Roles of Monsters: Redundancy

Many of the games I’ve cited monsters from in previous articles have some really great examples of specific roles. The Vore makes a good turret, the Gladiator makes a good tank, and the Fiend makes a good shocker. I’ve also said in places that some of these roles can also combo well with others; either with a monster from one role in an encounter alongside a monster from another role (a tank taking the player’s attention away from the swarmers attacking him), or a monster that fits more than one role (that tanky support increasing the power of other monsters). If we have a particular monster that fits more than one role, then it stands to reason that we can have more than one monster in a lineup that fits a particular role. That is the kind of redundancy I want to talk about in this article.

Redundancy is usually used in conversation as a bad thing, but in this case it can be pretty helpful. If you have this one monster that’s really great at being a tank, that doesn’t have to be the only tank in the lineup. That way, if you want to use a certain role in a few encounters, you don’t have to use that one same monster every time. Likewise, when you have a monster that fits in multiple roles, it can fit in even more situations, or even using multiple roles at once for more interesting fights. This is really what my hard vs soft roles article was driving at; if you have a monster that’s a hard tank and soft turret, for example, it can fit in as a substitute turret. This gives you a lot more flexibility when you design an encounter to keep these individual monsters from getting boring, especially when they fit these roles for different reasons.

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Quake once again has great examples. Almost every role had at least one monster that could fit, and each individual monster fit those roles for different reasons. The Vore’s homing attack is great at forcing the player away from certain areas and it limits his movement when used with some other monsters, so it’s a great hard turret. Because of that, it draws the player’s attention to remove that effect, making it a good soft tank in a game that didn’t really have a tank. The Ogre, while only meaty fodder in many situations, is a good soft turret when used that way in encounters because its grenades are somewhat unpredictable and are good area-denial. Likewise, the Scrag (which I haven’t talked about in any articles yet) makes a good, weak-ish turret as well that shifts positions similar to the Icarus from Quake II, but it also doubled as a good swarmer because of how they spread out in large areas. The game has a lot of monsters that can limit your movement, all for different reasons. Similar to that, the Fiend is a great shocker, one of my favourites in any game, but there is also the Spawn as another good shocker with a fairly different gimmick. The Zombie was also used in a few situations like shockers (E4M3’s graveyard area comes to mind) because they could only die to explosive weapons, which was pretty stressful if the player didn’t have those weapons. Such weapons were usually nearby when it was used like this, so it was fair, but the player didn’t necessarily know that on his first run through the game. The fact that all of these fit for different reasons meant the designer can use a lot more varied situations, which could make the game ultimately more fun and interesting.

As shown with the Fiend and Spawn, redundancy helps shockers quite a bit. Though the Fiend was still threatening and surprising throughout the game, for example, the player will learn how to deal with individual kinds of shockers as he encounters them more and more. Then the game throws Spawn at the player, and he has to learn to deal with a whole new kind of shocker. Treat your player with respect; assume that he’ll learn exactly how to deal with these shockers. If you have multiple shockers to use, you can keep each individual shocker fresh and use multiple encounters with them. Again, this works even better if they are good shockers for different reasons. Not just shockers, supports can also benefit from this more than other classes of monsters, especially if they have different support gimmicks.

The major trap is when you have too much redundancy in your monster lineup. When you have too many monsters filling the same roles, you run into problems where one monster completely obsoletes another in every way. You could have monsters so similar to one another in role, function and difficulty that there is literally no reason to use one over the other. This makes sense in some games, such as in role-playing games, when monsters are replaced for difficulty progression. Diablo 2, for example, Fallen are introduced and then replaced with Carvers which are later replaced with Devilkin. These three are functionally the same and have the same general difficulty relative to the player, but the later versions are scaled to the player’s level of power. However, in shooters and other kinds of games where the player doesn’t scale nearly as much, I think that’s a mistake. When a monster is completely obsoleted by another, you have added a completely unnecessary element to the game. It’s one more thing the player has to learn, remember and recognize, despite it not adding anything to the game. It could also be somewhat disappointing for the player when he sees this new monster isn’t actually anything special compared to anything else in the lineup. Aside than gameplay, it’s also wasted effort to have created that completely redundant monster, when you could’ve used that time and effort on something more worthwhile. Most commercial games (with different classes of monsters that are actually different from one another, at least) don’t run into this problem with redundancy because it’s more development time to make those completely-redundant monsters. However, I see this a lot in the Doom modding community, for example, where many custom monsters are already created, and it’s very little effort to add one of those monsters to a mod. Every time I see a Doom mapset with such a ridiculous amount of redundancy, it always feels really low-quality, with almost every individual monster adding nothing to the lineup.

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The best example is Knee-Deep in ZDoom (KDiZD), a mod designed to remake the first episode from the original Doom, showcasing many new features from the ZDoom source port. The mod had five different kinds of projectile-based fodder with the same general health. It used Doom’s basic Imp, the Soul Harvester (slightly more health, projectile homes in), and three different varieties of Dark Imp (all had a bit more health, one had a homing projectile, one’s projectile was slightly faster and one had a second projectile that did a bit more damage). Even when you ignore the others, the two with homing projectiles were almost exactly the same. Not only were they redundant in design, they were never placed in a way that played on their strengths (like using the homing individuals as turrets), they were usually placed exactly like front-line fodder. A few times throughout the set, the player ran into a group of the various Dark Imps mixed with normal Imps, and he has to approach them all the same way; dodge fireballs and shoot them. There was no real decision the player had to make, there was nothing to prioritize over the others, he just deals with them in the exact same way. They were just there for the sake of being there.

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Compare this with the Halo series, where most Covenant enemies had variations as higher military ranks. The first game had a similar problem as KDiZD; higher-rank opponents were more aggressive and had more health but otherwise weren’t very different. As the series went on, though, the differences between these variations became more pronounced. Higher-rank enemies would use more powerful weapons (Jackal Majors could sometimes use Plasma Rifles), they would behave differently, or they had clearly-defined roles (Grunt Heavies predominantly mounted turrets, drove vehicles and used artillery weapons). I think this works a lot better than what KDiZD did. Even in the first game where there were very few differences between varieties, they weren’t quite placed exactly the same as one another. Grunt Majors were usually leading groups of Grunt Minors, for example. Also, because they were so similar, the player can consider them the same monster rather than multiple monsters that are too similar to one another. Because it’s a difference in military rank, also, there is a legitimate excuse for the tougher variants existing. It’s a little weird; when you make variations, they either have to be so similar that they’re considered the same monster, or they have to be different enough so they aren’t completely redundant. Different installments in the Halo series ended up covering both of those scenarios. If KDiZD had a single extra Imp variety used as sort of a commander in a group, or used a sufficiently-different variety and played to its strengths then it would have gone much better. As it stands, those different Imps ended up adding nothing to the game.

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There are some ways this kind of obsolescence can work. In some cases, a difference in theme is all the difference you need. In Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, for example, there are two distinct groups of enemies; Chaos and Orks. These two factions fight each other (at least historically in 40k, I’m not sure you ever see them do so in the Space Marine game itself) as often as they fight the good guys, so it wouldn’t make sense for their units to be mixed up. Thus, for the role of fodder, you had the Ork Shoota Boyz and the Chaos-based Renegade Militia that were very similar in health, damage and function. Because one was an Ork, it could be used alongside other Ork enemies and the other was used alongside Chaos enemies. In this case, these two monsters aren’t very redundant at all despite behaving very similarly, as they’re used alongside other monsters that are completely different because of that difference in theme. Similarly, in Binary Domain when you get to the robotics corporation at the end of the game, the basic Assault Trooper military robots are completely replaced with Jarhead security robots. While Jarheads were a little faster and more heavily-armored, they still behaved incredibly similarly. Again, though, there’s a difference in theme; story-wise, you’ve gone from fighting the local military to fighting the private security forces for this corporation. More than that, once you start encountering Jarheads, you never run into another Assault Trooper. One is completely replaced by the other. Just like in RPGs and similar games, one monster is replaced for the sake of difficulty progression (though it’s only a mild jump). This only really works with fodder and maybe common threats; if the monster that’s being replaced shows up rarely, the player might not even notice that it was replaced. In both of these cases, while two monsters were incredibly redundant and otherwise there’s no reason to use one over another, there were legitimate reasons why one should be used.

Redundancy can be a very important tool when designing encounters, but too much can also be a trap. The major lesson to take away from this is to make sure you have a real reason to add a monster to the lineup. When you add something, you have to ask yourself “when would I use this?” If you can’t answer that question, you’ll need to give yourself a reason to use it. A monster you add should perform a role, should fulfill that role differently than other monsters in the lineup, or have some thematic reason to exist. Otherwise, it’s just more that the player has to worry about, without providing any new element to add to actual in-game scenarios.

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