Gameplay Mechanics: Regenerating Health

Health packs!Every shooter in the history of the genre has had some form of health system. As you get hurt, your health decreases, and you die when it hits zero. This is very cut-and-dry throughout most games. Of course, there must be some way of recovering that health though. There are some variations, though it’s one area that I think some good mechanics can still be created for. Many games have had different ways of recovering health, but the form we’ve seen the most often is that it regenerates automatically with no action from the player. It’s become very popular in most shooters and other genres and I’ve seen it implemented in several mods for Doom, Quake and other games. However, many don’t seem to realize all the different effects this has on different aspects of gameplay. Now, there are a few misconceptions regarding what regenerating health actually does because it’s so often paired with a few other mechanics: namely cover mechanics, slow movement speed, dominantly hitscan attacks, checkpoints and reloading weapons. There are several games that feature some or even all of the mechanics at the same time, and each one brings their own set of considerations. Because they’re so often featured with regenerating health, it’s very easy to associate the effects of one with the other mechanics. In this article, I’ll write about health recovery systems specifically, and will try to avoid consequences that these other systems introduce.
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Player Upgrades: Linear Progression

In every single-player shooter and most adventure games, there is some progression in player strength. Most commonly, the player gains access to new weapons, or more health, or similar upgrades. In designing a game, how you introduce these upgrades is very important. I’ll work on breaking it down as much as possible and covering every element I can think of while giving my opinion of what works and what doesn’t, but because this article turned out much, much longer than I originally thought it would, I’m going to cover this in a few parts. Bear in mind, I won’t talk about role-playing games (either first-person or otherwise) such as Fallout 3, the Elder Scrolls series, or more conventional RPGs; mostly just shooters with upgrade mechanics.

There are two kinds of upgrade pacing, but by far the most common type is a linear progression, meaning as you go through the game, upgrades (most commonly weapons) are slowly introduced to you. The earliest shooters, from Wolfenstein 3D to Quake 2, did this with just weapons, but other games do introduce more than that kind of upgrade. Probably the best example of this would have to be Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. It didn’t just give you new weapons; it powered up just about every aspect of your character, and all at specific points of the game. Additionally, it gave you introductions as to what each upgrade was and the capabilities of each new weapon, so you knew what you were getting and had ample opportunity to test it.

Easily the best feature of linear progression is that it’s a lot easier to balance the game around. In Space Marine, the developers know exactly what upgrades and weapons the player will have at any particular point in the game. This is especially valuable if your game has an increasing progression of monsters, as well, where new, more powerful varieties of monsters appear as you move through the game. Some games like Halo and Crysis try to take this further by limiting you to a certain amount of weapons you can carry at a time, so you wouldn’t have this one weapon that could make this encounter too easy. Using a limited-weapon mechanic for balance like this is not something I agree with, but that’s something for another article.

The major problem with a strict linear progress (As in Space Marine) is that it reduces the replay value, because it’s always going to be the same progression each time you play. Games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, however, weren’t particularly linear; they had some more advanced weapons stored in secrets early on, so you could jump ahead of the curve. For example, in the first episode of Doom, there was a rocket launcher hidden in a secret in the third map. Otherwise, you might not get one until the seventh (though ammo was limited before, and even after that). With a more lenient progression, it can add replay value because the player might be able to jump ahead of the curve. This does come with its own benefits and problems, but I will talk about hiding items of progression in secrets in the third part of this series.

Speaking of Doom, in the earliest shooters from Wolfenstein 3D up to Quake, if you died on a level, you restarted that level with just your default weapon (usually referred to as pistol-starting, because the default was usually the pistol). This meant that the developer had to consider another dimension in the progression; whether the player came from a previous map, or whether he just started this one. In the more contemporary style of games it’s not an issue, but if that is a mechanic you want then this is something to consider. Usually this goes with a more arcadey style of map design, like those aforementioned games.

Another variation on the standard linear progression are games like Red Faction: Guerrilla, where new weapons become available at certain parts of the game, but aren’t simply handed to you. The player might possibly miss a weapon depending on how the game is laid out (I never found the Rail Driver in Red Faction: Guerrilla, for example), but I think that more open-world games (Crysis 1, Red Faction: Guerrilla, System Shock 2) work well with this more than other variations of linear progression.

While most of what I talk about is specifically with regard to single-player, several multiplayer shooters these days use a form of linear progression with an experience system to make players more powerful. Most Call of Duty titles (which have become the model for this kind of multiplayer progression) and even Space Marine did this, where they give new perks and weapons that are just plainly more powerful than the earlier ones. I really hate this idea, because it gives some players flat out more damage because they have been playing longer. There’s really no worse idea for a game than to punish a potentially decent portion of your audience just for not being part of the first group to play it. Space Marine tries to get around this by letting you copy the equipment loadout of the previous player who killed you, but when you have mechanics like that, then why do you even have the progression if you can do that anyway? It also starts feeling like hard work to get a weapon you want, and when a player plays a game, he doesn’t necessarily want to feel like he’s doing work; he wants to have fun!

This is the most basic version of upgrading the player. He gets a certain way through the game, he gets something new and useful, he fights more powerful things with it. I think it goes very well if your game has an increasing difficulty curve and a matching progression of monsters. Quake 4, for example, keeps introducing new monsters along with new weapons far into the game. Usually I like when a game introduces a weapon or some other upgrade that counters (even partially counters) a new monster after introducing the new monster and showing how great a counter for it would be. While it is the most basic method of upgrading the player, I think linear progression can work the best. It’s simpler to implement and often makes the player feel like he’s progressing through a game.

Roles of Monsters: The Support

One of the most intriguing roles for me is that of the support monster. The one that can’t do much by itself, or indeed can’t do anything by itself, but through some innate mechanic makes others more dangerous. The support monster allows the designer to improve the abilities of other monsters in some way by introducing a new element while keeping those other monsters the same. However, dedicated supports can be tricky to pull off correctly, but there are some pretty good examples.

 

Half-Life 2 has more support enemies than most other games, such as the Scanner. The Scanner probably isn’t the most impressive in effect, but the way it was handled in-game is a great example of how supports should be used. The bot itself literally does nothing to you but take a picture. If you’re looking at it when it does so, it actually blinds you, which gets pretty dangerous when you’re fighting other enemies. It makes you want to target it first, even though it never actually attacks you. Aside from that, it doesn’t take much damage, it’s kind of slow and obvious, and it’s very non-threatening. It actually looks kind of cute, for a floating, eye-like robot.

Right after you get your first weapon, it’s the first hostile you encounter. It just keeps taking pictures of you. Eventually you get so annoyed that you whack it a few times with your crowbar and find it can be killed. Later on, another Scanner shows up again when you’re fighting some basic Combine soldiers, and tries to blind you. We’re given a nice introduction before it affects us in a threatening situation. By that point, you have a pistol and are able to pick them out of the air as soon as you see them, before they cripple you. In that encounter, and every one after that, it’s usually easy to spot. Its effect is a bit weak, but it’s a good example of a well-used, weak, offensive support.

 

 


Probably the most dangerous support is everyone’s most hated Half-Life 2 monster; the Poison Headcrab. They’re slow, they don’t take much damage, they have have a very distinctive sound set, and I don’t think they can even kill you. When they hit you with a leap attack, however, your health is immediately set to 1 (which your suit recovers at a rate of 10 per second after a short delay). Combined with other fast monsters, such as ordinary headcrabs, they become the most dangerous creature in the game. There is also a zombie that is covered with poison headcrabs and throws them at you. Again, it’s almost incapable of killing you, but it’s the most dangerous thing in the game when backed up properly.

The way the Poison Headcrabs were used in the game was also impressively done. The first time we encounter them, we’re given a nice introduction; there were only two in a fairly small room. Literally, they couldn’t kill you, but we could very easily be hit by either one. It’s not a threatening encounter, but we’re left to slowly realize how really terrifying these monsters can be.

 

Unfortunately, while those two examples are of support monsters pulled off pretty well, there are some enemies in games that I feel didn’t live up to their potential. One of which is the Teleport Dropper in Quake 4. In design and mechanic, it was excellent; all it did was drop little spheres that acted as beacons for teleporters, effectively spawning in monsters to attack you. If I recall correctly, all it could teleport in were the lower-level enemies that weren’t very dangerous individually, but the Teleport Dropper provided a potentially never-ending stream of them. If you got too close it could bite you, but that wasn’t the focus of the monster. It was also pretty fast, and would try to run away from you. But the fundamental flaw was that the three times you fight this creature in the game, the encounter itself works against it. Each time, it’s always front and center, and very, very vulnerable. The teleport beacons could be easily destroyed by splash damage, and the Teleport Dropper only took a few rockets to bring down. You always had warning that a Teleport Dropper was going to be around because of sounds and some scripted events where it ran past you or away from you. It was as if Raven Software knew how effective it could be, but decided it was a little too effective and designed each fight to work as much in the player’s favor as possible.

 


Support monsters don’t always have to have some effect on the player, though. In Red Faction: Armageddon, there was this monster (more of a structure, almost) called a Monolith. It looked like a massive three-taloned claw that burst up from the ground and threw rocket-like globs of plasma at you. They were surprisingly common considering their role, but they were always annoying because they doubled the health of nearby enemies. Sometimes, one would actually appear in the middle of a fight with a Behemoth (the most dangerous monster in the game). They were, however, threatening enough in their own right that I don’t consider them dedicated supports, but their effect is really impressive. It demonstrates that effective supports can play the tank role quite well, because their supporting mechanic often demands the player’s attention, but it usually depends on the mechanic involved.

 

After reading up to this point, you might think “my monster has an ability that debilitates the player or powers up other monsters, so it must be a support,” but it also heavily depends on the strength of the monster and how dangerous it is. The Rezbit from Metroid Prime 2 (by far the most annoying enemy in the game) has a particular ability where it uploads a virus into your suit that stops most functions and forces a reboot (of the suit; not necessarily the game). This blinds you, takes away a few abilities and makes you unable to fight back for a pretty lengthy period of time (around 15 seconds if I recall correctly). They had a few fairly damaging attacks, as well, and some defensive abilities, but it’s the virus that really stands out.

But is the Rezbit a support monster? I don’t consider it one for two reasons. Firstly, it’s too powerful to be one; it has a few attacks that can be pretty damaging and are difficult to avoid. In any other FPS (Metroid Prime was more of an adventure game, and by the time you fight these, you would need to stand still for 15 minutes before one kills you), they would be incredibly dangerous. Secondly, they’re never encountered alongside other enemies, and are usually fought one at a time. It’s not a support monster because it doesn’t support anything else! Its virus ability is to make itself more dangerous, though it would be really evil and overpowered if you were fighting an Ingsmasher while a Rezbit is supporting it. But these are two important points to consider before classifying a monster as a support.

More than any other role, supports can make encounters different by some random element or making familiar enemies more threatening. They should change how the player approaches the encounter, much like the tank role, but in different ways, and usually necessitating a different strategy. For example, if you were fighting ranged enemies, the Poison Headcrab might make you break cover and take damage from those ranged enemies in order to avoid it. The Scanner helps extend the life of surrounding enemies by making you temporarily unable to attack them effectively; and can you imagine if a Scanner blinded you if you were being chased by quick melee monsters? Then we have monsters like the Medic from Quake 2 (revives dead monsters with full health), which could potentially restart a fight you’ve already completed if released in an area the player’s already been. The Teleport Dropper is capable of spawning an infinite amount of randomly-chosen monsters, and if it was used properly, can make encounters different every time you play them. If used correctly, supports can make encounters in your game potentially different every time the player plays through it.

While this is also true for especially dangerous monsters, the way supports are introduced is very important. In every case, you want to give a taste of their mechanic to the player in the introduction; it’s usually really sad when the support dies before the player knows what it does, as well). For offensive supports (supports with some direct but non-lethal effect on the player), it seems like a good idea to have the player fight it without any other monsters, but in an encounter sculpted to show the player what it does, like in the introductory fight with the Poison Headcrab. For defensive supports (monsters with an effect on other monsters), you have to put it alongside other monsters, but it’s sometimes a little trickier to show what their effect is. The Monolith is obvious only because it gives surrounding monsters this green aura to show an active effect, and because your AI friend in the game outright tells you what that active effect is. While this probably isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for all supports (especially those that don’t fit these two categories), it’s what seems to work. You always want to show what their support effect is, however.

As I’ve implied before, there are really three types of supports; offensive (some effect on the player), defensive (some beneficial effect on other monsters) and a special category (doesn’t fit into the other categories, or has more effect on the map itself), and each role has to be balanced differently. Almost counterintuitively, you don’t want offensive supports to have a very long-lasting ability, or a too-debilitating effect on the player. The Rezbit makes you defenseless for around 15 whole seconds; could you imagine that in a fast FPS like Quake? What about a monster that freezes you in place for 10 seconds, rather than just slowing you for a moment? Defensive supports almost need to be tankier, so their effect shows more obviously. If the Monolith wasn’t as tough as it was, its double-health mechanic might never be even noticed. The other categories should be balanced (health, potential damage, duration, things like that) around what their effect is.

More than balance, they should be placed correctly in encounters. Some offensive supports like the Scanner and Poison Headcrab can be front-and-center even being weak, because their effect just has to happen once. The Teleport Dropper failed so badly because it was placed front-and-center every time it was encountered, so its support effect could be outright skipped and they became a non-issue.

Of course, the overall goal is to make encounters more fun for the player, and the element that supports brings to switch things up accomplishes that quite nicely, if the support is well-designed. A poorly-planned support will simply add frustration, but a solid concept can make the game more memorable for the right reasons. Though the concept isn’t limited to this genre alone (I’ve seen supports in strategy and RPGs especially), support monsters are always fun to see in shooters.

Game Reviews: Binary Domain

    Binary Domain is a third-person, squad-based shooter by Yakuza Studios, published by SEGA. It was released at the end of February on XBox 360 and Playstation 3, and mid-April on PC. Yes, it’s a console port on PC. Before I start, I have to say that the game is pretty generic at the start but gets much, much better. As usual I talk about gameplay and how fun the game is in general; I don’t really talk about graphic quality, or things like that.

The story is very cheesy, action B-movie-esque. In basics, it’s 2080, and a robotic work force is part of every day life. Several years ago, many nations signed the New Geneva Convention putting restrictions and guidelines on the construction of robots; most importantly it restricts the creation of sentient AIs, and robots that can pass for humans (known as “Hollow Children”). Well, a Hollow Child turned up, and a “Rust Crew” (international spec-ops squads sent to deal with New Geneva Convention breaches) is sent to Japan, a very isolationist state, to track down the most likely culprit. The dialogue and voice acting especially are pretty badly done, additionally. The characters are alright, but there will likely be one or two you want to have killed, but more on that later.

In gameplay, there’s only one major issue I have; it’s too geared towards consoles (keep in mind that I play exclusively on a PC). There’s a generic action button that makes you sprint, duck-and-roll, get behind cover, leap over cover, etc., and too often it does one when I want to do the other. It takes a hell of a lot of getting used to, to get the precision to jump into battle exactly the way you expect to be able to. There’s also this really horrible mouse acceleration (TotalBiscuit explained clearly in his “WTF Is Binary Domain” video) that they said was fixed in patch notes, but is still around and I can’t find an option to disable it. It also seems to get worse when the frame rate dips, making it impossible to play when you dip to 20 FPS or lower.

But that’s enough for problems, the gunplay itself is very satisfying. Every enemy is a robot, and every enemy can be blasted literally to pieces. You can blast off armor on almost everything to be able to do more damage to that section; you can shoot an arm off to get them to drop their guns; you can shoot off a leg so they have to crawl at you. Most of the weapons aren’t very useful, unfortunately. Your normal, undroppable assault rifle is a better weapon than most other things (especially when you upgrade it), though occasionally you find a light machinegun or submachinegun that does more damage in a shorter time. There’s also a sniper rifle that I really enjoyed using as well. It also has an system where you can buy upgrades for yourself and squadmates. Throughout the game are consoles where you can buy ammo and weapons with credits you earn through destroying enemies. You can also purchase nanomachines to upgrade certain aspects of certain characters (more defense, more health, more melee damage, etc.), and upgrades for weapons, like better accuracy, bigger clip size and more damage. I generally like this because you can improve the fighting abilities of certain favourite squadmates; or smooth out their crippling downsides.

The lineup of enemies is well-designed, as well, and I would consider it an excellent example of good progression of monsters over the course of a game. As you progress, you run into new models of robots, each with different dangers and most requiring different strategies. My only complaint about this is that some of them weren’t as common as I felt they should’ve been. The Creeper, Needle Bug and Tube Gunner, for example, could’ve been used more often, to keep battles more interesting. Generally, you fight the standard Assault Shooter model (and its three variants) too often, and using those aforementioned three more often could’ve made several sections more interesting. It also has robots that only work in certain sections of the game, such as the Roadie, Simian and Condor, which balance it out. Some models, such as the Shinobi, were excellently designed as well.

Probably the best feature of this game is the lineup of bosses. I hope you like boss fights, because this game has a HUGE amount of them. There’s one part that features almost three bosses in a row (You finish off the Gorilla, cutscene, then fight the Crab, rail-shooting segment, then fight the Tsar Runner). Each boss is of the “shoot the flashing weak point when it’s visible” style, but each boss attacks so differently that it keeps each one different. The designs, like the Tsar Runner and Medusa, are brilliant, as well. Probably the only two bosses that I don’t really like are the Spider (it just looks silly as you get later in the fight), and the Gorilla (just drags on and on until you finally kill it). I would say that these bosses feel like bosses from Sonic the Hedgehog, if Sonic didn’t move quickly and had an assault rifle. Being a game published by SEGA, that doesn’t feel particularly surprising, but it is surprisingly fun.

The game also has some quicktime events, but they’re pretty rare. Occasionally, it has the “use movement keys to keep your balance” variety, sometimes it’s the “press button at the right time to not die,” but they never feel like huge problems. You can also order your squadmates around through microphone, apparently (I never tried it, I just used the key commands), but past a certain point of the game you probably don’t even need to. There’s a trust system implemented into the game as well where saying the right things to your squad mates make them trust you more. Short-term, that affects whether or not they refuse your orders but over the course of the game, the story branches slightly depending on how much certain squadmates trust you, and some squadmates might actually get killed off. All I will say further about this is that to get the best ending requires you to max out your trust meters on every squad mate.

This game is a very underrated gem. If you can get past the cheesy story, dialogue, voice acting and the first section of the game, it becomes an excellent third-person shooter that many say is better than Gears of War. Not having playing that, I can’t comment, but I thoroughly enjoyed this game.

Roles of Monsters: The Tank

This is a rewrite of the original Roles of Monsters: The Tank article from 2012. I didn’t feel that it was up to quality, there were some factual inaccuracies regarding the Hunter, and there’s one or two different points I want to make in addition. Despite this being rewritten after many of my other articles, I’m still making it read like it’s still 2012, before the others are written.

Over the last year or so, I’ve started becoming more aware of the different roles different monsters play. Most multiplayer games embrace the concept of differing roles, though. In a standard online RPG, the damage-dealers kill everything while the tanks take damage and the healers keep everyone alive. That’s been called the holy trinity of online gaming. There could be other roles as the mechanics in the game allow for it, but those are the main three. Groups of monsters in single-player games could operate the same way. Different classes or roles of monsters can make gameplay more dynamic, as it allows the designer to sculpt encounters that, for example, tax a player a certain way, try to kill him in a way he hasn’t run into before, or provide some other interesting obstacle. I should start out by saying, however, that gameplay design is something very fluid in general, and there is no true correct answer for any of this. That said, “incorrect” is still possible, when something is incredibly frustrating or boring for most players. The purpose of these articles is to give an educated opinion with examples as a good framework to build on, as well as warnings on things that I feel are just not fun to play with.

One of the most basic concepts in an online game is the tank. The tank role in MMORPGs is there to soak enemy attacks and take damage so everyone else in the group doesn’t have to. We can also use a similar concept for monsters: tank-type monsters in an encounter drawing attention away from the others. In a gameplay sense, they’re mostly used for either drawing the player’s weapons fire from others, or for soaking some time, ammo or other resources from the player. Not many games have designs for tank-type monsters specifically, but when they work correctly this role can enable some of the most interesting encounters.

Mancubus, from Doom 3
The Mancubus from Doom 3 is a classic example of the basic tank-type. It’s very large, has a lot of health and is usually placed alongside weaker monsters (except for its first encounter.) For an attack, it shoots fireballs quite rapidly from its two arm cannons. They didn’t show up very often in the game, but when they did they were usually used as large artillery pieces with other monsters for support. It usually made the player want to ignore those others and kill the Mancubus first.

So, what makes an effective tank? Just like the role in any online game, the tank has to be able to take damage and should grab the player’s attention to protect other monsters while they do their jobs. The Mancubus does this fairly well since it’s so large, makes so much noise and can build up damage pretty fast if you let it. It’s not the most threatening monster in the game, but it’s just so obvious that the average player just has to shoot at it. In the case that it has taken the player’s attention, the tank should also survive long enough for those other monsters to do those jobs. The Mancubus has enough raw health to survive for a little while against the player, or else draw some ammo from the player’s more powerful weapons. As it stands, it’s a pretty mediocre tank for a number of reasons, but it’s a very basic, meat-and-potatoes example.

Quake 4 - Gladiator
Another good example of a tank is the Gladiator from Quake 4. While it’s fairly beefy like the Mancubus, it can also put up an energy shield mounted on its arm. Any attacks that strike this shield don’t damage the Gladiator, but it’s still entirely vulnerable if you strike it anywhere else. For weapons, it had a standard blaster, and a very-damaging railgun. Throughout the game, the Gladiator is found leading a group of weaker monsters.

As I said, the tank has to be able to take punishment somehow. The classic tanks like the Mancubus simply just take a lot of damage before dying. The simple high-health tanks have the problem that it will always take this amount of ammo or takes this amount of time to kill. Tanks with some mitigation ability like the Gladiator, though, are more dynamic. In my opinion, some of the best tanks are the ones that can mitigate incoming damage like the Gladiator. These should be designed very carefully, though, because they can be really annoying in the completely wrong way, especially if discovering how to damage it is harder than actually killing it. The Gladiator works in this way because it’s very obvious that the shield prevents damage (or at least reduces it, from the player’s perspective). The player can still shoot around the shield, and the player has multiple weapons at his disposal (such as the grenade launcher) that can bypass the shield entirely.

Halo - Hunter
One of the most incredible monsters capable of soaking up damage in any game I’ve seen is the Hunter from the Halo series. If the player hasn’t seen it before, the sight of a nine-foot tall wall of metal, a set of long spikes arcing from its back, firing explosive balls of energy is really intimidating and immediately demands the player’s focus. What’s more, they always come in pairs. The Hunter is also mostly immune to small-arms fire if you hit the very-abundant armor plating. However, there are a few gaps in the armor where you can hit the tissue beneath, which takes off a lot more health. They can also be damaged and killed by explosives no matter where you hit them.

Damage mitigation is a strong tool for tanks, but it can be very tricky to balance. In the first Halo game, the gaps in the Hunter’s armor count as the head of the model, and some weapons like the pistol will just kill it outright with just a single shot. It’s tricky to hit these spots unless the Hunter is charging at you, so in order to exploit this, the player has to directly put himself in harm’s way (especially tricky with a second Hunter shooting at him). Like with the Gladiator, a quick, intelligent player can get around that mitigation. In this case, I think the Hunter’s defense mechanic wasn’t designed correctly; it’s almost impossible to kill them with normal weapons (even if you’re shooting the weak points, it takes a lot to kill it), but they die to a single “headshot” from headshot-capable weapons. Either it’s a complete stone-wall without explosives or the right weapons, or they die outright with no challenge. It still does take the player’s focus, though, but it dies a little too quickly to work well as a tank. They changed the Hunter quite a bit in later games: In Halo 3, they take a bit more damage, their weak spots are covered up by armor plates that can be shot off, and they don’t die to single attacks even when those weak spots are exposed.

Hell Warrior, from KDiZD
There are some monsters that would potentially make decent tanks, but for many different reasons don’t quite work. The popular ZDoom mod Knee-Deep in ZDoom (KDiZD) had the Hell Warrior. It’s very similar to Doom’s own Hell Knight but with a large shield and an alternate attack that passes through targets. When damaged, it can sometimes raise its shield and become invulnerable for a few seconds. Fights with the Hell Warrior were more about time management, hitting it with high-damage weapons while the shield is down and waiting until it’s vulnerable again.

There were two things wrong with the Hell Warrior in KDiZD. The first is that while it does have some damage mitigation, there’s no choice for the player and no way to play around it. It becomes invulnerable, and the player just has to wait for it to become vulnerable again. The player could take this time to ignore it and focus on other monsters in the encounter. Which leads me to the second issue: there usually weren’t any other monsters in the encounter. The Hell Warrior was almost always placed alone blocking a hallway, and you had to kill it in order to continue. It wasn’t a threat on its own, but it could have done okay supporting other monsters, so its abilities were completely wasted the way it was used.

The last and probably the most situational and minor role of the tank is to use up some of the player’s time. In the Resurrection of Evil expansion for Doom 3, there was a section where you had limited air in this toxic waste area. Once or twice, a Mancubus comes along and blocks your path, forcing you to deal with it while your air was ticking away. This made the limited oxygen mechanic seem more urgent, though there was still more than enough air for the section. Another example was in the Strogg Medical Labs in Quake 4; in one spot, you go into a dead end to pick up some ammo and a Gladiator comes up behind you. You have a limited amount of time to kill it before it walks up to melee range and starts slapping you around, making it much harder to deal with. These timed scenarios are very situational, however, and often depend on outside mechanics (such as limited oxygen) to work correctly. Without those outside mechanics (and even with them sometimes), it just feels like a waste of time for the player without accomplishing anything if it isn’t done right.

In this article, I’m not only talking about how to make a tank-type monster, I’m also talking about how to use the tank role. Any monster that takes enough punishment and is threatening enough to focus on before other monsters is a tank, and there are things to consider when they’re used. If they’re used alone, then it should have a purpose. When they’re used with a group of other monsters, tanks can help create more interesting encounters for the player, making him decide how to proceed and making him think about what he should prioritize. The only times a dedicated tank fails at this role is if they outright die, or if they don’t take the player’s attention. If you design a dedicated tank-type monster, building in damage mitigation can make them more survivable and can add more choices for the player in how to deal with it. Hopefully, I’ve given a good enough overview and given enough to think about when designing and using this role.

Game Reviews: Crysis

     I just played through Crysis. It was… interesting. It has a reputation as a benchmarking game more than anything else with very little thought put into how it plays, but its gameplay was surprisingly solid for the most part. However, it should almost be treated as two separate games.

The main gimmick of this game is that you’re wearing this very advanced nanosuit that has four specialized modes; strength, armor, speed and stealth. Each mode draws from a pool of energy that recharges when you aren’t using any energy-based abilities. You can also customize your weapons with different add-ons, such as scopes, silencers, laser-pointers and flashlights. In actual application, these gimmicks work pretty well. This game does have the reduced player speed (because you would never use speed mode in a firefight) and regenerating health that most modern shooters fall into, however, but it is pulled off better than most. I like how the difficulty settings aren’t just damage scalers as well (it does scale damage, but that’s not all it does); there are actual changes in mechanics.

Most of the game is kind of a sandboxy, objective-based shooter. Most of this is “here is your objective, it’s surrounded by enemy soldiers. Good luck!” Because of your different suit modes, there are multiple approaches to many of the situations, and there are usually some major obstacles to avoid such as helicopters, or very entrenched enemy positions. While it’s possible (though difficult) to play the run-and-gun style, you can avoid many of these obstacles entirely. This isn’t the entire game, however, but it allows for some very dynamic gameplay, with some good replay value.

One example of how dynamic the first half is, in the third map, Relic, after you find Dr. Rosenthal, you have to make your way to the extraction point. As soon as I got to the river, I found a boat and figured I could use it to go the rest of the way. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the waterfall, and around the bottom was an enemy helicopter. I ditched the boat immediately and tried to hide, but the thing chased me quite a far way for about 15 minutes. I did hit it with the single rocket I had left, but that wasn’t enough to bring it down. Eventually, I got near this one checkpoint on the road I cleared out earlier, but it was on the other side of the river, past this short bridge. I put on speed mode, beelined under the bridge, recharged my energy, cloaked and crawled over to a jeep I left earlier, and used the gun on it to shoot down the helicopter. Because the helicopter gave me some trouble earlier, it was really satisfying! This is impressive because it isn’t scripted to happen like that at all. I could’ve shot down the helicopter earlier on with another rocket launcher I found; I could’ve been in a lot more trouble if I hadn’t cleared out that checkpoint earlier; I could’ve avoided the boat and walked the whole way (or taken a jeep); or I could’ve just not run into the helicopter (it’s on a patrol route, not just sitting there all the time). Any other modern, story-based FPS would’ve forced you to get in the boat and put the helicopter on you immediately (Half-Life 2, anyone?), for example.

But I think it’s a shame that it sets this convention of almost-sandboxy gameplay for the first half, then abandons it (along with some mechanics and weapons) entirely. After the first boss, you have one level where you’re inside of the buried alien installation in this very nice zero-gravity segment (one of my favourite parts of any first-person shooter). After that, however, the game turns into the standard, linear shooter. There is one path, and one way to do things. Additionally, the stealth mode of your suit becomes literally useless because the alien drones can see you regardless. Some of the weapons (submachinegun and precision rifle) disappear too, because they’re apparently not useful beyond that point. Luckily, this part of the game is a lot shorter because the first “half” just takes longer.

The bosses as well are fairly weak. The first one is the general of the Korean army you’ve been fighting up to this point, and he’s wearing a nanosuit like yours, wielding a heavy minigun. I’m not sure if I bugged it out somehow, but I stood under the platform he was standing on, and he couldn’t hurt me. I was able to stealth, pick up ammo and take pot-shots with a precision rifle from my safe position. I didn’t even take any damage. The boss of the latter half of the game is worse. For the first segment, you’re fighting this large walker (the Hunter) and occasionally a few of these flying gunships (Scouts). The only way this can kill you is if it freezes you while the Scouts are shooting at you, which is an instant-kill because you simply get shattered. However, the Gauss Rifle can kill Scouts in two shots, and there is a large amount of ammo for it lying around the arena, so this happens pretty rarely. One other annoying part about this fight is that you get this nuclear grenade launcher right before it, but you can’t use it. It would’ve made it too easy, I understand, but it just feels wrong. Right after that is the final boss (the Warrior), which has some easily-destroyed turrets for the first phase, and in the second phase just throws waves of the basic alien unit (Troopers). When you destroy one wave of Troopers, it immediately throws another wave at you. Oh, and these Troopers can also instantly kill you, especially easily if you’re focusing on the Warrior. That said, besides the Troopers, this fight actually isn’t all that difficult. It just feels poorly thought out in general.

Then the only other weak point of the game is the occasional vehicle segment; especially where you’re driving a tank in the first half. The tank segment is more frustrating than anything else, as there are enemy soldiers with rocket launchers everywhere. Hard to spot, and can kill you very quickly. At one point, it’s a lot easier to just play on foot, as you  are actually capable of spotting and killing rocket launchers then. The VTOL segment is okay, though there were one or two bugs I thought were annoying. Every once in a while I would get caught in a tornado that I was nowhere near, or one of my escorting aircraft rammed into me. It feel like the projectiles from its minigun should be faster, though.

Overall, I kind of like this game. The second half is okay, not terrible but not great either, but the first half makes up for it in a big way. It has its sour parts, but it’s great fun to replay the first few maps a few times, especially the fourth map. If you want me to critique its graphics, though, look somewhere else or watch a video.