Postmortem of the Seven Tasks: my mod for Lugaru (Part 2/2)

sword-spin

[~3200 words]

Postmortem of the Seven Tasks: my mod for Lugaru (Part 2)

CONTINUED FROM PART 1

[The Lugaru Dev Team has been working on an OpenSource version of Lugaru. Along with being free, OpenSource Lugaru also has a lot of single player campaign mods pre-installed, including my own single player campaign, “The Seven Tasks”. Check it out: https://osslugaru.gitlab.io/]

Map 7: The desert sandstorm

desert-start

I had fun with this level. People enjoyed it even though it’s very badly designed.

I got the “sandstorm” effect by lowering the view distance, altering the lighting, and altering the tint to the “fog”. The fog isn’t actually moving, but it still gives a good impression of a sandstorm. People thought this was cool.

Bad Game Design:

Despite how visually cool this level was there was a lot of bad game design here.

First, because of the sandstorm it’s hard to see where you’re going. And I didn’t do a good job of communicating to the player what they should do. Lower difficulties gave you a radar that could help a little bit, but the hardest difficulty hid the radar which made things almost impossible.

You start the level in a little oasis and have to figure out where to go from there. What you’re supposed to do is wander until you see a clump of trees and then move past them until you see a sign post pointing you in the correct direction. But there was no way for the player to know that this is what they were supposed to do.

desert-first-sign

This made starting this level a real pain. The sign post was okay, but it should have appeared right at the start.

Also, the sign posts were an okay way to direct the player, but if they didn’t follow the sign post in a straight line they could wind up off course. People could actually wind up in a featureless part of the desert and just be lost forever. I did a really terrible job communicating to players in this level.

wasteland

So, after following the first sign post you wind up in a ruined city, where you wander around until you follow another sign post. This leads you to a wall of rocks. An opening in the rocks is marked with a dead body (which shows up on radar when it’s available). This leads to some rocky canyons.

canyons

There’s some wrong turns and dead ends here (which was an obnoxious thing for me to do in this level) but the correct path leads to another oasis, in a bit of disrepair compared to the first. A signpost being pushed aside by a growing tree points you in the correct direction.

ruined-oasis-sign

Following this leads to the coolest thing in the level and one of the things that consistently got mentioned. You wind up in a ruined city and wandering around you find a statue.

statue-1

I made it with various abstract objects you can place in editing mode and I’m very happy it ended up looking very much like a rabbit. The “sword” was made with a tree whose leaves I deleted.

If you follow where the statue is pointing (and don’t go off course) you’ll wind up in the bandit camp where there are some tents with bandits.

When you kill them all you finish the level.

bandit-camp

Very bad game design:

Here’s the worst thing I did in this level. I put the combat at the end. What I should have done is made the level end when you get to the bandit camp and then the next level would be identical except you fight the bandits.

As it is, if the player dies while fighting the bandits he then has to START THE ENTIRE LEVEL OVER AGAIN and wander through the desert all over again.

That was just a really stupid, obnoxious oversight on my part.

Map 8: bandit camp

You rescue the person who was kidnapped by the bandits. Since conversations and combat can’t exist in the same level in Lugaru I had to make a separate one for you to talk to the rescued prisoner.

Nonverbal storytelling:

There’s a secret in this level. Basically the idea is that you were following the path of the bandits before they got stopped by the sandstorm. If you keep following the path they would have taken, following “roads” in the sand and going the opposite direction of the sign posts now, you’ll wind up outside these massive walls.

walls

If you enter them you’ll wind up seeing a giant rabbit, about five stories tall, who walks slowly and ponderously around the desert.

giant-desert

The idea here was that by offering the giant a sacrifice you can get the giant to grant you a wish (a weird mythology implied in a very stupid way by Sage during the mission briefing).

giant-will-give-you-wish

Yeah, it was stupid.

The idea here was that the guy kidnapped by the bandits didn’t pray to the assassins. It was the giant. The giant was sick of granting wishes to people so he summoned a sandstorm to slow down the bandits and prayed to the assassins to kill the bandits so he wouldn’t have to deal with wish granting.

A weird idea, perhaps, but whatever. It was what it was and none of that got referenced in the level because of various glitches and obtuseness of the editor.

Map 9: mission briefing

meditating

You find sage and the other mentors and apprentices meditating in the center of a castle.

Sage tells you that you are going to assassinate a general who is besieging a city in the North. He also makes a stupid joke:

setup-jokepunchline

(The player character flying, sprawled through the air is a random, fortuitous glitch that’s funnier than my actual joke.)

When he tells you this, the language is very different than the language he normally uses. He also doesn’t reference anyone praying for this to happen, which is a story element that implicitly gets answered later on.

Map 10: outside the city

dead-body

You start in the town outside the city walls.

Your goal is to get to the gate of the city, but the “cutscene” that was supposed to imply this never worked.

There are fighters in blue lying dead, while the living rabbits are all yellow, implying who are the defenders and attackers.

Game design:

You don’t actually have to fight anyone here, although I didn’t make that clear. You can sneak past everyone to get to the gate, or you can kill everyone and then go to the gate.

outside-on-roof

The buildings provide a lot of interesting places to fight or sneak around. Some enemies are patrolling, while others are stationary. If the player wants to fight then there are a lot of ways to approach things. Some rabbits have weapons, some do not.

outside-city-sneak

There’s also some enemies positioned in such a way that they can surprise the player when he doesn’t expect them.

So, the layout gives the player a lot of options on what to do and how to approach. There’s also some surprises that force the player to improvise which can be fun.

Map 11: inside the city

inside-city-start

You start on the other side of the gate, inside the city, looking at a dead defender and a boulder that has toppled a tree, underscoring the “besieged city” narrative.

The goal is to get to the roof of the palace, but again this isn’t communicated very well to the player.

palace

Again, the player doesn’t have to fight anyone if he doesn’t want to.

Game design:

There’s some interesting places to fight among the alleys of the city. There’s some fires as well to add extra hazard. The two story buildings give some options for getting around and the player can walk around the city walls if he wants.

inside-city-roof

The narrowness of the alleys makes trying to sneak up on opponents tense and challenging. There’s also bushes placed in certain areas which make it harder to sneak up on enemies because the sound of the leaves will draw their attention to you.

Once an enemy notices you it’s possible to run away and lose him among the alleys, but you’re equally likely to run into another enemy and make things more difficult for yourself.

city-sword-knockout

A lot of the rabbits are carrying swords so the player has the chance to have some really fun, chaotic sword fights in this level.

city-multifight

Again, I gave the player a lot of options and ways to approach this level.

Nonverbal storytelling:

The various fires and boulders are there to give the sense of a besieged city under attack.

city-boulder

The boulders are implied to have come from a catapult outside the city. The catapult and siege tower are not only fun bits of storytelling, but they also provide the player a means of getting back into the city in case he falls off the walls. I was rather proud of that.

catapult-and-tower

There’s various bodies of dead defenders as the attackers patrol the streets.

It’s hard to tell, but there’s two parts to the city split by a snowy path: the high ground and the low ground.

The low ground has only one story buildings implying this is a poorer part of the city. The high ground, near the palace, has two story buildings implying this is where the aristocracy lives.

The better armed soldiers patrol the wealthier parts of the city.

Map 12: fighting the general

After reaching the roof of the palace you wait until nightfall when the conquering general emerges with his right hand man.

general-fight

It’s a simple two on one fight where the right hand man carries a sword. In the picture the general has the sword because I disarmed his right hand man and then the general disarmed me.

Nonverbal storytelling:

While there’s some story about the general looking for the Queen Dowager of the city who has escape, the important part is the generals costume.

It has been subtly implied that the apprentice assassins have a certain uniform they wear, brown camo pants, no shirt, and leather bracers. This is implied with the apprentices during the mission briefing levels and with how player character is dressed. No other characters are dressed like this.

The general, however, is dressed just like the assassin apprentices. This, combined with the strange way Sage talks about this mission during the briefing, is meant to imply that the general was once himself an apprentice assassin. He ran away and tried to become a conquering general.

You were sent to take him out for betraying the order.

Map 13: mission briefing

It’s night and you find Sage and the other mentors standing around the dead body of an apprentice lying on a stretcher.

looking-down

This, with some dialogue form Sage, is meant to imply that a rival order of monks killed this apprentice and now you’ll have to get revenge by killing them at their monastery.

But, first you’ll have to go to a forest to kill a bunch of wolves.

Map 14: the forest

This wound up being a terrible level, both because of design and because of glitches.

You start off outside the forest in view of an ominous totem. This totem was supposed to trigger some text warning you about what was in the forest, but again, this glitched out and never worked.

totem

Inside the forest you’ll see various platforms in the trees. There are a couple of spots that will grant you access to the tree houses. I thought these would be a cool way to navigate past the wolves and get the drop on them (pun intended), but in practice it didn’t work out so well.

climbing

Game design and glitches:

Wolves are absolutely the hardest enemy to fight. You can’t sneak up on them, they’re very fast, and they hit very hard. There’s about four or five of them in this level.

wolfe-combo

The idea I had was that I’d give one wolf a staff and one wolf a sword. The player could scout out the wolves through the tree houses and then take out the ones with the weapons first which would make fighting the others a little easier.

in-trees

A neat idea.

Problem was that a glitch in the level ended up giving the wolves MAXIMUM HEALTH which makes it take forever to kill them. Just terrible. I was too lazy to remake the map from scratch and I thought the tree houses were so cool that I refused to take the map out of the mod.

I should have given the player a sword at the start of the leve. I think I was worried that this would make the level too easy. What a stupid thing to be concerned about. Now, I think it’s always better to err on the side of “too easy” rather than “too hard”.

The level is beatable, but I only use cheats to get through it these days.

Map 15: the monastery

monastery-start

You start out looking at the massive monastery. Your goal is to kill everyone as you make your way to the top.

The last enemies are stationed in what is supposed to be a belfry.

monastery-solid-hit

Somewhat like the smithery, this is meant to simulate the structure of an actual building, to a certain degree.

looking-towards-end

A lot of this didn’t work because of glitches. Every time I loaded the level, platforms and blocks would mysteriously get moved around from their original positions. It was very frustrating.

Game design:

I think there’s another glitch in this level that gives the rabbits maximum health, but it’s more manageable than with wolves.

The first enemies you encounter have a sword and a knife. There was a narrative point to this (which I’ll get into) but there was a design reason to this as well. Having swords early on was kind of a reward to the players that let them create their own difficulty. Players could take the swords to make the level easier for themselves, or they could ignore the swords to make the level more difficult; their choice.

dead-by-sword

The first enemies are also sitting up against a pillar. It’s difficult, but it is possible to stealth kill one of them. The sound will alert the other so you should always have to fight at least one. You can also lure one away from the other and kill one that way.

Going further up you fight enemies in vaguely interesting spaces. A flat, elevated arena. A floating platform with a block in the middle off it. Some platforms very high up with some obstacles.

punched-backwards

Those very high platforms make it possible to knock opponents down to kill them with fall damage.

Because of the lighting in this game, some of the platforms aren’t easy to see so it’s confusing sometimes as to where the player is supposed to go. I did a bad job communicate the path the player should take. I did a bad job on this with most levels.

To get to the final platforms the player has to jump across the eaves(?) that support the ceiling. A cool idea, but it ended up being more frustrating to play through than was worth it.

Nonverbal storytelling:

This being the last combat level (in the story) and having a religious theme made me take a different approach to the narrative of the level.

The player’s journey through the level is symbolic of the characters spiritual journey.

The enemies on the bottom of the monastery are wearing the most clothes and armor and are wielding the strongest weapons. This represents how they rely on external, not internal, strength to fight for themselves.

monastery-fight

The next level, the enemies are less clothed and wield staves, which are strong weapons, but which disintegrate, representing less reliance on external strength and a greater reliance on internal strength.

Further up, the enemies have no weapons and are standing around with very few clothes.

The final enemies are sitting down in meditative positions wearing guis (the uniform of the mentors in the order of assassins).

As the player moves up through these groups of enemies it is meant to represent his spiritual rise and conquest of each stop of his training as he becomes more reliant on his inner strength to become a master kung-fu rabbit.

Map 16: mission briefing

Nothing to say here. This just gives a lame ending to the game.

Map 17: ZOMBIES!!!!!

world-map

What game made in the late naughts would be complete without a bonus zombie level.

This was going to be a level takes place in a graveyard arena with lots of tombstone obstacles.

storming-over-block

And OH MAN! Was this well received by the fans! People absolutely loved this level.

Side note: the skin on the player character is actually the world map you saw earlier, but tinted dark blue. I thought this was very funny for some reason.

To make the rabbits zombies I just gave them all white fur, maximum health, a lot of damage, and made them move very, very slowly.

getting-surrounded

It’s actually funny to see them move slowly because they go through their normal run and jump animations just slowed down. Moving slowly also messes with the normal rhythm of combat which adds a little difficulty.

Ultimately, the goal is to stay away from the zombies (they hit really hard and can knock you into obstacles for instant death) and just whittle them down over time.

leg-cannon

It’s actually a very addictive experience so I understand why people liked it so much. The player is very empowered because he’s much faster than the enemies so you’re always in control over when combat is initiated; and, you can always escape combat easily. However, there’s still an actual challenge because of how strong the enemies are and how they can overwhelm you if you’re not careful.

zombies-swarm

The gravestones and obstacles also add a bit of challenge to navigating the level.

That combination of empowerment and control combined with a sense of difficulty and danger really creates a satisfying experience.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It was a frustrating experience to make these levels and the vision in my head didn’t come close to what I produced (when does it ever?). This was also perhaps the first time that I put my game design work out for people who weren’t friends to judge me on.

I reread a bit of the forum post that I made back then. I didn’t really respond to anything people were saying to me. People were complimenting me and my work and I didn’t even say thank you; I didn’t really say anything. I think I was going through a lot of stress and anxiety at the time and I was just too flustered by the compliments to know how to respond. Or maybe I thought that showing any appreciation of the compliments would make me seem arrogant. I don’t know.

Because of the frustration of modding in Lugaru I decided to never do it again. And then I did.

Several months later I went back and made some Challenge Mode maps for Lugaru. Challenge mode was where you could play some small maps for a high score. Since there were no story elements and the maps were small and isolated I figured it would be easier than making a story campaign. I’ll cover that next time.

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