DISCUSSION: VANITY: Keen 0 Postmortem (Levels)

Discussion and analysis of graphics, story, levels, and so on.
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EricMushroomWilson
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DISCUSSION: VANITY: Keen 0 Postmortem (Levels)

Post by EricMushroomWilson » Thu May 17, 2012 9:32 am

It's time for some self-critical self indulgence. I can only hope others may find something of interest in this thread, where I intend to dissect my first and to date only finished, full-length Keen mod Commander Keen 0: Part 1. KeenWiki has the page for it with some text, much of which I wrote, and maps of the levels (which somebody else kindly took the time to contribute).

I intend the self-criticism in this thread to be constructive, not destructive, as well as possibly providing a look into the flawed game design of a young fan who was eager (or keen, if you'll pardon the pun) but lacked the theory and knowledge necessary to put together a more coherent work. For a time, this mod was my passion, my project and my craft. Now it's part of my history and relation to the Keen franchise and series. From what opinions on it I've received from others, it has been both liked and disliked.

Keen 0 was released back in the ezBoard days of the Public Commander Keen forum and during a time when a great deal of the patching now available to Keen modding was still unknown.

But enough waffling. Time for the first level. See it here.

EricMushroomWilson
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Apologies for the double post.

Post by EricMushroomWilson » Tue May 22, 2012 12:54 pm

So. Time to talk about this level.

It was essentially built around the existing structure of the first level of Marooned on Mars, as may or may not be obvious, and significant parts of that structure remain essentially unchanged. In retrospect, though the idea of modified official levels does have potential, I don't feel that I pulled it off well here, especially given that this level introduces the player to the mod. The most likely reaction of an experienced Keen player to a first level of a mod being heavily based on the first level of the first Keen game would be one of boredom, perhaps even disbelief that the mod would be so lazy as to open with such a level. Not a good first impression of the mod overall!

On the other hand, I feel that visually, while not very thoughtfull done, there is something at least somewhat cohesive in the primarily blue colour scheme. On the other other hand, the cyan background is one of the things I recall being pointed out as an example of Keen 0's negative traits in a very overall negative review.

We can already see the cross motif, which I drew from the seemingly meaningless use of that image in some Japanese pop culture, particularly Neon Genesis Evangelion. That intent, in my opinion, does not come across well in the finished game, though the cross-shaped explosions in many enemy sprites' death sequences may well recall Evangelion if the player happens to be familiar with it. Given that I do not wish to spark a religious debate, I will likely not discuss the crosses again in this thread. Know that I consider my clumsy, thoughtless inclusion of such religiously charged iconography in Keen 0 to be regrettable as I had no intent for the game to be seen as making a statement on religion.

Two cyan Yorps are among the creatures Keen must deal with in this level. Recoloured Yorps, again, are likely to be seen as very, very uncreative, especially given that Keen 0 has essentially no story to explain their presence. At the time I created the mod I considered story in mods to be something I simply couldn't be bothered with and probably would have done very badly. Were I to create a new Keen mod (which I would like to do, though I'm not promising anything), I would almost definitely give story more thought.

In addition to the Yorps, two blue, square-shaped Garg replacements feature. Given that they are predominantly blue, it may be easy for a player to initially assume they are background elements or otherwise non-lethal, considering that this level's solid ground primarily consists of blue blocks. My knowledge of graphical and colour theory at the time I created Keen 0 was very, very limited. You will see a lot of block-shaped enemies in the mod, primarily because I was too lazy to design a non-rectangular sprite in most cases! However, it does give Keen 0 arguably a little bit of accidental identity as "the mod where Keen fights blocks".

Benvolio
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Post by Benvolio » Tue May 22, 2012 7:44 pm

First of all, I have only just realised that this was Keen0 - for years I had had the Aprils Fools version (inverted colours) in a folder called Keen0, and played it. Some of its levels were somewhat entertaining. I must look into the reall Keen0 when I get the chance.

But let me talk about cyan backgrounds since you bring it up. The cyan colour in EGA and hence Keen is a bright, quite artificial, mathematical cyan bearing little resemblence to the beauty of a clear sky, yet it has obviously come to symbolise that in the past 3+ decades of computing. Its use should be restricted, I feel, to mods that use it in an appropriate theme, preferably avoiding huge blocks of cyan. For example, Keen3 uses it quite well, in a simple Earthlike theme. In contrast, I myself am guilty of using pointless and ugly blocks of it in my Epsilon mod. Your use is somwhere between the two - certainly not terrible but maybe it was in need of being better patterned. In fact, the look of the Keen0 levels reminds me of this old Java game I used to play until I discovered the much better Keen: http://www.arcademachine.com/core/gamed ... /A0038.gif
Perhaps the ideal is to avoid that fairly horrible colour for backgrounds. Two approaches come to mind: 1) the Benvolio approach: edit the pallette values; 2) the Xky Rauh approach: make gorgeous dithering scenery (seee XkyKeen3).

The level design of your first level is straightforward first-level material, not outstanding but certainly there is little to fault it for in introducing the player to your game. Perhaps it suffers from losing the great sense of space found in Keen1's opening level. When I first played Keen1, I benefited considerably from that sense of space and it allowed my confidence in my jumping accuracy to flower. Modders equally should aim to create a similar learning curve.

You definitely have some things to learn from Keen0 (which is obviously why you started this thread), and what better way than to talk it over with other users, some of whom have made rather a lot of mods. Hope my musings helped.

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XkyRauh
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Post by XkyRauh » Wed May 23, 2012 1:01 am

Huh! I guess I'm in the same boat. I saw "Keen0" and thought "I've got that one in my mods folder, let's go!" but it turns out I didn't! I downloaded it and I'll play through the levels as we cover them here.

Unlike Benvolio, I've got nothing against the cyan color as a background. Any color can be a blank slate for the level--it all depends on how you set the tone.

My visual concerns were primarily with the lack of clarity on what does what. If I, as a new player, take the top route and collect the multitude of what appear to be rayguns from the default Keen:Vorticons trilogy, I'm going to be a bit sore that I can't shoot at the enemies I've encountered. Why are those point items, and not blaster ammo?

Structurally, there's a clear "top route" and a clear "bottom route," and not a whole lot of opportunity to cross between. I cleared this stage without ever touching the bottom route, and looking at the map, I don't think I missed much. Two ammo pickups and 1000 points? Not enough reward for exploration or backtracking.

Finally: Why was there only one light switch?

Some positive feedback, because I don't feel like I gave enough: Aside from the obvious visual shape of the key items, you kindly inform us that they are indeed KEYS, which helps.

Thank you for limiting your Yorp placement. ;) I remember a lot of mods swamp you with Yorps, and it's very annoying! Haha
Benvolio wrote:... the Xky Rauh approach: make gorgeous dithering scenery (seee XkyKeen3).
My design goal with XkyKeen3 was to only use the color black for sprite outlines and point items. :)

Let's get some more feedback on Level01 before we move on!!

EricMushroomWilson
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Post by EricMushroomWilson » Wed May 23, 2012 11:10 pm

XkyRauh wrote: My visual concerns were primarily with the lack of clarity on what does what. If I, as a new player, take the top route and collect the multitude of what appear to be rayguns from the default Keen:Vorticons trilogy, I'm going to be a bit sore that I can't shoot at the enemies I've encountered. Why are those point items, and not blaster ammo?

...

Finally: Why was there only one light switch?

...

Thank you for limiting your Yorp placement. ;) I remember a lot of mods swamp you with Yorps, and it's very annoying! Haha
Rayguns: partially because laziness led me to often make graphical elements basically or entirely from graphical elements of Keen 1, and I think partially because I found the idea of a raygun that just gives you points amusing. Maybe they were supposed to be toy rayguns or something, or I assumed the fact that a different raygun gives you points would make it clear somehow. Keen 0 was worked on for a fair while, if I remember correctly, and a lot of stuff was scrapped and/or changed, and I also didn't know much about game design. I think I recall deciding at some point that although it still had a lot of flaws I just wanted to get it over and done with and release it.

Lightswitch: I think a lot of the levels have one? They might've been intended to give the option of making the level slightly more difficult because it's a little harder to see. Not sure exactly, again, this was quite a long time ago.

Yorps: the restraint shown here isn't characteristic of the other levels. One level in particular has a crowd of the blue rectangular Garg replacements, another has quite a few of the Vorticon replacements. I wasn't very good at balancing well-done challenge vs. pointless enemy spam overall, though I think there's been quite a bit worse in some mods/levelpacks (won't name which, I'm not intending to disparage anybody, likely they've learned just as I did).

And to anybody contributing to this thread, hey, I'm glad you're interested and thanks for the feedback!

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