Tag Archives: enemies

Treasure Hunting: Secret Areas and Items

As you finish the final cutscene and smugly sit there watching the credits roll by, completely content with finishing the entire game, you go to view your save file and what’s this? This isn’t a shiny, gleaming, 3-digit 100% on there! That’s a big fat 98%!

Yes, you’ve forgotten about the secrets and hidden items somewhere along your journey to defeat the evil demon lord! Looks like it’s time to start from square one again…

Hidden items and secrets in games are a small yet satisfying little diversion for players to complete (especially it it was a long and frustrating way to get it) that can extend the time they spend on the game. Small rewards like a special-yet-useless Inifinty -1 Sword or a Badass Scarf can be well worth it to players, especially if it means completing that variant outfit. Even little things like a simple extra life would do, for those little nooks and crannies where noone really looks would work.

Of course, the journey to such rare and optional items wouldn’t be the same without it’s own hazards. Like earlier posts, ledges, traps, enemies and the like can make the player work for their reward. And let’s not forget creating a shortcut exit for them… or not.

Board Changer: Keeping You On Your Toes

So you’re playing a match-3 game like Puzzle & Dragons, and you get to the boss. The fight is going smoothly then- wait, what this? They’ve changed some of the orbs on the board!

Combat in PAD is based around the puzzle aspect of the game, where matching orbs is equivalent of attacking with your team. When a board change comes along, it can throw you off, for example the picture below.

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Left: What you see after matching. Right: What you see after the enemy’s turn.

This particular boss not only changes your board, but also blinds you. Changing the board is a relatively cheap trick on the computer’s part (but not the cheapest, especially for PAD), but also keeps your players attentive, since you just messed up their plans. Lots of times, it’s not necessarily a big deal, but there are also orbs that hurt the player if matched. Example: Poison orbs. You’ll either need lots of health to take the hit or match up some heart orbs to counteract the effect.

A really easy way to throw a wrench into a player’s plan, board changing can catch you off guard if you’re not prepared and can even cause you to lose if you’re not prepared.

Ace Up Their Sleeve: Enemy Specific Perks

A lot of times, if you pit a player character against an enemy, both with equal stats and equipment, the player will almost always win due to being controlled by an actual human being instead of the computer and a set of code. One of the ways to more or less even the odds is to give the enemies special perks.

A notable example of a game using this method for balancing is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Unlike the previous installment in the series, the random bandits and marauders across Skyrim don’t have their equipment scale to the player’s level, which makes sense as it would be rather strange for small-time highwaymen to possess equipment much better than the Empire’s Legion.

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Not a very intimidating bunch after killing dragons and yet…

At the other end, a decently high level player can easily be killed by a bandit chief wielding a rusty iron battleaxe for some strange reason. Partly for realism and practicality, giving enemies these ‘Extra Damage to Player” perks prevents one from running around slaughtering bandits across the land and selling their armor for easy profit. Of course back to the previous point, getting killed by an iron axe is rather shameful and frustrating for high level characters, especially ones that are practically wearing dead dragons. This is kind of relieved by having different types of bandits, with the really weak ones dying with so much as a breeze blowing on them to the tanky chiefs who can take a greatsword to the face multiple times.

It could be called an unfair advantage, but could you really say that if you’re the human here? Special perks for enemies isn’t the best solution- I certainly don’t have any alternatives to offer- but it works fine.

Fake Difficulty: The All Seeing A.I.

Continuing on the subject of fake difficulty in games, another extremely common┬áversion I see is allowing the game to cheat when competing against you. The “computer”, or A.I. controlled opponents, will act and react to you in a way a real human never could, using information that is supposed to be hidden to gain an advantage.

And one of the many blatant examples of this in Role-playing Strategy games is in…

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This gets really obvious from generation 3 and onward, where the main series introduces the Battle Tower and Battle Frontier sections. Each generation after has its own versions of these, including a subway battle system, but they all follow similar rule patterns. You select a team of Pokemon to enter the challenge with, and you will face a set of trainers you must defeat in a row for points. Your team is healed every battle, but everyone’s Pokemon are temporarily set to level 50 for fairness. You are not allowed to change your Pokemon party until you won all 7 battles in each round, or you lost one of them. Now this is technically an even playing field… right up until the opponents start learning your team’s strategy after each match.

In an ideal setting, each trainer in a batch of 7 should have no idea what Pokemon you are carrying, so they can’t prepare for anything specific, just like you have to try and make a balanced team to cover as many weaknesses as possible. But if you pay attention as you win consecutive rounds, the trainers will begin to have Pokemon that yours are weaker to. As an example, if you have a lot of water types, you’ll begin to encounter a huge amount of Electric and Grass types to counter you. This gets very obvious in the Battle Subway system of Generation 5.

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Pokemon Black and White Versions

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The direct sequels, Pokemon Black 2 and White 2

After beating the main story modes, the Super Train challenges open up, with a larger variety of Pokemon that are fully evolved. And after building up a record number of wins, you will see this cheating behavior described above. Your Pokemon team’s setup can be very specific, such as a weather based strategy or using Pokemon disguised as others, but the A.I. will eventually start using strategies that would only be logical if they knew what you had. You can argue that it makes the higher levels more of an uphill battle, but blatant cheating like this makes the difficulty scale less of a hill and more of a vertical wall after a certain point. How can a person realistically hope to win if the opponent is built to make them lose?

A better solution to this is to make more advanced A.I. strategies as a whole. Instead of just mindlessly blocking the player off, use common tricks and combinations that players are capable of replicating. That way, the battle becomes a pure skill challenge instead of attrition.

Pokemon games have been getting better with their trainer A.I. systems as of recent games, using more items and clever combinations of Pokemon abilities and moves instead of basic type advantage attacks and stat boosting, but at the end of the day, nothing can really replicate the creativity of another person on the other side of the battlefield.

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Village Militia or Skilled Commando?

The generic untrained mook or the experienced veteran? This question is always there in games for both the enemy and the player. This is no different for Dungeon of the Endless, with it’s collection of heroes and monsters the player will encounter on their runs.

As mentioned in my previous post, healing and leveling up is achieved through the use of Food, with the cost of both scaling up with the heroes’ level. As with normal RPGs with each new character level comes increased stats and new abilities. Three main categories for heroes exist: Crew, Prisoners, and Natives.

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Crew and Prisoners focus on “quality” defensive and offensive roles respectively, and leveling is mid to high cost for them. Native focus on the “quantity” side, having low costs and being generally lackluster until they’re at higher levels, which then they can fill a number of jobs instead of focusing on one role.

Sometimes when encountering a hero in the dungeon, hiring them doesn’t necessarily mean better chances of success, as more heroes potentially means splitting up healing. This is emphasized in situations when they might be spread throughout the floor, dividing up not only the player’s Food stock, but also their attention.

When it comes to enemies in games, there are two extremes of having endless amounts of weak monsters overwhelming the player, or bosses which can just as easily (and more quickly) kill the player. Most games, DotE included, fall somewhere in the middle leaning one way or the other. The hardest part of creating enemy difficulty is probably finding the right balance of the number of mobs and how they individually work. DotE plays it safe with having the player combat groups of skilled enemies.

Floor 1 starts you off with the waves of enemies being a handful of weakling bugs or crystals, but slowly escalates into larger groups of more specialized module-destroyers or hero-killers and then into small armies of some mixture of them all. There’s even the popular “summoner” enemy in DotE, carrying out their task by breaking down doors to call in more waves.

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The “quality” enemies in games really sort of force players to prioritize and strategize when it comes to handling groups of enemies, focusing on those that buff or heal other monsters before taking on the smaller one. “Quantity” throws players in for a tedious grindfest of players going through the motions of killing the same monster over and over again, which eventually leads to player boredom. That’s not to say using only special enemies will prevent boredom or easy difficulties, but each game has to determine it’s own way of doing things, and DotE does its thing well.

-Kevin