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Darkness Revealed Update 48 - The Only 5 Enemies You Need to Make Your Game Fun (Part 2)

Hello, everyone! How's it going?

In the last update we started talking about enemies, and their major roles in games. As we discussed before, enemies are often there to exalt a very specific design goal. But what are those goals? Well, that changes from game to game! It's important for a game designer to observe his game's core mechanics and try to understand what enemy can extract the most from them.

Today, we're gonna delve a bit further into this subject and explore how thematic variations help with keeping enemies and mechanics looking fresh. If you haven't read our last update yet, we highly recommend you read it before this one.

Let's get going!

Enemy Tiers and Thematic Variations
Because it's so important, later on I'll return to the topic of considering your mechanics to prioritize which enemies to develop. For now, though, let's just say this out loud: there are plenty other arguments to create more varied enemies.
- Maybe a seahorse is not menacing enough for the apocalyptic ending of the game
- Players won't stand a game where, after 2 hours, they are still jumping seahorses
- Genre expectations: if it's a game about the ocean, there better be a damn shark somewhere!
These are all examples of enemy designs that have a strong impact on mood, aesthetics and storytelling - most of these won't make the cut, but are rather studies on how to use enemies to affect these areas of design. Sharks invoke an urgent sense of danger (specially if their behaviour is less passive than other enemies'); the glowing sea worm is there for it's cool looks, and the two weird things on the right tell a lot about the nature of the place you are exploring, contributing to the game's story and setting without requiring a single line of dialogue.

Matching mechanics with looks
There are at least two ways to start thinking enemies:
1. You can start thinking about the desired mechanics and then find a "skin" that will fit that mechanic
2. You can start thinking about the desired looks, and then find mechanic that fits it
There's no universally better way. Returning to an example from the last update: Resident Evil's case is the latter. It's a game about zombies, so I bet they started up with a very clear notion that zombies would be their main creep. Therefore, it was up to the gameplay designers to find a matching set of player movements versus basic zombie mechanics.

Darkness Revealed is the former, since the game is mostly about exploring very deliberate level design and mastering Dave's heavy movements. In 90% of the time, enemies are carefully positioned in very specific ways to create different flavours of interesting level design. We have a very clear notion of how each creep must behave, so for all enemies that fit this category, it's our job to find an appropriate skin.

The shellfish is pretty standard. You only take damage if you don't get out of its way or if you jump on it (notice the sharp shell)! It doesn't really care about Dave, so it makes sense for it to look like a peaceful animal.

The crab is pretty much the same - except that it follows Dave to the best of his abilities! Since this is a more aggressive behaviour, it makes sense that he is themed accordingly - ergo, a menacing looking spider like crab.

A thing about variety
On to my last set of examples. Please meet the blowfish. All it does is swim back and forth through a predefined trajectory. Originally, we had blowfishes doing all sorts of trajectories besides this one. We called the different varieties "Linear Blowfish", "Circular Blowfish", "Angry Blowfish", etc. Even the seahorse that you already met used to be called a "Static Blowfish"!
However, looking from the player's perspective, the movement above is very different from this one. Yes, this used to be the Circular Blowfish! It's still a collision box flying over a predefined trajectory, but it's different enough to justify completely different aesthetics, don't you think? Not only does this contribute to clarity (which is often an advantage), but it also increases the player's perception of variety. If they were all blowfishes, players would be tired very quickly.

Time to exercise your mind: can you think of games that use up to dozens of different visual representations to what is technically the same enemy (exactly the same mechanic)? Does it necessarily feel cheap, or they have some good reasons to do that?

Ok, so... What are the 5 damn enemies I need to make my game fun?
All right, all right, we'll spell it out! I hope it's pretty obvious by now that no list will work for every game, but there's a way to think about this question that will allow you to come up with a list that makes sense for your game. And that is:

Develop first the enemy that will fix the aspect of your game that is more broken.
When you have zero enemies and your game requires some, you probably want to start out with the bread and butter enemy (or enemies). The one that will allow the player to exercise the game's main mechanics.

Once you feel that your mechanic is already viable (if it's a game about swordfighting, there's already one or two enemies for you to bash and slice to death), then you can start prioritizing. Always start with the ideas that will make the largest contribution to pushing your making game towards your grand vision for it.

Is your game purely about stat progression? Then maybe you can clone the same exact enemy and just increase its stats! If it's about dodging and hammering creeps and you already made heavy enemies that charge onto you and force you to dodge, maybe the next in line is a lightweight enemy that flies meters away when you hit it, just so that it's pleasant to fight with a hammer! Is it a Resident Evilesque zombie game and you already got the basic zombie? Maybe it's the fat zombie that just appears every once in a while to make players think: oh no, I'm screwed! Think about what your game is about and develop the next enemy that will contribute the most to the experience. Play the game and see how it changed with the new enemy. With this new knowledge in mind, rinse and repeat.

Don't feel overwhelmed. Work one at a time. You will get there. Just be smart about prioritizing work. Ultimately, your game will never be about the one billion ideas that you never developed, but about the ones that did make the cut. Prioritization is everything.

To wrap things up, here's a shark. I told you there needed to be one.
Time to help Pixel Cows!

So, what did you think of how we pick our enemies? Did you find this update informative?
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