Keen 1 Vorticon Placement

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Keen 1 Vorticon Placement

Post by CommanderSpleen » Thu Sep 01, 2011 3:02 am

I'm experimenting with some vorticon battle sections in OrbKeen at the moment, and finding that it's a lot more difficult than it seems to make them unique and interesting without them quickly escalating in difficulty.

By unique and interesting, I mean environments other than a blank hallway as in Keen 1. Particularly areas that allow the vorticon to climb and descend a series of platforms. There's probably a lot to be learned from Keen 2-3 in this regard, so pointing to examples in those games is a viable contribution to the thread. However, from what I recall even those vorticon habitats were fairly limited in their intricacy.

As far as mods are concerned, I don't remember any particular vorticon encounters, but surely there would be some excellent examples. So do refresh my memory if you can think of any.

Keeping the vorticon in the area
If the vorticon gets out into the wider level, things can become unpredictable.

In my mod, it's relatively easy because the sprite is about 2.5 tiles high. So I only have to place a two-tile entry so the player can get in but the vorticon is trapped inside. But in the original game, this is trickier because the vorticon is two tiles high and can fit through any gap the player can.

Keeping the vorticon in sight
If the vorticon is off the top of bottom of the screen, it is much harder to keep track of. This is especially an issue if it is underneath a top-blocking platform.

A good balance of top-blocking and full-blocking platforms might help keep the vorticon from being a danger when out of view. Or simply a maze-like environment.

Ensuring the player knows it's there to begin with
Obviously you can't just chuck a vorticon in a pit and expect the player to jump in. But a wide room with an entry to one side can be just as unfair if the vorticon is still located off screen when the player enters the room.

Perhaps in such situations, a warning sign could be given to indicate that there is a vorticon present somewhere, similar to the hand sign in Keen 6 that points out optional bonus areas. Designing an adjacent room such that the player has to come within view of the vorticon before encountering the entry point is one solution I have utilised.

Sitting dog
If the player can just chill back and shoot directly at the vorticon without risking anything, the puzzle is redundant. The OrbKeen beta had some areas like this, but you had to wait for the vorticons to jump, and then time the bullet correctly, which took a lot longer than jumping into the pit and taking them on directly.

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Post by Ceilick » Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:50 pm

There are two situations I can readily say to avoid concerning vorticons with multi-hitpoints:

Vorticons Pits: They are boring. The "stand and wait for the vorticon to jump so you can shoot" routines get old fast. Avoid at all costs situations where the player can shoot and the Vorticon without being in any danger.

Free Vorticon: Vorticons that are free to run and jump around are bad when they can wonder into already dangerous areas. Multi-hit vorticons are tough enough on their own, they don't need hazards or other enemies around to bolster them.

I'm not sure I haven't any specific placement ideas, but some ideas:

Force the player to deal with the vorticon head-on. The player should move forward, see the vorticon on the same platform and have to make a choice: shoot (but not necessarily have enough time to get all the shots off), run back (if there is somewhere to run to), or charge (jump over it or run under it as it jumps). These situations will be dangerous, but not too difficult and engages the player directly in the excitement. The situations need to be carefully orchestrated so the player isn't additionally overwhelmed wtih scenery, animations, or hazards.

If using "Vorticon Pits", find ways of getting the player to dive in and take the vorticon on directly, rather than sit and wait. Perhaps a butler bot that threatens to push the player into the pit if they don't go in themselves. This has to be carefully done to avoid the player repeatedly dropping in on the vorticons head.

Surprise vorticons are not always bad. The player doesn't need to always know or suspect that the Vorticon is ahead, but they should always have time to deal with it as soon as it comes into view. If you do want a visual cue for Vorticons, think about the Tantalus rays in relationship to the Vorticon Elites. You don't always see the elites before seeing the city that the ray is aimed at, but upon seeing the later you know to keep on your toes.

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Post by XkyRauh » Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:09 pm

First of all, this is a superb topic choice. Vorticons are far and away the most versatile enemy Keen has ever faced, and utilizing them is a tricky business. They're smart, but not all THAT smart, and they're tough but not all that durable. There's a sweet spot that is nigh-impossible to define, but let's try!

Let's have a look at Keen2, Level02 (also abbreviated on the map as "EB," which I think is "Engine Room B") and specifically look at the Vorticon guarding the Yellow Keycard. This is a very simple "puzzle" utilization of Vorticons--the player sees the entire concept all at once, and has to time a move into the pit to retrieve it. I like this as an infrequent break in the flow of gameplay.
Now check out Moscow, (which is mis-labeled on the map as "Rome,") which takes the same concept to a new degree of intensity. The player has to be aware that adult Vorticons do not jump in the dark, and has to be aware that both keycards are in that area. In many ways, this is horrible level design--it's possible to foul this "puzzle" up simply by leaving the lights on, or only scrolling the screen far enough that one or two of the Elites make the trek up to the higher platform. The designer was kind enough to allow for emergency shooting, but that wastes not only time but ammo--a valuable resource this level is already short on. It's a novel idea, but its execution is frustrating--if you know the trick, it's trivially easy; if you don't, it's a huge timesink.

While we're talking about iconic Vorticon moments, I'd like to nominate the lone grunt at the bottom left of Keen2, Level05. (It's abbreviated on the map as "RC," which is likely "Reactor Core.) This encounter always stuck out in my mind for some reason--I think it's the stairs. I think Vorticons do well in arenas that are tall enough to allow them to jump--but not so tall that they don't hit the ceiling; they do well in arenas with wide stretches of land, but flat is boring, so stairs or multiple levels work well; and they well in situations where the player must rapidly make a choice. This iconic moment, in my mind, satisfies all three requirements--unlevel playing field with a ceiling that allows for large jumps at the bottom of a drop. Because of the Vorticon's placement, and the height of the drop into this area, the player is almost always given a full second to react before the Vorticon begins moving. This is important!

So let me be a bit of an ego-centrist, and point out some successes and failures of my own design, here. :)

The first Stealth level in Episode Null, in my opinion, did a good job of presenting Vorticons (Narlns in this case) in environments that suited them. The ceilings are high enough that they can jump quite high, but they will (almost always) hit their head and return to the floor quickly. The floors are wide but uneven, and arguably the player must react quickly to the situation (no ammo). I feel that this is a good use of Vorticons.

However, the second Stealth level makes a double-whammy of a grievous mistake, right in the center of the level where the three shaded panels are. Limiting the player's visibility is enough of a no-no, but then the level creates sort of a pit/pool for the THREE Vorticons to funnel into. That area is a death trap, and any player who actually goes for the points on that lower route is a brave soul. :) I always went safely over the top, and I consider that area a failure in level design. Whoops!

Similarly, the Vorticon/Narln at the very bottom left of the first Survival level is a huge sorespot. On one hand, it's got uneven flooring and the player is asked to react quickly, sure--but on the other, there's a very good chance the player will fall ONTO the Narln, rather than NEAR it. When I was playtesting this level, I moved that Narln no less than a dozen times, and re-worked the platforms in that corner twice that; I was determined to have an enemy *IN* the area, not *NEAR* the area, and I got it--but to the detriment of the level. That area simply needs to be reworked. :(

But while we're on the topic of mods and custom levels, I'm curious about the following:
Which is more dangerous: A single Vorticon who requires three/four shots? Or multiple Vorticons each requiring a single shot?
Which is more dangerous: A single Garg who requires three/four shots? Or multiple Vorticons each requiring a single shot?
I would think that MULTIPLE Vorticons would always be more dangerous, given their propensity for going exactly where the player does not want them to, although I can imagine a few specific situations where the Garg would be more of a threat.

This is a really interesting topic, and I'm really looking forward to more thoughts and opinions! :)

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Post by lemm » Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:39 am

Due to their random movement, vorticons make for challenging enemies when they are placed in open areas with lots of jump-from-beneath ledges, provided there are enough gaps between the ledges to let them fall back down. The level designer can reduce the difficulty level by filling in the gaps, or increase it by placing obstacles to impede keen's movement.

Grunts don't make for difficult enemies in open environments or narrow corridors.

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Post by CommanderSpleen » Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:54 am

Vertical room experiment:

First room (0:00): Some basic platforms with 1-tile vertical gaps (reachable by the shorter vorticon leaps) and 2-tile horizontal spaces so the vorticon can fall back down. Platforms spaced such that the vorticon cannot reach the top.

Far too easy to bypass the threat and pogo straight to safety.

Second room: (0:14): Same as above with one extra vorticon.

Again, too simple, taking about three seconds to bypass when both vorticons are positioned correctly.

Third room (0:28): Same room design. One vorticon and two butler bots on floating platforms.

Requires some extra planning/timing, but still very simple.

Fourth room (0:47): Introduces a straightforward key/door puzzle (which could easily be replaced with a switch/bridge). Vertical wall in the middle increases the average time a vorticon spends in the upper right hand area, thus making the key slightly more challenging to access. The door puzzle forces the player to spend more time in the room, and double back into danger a second time (or third if they try the left hand approach first).

Fighting the vorticons is almost a necessity, instead of completely optional as in the previous rooms. A good test for reflexes and realtime tactical thinking.

Fifth room (1:27): Platforms are loosened up. Two vorticons with a butler bot patrolling the bottom level. The vorticons have a lot of freedom, but are more likely to end up on the right due to their tendency to chase after the player (i.e. less likely to fall off the right hand side).

The solid platform in the middle creates a dynamic defensive area, but is not a safe haven. It's a good spot to shoot from in relative safety if the vorticons are hanging around on the right hand side. It's almost a "sitting dog" situation, but requires more careful targeting, jumping and/or timing. This and the constant threat of invasion keeps this factor to a fair minimum.

Sixth room (2:24): Very symmetrical. Two vorticons. One solid platform in the middle. As you can see it requires more careful planning than what I managed to pull off. Had I quickly run over to the left and leapt up the platforms I probably would have passed this one as easily as the first. Thus it's only a challenge in terms of prior planning, and doesn't have the interesting battle elements of the previous two rooms.

There's actually a less straightforward platform structure at the very top requiring a pogo leap. So it might cause a bit more hassle when the middle platform is encountered, giving the vorticons that little bit of extra time they need to pounce.

Horizontal room experiment:

With these designs, I took some inspiration from Keen:Null, working with corridors.

Entry (0:00): A neat stairway leads into the first vorticon trap. Two blocks overhead allow for some maneuvering. Again, the vorticon's hunting behaviour comes into play such that the battle tends to take place in the stairway instead of the corridor.

Pit (0:34): A basic vorticon pit. Entry from the top-left, exit at the bottom-right. Easy to time a leap after the vorticon has landed a jump on the left. Not very interesting, unless perhaps there's a need to double back through the room.

Double Corridor (0:44): A hallway with an overhanging platform containing a second vorticon with a vertical block preventing the vorticons from escaping into the rest of the level. The upper platform provides a tactical advantage: running to its far end causes the vorticons to follow inside the lower section, allowing a safe entry from above on the right hand side, where the vorticons would otherwise loiter.

Makes for an interesting battle, focusing more on a tactical gimmick than an actual battle.

Hazards (1:30): One vorticon, a basic hazardous pit in the middle, some one-tile platforms overhead and a pair of vertical walls dividing the hallway into three pits. Possibly needs some extra platforms, or maybe a solid platform on the right, to prevent getting completely cornered as I did in this video.

Next I plan to play with open spaces a bit more, such as in the top area of XK2:L14. Giving the vorticons freedom to move over larger areas, without making existing hazards infinitely difficult.

If you want to try these out, get on IRC and I can link a copy.
Xky wrote:Which is more dangerous: A single Vorticon who requires three/four shots? Or multiple Vorticons each requiring a single shot?
I would be inclined to say the single vorticon. Maybe simply due to the psychological feedback of actually seeing an immediate result from shooting at something. Although in the earlier vertical rooms above, multiple one-hit vorticons would probably increase the difficulty due to requiring more tracking.
Xky wrote:Which is more dangerous: A single Garg who requires three/four shots? Or multiple Vorticons each requiring a single shot?
Probably the garg, due to its charging behaviour. A one-hit vorticon is out of the way when you shoot it. A multi-hit garg is still charging at you, requiring you to jump out of the way. Even a multi-hit vorticon is probably easier.

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Post by Ceilick » Thu Sep 08, 2011 7:52 pm

Moar Vorticon confrontation, less manipulation.

The final three vertical rooms and the first and last horizontal room made for some good confrontations, but all had opportunity for planning and prep prior to the fight.

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Post by Stealthy71088 » Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:13 pm

I find that vorticons with multiple hit points, or even with invincibility, can make for some incredibly interesting encounters. While I agree that you don't want to have an invincible vorticon running around free through an entire level, I believe they can add a certain flavor that other enemies can't.

There was a fire level I made for universe that forced the player to encounter a bunch of (I think invincible) vorticons almost immediately. Instead of trying to run away or jump around them, the player could use bridges to drop the vorticons into a chamber below. However, since parts of the floor were jump throughable, the vorticons would be able to catch up to keen later and kill him, if he was too slow. After a few screens, the chase ended with a pathway that Keen could take and the vorticons couldn't.

With the right level design, you could potentially have vorticons chase keen around, adding all sorts of excitement to to the level, without any major hinderance to the level. The best design for this kind of thing, on practice, seems to begin with an encounter involving some platforms for the vorticon to jump on. The vorticon would theoretically block the path that Keen was trying to take. After sneaking past the vorticon, more platforming or kill tiles are used to slow down Keen's progress, and maintain the vorticon threat. Kill tiles should only make the player stop and think- they really shouldn't be hard to get around at all. In general, I find further platforming is usually better. You can even use doors without keys to make pathways that the vorticon can travel through but keen can't. Eventually, Keen would find a key, and have to double back to the beginning to find the door, requiring him to sneak by the vorticon yet again. As long as the vorticon is invincible, you can actually base an entire level around this one encounter, with the vorticon as the only enemy in the level. Throwing in 1 garg to run around on the ground floor makes it even more "fun."

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