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Anatomy of a Combat Zone
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Anatomy of a Combat Zone

July 15, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Functional Design

Why is there a crate in the middle of the jungle?

Everything in the area needs to be justified and fit the fiction of the world. Research and gather reference to ground your design layouts. Take into account:

  • Where in the overall world map is this area?
  • Is it old or new?
  • Why are these objects here?
  • Is there a waterway (stream/river/dried up river bed)
  • Was the area cleared or is it naturally dense?
  • Have the trees been cut down?
  • How do people get in and out of the area?

To re-enforce the suspension of disbelief, the layout should be believable. There are a few ways to help support this:

  • Functionality: As opposed to randomly placing objects and structures to serve the need for an effective Combat Zone, keep in mind that the layout has to technically be functional and ultimately believable. For example, if it is some sort of storage warehouse, then how do items get loaded and unloaded? Can everything fit through the doorways?
  • History: How long has this area existed? If it is old, does the layout reflect this (broken/disarray)? Thinking through the history of the layout helps to feed ideas about structures and their state. If it is an old area, could you just walk in through the front door? Is it overgrown? Is it broken? Maybe another way in through a collapsed part of a perimeter wall would fit better with the age of the layout.
  • Mini-story: Nothing breaks the illusion more than enemies that are mindlessly patrolling obvious loops or standing and idling (read: waiting to be killed). What is their role? What should they be doing when you enter the area? If they just arrived are they setting up camp and unloading? If they have been there for a while, what do they do to kill time?

The idea is to create a believable environment that simply isn't a random assembly of objects strictly serving the purpose of creating an effective Combat Zone.

Controlling The Challenge

Kill Zone on the move

As the player gets used to the concept of a Kill Zone, the game play still runs the risk of becoming stale if each Combat Zone feels as predictable and static as the last. This is especially true if the player is simply 'pop and shooting' from the sort of Defensive Zone throughout the course of the fight.

Designing Kill Zones that change angles and positions forces the player to find a new Defensive Zone. This helps to create the impression of a dynamic world along believably intelligent AI.

Ways that this can be achieved:

  • Stage alternate positions in which reinforcements enter the Combat Zone so that players are not mowing down enemies one after another from the same angle.
  • Note that this should be an event that this presented to the player.
  • Destructible element changes the playfield; great if it is a gameplay object that the player is aware of.
  • AI 'fallback' and 'charge'; the Kill Zone moving forward and back within the Combat Zone depending if the player is whittling their numbers down (AI fallback), or if there has been a standoff for sometime (AI charge)

Risk and reward

There is nothing wrong with letting the player feel empowered, even if it is for a short period of time. The hunted becoming the hunter for a short period of time armed to the teeth; not unlike Pac-Man eating a power pellet.

Within the layout, consider the placement of objects/items that would give the player a huge advantage in the battle. For example; an RPG with a few shots prominently displayed in the middle of the Kill Zone; the player can then choose to stay put and play it safe, or try risking his life sprint out and dive for the RPG.

Extending Gameplay

Last but most importantly of all is planning for ways to stage the Combat Zone in a way that they stand out from each other. The level designer is faced with the challenge of presenting the same gameplay that, end-to-end, maybe lasts less than 30 seconds -- over the course of a 10+ hour experience.

Even with the understanding of what is needed to support a fun and engaging combat experience, pushing further on adding variety to the core combat experience is needed to extend the experience.

Adding a Twist - Unique Staging

Consider the elements that make up the core mechanics and challenge the player on one or more. The player can:

  • See
  • Move
  • Shoot
  • Take cover
  • Hear
  • Get Hurt

By either giving the player a positive perk for one or a negative perk can help to create a memorable experience.

With that in mind a negative perk could be an area that is filled with thick smoke that limits the player's ability to see. Or having a stampede of massive dinosaurs creates areas that cause damage and slow the player's movement.

Positive perks also give the player a memorable twist to the combat experience. A moment where the player comes across a huge pile of explosives as they are suddenly attacked by a hoard of dinosaurs give the player the chance to blow up and gib till the heart's content.

Summing it All Up

It all starts with the Napkin Sketch; plan for these key elements early on.

Ask yourself: "What will players remember about this battle that is different than others?"

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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