Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Game Designing: Enemies!

   I'm an aspiring game designer. So anytime I can I like to come up with ideas. More than once I’ve found myself taking inspiration from real life: Situations, styles, atmosphere, stories and other stuff I feel would fit right in a game of their own or maybe even incorporate into other games. I used to be always asking: “Why this or that wasn’t implemented in the game?”, but ever since I started working on my course’s final paper (which is game, if you’re still wondering) I’ve came to realize there’s usually only one thing to blame: Deadlines. Yeah, this word can make any person working on a creative role shed tears of disappointment. Sometimes developing a game can be like writing a book. The more you look at it the more ways you find to improve it. And sometimes there’s just not enough time. You must deliver something to the public and you must close development earlier even though you wish you do a bit more here or there. But enough about that. So I'll talk about one of the things that I feel are interesting to create and come up with for games: Enemies.


Enemy Design

   Now, this can come in many shapes and sizes. This can be called Creature Design, Character Design (Providing your enemies are exclusively human beings as well), Enemy Creation or even Adversarial Design meant to drive your player Crazy. It depends on the designer’s taste. I've seen people call it a lot of things, but anyone with half a brain cell can put together the names and figure out what they're about to do: Create something that won't be friendly to the player. Beforehand, you need to ask yourselves : Does your game absolutely need enemies? Sometimes the challenges presented by puzzles and the difficulty in traversing the terrain can by itself pose enough challenge to keep the player entertained. There’s no need to overwhelm him (the player) with overflow of information and pressure. If yes, you do feel your game needs an opposing force to clash with the player, keep on reading. 
   This kind of brings us to the first point: Why not just say we’re creating something that the player will attempt to kill or even that we’re creating something that will attempt to kill the player in a gruesome way? Well, we can't really say that until we decide what's the role of the enemy in the game. So thus far, let’s just say it is an enemy. We have all of sorts of enemies:

   * Those designed to Adverse = Simple, plain, designed to oppose the player in the beginning of the game. You see this in nearly all games, nearly. They are abundant in genres like Hack & Slash or shooters. This is your ordinary thug, a zombie, those inexperienced soldiers the game throws at you in the first levels of a shooter or the unlucky swordsmen that cross your path at the beginning of your adventure, and so on. They are there to tell you the place is not empty. Usually, they don’t pose a great threat to the player’s character themselves, but in numbers they are a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes they are even the reason the player was called in the first place, for instance, Sam Fisher, from  Splinter Cell, is usually called or deployed when the situation requires subtlety. The thugs, or soldiers, in his path are usually poorly trained compared to him. But they are armed and still count as a threat. In numbers Sam has to use stealth and cunning to overcome the impossible odds that are sometimes presented to him. In Resident Evil, to give another example, a zombie is fairly weak and easy to get rid of when alone. But add another three zombies to the equation and the situation becomes a lot more serious. In tight spaces with four zombies and a handgun you’re better off leaving through the door you came from. They simply won’t with a few 9mm shots (in the head they would), but since we’re talking about the original Resident Evil which gave no aim control. It would be hard. There can be or not a good reason for them to be there. But it’s always good to keep things based on game lore, not only it makes the game richer, but also keeps it cohesive.

   * Those designed to Scare = These are a bit more elaborated, specially because these need to have great matching looks (We'll get to that later!), specific howling, unique behavior and etc. These enemies don't exactly need to be scary by themselves, sometimes they just do something that creeps the hell out of you. Nice examples of this are the Cerberus in Resident Evil (The Dobermans if you still don't know what I'm talking about) or the baby Necromorphs in Dead Space. They're not really dangerous, you can get away from them, but they usually make quite an entrance. For those that played the original RE (the GameCube remakes also counts), who didn’t jump the first time those two Cerberus bursted into the first floor corridor breaking those framed glass windows? The scary type is that sort of creature, or human, that takes advantage of the atmosphere and the pressure to scare you. They either scream loud enough or do something that’s really creepy. Remember the first time you saw that man screaming from inside the maternity and next thing you knew a baby Necromorph impaled his head against the window? Sometimes, your player doesn't even have to fight it like in the two examples above, just seeing can be more than enough. I can't give a better example than Alma in F.E.A.R. for this one. You don't really fight her throughout the entire game, but you keep seeing her in very dark and strange moments that can make someone jump from his chair. These enemies are usually pretty tied-in with their specific environments, if not tied to a particular environment, they’re at least presented in their natural environment. And it’s that shock of seeing something maybe usual and common to a particular environment totally twisted and turned into something monstrous that causes that impact on the players. Needless to say this type of enemies are usually seem in Horror games. But some others games may borrow some characteristics from this category, much like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which is an FPS.

   * Those designed to make players Anxious = I can't really find a better word to define this category. This is where the big boys are. I'm really simplifying here, as this category could be broke down into 3 or 4 others categories. These enemies have great design, great looks (Or bad looks, if you want to make an impression on the player), they are special in just about every single thing they do. And we have many uses for this class. You can have enemies that make your players unsure if they really want to move into the next room. Like Hunters in Resident Evil. You're never quite sure you can evade all of these guys attacks, they’re fast, vicious, strong and resistant. Not to mention the screeching sound they make and they’re huge jumps. They are virtually invincible. You can't really say you'll hit all shots you fire at him since he’s so fast. It's simply nasty to meet those guys. Your best bet is to outrun them, or even better, avoid them whenever possible. Or you can have enemies that are simply though and have an almost imbalanced attack, like the Boomers from the blockbuster hit Gears of War where the only option is to spend time a lot of time shooting at him or save a big weapon like the one it is using itself or the Torque Bow to kill it faster. People will usually pass to get another useful weapon like a Lancer and a Sniper. Thus having to fight the big guy all the way down. Proper teamwork and good skills will help the expert players. But the new ones will still be quite impressed. And even then the “wow!” effect wears off you can still use the same enemy to make the player cautious of his action. Minding what he’s doing since the that particular enemy can turn him to shreds if he does one or two things wrong. This last use I mentioned for enemies (keeping the player cautious) is the most used one to humans in this category. Since it can be hard to develop a human scary enough you can instead develop a well trained human that surpasses the abilities of the player himself, either by doing some move he simply can’t, or acting with very distinct behavior. Anyone remember the Frogs special soldier, part of Liquid Snake’s personal guard in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots? They are women that can kick any soldiers’ ass. They are extremely agile and athletic. Yet they’re still human beings. There’s also enemies that are designed to be a big threat in a specific area, in specific skill. For example: There are the ones designed to catch you, they're fast, agile, sometimes invisible and will mostly represent a threat during a specific sequence of the game, remember Verdugo and his little chase on us in Resident Evil 4? These are all respectable enemies you can make your player face. Bottom line is: these enemies are made to put the players on their feet, they’ll want to be cautious and careful once approaching or facing these enemies. The objective here is to get the player anxious and excited about going down at it with one or more of these opponents. He knows this creature/foe is the real deal and if he screws up it’ll probably land a nice blow or a nice bite right in the middle of his chest that will most likely prompt a bloody game over screen to appear. Once you know which one or which of these categories your new-born enemy will fit best you can, before drawing a sketch, look at the environment your enemy will live or make his debut appearance.

   The next step is simple, your creature or opponent must be in sync with the environment it will be shown, most of the time. This usually applies best to creatures, since they usually behave like animals it’s natural they’ll be found in specific places. Human opponents, not so much. Let’s go back to Sam Fisher for a second. In the new installment of the series, Splinter Cell Conviction, he’s disbanded from Third Echelon and is on his own at least in the beginning of the game. Let’s say he must infiltrate a warehouse that is being secured by some some Splinter Cells. The concept of this incredible secret operative is that he has high-tech gadgetry, is extremely agile, and heavy trained. The concept of this figure in itself already implies it has no set place to operate, after all we’re talking about a spy/soldier. So Sam, while infiltrating the warehouse may face several Splinter Cells inside the compound. And later on, in a mission in, let’s say, Russia. He might meet a couple of these guys again. Because the concept behind these characters is flexible enough to allow these changes in scenery. And sometimes, of course, you can do it the other way around: tweak the environment to be a little more cohesive with the enemy, but keep in mind some things just “might won't fit”. For instance: A ghost clown in an office will take so much effort in presentation and ambient preparation it's just not worth all the trouble. I’ll be the first to tell you: I believe most combinations will fit anywhere as long as you give it proper time and work making the presentation believable, that is making the why’s and how’s of the situation look reasonable enough to the player. But like I said before, you work with deadlines in the business, so you have to go with something planned. This is one of the reasons we see great games that could’ve been much more if they had incorporated so many great feats that would’ve added up to the one that you feel is the focus of the game, like the Cover System in Gears of War. There was a lot more they could've done, but the cover system was planned to be the big star from the start, so it was able to be implemented without loss of time due to forward preparation, but another blog about that. Bottom line is you can have two types of enemies: Those tied with their environment, and those not tied with their environment.
   First of all, I'm supposing you already have an idea of where the game is going to ambient itself or where this particular enemy or creature will appear. That’s what's going to help you create the looks for it. Try mending the role with the look. For an old mansion, you might want to go with a ghostly look. For the sewer, awful looking creatures will do the trick. If you're talking about a truncated jungle, how about something fast, that can disappear among the green foliage or the dense shadows created by the tree tops? It's important to mend both things here. The less adjustments you have to make, the greater it will naturally be. Of course you can always work on them separately. And honestly, this is how you should work all the time on your enemies, if you have time. Give it a lot of thought, thinking out all the possibilities, polishing the ideas and then putting them together and polishing it a bit more. But since we’re dealing with deadlines in this hypothetical situation I’m trying to find a good balance between quality and quantity here. Matching the looks of an enemy  with its the role is a great way of having looks that don’t need to be extensively worked on, meaning you don’t have to put a lot of effort in explaining to the player why that animal/enemy looks the way it does. You'll see yourself working the hardest on creatures or monsters when you're working with horror projects or RPG’s in different settings such as Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Since the enemies play a big role in immersing the player into the atmosphere of the game, making him believe and feel like he’s on a totally different world. It's also important to pay attention to what scares people the most in each unique place, and having ideas of what situations would be scary or surprising to the player. When developing horror games you can’t forget some people don’t get scared. So putting some surprising moments can be some fun for those people. Watch out though not to make something so spectacular that it will make your player die... of laughter. This can happen when any enemy or place is too ridiculous or too out of place. That's why I said it and I’ll say it again: Focus on sync! Now that you’ve decided where your enemy will be first seen or encountered and what’s his role in the game you can draw a sketch. Once you have it done move over to something I personally love: Behavior.
   Creating the behavior of someone or something is like playing God a bit. You can create whatever you like, however you like it. But a mistake a lot of people do is think the player will take anything you throw at them, bad mistake. If something looks badly designed, out of place or ends up unexplained it can only serve to break the magical line that the designer drew for us to stay inside, more on that later. A game like that can’t be satisfying for me  and  I go play something else, so does the majority of other people. So this part is a work of patience and cooperation with the scriptwriters. The actions, environment, situations and dialogues must explain somehow, or at least give some lead as to how the things work. I enjoy basing myself in animals, everybody watches TV at some point in their lives, and a lot of people, while browsing through channels in TV, stop in Animal Planet. And then they just sit there, watching animals, see how they act. Bringing that to your game gives a sense of reality to your creature, makes it feel believable.
   So incorporate things like Hunger, Confusion, Aggressiveness and Instinct in your creature. It will feed on anything close to it's usual meal if it is hungry. It will act confused if it encounters something new, enters a new environment and meets new organisms. It could be Aggressive towards the player, or not. That will define if the creature attacks on sight or just defend itself. After you set its behavior, habits of feeding, of sleeping, living and other things, you can go over to something that's important and kind of final:
   How your player interacts with the enemy? Does he see it, or is it invisible? Listening to something big coming your way, seeing everything in it's path go flying up in the air and not being able to really see the beast can be a great play to leave your player careful. If the enemy is silent I'm sure there will be plenty of scares in the game as the enemy creeps up on the player and he suddenly turns to realize he's trapped. Many possibilities can come from these little final decisions, don’t be afraid to go back and change something, do a new sketch of the enemy or change something you did before in order to fit something you find interesting now, it’s only natural of the development process.
   With the role its defined, a sketch, its behavior in mind and an idea of how the enemy will fit the environment is enough to get you started. Now start drawing your enemy and talking to your level designers about how you can work together in order to create interesting environments for your enemy.  
So I hope you enjoyed it and that it could be of use for you somehow. Have a nice morning, afternoon or evening, wherever you are, whenever you're reading this. Thank you very much!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let's try to stay positive, huh? After all I don't get out there yelling trash about you at the top of my lungs, do I? Don't be a troll and post a constructive complaint, if you must!