Just as many heroes are only as interesting as the villains or challenges they face, so too are games only as good as the enemies players must take on. Designing fun, difficult enemies are crucial to making an enjoyable game experience.
Last time we talked about three facets of enemy design, namely theming, countering player habits, and encouraging certain types of player behavior. In this post, we'll discuss other elements that designers can use to make interesting enemies and encounters.
Lethal Wedding is an upcoming shooter for the Sega Genesis. It's the big day, but the groom has disappeared. The bride-to-be and her mother-in-law must put aside their differences as they uncover a drug-ring masquerading as a circus and battle to save the man they both love.
While it may seem tame compared to other elements, the way an enemy moves can make them unique and challenging. For example, in Lethal Wedding, we have 8-way scrolling and movement, so enemies can attack from any angle. Levels are designed to offer both tight corridors and larger open areas with cover objects for big shootouts.
To trip the player up, one of our enemies can teleport, Nightcrawler style, in puffs of smoke and reappear before firing with twin SMGs. The firing rate of these weapons makes him a real threat, and the teleportation maneuver means that the player can only hit him before or after he moves. Contrary to this speedy design is the Bearded Lady with RPG, who is a heavy-hitter with a strong defense. The enemy will often stay stationary and fire a high-damage round at the player.
A third enemy type, the trapeze artist, is even more different. These enemies swing in from the sides of the arena, flanking the player from the north and south. After firing, their swing comes back into view and they leap off-screen. All three of these enemies move in different ways to keep combat fresh and challenging.
Designing enemies with dangerous or annoying abilities or effects is a great way to make them interesting and to draw the player's attention. Think of RPGs or team shooters where killing the healer is always a top concern. The same design choices can be applied to other games.
Take this friendly-looking guy, for example. The Fire Starter typically spawns behind the player, in areas with corridors or hallways. He throws down his torches to make a damaging obstacle, forcing the player forward, possibly into a trap or large group of enemies. It's best to take these buggers out so you can make a hasty retreat, if necessary.
Another consideration is enemies that should be handled last, rather than first. Enemies that explode when killed (or release a basket of snakes, like the Charmer from Lethal Wedding), for example, can add challenge to an encounter if they are defeated too early.
This variable is more of a meta-element, as it dovetails with other elements of enemy design. Many types of enemy behavior are based on timing. Enemies can be designed to be vulnerable only at certain times or to unleash attacks at set intervals. They can also have effects that activate if they are left alive for too long. Mixing these factors up will keep players on their toes.
Thank you for reading about enemy design, and check out the first article in this series here. Stay tuned for more details about Lethal Wedding - it's a good game to Bride Hard.