Hello all! I’m back, and this time I’m designing enemies for WolverineSoft’s new game, currently codenamed Project Blue. Over the last couple of weeks, we started production! In our first sprint, my role as a designer meant I was designing enemies for our first area, the Crystal Caves. I conceptualized three enemies: “Qrabz,” “Stalwart,” and “Cube.” In this post, I’m going to go over these designs, and discuss the merits of each design, as well as some of the weaknesses. As it stands, none of these enemies have been prototyped or had concept art completed for them, so there is little I can share.
The Qrabz starts out as a basic enemy that serves as little more than a jumping and attacking tutorial – it patrols until it sees the player, then rushes them down. The player simply needs to either jump over it and ignore it or to quickly dispatch it with a sword swing or two. As the game goes on, though, the Qrabz evolves with the player. Drawing inspiration from hermit crabs, a Qrabz can take the crystals of the environment, using them as a shell that covers a certain portion of their body. However, a Qrabz will usually have a part of their body uncovered by armor. This means that the player must attack that area of the Qrabz in order to stand a reasonable shot at victory. The Qrabz can also hold a large crystal shield, which can deflect attacks or even deflect the player’s teleport ability, and can be repositioned to face the player. On top of all of that, they can be any size, with health & speed corresponding to their size, which means that a Qrabz can be a small platforming obstacle, a harrier enemy, or even a mini-boss. Due to their environment, they could also hide in the background and ambush the player, like a Bokoblin in Wind Waker hides in a pot. The initial design concept had a charging claw as well, but that is fairly redundant with the existence of the Stalwart, which will be discussed later.
There are a lot of these, in a bunch of categories. Most of these pros stem from the relative simplicity and flexibility of a Qrabz. Thanks to their basic behavioral patterns, a Qrabz is a good enemy to slot in just about anywhere. Presumably, this will be one of the first, if not the first enemy encountered in the game, and from then on the player knows pretty much exactly how they’ll act. As the game goes on, a larger Qrabz or an armored Qrabz will pose a higher difficulty and more interesting challenge, but the gulf of evaluation will remain narrow. The only time a Qrabz’s behavior will change will be whenever the crystal shield is introduced. The shield should add an interesting mixup that does involve a slight behavioral change, but the Qrabz will still move and act the same – now, though, it has a way to protect its weak points from a player who hesitates.
These positives extend into production. Level designers can just drag and drop a Qrabz into a level. If they want it to be a challenge, then they can drag and drop some armor pieces onto the Qrabz, or they can scale it up. For artists, the Qrabz is a flexible enemy that only needs one main sprite and then additional sprites that can be placed on top of it, rather than a new sprite for each variant. The Qrabz can also be placed in any future world with slight sprite changes and, if desired, behavioral changes. As an example, a Windmill Fort Qrabz could have steel for its armor and could walk on walls.
If we overuse the Qrabz, it could become quite dull for the players to see the same enemy popping up over and over again. I also am worried that an armored Qrabz may end up being seen as an un-fun nuisance, but that will require fine-tuning to avoid, I think.
The Qrabz has been chosen to be included in the game, which has me really excited.
I was told that other members of the team were interested in a charging enemy. At that point, I had already finished the Qrabz concept, which included a charging claw, but I thought that the charging claw on the Qrabz was going to be weird, hard for a player to catch, and would lead to too many behavioral changes, so I agreed that we would want a dedicated charging enemy.
Thus, the Stalwart was born. The stalwart is a larger, tougher enemy that, when aggro’d, charges at the player endlessly. Once it starts a charge, it runs until it hits something solid – even off of platforms or cliffs. Charging is the only way it moves while it is aggro’d by the player. Its charges are highly telegraphed, giving the player plenty of time to react and get out of the way. If the player strikes a charging stalwart in the head, the stalwart stops its charge, but if the player gets hit by the stalwart, they take significant damage. The key thing here, though, is that a stalwart’s charge can break through certain surfaces and objects that the player can’t, such as collapsed walls, opening up new routes. Its charge can also kill other enemies.
Initially, the design had two other behaviors – one where it only charges to the end of a platform, and one where it charges until x-aligned with the player. I think the others are interesting, but not worth the effort of implementation.
The stalwart’s charge turns this beast into both one of the biggest threats likely to be in the game (bosses notwithstanding) while also serving as an extremely valuable puzzle-platforming tool for the player. Getting hit by a stalwart will be suitably punishing, but the aha moment of baiting a stalwart towards a cliff to kill itself, getting it to kill a hoard of enemies, or tricking it into opening a blocked tunnel will make the risk more than worth it.
I think baiting a stalwart around could get boring if overused, and will require great care to make each puzzle feel right. My other concerns with the enemy stem from simply not totally knowing how the game feels – I don’t know how often a stalwart can work as an enemy you have to fight rather than an obstacle or a tool.
The Stalwart has also been chosen to be included in the game, which I am also extremely excited about. I think the Qrabz is a highly useful and practical enemy, and will hold a lot of importance, but I think that the Stalwart will be a far more interesting enemy to play with.
To be totally honest, the cube started out as a whim. I wanted to design an enemy that existed solely to punish bad sword throws. The Cube is almost what I got. An enemy that, when a thrown sword touches it, it swallows the sword and holds onto for a sec. If the player teleports to a swallowed sword, they, too, are swallowed, and take damage until they mash out. The Cube never moves and has no real aggressive behavior whatsoever, and can not be killed by most means. Wooo!
Thankfully, I decided that wasn’t enough. The Cube can also swallow enemies that touch it, and it can only swallow one thing at a time. But what happens if a second thing (enemy, sword, or player) touches it while it’s swallowed something else? They bounce! Hard! The cube would bounce whatever touches it a large distance – farther than the player could normally go with a normal sword throw. This turns the cube from a rather boring obstacle that would probably only be annoying into an excellent platforming hazard that should fit neatly with other mechanics and enemies in the game. Once you bounce off of a bouncy cube, it ejects whatever it’s swallowed and becomes a regular hungry cube again.
The Cube is a powerful tool, I think. Bouncing is always fun, and I can see a lot of particularly fun moments in mixing bouncing with other mechanics, or with more bouncing. A platforming challenge requiring the player to bounce from cube to cube, which requires the player to bounce, then throw the sword at the next cube, bounce off that, etc. could be fun. I could also see a fun challenge in something like getting a stalwart across a gap – I think that cubes and stalwarts are a particularly interesting combo that could make for some really cool puzzles.
I honestly don’t think a cube would ever be fun when used as a punishment tool. There might be some situations where it could be neat, but I think it would make for an arbitrary roadblock rather than a real interesting challenge. Other than that…. they just aren’t really enemies. They’re cool level design implements, but that’s really about it, I think.
The cube was not chosen to be included… yet. I think it would definitely be a better fit for the highly-vertical Windmill Fort, and I think I could do some revision on the design concept before it might be ready to be accepted. However, I think it has an extremely high fun ceiling, and hope that it will be included in the future.
For this sprint, I think I came up with some great enemy designs, and I’m very much satisfied with what I’ve got. I think I could have maybe come up with one or two more interesting designs, but I think these designs are a great starting place for an opening area, and I think the Qrabz and Stalwart are essentials. Stay tuned for two weeks from now, when I’ll post another update. By then, the Qrabz and Stalwart should have much more to them, and we may be moving onto the Windmill Fort’s designs.