas that I feel are complete wastes of time--this one is worse than the First, in my opinion, because of the length of time invested into getting up to it, trekking through it, and then BACKtracking through it! Yuck. If there were a chute to drop the player on the top of the dome, or something, I might give it a pass. But asking a player to jump through so many laser hoops AND back again is tedious. No thank you.

Thematically speaking, I'd always considered the Domes of Darkness to be the equivalent of ancient caverns. The Bloogs are obviously a "civilized" race, constructing great buildings and making use of technology, (with the help of the Fleex,) I always figured the Domes were some sort of call-back to a time when the Bloogs were a simpler folk. Maybe there was a darker story behind the Fleexs' assistance in advancing technology? I liked the thought that the Bloogs here were somehow more innocent; less corrupt. Maybe that's why I always skipped this level. :)

Overall, I like The Second Dome of Darkness a whole lot more than the First, even if I hardly ever played it. It's got a nice flow to it, and I like that you can choose to get the Red Gem before or after doing the Yellow Gem route. Choice!

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by Ceilick » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:21 am

Cheers dude :)

Great points on this one again, and really interesting to read your thematic interpretation of the domes. Its great when lore can be felt and generated simply by how the platforms are layed out.

As a level designer, I think it's super important to see the value in the nonlinear use of the red key you identify. Having the choice and freedom to feel out the level and explore wuthout first passing a door is good (as long as we're not getting too lost!).

I think the sprawling, asymetrical tunnels in this map really work because each path/tunnel really is quite short, as is the level as a whole.

If I have anything to add to your analyses its that there is some doofy tile placement that could look visually better on the sides of the lower left spike pit.

I can't make up my mind whether I dislike or not the way the hazard tiles are used to block the player from skipping the red door.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by levellass » Wed Mar 22, 2017 10:36 am

This level I like less than the first dome, though it's still one of my top Keen 6 levels for its theme. The biggest issue to me is the ceiling, the dome appears to be buried underground, but we see no such thing from the map. This also makes the dome feel somewhat limited and claustrophobic when you're climbing it; the dome should have an area of empty space above it, a sky. Preferably with some cliff tiles, like the first level which really shows the geography of the crossing. I know this doesn't impact the play of the level, but I think it could have made the game feel a little bit larger and more alien.

Relating to this, the secret area is both cool and uncool. It's rather unique, demanding the player go offscreen to progress, not only exploring but subverting the usual rules of the game (Offscreen wins level) It's very tricky to figure out; moreso than say the first level of Keen 5. I think a smattering of extra lives is a little low as a reward. I think it would have solved two problems with one stone to have it lead up to airborne platforms, possibly in the sky above the dome. This would allow a quick exit from the area while still providing challenges to get to the opposite side of the level. It could have given the level a sense of hidden vastness, moreso than the first level which had a similar, though limited conceit.

The ceilings also bug me; they should have made some tiles that had proper ceilings instead of the 'cutoff' look you see so much. That's lazy. All-in-all it's an ok level, still one of my faves, but it's not that *good*.

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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Post by lemm » Wed Mar 22, 2017 7:42 pm

I don't believe that I've ever completed this level legitimately.

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