What do people look for in a perfect FIRST level?

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What do people look for in a perfect FIRST level?

Post Oct 2nd '16, 20:35

Broadest question imaginable: "What makes a great first level?"

I've only seen the negatives but not so much about what makes a perfect first level.

Here is what I'm working with:
- At this stage exposition levels covering the events of the original Trilogy are a sin because how would anyone not already a fan of Marathon be playing a 3rd party scenario for it?
- Pistol starts with low rank enemies are the norm but because its the norm its boring because we did it already.
- Etc...

Basically how does one ensure people don't drop the scenario at level one?
Especially with such a low tech game from 1996?

Post Oct 2nd '16, 22:47

Well what have you liked about first levels in other games? Regardless of whether they're Marathon games or FPSs? You've touched upon one aspect in what you've said and that's "do something new"; do something we haven't seen already. It doesn't have to be tremendously impressive, just some little idea that's new.

Exposition levels are boring because we didn't come here to read a novel, we came to play a game. Note that none of the original Marathon games started with exposition levels.

I guess one thing I can say is make sure that the players have interesting options. That's kind of just good game design in general: make sure the players have interesting choices to make. That's usually why a pistols start is considered boring, because you only have one choice to make in terms of attacking the enemies. Having only one weapon creates linear gameplay, but if you have interesting level design then that can make up for it.

I feel like I'm rambling here so I'll just stop.
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Post Oct 2nd '16, 23:00

I tend to not mind exposition levels, especially if they're finessed enough to be interesting even with minimal combat. Good examples of this are Rozinante, Science Stands Alone, Hard Vacuum etc from Rubicon where architecture and exploration are treats in themselves. I'll even defend It Begins With An Ending. I suppose bad examples would be the opening/interlude levels in Eternal.

However, I know you're referring to a 'proper' first level, and I'd say my favourites are:
- Ne Cede Malis. I know the combat is trivial, I just really, really love the aesthetics of the place. It sets up the tone of the scenario very well. Likewise with Arrival, but both of us have probably played these to death by now.
- Ain't My Bitch. Although the levels proceeding it are dull, Tempus Irae opens with a level that doesn't skimp on the violence. I respect scenarios that open with directing Troopers and Hunters (2nd-tier enemies in general) against you. The exploration is rewarding as well. Tempus is home to pretty much all the good Pfhor Ship levels I can think of.
- Another good example of a level like the above is A Space Marine Is You from Phoenix, as well as its predecessor in TGI: you're provided a decent challenge on the first (proper) level, and given plenty of room to practise using the new arsenal.
- Kill, I Oughta, from Apotheosis. I'm a big fan of the spaceship levels in this scenario. Again, a large level with plenty of exploration and a generous challenge.

Bad examples:
- The Far Side of Nowhere. Wall of text; flat, monotonous architecture; no combat to speak of; exploration yields little if anything. As much as I love Eternal, I don't like this level.
- Rubicon's opening level (as much as I like it) is coupled with two further exposition levels before you get to the "real" first level, Honk, which itself is a good example: not inconsiderable challenge, and pretty much the best example of a level designed for exploration on this list. Three exposition levels, however, are obnoxious. Don't do that.
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Hampshire, UK

Post Oct 3rd '16, 02:36

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Post Oct 3rd '16, 04:23

"Honk if you're an underpaid cyborg" is an extremely good level in general, and a good first level because the pistol in Rubicon is actually a halfway decent weapon so the combat on the level has decent pacing, and there's some challenging enemies in there.

So it's fitting that Rubicon X fucked it up by putting an extremely boring level where you run from infinitely respawning enemies in front of it.
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Oct 3rd '16, 19:48

In defense of exposition levels and how the original trilogy never had them: the original trilogy had long prologue exposition written in the manual. In early releases of Eternal I actually used that approach, with what's now in the first prologue terminal in a separate Manual file, not in the game. People complained that they had no idea what was going on when they dove right into the story, and thought that having to read a separate prologue outside the game to get their bearings first was dumb. So I put the prologue into the game in a terminal, in an easily-run-through prologue level so you could basically skip it if you wanted. While I recognize the drawbacks to that, I don't know what a better solution is.
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Post Oct 3rd '16, 21:09

Pfhorrest wrote:I don't know what a better solution is.

A giant cutscene with crazy special effects to start your scenario.
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Post Oct 3rd '16, 21:12

The only issue I have is the obnoxious wall of text. Perhaps break it up into a number of seperate terminals, with some form of incentive to go off and read them all, while making the level itself more interesting (not necessarily combat).
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Hampshire, UK

Post Oct 4th '16, 04:48

The only objective I had for the exposition levels in Phoenix is that they were very quick and obvious to get through, if you wanted to move on with the game. It's not really that Phoenix has an elaborate story that needs levels dedicated to establishing it; the first release of Phoenix didn't have them and the pacing of the game was just too relentless, so the exposition levels give you just a little bit of breathing room (except, half of them have baddies in them).

I think "A Space Marine is You" is a decent first level just because I didn't want to waste anyone's time getting started with the actual gameplay. I hate it when the first level has you slowly plinking away at Fighters and Drones with a single pistol. It's the same in Doom WADs when you don't get a shotgun or even a chainsaw right away. So ASMIY is a fast linear level where you can snag a couple guns and there's a few decent fights before the pacing slows down on Nottingham Lace.

It's not really my favorite level in Phoenix though. Aside from just being easy to finish I don't think there's anything remarkable about it. I like Nottingham Lace (the second level) a lot more.
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Nov 6th '16, 07:41

Shocktart wrote:Basically how does one ensure people don't drop the scenario at level one?

The first level, like any presentation, needs to capture the audience. This is best done by a series of short, sharp, energetic episodes. Get the players into the game then tell them what's going on. For example, reasonably large areas to allow a lot of moving around during combat with a limited number of enemies then a short break, then repeat; i.e. episodic not continuous combat. As mentioned above, ASMIY is a good example of this.

Another aspect is ambience. Ne Cede Malis has this. The place is not just empty, it's desolate. It even sounds desolate.
Ambiance also helps with the weapons problem. For example, start the player (all players already have a sidearm) in a room with two AR's and four shotguns, each accompanied by a dead guy. The corpse is the key. Just the weapons isn't much, but with the dead guys the player not only immediately acquires a powerful weapon in a reasonable manner but also realizes that it didn't do the previous now dead owner much good. There's a challenge ahead.

It shouldn't disappoint. In Polygonium Opus for example, though it wasn't a first level, you're expecting a real battle with a big bad blue dude, but when the time comes, it's a smurf.

If you provide comrades-in-arms they need to be effective, not comic relief.

philtron wrote: It doesn't have to be tremendously impressive, just some little idea that's new.

His own scenario, for example, takes place concurrently with Marathon but on the planet. Very little background is needed and at the start it's a simple mission: find out what's going on. You can get right into it, provided you have some imagination, and the story builds a little at a time, like a mystery novel.

Shocktart wrote:Especially with such a low tech game from 1996?

Too much is made of this. It's not really the tech that is so very important, but the game itself. Diminishing returns applies to games too: once you reach a certain tech level, advances only marginally improve the game play. And the play's the thing.

Dugit wrote:Bad examples:
- The Far Side of Nowhere. Wall of text; flat, monotonous architecture; no combat to speak of; exploration yields little if anything. As much as I love Eternal, I don't like this level.

I can understand this but, actually, I like the first level of Eternal. It's old, it's tired, and, like Ne Cede Malis, it's desolate. It's the letdown after the high. Party's over, time to clean up the mess. Then you get to the second level and the party's on again! It's a great contrast.
By the way, there's a spot in TFSON that if'n you step on it, you're trapped and cannot move ever again. And what's worse: your comrades-in-arms will just stand there and watch you starve to death.
I just play 'em; I don't know how they work.
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