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

Chapter 15: To Save A Life

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Catacombs Core Combat

After dropping down into the catacombs, Galahad hears voices approaching. Two guards heard his entrance and are coming to check out the disturbance.

Once they're dispatched, things heat up quickly. Galahad enters a sort of antechamber space flooded with well-armed Army guards. Rickety cover spots, automatic rifles, and a grenade-throwing enemy cause the encounter space to alter over time as cover options for the player and the enemies break down as the fight progresses.


Antechamber Flythrough


As the fight crests, an armory guard with a heavily-modified shotgun arrives to keep things tense, but Galahad prevails. He scrounges for dropped weapons and ammo, knowing that the worst is yet to come.


 
Intent

The first little fight is an amuse-bouche. Though the combat in Embankment uses many of the core mechanics, there was concern that players might need a little time to get back into the mindset of using cover before being given a real challenge.



The second encounter—really, this whole level—was built in a particular way out of necessity. During development, it became clear that the levels we had developed early on were going to be more expensive to finish properly that anticipated, so certain belts were tightened and I was given a directive:  make the final level really cool and fun and exciting, but rely heavily on core mechanics to minimize the custom work that was so prevalent earlier.


Analysis

The end result might be my favorite fight in the game. Though I do love the variety and desperation of the Armory battle (see next page), this one is simple for a player to understand yet throws a lot of different small choices at the player, and does a couple of things a little differently than past encounters.

Take, for example, what's called the "anchor" cover—the most prominent thing to hide behind the instant a fight starts. In most other combat spaces in the game, we made sure that this spot provides full, permanent protection. But due to the way certain gameplay mechanics turned out, we found that players tended to feel too safe at the anchors and needed encouragement to move further into fight areas. We hadn't leveraged destructible cover in too many other fights in the game, so it occurred to me that this provided a one-off opportunity to work on both issues.



(The Armory addresses the problem in a different way—by making the anchor easily flankable by enemies, so if the player wants to keep it, they have to protect it!)


The rest of the Antechamber combat throws other "soft curveballs" at the player. For example, the fight starts with a grenade-equipped enemy (usually a prime target for players to take out first), but I put him at the back of the fight and restrict him from throwing any grenades for the first 30 seconds or so of the fight.  (He's in the very center of the image below, in cover.)



If the player recognizes him and the threat he represents, they can focus on him early, but it means closer, more immediate threats must be left alive. If he isn't prioritized, the player will likely have taken out a few of those closer enemies by the time he reveals himself. As an added bonus, his first grenade is basically guaranteed to destroy the "anchor" cover if it's still intact.

Wherever the player moves during the fight also changes the options available. Push forward early (into danger) and get a grenade that can be used to even the odds. Move to cover on the outer edge (which can be risky), and you're likely to find a powerful machine pistol—which can be a life-saver in the right situations. Throw in one late-arriving armoted shotgun enemy (properly scripted to be a pest rather than becoming what the whole fight is about), and you've got a mostly straightforward, slightly quirky, highly variable experience!


Gameplay Video

As both a player and a designer, my favorite fights are those that play out very differently each time because then they're fun to re-play either after you die or on revisiting a level.



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