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 Post subject: Pacing: On Filler, Breaks, and Stage Length
PostPosted: Wed Jun 21, 2017 8:59 pm 

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Joined: 12 Jan 2013
Posts: 5165
So I recently posted a playable demo for my game, and have been receiving feedback on it.

For reasons not worth typing up again here, I made the demo a bit long, the pacing fast, and the difficulty a bit too high for the early game.

One criticism I received was that the pacing was so fast - with almost no breaks - that it stopped being fun. Since then, I've been contemplating ways to change this.

My previous modus operandi is that each enemy wave and pattern should be "meaningful". IE there should be something to think about, react to, multitask, risk/reward etc. There shouldn't be any waves where the player can kind of "auto pilot", so to speak. Difficulty isn't necessarily connected. I count "easy" sections too so long as you're thinking.

But I'm starting to wonder, can those "filler" patterns be invaluable to giving the player a "break" and making the more intense sections feel more meaningful? I'm thinking back to Platinum's lecture on "High Level Design" particularly here. Another option would be to simply throw a wave at you every now and then that's just a power up carrier and nothing else.

For a more fast past game that doesn't fry the players brain, the alternative that occurred to me was simply making the stages shorter, Psikyo style (1 minute each or less). With the "breaks" being the actual stage clear/score reading segment and pre-boss warning.
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 Post subject: Re: Pacing: On Filler, Breaks, and Stage Length
PostPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 1:42 pm 

Joined: 19 May 2017
Posts: 21
I was having the same trouble, actually was in a dilemma, here's a repost.



Every ship holds a different value, small ones from the screenshot are worth 1, and that nasty marine carrier is worth 5. When they appear on-screen, the total value in the pool is 10 (five small ships worth 1, and one big ship worth 5). The pool size is growing with players experience, which increases by killing enemies.

Now, i actually need your help since there are two possible scenarios here.

Scenario 1 - Smoother gameplay, not enough breathing room if you play well

I can do a check of the total pool value in smaller intervals (like a second), and according to total pool value and experience points variable, further ships are spawned, but not above the maximum pool value determined by experience points. For better players that manage to do their kills quick, this will actually provide a constant flow of enemies. For the ones perhaps struggling a bit, it won't spawn enemies as fast. The con to this is having no breaks if you are good, which can be tiresome. I don't plan the levels to be too long (from 30 seconds on the first level to 2-3 minutes on the later levels) and the pauses will be in the form of hyperspace between levels, but some other form of taking a breath would probably we welcome, maybe a subset of waves in the level.

Scenario 2 - More natural progression, more breathing room, risk of not so smooth gameplay

In the other case, i would make a total pool value check a bit more dynamic. When the game starts, the checks can be done every few seconds, and the time between checks can get shorter as the player progresses. While this provides some breathing room between the waves and a more natural progression of the difficulty level, it tends to group everything. If you clear the screen before the next total pool value check, the game can throw a lot of things at you if the pool is already at such a level it can hold a lot of enemies.

On early levels, if you are a good player, you will clear the screen in a jiffy and then wait for the next wave. If the wait is too long, it gets boring over time and, like mentioned in the last paragraph, the next wave can be overwhelming.

In the end, i opted for scenario 2 with some modifications based on number of enemies on screen. Level lengths are between 45 sec and 2 and a half minutes (depends how long you need to reach exp level needed for triggering the boss). I call it the adaptive difficulty level. Hope it's of any help.

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 Post subject: Re: Pacing: On Filler, Breaks, and Stage Length
PostPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 2:32 pm 

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Joined: 03 Oct 2011
Posts: 3216
Location: Southern Ontario
Squire Grooktook wrote:
But I'm starting to wonder, can those "filler" patterns be invaluable to giving the player a "break" and making the more intense sections feel more meaningful?

Absolutely. Sometimes throwing a wave of trivial enemies as a kind of break before a difficult section can act as a quick rest as well as a signal for what's coming next. Same goes for a dramatic boss appearance - it's not just interesting cinematically, but it can give you a quick chance to stretch, mentally prepare for what's coming.

Mushihimesama Futari Stage 4 has an intense section before the midboss where you have to rapidly sweep left and right to 'pop' the large beetles (which can overwhelm you if you don't kill them quickly) while dealing with incoming popcorn. As soon as it's done, there's a length segment where the screen fills with popcorn that simply rushes you - if you know it's coming, it's easy to simply tap dodge to stream them while firing, and then the midboss appears. The rush of popcorn is visually intense, but the difficulty minimal compared to what you just went through to where it's a quick rest before the midboss shows up.

Non-shmup example: Streets of Rage 2, you've gone through a hellish boss rush in a cramped elevator with some of the most difficult enemies in the game. The final boss and his really scary looking bodyguard appears and... instead of fighting you immediately, he throws two waves of the easiest enemies in the game at you that you've been facing since Stage 1. This totally works, because it gives you a break after the elevator fights while still maintaining the dramatic tension of "OHMYGOSH I'M ABOUT TO FIGHT THE FINAL BOSSES". How easy these enemies are by this point in the game also serves to starkly contrast with how difficult his bodyguard is when the bodyguard attacks you solo, and can absolutely mess you up being one of the hardest 1 on 1 fights in the game. Then, when you kill him, the final boss fight starts proper, and the final boss attacks with an infinite swarm of those easy enemies (that he guns down mercilessly as he tries to hit you) and it's just frantic as hell and awesome.

Hopefully those are decent examples of what you're talking about? They're was came to mind anyways.
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