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noisebloom

Using secrets effectively

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I thought the following might be a good topic for discussion:

 

As a very new mapper, I find myself often analyzing the potential use of secrets in maps and what is effective vs ineffective. 

 

For starters, my intuition seems to have a good sense of how many secrets to include, I think. It seems like more is better up to a certain point... 2 secrets is better than 1, 4 secrets is much preferred to 2. Double digits for smallish maps could start treading into "joke-ish" territory, so going overboard is possible. Generally, though, secrets are an easy way of inciting a quick dopamine release in a player's mind and motivating them to keep going.

 

However, what a secret should contain is a much more interesting conversation. It seems unwise, for example, to have a secret contain the only SSG on a map, because you rob anyone who misses it of the enjoyment of one of Doom II's most adored weapons. On the other hand, a secret containing a stimpak is boring. 

 

I think armor is a great "obvious" secret, as it's useful but not a big deal if you miss it, but it is only effectively used once per map. Soulspheres and megaspheres often seem OP, but if the secret is difficult enough to find, they may be appropriate. This raises another question: if a player finds all the secrets in your map, how much easier does your map become? What's an acceptable difficulty swing based on secrets obtained? 

 

Secret areas are fun as well, and of course, secret exits. 

 

What are your thoughts on using secrets effectively? What guidelines do you follow as far as what and what not to do?

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@rdwpa - That's good food for thought and a helpful way of thinking things, i.e. in a context-dependent manner. That being said, I'm guessing people/mappers still have preferences, so I'm interested to hear some of those!

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With my own maps, I've generally gone down the path of giving the player goodies that are helpful, but not game changing. I'm not a fan of compulsory secrets, but I like adding in things that make exploring worthwhile.

 

For each of my maps, this is what I've done:

 

Loop of Destruction - Hidden plasma gun and box of cells in a pillar - Possibly the closest to required secret if you wanted 100% kills. Also couldn't tag it as secret (I can now with Boom) but you could crush the shotgunners in a dark corridor by pressing a torch.

Into the Base - Hidden chaingun behind the shotgun (Then available later), rocket launcher hidden behind a different textured wall (Not required for progression, but handy for a bit of destruction). Also, couldn't tag it as a secret then, but more shotgunners to be crushed which prevents them from teleporting behind you at the exit door.

Sewer - Soulsphere hidden behind a wall with some health before the mancubus/caco/pain elemental fight - Helpful, but not required

Entry - Soulsphere and backpack hidden behind the last UAC wall in the imp trap room - Helpful, but not required.

 

I balanced the maps around not discovering any secrets at all - What I've found is that what seems obvious to the mapper isn't at all obvious to the player necessarily. If your secret is required, you better have a big sign pointing at it.

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I tend to show the player in advance what he could get (mostly blue and green stuff;) ) if he finds the secret and also use secrets to open new connections between parts of the level or whole new areas to explore.

I also avoid the headbumping (Wolffenstein) approach, which means if you look around closely you will find the secret areas sooner or later - if you just run through the map you will probably have less fun (and miss some more or less interesting fights and/or areas).

About the weapon problem...hmmh, in my last map I offered the player three areas he/she could enter from the start. I each of those there was a SSG. Two of them were secrets (but visible from the start of the area) and needed some "of the trodden path"-thinking, one was obviously placed in the way. Sadly none of my testers took the time to go for the harder path, so my solution for the final version is to hide the third SSG also (Yeah, I'm an asshole;) ).

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For SPECTRUM ([hype-mode]public beta playtest is open now![/hype-mode]) I thought a fair bit about secrets for each map - how many I wanted, what I wanted them to include, how I wanted to hint at their presence.  Some maps only have one; others have six or seven.  Some secrets are closets; some are larger areas.  Some just offer extra goodies; some offer a tactical advantage.  Some are easy; some are hard; some are in other secrets.  The quality of reward is generally aligned to the challenge of location,

 

So like rdwpa says ... "it depends". :)

 

I played through SPECTRUM on HMP continuous without secrets (except finding E3M9) as part of the alpha playtest.  I died a lot, but I am a mediocre player.

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I always loved the IWAD secrets that let you go outside or to other areas that aren't normally accessible. These secrets make maps more fun to explore, and increase the immersion because they are really part of the existing architecture, instead of just a tacked-on closet.

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I personally like secrets that contain a little visual gag or let me reach very strange areas in a map. The ordinary "here, have some extra ammo" secret is fine, but a little bit boring, especially if a mapper decides to put too many into his map. Opening up secret "passages" via secret is a neat idea I have yet to explore.

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I'm very fond of "puzzle" secrets, where you're not just looking for an inconsistency in well texture or some other visual or situational clue, but instead you can see the "inside" of the secret - some inaccessible area across a pit or outside of a window, or an item placed out of your reach - and the gameplay isn't in finding/discerning the secret's existence, but in figuring out how to access or activate the secret place or reward that you can see quite clearly exists.

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7 hours ago, Super Mighty G said:

What we need are more secrets that are optional areas. The player can find a new path with more gameplay. That way you don't have to always think of what to shove in a closet, which I admit becomes difficult after there's already a few in the map.

I totally agree with you. It takes the game to another level of exploration. When I first played Doom I sometimes explored maps over and over again to find everything, especially on the big maps. Its so satisfying to find a secret which is well hidden by yourself. I personally like around 3 to 5 secrets per map. It's not something to overdo. It has to be a rewarding experience in terms of items and if you have like 3 to 5 secrets they could be of much more value than having around 7 to 10 secrets. 

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