Marathon Phoenix video commentary

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Re: Marathon Phoenix video commentary

Post Jul 11th '14, 23:07

Just wanted to say I'm really enjoying Phoenix. I just started and I'm only at The Count of Tuscany but the levels are really well-made and fun! I also like the new weapons and the terminal texts, they make the whole thing seem less like a mod and more like a full-fledged game you'd find in a store (albeit maybe 20 years ago :-D)

Edit: The commentary is great too, it's nice to hear about your thought process while making the game.
droptable

Post Jul 12th '14, 03:35

The key difference between Phoenix and games actually made 20 years ago is that it uses more modern level design principles, like not being stingy with saves. Some Marathon levels were completely nonsense and the idea of doing an entire level without a save is just horrendous.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Jul 15th '14, 08:30

I just finished watching all the videos... right after I finished the game! Woohoo! That was one hell of a fight on Another Dimension; I'm not going to forget it anytime soon.
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Xap

Post Jul 18th '14, 15:17

Yeah, I actually went back to Kindergarten for that last fight - it was just stupid having all those nasty enemies and only one save. If you ever went back and changed only one thing in Phoenix, please, let us keep saving as much as we want in that final battle - then you can feel free to make the actual fight harder to counterbalance it, just please, as long as I can keep saving, I don't care!
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PerseusSpartacus
Somewhere in the 19th Century...

Post Jul 18th '14, 16:45

You technically have two saves. One before you even enter the final area (so you can grab the invincibility and leeroy jenkins), and a second whenever you decide to use it. You're probably going to be running circles till friendly fire thins them out.

Trust me, things could be far far worse.
Dracheseele

Post Jul 18th '14, 22:20

Just finished Phoenix (36/140 skulls)! I had to check the videos a couple of times whenever I thought I was stuck. Without them I might have given up, so I'm really glad you made them. Usually it was just a case of overlooking something...

I liked how there was always something going on in Phoenix. In M1, I used to get a heart attack every time an enemy suddenly stood behind me (especially when playing at night with headphones on :-D). I'm glad Phoenix was a bit more action-packed and thus a bit easier on the nerves.
droptable

Post Jul 18th '14, 23:32

I beat it on normal, saving after the first wave. Learned how to beat the second wave easy, and had to power my way through the third for the win.
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Xap

Post Jul 19th '14, 03:10

PerseusSpartacus wrote:Yeah, I actually went back to Kindergarten for that last fight - it was just stupid having all those nasty enemies and only one save. If you ever went back and changed only one thing in Phoenix, please, let us keep saving as much as we want in that final battle - then you can feel free to make the actual fight harder to counterbalance it, just please, as long as I can keep saving, I don't care!


The save was added in a more recent Phoenix release, too. In the original version you were expected to clear all three waves in a single attempt. Limiting saves/heals is the most significant way to make a section more difficult and more tense, since it by nature requires a consistently high standard of play (or else you lose all your progress).

Allowing for unlimited saves would, I think, trivialize the fight. And not in a good way, either.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Jul 19th '14, 03:30

The way I see it, if you have to try 20 times to get through a fight, and it just feels like the only reason is something stupid like not having a save available, then the 'climax' of the moment is completely lost. It felt like all the normal battles in Phoenix were far more climactic than the final one, because they all felt doable, but challenging, and you came out on your first try with your heart pounding - that is what made Phoenix so great, but that final battle threw all that to the wind and basically threw a bunch of cheesy bosses at you (two invisible MoaHs, a MoaC, three or four yellow A'khr, and then a couple of super-powered black-and-white A'khr) while saying the equivalent of "You have to fight these guys with one hand tied behind your back." Not fun at all. Also, please, don't put exposed lava all around the arena - I fell in a number of times, and that always felt like the stupidest way to die after reaching the third wave.

Anyways, on a more positive note, you mentioned on Exercise in Excess the value of liquids in adding flow to an otherwise lifeless area. That is most definitely true, but you also said you hated flashing lights because they were irritating. Granted, flickery or flashing lights can be irritating if used too much, but it is possible to use changing lights in a more tasteful and soft way that still adds flow to an area without becoming an eye-sore. For intense, lights that slowly fade in and out will give life to an area, yet will hardly be noticeable in the middle of battle. Just a thought.
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PerseusSpartacus
Somewhere in the 19th Century...

Post Jul 19th '14, 04:19

PerseusSpartacus wrote:The way I see it, if you have to try 20 times to get through a fight, and it just feels like the only reason is something stupid like not having a save available, then the 'climax' of the moment is completely lost. It felt like all the normal battles in Phoenix were far more climactic than the final one, because they all felt doable, but challenging, and you came out on your first try with your heart pounding - that is what made Phoenix so great, but that final battle threw all that to the wind and basically threw a bunch of cheesy bosses at you (two invisible MoaHs, a MoaC, three or four yellow A'khr, and then a couple of super-powered black-and-white A'khr) while saying the equivalent of "You have to fight these guys with one hand tied behind your back." Not fun at all. Also, please, don't put exposed lava all around the arena - I fell in a number of times, and that always felt like the stupidest way to die after reaching the third wave.


There's nothing cheesy about any of those enemies, though? You're given huge piles of ammo for an incredible area-of-effect weapon (the SPNKR) that pretty much neutralizes all of the lesser mobs in the fight, and once it's down to you and the boss enemies, it's a simple matter of circle-strafing and using any of several rapid fire weapons to pain-lock them into submission. They pretty much all attack in the same manner, with a fast and powerful but more-or-less direct burst of projectiles. There's no seeking shots or anything like that. Also, maybe I don't want you clearing the final fight in the game on your first try. ;)

Save deprivation and limited health is used all the time throughout Phoenix, so it's not like an unusual twist at the end of the game. Throughout all of A Change of Seasons you have a finite amount of collectible health, and there are several levels where you have to clear out certain sections without access to a save. Pretty much any time throughout Phoenix that I intend for the player to be forcibly shunted forward into a particularly hard section is when you're unable to reach a save. Most of the time these are linear sections, like the two drop-offs early in Vampire Killer or the big door in the beginning of Nottingham Lace, but they can also be contained challenges like the lava rooms in Enchanting New Mexico or the basement in Something Wicked.

If access to unlimited saves/rechargers isn't restricted at certain points, then a player can just thoughtlessly zerg any encounter with no meaningful penalty for death. He can retreat to save/heal as soon as any progress is made, and now he's ahead. This is "fine" for most of Phoenix, but I did want the final fight to be a skill challenge and there's no skill in save-scumming.

To me, the primary definitions of an encounter being "cheap" is if it doesn't follow established rules, or if you aren't given the means to overcome the encounter. There's nothing you see in the Another Dimension finale that you haven't seen before, except for the super-Defenders (which are basically yellow Defenders anyway). Combat areas with floor hazards (i.e. lava pits) exist all the way throughout Phoenix, and they're really easy to avoid in this particular case since the arena is huge. And you do get health pickups now as well, and you should have huge gobs of ammo.

It's just really hard in a straightforward manner, which in a hard scenario is kind of the point.

Anyways, on a more positive note, you mentioned on Exercise in Excess the value of liquids in adding flow to an otherwise lifeless area. That is most definitely true, but you also said you hated flashing lights because they were irritating. Granted, flickery or flashing lights can be irritating if used too much, but it is possible to use changing lights in a more tasteful and soft way that still adds flow to an area without becoming an eye-sore. For intense, lights that slowly fade in and out will give life to an area, yet will hardly be noticeable in the middle of battle. Just a thought.


I have found that the slow fading light effect is very distracting when you're not in combat. If you're lost and have to backtrack, the pulsing lights begin to get very grating on the eyes. I'm struggling to think of any specific levels where this is actually an issue, but I know they're all out there and they're primarily Pfhor ship levels. To me, sporadic and tasteful use of lighting effects is the best way, and it's better to just keep most lights very static to have strong differential shading bring life to the architecture in its own way.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Jul 19th '14, 13:39

RyokoTK wrote:There's nothing cheesy about any of those enemies, though? You're given huge piles of ammo for an incredible area-of-effect weapon (the SPNKR) that pretty much neutralizes all of the lesser mobs in the fight, and once it's down to you and the boss enemies, it's a simple matter of circle-strafing and using any of several rapid fire weapons to pain-lock them into submission. They pretty much all attack in the same manner, with a fast and powerful but more-or-less direct burst of projectiles. There's no seeking shots or anything like that. Also, maybe I don't want you clearing the final fight in the game on your first try. ;)


Here's what the real problems are, I think: first, newer players (or people who forget the details of their first playthrough, such as myself) will always use the first Pattern Buffer they see the moment they see it; second, the boss enemies are, for the most part, poorly thought-out.

That Pattern Buffer is placed in such a way that the player is encouraged to do precisely what they shouldn't, which is save the game the moment they enter the final arena. Consequently, a lot of people end up running into unnecessary trouble, as now they're basically doing the old fight you talked about, where there simply is no save whatsoever, and you're required to fight through all three waves in one go. For obvious reasons, that's a bit of a problem. There are two ways this could be fixed. For one thing, the Pattern Buffer could be moved from the start of the arena to the area with the terminal and switch, forcing the player to at least finish the first wave before doing the other two - this would definitely limit how irritating the whole ordeal is, because one of the most irritating aspects is that if you use the Pattern Buffer at the wrong moment, you end up having to spend most of your time just slowly working your way through a relatively easy wave of enemies. Another thing you could do is just put in a second one-use-only Pattern Buffer that opens up when you hit the switch to start the second wave, because with all those Defenders, the player can't just straight-up use the Pattern Buffer - they'll have to use when the second wave is over, allowing them to keep trying the third wave as much as they want with only minor irritation.

Then there's the business with the boss enemies. Some of them are actually really well-thought-out, such as the Mother of all Cyborgs and, in some ways, the normal Mother of all Hunters. They really add a lot to any encounter they're in, because they're totally unique, and they have their own values, which allows them to fit into a battle sequence without throwing off the flow of the other combat, because they just work their way seamlessly into it. However, there are a number of other boss enemies which are actually rather poorly-thought-out, most of whom are the yellow-and-blue colored variants of their respective monsters, as well as the black-and-white A'khr Defenders at the end of the game. These work very similarly to the normal enemies, and thus by all rights ought to fit into the same situations just as well - but they don't, because they're too over-the-top. The sheer power of those enemies completely throws off the flow of the other combat. So, I suppose all of the boss enemies can work on their own, but in the context of large groups of other enemies, they start to become more of a drain on the fun.

RyokoTK wrote:Save deprivation and limited health is used all the time throughout Phoenix, so it's not like an unusual twist at the end of the game. Throughout all of A Change of Seasons you have a finite amount of collectible health, and there are several levels where you have to clear out certain sections without access to a save. Pretty much any time throughout Phoenix that I intend for the player to be forcibly shunted forward into a particularly hard section is when you're unable to reach a save. Most of the time these are linear sections, like the two drop-offs early in Vampire Killer or the big door in the beginning of Nottingham Lace, but they can also be contained challenges like the lava rooms in Enchanting New Mexico or the basement in Something Wicked.

If access to unlimited saves/rechargers isn't restricted at certain points, then a player can just thoughtlessly zerg any encounter with no meaningful penalty for death. He can retreat to save/heal as soon as any progress is made, and now he's ahead. This is "fine" for most of Phoenix, but I did want the final fight to be a skill challenge and there's no skill in save-scumming.


It's not that depriving the player of saves or limiting the available health is necessarily a bad thing - in fact, most of Phoenix handled those moments really well, I thought, and it helped make the game great. Rather, it's the way you handled it on that last battle. First, it feels artificial, like it was just thrown in "out of spite" (to quote Phoenix himself, a rather apt description, I might add). Second, as I said earlier, it's too easy to use that Pattern Buffer at the wrong moment. All in all, not a very good way to deprive the player of saves.

RyokoTK wrote:I have found that the slow fading light effect is very distracting when you're not in combat. If you're lost and have to backtrack, the pulsing lights begin to get very grating on the eyes. I'm struggling to think of any specific levels where this is actually an issue, but I know they're all out there and they're primarily Pfhor ship levels. To me, sporadic and tasteful use of lighting effects is the best way, and it's better to just keep most lights very static to have strong differential shading bring life to the architecture in its own way.


Oh yes, definitely don't go overboard with fading lights, and don't make the fade too significant either - make it subtle in terms of light difference, like fading from 100% to 75% rather than from 100% to 0%. I totally agree with you on this one.

Anyways, loved your talk of weapon balance on Dark Pfhorces. I'm getting some really great insight for how I should make Grendel work. I think I started with what became your end-point, in a way. You began with weapon balance and eventually switched to "Give me beeeeeg guns!", whereas I actually began just trying to come up with a really cool and diverse set of powerful weapons. It may work out rather well, I think, as long as I use the weapons appropriately in the actual scenario, but I am beginning to wonder if I should've followed your line of thought first, where I start with excessive weapon balance and then start tweaking the guns to make them more powerful - that might have led to, well, better weapon balance in spite of the changes, whereas what I'm doing leaves me trying to tweak potentially unbalanced weapons to make them more balanced. Any thoughts about that?
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PerseusSpartacus
Somewhere in the 19th Century...

Post Jul 19th '14, 14:12

PerseusSpartacus wrote:Here's what the real problems are, I think: first, newer players (or people who forget the details of their first playthrough, such as myself) will always use the first Pattern Buffer they see the moment they see it; second, the boss enemies are, for the most part, poorly thought-out.


The terminal next to the pattern buffer says that it can only be used once. Therefore you ought to consider that it might be worth not activating it until later on, especially since you probably just saved a moment ago -- there is another pattern buffer not far away on the other side of the door. If you're not reading the terminals and you're not using multiple saves, you deserve what you get.

For one thing, the Pattern Buffer could be moved from the start of the arena to the area with the terminal and switch, forcing the player to at least finish the first wave before doing the other two


That's reasonable.

However, there are a number of other boss enemies which are actually rather poorly-thought-out, most of whom are the yellow-and-blue colored variants of their respective monsters, as well as the black-and-white A'khr Defenders at the end of the game. These work very similarly to the normal enemies, and thus by all rights ought to fit into the same situations just as well - but they don't, because they're too over-the-top. The sheer power of those enemies completely throws off the flow of the other combat.


The only significant difference between gold enemies and some of their lesser counterparts is HP and more aggressive behavior; they don't actually do anything different. It shouldn't throw off the fight at all since you're already accustomed to fighting these sorts of enemies. In the first wave, the MOAHs and MOAC are even in the middle of the room already, so circle-strafing them shouldn't even be an issue. Basic Marathon mechanics will get you through the first two waves without any trouble.

Anyways, loved your talk of weapon balance on Dark Pfhorces. I'm getting some really great insight for how I should make Grendel work. I think I started with what became your end-point, in a way. You began with weapon balance and eventually switched to "Give me beeeeeg guns!", whereas I actually began just trying to come up with a really cool and diverse set of powerful weapons. It may work out rather well, I think, as long as I use the weapons appropriately in the actual scenario, but I am beginning to wonder if I should've followed your line of thought first, where I start with excessive weapon balance and then start tweaking the guns to make them more powerful - that might have led to, well, better weapon balance in spite of the changes, whereas what I'm doing leaves me trying to tweak potentially unbalanced weapons to make them more balanced. Any thoughts about that?


The important thing is making sure that all of your weapons have a valuable use. Then they'll be balanced because different situations will call for different weapons. For example, the Phoenix Crossbow is balanced with other weapons because it's very accurate at long ranges, even if its DPS is low, and the IMPs and AR are somewhat balanced against each other (despite both being rapid-fire weapons) because the AR is better at managing groups and the IMPs are better against single targets.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Jul 20th '14, 20:43

RyokoTK wrote:The only significant difference between gold enemies and some of their lesser counterparts is HP and more aggressive behavior; they don't actually do anything different. It shouldn't throw off the fight at all since you're already accustomed to fighting these sorts of enemies. In the first wave, the MOAHs and MOAC are even in the middle of the room already, so circle-strafing them shouldn't even be an issue. Basic Marathon mechanics will get you through the first two waves without any trouble.


Well, that's actually exactly what I was saying, but I'm not really certain on this whole issue of 'throwing off routine' - I was going to elaborate, but it just sounded stupid, so I'll drop that. In any case, I still think the gold enemies were not very good, whereas the MOAC is one of the best 'boss' enemies I've ever seen in any game.

RyokoTK wrote:The important thing is making sure that all of your weapons have a valuable use. Then they'll be balanced because different situations will call for different weapons. For example, the Phoenix Crossbow is balanced with other weapons because it's very accurate at long ranges, even if its DPS is low, and the IMPs and AR are somewhat balanced against each other (despite both being rapid-fire weapons) because the AR is better at managing groups and the IMPs are better against single targets.


Yeah, and I think I've managed that to some extent in Grendel. However, the dual Fusion Pistols (which replaced the Magnums) really seem to get totally eclipsed by the Fusion Rifle, and the Shotguns feel like they've lost the unique qualities that made them so fun in the original games. I definitely need to work on all that. Maybe a higher firing rate for the Pistols would work, but the Shotguns are a hard one. I suppose I can help balance this out in the final scenario by the way I place weapons and ammo - by holding back on the Fusion Rifle until a short ways into the game, I might be able to force the player to use the Fusion Pistols in the first couple levels, and then by providing tons and tons of Shotgun shells all throughout the game, I might be able to encourage more liberal use of the Shotguns.
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PerseusSpartacus
Somewhere in the 19th Century...

Post Jul 21st '14, 15:02

How much ammo you give the player can make a big difference in how a scenario plays.

Phoenix is very ammo abundant. Situation where you're forced to use a different weapon are very rare. This means at times you're rather spoiled for choice as weapon roles do overlap somewhat. So it mostly becomes a matter of personal preference.

In contrast, EVIL literally starves you of ammo. You're forced to use weapons in their ideal situations, and even then you may come out in the red. You do eventually get the Pfhor staff in evil with its "unlimited" ammo, but its got such a poor damage rate its only really a marginal upgrade to your fist.

In the classic games, the AR is an extremely powerful weapon considering that you're rarely without ammo for it. Marathon plays very differently when you're lacking suppression weapons. Try RyokoTK's Kindred Spirits map to see an example. (Wanna do a short set of commentary on that Ryoko?)
Dracheseele

Post Jul 22nd '14, 13:37

I certainly feel like the Phoenix model of providing tons and tons of ammo and thus letting the player use any weapon, any time, is really the best way to go for the sort of scenario I'm envisioning. It sucks to run into a group of nasty uber-Hunters and not have ammo for your Fusion Rifle w/ Fusion Grenade Launcher. Some weapons I won't provide too much ammo for, but those are really the power weapons, like the Wave Motion Cannon (super-powered replacement to the Rocket Launcher - the projectiles move very fast, the damage is increased, and you get five shots per clip). Even the Railgun (sort of like Phoenix crossbow, only with 2 powerful shots that move twice as fast as any normal bullet in the game, and the added feature that you have to charge it up like the old overload on the Fusion Pistol before each shot, though the time it takes to charge is really short), which I think is a very powerful weapon in the right hands, will get a good amount of ammo provided, enough to avoid starving with liberal use. At least, this is my current philosophy - I'll have to see how that changes in future.
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PerseusSpartacus
Somewhere in the 19th Century...

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