I will play every level in Rubicon X and comment on them.

For topics about the story, help in a certain level, game discussion, or finding/discussing content.

Post Aug 10th '09, 02:05

I believe my ideas about level design and such have exceptional merit primarily because I'm a conceited blowhard. But I also enjoy Rubicon X well enough and there's not enough discussion about anything at all on this site anymore so I'll try to get some started by trudging through this eight thousand level monstrosity.

I will play each level on Total Carnage. I'll try to briefly summarize its role in the plot (think Volunteers but less loquacious), then give some comments and critiques from a seasoned map maker's perspective (pros and cons) and round it out with a rating out of 5 on quality of design, aesthetic appeal, and memorability.

There are four total "planks" in this game: Chimera, Salinger, Pfhor, Tycho. I'll take them on in that order, including the secret levels if I remember that they're there. Beginning with...

C01: It Begins With An Ending
This level is just an introductory level, briefly summarizing the plot (from the UESC perspective) of the first three Marathon games and then what happened between Infinity and Rubicon. But it's also one of Rubicon's many, many dream levels, taking a novel idea from Infinity and running it into the goddamn dirt.

But I dither. The level itself is mundane and mercifully brief; dense fog and and too much of that Pfhor vine texture hanging everywhere makes this one little more than a hunt for terminals, which is a real pain in the butt for an exposition level. I don't want to dig around for the terminal hidden half behind a tree, I want to get to the killing, or at least the actual plot.

Brief level, no real comments, we'll move on shortly.

Edit: heh, forgot the ratings.
Level design: 1.5/5
Aesthetics: 2/5
Memorability: 1/5
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 22nd '09, 04:48, edited 1 time in total.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 02:12

C02: Rozinante I
This is another exposition level (do we really need two of these before the game begins?), but this time it's in the real world and we get to listen to Durandal patronize us and fail to adequately explain the plot once more. Remember when scenarios actually had bad guys to kill on the first level? That was pretty fun.

To adequately sum up this level's plot: "Things have happened with the Pfhor. Let's go."

I'm going to lump all... 40 or so Rozinante levels into this review and say that overall it's a pretty nifty concept. For a level completely devoid of enemies, it's actually pretty compelling and interesting to play around in. On the first iteration, there's nothing to do at all except read the terminal (and save). But as you progress through the game, you'll appear in different areas of the ship, more of the doors will be unlocked, and you can actually wander the halls of this little ship and explore the level.

The fact that the game keeps teasing you with nothing is actually clever enough to work, and even though there's almost never any secrets, it's a fun little playground.

Level design: 4/5
Aesthetics: 3.5/5; good architecture but bland, flat lighting fails to highlight some of the geometric quirks. It would really help out with that "look what's over here that you can't reach yet" aspect.
Memorability: 4/5
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 02:19

C03: Veni Vidi Cursavi
Good lord. Rubicon X is very desperately resisting trying to start the real plot. This is another level brand new to Rubicon X and as near as I can tell, it has absolutely no role in the overall story arc.

The player has to work his way through some empty halls of the upper hull of the downed UESC Chimera to work his way to the parts that actually matter. There are Pfhor on this level, but they infinitely respawn and you only have your pistol so you better run, boy.

The problem is: what the heck is the point of this? In the original Rubicon, you started the game on Rozinante I and then went immediately to Honk if You're an Underpaid Cyborg. There's nothing at all wrong with this. But now, instead we have to wander through this dark, meandering maze of ruined ship, running from weak monsters that we're not allowed to kill. There's hardly any secrets on this level (unless they're quite well hidden), though the second pistol is a nice utility for starting the next level if you're playing on TC.

So half the level overlaps on itself, making the automap useless; half of the hallways are either dead ends or dead ends with monsters spawning in them; or redundant and loop back on themselves.

Great.

Level design: 1/5; nothing compelling about the concept and the execution goes from boring to frustrating.
Aesthetics: 1/5; aesthetically speaking I actually like the Chimera plank the best, but this level is just so bland. It's a bunch of narrow repetitive corridors with a couple blank rooms in them.
Memorability: 2/5; I don't know if remembering how crappy this level is counts, but there you go.

Edit: oh and the transition to Honk... is clumsy too
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 10th '09, 02:20, edited 1 time in total.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 02:43

C04: Honk if You're an Underpaid Cyborg
And now the game begins! Durandal has brought us to the parts of the Chimera that matters, and our job here is to... uh, what, exactly? Well it boils down to completing some trivial tasks to help Durandal get acquainted with the ship's inner workings, but the level is for all practical purposes linear... and long as hell. (That's what she said.)

Rubicon X, in adding the previous level, moved this level's beginning to a deep cave and swapped the fierce battle between Bob and Pfhor for a more creepy and subdued approach. Which is okay, but the action-y opening helps get the player in the spirit of the game. No matter.

The level is mostly corridors again, but is divided into a few different regions that the player passes through one by one, which really adds to the seeming vastness of the whole level. Which is pretty cool, in one respect, but on the other hand the level loses a lot of body when trying to stretch 1024 polygons over that much breadth. But still, the concept works, and you get a bit of a whirlwind tour of the setting for the Chimera "plank" before actually doing some real missions in the next couple levels.

Nevertheless, while on Normal the level is trivially easy, the level (or at least the beginning) is actually frustratingly difficult on Total Carnage. I am reminded in particular of the beginning region -- the first part of the level, where you have to restore power by inserting a chip into a slot. There's a battle in a bunch of narrow corridors and Fighters are closing in on all sides, as the idiot Bobs drop like flies. Which is no big deal on Normal (most of them are minor ranks iirc), but on TC each of them takes 6 shots to kill, and if you didn't find the second pistol on Veni Vidi Cursavi you're going to get cornered very quickly. Actually, you're going to get cornered quickly either way; there's just no room to dodge these guys and a lot of dead ends to work yourself into. Very irritating and a poorly conceived battle.

Couple that with the lack of health for the opening section (except for two 1x cans, one of which is secret and the other tucked in a faraway corner) and a player on TC can work himself completely into an unwinnable situation. The presence of those horrid new Drones is even worse; their speedy purple shots are so hard to dodge and can drain your health too fast for my liking. There's one point, riding up a lift after you leave the first area, where not getting shot by a waiting Drone is pretty much impossible, and if you're out of health and health cans, you're done right there. At least it's early in the game. (And if you survived that, there's a couple Troopers in a deep pit that'll give you a few love taps too, and since you can't snipe them from above... ugh.)

But once you get moving on through the level, you'll find it gets very tedious if you're not a dutiful explorer and good at finding secrets. Having to do the entire thing with one pistol will get old, but there's at least one other to be found pretty early on, as well as a few healthy secrets. I love secrets and I love finding them, but nothing sucks more than secrets that are nigh unfindable, such as the one leading to the level's treasure trove: a 2x can, Assault Rifle, SPNKR, and a couple other assorted goodies. You will not find this secret without cheating or reading the guide. (It's hidden in another secret teleporter, thanks a lot.) But once you do find the toys the level is an enjoyable run-and-gun, and there are so many Bobs to kill to fuel your dual pistols it's not even funny.

Despite the unbalanced battles and the tedium, the level is absolutely exemplary at depicting a ruined ship; it does atmosphere so damn well. The Pfhor/Human battles are entertaining and give the level some liveliness, and the lighting at points is really quite good. Though the level is mostly corridors, there's enough meat on the bones to make it a pretty memorable and well-designed level. I'll take it, especially after the crapfest of the last level.

Level design: 3.5/5; good architecture at times but the level sprawls too much to give it a unified atmosphere. I'd try to spread it into two more well-defined levels.
Aesthetics: 5/5; creepy!
Memorability: 4/5, though mostly for the intro battle on the ship's hull that was since taken out. Sad.

A good level and a good way to start the game in earnest... four levels in.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 02:56

C05: Like flies on a corpse
This is a fun one. It's sort of another prelude level before you start doing what you're supposed to be doing on the Chimera to begin with: you're looking for biochemical credentials so Durandal can access the Chimera's more secure databanks. Seems plausible enough, and it's nice to know that Durandal can't just hack into everything.

This is the kind of level I associate with Chris Lund: absolutely enormous and impossibly nonlinear. Though your goal is just to find one lousy security card, it's tucked away into a corner and there's probably three or four ways to get there, and a clever (or speedy) person can skip maybe half the map. Meanwhile, an oblivious person, or someone who hasn't played the game a dozen times before, will be lost for most of an hour trying to figure out the level on the automap.

But all in all the level isn't too bad in that aspect, and beyond it's unnecessary complexity the level is expertly crafted. Rather than being a tangle of corridors, the level is mostly open spaces, and actually meshes together the interior of the ship (including a massive battle in one large but seemingly pointless room) with a crawl around the canyon outside. Very fun and the dynamic atmosphere is a plus. It's not as creepy as Honk... but this level is much more action-driven and is more focused on the battles between Pfhor and Humans.

I don't really have any substantial complaints beyond that; the level is quite nicely done and one of my favorites in the game.

Level design: 5/5 for a well-executed change of atmosphere
Aesthetics: 4.5; the lighting is a bit dull again but the bit where you double back around in the canyon and re-approach the ship across the pool of slime is very neat
Memorability: 4/5 for the huge battle, which unfortunately is skippable if you know what you're doing and you're trying to save time.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 03:14

I take it that I'm not doing the architectural side of R:X much justice. Even if that's not true, I find this quite interesting. (Nevermind that I couldn't hold a candle to your experience with mapping architecture, and wouldn't do R:X any real justice if I tried.) Even from a storyline point of view, I'd have to agree with what you're saying about most of the maps.
I have been wading in a long river and my feet are wet.
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L'howon
Somewhere outside the Citadel Of Antiquity

Post Aug 10th '09, 03:23

C06: Five finger discount
This is another level that's way too lengthy for its own good, though it turns out more cohesive than Honk.

You're trying to get some kind of uplink chip or something of Haller's, who is the Chimera's newly-rampant AI. But before you can do that, you've got to deal with a lengthy chip hunt as you find three other keys to put into slots to progress through the level. And this part of the level is rife with other locked doors and red herrings -- in other words, the level is long and it seems like an awful lot of buildup.

This level is probably the toughest of the Chimera levels, except for a nasty battle on Hairy Legs (surviving which is mostly luck-based on TC, near as I can tell.)

Now, there is a recharger on this level, but good luck finding it; if you walk into this level having never seen a Chimera recharger before (and this is entirely possible!), you could walk right past this one too and never notice it. And as that's just about the only health you'll find for 3/4 the level, you're in for quite a treat. And the save is in a different room, so you have to find both. The save, at least, is easier to spot since you have to pass by that door; the charger you don't have to go anywhere near.

I seem to remember it being touted long ago that Rubicon would "make you think before breaking wires." I don't remember if this was part of the advertising or just a review, but either way, this is pretty much the only level in which this is true. There are wire panels you can break that seem to be superfluous, but lock you out of secrets or other minor things -- in any event, you don't "think" before breaking wires, since you pretty much know you have to do it, and you just hope you aren't blindly screwing yourself by doing so. (How could you know that breaking this wire would lock you out of a secret fusion cannon? Stupid.)

Before even reaching the chip hunt part, you have to make it to the chip slots -- a feat which takes incredible oracular skills to begin with. Besides having to unlock three different doors to get to it, one of the doors is tucked away in a corner, hidden behind a box, that you can't see or hear when you toggle it. The door is hard to find, the switch that toggles it is hard to find in itself, and once you toggle it you don't know you made any progress at all. Bad, bad level design, yikes.

Aesthetically speaking, this level once again is primarily corridors, and what one might call "spaces" are actually... just slightly broader corridors with higher ceilings. The level focuses too much on going through ventilation shafts to bypass locked doors, opening locked doors that lead into new vent shafts, and so forth, so the whole composition is less than compelling, but the final battle in the core complex surrounding Haller's wetware chip is pretty neat. It's big and circular, which is sort of weird considering the rest of the ship is boxy and angular (and since the Salinger is very circular you might think CLund is showing his hand a bit).

The level does pit you up against a Hulk at one point, blocking your access through yet another narrow corridor. On Normal, Hulks are annoying but not really anything else. On Total Carnage, Hulks have way too much goddamned health for their own good and their attacks are frustratingly hard to dodge. Since on TC all monsters are at their maximum rank, every Hulk is one of those green-shirted Hulks (rather than the red shirts most of them wear) and they have a 50% health boost -- in short, it takes about 15 shotgun blasts to kill one, and if you haven't found any shotguns yet (all of them are secrets up to this point), you could very well run out of ammo trying to get past him. Very frustrating.

All in all, an okay level; the fights are for the most part fun and a bit challenging, but mostly due to the limiting spaces. The level is drab and too long for its own good, but it's not really a regrettable experience; it's not a weak level, but it's lacking.

Level design: 3/5
Aesthetics: 2.5/5; mostly corridors; the lighting is pretty good but not creepy and atmospheric like Honk...
Memorability: 4/5 for the big battle at the end in the uniquely circular room
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 03:43

RyokoTK wrote:C06: Five finger discount


Perhaps my favorite level ever? From a science fiction standpoint, anyway. This thing is huge, and it really feels like a derelict spaceship. And I think getting lost in here is incredibly fun; There's always somewhere crazy to go. Finally, and I'll never tire of saying this, I solved the airshaft maze (literally) in my sleep, right down to fighting the Hulk. Oh, the memories...

In general, it seems the RX's TC got a lot harder than did the original Rubicon's. Honk, to name one level, was far less frustrating on TC back in the day. Keep going!
underworld : simple fun netmaps // prahblum peack : simple rejected netmaps
azure dreams : simple horrible netmaps // v6.0!!!: thomas mann's greatest hits : simple simple netmaps
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irons
(.Y.)

Post Aug 10th '09, 03:45

C07: I'd Rather Be a Lutefisk
God this is an awful, awful level.

Just about the entire thing is underwater; since Rubicon doesn't have a proper underwater weapon, you get a gimped Assault Rifle instead and all the Troopers have super-precise long-range torpedo grenades to blow you to pieces with. Meanwhile, the water is ultra-foggy, so you can't see a damn thing and the Troopers are blasting you from waaay out of visual range.

Meanwhile the only way to progress through the level is by opening up a bunch of doors that might as well be secrets; you wouldn't think to tab the fan doors unless you were half deprived of oxygen and had exhausted all of your other, real options in a completely unnecessary branch of the first area of the game.

Oh right, the plot: put Haller's wetware chip in a little shuttle, and it'll auto-program the shuttle to launch out of the bay by opening the bay doors, draining the level of water. Of course, this is all after you leave.

Everyone who's played Rubicon, I think, hates this stupid damn level. It's just so bad. I can't think of a game (save for Ecco the Dolphin, which really doesn't count) that has an underwater level that isn't the worst level in the game. ughhhh

edit: Right, rankings.
Level design: 1/5; a poor concept to begin with that is absolutely not done any favors through the vapid execution.
Aesthetics: 1/5; if you could even see through the murky foggy water, you'd only see a bunch of giant, empty bland rooms.
Memorability: 4/5; oh, I remember this one, alright.

edit 2: OH! And the only functional saves on this level are secrets. At least pseudo-secret. If you didn't have to have the automap open the entire time to navigate this stupid foggy level, you'd have no idea they were there.
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 10th '09, 03:47, edited 1 time in total.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 04:00

C08: Things may happen I
These levels serve no purpose except to denote that the next level is a dream. Which seems like a sensible thing, except my god, the dream levels are generally pretty bizarre and you'd have to be a real dope not to tell.

In any event, the little floating Compiler balls can actually kill you, which happened to me once. This was very frustrating; I thought I was safe. :(

And the levels are vacuums, too, so you can suffocate too!

The blurry static effect is pretty cool, with the texture smearing.

No rating because really, who cares.

C09: We Dream You
With the exception of "It Begins With an Ending," this is certainly the weakest of the dream levels. It's also a vacuum, and on Total Carnage the level is just confusing enough that suffocation is a real possibility. So besides the fact that it's confusing, it's also pretty much void of anything worth looking or doing (though there is a secret 2x can, nice to have for Hairy Legs).

The level is divided into two halves (as opposed to a level divided into three halves, I guess). The first half is in a dreamy Chimera, which is kind of cool because there are actually three distinct segments and, if you're playing on co-op, you will be separated from your teammates. But there's no practical reason for this, it's just to be cool, and to confuse the hell out of me every single time I play it. This part's okay, though it's hardly dreamy enough to be interesting; it's just dark and bland corridors again.

The real offender of this level is the latter half, though, an enormous rocky field with fragmented parts of the ship strewn about. CLund's characteristic lack of differential shading makes this part pretty difficult to navigate, and it's in no way helped by the floaty Compiler balls shooting the shit out of everything else. While they aren't trying to kill you, you can easily be hit by their stray shots, and since you can't fight back it's sort of an irritating addition to an already irritating level. The exit terminal is on the opposite side of a fragmented wall on top of a hill; very easily missed.

And, again, it's a vacuum level, which is never a good thing. This comes after Lutefisk and Things May Happen I; three in a row, no thanks.

Level design: 2/5; the branching beginning is kind of neat but the rocky field area is unnecessarily confusing, and having a constraining time limit just makes the level frustrating and detracts from the dreaminess of the level.
Aesthetics: 1/5; no compelling architecture and the level is uniformly dark
Memorability: 2.5/5
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 04:17

C10: Hairy Legs
Ah, the last of the Chimera levels, if you don't count a couple dream levels later in the game.

The Chimera "plank" (that is really a stupid word choice) is strangely superfluous to Rubicon's real plot. It's an excuse to start the game in action, but after this level it seems like the chapter was a waste; you never return to the site and the plot never actually references the damn ship again. And furthermore, if you succeed on this mission (it is timed, though very hard to fail accidentally), you won't even really return to Pfhor Prime at all -- making it a real waste of time indeed.

Anyway, plot. The ship is going to explode or something if you don't press a button within 20 minutes or so, which is an awfully long time considering the level is short and direct. The level itself is divided into a handful of segments separated by teleporters; the first segment is the most substantial, as you pass around a hangar with a huge battle including your first Rubicon Juggernaut (which is a truly difficult obstacle, so thank god you can ignore it).

If you want to continue to the Salinger plank (and the "good" ending), you should try to succeed in your mission, so don't waste time. But if you want to explore the Pfhor plank (and fight much more agreeable enemies overall, really), you need to find a way to kill time, and thankfully there's enough extra fluff around the main path to make it worth your while. Some good secrets and ammo caches, an out-of-the-way 2x recharger, and some other fun stuff which can actually be obtained well within the time limit as well if you want to chance it. But overall there's a lot less to explore than you might think -- the unspoken rule when you get a mission like "go from A to B and ignore everything else," the "everything else" part is supposed to be cool and much more impressive than A or B. But it's not, at least not here.

A huge battle I referred to earlier takes place in the second segment; you're supposed to sprint across a rooftop and run around about 10 Hunters and 15 Troopers while not being shot by the Juggernaut as well. On Normal this isn't a huge feat; on Total Carnage it's almost entirely out of your hands whether you succeed or not. The sheer number of enemies makes it impractical to stop and fight them, especially because of the goddamn Juggernaut, which will rip you to shreds. They're waaaay harder than Infinity Juggernauts; those machine guns are basically impossible to dodge. So your only real choice is to try and put the body of little guys between you and the Juggernaut, and then ruuuuuuuuun to the far side.

It doesn't work that well, and there aren't nearly enough good guys to distract the enemy long enough for you to get cover. Very poorly constructed and a good piece of evidence that Rubicon was not tested very thoroughly on TC.

Anyway, the third segment is the ending bit, and is straightforward enough. The best part about succeeding at the mission: you can shut that fucking siren up.

The level is good enough and reasonably intense; there are enough difficult baddies on the level to keep you running even without the time limit, since there is only one point in the entirety of Rubicon X where fighting a Juggernaut is worth your time. (Hell Pfhor You, if you're wondering. But only one of them.) The architecture is done well, though again, flat lighting prevents the architecture from really standing out. For a run-to-the-exit-fast level it's actually done really well: enough of the doors are locked and the only exits seem to "accidentally" corral you to where you need to go, which is a tasteful way of doing it. One of the game's better levels, overall.

Level design: 4/5; I'm not a fan of separated segments in levels in general; you might as well have completely separate levels, and you lose an opportunity for a more cohesive composition. But each segment is crafted well; the stupid battle on the rooftop is my only gripe.
Aesthetics: 4/5; good architecture, poor lighting.
Memorability: 5/5; this is probably the first level I can think of where a time limit is imposed that isn't either vacuum or running from lava.


At this point I will be continuing on to the Salinger plank.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 04:22

S01: Rozinante II
Back on the Rozinante. You get to explore a little bit while you look for your ammo, and it's an excuse to look at a neat panorama of a nearby star in space.

I have to comment on the particularly poor terminal writing on this level, though. Poor formatting, typos, and some out-of-character word choices by Durandal. For an exposition level, this is like the only thing you have to get right, and it's not. This drives me batty.

Seriously. "Whacko?" Whatever.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 04:41

S02: Blasted vent cores
And here we go with the Salinger levels.

You board the Salinger shortly after a contingent of Pfhor do, and Durandal instructs you to find four repair chips to repair the onboard AI Charlie. (Wait, didn't we just deal with a broken AI?) So the level is another absurd uplink chip hunt, only this time the level is far less linear than Five Finger Discount and one key in particular is hidden waaaay too well. I have nothing against chip hunts; it's a level concept I've fallen back on more than once, but if it's executed poorly it's very annoying. In this one, I can take it or leave it.

This is the kind of level that makes you wonder, "why." You need to find repair units for Charlie. Okay. But they've been dispersed. Why? Who decided to throw a vital repair unit into the bottom of a sewage pit? Why is another one on the floor in a hallway? Who put that there? Obviously it's a separation from gameplay and storyline, but sometimes it's just weird. Wouldn't there be like a maintenance closet right next door? But it's not even there; there is no designated place for "AI repair units" except the floor of a hallway, I guess.

Anyway, this is a pretty cool level; Chris Lund works with circles and curves far better than he does with angular shapes, and the Salinger levels prove it; they just seem to flow better, in general. But one thing I have to gripe about as a general thing is this sort of slow, meandering level design; rather than getting to the point of the level, the game would prefer it if you wandered around for a bit and got in a fight or ten before you found the save and recharger and terminal with instructions. It's very irritating; finding out what your objective is should not be an objective in itself. This level is one of those, with the save and recharger being in the same room as Charlie's four chip slots -- but finding that room can be difficult and dangerous, and you run a very real chance of dying at least once before finding it, therefore having to go back to Hairy Legs.

The worst part about this level is one particular uplink chip hidden in the bottom of a giant sludge pit. It's such an unusual place to find a crucial objective like that and it's very easily missed, because you can't see it until you're practically on top of it. There's no clues that that's where it is, you just have to scour the map for it. Very poor level design choice; it doesn't reward cleverness or good thinking, just the patience to explore every cranny of a map. (The same patience it requires to tab every inch of wall until you've found the hidden door necessary to continue. Thank you for that, Tempus Irae. Who hides a switch in a pillar?!)

Getting the secret level is suitably obscure: having to soft-kill the Hunter boss, which is perfectly likely if you're using the Shotguns but impossible if you're using Fusion, or if you let the Vacbobs kill it for you.

But all in all, it's a good level with some good fights and very impressive architecture.

Level design: 3.5/5; the difficulty of finding crucial elements such as the only save and one of the chips can ruin it.
Aesthetics: 5/5
Memorability: 5/5
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 04:51

S-Secret 1: The White Room
Fun level. Survive in the little white room for a couple minutes and you get to keep the worthless Mortar Unit. The best way to survive on any difficulty: grab the Mortar and the ammo, then just run around the periphery of the room while the bad guys and Bobs tear each other apart. You can't lose!

Rubicon secret levels are the perfect level of off-beat quirkiness and generally are rewarding enough to merit the challenge, but it's such a shame that the Mortar is so weak. It's just not strong enough; it's really just a weaker and stupider-looking version of the SPNKR. No thanks.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 06:26

RyokoTK wrote:C10: Hairy Legs
The Chimera "plank" (that is really a stupid word choice) is strangely superfluous to Rubicon's real plot. It's an excuse to start the game in action, but after this level it seems like the chapter was a waste; you never return to the site and the plot never actually references the damn ship again. And furthermore, if you succeed on this mission (it is timed, though very hard to fail accidentally), you won't even really return to Pfhor Prime at all -- making it a real waste of time indeed.

I believe I can explain this, out-of-universe.

The scenario now known as Rubicon is the merger of two older scenarios, Chimera and Salinger. Chimera was Nick Nethery's project though it eventually fell into Scott Brown's hands, and Salinger was Chris Lund and Dan Rudolph's project, though Dan later left the project.

Chimera's original plot involved some kind of Pfhor mythology about a horrible beast being released and a prophecy that it would be humans who would do it and the Chimera's crash on Pfhor Prime was the harbinger of doom and so on. I don't remember all the details of it now. I never really knew Salinger's original plot, and I stopped following the team shortly after the merger happened, so I don't know exactly what lead to the plot rearranging, but the final plot of Rubicon doesn't bear much resemblance to Nick's Chimera story that I recall.

Long and short of it being, the Chimera plank seems like a vestige of the project's development history now, whereas it was once the central point of the story.
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Pfhorrest
California

Post Aug 10th '09, 11:07

I couldn't agree more with some of the criticisms posted here so far.

I really wish the creators could go back, rework Rubicon X and make it more enjoyable. The scenario features some impressive architecture and atmosphere, yes, but the gameplay itself is just too tedious and terribly paced. I remember spending days on Gators of NY trying to find a way to stay in the Salinger plank, but the freaking game keeps sending me back to Pfhor. Either the Marathon guide is outdated or this scenario still needs serious testing.
Last edited by johnnythewolf on Aug 10th '09, 11:11, edited 1 time in total.
johnnythewolf

Post Aug 10th '09, 11:17

A good initiative Ryoko. I agree that many levels have some poor design choices. Rubicon was hard for me the first time I played it through because of that. Now when I know the quircks of many levels, the ride is much smoother and enjoyable.

I think this is a good point to remember as a mapper. If something is important to the player, make it accessable. I've seen my brother play some of my levels, and the experience is always interesting. Things I take for granted and self evident, are not always so self evident to him. Where to go and shit like that. As mappers we play our levels as we intend them to be played. But chances are other people will play them in the non intended way. Therefore it's important to put rechargers, terminals, wires, chips, ammo etc in places that can't be missed.

A thing about rubicon X. The textures are lovely. They made the whole scenario look sharp and clean. Can't say the same thing about the original rubicon.
Last edited by goran on Aug 10th '09, 11:32, edited 1 time in total.
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goran

Post Aug 10th '09, 11:22

Pfhorrest wrote:I believe I can explain this, out-of-universe.

The scenario now known as Rubicon is the merger of two older scenarios, Chimera and Salinger. Chimera was Nick Nethery's project though it eventually fell into Scott Brown's hands, and Salinger was Chris Lund and Dan Rudolph's project, though Dan later left the project.

Chimera's original plot involved some kind of Pfhor mythology about a horrible beast being released and a prophecy that it would be humans who would do it and the Chimera's crash on Pfhor Prime was the harbinger of doom and so on. I don't remember all the details of it now. I never really knew Salinger's original plot, and I stopped following the team shortly after the merger happened, so I don't know exactly what lead to the plot rearranging, but the final plot of Rubicon doesn't bear much resemblance to Nick's Chimera story that I recall.

Long and short of it being, the Chimera plank seems like a vestige of the project's development history now, whereas it was once the central point of the story.

Oh I know all about that, I played the final secret levels too. :)
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 21:15

S03: The Gators of NY
This level is a drag, and really relates to what I said about Blasted Vent Cores and the difficulty of finding your objective and such.

Durandal teleports you into another area of the Salinger, and if you can even find his terminal, he outright refuses to tell you your mission. He has faith that you'll figure it out. Bullshit. I am not a fan of unclear objectives, especially on levels that are particularly confusing and nonlinear like this one. It would be one thing if there was only one direction to go, so at least you knew you were making progress at something -- but you teleport into the middle of a big room that has probably a dozen exits, and absolutely no clue of what to do. Your mission in point of fact is to find a bunch of crew logs and read them -- but would it have killed them to just say that?

And again, finding the essentials is far too difficult for its own good. You are very likely to die on Total Carnage at least once before you locate the recharger and save (which of course are not next to each other). And even once you have finally found your bearings, the level is tedious and repetitive as you have to locate every single terminal, and there are many, so you'll be backtracking a lot. (This is of course assuming you know that's what you're looking for.)

Speaking from experience, making truly non-linear levels like this one any good is an exceptionally challenging task, because there are many ways to approach every room and you have difficulty ensuring that the player will reach any points in a certain order. The best way to try and manage this is by making the level as a whole a non-linear network of linear segments, because you otherwise have no control at all of what the player does in what order, and things can just go from bad to worse for the poor guy. This level is a case in point; since there is absolutely no direction at the start of the level, and there are a plethora of available choices at pretty much every turn, the player can accidentally find himself all the way across the map, desperately looking for health and completely lost. Meanwhile, you're being yelled at by Lysander for trespassing and you have no idea what you trespassed on; bad guys are chasing you through corridors from five rooms away; it's a mess, and the complete lack of organization makes this level very frustrating and punishing indeed on Total Carnage.

Visually, the level is quite charming at times; though there are some corridors still, most of the level is actually rooms of some kind, and these rooms look pretty nice. The lack of differential shading still is irksome but it's balanced out now by more direct lighting through occasional light strips that cast beams of light. It's a nice effect and each of the rooms is distinct enough that before long you can start to navigate through the core spaces. And the combat is good; once you get your bearings and find a save and recharger, and you no longer run from every encounter, the fighting is fun and well-executed, with monsters roaming freely through the level.

All in all, the level could be good but the utter lack of organization and direction makes this a chief exercise in frustration. And it's truly difficult on Total Carnage at times, which sucks if you die and have to go back to the previous level. Again.

Edit: One fun bit of trivia. When I was writing this level up I kept thinking "isn't there another exit from this level?" And there was, in the original Rubicon; upon finishing the level, most of the terminals would tell you to return to the teleporter pad you began the level on, and doing so would inexplicably take you to Hex Level 73 -- on the Pfhor plank, which clever people will remember is the bad ending (and this is after Deep in the Aardvarks, so you are doomed to failure unless you know the obscure exit on The Ascension Factor). This was removed in Rubicon X on account of it being pretty retarded that you have to find one specific terminal that will take you directly to 10001 Nordic Nerds (and not fail the entire game), since none of the other terminals would even indicate that. So bad.

Level design: 1.5/5
Aesthetics: 4.5/5
Memorability: 4/5; some of the rooms are very well built and I remember the bulk of the level with affection; it's only when I replay the thing that I realize why I loathe it so much. Oh well.
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 19th '09, 05:23, edited 1 time in total.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 21:18

Your approach I must say is far more interesting than mine - I suppose that's because not a lot of people particularly care about story as much as gameplay. (Here's looking at you Grayswandir!) Except for Blasted though, I think the reason I don't personally mind the Chimera levels so much is because A.) You usually get rewarded nicely for exploring - the game almost encourages it with ammo caches, and B.) It adds some atmosphere to things as well. Lighting perhaps could be changed, but with the seemingly random expanse you really get a sense that you are in a severely damaged ship and the locked doors and such don't dissuade you so much because there are always other places to go. One of main gripes with some scenarios is that use of locked doors that never open - they just seem so odd and out of place because they're always sporadic. The Chimera levels tastefully assuage that by giving a good basis for why the doors are closed.
I suppose mainly that's just a break between some gamers who prefer more story and depth to those that prefer more in your face action with less 'things' to fiddle with - I.E. more linear gameplay.

I must ask though, is RV:RX that boring? I try my best to make things interesting, but with as little feedback as I get...
RyokoTK wrote:(The same patience it requires to tab every inch of wall until you've found the hidden door necessary to continue. Thank you for that, Tempus Irae. Who hides a switch in a pillar?!)

2 hours of my life I would gladly take back.
I have been wading in a long river and my feet are wet.
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L'howon
Somewhere outside the Citadel Of Antiquity

Post Aug 10th '09, 21:38

S04: 10001 Nordic Nerds
Once again putzing around in places in which you shouldn't be putzing. Now Lysander is angry at you because you're romping through a restricted sector and the crew of the Salinger will start shooting at you -- meaning, oh joy, fighting Bobs.

10001 Nordic Nerds seems to be another unnecessarily confusing nonlinear level, but in fact it's a linear level (get to the exit) divided into two segments -- first, you help Durandal break into the security stuff, and then you start raising hell in the restricted labs. So the level is much simpler and at least the game has the decency to let you know this stuff, at least in part. And the enemy Bobs, which tend to annoy me, are used in a generally tasteful way; it smacks in a way of a "tactical" level, with the positioning of the Bobs (on high ledges, behind cover, guarding doors, etc) and as Bobs are tricky and threatening enemies, you have to play the level with a certain amount of caution. Yet because most of the level is a forward progression, you rarely end up being overwhelmed by the level nor do you end up surrounded by Bobs.

This level does introduce one of my most hated enemies of all time, though: the Maser Bob. CLund is a cruel, cruel man for putting these guys in the game. Perfectly accurate, incredible range, and they never stop shooting; the Maser is a powerful weapon and on TC these guys can kill you from double health in a second or so. So if you don't see one (and most of the time, you won't), and he sees you, you're toast. And even if you do see him, but you have the wrong weapon, if you don't get out of there quickly, you're still dead. These guys are punishing enemies and not very much fun to fight, since all they do is stand there and murder you with their death ray.

Knowing where they are and getting the first shot in (preferably with a Maser of your own) is pretty much the only way to survive.

Aesthetically, the level is adequate; we're back to the circle motif, and it's done pretty well, but most of the rooms are long and flat, which are at least better than corridors but still lack that architectural memorability. The lighting is pretty bright, as is befitting a laboratory, but it doesn't make the gameplay any more exciting. The level is mercifully pretty small and easy to get around, though.

My one big problem is the exit: you have to let yourself be captured by Lysander, which seems stupid and cheesy. Being able to escape from terminals is the engine's biggest failings, since when Lysander threatens to teleport you to the brig of a Pfhor ship, if you can just hit "esc" and be fine, it's kind of weird. Double weird since the only way out is through him, and not through Durandal. What a douche.

Overall, I like it, it's a fine level without any significant problems except for the exit terminal, but it's hardly excellent.

Level design: 4.5/5; a good level suited to fighting Bobs, and without that crazy meandering nonlinearness of some other levels; there are in fact two paths to reach the wires you have to break to get into the labs, but both paths are equal in challenge and length; having options is nice.
Aesthetics: 3.5/5; inoffensive. Some exterior shots of the ship are pretty well done, though.
Memorability: 2/5; a forgettable level.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 21:50

Lh wrote:One of main gripes with some scenarios is that use of locked doors that never open - they just seem so odd and out of place because they're always sporadic.

I suppose mainly that's just a break between some gamers who prefer more story and depth to those that prefer more in your face action with less 'things' to fiddle with - I.E. more linear gameplay.

Well you'd think that spaceships would have doors everywhere; offices, bathrooms, meeting rooms, labs, residences, whatever you like. A practical designer would waste no space. But you just can't have all of that stuff actually in the level; you'd run out of polygons, for one, and two, it'd be really annoying to have a thousand little rooms with a desk and a chair and a dustbin and that's it. So in order to give a more believable atmosphere, you have all of these doors, but then they're just phony and never open.

Salinger levels in Rubicon have the decency to tell you which doors will open and which won't by a little light -- if it's blue, it'll open by your command, and if it's red, it's most likely fake but it might be switch operated. This is a pretty nice courtesy. In TGIBX, my method is to have a strip of lights by every door (or the vast majority of them, anyway); if the light is lit, it'll open at some point, but if it's dim it will never, ever open under any circumstance.
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 22:03

S05: Things may happen II

whatever

S06: people under the stairs
This is another dream level, and it's sort of a weird one (as far as dreams go, that is): it's some kind of dark cityscape, but it's done in the Salinger textures, and there are assimilated Bobs everywhere trying to kill you. And it's a Rebellion, which means you have no health unless you find the nearly-hidden save and recharger.

The level is short, which is good because all in all it feels mundane and stupid. The real dream level comes next.

Level design: 2.5/5; uninspired.
Aesthetics: 3/5
Memorability: 2/5

S07: Comfortably Numb
This is a dream level as well (three in a row, good god!), but you're back on the Salinger and you have some weird fisheye effect just to trip you up. This level is weird; unlike the other dream levels there are no real clues that you're in a dream except for the terminals which all talk about the Wheeling Hubcap employee. Your movement is slow, and all of the scientists speak slowly, so you're led to believe that this is the real world and you're drugged, but that doesn't coincide with the terminals. Oh, and your hands are different.

Anyway, the meat of the level is this: you have to open a locked door to get to the exit, but in doing so you release two Maser Bobs, and you move so slowly that they will fry you without trouble if you run into them. On TC you can't even punch them fast enough to prevent them from shooting. So instead you have to elude them and take another path to the exit before they catch up to you. Knowing the mechanics makes this level pretty trivial, but if you don't (and you won't, the first time around,) it's possible that you can save in an untenable position and realize you've been cornered by the Bobs -- and you'll be stuck. There is absolutely no way to kill them on TC as far as I can tell, and there are several dead ends.

In other words, it's a cool concept but done just irritatingly enough to be a problem. And knowing the level makes it such a chore; you're not really in any danger, but good lord you move slow. And I am so tired of dream levels by this point that even though I'm pissed that the game took my guns away for no good damn reason, I'd rather be back in reality so I can make some progress in the plot.

Level design: 4/5
Aesthetics: 3/5
Memorability: 5/5
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 22:29

S08: The Exit Door Leads In
Your guns are gone, and you've been imprisoned on a Pfhor ship! Time to escape.

To start with, I am against Rebellion levels on principle, because it punishes people that dutifully save their ammo by just taking it from them anyway without warning. In some games, this is less troublesome than others; I hope to minimize the effect in TGIBX (which has your guns taken from you at regular intervals) by giving the player so much ammo there's no need to consciously save it, and doing it frequently enough that you won't miss it anyway. Done poorly, though, it seems to be a cheap excuse to ramp up the difficulty.

Anyway, this is also your first encounter with the horribly unfair Rubicon Enforcers on the Salinger plank. Let me tell you the story: you start the level, get out of the prison cell, go up the elevator (this is still without healing, saving, or finding guns), take a left, get electrocuted by the Enforcer's new retarded melee attack and die. And get sent back to Comfortably Numb. (By the way, that Enforcer is guarding the save.) No, instead, you're supposed to take a right at the top of the lift, punch two more Fighters to death in a cramped corridor, find the 1x recharger tucked on the far side of a wall on a ledge, then jump down a pit which has a river of painful Pfhor slime, jump into the river (remember, this is still without saving) because you're supposed to know that's where the guns are, and then continue in a completely different area from there, with your guns but now no health.

Yeah, I don't like this level. Once you do arm yourself (and, if you're lucky, actually make it to a save,) your mission is to go to the bridge and break something, and then exit through one specific airlock even though the ship has several. Durandal's directions are characteristically useless (but it's okay, because he's capricious and that gives every writer the excuse to be a dick to the player). The level, as well, is of course too confusingly laid out for its own good, and it's just an all-around unpleasant experience on a dismally lit Pfhor ship.

But my biggest gripe is with these goddamn Enforcers, which never make levels enjoyable. I don't see what's so wrong about the Infinity ones, but rather than keep the charming N-Cannon, the Enforcers now have these fearsome energy guns with seeking attacks that are nigh-impossible to dodge, and if you get close, a devastating lightning attack that can lop off far too much health for its own good so quickly that you won't even realize it happened until you're already dead. These Enforcers are so poorly balanced, and you can tell when you play on TC; since all of them are upgraded to majors on TC, and majors fire three shots in a single volley, and each shot does ~60 points of damage, guess what? If you get hit by all three attacks (guaranteed if it's the short-range blast, and very likely if it's the seeking shot), you lose over a full bar of life. Almost instantaneously.

I have chalked up so many deaths to Enforcers when I first ran through this game on TC. They're so inherently not fun, and they invariably get the drop on you so you're pretty much guaranteed to die until you memorize where they are. Just terrible. I don't see why they even need a melee attack; their only weakness was how vulnerable they were when you got close. They're snipers. This level isn't so bad about them as "This hurts less than... um..." which is the Pfhor Plank counterpart to this level, and has so many of them... ugh.

Never mind. This level is pretty douchey from the get go, and it doesn't let up until the end; the only respite is that the level is rich in secrets so if you're good at exploring (and cautious enough to not get instagibbed by Enforcers) you'll end up a wealthy man.

Level design: 1/5 just for being so shitty about everything.
Aesthetics: 2.5/5; I have never been good at designing Pfhor ships. Some of Chris's are pretty good. This one has a couple neat rooms but overall it's just another mess of corridors, and the lack of organization in the layout kind of makes it all seem crappy.
Memorability: 1.5/5
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 10th '09, 22:49

S09: A long walk off a short pier
I actually kind of like this one. Now that you're on the hull of the ship, you have to break some more machinery so Durandal can get a teleport lock on you and, as they say, "get you outta there." The level itself is a vacuum, which would be a strike against it, but it's executed well, eschewing combat (for the most part) for a very speedy level design that focuses itself entirely on getting stuff done. And it works well.

The gimmick -- falling off the ship will kill you -- is sort of nonsensical (we are in space after all) but it works well, and best of all, the level is short enough that the gimmick doesn't wear out its welcome. Your directions are pretty clear, the level design is succinct and direct, and all in all this level gets its stuff right.

The secret exit to Hell Pfhor You is definitely a bit too obscure -- jump off the ledge with the green lights, but only after you press a certain switch -- but that level is supposed to be "the ultimate challenge" or whatever, so I guess the obscurity matches the task at hand.

Not much to say about this level because it's short, but it's done well.

Level design: 5/5
Aesthetics: 4.5/5
Memorability: 4/5
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RyokoTK
Saint Paul, MN

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