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EarthQuake

Free-form survival gameplay, a request for feedback.

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I started mapping back in 1997, and have since tried to introduce a lot of novel gameplay concepts to Doom. Of course, since vanilla Doom is pretty restrictive with these sorts of gameplay-altering mechanics, I started off my career by creating maps with a survival-oriented approach using the game's Nightmare difficulty setting on altdeath mode. This allowed an endless supply of monsters and items. My monsters of choice were typically demons and spectres, because of their unique increase in movement and attack speed on Nightmare (which I found terribly unsettling). Archviles were another monster of choice, because of their speed, ranged offensive capability, and ability to resurrect other monsters.

The map layouts were usually in one of two formats: sprawling and non-linear, like a deathmatch map, where monsters could home in on you from any direction; and linear, yet progressive, where you would have to fight through hordes of incoming monsters in order to advance to your next position. I can't speak for the majority of people, but my friends and I had a load of fun playing these types of maps.

What I failed to recognize back then was that I was missing something important: a winning condition. My close friends didn't see this shortcoming and were content with just running around gunning down demons and finding hiding spots while the monsters were busy with someone else. The monster AI was just random enough to provide a unique experience each time we played. But at the end of the day, we had to call it quits. Maybe even to the point of becoming bored with it, which is a very negative way to end a long play session.

Now skip ahead about 15 years. My experience has risen significantly, and the quality of my work has too. And here I am again today revisiting this gameplay I came up with nearly two decades ago. The problem is I still have no idea how to resolve the open-ended nature of this survival mode in a way that others can reliably enjoy it in the same way my friends and I did back in the nineties. I've learned that my own interests don't necessarily coincide with the interests of others.

I'm currently working on a new survival wad. I want to actually be able to publicly release it, and get something other than a negative reception. I know there is great potential here, but I don't know how to adapt this to suit the interests of the community.

To continue with my plans, I obviously need a winning condition. I've thought about various ways of ending the level:

  1. The arcade approach: count the number of monsters slain, and reveal the exit once a quota is met. The exits could be randomized, as could the number of monsters required to kill. This doesn't seem engaging enough though, and might break the immersion. This is easy way out, but certainly not the best.
  2. The timed approach: simply invoke a time limit at which the exit becomes available. The exit could be randomized, to prevent players from camping out at the exit's location, but if players want to play for a shorter or longer period of time, they are shit out of luck. Having the exit open on a timer also destroys all possibility of speedrunning activities.
  3. The story approach: have a series of "scripted" objectives, that need completed in some sort of order, randomized or otherwise, in order to exit. Insert blurb about generators, reactor cores, and radioactive lockdowns here. While this might seem like a good idea, it really breaks down the replayability factor. These kinds of event sequences are difficult to design and take time to create, let alone randomize. On a large scale, this is a lot of work.
  4. The key hunt approach: find keys, open doors. Key locations could be randomized, as well as the locations at which they are used. Keys could spawn inside other locked areas, randomly (in a fashion similar to the Atari 2600 game Adventure). Ultimately, one such key would have to unlock the exit. Keys would not literally have to be "keys", but could be disguised as other objects. Keys don't necessarily have to open a locked door. In a way this kind of overlaps with method 3, except on a more fundamental level.

I reckon I will have to use some variation or combination of these, but I am interested in what others think. I don't want to implement something that is going to get repetative, but I also don't want something that will be too complicated. The map for this project falls under the "sprawling and non-linear" style, where players are free to roam an expansive system of routes, with areas of interest branching from them. Any of these areas can be visited at any point and in any order (disregarding the possibility of those areas being inaccessible due to the implementation of one or more of the above systems). I've already established a method for distributing monsters around the map, so right now the only thing left to figure out is what the players should do in order to win.

TL;DR: I'm making a massive, untraditional, non-linear survival map; what should I do to allow players to win?

Feedback greatly appreciated, and more information available on request. Thanks!

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All of your proposed solutions sound either boring or annoying to me.

What about a sophisticated "final boss fight" that's potentially accessible relatively early, but really really hard to beat, up to impossible with common inventory, but your chances gradually increase when you find various weapons and powerup items on NON-secret places around the whole level, to be used against the boss when the player decides to approach him. The least skilled players might need to explore and find all of these items to be able to finally beat the boss, but the most skilled players would beat him while having and using (for example) only 1/10 of all the goodies from the level, and they wouldn't have to explore the rest of the level if they didn't feel like it.

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I'd suggest mixing them up.

Suppose you gain a few points per second, and then each time you kill a monster you gain one point per hit point of the monster. Once you reach a certain amount of points, something opens up, or you summon a boss, whatever: you get to progress to the next stage.

This plays in the open-endedness aspect: it's survival fight against the monsters, so you get to prove yourself in the arena either by killing a lot of monsters really quickly, or just by showing the monsters can't kill you, or more probably a mix of the two. Regardless of your offense/defense mix, you'll eventually trigger a win condition.

You can also mix the story line approach in the same thing: just assign a number of points to performing these secondary goals (the thing with locking down core generators or whatever). Then players get to have three ways to progress: seeking out objectives, hunting down monsters, enduring enemy fire. As far as speedrunning is concerned it'd open interesting strategic considerations on whether to prioritize monster shooting or objective solving.

The big issue with that is that you need to get the point balance right.

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scifista42 said:

What about a sophisticated "final boss fight" that's potentially accessible relatively early, but really really hard to beat, up to impossible with common inventory, but your chances gradually increase when you find various weapons and powerup items on NON-secret places around the whole level, to be used against the boss when the player decides to approach him. The least skilled players might need to explore and find all of these items to be able to finally beat the boss, but the most skilled players would beat him while having and using (for example) only 1/10 of all the goodies from the level, and they wouldn't have to explore the rest of the level if they didn't feel like it.


This is actually an interesting suggestion, mainly because I had not even considered the idea of having a "final boss fight". I really like your idea of preparing for such a battle and how the amount of preparation determines the likelihood of success. What I am not too keen on is putting the decision to engage the "boss" directly into the players' hands. I think this may lend itself to overpreparation, making the "boss" too easy.

Thank you for your feedback. I feel like this is heading in the right direction.

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Gez said:

Suppose you gain a few points per second, and then each time you kill a monster you gain one point per hit point of the monster. Once you reach a certain amount of points, something opens up, or you summon a boss, whatever: you get to progress to the next stage.

This plays in the open-endedness aspect: it's survival fight against the monsters, so you get to prove yourself in the arena either by killing a lot of monsters really quickly, or just by showing the monsters can't kill you, or more probably a mix of the two. Regardless of your offense/defense mix, you'll eventually trigger a win condition.

You can also mix the story line approach in the same thing: just assign a number of points to performing these secondary goals (the thing with locking down core generators or whatever). Then players get to have three ways to progress: seeking out objectives, hunting down monsters, enduring enemy fire. As far as speedrunning is concerned it'd open interesting strategic considerations on whether to prioritize monster shooting or objective solving.

The big issue with that is that you need to get the point balance right.


After reading scifista's post, I thought of a way to implement his suggestion of a "final boss fight". The idea was to use a time limit that once met would evoke some sort of final event. The catch was that making any sort of progress would push back this time limit, allowing more time to prepare.

What you are suggesting is basically the same thing, except you make the distinction between offense, defense, and objective solving, and how they impact the progression of a time limit (and not by just pushing the time limit back). This is actually a really good way of thinking about it, because it translates well with Boom mechanics using scrollers, making the implementation of such a time limit a feasible possibility.

Getting the balance right is definitely the challenging part. I still have more to say, but I need to gather my thoughts some more.

Edit: I've drafted a technical implementation of how a "timeline" system might work. This is, of course, subject to change. I would like some feedback on it, if possible:

Timeline System

Progression through the map is determined by the movement of a dummy actor along a game timeline, which is simply a one-dimensional track. The movement of the actor is influenced by displacement and acceleration vector scrollers. Along the timeline are various triggers that are activated when the timeline actor crosses them, which progresses the game forward.

Scrollers:

  • Time limit scroller. When the game starts, a constant velocity is applied to the timeline actor until it activates the final event trigger. This effectively becomes the time limit.
  • Monster kill scroller. Whenever a monster enters the main area, acceleration is temporarily applied to the timeline actor, progressing it slightly. Since monsters respawn, this gets applied many times over the course of the game.
  • Objective scroller. When any of the optional objectives are completed, acceleration is temporarily applied to the timeline actor, progressing it slightly more than the above scroller. Objectives are used to reward the player, and the amount of acceleration of the scroller depends on the significance of the reward given.
  • Penalty scroller. Applied to the timeline actor when a player does not complete an objective correctly (or in some cases, not at all). The amount of acceleration applied is substantially greater than other scrollers, causing the game to come to an end more quickly.
  • Reprieve scroller. This postpones the time limit for a brief period of time, slowing down the progression of the timeline actor. Potential uses unknown, perhaps used in defensive situations?
Triggers:
  • Final event trigger. When the timeline actor reaches the end of the timeline, a final event will trigger. This signals the approaching end of the game by releasing additional monsters and making the exit accessible.
  • Difficulty triggers. These activate events at various points, with the intent on increasing the difficulty as the game goes on. This could be by releasing more monsters, or by cutting off access to equipment or certain areas.
  • Event trigger. Located at various points along the timeline that, when activated, will provide players with more content, such as additional equipment and new areas. These triggers may not activate if certain stipulations are not met, such as the completion of certain objectives. A random factor can also be introduced here.
Notes:
1. The final event is a complex system of events that occur when time runs out. Monster throughput is increased, "boss monsters" may be released, and the final area (which contains the exit) is revealed and made accessible.
2. Randomization plays a huge part in the entirety of the system. Monsters and items are distributed in different ways each game. When events triggers occur via the timeline system, even the flow and layout of the map can be altered.
3. Is it not yet known how to differentiate between defensive and offensive actions. Could use some ideas with this one.

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EarthQuake said:

After reading scifista's post, I thought of a way to implement his suggestion of a "final boss fight". The idea was to use a time limit that once met would evoke some sort of final event. The catch was that making any sort of progress would push back this time limit, allowing more time to prepare.

I think it would be better for the boss to always be accessible, so the player can approach it when he/she feels prepared for it. That lends an almost NES-era feel to the project, like those old rpg/adventure games where everything was available to you from the beginning, but you wanted to do things in a certain order so you wouldn't die horribly.

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Lol impie, that reminds me of metroid... :)

As far as implementation of the idea of a boss fight to end the map, it sounds good in theory. What I worry about, however, is (assuming these will be actually survivable survival scenarios) what the feel of a boss fight every level would be. I feel like itd he underwhelming at some point.

OTOH, if the "normal" levels ended with an additional survival scenario that one idea on how to end levels (final event) would be feasible for many levels without getting too stale, especially when the boss really does come out.

But with the mechanics of how it would work for each map, I think a good mix between the two would create some real tension if the message: "Final [or whatever name it's given] event approaching in x:xx!" or something to that effect.

However, I think that other approaches should be used. Too much of even a could effect can grow stale. OCD Doom is a good example. Now, I must say, by the end I was satisfied with the way it was done and wasn't as upset that the mechanics were all the same, but when I hit the third and fourth levels I was disappointed for a bit because the mechanics were all the same. Maybe there's a bell curve to the enjoyment of repetitiveness, lol.

If it's survival you're going for, one good thing to consider would be making something like "Horde" mode in Gears of War 2. Every 10 waves were basically the same, but made to be harder (ie. Wave 11 was exactly like wave 01, but the enemies were tougher, though there were many different combinations and timings of monsters for each wave and that randomness exponentially increases the replay value. I wouldn't suggest modifiers on the monsters, but perhaps you could do a multiplier on the numbers instead.

As a side note, I've often wondered how the scripting was handled for GoW2's horde mode. What I believe makes the most sense, at least from this idiot's perspective, is that each wave has a set numerical value, as does each monster. When a wave begins, or at 2 or 3 intervals throughout the wave when mobs are spawned, the game randomly picks monsters that add up to exactly the number the wave is given. That way, it can be random without the need of thousands of lines of code for each possibility of each wave to work and be fair all at the same time.

I think that randomization should be a key focus of your maps. Literally anything to make it more random would add so much repeatability to it.

Best of luck :)

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