Level: Airship
Level: Blackwall Yard
Level: Embankment
Level: Catacombs

Chapter 9: An Uneasy Alliance

Section  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |  5  | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11


Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
Anchor Cover

Possibly the most important piece of cover in a fight is the "anchor" cover.  This is usually a clear, obvious piece of cover near the entrance to the space that acts to "draw the player in" to the combat.



The anchor isn't always the first cover the player sees (notice I'm in cover further back for these screenshots).

Nor is it necessarily "safer" than other cover.  The "anchor" in this fight is intentionally "contested" by close-up enemies and gives one enemy an advantageous perch to shoot down at the player.  (That enemy is a grenadier:  if the player moves to the anchor, the grenadier is likely to lob a smoke grenade at him!)



The anchor cover should feel enticing, though, so we placed an automatic rifle there.  In addition, we add a guard with a shotgun to the fight right after it starts—this enemy doesn't hang back like the others, but quickly moves in close.  



Getting close forces the player to dispatch him.  And when he drops his weapon, he's likely to do it between the player and the anchor.  And it's a powerful but short-range weapon, so by taking it and moving to the anchor, the player put himself at a good range to use the shotgun on the other guards!

Great use of an anchor.



Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
Not always a perfect fit

The fight stumbles a bit as it turns the corner, however.

Late in development, we realized we weren't giving the player our title's "signature" special weapons frequently enough, and the armored enemies that wield them were also scarce.  We did a survey of all the fights in the game and found a few where we could theoretically afford to work these "heavy units" in to existing battles.

The armored enemy who wields the Thermite Rifle is particularly difficult to find spots for.  His weapon is intended as a "cover-buster," forcing enemy targets to flee from the silver particles it delivers (see image) before they can be ignited into white-hot flames by a follow-up flare.



It was decided that we'd add a Thermite Rifle-wielding enemy here and make the best of it.  As I worked the problem, I realized that the space wasn't a good fit for him:  the anchor cover on this stretch of the fight space didn't help much, and his "cover-buster" meant that the player would have to leave cover and expose himself to danger every few seconds anyway.

Furthermore, although the guard had the ability to drop down from the balcony, his A.I. (correctly) recognized that there wasn't much of an advantage to him to do it.



I hit upon a kind of solution:  since the enemy is disinclined to drop down on his own, I script him to do it upon seeing the player.

That way, we achieve the proper moment of terror at seeing this significant threat who also has the high ground, but he's down on the ground as soon as possible, where his weapon is much less effective against the player.

(Why?  The Thermite Rifle works best with some sort of "backboard" for the shots to hit, and although it may seem strange, when shooting down at the player, the ground itself works as just enough of a "backboard" to work.  When he's at the same height, more of his shots either hit the front of cover or miss entirely.)



Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
Fight directionality

(This page is a long one, but stick with it!  The topics build on each other.)

Here's an example of another fight—later in the level—with a clear piece of anchor cover.  The enemies can fight from both the left and right sides (though they can't approach from the right and instead circle back around to the left).



No problem so far!

Except... oww!  Why am I taking damage from the right (as indicated by the reddening of the right side of the screen) when I'm behind cover?



This fight has a special quirk—in addition to the enemies straight ahead, there are some to the side, creating a fight (potentially) on two fronts!

Changing the direction of the fight mid-battle is sort of a "holy grail" of combat encounter design... it's tried often, and creates a really uniqure experience when it's done correctly!

Realistically, the enemies on the platform far below on the right aren't much of a threat at this point, but can be sort of a nuisance.  (In one of the sections lower on this page, I'll explain why they're there!  Stay tuned!)





Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
Enemies with special weaponry

As the player starts to get the upper hand in this fight, a new type of enemy shows up and changes all the rules.

This UIC guard is armed with another "signature" special weapon, though, this time, not one the player has seen before.  This "Detonator" lobs special grenades which stick to surfaces and can be detonated at the wielder's discretion with the press of a radio trigger.



It's quite deadly, and therein lies the problem with The Order: 1886's signature weapons—they're so powerful when they're in the player's hands that they aren't always much fun when an enemy uses them against the player.

It's an important thing to consider, because, often, the player needs to receive weapons by taking them away from enemies.  (Plus, going up against these mini-bosses properly boosts the tension of any given combat encounter.)

We ended up having to create a delicate balance where these enemies aren't totally inept with their weapons, but aren't nearly as good with them as a skilled player.



Similarly, rounding the horn of this fight, Lakshmi spots a sniper enemy perched on a crane a distance away.  He can be located by the tell-tale glint of sunlight off his scope.

Problem is, he's a sniper.  Unlike the Thermite Rifle or Detonator enemies, it doesn't make sense for there to be much sloppiness in his aim.

Rather than go the route some games take, where the sniper takes a few extra seconds to line up a shot (giving the player a reliable window to get back into cover), we approached this enemy type differently.

Like a player would, snipers in The Order line up their shot while the target is in cover and are ready to hit him the moment he reveals himself.  This is a less-"game-y", more deadly approach, but I personally don't think it's much fun.



Another common difficulty in combat design (that I'll cover briefly again in a later section) is having to account for whatever possible weapons the player might have brought with him from previous fights.

While often not a problem—and, often, it's part of the fun of designing a sequence of encounters (planning what weapon the player will leave one fight with and structuring the next fight accordingly)—it sometimes leads to unfortunate situations like this one:

Several of the weapons available in the fight on top of the ship just aren't that good for dealing with the sniper.

He doesn't provide enough of a window to throw a grenade, and he's at such a distance that several of the pistols / rifles the player may have picked up are all but useless.  The designer has placed a sniper rifle nearby, intending for players to use it, but what if they don't notice it?  (I sometimes don't.)



It's tough to know what to do in this situation as a designer.  Take out the weapons that don't help against this one enemy (and risk hurting that fight instead)?  Lose or relocate the sniper (despite the fact that the tower was clearly put there as a platform for him)?

I think (perhaps) it might have worked to move the sniper down to the platform in front of the shipping warehouse.  Putting him at a low angle may not be as fun as giving him the height advantage, but it would allow the player to use the whole top of the ship as "backtracking" space if hit.  And might have allowed the element described below to be an opportunity to turn the tables on him.



Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
Cool payoffs

All of the above probably makes it sound like I'm not happy with how the fights in the level turned out.  I want to point out that's not the case—simply that many of the combat ideas are ambitious, which can create challenges.

In fact, I think the ambitious designs in this level create some of the best payoffs in the game when everything comes together. Take, for example, the payoff for the two (possible) fight directions and forcing the player to confront the Detonator enemy:  this moment, where the player picks up the Detonator and can learn how it works in the best possible situation!





Because the level's designer was highly ambitious, the player even walks across that very same space just moments later!  It's difficult to overstate the power of this at effectively creating the sense of A Believable & Continuous World (see Section 1 ) in a player's mind.





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