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About Me

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  1. Intro This is one in a series of articles I’m writing to describe the way I approach game design. In this article, I’m going to show you a trick I like to use that helps me create good pacing in my designs. I was originally planning on showing and writing about how this kind of pacing looks in a recently-released game (namely The Talos Principle), but it became a bit too much to handle for a one-week article. I’ve put pictures and my notes in the Appendix, so hopefully they will be useful for someone. (Link to Part 6) Ramps A Ramp is a pattern of increases and decreases to Intensity over the course of a game segment, created with the purpose of achieving a desired balance between Intensity and Rest. I talk more about Ramps (which I called Intensity Ramps) in the previous article. As you can see in the diagram below (from Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses), Ramps are not linear slopes, but rather contain many peaks and valleys. As mentioned in the previous article, this is because of Principle #5: “If it’s always ‘turned up to eleven’, eleven becomes the new five.” In other words, if intensity does not vary between parts of a game, you effectively have no intensity. Usually a Ramp increases in intensity over time and contains many small Rests. Not every game will want the same kind of Intensity Ramping. Some will want a steeper overall curve, some will want a shallower one, and some may even want one that trends down in Intensity over time. When I’m designing part of a game, I create Ramps for many different purposes, but always with the goal of balancing Rest and Intensity in a way that best suits the game I’m making. A Trick to Create a Ramp Using Archetypes Learning the ABCs As we’ve talked about before, Archetypes represent the extreme edges of your game’s design. To begin creating a Ramp, first I make a list of all the Archetypes I have available to me in the part of the game I’m currently designing and assign each one a letter. (The order doesn’t really matter that much for now.) For example, let’s say I’m designing an early level of a game that uses the same kind of combat system we’ve been developing over the course of this series, except you can only attack by jumping on an enemy. It’s early-on, so let’s say my available Archetypes are restricted to these three: Swarmer (Small, dies in a single hit, best in large groups) Ranged Enemy (Stands in one place and shoots at you) Terrain Gaps (You can fall in and enemies can shoot over it) To create a Ramp out of these, I combine the letters in such a way that Principle #3 is always followed: Principle #3: Let the player interact with your Questions and their Tools in a simple way before requiring them to interact with them in a complex way. This means that when you combine the letters together, you must introduce each letter to the player in a simple way before increasing complexity. Each group of letters, when you’re done, represents a Setup for you to design the specifics of. And the order of the Setups automatically Ramps in the way we just discussed. Note: Additionally, it’s very important never to re-use a combination of letters within the same Ramp. If the point of this is to ask the player Questions, repeating the Question will get boring for the player very quickly. Fortunately, this method tends to give me more than enough setup ideas than I usually need for a single Ramp. For example: A | B | AB | C | AC | BC | ABC Using this trick allows you to increase the intensity of your setups over time without having to first design all the setups out in their entirety. This tends to save a lot of time. Note: The letter means “one or more of this archetype” – in the above example the first setup could be designed to have either a single enemy of type A, or many, and the pacing still works. Rests Principle #4: An intensity ramp is not a linear increase in intensity, but rather a “lumpy” one. Rest periods are as important as active periods. In the technique I showed above, a good place for a rest is after you’ve combined some archetypes, but before you add a new one. For Example: A | B | AB | REST | C | AC | BC | REST | ABC Designing Setups Based on the Ramp Given the Ramp we’ve just created, I’ll now show you how I’d put it all together to design a Ramped series of Enemy Setups. For simplicity, rather than creating a player and some weapons from scratch, I’m designing these assuming the player is small Mario from Super Mario World. Mario, when small, can run forward and backwards, he can jump, and that’s it. If he jumps on top of (stomps) an enemy, the enemy dies. If Mario is touched by an enemy in any other way, falls in a pit, or is touched by a projectile, Mario dies. To illustrate what a first-pass design using a Ramp might look like, I cobbled together this rough Mario segment design Mario starts on the left side of the image and wants to run all the way to the right side. On the way, he encounters the Ramped Setups we created out of Archetypes. A – Three Swarmers on a flat plane. (Note that it’s not restricted to a single instance of the Archetype.) B – The player must approach the Ranged enemy, wait till there’s a gap in the hammers, and run through. AB – Adding height to this setup allows me to present both the Ranged and the Swarmer at the same time. The player now has to wait for an opening and then time a jump to avoid or stomp the Swarmers. REST – Optional coins and power-up blocks along a segment of nonthreatening flat ground. The player then goes down the green pipe and ends up in the underground section below (the left-most pipe is the segment start). C – Jump over a gap. Since this is the first one, I’ve put blocks below so the player doesn’t die. AC – Swarmers patrol the far side of the gap, so the player has to time a jump to avoid or stomp. BC – The player has to time a jump between the gaps in the hammers, then time a jump over the Ranged (or time a stomp). REST – A large coin “hidden” up off the screen, along with some power-up blocks on flat terrain ABC – All of the challenges are here together. Additionally, players can only stomp the first Ranged if they climb up and get the “Secret” large coin from the rest area. Conclusion In this article we went over a trick that I use to create Ramps. Next article we’ll be combining Ramps into Paths, and Paths into Levels. After that, we should have enough information for us to “zoom out” again (two articles from now) and begin to talk about the reasons why I call this series “Trinity.” Appendix Originally I wanted to write an analysis of the puzzle game The Talos Principle to demonstrate how this kind of pacing shows up out in the real world, but I ran out of time to do a full write-up of it this week. I did, however, make some images and a few notes, so I wanted to include those here in case people can get anything out of them. First Six Puzzles (Training) These first six setups are the first six of the game. You have to go through them in this order. Learn that there are force fields you are allowed to walk through. Learn that there are force fields you can NOT walk through. Learn to use a Jammer to disable the force-field so you can get past it. There are dangerous mines that patrol on a path. The Jammers work on them, too (the circled thing is a Turret). The Jammers work on Turrets TOO! They introduced all the elements in training. When you’re done with that, the next puzzles begin to overlap all the elements (I only finished diagramming the first puzzle) After the training, the game becomes less linear and gives you a pool of puzzles. This is the easiest one / the one with the fewest overlapping elements. Upper: Use the Jammer (cyan) to block the Turret (yellow) so you can turn it off with a switch (red). Lower: Now that the Turret is off, use the same Jammer to jam the Mine (bottom right), then win. (Link to Part 8) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  2. Review This is one part in a series of articles that attempts to explain how I think when I design. The purpose of these articles is not as much to provide a hands-on practical approach – just to explain how I do stuff. Once I finish this series, I’ll focus on some more practical applications. (Link to Part 4) Important Point from a Previous Article Principle #1: As a game designer, your job is to ask your players Questions. The players’ job is to answer those questions using the Tools you give them. Last Time Last time we identified major weapon, enemy, and terrain Archetypes – some of which we will use in this article. This Time We’re going to talk about how I use the combat Archetypes we made in the previous article to create a series of enemy “Setups.” Note: We’ll talk about how I chain setups together with increasing complexity to form “Ramps” in the next article. Archetypes According to Google, an Archetype is “a very typical example of a certain person or thing,” and that’s how I want to use the term here, but with one difference: Archetype: A very typical example of one of the extreme boundaries of your game’s design. In the following diagram, each of the black dots represents an Archetype. You can see how they all exist at the extreme boundaries of our enemy’s possible powers (Health, Range, and Damage). Note: If these diagrams don’t make sense, check out the last few articles – that’s where we created these. A lot of people ask me why I choose only the extremes, and don’t make “jack of all trades” type enemies. According to Principle #1, our job is to ask players Questions. It’s vital that the player understand what question they’re being asked, otherwise I’ve made it impossible for them to play my game the way I want them to play it (if at all). The closer you get to the extremes of your design space, the clearer players will be on what they’re being asked to do: an enemy that takes 10 hits to kill is MUCH different than one that takes 1, or 5 hits to kill, and so prompts a different response from the player. Example Archetypes I’m going to use four enemy Archetypes, three weapon Archetypes, and all four terrain Archetypes that we went over in the previous two articles. I hope to show how these 11 Archetypes, as representatives of the extremes of your design space, work together to create a series of Questions and Tools that you can ramp up in difficulty over the course of a Path. (We’ll go over Ramps and Paths in later articles). Enemies Four enemy Archetypes: Swarmer – Low Health, Low Damage, Close Range Heavy – High Health, High Damage, Far Range Far – Low Health, High Damage, Far Range Near – High Health, Low Damage, Close Range Our example Archetypal enemies, as found in various games Weapons Three weapon Archetypes: Blaster – Long Range, Direct, Low Damage Flamethrower – Short Range, Direct, High Damage Bomb – Short Range, High Damage, Indirect. Where our four weapon archetypes fall on the view diagram we made in the last article I chose these three as examples because they overlap very nicely with the terrain and enemy archetypes, as I’ll show you later in the article. Terrain Four terrain Archetypes: Flat Gap Ledge Cover Examples of our four major terrain types, based on our “enemy placement” choice field from the previous article Creating an Enemy Setup Using Archetypes An enemy Setup is just a variously sized group of enemies of different Archetypes, placed on varied terrain. Each Setup should ask the player a question. In the combat system we’re creating, every setup asks the same two questions: “Who do you want to attack first and what weapon will you use to do it?” For example, using the Example Archetypes from above: Simple Setup: [2 Near enemies on flat ground] Who do you want to attack first? This setup is basic. It doesn’t really matter which enemy the player attacks first (except that the player may wish to shoot the closest one or target both). What weapon will you use to do it? The bomb or flamethrower may be able to hit both for high damage, so the blaster isn’t as great in this area. Combined Setup: [2 Near enemies on flat ground backed up by 2 Far enemies on ledges.] Who do you want to attack first? The player has to dodge high-damage shots from the Fars while fighting the Near enemies. Because the Far enemies have low health, the player might normally attack them first — but in this case, the ledges they’re on make them less accessible than the two nears. You can see how these questions begin to overlap to create options for the player to choose a weapon. What weapon will you use to do it? The two near enemies have lots of HP, so you’ll want to hit them with the flamethrower or the bomb. The far enemies have little HP, but are inconvenient. The player is encouraged to use a weapon like the bomb (area damage) or the blaster (range) to take them out. Note: If we had ammo in this system, the weapon choice could be even further influenced by how much ammo players have left for each gun when they arrive at this setup. Complex Setup 1: [5 Swarmers backed up by 1 Far enemy with cover and 1 Far enemy on a ledge.] Who do you want to kill first and what weapon will you use to do it? I combined the two questions here because it’s starting to get difficult to describe the answer to one without considering the other. Because they are small fast targets, Swarmers aren’t easily killed with the Blaster. The player would probably want to get all of them with the Flamethrower. The bomb might also be a good pick, if it has enough area of effect to get all the swarmers. Half of the leftmost Far enemy is obscured, making him a harder target for the Blaster, while the one up on the ledge is exposed and would be an easy target for that weapon. The bomb is probably a good pick for the Far enemy behind cover – it can arc over the cover and there’s plenty of floor behind the enemy for the bomb to land and catch the enemy in its area of effect (assuming the bomb has that, of course). You could use the bomb to attack the Far enemy on the right, but as there’s no wall near it and you can’t see the floor, so you’d have to be very accurate with a relatively inaccurate weapon. The blaster is probably best there. Complex Setup 2: [5 Swarmers on flat ground in front of 2 Heavies across a gap. Between you and the swarmers are 2 Near enemies. 2 Far enemies stand on ledges shooting down at you.] Who would YOU attack first? With what? Who do you want to kill first and what weapon will you use to do it? Personally, I’d whip out the Flamethrower and try to take out the Nears and the swarmers, then switch to the blaster to wipe out the Fars. Then I’d run up on the ledge where one of the Fars are standing and fire bombs down at the heavies – but you can see how many options have arisen from these 11 simple tools. Conclusion Once you understand your game design’s extreme edges (which we’ve been working on for the last few articles) you can begin to define archetypes for the various parts of your game like enemies, weapons, terrain, and so forth. By combining the archetypes together, like using letters to form words, you end up with a complexity and depth of meaning that defies the simplicity of the method. (Link to Part 6) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  3. People ask me sometimes where my ideas come from. Well, that’s not exactly true, nobody asks me that, but all kinds of famous people say people ask them that so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon. But if they DID ask me, this is what I’d say (at least as far as level design). I design a level one “setup” at a time, then I link all the setups together to form a level. When I’m thinking of a specific setup, here is the basic process I go through: WARNING: GET READY FOR A TON OF BULLETED LISTS AND SENTENCE FRAGMENTS!!! Bullets R Boring! Gimmeh some pictoorz! Intensity Curve How many setups are in the level? On a scale of 1 to 10, rate each setup in terms of how intense (difficulty + energy) it should be. These numbers should go up over the course of the level, but we should have some noise in this regard (see image below). "Interest Curve" As defined by Jesse Schell in The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses Difficulty / Intensity Where is this setup located on the “intensity” curve of the level? Does the intensity curve want a combat setup or a non-combat setup here? If we want the intensity to die down a bit, non-combat setups help with that. If it’s a combat setup, based on the intensity curve, determine the number of enemies and the combination of enemies in the setup. Never repeat a setup. Always introduce an enemy before you use multiples of that enemy or use the enemy in combination with other enemies. (Enemy A, Then Enemy B, then two A’s, then an A with a B, then two Bs, then two As and two Bs, etc). Choose the enemies based on “archetypes” (see below). Terrain Features Gaps: Horizontal separators. Need to determine: Width The path around or over the gap The fiction or type of the gap (cover, a river, a pit, etc…) Ledges: Vertical separators. Need to determine: Height (usually in two increments: Short and Tall) The path to the top of the ledge The fiction or type of the ledge (a car, a balcony, a platform…etc) Gaps and ledges Area Shape Determine the size (Should it feel tight, normal, or vast) Make sure enemy entrance or spawn points are visible from the player’s entrance point Reveal VS Recon (Is the player surprising the enemies or are the enemies surprising the player. This should vary based on the intensity curve) Make sure the area contains or has a view of some kind of focal point. The action should revolve around or serve to frame this visual focus. Tight Space Enemy Archetypes Near: Attacks close-up Far: Attacks from far away Heavy: Can be near or far, but should be player’s top priority if all else is equal Popcorn: Can be near of far. Not dangerous unless in groups. Should make the player feel strong. Near / Far / Swarmer / Heavy Enemy Idle Behavior If the player is surprising the enemies, what are they doing before he triggers them? (Patrolling, idling, juggling, etc…) Enemy Intro Behavior How is the enemy introduced? Spawn-in: The enemy appears (Teleport, jump in, etc) Run-in: The enemy comes in from off-screen (run ,fly, etc) None, the enemy is already there when the setup starts These should be varied based on the intensity curve. Enemy Trigger Zones Where does the player have to be for the enemies to activate and begin attacking? Where does the player have to be for the enemies to stop following him once they’re activated? Where does the player have to be for the enemies to deactivate? Enemy Location / Placement Must be visible to the player from the entrance to the area Do we want enemies to clump or be spaced out? Are the enemies close to or distant from the entrance How close or far do we want them from terrain features? (Over a gap, up on a ledge, behind cover, etc…) Place important items E.g. Explody barrels, health, etc Usually place close to a wall or suggestively (an explody barrel right next to a group of guys) Coin placement! Place gravy items Rewards: (Crates, coins, etc) Pure gravy: E.g. Breakable scenery Visual gravy: Non-breakable scenery, usually to provide movement or points of interest. (Blinky lights, scrolling water, plants, etc…) 'What are you trying to say? That I can stop bullets?' Source: *Note: This article has been posted in full with permission from the author Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord: