Design of War Ender - Level 1-2
Hop aboard my train of thought as we dissect Level 1-2.
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My goodness, it’s been a while since we’ve focuses specifically on War Ender, hasn’t it? Well, I don’t have a lot of new things to show off with any of my upcoming projects. A lot of what I’ve done with those involve smaller updates that couldn’t really fill a dev blog. Thus it seemed like a good idea to dive back into War Ender’s design and walk you through the philosophy of one of its levels. Today we’re going to examine Level 1-2 and look at how it introduced various ideas into the War Ender gameplay.
For starters, I have a fun little nickname for this level. I call it “the big list of enemies” level as one of its key aspects is revealing several of the enemies you’ll encounter for the rest of the game. And this is where I begin with a self critique of my level. I really wish I hadn’t thrown as many new enemies in here as I did. When originally creating the level the idea was to show off as much gameplay within a few levels as possible. This was at a time when I was still trying to get War Ender a booth at a games festival. In many ways, I was still working to make that good first impression I was talking about the last time I went deep into War Ender’s design.
If you’ve followed this blog closely, you’ll know that booth was never acquired, at least not at the festival I was looking to attend at the time. Still, I didn’t really change the fact that this level throws too many new enemies at you. In total, there are four new enemy types to combat. This is more than the first level introduces! This would have been fine if
A) there were a lot more enemy types in the game, or
B) the setting wasn’t so drastically different from the previous level
But neither of those things happened, and therefore 1-2 remains a level that I still think throws too much at the player too early.
All that said, I feel 1-2 succeeds in many other areas. Let’s start with the aforementioned setting. The player has gone from being out on building tops to inside a factory. Obviously the level rules and geometry is going to be fairly different, and to hammer that fact home I present the player right from the start with a simple task…go down. Fall through the platform and face the enemies below. Now there’s something you can’t do outside! The whole first section is like this. It presents very few enemies and gives examples of what an indoor level is like. On top of this, the game is now showing that story can be delivered mid-level too, as an enemy exclaims to his buddies that you, the player, are here and they need to get out of there fast. Just a small reminder that the enemies fear you.
After this is when the new enemies start appearing, and they come quick. You’re first introduced to a turret that zooms forward from the screen and starts shooting. Thankfully, they’re at least less resilient as the regular turrets. Still, this will show the player that enemies can pop in from the sides at any moment. Right above them are the infamous rocket turrets. I placed these enemies above platforms so that the player has time to see what they do. These turrets shoot rockets that will home in on your position, requiring you to either destroy the turrets quickly or move around the rockets.
The player is shown a quick demonstration of the power rocket turrets have with other enemies. A few robots from the first level are wandering the platform above with a rocket turret behind them. This is one of the more basic interactions that the rocket turret can have with other enemies. Next up are the mines, spread along the ground waiting for you to jump on them. You’ll hopefully notice the blinking lights before you jump down to where they are. If not…well, you can guess what will happen. Either way, the player is taught that traps can be placed by their enemies. Fortunately, you can shoot these mines before going down to where they are. Enough mines are placed so that players will most likely accidentally shoot the mines, destroying them. This is War Ender’s way of saying “don’t worry, you’ve still got the advantage.”
At last, you’re introduced to one more enemy - the grenade enemy type. They toss grenades at you in an arc, requiring careful approach in order to defeat them. They’re first shown off three in a row, straight in a line, to show the player what they do. Immediately after this they’re interacting with two turret enemies. You’ll also notice that the roof is awfully low here, subtly telling the player that attempting to jump over the enemies will most likely reward them with a grenade to the legs.
With the new enemies introduced, the rest of the level is dedicated to tossing level design and enemies, both new and old, at you in ways you hadn’t seen previously. For example, one area requires you to shoot some mines in order to make an area to stand on. In another, you have a grenade enemies threatening to hit from across and below a platform along with a moving turret discouraging mindless jumping. And after that, you get to the final part of this level. Brace yourself for an onslaught of enemies like you’ve never seen before!
It starts off simple. A couple of turrets, some shooters, nothing you’ve never seen before. Then all of a sudden you’re greeted with a pit full of enemies. How in the world do you get through all of that? In truth, at the time of making the level I wasn’t sure myself. I almost cut this part out but a friend told me he thought it an interesting segment. He compared it to lava pits in other platforms and said this enemy pit is far more interesting. Due to that compliment, I ended up keeping it in. And I’m glad I did too. Most players were well acquainted with the shoot-float mechanic by this point, so they would intuitively figure out to simply shoot-float past them, picking them off as they navigate the platforms. A health pack is found in this area to allow them some room for error.
In case you don’t want to simply glide over them, the option is available to take the pit head on and vanquish all enemies. To this day I find it rather cathartic to do. To a newcomer it certainly won’t be easy, but the feeling of satisfaction after doing it is immense. This simply would not have worked anywhere else in the level. It had to happen immediately after getting a checkpoint, learning the enemy types, and sharpening your skill with the game’s mechanics. Remove any of those three things and this segment could have been not fun very quickly.
Regardless of whether you fly over them or defeat them all, you’ve made it past the second level of the game. Cyrus stands there at the end informing you of where The Outsiders are going and thus the stage is set for the third level. As a fun little bonus this is one of two levels where you can reach the top of the flagpole, Super Mario style. You certainly don’t have to, but doing so will change Cyrus’s dialogue a bit with him asking you to come down from there. A fun little easter egg exclusive to this level that simply came about because I had a floating platform near the end that had no other purpose. Sure I could have just deleted it, but where’s the fun in that?
In an effort to continue wowing the player, War Ender’s second level throws a lot at you. And while individually I think the game handles these introductions fine, it would have been better to save a few of these new things for later levels. In an alternate timeline there’s another version of this game that primarily focuses on showing the player indoor level design and, at most, two new enemy types. But that’s not the level I created. Still, it seems to have worked out because I noticed that by the time someone finishes this level War Ender typically has gotten its hooks into them. At this point the player must now brace for a couple more new enemies and a new environment object. But that level’s dissection is for another time.
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