Discover more from AltDevArts
Enemies are a key integral part of many games. Their abilities, attributes, and design are critical to delivering the experience you want. I’d like to take the time to talk through creating an initial high-level overview of an enemy and how to make them understandable to the player.
Rules of the world
The world we live in has many general rules we learn from childhood on. We use those rules to form opinions about things we see. In-case of enemies we have rules such as:
Wild predators might attack you if you appear to be a threat or food
Vibrant colors on animals tend to be warnings
Yelling, barking, growling, and hissing are are signs of hostility
Predators have weapon like features and an ability to track prey well
Big muscles are powerful
Body abnormalities perform better or worse than normal
Even with those rules, sometimes we mistake cute and deadly. Take this cuddly leopard seal.
They might get a little bored and decide to drown a snorkler for a laugh.
When we make a game we are potentially creating a world that the player will be virtually living in. That player hasn’t had years to learn the rules of the world. We want the world to make sense and feel like home to them. If we do a poor job of introducing or creating the rules then we can end up with a frustrating boring game.
Let’s say we are making several different enemies in a game. A boxer, a radio operator, a medic, and a sniper. What if all four of them looked like this:
Would you have any idea who might be of what type of threat? We see this in many games, some enemies are almost identical in appearance but have vastly different abilities. Maybe the color has been varied with some being red and others being green. It's a train wreck on many levels.
We need to create enemies by building either from rules from our world, rules from popular culture, or rules we have introduced in the game.
Creating new world rules
Maybe I want to create an enemy that can kill the player but can’t be harmed until a later act of the story. I will need the game to give warning to the player that the enemy is special than others, that the enemy can’t be harmed, and that the player needs to run.
A little brainstorming to create something with those requirements:
Make the enemy a ghost character to help indicate the enemy is special
Show attacks passing through the enemy ghost with no affect
Have a fog precede the ghost’s appearance as a world warning the ghost is coming
Have the fog do a small bit of damage to the hero to indicate the danger
Have the ghost do a soul type damage attack and a fog type damage attack
That character will make sense in the world. It uses some distinct unseen features while still staying within the player’s understanding of the real world. Its abilities and attacks seem reasonable for the world.
Rarely the description we gave above is enough. We should create better descriptions to help our art team take these enemies from flat text and make them live and breathe on-screen.
Something more usable
Let’s build out a couple of different versions of a tank style fighter for a game. A traditional tank in a game is supposed to protect and suck up all of the damage for the group. They don’t usually have many strategic tricks. They just get out there to get hit and pound on an enemy.
If we wanted to go for the generic variant, we want to pull motifs that indicate toughness, ability to hold ground, and fight. Thoughts that come to mind are words such as:
Scarred from battle
Very predatory in shape and nature
Quick to enter combat
Slightly mentally off
Considering those elements I did a quick write up for this generic tank. This is a quick and dirty description as is all the writing I do on the site. As discussed in a different post, we can do much better if we iterate. You can watch that video here.
Tank 1 description:
The world around you seems to lose focus as you see that across the way a huge man has taken notice of you. His unnaturally large muscles have forced his posture to become almost gorilla-like. His cargo pants are clean but have fresh blood on them. He is not bleeding though. It seems natural for him to be shirtless. Any shirt would have to have been custom made. Over the years his leathery battle scarred skin has formed calluses that are almost armor like. It seems he has lost an eye and is down to just one. That eye is clearly fixed on you, slightly glowing like a predator at night. It is obvious that his two hands are his primary weapons. You are already at risk as he could easily leap the long distance onto you before you really have time to react. Reading his lips it appears as if he is counting down. 3…2…
Something less generic
Maybe we are tired of generic tanks or our game is offering a bit more of a twist. Let’s take another look at what we want from this enemy. We want an enemy who can stand out in-front of a bunch of opponents, suck up damage, and deal a decent amount of damage.
The first idea off the top of my head is that black holes suck things up. They would seem to be impossible to damage. I could give my enemy a black hole as their shield. Does this make scientific sense? Nope.
It doesn’t matter though. Player’s will understand the concept, understand the danger, and we can make up a way that the enemy’s blackhole is both contained and vulnerable.
Some different directions we could try:
We could have a flat robot with wheels. It could roam around with the black hole on top of it
We could have a creature with a black hole for a head
We could have a floating wisp type character with a black hole in it
We could have a person with a containment field carrying the black hole
For the vision of this tank I’m feeling more science, less magic, more people, less contraptions.
Let’s say this is a person carrying the blackhole with a scientist slant to them. We could have our scientist be a giant looming powerful person. It could take a strong person to hold onto the blackhole. Although fun it doesn’t really indicate a weakness. Making the scientist very breakable gives a hint of where the player should attack.
A black hole seems to be a good defense but gives no offense. We could think about adding a way to fire some of the light orbiting the black hole at the hero. A little cheesy but should do for this example.
Combining all of that we get:
Tank 2 description:
Built like a frail marathon runner, this waif of a man stands before you wearing well worn shockingly white overalls. Unkempt hair eventually leads to dark purple goggles protecting and hiding their eyes. Strapped to his back is some sort of metal tube like machine. It seems to be unstable as it is arcing and sparking randomly. The frail man is holding up a protective dish in front of him. Inside the dish is what appears to be a black hole spinning threateningly. An unfortunate fly passing by is sucked into the black hole. You think the black hole may have slightly grown bigger from it. The man eyes lock onto yours. He gives a wry evil smile that is barely visible behind the dish and arcing electronics. His left hand has shifted and aimed a tube from the bottom of the dish at you. It is pulsing with the same energy that is flowing around the black hole. He seems almost eager to see what you may try to do.
Start making enemies
When I create enemies I like to ensure they can be reasoned about as a friend or foe just by looking at them. What they are, what they do, and how they operate in the world should make sense. If their character grows, changes, suddenly is revealed to now be an enemy or switches sides we should reflect that by treating them like a new character with an updated design.
Let’s go make some enemies.
AltDevArts is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.