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Robert Tamayo

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Thoughts on Game Design: Approach and Positioning

The Romans lost two battles to the Persians in the plains of Mesopotamia. There was no source of water, no cover from the sun, and no easy way to break rank to gather resources. The Persians easily whittled them down with arrows and outlasted them. The Romans were essentially defeated by the environment; their positioning was wrong.

In Sports, a lot of effort goes into taking away the advantage of positioning. We don't have one team play uphill. That's because the game design in Sports focusing on taking away advantages of positioning as much as possible. Home field advantage still exists, but that's about it. One might say that the Persians were unfair to take advantage of the unfortunate position of the Romans and that they should have let them retreat so that a "true" battle could take place, but that would be foolishness. War is a game, but it is not like Sports. War, especially in historical contexts, contains a game of approach and positioning; the aim is to gain the best positioning possible so that the advantage is clearly on one side.

When the Romans returned after the second defeat, they approached the Persians from the mountains. The mountains had all the resources they lacked in the plains, and the rough terrain was favorable to infantry and unfavorable to cavalry. This gave the Romans the advantage. Furthermore, when they attacked, they did so at the most disadvantageous time for the defending Persians. Many Persians were killed or captured as they were unable to prepare for battle in time at night, and the result was a decisive Roman victory.

Regarding games that I have made so far, I have not captured the approach and positioning aspect well. Bad Blaster was a straightforward platformer, with only one level that I recall having a section where you could choose to go "up or down" to progress, with "up" having a defensive advantage for the player, but taking slightly longer to pass through than "down." Robot Ops explored open level design, and it certainly had more paths to take to complete levels. I'd say Robot Ops did a fairly good job at that, but it was still more of a hack-and-slash game than an open 2D platformer.

In my future games, I'm going to focus more on creating situations for players to decide an approach to a situation. I would like players to have to think about how they will tackle a certain obstacle, and how their positioning would look afterward. Take Batman: Arkham Asylum as an example. In that game, there were scenarios where the player had to take down a group of enemies preferably without being seen. Approaching an enemy in the center of the room from the ceiling would enable the player to take out that enemy, but doing so would leave the player in a vulnerable position and open to other enemies. So the approach had to change; focus on enemies in the far corners of the room first, maneuvering around the level to get into position and waiting for the opportune time to strike.

There are many other examples in games where simple enemy design choices can simulate approach and positioning. Sometimes there are enemies that, when alerted, call to arms the rest of the enemies; those enemies must be dealt with first. There are also enemies that are invulnerable until some type of shield is disabled, and in a similar sense there are enemies that spawn or revive other enemies endlessly until they are defeated. Sometimes enemies offer buffs to other nearby enemies. Another common gameplay element is the optional challenge: a player must do something without letting a friendly AI die, or without taking fire damage, etc. All of these ideas are simple to implement and can add a tremendous variety to gameplay when used correctly.

I'm not sure how much of that will be possible for Bumble Knight, but the concepts of approach and positioning are things I would like to explore. Proper enemy design and level design will be vital to achieving that.
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