Are your dungeons broken? Do your players throw rotten fruit at you when they have to play your game? Do your game-making rivals snicker at you every time you make a new release? Don’t suffer under the embarrassment of horrible gameplay! Read our dungeon design tips and fix it!
(Okay, that was way too dramatic. We’re just gonna offer some more tips for designing better dungeons. If you’re just joining us, check out Part 1 here.)
Okay, let’s pick up where we left off!
Reduce enemy encounters in puzzle areas
Have you ever tried to solve a puzzle in a dungeon and find yourself constantly fighting off random battles? And by the time you finish the annoying, in-the-way battle, you forgot what you were doing in the puzzle in the first place?
Yeah, that gets old.
Highly recommended: when your play dynamic shifts…in this case, emphasizing puzzle over battles…consider reducing less important play elements (random battles). This will create focus on what you actually want the player to focus on in any particular situation. This actually applies to a lot of circumstances, funneling attention toward what is important.
Hints for Big Events
Here’s a new addition to our sheet of things that are just plain polite for gameplay. Do you have ways to hint to your player that a boss fight is near? Or that a point-of-no-return is coming? Maybe your player is playing along, thinking they’ll quit in a few minutes, as soon as they find the next save point, and suddenly they’re stuck in an involved cutscene and can’t quickly quit to go deal with something else.
So, what to do about that? Earthbound alerts players that a boss fight is imminent by representing the boss on the map with a consistent sparkle. You see that, you always know a boss fight is coming, and you can prepare properly.
Or consider Ara Fell. This is a game that does an excellent job of ensuring that the player knows when anything abnormal is coming…even a lengthy cutscene. Boss fight coming? Save reminder, point of no return reminder. Long cutscene? Reminders. Not only do you know something’s up and can prepare for it, you have a chance to conveniently save. It might be too hand-holdy for some peoples’ preferences, but you gotta admit, it caters to player comfort.
Multiple Ways to Solve Problems
Most games, especially RPGs, tend to present a problem…of any variety…with one solution to the problem. From a certain standpoint, this makes sense. A lock takes a key. A switch needs to be flipped.
But what if any given problem could have more than one solution? What if you could choose to fight the battle…or circumvent it by taking a separate action? What if you could use the key to open the door…or blow it up with a bomb?
Having a straightforward solution is good, but having a separate solution that can make things easier for the player, or give a better payoff, is even better. The players who don’t take notice of the separate solution can keep playing along the intuitive route, but the clever players get to bask in the aura of their own smartness if they obviously avoided something they didn’t really want to be involved in anyway.
Make Sure Items Do Logical Things
Usually, this is pretty straightforward. Again, keys fit locks. Round recesses might take mystical orbs of power. Torches should be lit (or snuffed out). Tiles should be stepped on, possibly in the right order.
You might be thinking this is a crazy thing to add to this list, until you realize that this item made the list because, I’ve been told, a certain game that shall remain nameless uses an axe to chop up rocks to clear a path.
What. The. Heck. Even.
It isn’t fair to players to expect them to figure out that your common item does an uncommon thing.
And while you’re at it, make sure your puzzles themselves make sense.
The player may not understand how to solve the puzzle, but the provided details need to make a sensible framework. Besides having the elements make sense…don’t expect people to be able to know things like “this rock can be set on fire”…the puzzle should have such a flow that the player can’t, and shouldn’t need to, resort to trial and error to get by. For instance, if you have a button-pushing puzzle that consists of only a small handful of buttons, the player might well just randomly push buttons until they discover the answer, without actually having to think about it except for keeping track of the combinations they’ve tried. It’s mostly tedious and there’s no real reward for it since no brain power went into it. Have your beta testers try it out and see if they actually solve the puzzle the way you intend.
Vary up the treasure
Treasure, one of the jewels in the crown of a well-constructed dungeon. Exploring all those passageways needs an excellent payoff, especially for larger dungeons. Low-level potions and outdated equipment won’t get it here; they’re barely good for selling off. Don’t forget to add in some really great stuff that’s worth the trouble to dig around for, otherwise players may just stop looking around altogether and make a beeline for the exit so they can get out of this place and move on.
Hint at the Boss Design Early
Your dungeon probably has lots of creepy crawlies to dispatch before you reach the final boss. Why not use that as an opportunity to hint at how to defeat the boss of the area? The small enemies and the boss probably have some commonalities. You can gradually hint at a complicated boss design in small ways, and since the player will have that foundation, they won’t be totally lost (and require a tutorial) if you have an elaborate final fight.
That’s it for Part 2! Hope these tips help you refine your dungeon and puzzle structure, making a nicer overall experience for your players.