After my indoor zombie experimentation, where the ranged player characters were overwhelmed by beefed up melee enemies who could take advantage of short sight lines and swarm the player, I decided to take the action outside.
There was two reasons for this;
- The new level design would have the immediate, but somewhat tough to measure, effect of rebalancing the game in favour of ranged heroes who can now use the full benefit of their greater range.
- With the game already rebalanced in favour of the player I now have a better space to start tweaking range/damage/health variables to get the levelling behaving as I want.
Here’s a quick explanation of the thinking behind the map layout:
- I started by laying out a rectangular grid (with rectangle spaces), placing the player on the left hand side of the map (highlighted by the orange rectangle).
- This is a tried and tested trope and felt like a good place to start.
- The player has an initial choice. They must decide whether to go south or north around the blockage to their east.
- They could also decide to split their team at this point.
- The north looks is more appealing as the player does not have to travel over movement limiting blocks.
- However, depending on player choices, this is probably false economy in the long run as the northern route has shorter sightlines and more enemies obscured by the environment.
- The southern route is more open, giving the ranged heroes an advantage, but has more enemies.
- The central mountain offers players an additional choice.
- They can switch from the northern route to the southern route (or vice versa) at this point.
- The last section of the level is a funnel down into the final few enemies, providing a traditional “final encounter” before the level was completed.
Compared with the indoor level, this experiment was much more reasonable on the player. It was possible to kite melee heroes, using terrain to control the speed of their advance. The sight lines, and the ability to fire at maximum range, also helped the ranged player. However, the basic setup of the toolkit seems to need both ranged and melee characters on each team to balance the combat. Ranged heroes do too little damage against their melee opposition (about 40% of their health per shot), which means that a squad of two melee enemies could break through a squad of five ranged enemies. This is fine in some contexts but, in a zombie game, it doesn’t allow for larger hordes of enemies to be gunned down by the player and doesn’t facilitate that sense of being surrounded in the classic “zombie movie” way. One further issue, that compounded the balancing issues of melee vs ranged, was the default activation range on enemies. Basically, the default setting allows melee enemies to respond to the player regardless of where they are on the map. This has the obvious balance implication (over-large packs of over-strong enemies) and also prevents me setting up interesting combinations of enemy placement and environment. Everything just rushes you, so by the time you reach the bottlenecks, open plains and cover sections there are no enemies left (and you are probably dead).
In order to combat these issues, I spent some time balancing out some of the key variables that affect enemy AI and balance.
- AI search range was reduced to 7 blocks.
- This was the first change I made.
- It mirrors attack range, so the player can’t just edge up to the zombie and shoot them without the AI responding.
- In a stroke, this solved the problem of enemies swarming the player and allowed me to set up interesting enemy/environment combinations.
- I reduced the max health and starting health of the melee enemies.
- The default starting damage of the ranged players was 35. The default starting health of a melee enemy was 100.
- This balance lacked that “human with a rifle vs. soft and squishy zombie feel”.
- It also meant that a zombie would need 3 shots to kill. With a squad of 5, that meant every turn I would only be able to kill one new zombie.
- Any team would just get overrun.
- I reduced melee enemy starting health and max health to 60. This means that two zombies could be taken out by 4 players in one turn, with a bit of damage to spare.
Those two changes allowed for the following experience:
With these changes, it is now possible to prototype out some basic level designs. I might even return to an indoor environment to see how that plays out.