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.
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Roles of Monsters: Stealth

Stealth is one of the more interesting roles in many class-based multiplayer shooters, such as the Infiltrator in Planetside, Tribes: Ascend and Quake Wars (Infiltrator is a pretty popular name, apparently), or the Spy in Team Fortress 2. While not too many single-player shooters have them, there are a few stealth-based monsters that bring interesting new ideas to the table. Similar to my article on kamikazes, this isn’t exactly a role in and of itself. It’s more like a modifier you can apply on top of another role, but there are some things to consider when you add some kind of stealth ability to a monster. I’ve wanted to write this article for a while simply because I really wanted to do the research and figure out exactly how these things work.

Veil Assassin, from Wolfenstein 2009

The Veil Assassin from Wolf ’09 is probably one of the most successful stealth monsters I’ve ever seen, and one of the most successful shockers despite a few balance problems. There aren’t many monsters that set me crouching in the corner of a room waiting for it to appear as soon as I hear it, but this is one of them. The Veil Assassin is completely invisible unless the player enters Veil mode (but that drains energy), and I’m pretty sure it can teleport away though I didn’t notice that much if it can. In more open areas, it has a habit of coming after you from an angle you don’t expect, and though it only had melee attacks it could potentially kill you in two hits. The time-slow and shield gimmicks from Wolf ’09 made it way too easy (the balance in that game was not incredible, to be honest), but overall it was a great monster besides that.

It could be invisibility, it could be the ability to teleport around, it could be something else I haven’t thought of, but a stealth monster always has some quality to mask where it is or what it’s doing. As you might expect, it can be a good way to make a monster be more of a shocker. Stealth monsters aren’t necessarily shockers and shockers aren’t necessarily stealth monsters, but it’s a mechanic that helps. The old adage is that people fear what they don’t know, and invisibility is a good gimmick to either ensure that people don’t learn what a particular monster does as easily (I still don’t quite know exactly what the Veil Assassin does, since I only played through Wolf ’09 once and they didn’t appear often), or so even when they do know what the monster does, still hide where it is or what angle it’s coming from. This can be handy to keep a monster an effective shocker through multiple encounters. However, like the Fiend from Quake 1, Berserker from Quake 4 or other similar monsters show, that’s not a requirement for a shocker.

Stealth Elite, from Halo

I did talk about Elites in the previous article, and talked a bit about variation on threat-type monsters. The Stealth Elite is a version that acts much the same, except it’s almost invisible. If you look closely, you can see a faint outline of them, but if they aren’t moving it can be hard to spot them before they start trying to melt you. Their disadvantage, though, is that they don’t have the defensive shield the other Elites have, so they’re  killed more easily once you finally get a bead on them.

The stealth variant is also a lot more aggressive than most of the other Elites. As soon as it sees you, it starts filling the air with more rapid plasma fire than the blue and red variants and doesn’t waste as much time on sight animations as they do. Hilariously enough, many stealth monsters can be incredibly in-your-face with high aggression or high-damage attacks. Imagine the first fight with Stealth Elites in the Silent Cartographer map in Halo 1; the player’s coming back through a building he’s already cleared out after completing one objective. Once he enters the larger room, he starts taking plasma fire from targets he can’t easily see at close-ish range. On his first time through the game, the player would likely be very surprised by this. This creates a similar effect as a shocker through sheer surprise without having an actual shocker monster. It can be done with ambushes with non-stealth and non-shocker monsters, but stealth monsters can do it a lot better because the player just might not notice it until he gets over that surprise.

Many monsters have a sort of introduction so the player can start guessing how to deal with them, and some monster types almost require one. However, stealth monsters don’t really give you the chance to get to know them very well because by definition, they try to be unknown. These two ideas don’t have to come into conflict, you can give a brief introduction somehow without completely ruining a stealth-based shocker. The Veil Assassin had a small chunk of the first map you encounter it as an introduction to show the player what it can do through scripted events. It went invisible, slaughtered a few people, teleported away, and even took a quick slash at the player and ran off. With its very high damage attacks, it would’ve been incredibly unfair if the game just sprung it on you without any lead-in. It showed what it was capable of, but by the way the Veil Assassin works, its stealth abilities still leave it unpredictable in actual combat. The Stealth Elite didn’t have any such scripted introduction, but it works really well because it’s a variation of an existing monster with a new twist. The player, having fought normal Elites for the last few maps, already has a good idea what these new monsters are capable of, but has to approach them a new way because of that twist.

Wraith, from Red Faction: Armageddon

About halfway through Red Faction: Armageddon, the player runs into the Wraith. It was only encountered a few times in the single-player game but is used a lot better in the multiplayer Invasion mode. It spends most of the fight invisible and changing positions, but after a few seconds it appears attached to a wall or somewhere in a corner, charges for a short time and launches a powerful blast of energy. Immediately after, it cloaks and moves around again. In the campaign it’s only encountered alone, but it’s used to support other monsters a lot in Invasion. It also blurs your screen slightly while it’s alive, maybe making it less likely for the player to notice it while it’s charging for an attack, but it’s a minor effect.

Another thing the Wraith does in the campaign is block the exits of the area until it’s dead. Some people assume this is just to make set-piece arena fights, but the major reason is because of the downtime in the fight itself. There’s a good seven seconds at a time where the Wraith is cloaked, moving around, and where other monsters aren’t attacking you. If it didn’t block you in, you could walk past it and ignore it. Monsters that can’t be fought for periods of time like this have this problem because something needs to hold the player down while the stealth monster itself can’t be fought. In Invasion, it doesn’t even bother with that, because there are always other things to worry about while the Wraith is invisible. The more aggressive a stealth monster is, and the less downtime a fight has, the less likely a player is to outright ignore it. The Stealth Elite is much harder to ignore because of all the fire it throws as soon as it sees you, and the Veil Assassin can’t be ignored, partly because it’s taunting you for the whole fight and partly because of the amount of damage it can do. You can still make stealth monsters with this kind of downtime, but you have to be careful that the player can’t just skip it or ignore it somehow; either with other monsters holding the player down for the duration, or something else. I don’t agree with blocking the player in like the Wraith, however, does because that whole thing felt so artificial.

These three monsters are pretty low health, but they’re hard to see coming. For the Stealth Elite and Wraith (monsters that aren’t really shockers), you can look at their stealth effect as a kind of damage mitigation. Until you finally spot it clearly, it’s hard to get any solid hits on the Stealth Elite. The Wraith’s ability to cloak and switch position buys time for it to charge its attack and cloak again. For stealth monsters that attack in groups (or at least can attack in groups), these stealth gimmicks can also hide numbers. The fight at the end of the Silent Cartographer map, for example, you see fire coming from different sides of the hallway from Stealth Elites, but you really have no clue exactly how many there are. Depending on their effect, stealth monsters can be somewhat tricky to kill even if they aren’t tanky.

There’s a small trap you can fall into with stealth monsters. Imagine you’re using stealth as damage mitigation, so the monster doesn’t have much health, and it’s pretty aggressive. That can be the exact definition of a glass cannon, but with one more factor to balance; visibility. If it does too much damage, the player could die before he even notices it; if it doesn’t have enough health, the player can spot it and immediately kill it before it does anything. The Stealth Elite was pretty well-balanced (especially since it was a variation on an already well-balanced monster), but the Veil Assassin had problems. It did broadcast that it was around by taunting the player, which worked perfectly, but it was completely invisible unless the player was using one of the Veil power gimmicks, during which it stood out like a sore thumb. If the player used powers like Empower or Mire, it can die really quickly before it does anything at all. If the player never noticed the Assassin, he could die incredibly quickly without a way of dealing with it. Despite that, it was a good monster, and would’ve been great if it didn’t have these problems and was used in the game a lot more often. Keep all three factors, health, visibility and damage, in mind when you’re designing monsters like this.

The monsters I’ve listed work pretty well alone or grouped with other monsters of their type, but stealth monsters also work well grouped with other monsters. If those other monsters get your attention before the stealth monster is revealed, then it works even better. In Halo 1, towards the end of Two Betrayals where you’re trying to fight past an army to get to a vehicle at the end of the valley (I did an article on this fight), it’s very easy to start fighting the army itself and not notice some Stealth Elites come around behind you. Stealth isn’t really a role, either; just a gimmick to help a monster do what it does even better. So when you work stealth monsters into encounters with other roles, consider roles that stealth monster might fit into.

There aren’t very many stealth monsters and fewer still are used really well. While the three I used here as examples were good, there’s a lot of potential here to interact with other roles, either with stealth gimmicks on those roles or stealth monsters interacting with monsters that fill those roles. I feel like stealth monsters haven’t entirely been fleshed out well enough, and I’d love to see more in the future.

Roles of Monsters: The Threat

There are some monsters who don’t really have any special abilities as a tank or support. There are some monsters who are supposed to be shockers but just fail at it, but are still dangerous. They could be all of the above, but too strong to be fodder. It could possibly be more of a closer-range monster and have absolutely no utility as a turret. There are a lot of monsters that don’t fit these roles we’ve discussed before. Would these sorts of monsters work, in normal gameplay?


Gunner, from Quake 2

Quake 2’s Gunner was one such monster. Up to this point in the game, you’ve only run into fodder, swarmers and meat shields. Then you run into the Gunner, which has much more health and two high-damaging attacks. It has a chaingun for one arm that already can do more damage than every other monster up to this point, and a much more dangerous four-shot grenade launcher that can potentially outright kill the player if he gets caught by each attack. Granted, you never took full damage since the chaingun was damage over time and the grenade launcher was splash damage spread over an area, but if you weren’t careful, it really punished you. While still nowhere near as powerful as the Tank, the game’s designated heavy, it’s a huge ramp up in strength compared to other monsters.

As I’ve alluded to in the intro, it also has basically nothing to do as a support or shocker, not much value as a tank, could conceivably work as a turret but isn’t strictly useful there (more a carpet bomber, in a few Quake 2 maps). The Gunner is a monster that exists to be a threat to the player, to just be more of a challenge. There’s nothing wrong with this; just like fodder is a useful tool to sculpt encounters with, threats work in much the same way to help set pacing. Many encounters, you don’t really want to use a special role.


Berserker, from Quake 2

The Berserker, from the same game, was a monster that I think was supposed to be a threat in a similar way. It had even more health than the Gunner and it was much faster. The problem was it only had melee attacks; attacks that took time to wind up, no less. Even considering that, if they connected, they didn’t do much damage compared to the Gunner.

Be very careful how you design threats, especially melee-only threats. Compare it to the Berserker from Quake 4 (which I consider more of a shocker, but ignore that) which does more damage, doesn’t have long attack wind-ups and had a very rare ranged attack too (rare enough that I still consider it melee-only). As it stands, Quake 2’s Berserker ended up as a meat-shield, fodder that could only absorb damage and herd the player during fights with more dangerous monsters, rather than the threat they were probably intended to be.

The Gunner is used quite often over the course of the game, in a variety of different ways. Occasionally, you see one used like fodder, a single one in a corridor in between encounters, to try to keep the pace of the game. You can see them in groups of two or three as a whole encounter, or you can see them mixed in groups of other monsters (Berserkers and Gunners mixed particularly well). The Gunner particularly worked well with different terrain, since its grenade launcher made it incredibly dangerous if it was placed on a ledge above you. It works really well in all of these situations. The problem with the Berserker is because it’s so limited in how it can act, it doesn’t work as a threat. In my opinion, threats should be more well-rounded, like the Gunner, if only to give yourself more room to work when designing encounters.


Elite, from Halo

The Elite from Halo is the best example I can think of for this type of monster. It’s pretty mobile, takes a beating (more of a beating, because of its shields), and can deal a lot of damage pretty quickly if you let it. Another interesting feature is their shields; you would think having recharging shields (the ability to mitigate damage) would make this monster more of a tank, but the shields can’t stand up to a player’s focus and the Elite tries to get out of the way as quickly as possible when it starts taking damage (while a good tank would prefer to take focus). The recharging shield gives it staying power in a fight, as long as the player has other things to deal with.

Most of the time when you fight Elites they’re leading groups of Grunts, the game’s dedicated fodder. Not only does a threat/fodder mix work really well, but they were almost designed for one another. Grunts are so short that the Elite can fire clean over them, allowing the stronger and more accurate monster to attack you without the fodder inadvertently assisting you. Again, this helps the threat as a tool for customizing encounters.

More than anything else, the best feature of the Elite (in Halo 1, at least. I didn’t notice it much in Halo 2) is that it’s a lot smarter than any other monster in the game. It changes its behavior based on how much health it has and whether or not it needs to let its shields recharge. They will lay down covering fire to keep you down while they go for cover, they will avoid grenades, they will actually flank you. Advanced AI like this works really well for threats. AI might help other roles (except fodder, which you probably don’t want to be very advanced), especially swarmers (to help them swarm) and shockers, but it’s mostly the mechanics that make a tank, support or turret what they are that are important. Threats can use more advanced AI to be threatening.

The Elite also has quite a lot of variety. The four color-coded varieties (Blue, red, gold and black. In the first Halo, anyway) can use either plasma rifles or needlers. Then there are stealth versions, and the tougher three varieties can use plasma swords for one-hit shots. Each step up is more aggressive, a little smarter and takes even more damage. This kind of variety helps the threat, just like it helps the fodder. Because the player might run into these fairly often over the course of the game, it helps to mix it up, so the player doesn’t get bored with that particular variety. Though, I’m not a fan of small changes, like the difference between blue and red, or even blue and gold, unless it brings something new for the player to consider, because then the same approach to the gold Elite still works for the blue Elite, for example. It doesn’t make anything really new. Though that’s more a comment on variety than on threats. In the next article, I will point out a variation that I think works very well.

Other roles can still be threats, of course. Quake 4’s Gladiator is a threat so it makes you want to target it, otherwise it doesn’t work as a tank because the player can just kill everything else off before fighting it. Quake 1’s Fiend is definitely a threat, and if it wasn’t then it would fail as a shocker. Quake 2’s Icarus is a threat so it can try to restrict your movement like it does. In groups, swarmers like Manhacks or Cherubs all together are threats, otherwise they have no point. The Quake 1’s Shambler is by definition a threat. They don’t obsolete this role, however, because sometimes the lack of those things is useful. They all have their strengths, but they each have their balancing factors and issues with implementation.

I don’t think there’s anything really new in this article. Like my piece on hard vs soft roles, I think it’s something that seems more common-sense, but should still be defined to make things clear. Really, the only reason I classify this is because I’ve noticed a lot of monsters that really don’t have any virtue as a tank, shocker, support, turret, etc., don’t have the raw power to be heavies but are too tough to be fodder. The threat is a good role to use when you don’t want to build an encounter around a specific monster or type of monster, or if you want to ramp up difficulty in an encounter without adding too many members of other roles. Not everything has to be one of those special roles, sometimes you just have a cool design and an idea for a tough monster.

About Monsters: Resurrection and Summoning

Almost every shooter has featured monsters with some specific gimmicks, ever since the genre was created. Most of the time, these gimmicks are designed to help the monster itself fit its particular role (or the gimmick is the sole reason the monster fits in the role). Some tanks might have some shield ability or armor; some swarmers might have some leap, dodge or wall-cling so they can swarm better; supports might be able to disable the player to benefit other monsters. There are two gimmicks in particular that I see often, usually to great effect: resurrecting and summoning monsters.

Resurrecting a monster is pretty obvious; there’s a dead monster on the ground, something happens to it, then it’s alive and able to attack the player again. Summoning (or spawning) a monster is where you create a monster that wasn’t there to begin with. The Archvile from Doom 2 is the most famous example of a resurrecting monster. While running around, if it comes across a dead monster, it could revive it with full health again, ready to attack you. Hilariously enough, the Archvile from Doom 3 is a good example of a summoning monster; as an alternate attack, it goes through a short animation where it spawns another monster, again ready to attack.

Resurrection is a classic, first featured in Doom, later used in Quake 2 (its purest form) and forms of it have appeared in Quake 1, Dead Space and others. When a resurrecting monster is sent along with the rest of the encounter, it’s basically a defensive support. Because of what it does along with other monsters, it demands your attention, otherwise you could end up fighting the same heavy-role, for example, twice in a row. You have to kill the resurrecting monster before the others or risk wasting resources. The Archvile does enough on its own without reviving other monsters to warrant singling out, but the Medic from Quake 2 or the Infestor from Dead Space have nothing going for them when it comes to combat ability. Yet in Quake 2 and Dead Space, when you see or hear one of them, you know you’ll target them first. A more major effect it has on the game, however, is that it lets the mapper refresh threats that the player has just defeated (with the added effect that you now have this other monster to deal with). Many times in custom Doom maps, I see situations where the player clears a difficult fight in order to access a switch or a key. After that, an Archvile spawns in and starts reviving things the player’s just killed. It forces him to fight through those same obstacles again, unless he’s fast enough to stop it before it gets too far (which he should know to do, if he knows what the Archvile does already). Of course, there’s also a random element as well, because there’s no guarantee that the Archvile will resurrect particular monsters, and it’s very unlikely it will resurrect all of them.

Summoning has a different, but similar effect. The main difference is that the player doesn’t necessarily have to have been through the area to get the same effect; he knows (potentially) that there is at least one monster there that is spawning other monsters. Like resurrecting monsters, it presents the player with a growing situation that he can sabotage if he moves quickly and understands the threat. There’s also potentially an even more random element as well, because the player can’t really predict how many it’ll have time to spawn or what monsters will be spawned, but that depends on how it’s done. Doom’s Pain Elemental creates only Lost Souls, and only does so when it can see the player; the Teleport Dropper creates a spread of random monsters, but again, only when the player is around; the Doom 3 Archvile can spawn them regardless, but it seems like it’s scripted on each Archvile which monsters it spawns. Because of this variation on how it can work, they might not be able to accomplish the same effects. A potential downside to summoning over resurrecting is that the player probably won’t be familiar with the situation he’s going into, and that may or may not be desired.

These gimmicks tend to have a decent amount of sub-gimmicks, as well. The definitions of these two systems are surprisingly broad, and there is a lot that can modify it. They could also be combined to a degree; Dead Space has a lot of corpses lying around, just as decorations to help the game’s atmosphere. After you’re introduced to the Infector, however, they become a bit more threatening. The Infector reanimates those corpses as new monsters, ready to attack. In very basic terms, it’s resurrection because of what it does, but it’s also summoning because it’s making something that isn’t a monster into a monster. Another point was brought up in Wolfenstein 2009; resurrecting a dead monster as something else. The Elite Guard enemy could revive SS troops as Despoiled; a similar, but faster, stronger and heartier enemy that can’t be similarly resurrected, itself. This has the same benefits of standard resurrection, only the player has a potentially new challenge to work with.

Another idea introduced in Quake is how to prevent these resurrection or summoning mechanics. The most basic form is preventing a monster from being revived if it’s gibbed (blown into pieces) by doing much more damage than it can take. The Zombie from Quake 1 didn’t have a lot of health, but it could resurrect itself after a few seconds if it wasn’t gibbed. This was later expanded in Quake 2, by allowing the player to gib corpses after they were dead (you had to do enough damage with the last shot, in Quake 1) so Medics couldn’t revive them. This gave you the choice of using ammo on a threat you’ve already put down to prevent it from getting back up. In my opinion, it didn’t work as well as it could have, because Medics were almost just as easy to kill as it is to gib a Gladiator, for example, that’s already dead. However, even more effective, to deal with the Infector, if the player is paranoid enough, he could chop limbs off of the corpses he comes across to handicap the monsters that will be created from them, or even prevent them from being resurrected. Summoning could be sabotaged as well. The Teleport Dropper from Quake 4 dropped these beacons that monsters could teleport to (it just spawned them, really), but those beacons could be destroyed. With an explosive weapon shooting the Teleport Dropper, you could easily kill it quickly and prevent it from summoning anything. This is a double-edged sword, as I’ll talk about later.

There is an aesthetic difference, also. When you summon a monster, you’re bringing in something that wasn’t there. When resurrecting, even with the gimmicks that I’ll discuss in a moment, you’re bringing in something that already exists into an environment and turning it into a threat. Take the Infector for example: it takes set piece decorations (that’s effectively what they are) scattered around the area and revives them as monsters. Story-wise, it’s just turning corpses into Necromorphs. Resurrection abilities give full context to what is going on, and in the case of the Infector and monsters like that, it animates non-threatening decorations as monsters. There are times when pulling a monster out of thin air is what you want to do, and also can have proper context, however. For example, the Pain Elemental in Doom 2 is very good at what it does and its summoning is given context because it’s very clear that the Pain Elemental is creating the Lost Souls it’s spitting at you.

As gimmicks, both of these are pretty tricky to balance. Not only do you have to consider the monster itself, but you have to consider the monsters they resurrect or summon. The Archvile in Doom was already a dangerous monster, but then it can revive Revenants, Barons of Hell and other dangerous monsters. However, monsters like the Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind (bosses) couldn’t be revived at all. If they could have, that is a massive drain on the player’s ammo, at least, even if he’s never damaged by them. For summoning, Teleport Droppers could only bring in certain kinds of weaker monsters, the most dangerous of which was the Berserker (which was pretty dangerous, but rare, and you have some strong weapons by that point). The balancing factor for these gimmicks themselves is the monsters they effect; if too-strong monsters can be revived, the reviving monster is too strong. If too-strong monsters can be summoned, the summoning monster is too strong. This can be especially difficult to balance correctly for less-experienced players. People who know how to deal with reviving and summoning gimmicks know to go right for the monster with that gimmick, but other players might not and will attack the others first.

Of course, if the reviving/summoning monster itself is too weak, there’s the very real risk that the monster will be killed before it can do much of anything. This was the problem Teleport Droppers had. They were very easily killed before they can do anything, and because their summoning could be sabotaged they would almost never summon anything unless the player has no idea how to deal with them. Considering the build-up they Teleport Dropper is always given, it’s very underwhelming and ruins the effect for the player. These was a similar effect for Quake 2’s Medic, where killing the Medic itself was potentially much easier than shooting the corpses already lying around. Thus, you have to consider how quickly the monster can be brought down when you design it and whether or not the player would actually see its effect. I’ve also spoken a little on the glass cannon style of monsters before, and I may have mentioned that I’m not a fan of how those work, exactly. There’s a risk of doing that here, as well. If the Teleport Dropper, as easily-killed as it is, could have summoned monsters like the Light Tank (a very dangerous, hearty and hard-hitting monster), for example, that would make it a glass cannon. This is even worse for reviving and summoning monsters, as well, because the net effect is that either it’s pretty tedious for the player to keep killing these much-more-dangerous monsters, or the encounter you’ve planned out never actually happens.

Both of these concepts are classics, and have appeared in many different shooters over the decades. If the monsters are balanced correctly, they can be the most interesting, iconic or even feared monster in the game, and encounters with those monsters can be some of the most memorable in the game. However, to get to that point, you have to consider balance, how these are used, what these do, what you can use to modify them, and how they can go wrong. When in doubt, look to the examples we can find in these various shooters over the decades.

Roles of Monsters: Hard vs Soft

In the Roles of Monsters series of articles, I’ve often talked about how this role works with that role, or examples of monsters that fit into multiple categories. As you develop your lineup of monsters, you want to consider how these monsters fit into these, because that affects how you design your map. The issue here is that a monster might not fit one role as well as another. So for the purposes of putting together a lineup of monsters, I think of a sliding scale; if a monster fits well into a roll, it’s a hard example of that role. If it fits to a degree, but isn’t that great at it then it’s a soft example. I like to use these terms, hard and soft, to describe how well a monster fits into these roles. And of course, if a monster doesn’t work in a particular role at all, then it just doesn’t fit and you can’t use either of those terms. You can use this system to plan out your lineup of monsters to see what you can use and where you can use them.

Now for some examples of this application. Take the Vore; it’s a really good turret, that much is evident in how its attack works and how it moves. That’s what it’s designed for, and it excels in that role. So, it’s a hard turret. Another thing is that because it’s good at getting your attention because of that attack and because it eats more damage than many other monsters in the game, it could conceivably be used as a tank. However, it’s not as good at being a tank, because it doesn’t have any way of mitigating the damage it takes and because it’s a sitting duck, so it’s a soft tank. The Ogre, as well, is a bit of a soft turret and a soft tank, because its bouncing grenades take your attention and are hard to avoid if they’re placed above you (which they often are in Quake). You can analyze any monster like this (though some, like Hexen’s Stalker, are really tricky to classify).

The one term I don’t really like hearing is the soft shocker. What is a soft shocker? If we look at the terms as we’ve laid them out, it’s a monster that can work to surprise the player back into higher-pace gameplay, but not amazingly well. By that definition, any monster you don’t like to fight is a soft shocker. The Mancubus from Doom is a soft shocker, the Gorilla from Hard Reset is a soft shocker, and any heavy would be a soft shocker. It’s really general, and it’s the most subjective thing I can think of, so I prefer to throw that right out the window.

The term kamikaze is more of a modifier for an existing monster than a role in and of itself. A soft kamikaze can’t exist because the monster is either a kamikaze or it isn’t. You could argue that Red Faction: Armageddon’s Berserker is a soft kamikaze because it doesn’t charge at you and explode immediately, but it still is considered a kamikaze because it has that ability. For the purposes of creating a lineup of monsters, soft kamikaze doesn’t help you one bit; if you want a kamikaze in a specific place, you want one that explodes immediately. If you place a “soft” kamikaze, you’re placing it because of the other talents it brings to the table.

Another major point is fodder. Most of the time, fodder is just fodder. Almost any monster can be made into fodder by placing it in a situation the monster doesn’t quite work in. For example, the Teleport Dropper in Quake 4 was basically fodder because it was placed so poorly, in situations where the player can kill it quickly before it can do anything. Swarmers especially, by just placing individual swarmers and not allowing them to gang up on the player, you make them fodder by taking away what makes them threatening. Because of this, you can’t consider hard or soft fodder. The term mostly indicates that the monster lacks any ability as a tank, support, swarmer, shocker, etc.. However, for reasons I outlined in the fodder article, they’re still very important.

Of course, most of this is without saying. It’s mostly a set-up for another article, where it would be helpful for me to have defined these terms in advance. However, it should still be helpful to those putting together lineups of monsters for the first time, as they’re now given a logical process to follow. A decent portion of the time in the Doom modding community, when new modders add custom monsters to a project, they just take something that looks cool and add it with little regard for how it really in relation to the others in the lineup. Hopefully this and the aforementioned other article will help out with this.

Roles of Monsters: The Heavy

The monsters we all remember the most clearly are those huge, beefy monsters that can both take and deal a lot of damage. Monsters that the encounter usually center around, and are usually a pretty difficult fight even on their own. These just outright try to kill the player (usually through stats), and take center-stage every time they appear. This category is the heavy; of course, named after the Team Fortress 2 class that wraps it up in a competitive multiplayer sense very nicely.


Shambler, from Quake


The first, most archetypal heavy is the Shambler from the first Quake. The first time the player runs into it, he can assume how dangerous it is because of its size, sound set and its overall design. It has the highest health in the game, and can do the most damage. As its ranged attack, it projects a stream of lightning for a few seconds that deals steady damage for as long as it’s connecting (you have to break line of sight to avoid it); dealing heavy damage if you’re caught in the full blast. Unless you have armor, its melee attack can potentially kill you in a single shot, as well. In addition to its high health, it’s resistant to explosive attacks, making it even tankier.

Heavies are kind of simple in how they work. Like the Shambler implies, heavies have to be able to both deal and take a lot of damage. There’s not much beyond that, in how their role works. It also helps if the heavy is competent in both ranged and melee combat; however, I’ve seen heavies that specialize in melee (Quake 4’s Light Tank) and heavies that specialize in ranged (Quake 2’s Tank, hilariously enough). Heavies are supposed to be intimidating, and having a heavy that’s useless at either ranged or melee combat lessens their impact unless they’re placed so that players are unable to take advantage of that (trickier than it sounds. It’s a good idea to grant your player enough respect to assume he’ll pull stuff like this).

Heavies by definition are a little bit like shockers. The player usually hates fighting them because they’re so dangerous and take so much punishment. However, there’s a major difference; heavies only shock by virtue of raw stats, most of the time. Shockers usually have some mechanic like some innate unpredictability, quick movement or things like that, but heavies are mostly just pure damage and high health. Also, once you learn how to fight them, they lose that shock value unless the situation makes its high damage and high health more immediate. Shockers are kind of required to stay shocky after the player understands them.


Tank, from Quake 2

Quake 2 was another game that has a pretty decent lineup of monsters, and of course, it has heavies of its own. The Tank was its primary heavy-class monster. It took a lot of damage compared to other monsters (but some of the weapons almost-literally melted it), but it was practically a weapons platform. One arm is a machinegun, one is a reliable, decently-damaging blaster, and the other is a three-chamber rocket launcher. It was almost exclusively medium-to-long-range, and it had no melee attack of any kind. In fact, as I’ll discuss in a moment, it was really punished when the player got close.

The biggest point of the Tank is that it has so many attacks. It doesn’t just pull the same trick all the time like the Shambler does. Each attack has its own tell, and its own way of dodging. You had to duck under the sweep from the machinegun, dodge the blaster shot, and usually had to take cover from the rocket launcher. More than that, there’s another version of the tank you encounter towards the end of the game called the Tank Commander. It had a different color so the player could tell them apart, and a lot more health. Of course, the Tank was pretty much phased out once the Tank Commander was introduced. This kind of variety is good for heavies, because it keeps them dangerous. The Tank could be harder to deal with than the Shambler because it does different things than just the one attack, and the Tank Commander is good for refreshing it if it got stale (or would have been, if it was more different).

The Tank shows that heavies can work well as turrets, if they have a properly-designed attack for it. The three-chamber rocket launcher was great for bombarding an area if it was positioned correctly, and it was tanky enough that you won’t going to clear that obstacle quickly. The two roles aren’t really exclusive to one another, but I consider it primarily a heavy because it’s so much more dangerous than any other monster in the game (again, by virtue of high health and high damage). It does have one massive flaw that forces it to be used like a turret, however; if you got behind it, you had a few seconds where it needed to turn around to be able to attack you. If you were were quick, you could stay behind it and unload with the super shotgun, basically keeping it helpless. In my opinion, heavies shouldn’t have flaws like these, or if they do, they should be used in such a way that the player doesn’t have much opportunity to take advantage of those flaws. It really blunts the effect this role should have.


Brute, from Dead Space


Heavies can also work as tanks (talking about the role. When I’m talking about Quake 2’s Tank, it’s with a capital T). The Brute from Dead Space is a pretty good example of this. It was a mostly melee monster, but had a ranged attack as well (not many people know about it, but I played around with the first one you run into and noticed it) letting it adapt to those situations. It could also close distances pretty quickly if you let it, and hit like a truck. It makes a good heavy in its own right, but what makes it a tank is that it has several thick plates in the front that mitigate damage. If you want to hurt it, you have to shoot it in the back, or hit one of the weak points near the shoulder (tricky to spot, but they’re there).

Heavies can work as tanks, by definition. Heavies sort of need high health in order to have the impact they want. When you add a gimmick like the Brute’s armor plating, you have a very effective tank as well. The difference, however, between tanks and heavies (and the reason I keep these two roles separate) is that heavies should be perfectly capable of killing the player. Tanks just need to get the player’s attention somehow so they can absorb damage, but they don’t have to actually kill the player themselves. Every heavy I can think of off the top of my head would be a decent tank, but not every tank would be a good heavy. Red Faction: Armageddon’s Monolith isn’t, for example.

The problem with the Brute, however, is a problem I alluded to with Quake 2’s Tank. With Dead Space’s limb-severing mechanic, you can kill them very easily. If you know where to shoot and are fast enough, you can take advantage of the gaps in the Brute’s armor and pick it apart with the game’s first weapon! Even if you know how to fight them, the Shambler and Tank (ignore its turning speed for a second) can still be difficult fights. As I said before, heavies shouldn’t have flaws like this, or if they do it should be done in such a way that the player can’t take easy advantage of it; otherwise the effect the heavy should have is lost.


Hercules, from Binary Domain


The Hercules from Binary Domain lets me make one extra point that I found interesting. As a heavy, it was pretty standard; it took a lot of damage, it had a large chaingun that ripped right through you, and it was very, very obvious in a fight. It wasn’t encountered often (aside from a few rail-shooting segments), as well.

What was interesting about them was another monster entirely. There was one support monster you encounter throughout the game called the Whirler. All it did was ferry individual fodder into the fight. About half-way through the game, though, we see flying Hercules’ being kept aloft by Whirlers, making the Hercules a pretty different fight, though we immediately know what to expect because we have seen both monsters before. While it was a concept that was only really hinted at in Binary Domain and I haven’t seen it fleshed out anywhere, heavy-specific supports (supports that only exist to support heavies) would be very good to see somewhere.

Heavies are pretty straightforward in how they’re balanced. You’re trying to make a monster that absorbs and deals a lot of damage, so make sure it absorbs and deals a lot of damage. When you’re making a monster that tries to actively kill the player, there’s a trap a lot of people fall into where they design it in such a way that it does it too well. The attack does too much, it’s too difficult to dodge, etc. You always have to give the player some way of defeating it. If your goal is to kill the player, put him in a crusher as soon as the level starts. The goal here is to challenge the player and provide an enjoyable game. Once you have that in mind, balancing them is easier than other roles, like shockers and supports.

One more thing I have to say, however, is about heavies with specific vulnerabilities. The Strider from Half-Life 2, for example, was only vulnerable to explosive weapons, and even then it took a lot of rockets to bring down. What ends up happening if it’s outright immune to your other weapons is that you have to make sure that the player has more than enough of that high-power ammo to bring it down. Otherwise it gets really frustrating for the player (and indeed, that first time you fight them in Half-Life 2, it was). In order to balance the large amount of ammo the player needed, they made sure the rocket launcher couldn’t carry much ammo and placed crates that give you infinite rockets, so you had more than enough for that boss fight, but didn’t have enough to outright break other encounters. However, if you go through all that trouble for just the one monster, it’s not really a heavy anymore, it’s just an outright boss encounter.

The heavy is a role that has been around since the beginning of the shooter genre (the SS in Wolfenstein 3d), and is one of the central roles you can find in most of them. Even modern-military shooters could feature a heavy in some form because of how simply they work. They’re also one of the easier roles to balance correctly. Like shockers, they have a tendency to evoke that reaction from the player, and convey a feeling that a big battle has just started.

Roles of Monsters: Shockers

I did say in the kamikaze article that they can provoke some emotional response (really, just panic or fear) from the player. Shockers are a class of monster dedicated to making the player panic, through some mechanic or because of how it works, or scary to the point where he gets a little afraid from just hearing a sound from one of them. For example, a kind of famous moment from my playthrough of Quake 1, a friend of mine signed in on chat and it played the Doom 2 Archvile’s sight sound (that I set to play when she logs on). Despite that monster not being in the game, I still reacted and immediately dove for cover to avoid it.

Now, this is probably the most subjective article I’ve written on monster roles. How much panic a particular monster inspires widely depends on the player, his skill with the game, and his play style. If you disagree with what I say about a particular monster, I hope you do still see the point that I’m trying to make.

Fiend, from Quake

Quake’s Fiend is the first monster I consider a shocker (and honestly, what prompted me to write this article). It has some of the highest health in the game, and is very quick besides. It attacks by slashing with its claws when up close, and will leap at the player if it’s not quite close enough, doing pretty high damage if it connects. Several times in the game, the player walks through a doorway or opens a door, hears the throaty cry of a fiend and has to react quickly to avoid getting a face- or side-full of spikes and claws.

The player’s first encounter with a Fiend is one of the most frantic spots of the game; it’s leaping everywhere and you’re doing your best to avoid it, but you’ve probably already taken one or two good hits from it. If you’ve fought it enough times before, you know what to expect and how to deal with it, but not that first time. Because it’s so in-your-face with its mobility and damage, and because it won’t die easily, this thing makes the perfect example of a shocker.

Spawn, from Quake
Another example from Quake (seriously, the last episode of the game on Hard mode is one of the most frantic and difficult games I’ve played), the Spawn fits beautifully into this category. It keeps a low profile, and announces its presence with a quiet growl, but then starts bouncing all around trying to crash into you while making a very distinct clicking/slapping sound. It does lower damage than the Fiend, but is harder to avoid, and around the end of the game they appear in high enough numbers that they can be considered swarmers. Its real danger, however, is that it explodes when killed, doing as much damage as if you fired a rocket at your feet. Worse still, because its attack requires that it gets close to you, it’ll probably be right next to you when it explodes.

While the Fiend is shocky by virtue of its mobility and damage, most others are because of some innate mechanic. The Spawn is a great shocker because of a mix of both; it’s so in your face, but also has its kamikaze secondary ability. The best qualities of shockers are either high mobility or some stealth, and usually some high damage that’s tricky to avoid. It’s not an exact science, however; you’ll probably have to play around with a few different designs in order to achieve the desired effect.

Hunter, from Half-Life 2
Like with most dangerous monsters, good introductions are helpful to have. With shockers, it can be helpful to inform the player that this is something that should really be feared. Half-Life 2, famous for introducing its monsters and gimmicks fairly gently, does it very nicely again. In Half-Life 2, Episode 2, towards the beginning of the game, you enter a deserted area and hear odd sounds from an unknown enemy. After looking around for a way to continue, you and your sidekick Alyx are ambushed by a Combine Hunter, which knocks you unconscious and mortally wounds Alyx (Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s ten minutes into the game and you should be playing it anyway). The next part of the game is looking for a way to help her. Later on, about halfway through the game, you’re given another introduction, where you and Alyx hide from a patrol of Hunters, before attacking and killing them. In this way, the game lets you know that this is a monster that should be feared and taken seriously. It can work pretty nicely.

The unfortunate thing is that when you tell the player that this is a monster that’s worth panicking about, you have to make sure that the monster is worth panicking about. While again, this is pretty subjective, I don’t think the Hunter is as much a great a shocker as the Fiend, for example. It takes and deals more damage than most monsters and can be pretty quick, but it’s not as in-your-face as the Fiend or Spawn. It mostly hangs back and fires its flechettes at you. However, while it’s a great monster and another excellent design to come from Half-Life 2, I’m mostly bringing it up as an example of how your game can introduce shockers.

Archvile, from Doom 2
Some shockers just need one particular gimmick. Doom’s Archvile is pretty quick and takes some heavy damage, but also has one very interesting attack. It sets you on fire (just an aesthetic thing; it doesn’t damage you at this point), and after a few seconds of channeling, if there is still a clear line-of-sight between you and the Archvile, it blows you up dealing heavy damage and throwing you in the air. It requires you to stay on your toes. The main gimmick of the Archvile, however, is that it resurrects other monsters. Depending on the arena, all of these factors combined can really make the player panic; especially if it’s an area the player already went through and left some bodies behind.

It can really be considered a support/shocker (though I don’t consider it a support because of how dangerous it is, even when its alone), and is even used as a turret occasionally because of how its attack works. It’s a great example of a monster that can fill several roles depending on how it’s used. Some shockers just need some basic gimmick, however, depending on that gimmick, to be effective. For example, the Poison Headcrab, despite being a hard support. I have no doubt Quake 4’s Teleport Dropper would be a good shocker if it didn’t have those crippling problems it does, but it just wasn’t dangerous enough for that.

In general, effective shockers are ambush monsters. They work a lot better when they get the drop on the player; think of the Fiend, leaping at you from behind doors or from around a corner. Or Poison Headcrabs jumping at you from the shadows. If you design your shocker to be focused on ambushing, loud, distinct sounds and high mobility are really beneficial. If a player’s startled, he’s probably not going to fight back effectively against a monster that’s already in his face. You shouldn’t do this very often, though; Doom 3 is heavily criticized for pulling so many cheap scares throughout the course of the game. Pulling this as few times as Quake did, though, can make for a few memorable fights (Play Quake 1 E1M3 on hard mode, you will know exactly what moment I’m talking about).

Almost by definition, shockers become less shocky as the player gets more familiar with them. People fear what they don’t understand, so as they come to find patters with shockers, they don’t fear them as much. This is why I think the Fiend, Poison Headcrab and Archvile are so great; even when you understand them, they still require quick reaction, so they still startle you and make you scramble to avoid them even if you perfectly understand how they work. The Spawn still feels really random and unpredictable in its movements, so it’s a bit more stressful to fight as well. Always make sure your shocker can hold up after the elements of surprise and mystery are gone, so it can still fulfill its role as a shocker. One great example is the Wraith from Red Faction: Armageddon. Even without any upgrades, you can tag it with the magnet gun, melee it a few times, and it dies without much of a challenge. It just can’t hold up as a challenge once the player knows how it works.

I feel like shockers would do very well in games with a lot of ambiance, that try to draw the player into the world. Doom 3 was one such game, with beautiful ambient sounds and good detail all around; you occasionally heard gunfire from a surviving marine or the distinct growl of some particular monsters. If you have a well-designed shocker in a game like that, you just need to play a sound from it, and the player will react, usually getting more cautious or jumpy. Doom 3 tried to do this with the Commando Zombie, but like Red Faction: Armageddon’s Wraith, the Commando Zombie just couldn’t hold up to being a shocker after you realize you can duck under its tentacle attack and just blow it away with the shotgun. However, the intent was there, and if it was more dangerous, it would have worked beautifully.

In survival-horror games, you should approach shockers through a certain lens. In most games of this genre, most monsters only make you panic because the game itself is built around it. The environment tries to hide the monster, sounds and stingers play when they appear, and the game mechanics are such that you don’t have an easy time reacting to their attack. If you try to decide if a monster in a survival-horror game is a shocker, ask yourself if the monster would have the same effect on the player in a game like Quake, where the player is more capable. For example, in Dead Space, most monsters try to surprise you, but the only one I think of as a shocker is the Twitcher (because it’s so fast and hard to avoid). The Slasher, Leaper or Brute would be perfectly fine to deal with in Quake, but I would consider the Twitcher a shocker because of how difficult it would still be in that other engine. Again, however, it had a problem; if you upgraded a certain weapon’s damage enough, you could literally kill them in one shot with no effort, making it useless as a shocker.

Shockers can work pretty well in main encounters; Quake proved that a shocker (Fiend) combined with a turret for area denial (an Ogre on a high perch) can work pretty nicely, for example. The potential problem is if those monsters can hurt one another (in the case of kamikazes especially), and especially if the game has Doom- and Quake-style infighting, where monsters will fight one another if they take damage. Many shockers that are just all over the place in combat can provoke this a lot. That’s when shockers could work better as lone-wolves because they can wreck encounters if they aren’t used carefully.

One small problem that both turrets and shockers (more than most other roles) run into is that the player can potentially just retreat into an area he’s already cleared out and is more convenient and fight there. The shocker would probably follow along and the turret might not be able to, defeating the purpose of an encounter with both. Quake deals with this by usually locking you into an arena, preventing retreat, and unlocking. Depending on how often this is done, this can work well or be a complete disaster. Quake allowed the player to retreat most of the time, but there were occasions where the player gets locked into a battle; usually for especially difficult battles, so they don’t lose their impact or challenge. However, this is a subject for some other time; I’m just bringing it up here because it affects shockers and turrets quite a bit and needs some thought from the developer when he designs an encounter.

Like fodder, shockers can help the designer dictate the flow of combat and gameplay in general. After lulling the player into some form of security with fodder, you can throw a shocker at him to bring the level of involvement right back up. The main objective is to allow low-energy segments as breaks while keeping the player engaged, and then draw him right back into a high-energy segment; something shockers can really excel at.