Level Design Technique

Discussion and analysis of graphics, story, levels, and so on.
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Post by KeenRush » Sat Oct 25, 2003 8:06 am

Heh, good ideas again.
I use quite many tankbots in my mod. ;)

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Post by CommanderSpleen » Sat Oct 25, 2003 5:25 pm

One thing comes to mind when reading this; it is a general rule in game design to NEVER EVER make the player feel that there wasn't anything he could do to prevent being killed. Having trial-and-error traps might be fun for the creator, but is it fun for the player when he falls through the floor the fourth time, promply getting killed by some spikes? No.
Indeed. Such traps reduce the organic flow of a game, as they require the player to learn something that Keen wouldn't have been able to work out on his own. Such instantaneous reincarnation is a gameplay feature, and not possible in the game's universe. Therefore, if it's necessary to die before working out how to pass a level, the balance between gameplay and realism is lost.

Actually, I have an observation to make regarding this gameplay-realism balance. Every game, no matter how 'realistic' by any modern standards, is still a game. It is a representation of what could be in reality (even if the representation is unable to be emulated in reality as we know it).

The gameplay factor gives the player a reason to play the game itself. If it were only storyline and action, it would become a movie (or cartoon, or whatever). That means that challenges need to be devised that perhaps, was the story carried out in reality, might not be formed. The game needs to be passable in one way or another, and the easiest way to ensure this is to create challenges that are designed to be passed rather than give the player enough resources to face anything that comes their way.

For games such as Keen the gameplay element would be incomplete without a convincing storyline. Simpler games such as Tetris and Minesweeper don't really need a storyline as such, though analogies to real-world scenarios can boost the player's immersion in the game.

It's a matter of scope, really. Keep an eye on whether a certain element fits into the storyline (ie. 'KILL KEEN!' or 'DESTROY EARTH!') yet gives the player a challenge (ie. 'COLLECT ITEMS' or 'DESTROY POWER SUPPLY'). The scope isn't limited to ultimate goals, but also to more fundamental ones as well, such as 'toy with Keen', 'get to exit'. That way, hopefully, all will be well.
While 3D and 2D game level design are very different, there are some basic concepts that trascends dimensions (top that if you can!).
And indeed media. Just as games require gameplay to be balanced with story, a movie needs to balance entertainment with story. Indeed, I suppose 'gameplay' could be substituted with 'entertainment', uniting myriad different intellectual media.
:) walking along
:| oh no!
:o it's gonna be a close one
:P whew! I made it
;) good level!
Ah, yes. This formula makes for great levels. Close calls, quick timing, edge-of-seat mayhem, whether in a movie or a game, followed by a sudden conclusion to the problem, can create a high of such magnitude as to form a memorable part of the game.

Though, if the level is particularly taxing before and after, and the player must repeat it again and again, the trap becomes a routine, and as repetition endures, the player's reactions may dim and cause numerous slip-ups causing them to die on that same trap that before had been so enjoyable. There are so many of these traps used in games. Not properly handled, these lead to a downward spiral of the player's desire to play the game at that time (unless their interest can be held in some other way.)
Another acceptable, and used, idea in later Keen games are tricks making use of the look up or down before the player attempts a jump. Something similar could be made in the Vorticon series by making a small "dead-end" path that lets the player see what can be expected when he takes the real road.
I love this idea. I shall definitely make use of it in my own level design. It offers the player a glimpse of something yet to come, as well as a hint of what to do next. And it definitely improves the dynamicism of the game.
Another thing is that it is usually more acceptable to make "evil" things when it is not the main flow of the level that is interrupted (bad example - the last hut in Keen 1). As was said above, having some "chance" or "you didn't see THIS coming" areas isn't that bad when only points and greed are concerned.
Exactly. This also helps with replayability--if there's an out-of-the-way trap that was too difficult to achieve to warrant interrupting the current flow of the game at the time of first playing, the neurotic player may come back to beat it after passing the game.
Just remember, there is no such thing as a "obvious" trap. Level design differ so much even in commercial maps that most players will regard lots of loot as an encouragement from the designers - not as bait.
I like to create bonus item traps where it's possible to collect the items, but if you try it at the wrong time, you're likely to become trapped (there's a classic example that you'll all see when I release my mod... though by then there'll be many other classic examples).

Actually, 'obvious trap' is almost an oxymoron, when you think about it. If the player sees it coming, then it's a challenge. If the player doesn't see it coming, it's a trap. Traps should be used, IMHO, only if the player is offered a chance to realise it may end in tears (ie. the hand symbols in Keen6). Though other times, perhaps a simple reminder that 'if it's too good to be true, it probably is' is in order. Though if you're really looking to impress the player, you'll offer an alternative route to the loot.

In order not to disrupt the balance, I suggest ensuring 'challenges' are placed on the main, conventional path, and 'traps' are used where only ego would dare venture.
This is an interesting thread - may it live long and prosper.
Yes, it seems to be spawning an increasing number of useful ideas. Just adding to it brings to mind so many things I'd never really thought of before.
In any case, anybody who overuses any point item other than lollipops deserves to die. And then some. The best possible way to lay out points in a level is to use lollipops (or other low-scoring items) ONLY and just use those books and teddy bears as bait and/or as reward for getting past something difficult. Wise players will quickly realize that going after big-time points is getting them killed, and will avoid them. All the other players deserve to die anyway. (Hey, if they can't measure up intelligence-wise to Keen, why should they play as him?)
That's exactly the thought process that leads to a well-balanced game. Keen himself isn't entirely concerned with a perfectionist clearning out of a level's loot, but it gives the player another sub-goal--to top the high-scores list, and/or find every secret area in a level, for example.
Worse than backgrounds of teds, IMHO, is backgrounds of ray guns, or, worse yet joysticks... who can stand the contstant WEEOO-WEEOO-WOOP-WOOP-WOOP! of collecting target items... AARRGHH!
I haven't come across that before... probably a good thing, eh?
One more note. (Yeah, I know, I'm starting to drone.) always keep an eye out for falling off the bottom of the screen-it may be effective, but players listening with sound on will hear keen land before he finally dies, and may think that they're still alive-very disconcerting. I try to avoid that where possible.
I haven't noticed that in the past. I'll have to remember to ensure Keen's death by placing evil things along the very lowest part of the level.

Drone? Sounds enthralling to me. It's intriguing to read this stuff, so the more the better!
Speaking of sound, the most underused sprites in the Vorticons trilogy? The ones that shoot.
Hmm... interesting link there...
Guard bots, tanks, meeps and vorti-moms, but especially the episode one tank-bots are hardly utilized in any strategic sense. And yet they form one of the most versatile weapons in the game-they can be used, with a bit of ingineuity, as firing squads lined up to blast keen as he climbs a big staircase-wicked, evil, horribly fun... and doable. I know; I've done some of my as-yet unrealeased levels that utilize tank-bots to a much fuller extent.
I haven't worked out yet what the shooting bots are to be in my mod. I've considered a number of interesting uses, though. The firing squad 'challenge' you describe sounds useful. Another little idea to add to the collective level design arsenal. Difficult, ominous, but passable.
They can be used in many other places as well-the prospect of wading through a tank pait is mind-numbing and surprisingly easy.
*shudders* If I see another one of those tank pits, I'm gonna jump in there and kill myself. They've been done to death. Originality is its own reward--think outside the pit.

Ceilick has an interesting variation on the tank bots that he's using in his mod... but I shall say nothing further. Just suffice it to say it's original.

It'll be interesting to see increasing originality with shooting enemies in upcoming mods. Myself, I intend to recreate as much as I can as to leave little trace reminiscent of the original Marooned on Mars. So a lot of things shall be recreated. At times even the most subtle change can put a new spin on an old concept, it just takes a bit of effort to find what that subtle change is.
Alright, enough of my thoughts. I promise to stop now.

Ahahaha. Action pun. Whether intentional or not, it was brilliant. Jump, jump, hesitate, ZAP!

So, there's some more brain food. May it be used well.

>Commander Spleen

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Post by KeenRush » Sat Oct 25, 2003 7:57 pm

Thanks for the food; great post again! :)
This topic can be useful to point out for the beginning modders.

I like to use a garg as enemy - because it's so suprising. I can't even count how many times a garg (or it's graphical replacement) has attacked me out of nowhere. Oh, the scream and panic it causes! :)

Got quite nice idea for the garg I may use in future, while writing the lines above this one. It could be replaced with a creature that would be seen well if it moves, but when it doesn't.. Player could only see it's eyes or shape or something like that. And if player is near, it would attack - a bit like ghost, then player could see it, but normally player could see only small piece of it. :D

By the way, it looks funny when you quote some of your own posts Spleen. :P

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