2-Player Netkeen (Platform Game) Duelling Level Design

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lemm
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2-Player Netkeen (Platform Game) Duelling Level Design

Post by lemm » Wed Mar 27, 2013 4:56 am

I just wanted to share a few points about Netkeen duelling level design that I've tried to incorporate into the latest levels I've made for the Vorticons level pack.


The observation that I have made after playing hundreds of rounds of Netkeen is that a player in pursuit of his opponent is putting himself in a bad position. First of all, the player being chased around the map will get to the power-ups first. Secondly, and more importantly, the munitions in this game usually travel too slowly, and too horizontally, such that the player being chased always has ample time to move out of danger.

Given the physics of Keen, if a player elects not to fight, he can usually avoid combat if the map is any more complex than a single, level platform. If one player is a tryhard, and the other is a novice, the game usually plays out with the experienced player running away until his opponent puts himself in a poor position.


So, when I make my levels, I accept that players will always be able to run away; however, I try to design the map so that the pursuer can counteract any such attempts to avoid combat. If there is an escape route, then there should be a counter-escape route less than a screen-width away. In other words, there should always be a way to trap a player. The game then becomes a battle of attrition, where the goal is to control the map and therefore, acquire more powerups than the adversary. Most of the powerups, especially vitalins, are stored in the middle of the map. Once you have a 2:1 advantage in health, you can then attempt to flush the opponent out.


The following screenshot shows my favorite part out of all the Netkeen levels:

http://puu.sh/2oFK0

In this corner of Sandwept, from the Keen 4 level pack, Keen has the potential to trap Lindsey. For the purposes of a duel map (which this map really isn't), I would remove all of the power ups in the corner and place more bombs atop the platform upon which keen is standing.



Another good element to include in duel maps is an exposed pole. Poles allow for vertical mobility to other parts of the map, but they slow a fleeing player down AND leave him totally exposed (especially to bombs). Similarly, consider using sprite platforms instead of jump through ledges so that shots are not stopped.

High Noon (http://puu.sh/2oG9v) is probably my favourite duel level of all, and it makes use of a pole on either side of the map. The level is open enough so that there is room to attack and dodge, yet it still a possesses distinct figure-eight structure. There are distinct "strong positions" atop the blue platforms, which feature a bomb spawn and nearby powerups, and a semi-strong position at the bottom in the middle which is shielded in all directions from stunner shots, but open to bomb attacks from the poles. The weak points are the bottom corners of the map. The pole gives a fleeing player an escape route, but the placement of the green platforms allows the pursuer to pogo atop the blue platform. Clearly, then, the strategy is to get a bomb early, and try to pin your opponent in the corner.

The biggest complaint I have about this level is the single, green platform in the very centre of the level, which makes it difficult to engage the opponent from across the blue platforms, for it impedes shots taken from a standing position. I would replace it with a stationary platform sprite. Alternatively,keep the green platform there, but put small poles mounted atop the center of either blue platform so that a player could quickly press up and take a shot across the map from a slightly elevated position.



In summary, here are a few points about dueling level creation that I think people should keep in mind:
  • The level shouldn't be too big. A 50x50 combat area is probably the biggest acceptable size for a duel map.
  • Don't put in too many hazards, and when you do include them, do so with purpose. In a normal keen game, hazards are necessary to provide a challenge to the player and to make the game fun. In a duel (not a points race duel, either), they are present to augment the duel in some fashion (e.g., slowing down a player, providing a reward for risk), but not just to make the level more difficult for everybody. Adding hazards for hazards' sake generally makes the game more irritating for everyone.
  • Guns and bombs should be plentiful, but not overly abundant.
  • Levels need not be totally symmetrical
  • Try to build a level that rewards aggression (e.g., good powerups in an exposed middle area).
  • Put strong points with ample powerups next to weak points with few or no powerups. Chasing an enemy is usually a losing tactic, but if you have him pinned and you can max out your health, it is then to your advantage to press the issue.

Here is my latest level, inspired by the structure of the polycyclic aromatic compound, pyrene (http://puu.sh/2oJTS). Here are some key points about the level:
  • It is not mirror symmetrical (although it is sort of rotationally symmetrical, not that this matters too much), but the power ups are fairly distributed based upon the starting locations of the players.
  • There is plenty of ammunition.
  • It is more like a Biomenace level than a Keen level, in that there are long, horizontal platforms so that shots have space to travel. This level has four "floors," so to speak. The slopes give some cover from shots, but bombs can flush players out from cover.
  • The top of the leftmost cyan ring and the bottom of the right most cyan ring are the weak points. They are located right next to strong points (40HP, gun, bombs).
  • The leftmost pole makes the bottom blue ring a stronger position than it would be otherwise, as it provides a safe, albeit slow, escape route to the left.
  • The rightmost pole and the jump through ledge strengthen the two strong points, should the opponent be trapped in the respective weak point. The pole allows the aggressor to peek from the top of the bottom right cyan ring and throw bombs without losing his position, whereas the the ledge provides the aggressor with cover from above should his opponent attempt to break out to the right.\

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Ceilick
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Post by Ceilick » Mon Apr 01, 2013 3:05 am

I find a lot of the reasoning in your post...entirely contrary to my own level design thought process, granted, however, I generally make levels intended for 4 players.
The observation that I have made after playing hundreds of rounds of Netkeen is that a player in pursuit of his opponent is putting himself in a bad position...the game usually plays out with the experienced player running away until his opponent puts himself in a poor position.
I don't see how this is correct if the pursuer has more ammo, uses it judiciously, etc. It's about smart pursuit. Every time one sees their opponent should not be taken as an opportunity to fight or pursue. Knowing when to back off until the next confrontation is important. However, the smaller the level, the harder to successfully 'back off' without getting shot in the back; one can get 'locked' in pursuit such that breaking off means their death. The hunter needs escape routes just as much as the hunted.
...there should always be a way to trap a player. The game then becomes a battle of attrition, where the goal is to control the map...Once you have a 2:1 advantage in health, you can then attempt to flush the opponent out.
If by trap a player you mean corner them, I disagree entirely. It seems to me to result in the creation of 'death zones', areas that will virtually always get you killed and have no potential tactical advantage. This forces the winning strategy to be that of only ever going to select places on the map and camping in the best ones. It creates positions that are too tactically advantageous to leave and allow one player to sit and wait and force the other player to face a hopeless confrontation, or else they can both wait and the game becomes not a match of skill but of dull patience.

Levels like Pyramid of Peril and the Bubble Dome suffer this in the extreme; the player who gains the high ground first is virtually unstoppable for the rest of the game. The other player must either wait fruitlessly (the player with the advantage has no reason but impatience to leave when doing so prevents their otherwise inevitable victory) or elect to move to the upper area and get themselves killed.

While it can be fun to trap an opponent, it seems to me the smaller the level, the greater need for 'balance' and a fair battlefield are necessary, the greater need for 'traps' to be less deadly, for advantages to be less advantageous. Otherwise the fate of the match is determined early on and the rest of the game a predictable, frustrating struggle for the disadvantaged to do something, anything, against the player who is waiting for his opponent to walk into his crosshair.

There should rarely be traps that rely on the pursuer's mistake for the hunted to escape from. There should be ammo and/or health advantages for going into less favorable territory that one might get trapped in.

It's important to remember that each death/kill does not reset the playing field; the player who made the kill virtually always remains in the advantageous position. (perhaps a dueling game mode that respawns both players and the level after each kill is worth looking into)
The biggest complaint I have about this level is the single, green platform in the very center of the level, which makes it difficult to engage the opponent from across the blue platforms, for it impedes shots taken from a standing position.
This platform is put there for that exact purpose; to break up the field of battle between platforms, to create two 'combat zones'.

lemm
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Post by lemm » Wed Apr 03, 2013 9:18 am

Perhaps "trap" was the wrong word, as that implies there should be a way to run your opponent into a dead end with absolutely no escape, whereas I had more of a dynamic picture in mind. I agree that there should always be a way to escape, but for every escape attempt, there should be a way to keep applying pressure to an opponent.



<desultory theoretical section>
http://puu.sh/2sZe7

This is sort of how I abstract each point of a Netkeen duel. I don't actually mean that you have two players racing around a map literally trying to shoot each other in the behind. Rather, you have two players constantlytrying to make a good "move," which might mean going for a powerup, toggling a switch, or grabbing a good spot relative to his opponent's position in the Netkeen arena. All of these actions put one player closer behind his opponent, in the abstract sense. It's also harder to keep up pursuit of your opponent, the closer you get. I find that much of the time, I am on the opposite side of the map as my opponent. If neither player provides intentional pressure, or "puts energy into the system," the natural result is to end up in constant standoff (not a stalemate, but a standoff), with magnets 180 degrees from one another.

Now the various parameters of the abstract magnet race track can differ.

Say the Netkeen arena is a single flat platform. This is like making the "danger zone" behind each player a semi circle, and making the magnetic field nil. Essentially, there are no counter moves that you can make to escape immediate pressure. You just have to "go for it" and try to get the other guy. It's fun for awhile, but not very "interesting" so to speak.
Say you have the exact opposite, a map with a zillion twists and turns and little open area, like Fleex Network, or that figure 8 map I made. This is like extending the magnetic field far beyond the danger zone. There is basically no way to get the upper hand on your enemy.
Finally, say you have a map like Bubble Dome. This sort of like flipping the poles on one of the magnets so that as soon as one person gets a small advantage it basically feeds back until he gets a huge advantage that cannot be defeated. (Actually these maps don't really fit the magnet analogy well... flipping the poles is the best I could come up with).

In my opinion, A "good" Netkeen arena is designed so that the danger zone is about a sixth of a turn behind either magnet, and so that the magnetic field starts affecting about a quarter turn behind an opponent. Essentially, this means you need just need to pressure pressure pressure for awhile, until you finally close in enough so you can make one good move that will send you into your opponents danger zone.

</desultory theoretical section>


Anyways, back to actual level design stuff. The reason that I like those "traps" in the corners of the Sandswept map and the High noon map is that they are areas that allow for pressure, but they also allow for escape from said pressure. They are not completely dead ended. They are traps in the sense that you can corner your opponent, but it's still a challenge to *keep* him trapped, and it costs ammunition to do so. If you aren't active or if you blow your ammo, he will escape, but at the same time, if he is committed to turtling, then you can outwait him and gain the upper hand. So.. the difference between strong and weak points should be subtle, and there should be avenues to escape, but if the pursuer plays the attrition meta game properly, then gradually he should be at such an advantage that he can press the issue no matter what. Generally this is more exciting if there are opportunities to shoot or jump around.


I don't see how this is correct if the pursuer has more ammo, uses it judiciously, etc. It's about smart pursuit. Every time one sees their opponent should not be taken as an opportunity to fight or pursue. Knowing when to back off until the next confrontation is important. However, the smaller the level, the harder to successfully 'back off' without getting shot in the back; one can get 'locked' in pursuit such that breaking off means their death. The hunter needs escape routes just as much as the hunted.
At least in my experience, in open maps you can pursue from a screen a way, but in many maps it's very difficult to chase, if not to put yourself at a disadvantage by chasing. Fleex network is a good example of pursuit meaning death. If you follow a player off a ledge, you will get shot from beneath. If you follow him on to a lower ledge, you get shot right as you land. Granted, it's not really a duel map, but if you were to make a map dueling map in that manner (like my figure 8 map... which isn't very good), it becomes really hard to pursue players. That's why I designed the pyrene map as I did; if a player drops off the side of a ring, you can immediately counter by dropping off the other side of the same ring and returning fire before his shot reaches you.

I'm starting to appreciate just how much open space is required for a good dueling level design, and that how extremely subtle changes in the map can drastically alter the battle. I will definitely be taking a "less is more" approach with future designs.

It's important to remember that each death/kill does not reset the playing field; the player who made the kill virtually always remains in the advantageous position. (perhaps a dueling game mode that respawns both players and the level after each kill is worth looking into)
That's a good point. Perhaps this advantage might be lessened if the respawning player started with more ammunition (8-10 shots and a bomb or two). This can already be changed in the options menu, but maybe it should be the default.

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