(Lack of) Level Design in Stylish Action Games

What do you think of the level design in action game arenas? Specifically how most fights that occur in games like DMC/Bayo are pretty barren. I get that fights should be engaging regardless of the level but I don’t see why arenas like this aren’t more common.

I mean, those games just don’t work with level design very well. Have you played the platforming sections in DMC3 and 4? They’re pretty awful. Platforming in Bayo and MGR is pretty bad too. All these games have character motion that makes characters very difficult to line up on a specific spot in comparison to platformer games like mario. All these games have jumpsquat animations and jumps that lock you in specific directions and don’t give you much air control, if any. This works really well in combat, it means you need to commit and choose options relative to your opponents, and you barely notice it there because all your actions are deliberate and straightforward, but for navigating geometry, it’s hell. Have you tried playing a fighting game which didn’t design its jumps this way? Like Super Smash Flash 1, which used more conventional jumping controls? In Super Smash Flash 1, unlike real smash bros games, when you press jump, you jump instantly, and you can switch your facing direction at any time during your jump.

DMC3 actually had a number of arenas like that. Like, there was this one hallway with corkscrews on the walls. Another with multiple platforms of different height that rotated. DMC4 had fights with enemies on disappearing platforms (I think that one worked rather well actually).

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I think that detailed level design actually works against these games’ best attributes, because of the way they chose to specialize in their character controls. Other games, like Dark Souls, have better integration with their level design, which they can afford because of the different, more close-up control style of those characters. It’s a bit tricky for me to distinguish exactly what attributes make it this way though.

I think arenas like the above from transformers devastation aren’t more common because coming up with subtle level design elements for games like these, that add a twist, but don’t ruin things, is hard. It’s like trying to make additional tournament legal stages for Smash Bros or maps for Starcraft. You gotta follow a certain template or things get gimmicky and frustrating. Of course there’s probably room for more experimentation in the future. These games have good enough combat systems to let the combat alone carry the game in the absence of level design, which generally tends to work out.

4 thoughts on “(Lack of) Level Design in Stylish Action Games

  1. Wait November 5, 2017 / 9:46 pm

    If Super Smash Flash (or normal fighting games) suffer from having conventional jumping controls, then how does Super Smash Bros get away with it?

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    • Chris Wagar November 5, 2017 / 10:11 pm

      Get away with what? Super Smash Bros doesn’t have conventional jumping controls, which was the whole point of my statement. I was contrasting to Super Smash Flash 1, which does have traditional platformer jumping controls to show how traditional jumping controls don’t work all that well in a fighting game. Super Smash Bros has jumping controls that are terrible for actual platforming, same as DMC and other action games. The point is, there’s a difference between movement and jumping controls that are good for fighting and good for platforming. Super Smash Flash 1 is a good counterexample here, because it’s a game that didn’t understand this principle and used normal jumping controls instead. Normal fighting games do not have conventional jumping controls either.

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    • Haipa November 5, 2017 / 11:25 pm

      Because in some traditional fighting games, your jumps are at a fixed arc. You have no control of your character mid-jump, so you have to know the correct distance your character has to be in order to land on a platform. There are some exceptions such as MvC or Guilty Gear, but even then their, but their movement system was not made with platforming in mind, you’d have to alter things such as gravity or jump distance in order for them to be more suitable for platforms.

      Super Smash Bros. gets away with it because you have control of your characters in mid jump. You also have the ability to short hop or jump, drop from a platform, air dash, Up+B, and various other aerial moves that makes Smash Bros. more suitable for more diverse terrain.

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      • Haipa November 5, 2017 / 11:28 pm

        Air Dash –> Air Dodge (derp)

        Also, depending on which Smash game you’re playing, the gravity is much lighter in comparison to other fighting games as well.

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