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Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Thu Mar 23, 2017 12:43 am
by CommanderSpleen
There was always something weird about those domes of darkness. These days they just feel too dank and uncomfortable. It's hard to find the right setting among other IRL things to dedicate time for playing through the game, and parts like this make it harder to persevere.

I think I did also tend to skip the second one. It does have a memorable design, particularly the mazey platforms and the two tunnels in the middle. However, some aspects such as hazard placement are not so organic and make it seem like part of someone's hurried level pack.

The first dome was well constructed. I would often impossible-pogo to get the blue gem and skip the switch puzzle. Though I think that was only possible in easy mode that gives you that tiny bit extra jump height IIRK. I have never grown to like the optional underground area. Had a go at it the other day, but those grey-purple tiles are just so ugly and nauseating. Again, the haphazard layout and arbitrary points make it feel tacked on and irrelevant. I assume that switch down the bottom-left activates the platform at the top-left, so that is pretty neat I guess.

Combining the spikes and adjacent slope at the beginning with the blooglets and flect makes for an interesting little showdown which would otherwise have been a minor inconvenience had any of these factors been used individually.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Fri Mar 24, 2017 5:01 am
by XkyRauh
Levellass, what do you mean by the "cut off" ceiling tiles?

Because of how frequently you had the option to climb to the outer crust of the First Dome, I think it makes sense that the player can climb out of the Second to skip the red door--and the danger tiles preventing the interior escape are fine, in my thinking. I wouldn't mind if the pogo-up-to-climb-out escape route were a bit easier.

Interesting point about it feeling claustrophobic, Levellass--because of the Second Dome's placement on the map, even though it's clearly forward on a horizontal plane, I always interpreted the ceiling in-level to mean that the area left and down of Guard Post One was actually a ramp, and the Second Dome was vertically lower than the Guard Post. At least, that sort of nonsense geometry made sense to younger Xky. :)

I agree with Ceilick about the asymetrical tunnels being good due to their brevity.

Who wants to start the Bloogfoods, Inc. post? :)

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Fri Mar 24, 2017 7:15 am
by levellass
If you look at many of the ceilings in the level you'll notice they don't have a black outline, instead being regular part-of-larger-bits-of-ground tiles that have just been shoved in so they have their bottoms 'cut off'. Naively this is because a lot of ground is 1 tile thick, there's no 'room' for a top-of-ground tile AND a ceiling tile. But that's easily remedied by mixing up some of the ceiling and ground tiles, it's literally cut-and-paste. If I were making a levelpack based on this mod a-la Keen Dreams Plus I would certainly add such tiles to it so the ground wouldn't look so obviously tiled. As it is it only adds to Spleen's complaint of making the level seem like the rushed result of a levelpack.

Having 'previews' of previous\later levels in others would be interesting.(It's done in Buried in Oblivion.); it'd add a sense o interconnectedness to the game, much like the tile hints in the Bloogbase do. (See also Jill of the Jungle, where level mashups are the norm.)

I am becoming increasingly tempted to do a Keen 6 Plus mod.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 12:39 am
by Ceilick
Good point on the graphical flaw, Levellass. On that note, I think it's important to notice that the extra thin platforms work really well in this level; it would feel very different (more clausterphobic?) if they were two tiles thick. They just need a graphical adjustment (although I wonder if even that lower black outline will have a significant affect on how the space is perceived, more than just graphical consistency).

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 4:44 am
by XkyRauh
I guess it's a difficult balance, between allowing the player see additional, currently out-of-reach parts of the level, and making the level look "natural." I didn't think twice about the way the platforms were constructed, and to be honest I still don't entirely understand the "cut off" statement. :)

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 5:13 am
by levellass
That's it. Totally making a Keen 6+ mod based on the tips in this thread.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 3:15 am
by Ceilick
Xky: I'm not in a position to create an example, but the best case for comparison I can see in the level is on the left side above and to the right of the bridge. On the right side of the brown bush/moss platform thing you can see the tiles forming the underside of the platform have a black outline. On the left, however, there is no black outline on the underside (indeed the pebbles in some of the tiles just cut off). This graphical flaw is because they simply didn't create those type of tiles to have a bottom outline/border, but used them in that way anyway (possibly intentional, as I can see how removing the black outline affects the player's depth perception, but probably just lazy/rushed design of the tile set).

Related, I really love how the top of the platforms have the light purple bits that blend into the background without any kind of black border/outline. This really cements the scene as more than a bunch of floating platforms pasted over a backdrop.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:43 am
by XkyRauh
But they created platform enders specifically for that occurrence, as evidenced by the jutting right edge of the platform immediately above the Blue Gem. Compare that to the right edge immediately below the Red Gem. It was definitely intentional. The same logic that lets the top/rear of the platform blend into the noodly/brainy pink background is what let my eye ignore the brown-and-black mishmash that makes the bottom of the narrow platforms--I just figured it was more compact/dense than the crumbly looking stuff elsewhere! :)

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 9:32 am
by levellass
It at least could be done better then, I'm still not sold on intentionality, Keen 6 is full of shortcuts and not so much with genius.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Sun Apr 02, 2017 3:37 pm
by XkyRauh
Okay: Bloogfoods, Inc. The Keen Wiki linked to says it's level 8 (with the Bloogdome being level 5) but Bloogfoods is next on the typical playthrough, isn't it?

This level is the first time we hear the Metal music (which was definitely my favorite Keen song when I was a youth) and our first view of the pipes background. These two things combined to make me love Bloogfoods, Inc. as a kid!

The level is clearly split into two halves, with the first being a somewhat non-linear collect-a-thon. Gotta get all three colored Gems to advance, though you might have to backtrack quite a ways if you don't realize this and don't get the Green. (Honestly, we could probably do without the Green Gem and Door altogether, here.) It always bugged me that the arc of sodas up and right of the Red Gem weren't so easy to collect in a single pogo arc--I definitely would have re-shaped that point layout with playtesting.

A lot of this feels like a Keen1 level to me, because of the way that the various paths open up. The platforms upward on the left, the fire hazards, and the general point distribution reminds me of Emerald City, which is kind of fun--I wonder if the two levels were designed by the same person?

The second half of this level is a lot less interesting to me, from a level design standpoint, but always fascinated me as a kid: The row of switches (which felt much more numerous than six, because of the limited screenspace/resolution) and their relatively unknown purposes. I remember having all kinds of theories about these switches when I was young: Was there a combination I could flip that would stop the conveyor belts? Would one turn the lights off? Why did one of them ask to be flipped, when it was already in the ideal position? What bugs me about it, now, is the fact that the player has to backtrack so far to 'test' each flip position, and with so many switches so close together, it's definitely not apparent what each one does. To my mind, the purpose of a switch should be to assist in advancing through a level (as in so many of Keen2's levels) or to provide access to an optional secret area. One of the switches here does that, activating a Bip Platform that will give the player access to all those Rootbeer Floats on the ceiling above the Red/Blue Keygem doors. The others are more confusing.

I guess I view that backtracking secret area with the same general disdain as the backtracking secret area in the first level--who cares? The level is already big enough, and with all the circumnavigation required in the first half to simply access the second half, I didn't have much patience/stamina left to climb all the way back up for a few thousand points. It also doesn't help that the Blooguard at the bottom by the six switches killed me pretty frequently (I was so busy trying to flip the switches) when I was young, making the second half of the level feel more frustrating and exhausting.

From a thematic perspective, I found it really amusing that there's clearly an attempt at an assembly line aesthetic--the conveyor that flame-broils the foods, smashes them, and carts them to the final area (which my young brain assumed as packaging, because of the bridges?) ... There are a lot of neat little touches that help the factory seem complex and robust. I'm a little disappointed there's only one section of vertical background piping, right near the entrance. I can't believe I never noticed how repetitive and janky a lot of the background pipes look. The initial section looks incredible, with the H-shaped pipe segments... but the rest of the level looks very cut-paste. There are a few moments of longer pipes and interesting potential, but overall I think it's a wasted opportunity. Worth noting how the use of dark blue for the furthest layer of background makes the factory seem much more foggy/large/atmospheric. Try making the blue into black, and watch how it abruptly changes your perspective! :)

As a side note, I really like that it's possible to fall straight down the S-shaped passageway to the Green Keygem door. I always felt particularly cool if I managed to do it on the first try. :)

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 8:56 am
by Ceilick
I feel conflicted about such a drastic split in the level. One the one hand, it does what it intends to, create a distinct final room/zone and make the player anticipate the level's exit. It gives a strong feeling of progression to drop down to the green door (which, Xky is right, really has no reason to be there unless it is a worthy experience to potentially backtrack up that windy chute, which I don't think it is, especially with no point items in it). On the other hand, the areas play very different from each other and the manner of transition, that drop down the chute, may be too grand/abrupt a departure from the first area. In addition, as far as being the 'final room/zone', it is really big, which seems to me to put a damper on the feeling of progression and anticipation for the end.

I think this level really could have used a second background between the blue door and the green door, something that established some kind of intermediary area and just have something new and different to see.

The point item distribution feels really weird/sparse to me. The only place to obtain vivas is the bottom right of the first zone; is this part of the theme or the distribution line Xky identifies, or did they just forget to place them elsewhere? There are no points immediately attainable in the room above the red and blue doors, there are no points in the level split chute, there are no points immediately around the switches of the far right room, no points on the left or right wall of the final room, and no points on the final conveyor belt in the last room. I'm not necessarily arguing for more points, but particularly in the later stages of this level, it feels very empty.

I like the distribution of hazard tiles in this level. There are only two floating tile hazards in the level and both are well placed little challenges.

Also interesting is that the only enemies are the Bloog and Blooguard. I suppose that makes since given that anything else on the planet is probably Bloog food and has already been processed :P

I hate the long stretch of flat platform the spans the entire bottom of the level. To me this is an equivalent of long hallway syndrome. It's boring.
I guess I view that backtracking secret area with the same general disdain as the backtracking secret area in the first level--who cares? The level is already big enough, and with all the circumnavigation required in the first half to simply access the second half, I didn't have much patience/stamina left to climb all the way back up for a few thousand points.
Completely agree. The reward is not worth the effort, it's too far away to bother. The only reason I would even consider going back is for the neural stunner if: I remembered it was there, absolutely needed ammo, and absolutely knew the switch I flipped would grant me access. I'm not sure any amount of points or even an extra life would make a difference here either.

I'm not sure how to feel about the final switch area. On the one hand I like the idea of having a switch 'puzzle', and there isn't much opportunity to die if you need to trial and error the switches (unless you don't deal with the Bloogs), and if for whatever reason you've wandered up and need to get back to the switches you can safely let gravity get you there. On the other hand, this is a big open area with nothing much to see and nothing really interesting to obtain from the 'puzzle'. It all just really falls flat as a fun, exciting, other positive adjective final area. It doesn't need to be more challenging to be more interesting either. Maybe just more direct/purposeful and less open/aimless to further contrast it with the first half of the level and give it focus.

Last thought before I finish rambling: Do levels typically have a climax? I feel like this one does, the drop to the green door. I can see an argument for the red and blue doors being part of the climax as well. But the level carries on well after these. If the final area of the level really is not very exciting, might this be a significant reason for that?

On that note, I'm looking back at the previous levels we've discussed and feel like their climax (as I can identify them anyway) is almost always at or near the end: Bloogwater crossing and realizing you've jumped the last water pit, guard post one and the blue gem door (or the goplat ride out of the pit), and the first dome of darkness' goplat ride up to the grappling hook. I'm not sure about the second dome of darkness.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 2:01 am
by XkyRauh
Flipping the switch which activates the final bridge, IMKO. The leap up between the spike balls, and the awkward sideways nudge of the switch is the peak tension of the level for me. :)

I agree with everything else you said about a level's climax--and Bloogfoods overstays its welcome by having simply too much content after its climax.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Thu Apr 20, 2017 1:32 am
by XkyRauh
Well, since we now have the second largest sandwich in the galaxy, let's head over to The Bloogdome. :) This, like the Second Dome of Darkness, is a level I frequently skipped in my youth. Through combination of being risk-averse (and the convenient Hazard sign visible from the MAP level) and the non-mandatory nature of the level, I simply couldn't bring myself to enter.

That said, there are a lot of things I really like about this level. The demo even features this level, which tells me the level design team was at least a little proud of it--and I can see why. From the way the level is segmented into challenge vignettes to the way a few of the paths divide and return to the main path, I enjoy the illusion of choice the player is presented with. Each individual section of the map seems to have been tested and played enough that there are no 'unfair' moments, with one exception:

The fall down on the right-hand side of the map, just before the Exit... is really inexcusable. The spike balls on the fall down are one strike against it, the Gik and Nospike a player could potentially land on unknowingly are strike two, and then the unreachable Root Beer Floats up and left of the descent are strike three. In my mind, it's a similar problem to the "oops" of the penultimate level in Keen3--a single tile passageway rendering the level pointless; someone simply didn't playtest this lone section properly.

I suspect a route change happened here which modified the flow of the level and changed the order that some parts were accessible. To remedy this, perhaps there should be a pole connecting the Nospike to the Blooglet above the Sundae? Or a doorway beneath the Sundae, leading up to the level the Blooglet is on.

The lowest part of the level, the optional challenge within the optional challenge, always tickled me because of the cycling Bip platforms. Young me adored the way they steered their craft, and I liked the risk management of having their platforms dip into places Keen couldn't fit.

Of all the "Dome" levels, I think this one is my favorite!

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Thu Apr 20, 2017 6:17 am
by Ceilick
Kind of funny, that while I can see and appreciate the positive points Xky mentions, particularly the illusion of choice/winding paths, and the balanced challenges, and the somewhat more interesting big bonus area, I still don't like this level. And it's really no fault of the level design itself so much as how a few choices just kill it for me.

1. The "Bloogdome" doesn't have any Bloogs in it. This really grinded against my expectations of having to deal with Blooguards. The level entrance looks downright deadly and the level's name implied, to me, that this would be some kind of Bloog arena/colosseum. I guess those spikes on the level entrance are actually Nospikes that ran into the wall?

2. The Nospike is a really interesting enemy and this is the level they chose to showcase and limit it to. There is a real lack of interesting confrontations with it's charging ability. Really, only the first encounter of the level is relevant in that respect, and it's the one the player most likely has enough ammo to deal with. The rest of the level does have a distinct lack of ammunition to deal with the remainder of them, but two of those will kill themselves. The level design here does not compliment the Nospike's behavior in my opinion.

3. It bugs me, more than it should, that the level uses a indoor/artificial background with an outdoor/organic platform set. It also seems like this was a late and lazy choice they went with since the pole holes do not have the correct background tiles in them. In addition, in the whole blue area there are no decorative or objects of interest or any background variation anywhere but the entrance and exit of the level. This is boring.

Those three things really ruin what is otherwise a pretty good level. The paths are interesting to maneuver through and appealing to the eye for the most part and have good point distribution. I like Xky's idea to put a pole in to access that red Blooglet area. I think I would like to see the very top of the level opened up a bit so it feels less cramped, particularly the goplat pinwheel over the spikes.

Re: DISCUSSION: Keen 6 level design.

Posted: Sun Apr 23, 2017 5:23 pm
by XkyRauh
1. Keen came to Fribbulus Xax on a weekday. The Bloogdome would ordinarily be packed to capacity on the weekend, but it's off-season right now, and so all Keen has to contend with are a few Nospikes doing personal training.

2. Agreed. :( Both the Nospike and the Flect are really cool creature ideas that don't get much opportunity to shine.

3. I cede the point, though I personally really like the artificial-natural blend.