Monday, May 12, 2014

Metroidvanias, loops

It's pretty difficult to make layouts for metroidvanias. Interconnected areas, alternate paths, it's something that requires a lot of thought to do well. 

A lot of people call Kurovadis a Metroidvania, but I think it lacks a few of the key elements. For one thing, with the exception of one area, there are no alternate paths, it's linear. The most you can do in Kurovadis is go somewhere that you aren't supposed to be yet, and get a minor power up (which are the same as just leveling up) so you aren't just reaching a dead end. Another element it lacks, is any interconnectivity. Every "stage" has one only entrance, the exception being the mansion, which has an entrance you can't go back through, and an exit. It's still basically just entirely linear.


Here's what I would call a basic metroidvania "loop"


From the location the player starts in, there are two alternate paths, both leading to the same key item. However, both also contain optional items. This gives each path it's own significance, as opposed to simply being alternate "routes" to the same goal. That way, even if the player gets the key item and knows where they can go in order to progress, they may want to explore further.

Simple right? However, it isn't always so simple.


Sometimes the loop encompasses multiple paths, or parts of other loops, and the player may enter the loop from different locations.
And that's just coming up with the layout..

What if you have an enemy that's seen by the player for the first time in that loop? In a linear game, the first encounter is often the easiest, and the player adapts to harder encounters with the enemy over time. But in a loop, the player could be coming from multiple directions. So where do you put that "first" encounter with the enemy? Everywhere? At every entrance? Do you put on your sunglasses and tell them to deal with it?

The answer is the all encompassing vague game design answer "It depends..."

Thus far, making a good layout is something I'm still struggling with. However, I think it's also something that's very important for me to learn to do properly. The more I know about making a good map, the more I can go back to worrying about making good rooms/levels, without being unsure of their place in the grand scheme of things.



40 comments:

  1. Hmm. Trying to match your description against the rather nice gamecube/wii Metroid Prime,
    which I'm not sure quite qualifies as a metroidvania, but just might do.

    I think the trick is not to build levels as a series of loops, but rather as a spanning tree with a few "shortcut" interconnects.
    Then, what you need is some kind of "coded door" or other mechanism that prevents a player from passing before they've unlocked some ability, and which clearly tells the player they are not supposed to pass yet.
    So what you want to do is, make sure that the first time the player enters an area, there's exactly one linear path through the level, eventually leading to the boss.
    They will see the branching path to other areas, but can't actually get there yet until they pick up the right item.
    (In Prime, you'll note there's a rather large number of different coded doors/special-ability passages.)
    Note that for this to work, you'll probably want a map that highlights unlockable doors, and shows which doors you haven't yet gone through.

    So every time the player unlocks a new item, it's a game of "cool, now where can I get that I couldn't before".
    One or two will lead to extended levels to the next boss, a few just lead to short puzzles for random pick-ups.
    (There's generally one near the unlock, which I always call the "good monkey" puzzle, because it's simple and just teaches you to use the new ability.)

    This also solves the problem with multiple directions: In general, the player will always enter a new room from the one newly-unlocked entrance.
    Eventually, there will be multiple paths through the room, but by that time the player should already be familiar with it.
    This also simplifies player travel planning: Rather than navigating through a maze of loops, it is "I can get to desert hub, then forest hub, and get to ice, or take the elevator to firelands and then cut through there"

    TL;DR: I think a good Metroidvania is still technically mostly linear in progress, it's just that players don't notice because they keep passing through areas they've visited.
    You can also make some pairs of sub-bosses clearable in any order, which always spices things up.
    Does that help? Or did I ruin the metroidvania concept? 8)

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    1. I don't really agree with that method of creating maps, personally.

      It works, yes (Kuro was basically an extremely simplified example of it), but I think it diminishes the player's sense of exploration. If a player gets stuck at a certain section, they have no other means of progressing, whereas with alternate paths you can always reach your goal a different way, and then go back to the other route for optional items once your character is more powerful, or you're more prepared for it. It makes it feel less like a level, and more like a place.

      Also, while having sets that are required to progress to certain areas is fine, I think the order in which you acquire those abilities should be non-linear.

      All of this is not to say that a game can't have a single path which will be more obvious to players, but I think choice and encouraging exploration is important.

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    2. Hm, you have a point there. More variable ordering gives more freedom and lets me pick which struggle I want first, while it's hardest.

      I suppose it's the completionist in me that likes more linear maps: If there's one path to the boss, I can farm the rest of the accessible map before going there. On the other hand, with multiple paths, I actually have to decide which route to take, and feel like I'm missing out on the other one until later, where it might not be as interesting. Of course, it does increase replayability.

      I still think there's merit in the map-as-a-tree structure, though: I feel like in the second design, having 4 paths from the right to the left is just too much. Two is good, because I can pick if I want the short dangerous path or the long safe one, three adds more variation - I may take the bottom because that's where I need to leave afterwards, even though I'll usually avoid it. But I'd rather have one or two of these extra paths used somewhere else instead. Tradeoff of large vs. intricate, I guess.

      Another thing I'd suggest (if your engine supports it) is hub areas: The left and right side of that sample map have 4-5 entrances join within a fairly narrow area. Rather than having short corridors connecting together, make this one larger room with multiple exits. Since players will be passing through multiple times, it'll be worth spending more time on. Also there's some nice map mechanics possible: You could have an exit only reachable from a certain other entrance, but otherwise connected, or just add some shortcuts that require some late-game item. I like having larger rooms that I keep getting back to, with a few minor puzzles, because those are what I'll remember later.

      What's your opinion on fast travel/warp as a game mechanic? I guess it allows for more "difficult" corridors, because players won't have to run through them 20 times in a playthrough, but it can make the map feel less connected and more like just a set of individual levels...

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    3. Well, whether or not it's too much depends somewhat on what the areas before the entrances. But yeah, 3 is generally going to be enough, unless the 4 route has an exceptionally desirable item, or something else that makes it more viable.

      As for fast travel, I think I'm going to make it so the player can return to a save point at any time. I don't want situations where the player works hard to acquire an item, only to die on the way back. Nor do I want the placement of save points to be dictated by the location of items. I'll probably make it so you can warp between savepoints, as well.

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    4. well dont make it TOO easy. Warp points would mean that the entire map would have to be bigger and whats wrong with having a difficult play through. You bust your ass getting and item and you die on the way back... I dont see nothing wrong with that, if its too hard change the difficulty setting that is what they are there for. A challenging game means it gonna take longer to beat. Make it too easy and your done in 30 minutes and people start asking you when the next game is coming out.. BUT that's just my point of view,

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  2. Not a metroidvania, but Dark Souls is a game that does interconnectivity well.
    Monster Tale is an example of a metroidvania done extremely poorly.

    Two words, sequence breaking. If you can push a player to go a certain direction throughout the game, and somewhere down the line discover an alternate path with the thought, "Oh wow, I may have been able to go this way before" then you've succeeded.

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    1. Dark Souls is a sort of 3D Metroidvania IMO.

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  3. I see the problem here: how do you make the right enemys for the right timing?
    Since it loops around the most logical way to solve this problem is to make enemys stronger the more distance you have from your starting point.

    Like in this map:
    http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20101022011134/deadfrontier/images/a/a0/DF3D_Map.png

    Another way is, that you make some sidepaths which aren't loopy, so where you can get an optional item which only has one entrance. And in those sidepaths you can code very stong enemys, so the player has to go back after leveling up a lot to kill these enemys.

    I also found a small and interesting ''open world'' flash game, which might help you somewhat
    http://www.kongregate.com/games/archigeek/hexcelle

    I'm pretty sure that the great Kyrieru will find a solution for this ^^

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  4. Bollocks. A game is a metroidvania if it has two things:

    1. Abilities that you acquire at certain points which let you pass previous obstacles.
    2. Backtracking.

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    1. By that definition, a lot of old-school point and click adventure games would be considered metroidvanias. Many of them also have interconnected maps. I think those elements alone are too broad to be all that's necessary to be called one.

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    2. Yeh, but you don't get abilities in those games, just items.

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    3. Items that let you do a new move..
      Items that let you interact with more objects..

      Same thing on paper, really.

      Also, it isn't always abilities. Sometimes it's just weapons, which would force you to include things like Zelda. (Although arguably that has some "abilities" as well.)

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  5. So, I'm guessing.... The Demo is nowhere to be seen?

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    1. Face it man, look somewhere else if you can. We're not getting a game until the end of summer at best.

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  6. I guess you would have to predict which route is the player most likely going to take. Some paths are THERE but they are not available until you get certain upgrades that make them accessible. So you could map around that aspect, but I guess there would be another conundrum after that one so if I were you (even though Im sure you have) I would go back and study the greatest of the genre, Metroid, Castlevaina, etc.. Never hurts to restudy might see something you missed before.

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  7. I personally found it a little trippy once I realized the final boss's room was directly above your starting point. Mind=blown

    http://imgur.com/BGfECgP

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    1. Oh i probably should have mentioned... That's a Kurovadis map and the blue rooms are all the save points with the room id written in white.

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    2. Yeah, the boss being above the first room was actually just a funny coincidence. I was using a weird method of numbering rooms, so It's why you have to go up before going to the boss.

      I got to that point and was just like "Uhh..whoops...guess I have to go over it..."

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    3. oh I recall being quite baffled when I fully understand the room numbering system lol. That map has a giant slash down the center where I had to add another column for another ten digits of room numbers :P

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  8. IS IT CAN IT BE DEMO TIEM NOW PLZ

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  9. I think Super Metroid is the quintessential example of multiple paths in games. I was shocked thr first time I got into Kraids area without visiting Norfair the first time and how the enemies were super though, and Ive lost count on how many sequences you ca break in that game.

    I think the enemies' difficulty should increase as you ARE supposed to advance, once again just like in Metroid

    "Oh you avoided 4 hours of exploration and got a neat item too early? fuck you have some monsters to kick your ass"

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  10. OMG >.< KYRIERU!!! REALLY! I am begining to LOVE you! >< (I loved Metroid since . . . well ALWAYS!) XD

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    1. I actually felt physical pain reading this.

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    2. Seriously, who is teaching people to write like that? When I was 10, and I encountered someone who used "><" and "XD" and "~~" and "o_0"? I'd have called that kid a dork, just as I do now. I don't think it's a youth thing.

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    3. Perfekt -^.^- I´m not a youth XD (and hey Why pain ?!? >[]< I´m still a Girl >.<)

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    4. It doesnt matter the gender or age. If your sentences are so convoluted that it makes it hard for another person to read it then you are just annoying. Typing normally is faster and easier to read than just mashing emoticons inside the text

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    5. I only need one emoticon.

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    6. Sounds pessemistic

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    7. Thuni you seem to be an High intelectual class guy/Girl ^.^ you seem interesting

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    8. Again, the face of Kyrieru shall always be:

      -__-

      (That's what he looks like in IRL too!)

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    9. but this face iss so pesimistik =( why not better this one: = )

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  11. I can actually comment!
    Researching Labyrinth Algorithm's or just random mazes will help ya.
    The Labyrinth ones include finding Keys to open doors, and make it so the keys aren't behind the doors they unlock.

    http://flashgamedojo.com/wiki/index.php?title=Fathom%27s_Labyrinth_Algorithm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maze_generation_algorithm

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    1. Hmmm..while that may be useful for randomly generated maps , I think a good sense of level design is always going to yield better results than randomization. When it comes down to it, there are a lot of differences between creating a maze, and creating a layout with very intentional ramifications.

      Of course, that's not to say there's nothing to learn from it.

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    2. I think you should keep that one in mind if you plan on making a roguelike game later. Looks useful

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    3. yeah for something like the perma-lose every-game-is-different type game a generator is exactly what you would need. It would also be a first in the hentai world. Personally I love binding of isaac, FTL, don't starve, pixel dungeon.

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  12. Take my money! Love your work, keep it comin'

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    1. XD Ass Hairs could it be that you named your acc like this Video where there are this old Grandpas that want to have some Action and then go to this City?? ^.^

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  13. Classic games like Legacy of the Wizard (Dragon Slayer IV) and La-Mulana are great takes on "metroidvanias" that doesn't involve loops unless it's a backtracking shortcut. Most loops in modern metroidvanias are backtracking shortcuts any how.

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    1. Well, I don't think a game needs loops to be a metroidvania, it's just more or less a common trait.

      As for loops in modern games, I think Dark Souls is a good example of a modern game with some good interconnection that doesn't just involve backtracking shortcuts. Dark Souls 2 utilizes shortcuts more in general, though.

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  14. All things considered I think why people say kuro feels like a metroidvania is that it does, thats not to say that it's not linear, but the path you get to places is not straight, and theres a lot of "oh, I have this thing, now I can go try to get into X I saw earlier" all things considered, I like your H games more for their gameplay than their H, Kuro is easily my favorite. My only real gripe with the game is that it's almost ridiculous to expect to beat it without dying. I'm not saying its impossible, but even a whole day of trying did not get me further than the beginning of the final area without deaths, but at least it's not "return of Egypt" hard. A major weakness with the leveling mechanic is just how easy it is to over level for the enemies when you are trying to simply stay alive during the nails hard platforming segments. but even all those levels didn't put me so far ahead of the final boss that I didn't die at least once even if I trounced the succubus fight. I'm not saying I don't crave what you are reaching for right now, but in terms of area design and game feel, Kuro fits the metroidvania bill. Maybe it doesn't have all the frills, and heres to hoping the next one will, but I have a hard time feeling like kuro isn't metroid-like because you can't sequence break.

    I really find it funny that H games more often than not let me play female protagonists.

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