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: 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.

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.

Roles of Monsters: The Turret


Most of the offense-oriented roles we’ve covered have been pretty fast as a rule; swarmers have to move quickly and kamikazes have to be able to keep up with their targets. By definition, they’re usually close range as well. It stands to reason that some monsters, however, don’t have to move around much and are still dangerous from a distance. Turrets are one of those monster roles that isn’t very mobile (though they don’t have to be immobile) and usually attacks from a large distance.

Vore, from Quake
The Vore from the first Quake is one such monster. Of course, the word turret implies something immobile, but the Vore can actually move around. It’s pretty slow, however, and is usually placed far away, across terrain it can’t traverse (across a gap, on a ledge, etc.). Because it’s so suited to long-range, its attack has to be able to hit at those ranges; thus, it has a projectile that homes in on you (famously so, since it’s capable of hunting you around corners) that’s hard to avoid and does a pretty decent amount of damage for what it is. It also has the second-highest health in the game, so it won’t die particularly quickly.

The first problem you run into when designing a turret is what kind of attack to give it. Because they’re usually placed away from your target, projectiles don’t usually have a good chance of hitting. The Vore gets around this by having a famously aggressive seeking projectile. Alternatively, you could use a hitscan attack; an attack with an instant travel-time, like the bullet-based weapons in many older games. Hitscan attacks on turrets do have problems (and indeed, their own class), but I will go into that in detail later. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for these, you’ll just have to plan out how your turret will work and be careful how to design and balance its attack.

Icarus, from Quake 2
The Icarus from Quake 2 was another decent turret, with a twist. It had a quick-moving projectile attack (quick blaster burst), and could take a bit of damage, but the major difference was that it hovered in the air, making it a bit more mobile than the Vore was. Usually they were placed high up where the player wouldn’t expect, also, and it was still pretty slow so most of the time its added mobility was just so it got a better firing angle on you. Its rapid-fire, fast-travel projectile attack also helped it actually hurt the player from far away. It didn’t have any hitscan attacks or homing projectiles, but its attack was so quick that you have a good chance of taking damage from it. They were usually encountered in small groups of two or three in later maps, as well.

Turrets benefit quite a bit from good positioning. If they aren’t placed well, they might not be able to hurt the player, or they can be avoided pretty easily. However, if your turret can fly, like the Icarus, it can reposition itself as it needs. The only major issue with that is that you might not be able to restrict it to a particular area (though if you need it to reposition, you might not want to).

Jackal Sniper, from Halo 2
One more variant of glass cannon is the sniper, and though there are many kinds (Deadeye from Binary Domain, Combine snipers in Half-Life 2, etc.) the best example I can think of is the Jackal Sniper from Halo 2. Like all glass cannons, they died very quickly and had very-damaging attacks. The difference between more ordinary glass cannons and sniper-types is that sniper-types have long-range attacks that are USUALLY (but not necessarily) hitscan. The Jackal Sniper had a Beam Rifle that was capable of wiping out your shields in a single shot, and was very difficult to avoid because the attack instantly hits, so you have to depend on its random chance to miss.

The major downside to sniper-types is that they’re even more of a luck-based challenge than more usual glass cannons. I’ll use an example from a well-known Doom mod; In Ultimate Torment and Torture, there were one or two particular maps that featured Zombie Railgunners and placed them pretty far away. The big problem was that they could hurt you from across the map for a decent chunk of damage every time they hit. In an effort to balance this they’re usually very weak, health-wise, but you still couldn’t easily kill them. Most of their ability to survive is that they’re so far away, and in the case of those Zombie Railgunners they’re impossible to hit with most weapons in the game. Like other glass cannons, they’re very difficult to properly place without being either useless in function or unfair on the player. The upshot is that they can work very well in accomplishing the job turrets are made for, if they’re well-used and well-designed.

Speaking of which, the main reason to use turrets is as area-denial. Sort of like a support, turrets are designed to back up encounters with other monsters, but they do so by reducing the area in which the player can operate. If he does go into the turret’s line of sight while fighting other monsters, he risks taking even more damage than he would otherwise. Because of this, they should be restricted to a certain spot so they can keep an eye on that area (definition of a turret), and they have to do enough damage that the player doesn’t want to draw its attention. Conversely, they should be tanky enough (or far enough, especially in the case of snipers) that they can’t be easily wiped out by the player. You might think flying turrets go against this, but not necessarily; they still might be denying an area, but that area itself is shifting, depending on how you design the area itself and how that flying turret moves. Different flying turrets can move in different ways to cover an area more effectively. For example, The Icarus constantly moves towards you (it’s the standard monster AI for all the early Id Software games), but the Heavy Hovertank from Quake 4 shifts around its position randomly to try to get better angles on you.

Turrets can also work well combined with other roles. The Ravager from Red Faction: Armageddon is a good swarmer/turret; they bounce around back and forth between walls and ledges, doing ever-increasing damage to force the player into or away from an area. Like other swarmers, if you kill one, it reduces the threat, but the effect isn’t completely gone. Depending on the design, turrets can also be tanks, as well; since they do so much to shape the area the player can fight in, they demand some attention (The Vore does this). And fitting the purpose of these articles in general, turrets work well when placed in tandem with other roles. Imagine an arena with some limited cover from a turret, with a tank and swarmers being the real challenge of the encounter. The tank takes your attention while the swarmers try to deal the damage, more effectively because the turret is limiting your movement.

Battlefield control is one of those elements of design that map-designers like to have a lot of flexibility with. Turrets let them design those more interesting encounters, especially in games where the player is especially mobile. Doom 2 and every (single-player) Quake game have these to balance out how capable the player is. We can use these to make the game more challenging, and more fun for the player.

Roles of Monsters: The Kamikaze

Going to be a fairly short article, in comparison to the others. In the fodder article, I did mention a subtype known as glass cannons. Kamikazes are something like that; they’re weak monsters that usually explode next to you. More of a mutating factor for an existing monster class, they can be thought of as a monster with a powerful attack that can be pulled off ONCE (and after that, it may as well be dead because it can’t really do anything after that anyway).

The first kamikaze we look at is the Exploder from Dead Space. The first thing you notice about it is that it’s incredibly distinctive; for one, one of its arms is a large, glowing, chemical-filled pod and odd-shuffling walking animation. Secondly, it makes loud, unmistakable sounds as it moves and sees the player. The game gives you plenty of warning that one is approaching, and they’re pretty slow. They’re pretty easy to deal with (with Dead Space’s limb-severing mechanic, especially), so do you see how these act as glass cannons? When it gets close, it hits you with the large pod on its arm, which detonates, seriously damaging you and actually killing any other monster nearby. If you’re able to respond to them, you can kill them fairly easily, but if you’re inattentive or busy with something else, they suddenly get much more dangerous because they do so much damage.

It is pretty unique among kamikazes, though. With Dead Space’s limb-severing gimmick, you can shoot off the explosive pod off of its arm, and it becomes ordinary fodder, so it’s not an incredible example of the bare-bones, basic kamikaze.


Creeper, from Binary Domain

The Creeper from Binary Domain, though, is a pretty basic kamikaze. It’s a bit more forgiving because it’ll curl up in a ball and charge for a second or two before it detonates, giving the player enough time to get away. To counteract that, however, it moves a bit faster than you do. There are also a LOT more of them in one given area than Exploders, making this a kamikaze/swarmer. They do more damage per-shot than any other non-boss enemy in the game, but not as much (percent-wise) as an Exploder, and don’t take much damage at all. Like with non-kamikaze swarmers, they’re individually not as powerful as you would think, but make up for it with its sheer mass of numbers and ability to swarm you.

And then there’s the Berserker from Red Faction: Armageddon. The Berserker is more of a tank, with high-health and a damaging area-of-effect attack. It’s slow and it packs a punch with ranged attacks, so it really doesn’t fit the classification of kamikaze, right? Until you do enough damage to it, at which point it starts sparking and wildly runs towards you. If you finish it off or if it gets close enough to you, it outright explodes, dealing a large amount of damage to everything around it.

As we can see from this, a suicide mechanic can be a secondary ability and not all a monster centers around; in the case of the Berserker, it augments its ability to play the tank. When you do enough damage to it, it demands even more attention or else you’re punished for it. In other cases, it might not work, because we have a monster that’s already tough that now has a somewhat frustrating ability that makes it even tougher; however, in this case, it works because the transition from tank to kamikaze is very clear. There are visual and audio cues that’s something’s changed. Also, your friendly helper NPC points it out in your first encounter with one, so we get a more-gentle introduction to the monster as a whole (something I usually approve of).

Kamikazes are trickier to balance than your ordinary monster. By definition, the basic kamikaze is a glass cannon. Also, more often than not they also damage other monsters around them, so a single kamikaze can potentially neuter a whole encounter by detonating at the right (or wrong) location, so you have to keep how they’re placed closely in mind. Also, their speed is something else to consider, if it’s a monster that literally runs up to you and explodes. If you’re much faster than they are, they might not be much of a threat, but it can be really frustrating if they’re much faster than you are. Kamikazes kind of have to be distinctive and deal relatively high-damage, as well, in order to fill their role as a kamikaze. If this is a secondary ability like with the Berserker, you have to keep the rest of the monster in mind when you balance it; you could be making an already-difficult monster simply too powerful.

Kamikazes are only really popular when they’re designed well. More so than other monsters, poorly-designed kamikazes can ruin parts of a game because they’re either so frustrating to deal with or they wreck an encounter. However, they can often work very well to give the player some element of panic. There’s no worse feeling in Dead Space (in the actual combat, excluding the cheap scares) than when you turn around and find an Exploder you simply didn’t notice. In Binary Domain, the introduction of the Creeper is one of the most frantic parts of the game as you struggle to shoot them all fast enough. The major downside is that they’re so much harder to strike a proper balance with, but a single kamikaze (and/or a single monster with a kamikaze secondary ability) can often provoke that emotional response, if that balance is struck.