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DooM_RO

How to balance survival horror maps?

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Posted (edited)

By this I don't mean a single map but multiple maps that make up an episode. I have already made such a map (which will be part of the WAD) and I carefully balanced the map so that the ammo is very tight but fair. All of my maps are balanced with a pistol start.

 

The problem is when you introduce other maps. You can get a situation where the player is hoarding ammo. I think you have to balance the maps in such a way that the player can finish it with resources you find only in non-secret areas as you don't know whether they will find them or not. However, if they find the secret ammo and weapons they will be left with a lot of ammo, thus potentially lessening the atmosphere of the next levels. 

 

So my question is: How do I balance maps in such a way that by that I can prevent this snowball effect? I want ammo to be always tight, even with secrets, especially at the start of the next map. 

Edited by DooM_RO

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You can minimize the rewards for finding secrets (like a couple of stimpacks or a bunch of armor/health bonuses). You can also add monsters in the secret closets for surprise value.

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Some general tips. But no matter what you do, some people will still be able to carry more stuff than you'd intended since you can't/won't micromanage every single encounter for every single difficulty setting / player's skill.

 

Obvious tip: don't hand out a backpack, perhaps even reduce the normal carrying capacity. You can't bring excess ammo to the next level if you cannot carry it. In a similar vein, don't give a chainsaw or berserk pack because some people will punch their way through a level in order to save ammo if they notice being restricted in that regard.

 

Don't hand out big boxes of ammo. Instead, use the smaller quantity pickup. In case you want to give the player more, still use the smaller quantity version but distribute it around the same room. This feels more rewarding. Leave the rare large quantity items for "big" reveals. Focus the content of secrets more on the 'helper' items, such as an automap or armor. Perhaps create more smaller quantity versions of the normal pickups, so you can hand them out more often. If you do give the player a large quantity pickup, always make him spent ammo / risk health to get to / escape that area.

 

Present a fork in the start area of sequential maps, but put a (relative) big monster challenge early on the more obvious path choice. For players who pistol-start or who didn't carry over much ammo from the previous level, this will in all probability guide them to seek out the other path first and deal with this challenge later. Players who did carry over enough ammo are tempted to just spent their ammo on this obvious monster challenge. This will 'even out' the carried ammo quantity between these two groups of players for the rest of the level.

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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Mordeth said:

Some general tips. But no matter what you do, some people will still be able to carry more stuff than you'd intended since you can't/won't micromanage every single encounter for every single difficulty setting / player's skill.

 

Obvious tip: don't hand out a backpack, perhaps even reduce the normal carrying capacity. You can't bring excess ammo to the next level if you cannot carry it. In a similar vein, don't give a chainsaw or berserk pack because some people will punch their way through a level in order to save ammo if they notice being restricted in that regard.

 

Don't hand out big boxes of ammo. Instead, use the smaller quantity pickup. In case you want to give the player more, still use the smaller quantity version but distribute it around the same room. This feels more rewarding. Leave the rare large quantity items for "big" reveals. Focus the content of secrets more on the 'helper' items, such as an automap or armor. Perhaps create more smaller quantity versions of the normal pickups, so you can hand them out more often. If you do give the player a large quantity pickup, always make him spent ammo / risk health to get to / escape that area.

 

Present a fork in the start area of sequential maps, but put a (relative) big monster challenge early on the more obvious path choice. For players who pistol-start or who didn't carry over much ammo from the previous level, this will in all probability guide them to seek out the other path first and deal with this challenge later. Players who did carry over enough ammo are tempted to just spent their ammo on this obvious monster challenge. This will 'even out' the carried ammo quantity between these two groups of players for the rest of the level.

 

Hmm, good idea with the backpack but in the kind of maps I am making even a single rocket makes a huge difference. By hoarding I mean the player might have 5-6 extra rockets by the end of the level. It might not seem like a lot but it can snowball from level to level. I want each pickup to feel like a big reward, even if it seems small. It's very tricky because you can easily fall into the pitfall of being stingy.

 

Might take out the berserk too but I'm not sure what to replace it with. On the other hand, what do I do if the player runs out of ammo? I put the berserk as a backup for that kind of situation.

 

Good idea with the fork!

Edited by DooM_RO

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You could make the secrets harder to find. Something else I try to do is make sure there are fewer items (ammo/health/etc) located on or near the easiest/quickest route to complete the map. Make the player hunt for that ammo and health in side areas. Like Mordeth said, though, if the player explores the whole level and/or finds all the secrets, you will still run into this problem. Of course, you could use death-exits...please don't use death-exits :)

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2 minutes ago, Payload4367 said:

You could make the secrets harder to find. Something else I try to do is make sure there are fewer items (ammo/health/etc) located on or near the easiest/quickest route to complete the map. Make the player hunt for that ammo and health in side areas. Like Mordeth said, though, if the player explores the whole level and/or finds all the secrets, you will still run into this problem. Of course, you could use death-exits...please don't use death-exits :)

 

Naaaah, deathexits are a cheap copout. 

 

Most secrets are quite hard to find. Or at least that is what I think.

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Posted (edited)

By the way, here is a standalone map I made a while ago. It uses the Doom 3 for Doom 2 textures WAD and it is going to be a mid-episode map. I intend to explore the design philosophy of this map in 8 other maps out of which two are set in Hell. I gotta say, it was a lot easier to balance the survival horror aspect when there was only one map. It seems that the longer the game is, the harder this becomes.

 

If you wish to play it, it is intended to be played without running.

 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1jOG7iliv9ZCdiVc-g9gqvzuIgi2fTEzJ

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25 minutes ago, DooM_RO said:

even a single rocket makes a huge difference

 

That doesn't sound like you take player errors into account, at all. What if that player wastes that single rocket by missing its intended target? "Please reload" isn't a fun strategy.

 

Rocket ammo just isn't suited to your intended goal here. Like I said, hit or miss is going to make a huge difference here, so you no longer can control your ammo/monster balance as finely tuned as you would want here. Want explosions? Place some strategic barrels instead.  Treat your rockets like a combat shortcut: either use the provided shotgun/bullet ammo or cut down combat time by lobbing a rocket at the target.

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, Mordeth said:

 

That doesn't sound like you take player errors into account, at all. What if that player wastes that single rocket by missing its intended target? "Please reload" isn't a fun strategy.

 

Rocket ammo just isn't suited to your intended goal here. Like I said, hit or miss is going to make a huge difference here, so you no longer can control your ammo/monster balance as finely tuned as you would want here. Want explosions? Place some strategic barrels instead.  Treat your rockets like a combat shortcut: either use the provided shotgun/bullet ammo or cut down combat time by lobbing a rocket at the target.

 

If they miss I want them to feel it. The trick is to make rockets very valuable but not mandatory.

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A bit like Estus Flasks in Dark Souls. If you waste one you feel it but it's not the end of the world.

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my 1.5 cents: take all the weapons away. make sure that the map can be finished. never give back any weapons. that will be the real survival horror. if you can shot your fears, it is not a horror anymore. ;-)

 

(this is only a half-joke)

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The best way to avoid resource overload through levels is to avoid backpacks and reward secrets with more health/ammo/powerups and very little (if any) ammo. It will still be quite hard to balance ammo even that way, because some players will waste ammo and others will skip enemies and/or use in-fighting. Therefore, you might want to design the maps in a way that some enemies can be skipped, so some players won't get fustrated if they use all the ammo and some enemies are still alive.

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