When making enemies and designing their behavior, it is critical that each be distinct or present a unique challenge to the player. Fighting hordes of the same enemy over and over ends up being a total drag.
For example, occasionally, you’ll design things that look different but have the same function. Although you may know why your demon knight is different than your undead knight, if they act the same, the player will probably just consider them the same type of threat and handle them the same way.
Similarly, small adjustments to HP, damage, or speed between enemies are boring. Enemies should get harder, but this should be more than just numerical shifts. Palette or color swaps were notorious for indicating this type of progression, and also should be avoided. For older consoles, palette swaps were great for saving space and staying within limitations, but even palette-swapped enemies should have new abilities.
A good rule of thumb when designing enemies is to consider things from the player’s perspective. If the enemy would appear or seem different to someone outside the development process, then you’re on the right track.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how we mixed up our enemies for Apeels Court, our upcoming game about a Banana Cop on the mean streets of the 70s.
Every game should have a tone or style. For example, Kirby games are light-hearted, while games from the Fallout series have an atmosphere of quiet hope in the face of desolation. When these elements start to converge with gameplay and art design, the game’s theme becomes apparent.
For Apeels Court, the story is not only about food crime in a 70s cop drama, but also about conspiracy theories and far-reaching, shadowy food organizations. Therefore, the game features not only thug, criminal type foods, but also “mysterious” food, like Century Eggs from China. After all, what's stranger than hundred-year-old eggs preserved with urine?
Countering the Player’s Habits
Apeels Court is a beat ‘em up and provides the player with a wide variety of moves. Beyond kicking and night-sticking, there are also grabs, transformations, air juggling, shoulder charges, body slams, and a whole bunch of weapons.
All of these moves are unlocked from the get-go, and sometimes players get comfortable using only one type of attack. For example, jump kicks are typically a great way to engage enemies from a distance. That’s why we created Spaghetti Mobsters with noodle whips to drag the player down. Similarly, some players just prefer to button mash, but our Chicken Breast Boxer is quick to block and counter these flurries.
Encouraging Player Behavior
At the same time, it would be lame to preempt all of the player’s moves. What fun would it be to find an amulet of fireballs right before entering an area where every enemy is immune to fire damage?
With that in mind, we also create enemies that telegraph certain moves or signal some type of action from the player. For example, the Milk Carton enemy is constantly airborne, spilling delicious Vitamin D all over the place. It’s a good bet for the player to follow suit and take to the sky to knock this liquid lowlife out.
Using theming and player behavior are just a few ways of designing unique and engaging enemies. In the next article in this series, we look at some more avenues for exploring enemy design with some of our other upcoming games. Check back for more updates and insights!