DISCUSSION: Mondochrome Level Design

Discussion and analysis of graphics, story, levels, and so on.
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CommanderSpleen
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DISCUSSION: Mondochrome Level Design

Post by CommanderSpleen » Mon Feb 07, 2011 1:29 pm

Well, Mondochrome is as complete as I ever intended. However, some of the level design is still a bit weak. So I thought it might be interesting to try picking it apart and analysing the levels as we have with several mods in the past, but this time actually apply the improvement suggestions to a refined version of the mod.

I'll save my own comments for last when I post the next level.

So, starting with...
Level 1.

Image

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XkyRauh
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Post by XkyRauh » Mon Feb 07, 2011 7:45 pm

Ooh, I love these things!

Okay, first the good: Your level has an excellent flow, and a good use of space. Even when there's an optional/side area, it doesn't extend so far that the player becomes lost or risks forgetting their overall progress. In particular, I like the way you allow for large areas of open space which still only offer one direction of gameplay--nice job.

The bad part, if there is one, is that the dangerous ceilings might be caught blind, depending on the player's approach to the level. In actual play, however, you've designed the level wisely enough that both ceilings become visible before the player might impact them.

I believe it's because you made the lowest platform in the left room FOUR tiles high, rather than three, you made the pogo stick necessary--and by making the topmost platform exactly 6 tiles high, you give the player a safe way of scrolling the screen without having to risk blindly leaping into a spiked ceiling--GREAT! :)

Finally, I'm not sure I agree with the points over the bed of four spikes just to the left of the exit--I would have put them one tile higher. ;)

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Post by Ceilick » Tue Feb 08, 2011 4:59 am

Nice spotting that on the left, Xky. Didn't even think of that at first glance, but the spacing there is situated in such a way that a blind pogo into the hazard above seems likely. Not necessarily bad since it's right at the start, but if the player isn't after points they won't be coming back this way since they're almost certain to recognize it as an optional area by the time of death.

There is a sizable chunk of unused space on the fart right of the level above the exit door. The left side has a very definite 3 tile border, but the right doesn't follow this. Might consider balancing that for the sake of aesthetics.

In addition, the ceiling right above the door is one tile lower than the rest of the lower level ceiling. I'm Curious if this was done to fit the points snugly in the corner to the right of the exit within jumping height, as otherwise I would have definitely made it even with the rest of the ceilings.

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Post by Tulip » Tue Feb 08, 2011 11:02 am

lol, mindbelt mapmode.

This is a nice level altogether, although it breaks 1 of Ceilick's ten commandments: Thou shalt not put doors in the first level.

I kinda like the lower ceiling on the right, as I find unevenness pleasing in leveldesign, but I can see Ceilicks point when you look at it as zoomed out as it is now.

The positive thing is that, just like the Keen1 first level, it makes you familiar with almost all of the point items, and only the very basic of hazards.

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Post by Draik » Tue Feb 08, 2011 11:32 pm

Aren't those commandments of Galaxy levelling?

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Post by XkyRauh » Wed Feb 09, 2011 6:59 am

I haven't read the other commandments that Tulip is referring to, but I think "Don't put doors in the first level" is a rock-solid rule. It's canon to the Keen games, and helps to establish pacing and expectation.

Personally, if I'm playing a new game and I have to backtrack for keys IN THE FIRST LEVEL, I lose a lot of interest in playing past that first level. Just sayin'. :)

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Post by Ceilick » Wed Feb 09, 2011 9:30 am

The rule was written in the context of Keen Galaxy style, but as Xky mentions, it's pretty applicable to all Keen games.

However, there are a few features of the door in this level that make it acceptable, in my opinion.

1. Backtracking consists of, basically, two jumps.

2. Due to the limited palette of Mondochrome, I think it's important to establish with the player what keys look within the context of a level mmediately. Doesn't necessarily have to be done in the first level though.

3. This level has no enemies or creatures Keen can interact with. This is a significant departure from standard keen games and I think the inclusion of the door, in a way, fills that absence.

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Post by CommanderSpleen » Thu Feb 10, 2011 10:21 am

Ceilick wrote:3. This level has no enemies or creatures Keen can interact with. This is a significant departure from standard keen games and I think the inclusion of the door, in a way, fills that absence.
Well, the same could be said for most of the levels in this mod. The puzzles in general, whether they be doors, mazes or hazards, are usually filling the same gap. Ultimately, I would say creatures are just another puzzle. And I guess that's partly what I was trying to exploit in much of Mondochrome.

That said, this is almost the simplest level in the entire mod, second only to... well, the level it's blocking (something that should perhaps be revised)--which involves simply jumping across a few floating platforms to the exit, with a larger optional area to explore.

This cuts to the heart of something I struggle a lot with in my level design: optional elements. Whether part of a level or entire levels placed on the world map, levels seem pointless to me if they don't have some direct influence on the flow of the game.

What helped a lot with this project, of course, is the in-level points patch, which makes a high score somewhat meaningful. There is a perfect score in this mod. And if you are trying to get it, nothing is optional.
Xky wrote:if I'm playing a new game and I have to backtrack for keys IN THE FIRST LEVEL, I lose a lot of interest in playing past that first level.
I wonder if the backtracking or the door are the greater issue here. What if I replaced the spikes at the right with a hallway blocked by the door instead? If you go the wrong way at the top, you will still have to backtrack, but at least at that point you will already know you're looking for something...
Ceilick wrote:2. Due to the limited palette of Mondochrome, I think it's important to establish with the player what keys look within the context of a level mmediately.
I wonder if a popup window could help here, if I was to introduce doors in a slightly later level.
Xky wrote:the dangerous ceilings might be caught blind
I had tried to avoid this, but not with complete success by the sound of it.
tulip wrote:I find unevenness pleasing in leveldesign
I like a balance of symmetry and asymmetry. Often I will design with symmetry in mind, and then introduce elements that slightly break it, particularly in places where you would immediately expect a direct mirror image, as in this level. But again, this is a difficult balance to strike.

Also, I like to waste space. Partly, this is because my mind usually wants me to use up all the available space. So I break the compulsion. Unless I don't--once the player starts to expect the unexpected, that's exactly when to reintroduce the expected. GOTO 10;
tulip wrote:The positive thing is that, just like the Keen1 first level, it makes you familiar with almost all of the point items, and only the very basic of hazards.
Is it the "very basic" though?

Is there too much risk of death where an inconvenient fall could be used instead? This is something I've discussed in other threads, and which I tried to adhere to in this mod (moreso in Retrosis).

For example, could I perhaps have taken out that left-hand stretch of spikes and left the 3 tile high platform instead? The player still needs to navigate those floating platforms, as the height difference is too high for the pogo.

Finally, something I would ask about this level, and ask you to keep in mind in subsequent levels: is the point placement well balanced? I tried to offset greater risk of death, or lower convenience of access, with a greater reward.

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Post by XkyRauh » Thu Feb 10, 2011 6:21 pm

CommanderSpleen wrote:I wonder if the backtracking or the door are the greater issue here. What if I replaced the spikes at the right with a hallway blocked by the door instead? If you go the wrong way at the top, you will still have to backtrack, but at least at that point you will already know you're looking for something...
Exactly. I wasn't complaining about backtracking in your mod, it was more of a blanket statement about other mods I've tried in the past. Please don't misunderstand--this level is designed very well! :) It's compact, it's got a good flow, and even if the player does need to backtrack to get the key, in this case, it's not very far at all.
CommanderSpleen wrote:I had tried to avoid this, but not with complete success by the sound of it.
You were 100% successful, and I thought I complimented you on it in my original statement: "In actual play, however, you've designed the level wisely enough that both ceilings become visible before the player might impact them. " :)
CommanderSpleen wrote:Also, I like to waste space. Partly, this is because my mind usually wants me to use up all the available space. So I break the compulsion. Unless I don't--once the player starts to expect the unexpected, that's exactly when to reintroduce the expected. GOTO 10;
I love this way of thinking. :)
CommanderSpleen wrote:Is there too much risk of death where an inconvenient fall could be used instead? For example, could I perhaps have taken out that left-hand stretch of spikes and left the 3 tile high platform instead? The player still needs to navigate those floating platforms, as the height difference is too high for the pogo.
Not a bad idea, but would it be demonstrative of the difficulty in the rest of the mod?
On one hand, let's be honest here: There are more danger tiles in this level than in most Keen1 levels.
But on the other hand, like you pointed out, this mod is designed with a specific patch in mind--there IS a "perfect score" in this one, and so points carry a much different weight.
Increasing the in-game hazards to reflect the increased pressure crafts the gameplay into a new experience. :)
CommanderSpleen wrote:Finally, something I would ask about this level, and ask you to keep in mind in subsequent levels: is the point placement well balanced? I tried to offset greater risk of death, or lower convenience of access, with a greater reward.
All except for the points that are barely over the stretch of spikes just to the left of the exit. :) Raise those up one more tile, and you'll be golden.

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Post by Tulip » Thu Feb 10, 2011 8:21 pm

one solution to make the hazards seem more 'basic' would be to get rid of the free standing spikes in the left, and to sink those on level with the exit into the ground. That way you'd have all spikes of that level in a clearly confined space

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Post by XkyRauh » Tue Mar 08, 2011 6:42 am

Spleen, you gonna move us on to Level02 or what? :)

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Post by CommanderSpleen » Fri Apr 08, 2011 3:51 am

omao, one month delayed reply.

Not quite. I'm going to skip to level 9 for the minute, the first compulsory blocking level.

But first, the edited level 1:

Image

- Cleaned up the upper-left platforms a bit. I was very tempted to take out those spikes up there, but decided to leave them in after considering Xky's comment: "would it be demonstrative of the difficulty in the rest of the mod?" Instead I made the lower optional points a bit more difficult to access and made the main jumps much more straightforward. I will move that pair of one-dot gems on the right in line with the platform in the final release.

- Sunk the spikes near the exit in the ground as suggested, and the ones on the left for the sake of consistency.

- Raised the roof on the exit room to make it level with the hallway opposite. I do like how this turned out, as it creates a clean horizontal flow through the entire level, and combines two distinct sections of the level that are otherwise separated by a major hazard. Obstructing with hazards instead of walls or doors makes levels like this feel just a bit more real.

- Extended the little room in the top-right to add just a bit of symmetry. It does balance things out a bit.

- Heightened the roof in the starting hallway (more consistent with the block on the right) and gave Keen a much more symmetrical starting position.

- Got rid of the spikes at the very top which were harder to see when jumping for the gems than the section at the bottom-left, which was left as-is.

- Removed one of the orb-gems over the spike pit. I didn't like the tedious jumping precision required to get the lower one.

So, on to level 9:

Image

- Is this level too cramped?

- Are there too many down arrows that might be mistaken for up arrows? This was the intention, but it might have been overused and unnecessary considering the overall difficulty already, especially because they generally lead to death traps.

- Does the scattered nature of the platforms combined with the quantity and placement of spikes make the difficulty skyrocket? Should there be less spikes and/or more symmetry? I would be inclined to make the keycard and exit a bit easier to get to, while keeping a similar level of difficulty for the optional points.

- Should this really be the first major obstacle on the map? Perhaps it would be better placed as one of the later obstacles where the player can choose one of two blocking levels in order to proceed?

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Post by XkyRauh » Sun Apr 10, 2011 5:03 pm

CommanderSpleen wrote:omao, the edited level 1:
{img}
Nice work! I like the changes, and you're right--it definitely looks more uniform now. :)
CommanderSpleen wrote:So, on to level 9:

- Is this level too cramped?
My first reaction upon looking at the image:
"Wow, that's cramped."
"Well, wait--it looks like it's one of those 'thinking' levels."
"Okay--I can fit through there, and there, and--"
*reads Spleen's comment about down and up arrows*
"Oh, I can fall through some of these? Wow."
"Okay, that's not so bad, then."
"I'd better go see what it's like in-game before I open my mouth."

So I went and played it in DOSBox, and long story short, I stand by my 2nd thought: It's "one of those 'thinking' levels. :) It's tricky, and can be brutal if you are determined to get all the points (I'm not) but it flows just fine, and there aren't too many places that I'd touch on.
CommanderSpleen wrote:- Are there too many down arrows that might be mistaken for up arrows? This was the intention, but it might have been overused and unnecessary considering the overall difficulty already, especially because they generally lead to death traps.
No, this aspect of the level was fine. You introduced the "Hey, some of these are down arrows!" concept with the FIRST PLATFORM the player encounters horizontally--really, that's all the warning they should need. :) From that point on, given the ultra-tight construction of the level, they need to pay attention.
CommanderSpleen wrote:- Does the scattered nature of the platforms combined with the quantity and placement of spikes make the difficulty skyrocket? Should there be less spikes and/or more symmetry? I would be inclined to make the keycard and exit a bit easier to get to, while keeping a similar level of difficulty for the optional points.
Symmetry here would be bad, IMO. I was honestly really surprised at how "easy" the level felt in-game. Looking at the map here, all in one go, it definitely looks as if it might be overwhelming or insane, but in-game it's very approachable. I think I died most being greedy and trying to grab the big point item on the climb up to the Keycard.
CommanderSpleen wrote:- Should this really be the first major obstacle on the map? Perhaps it would be better placed as one of the later obstacles where the player can choose one of two blocking levels in order to proceed?
This is fine. If the player wants to simply move on without point grabbing, you can do the level in essentially one straight shot, with zero backtracking.

But while we're talking about it, I want to mention a couple things that I found irritating:

- The two point items directly to the left of the Keycard are frustrating, because the player cannot obtain both of them at once. In fact, the amount of time between getting both of them is significant. Each individual item is a challenge to get, and I wouldn't want either of them removed, but it sticks in my mind that even though the items are placed as a pair, they aren't collectable as one. ... If I were to change this level at all, I'd struggle to find a way to make each half of this item pair its own challenge, rather than stick with this single, dense pairing. But that would probably disrupt the level--it's fine as it is!

- I really like the fact that some of the platforms are down arrows, because the thought of an escape route (or more specifically, backtracking to get the Keycard, should the player choose to ascend on the left their first time) is ever present. This is a much more cerebral level than the first, and better for it. :)

- Really, I think this level is fine as it is.

But as a side thought:

- The Keycard is really only approachable from the right side. It might be possible for a gutsy player to leap over the spike just above it to get in there from the left, but I'm not of that caliber. :) But if we do approach the Keycard from the right, we can use it to leave practically right after we get it--which begs the question: Why did we need it in the first place? Why not simply add, say, a couple more spikes in the area around the "EXIT" sign, such that the player was strongly encouraged to approach the level's exit from that right path. That way, the player's choice of "right vs. left" is less critical--the level is technically completable both ways--but the right is the "easy/correct" route. :)

- Maybe, maybe get rid of one of the spikes above the exit, to make the player's jump in/out of that area a little nicer. I didn't even attempt it, based on how it looks.

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