Well, I actually had this finished but then went and added more. It's not as cohesive as I'd like, but I've definitely got a lot of stuff down, which I'm happy about.
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Hyper-Defenses in games.
Well at first glance this topic sounds like some kind of Invincibility used commonly in games. You know, invincibility perks or frames or abilities or whatnot.
Actually I'm referring to something used quite often in strategy games, or in large-scale Shooters. A Hyper-Defense is, in my use here, referring to any barrier to the players exploration, movement, advancement, or attacks.
If this is really unclear to you, think about where you've had your path blocked from doing something. You want to go stop the influx of enemies at the source, but can't get there for whatever reason. That's a Hyper-Defense. It's something implemented by the Developer to keep you or your forces out of somewhere they feel you ought not to be.
The most common examples are things like Kill-Zones, wherein entering them immediately greets the player with spontaneous death. There's sometimes a short countdown, and other times it's instant.
However, there are more elaborate ways that these are used. Why I all them Hyper-Defenses is because I encounter them most in Strategy Games. Say my objective is to hold off some kind of long attack for thirty minutes. That happens often in strategy games doesn't it? Alright, so I'm rather good at strategy games, I get the hotkeys going and really keep my units alive, while being good with resources. What do I think when I see these kinds of missions? STEM THE FLOW OF UNITS ROLLING INTO MY BASE. I gather my army and push out of my base to see where these stupid enemies are coming from.
Most often, they simply spawn someplace, or approach from outside of the map. Well that stinks, I'll just leave my army there to intercept them.
Other times there's actually a base there. A big whopper of an enemy base. That's where all these units are coming from, the game's Ai is churning them out by using this huge base. My thought process would be, "KAY LET'S KILL ALL THE PRODUCTION STRUCTURES AND THEN LEAVE." What happens? Hyper-Defenses happen. I approach the enemy base and WHAM! My first line is suddenly incinerated, mauled, vaporized, frozen, maimed, or impaled by an unseen adversary. What just happened?! My army is gone! That's what the Developers want. They don't want you to cheese your way out of their scenario, so they plopped some kind of obstacle in your way.
This could be a special enemy unit. It could be able to wipe the floor with your army, but be in Ai priority to stay at the entrance to the base. This Hyper-Defense could be a barrier which either blocks you from getting inside or straight up kills your units. It could also be a pair of extremely powerful defenses. They might have just enough range and damage to roast your units just as they get inside the enemy base. Oh, and there's no way to remove these.
Ok, technically you the player may be able to destroy these barriers. You could simply throw thousands of units into the Hyper-Defense until it's overwhelmed, but in all reality, there's no reason to do so when you could just play by the rules that the Developers intended you to play by. Sorry, but you're sitting in your base for thirty minutes. Bummer.
Another way that Developers go about implementing Hyper-Defenses is simply making the base unreachable. Terrain used as a blocking feature, perhaps? For example, your foe comes from the water! Their base is on that Island over there! Oh... your troops can't swim, sorry about that. While not really a defense, the Developer has given the player an insurmountable wall of sorts. For all we know, there might even be a gigantic wall in the way of your forces!
Something similar to this terrain barrier is an Operational Area. While the player operates inside of the box we call the map, there's actually more of said map. That area outside of the box the player inhabits is where the triggers for the map take place. Let's go back to our "defend for thirty minutes" example. I've got to fend of the enemy, but I'd rather go attack them instead. I operate within the "Box" allotted to the player. The enemy base is outside of said box. I can see it, but can't get there, as I am not allowed to operate within that larger box's confines.
There are many ways that Developers can use this method. They can start the player in the "Defend for thirty minutes" scenario, and then after said time frame, lift the Operational Area boundaries and reveal the rest of the map to the player, giving them the ability (and quite likely the objective) to destroy the base where the enemy came from to attack you. These barriers can be extremely small areas. With a large map filled with small areas, the player feels confined to their starting position with their starting objective. Sure, as you complete more objectives, the map is revealed to the player, and they see that they have gradually gained control of a much larger portion of the map by accomplishing smaller objectives. This gives the player a good feeling. The other way to do this is by revealing to the player the entire map where the given scenario takes place. This gives the player the ability to see what he/she is up against in the future, and allows them to prepare.
Now, with both of these methods, the player can expect that, with a larger area of the map now available to them, there will likely be a correspondingly larger amount of enemies or bases to deal with. With an unseen map size, the player does not know how much of the map will be next revealed. This can give a war-themed game the air of uncertainty. Capturing one objective may mean fending off a counterattack at either the player's base or at the recently captured objective. However, it can also cause players to spend exorbitant amounts of time preparing for nonexistent dangers lurking beyond the limits of their known world. One such way that this fear is instilled is by immediately unleashing the Ai controlled units on the outside of the Hyper-Defense upon the player after removing it. It would be nice if you could get rid of those enemies before wrapping up your current objective... Even worse is the uncertainty of weather or not there will be a large or minor attack
This is where the other option comes in. Letting the player see what is potentially waiting for them offers a more manageable experience for the player. They can prepare a little for what may be coming. They may not know how much of the map will be "Unlocked" each time, but they will know that there is definitely something prowling the limits of their current world waiting to strike.
Light can be just as blinding as Darkness. Bring some Sunglasses.
Terminology critique: I'm not sure if "hyper-defence" is the right term here. It seems to denote tanking or turtling by players rather than a force applied by a designer. In the first sense, it certainly does apply to a base with super-guns that obliterate everything, but not so much with kill zones.
As I understand the general thrust of this article, you describe various methods of impeding players for some purpose and then analyse the gameplay benefits that these methods, done right, can provide. The methods you outline are: kill-zones, special hyper-defence units, terrain, and operational area boundaries.
Structural critique: This kind of article, which moves from the conceptual to the practical, needs a clear conceptual explanation at the beginning. You've sketched one out, but I get the feeling you developed your ideas more and more as you wrote the whole thing. That's okay, we all do that, and I think that if you don't develop your thinking while writing an essay or article, you're either really well prepared or you're doing it wrong. So I suggest coming back to the top and clarifying the design concept. It may seem relatively obvious (a level design feature that prevents players from doing x action) but I find that being obvious is incredibly important when trying to explain an idea. This is partly why I take issue with the term "Hyper-defence": it seems to be something else than what you are saying.
After the conceptual introduction (which can often include examples, analogies, and metaphors; it isn't just a dry abstract explanation), you move to the types of practical applications. Structurally, you could do with a tad more separation between parts. Make it very clear that this is one part, and then this is another.
Also, your best analysis comes after the terrain/operational area barrier section (which you could probably separate more clearly into two different sections) but that level of analysis is not as present in the other kinds of barriers. It's great for a designer to know what to do, but it is better yet to know why and how they should do it. They can see the benefits of doing it and gain a deeper understanding of how it works. It's also useful to examine how not to do it i.e., how a barrier can go wrong.
Conceptual analysis/critique/suggestions: So this is very much a level design concept. Obviously a game designer can limit what a player can do in terms of core gameplay mechanics e.g., by making players unable to fly, restore health automatically, or strapping huge yellow cones to their heads. But that's not what your article is concerned with. You're discussing further limitations within the structure of the gameplay mechanics. These are special limitations unique to particular levels within the game. Arguably, you could generalise this idea by saying that everything in level design is some form of limitation, and these are extreme examples. Its the difference between a mountain and a molehill. I am limited by the fact that there is a forest that my units go through a little slower. I am extremely limited by the fact that there is a forest made of vengeful tree spirits that kill my units if they pass through.
The question is what purpose do extreme limitations or barriers go towards. That's the fundamental conceptual question that underlies your piece. The practical questions that depend on that first question are what advantages and disadvantages does using each kind of barrier provide and how best can these barriers be manipulated by the designer. To simplify these questions: why are they there, what happens when they are there, and how to use them best. You already grasp that these are the questions you need to answer; you just need to distill it and flesh it out.
I hope what I have suggested here is helpful.
Email me at xnoklu[at]gmail.com should you need to contact me.
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