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  • Level Design Patterns In 2D Games

    - Ahmed Khalifa

  • Safe Zone

    Safe Zone is the pattern that refers to one or more areas in the current scene where the players are not exposed to negative interactions (hazards, enemies, and etc). Having Safe Zones creates pockets of space where players can analyze the surroundings and safely plan their next actions. They are especially important at the starting point (spawn point) for the avatar, as not to punish players before they can become aware of the challenge ahead of them. Safe Zones are rarely effectively drawn on the screen, but rather being identified after observing the scene for a short amount of time to notice hazard reach and patterns.

    In the previous figure, we draw, with red dotted lines, the line of fire of the enemies present on the screen, which are invisible in the actual game. In these examples, the Safe Zone is a space where the avatar can stand in without intersecting any line of fire. In the scene from Mega Man (Capcom, 1987) shown in the left image, we can notice Safe Zones on the bottom-most platforms, right above the leftmost ladder and at the top-right of the screen. In the scene from Star Guard (Loren Schmit, 2010) we can notice the Safe Zones as the empty black spaces. In these scenarios, it is common for players to try and devise strategies of how to move between Safe Zones while proceeding closer to their goal.

    In the previous figure, we draw dotted red rectangles to highlight Safe Zones in the scene. The level from Linelight (Brett Taylor, 2017) shown in the left image has a big center area where the moving hazards cannot reach the player. It is important for players to use the Safe Zone to maneuver the scene, as hazards move faster than their avatar. The right image shows that doorways of dungeon rooms in The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1986) are Safe Zones that allow players to become familiar with the challenge they are about to face.

    Safe Zones can provide the opportunity for Pace Breaking, a pattern we describe later in this post. They can also be used to express Guidance, guiding the player to favor certain paths over others. The same concept of Safe Zone has appeared in previous work [8], [24], [26], [34], but has usually been used to host checkpoints and save rooms [4], [5], [14], [36].


    Foreshadowing is a literary concept [55]-[57] where the author hints at something that will happen later in the story. The general concept can be applied to games [6], [10], [14], [15], [41]. We then call Foreshadowing the pattern of introducing the player to an element under a controlled environment, before this element is more integral to the game.

    Foreshadowing is a helpful pattern to help players experience a new game mechanic or game object without an explicit tutorial. Once players learned the basics, the game can present a challenging situation around this concept. The previous figure shows how Mighty Jill Off (Anna Anthropy, 2008) introduces a new hazard. The spider is first introduced in the scene shown in the left image and becomes more threatening later in the game as shown in the right image.

    The above figure shows how a stage hazard in Mega Man (Capcom, 1987) foreshadows the boss fight in that level. During the level, players are confronted by the scissor-shaped projectiles shown in the left image which foreshadows the stage's boss's weapon, as shown in the right image.

    Foreshadowing can also instigate players curiosity, making them excited about future possibilities. This is a common feature in games with an exploratory nature. The previous figure shows two examples of such. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1991) introduces objects that the player can only interact with later in the game, as shown in the left image. Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994) teases paths only accessible after acquiring a power-up present later in the game. This application of Foreshadow tends to reflect a design that gives players incentives to backtrack, which is a common action associated with exploration.


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