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Darkness Revealed Update 47 - The Only 5 Enemies You Need to Make Your Game Fun (Part 1)

Hello, everyone! How's it going?

We've been at full speed here at Pixel Cows developing Darkness Revealed, so I'll talk a little about that before jumping into the topic of enemies!

We've been diligently working on a build that is story complete - that is, a version of the game that has all the dialogues, characters, cutscenes and locations that are essential to make our plot work. It is different from content complete, because we will still add more levels, enemies and all sorts of fun stuff afterwards. In other words: our late development will focus on exploring all the possibilities that are allowed by our game mechanics and systems, theme and locations. Our current development focuses on establishing a solid base for all the rest - and that's where enemies come in!

Today's update is a little different from what we usually do. Our goal is to shed some light on what has worked for us, throughout the years, regarding enemy creation and their impact in the game's design. We think you'll enjoy the thought process behind picking the enemies for Darkness Revealed! And hopefully, this article will end up being useful for fellow game dev's in the same journey as our's :)

So many ideas, so little time! How to choose which ones will make the cut?

So, what are the 5 enemies that MY game needs? 

To answer that, we must quickly take a step back and answer two other questions:

- What is my game about?

 - What is the purpose that enemies have in my design?

Your whole game works like a machine, and enemies are only a cog meant to complement the other cogs (story, setting, movement mechanics, etc), so that the whole machinery works. In the end, all that matters is that the broader experience makes sense.

Once you understand what your game is about and how enemies contribute to its design, prioritize potential enemy ideas by developing first the ones that enable the largest amount of cool, engrossing, varied gameplay.

To help illustrate this point, let's think of a scenario where you are only allowed to develop one single enemy for the game. If you can only have one, which one would be it?

What is the one single enemy that will contribute the most to my design?

Some examples:

- Resident Evil: the basic, walking zombie. If follows you slowly, withstands a lot of bullets and try to eat your brain, like a good zombie should. Resident Evil is all about mood and the fear of being cornered by slow moving corpses and / or running out of bullets. If Capcom needed to develop just one enemy to make Resident Evil work, the basic zombie would still allow the game's core objective to work.

- The original Super Mario: Goomba. In a game that is basically about jumping, you need to jump over it to avoid being killed, and jump on it to kill it. The existence of Goomba gives purpose to that game's main mechanic, and most other enemies are variations.

- Darkness Revealed: the Electric Eel. It's a timing-based platformer about exploring the levels and mastering the pace of Dave's movements. The Electric Eel shows clear menace to those who don't learn the timing, they allow for many different challenges regarding timing and jumping, and they are stuck to specific parts of the level, so that the player feels safe when they're not crossing those parts. 

Think of the first enemy not as an entity in itself, but as a complementary part of your game's core idea and mechanics.

Maybe you need more than one enemy to make your basic gameplay work - specially if your gameplay is about more than one thing. If your game is about mastering a bow, a sword and a shield, maybe you'll need one enemy that emphasizes and rewards the use of each. 

The main point is: Prioritize. Focus your early efforts on the enemies that will make the bread and butter of your gameplay.

Now, that's not to say that your game should have few enemies. You can make a thousand different enemies if you want! So, how would you choose what your second enemy should be? I think you will find me repetitive here: Considering that your first enemy is in place, what is the next enemy that, if added, would allow for an experience that is the closest to what you envision for the complete game?

For Darkness Revealed, it's the seahorse. What does it do? Absolutely nothing! It literally just stands still! But why?

Besides learning the timing to move in your diving suit, you must also learn the jumps' trajectories. The Seahorse is not about running for your life. It's not about timing. It's just about figuring out where you must be so that you don't touch it as you try to jump past it.

The Seahorse also looks at you. This is purely an aesthetic choice, with no bearings on mechanic. Still, notice how you can use details to affect player's perception. Thinking about hitboxes, this seahorse is exactly equivalent to a "dead" thing like a floating ball of coral covered in spikes. In terms of mechanic and difficulty, it would be the exact same thing. However, it wouldn't feel the same, would it? More on that in a sec! :)

Enemies as a way to make you feel tense

Remember when I said that enemies are just another cog in your game's broader design? Oftentimes, that will have nothing at all to do with mechanics (even if it does have a mechanic tied to it). An enemy can be designed just to make the player feel a certain way, either through mechanic, graphics, audio, level placement or all of them. Take a look at the ugly moray, for exemple:

We usually hide it at some points through the levels, partially hidden by some algae or rocks. Once you spot it, it's not particularly difficult to avoid, but you take one hell of a scare if you don't see it before! Its purpose is twofold: it makes you pay attention to the level (finding hidden stuff / "revealing the darkness" is a common theme in our game), and despite not being a difficult enemy, it's looks and moves are somewhat oppressive, making you 'respect' the levels instead of just carelessly hopping your way through the game. Without words, it tells you: you're a deep diver stranded on an utterly alien environment. Pay attention or get punished!

That's all for now guys! In "Part 2" of this update, we'll talk about enemy tiers and thematic variances and how they fit into the game's core design. And if you haven't figured out yet, we'll dig deeper into understanding the only 5 enemies you need to make your game fun ;)

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