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  • Level Design Patterns In 2D Games

    - Ahmed Khalifa

  • Guidance

    When playing a level, it is possible for players to lose track of the path they need to take, especially when exploration is an aspect of the design. The pattern we name Guidance refers to the use of non-verbal game elements to guide players in an intended direction. We rather classify verbal guidance and tutorials (verbal or not), such as a non-playable character giving instructions or tips, or a character showing you an action you can replicate, as a game design element of teaching or narrative purpose. This pattern encompasses the concept of guiding players both towards making direct progress in the level, as well as in the direction of a secret or collectible.

    The easiest way to guide the player is through the level shape. In this pattern, designers use solid tiles to guide the player eyes towards the target direction. This pattern has been discussed more often in 3D games [31], [32], [42], [54] than 2D ones [17], [36]. The main reason is in 3D games players usually have more freedom of movement which requires the designers to have to push them towards the next location. The previous figure shows how Super Meat Boy (Team Meat, 2010) and Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1990) use solid tiles to convey the direction the player needs to traverse the level.

    One of the most common representations of Guidance is done through the use of collectibles. It can indicate the main path, as well as provide awareness to areas players are not able to see yet. Developers can use this technique to guide players away from "bad decisions" such as performing a blind jump because they cannot perceive the correct path through another location. Collectibles can also be used to guide players into exploring a path that initially looks "dangerous" or incorrect, or to steer them into a safe location or target area when they cannot see ahead of them. An example can be seen in the previous figure. The figure shows two follow-up screens in Donkey Kong Country 2 (Rare, 1994). At the end of the second level of the game, if players dive where the bananas are located, as in the left image, in what looks like a bottomless pit, they will be greeted with the platform below, shown in the right image. This type of guidance has been mentioned in previous work by Anthropy [36], Smith [24], Pugh [32], Koncewicz [23], and Kremers [40]. The concept is referenced under multiple names, such as breadcrumbing [32] and signifiers [36], but the meaning remains the same.

    Hazards are another common artifact to represent Guidance. With positioning alone, hazards can influence players inertia, as pointed out by Anna Anthropy [36] and Milam and El Nasr [42]. In Expand (Chris Johnson and Chris Larkin, 2015) players move a pink rectangle in Polar coordinates, as opposed to Cartesian coordinates, trying to reach the center of the circle. The previous figure shows the comparison of a scene with and without a hazard, the red floor, in the inner circle. In such a scene, if the hazard is absent as in the right image, players can always resort to touching the inner circle and thus giving them more time to avoid the moving hazards. With the inner circle covered by the red floor, which kills on touch, players are forced to keep a safe distance from that area, as shown in the left image. Although both are the same scene, players usually proceed differently when approaching each.

    Enemies can induce Guidance in a different fashion than most hazards. Enemies can be used to attract players attention, as they intend to fight them. This type of guidance has been discussed in the Boss Key Series [15] during the analysis of Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994), it was discussed in the work Milam and El Nasr [42] during analysis of pursue AI pattern in 3D games, and in Hoeg's work [22] during discussing the effect of movement on player choices in FPS games. The presence of enemies guides players towards their location. For instance, enemies in seemingly inaccessible locations cause the players to wonder how to reach such. The left image in the previous figure shows how Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994) uses enemies to guide players into the intended path. The right image shows enemies being used to attracting players to a trap (where the floor collapses), rather than a rewarding path, in Castlevania Legends (Konami, 1997).

    Another common representation of Guidance is using environmental cues such as highlighted tiles (changing the color or texture of certain tiles in the scene instigates player curiosity). This technique has been discussed in several previous work [3], [10], [15], [18], [31], [41], [42], [54]. Authors discuss how the use of different environment tiles can draw players' focus to certain areas, instigating them to explore. The previous figure shows how different textured tiles are used in Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994) and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1991), respectively, to evoke player exploration.


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