The enemies of GAUNTLET: Slayer Edition

Hello Gauntlet players. My name is Nils Hansson Bjerke and I am the enemy designer for Gauntlet: Slayer Edition. This blog will delve a little bit into what sort of improvements we’ve made in regards to enemies in Slayer Edition as well as some thoughts about enemy design in general.
Last time Game Director Emil Englund spoke about re-designing the Hero abilities and about our gameplay improvements and you can read about it here.

What’s new?

As mentioned previously we have been working a lot to get more variation in Gauntlet: Slayer Edition. The enemies are obviously a big part of that. In Gauntlet 2014 they just weren’t different enough from each other to make the players change their playstyle in any meaningful way. On top of that they they didn’t do enough cool things™ to be make things interesting.

In Slayer Edition we have gone through the game and re-evaluated every single enemy in the game, leading to changes in all but two. For some we’ve just tweaked movement speeds and hit boxes while others have received entirely new ability sets. Some enemies have been removed and some completely new ones have been added. We have also given every enemy “family” (mummies, skeletons etc.) a new lower-tier spawner that only spawns the basic units of that “family”. This means we are no longer limited “all or nothing” options when pacing the game.

gauntlet_slayer_spawners

“But what about the bosses?” you ask. The makings of a great boss is a project within the project. A good boss battle lets the player apply his skills and abilities to a foe that optimally is unlike anything else in the game. Unfortunately that requires a lot of custom code and content, which is why many games have, from a player perspective, lazy boss battles – like beefed up normal enemies for example. Then we as developers don’t have to deviate too much from the game’s core mechanics that we have spent so much time on getting right.
Now, Gauntlet’s core gameplay revolves around hordes of enemies. Anything straying from that formula gets increasingly more problematic to realize within the game’s framework. When making Slayer Edition we made the decision to focus on improving the 95% of play time you are not fighting bosses. We are of course doing some polish and fixes to them though. I think veteran Gauntlet players will want to pay good old Morak another visit in Slayer Edition!

Speaking of challenges, let’s talk a little about the trials and tribulations of making enemies for Gauntlet.

Character diversity

Take Mega Man for example. The game is built around you jumping over bullets and pits while shooting. Giving Mega Man the option to equip a shield and a sword would compromise the game. Similarly “Machine Gun Magnus” is not a selectable character in Double Dragon. With Gauntlet we are trying to create really diverse play styles without losing the accessibility of an arcade game. But that also causes problems when designing the enemies.

Gauntlet is, at its core, an arcade game. We don’t have the luxury of rounding out each character class with tons of abilities and options like a Diablo-style game. Arcade games focus on individual skill and the player’s ability to use a limited set of tools and maximize their potential. These limitations are great for creating a “purer” more immediate gameplay experience but makes it more tricky to offer the player different play styles.

With Gauntlet we are trying to create really diverse play styles without losing the accessibility of an arcade game.

Gauntlet: Slayer Edition has four distinctly different character classes, from the Elf’s ranged keep-away game to the Warriors melee combat. Designing one enemy that can challenge both equally is very difficult. What I try to do as an enemy designer is creating monster groups with synergy between them that together will make them challenging for all the classes in their own way.
Thus, all enemies in Gauntlet are easy to defeat on their own, but combined they should provide a challenge. While the Risen Mummies are no problem for the Warriors sweeping attacks he has to constantly watch out for the Corrupted Mummies projectiles. This is the type of synergy we have worked hard to improve in Slayer Edition while simultaneously making higher tier enemies more versatile.

gauntlet_slayer_defender
The brand new Skeleton Defender is a slow moving melee unit but if you break its shield it starts running at you with vicious swings. Even the swift little elf might have trouble keeping his distance

Readability

Since Gauntlet is about tons of enemies there is always a struggle with readability. With so much going on, enemies can’t be very complex because there is no way a player will be able to understand complexity in the chaos. They need to be interesting and varied, while also basic enough in their functionality that players can, at a glance, understand what they do and how they behave.

So let’s look at the Grunt Shaman’s previous abilities. I challenge you to list, in detail, his ability set. Go ahead and do it. Done? Ok. Firstly, he summoned walls from the ground. Secondly he summoned a homing, indestructible goat head. If you killed the Shaman all goat heads he had summoned vanished (but they also timed out). Thirdly he buffed Grunt spawners to increase the rate at which they spawned grunts as well as increased the movement speed of said grunts.

Now, of course the player doesn’t have to understand all the little details about an enemy but the more you understand the fairer the game feels and the more you as a player feel in control of whether you live or die. The Grunt Shaman’s old spawner buff was the opposite of that. The impact it had on a battle was quite high but nothing about its visuals signaled that. The goat heads didn’t offer as much interesting counter play and the walls occupied a lot of real estate on the screen considering their small impact.

gauntlet_slayer_shaman
Enter the new Grunt Shaman. He shoots a big energy ball that splits into two energy balls. He also buffs Grunt spawners so that the Grunts hit harder. BAM! Easy to read, easy to understand. Also, the animators are happy to let you know that the Grunt Shaman now has proper animations.

That’s all from me on enemies, I hope you found it enlightening. Now go forth and be ready to invade a more interesting darkness than ever before, and as we say in Sweden: All power for Tengil, our liberator!

  • Wendy Benedict

    Love it! Thank you so much for all of this!

    • Thanks for the feedback, it’s great to hear you are enjoying Gauntlet!

  • John Keiler

    I’d like to provide you with some constructive feedback here, if possible. For starters, I was an avid Gauntlet player for quite awhile and between and after multiple resets have held several world top scores (when we had those for each level back in 1.0!) I mostly play wizard (over 100 hours of wizardry!), and for a time was one of the best. I really liked the game and dedicated a lot of time to it.
    I feel that overall, this update did much more harm than good for the PC version of Gauntlet. Keep in mind I have only played Gauntlet on PC and am only making this feedback directed at the PC version. A lot of the issues are the team at arrowhead ‘fixing what isn’t broken’, so to speak. But it’s not all bad. After my first 10 points, I will also elucidate ways in which this update has breathed new life into Gauntlet. Allow me to elaborate:
    Outstanding issues, in no particular order:
    1. The Lobby – It was fine the way it was. I’m sure many designers worked hard to make this lobby, and it really showed! It was well designed and aesthetically pleasant, and better in every way than the current ‘map’. When previewing cosmetics, you didn’t have a selection window over half of your character, and spells and weapons could be tested immediately in the lobby area. It was also exactly like the original gauntlet lobbys, which is appropriate for a game riding on the success of original gauntlet titles. Now we have a goofy map system that is worse than the Lobby, and bears no resemblance to the Gauntlet Franchise. The lobby should be restored.
    2. The Camera – Many players complained about the camera in 1.0, so I understand the struggle. It may seem like players just can’t be pleased. But I assure you the issue is now worse. You should restore the 1.0 camera if possible.
    3. Masteries – Now, I understand your approach in a way, because now new players can hop right into the game and not have to “level up” to be worth bringing into unfair mode (which has now, sadly, been removed…) with their friends. Some complain that this has removed character development, and while I agree, I think the would-be benefit of instant access could be preferable, but…. We no longer have the benefits we once had from masteries. The wizard’s bubble, the valkyries wings, need to return ASAP, either as an unlock (1.0) or as default (2.0) – and Unfair mode needs to return, so that we may make use of these advantages.
    4. Unfair Difficulty – not only is the name “Unfair” more interesting and inspired than “Hard” but removing a higher difficulty and as such, content from your game, is never a good idea. This difficulty needs to return, harder than ever, to give your veterans what they crave. While “Easy, Normal, Hard” may be easier to understand for your console audience (on second thought, that’s kind of insulting!) the difficulty names lack inspiration and only serve to bore the player both in name and gameplay.
    5. Weapons – We have pros and cons here. Some would complain that attaching abilities to weapons locks players into a certain cosmetic style, and while I would agree, I would also contest that it’s worth it for the new abiltiies. Or it would be if… They were any good. A majority of the new weapon abilities can’t match up to the original weapon sets, and need to be retuned or redesigned. Additionally, these weapons don’t have to even be earned or unlocked in higher difficulties anymore, further watering down the game and reducing the feelings of achievement and character development, which brings me to my next point.
    6. Difficulty-based Unlocks – Attaching weapon unlocks (preferably those that can be seen as improvements) to higher difficulties adds content, direction, and character progression. This needs to return.
    7. Coliseum Mode – Could already be laggy, but is now a less accessible random grab-bag of maybe-content than the cool new periodic content it was before. This should be reverted, as the current state can genuinely only be seen as worse.
    8. Endless Mode – The only genuinely new content here, and even then it still leaves much to be desired. I’d say that just adding this to 1.0 alone would have been better overall than 2.0 as a whole, but even then this mode need work. It’s not random enough and reuses too-familiar level platforms and worst of all, overuses Death. This should focus more on infinite waves than infinite floors (or maybe both) and should not contain Death at all. Consider having an Endless Dungeon (infinite floors) and a Last Stand (1 big, big room. Infinite monsters come in “waves”).
    8. Gold – there is still no good use for excess gold (I have millions left over from 1.0) and at first I thought the purchasable items in endless mode would require this gold (neat!) when in fact they only use gold acquired in endless. Maybe consider incorporating both your gold stash and an endless-only currency(score?) into its progression.
    9. Music – The old intro/menu music had a much better and more retro feel, and made the player hyped the moment they started up. It was a great track, wonderfully composed, and probably took a lot of work….where is it? (bring it back)
    And finally,
    10. End-floor Score card – this didn’t need to be changed. It was fun to see kills and gold together, our total score, and how we compared to the champion for that floor. I strongly recommend reverting this. In the future, please consider not changing fully-functioning components of a game for the sake of it.

    Bonus: Wizard Specific Feedback – I have found that overall, the original spellbook offers more advantages than the other weapons in every situation. Some of the weapons are close however, and could easily be tuned to be worth using:
    – The Mystic Sphere, for example: Repeater Bolts – could use a little knockback like fireball, but not bad. Storm Barrage – it’s cool, but I don’t really understand its purpose. Probably needs a lower CD. Rift Jump – a genuine downgrade from the old teleport in every way. Random, unreliable, poor damage. It should be just like flame serpents, but deal damage instantly instead of over time, if it deals damage at all. Make it at least land where you’re pointing, and go the same distance.
    – Sinister Sentience: Hellfire – so far, this spell is not in any way better than ice beam. It’s cute, but moves too slow and has too small a range. Ice beam is the better spell here. Searing Blast – Why bother? the damage is ok but the range is short. Mortar is better for small aoe damage and flash freeze has more utility. Burning Orb – awkward, damage is low, and I can’t really find a use for it. I’d rather Slow Orb the enemies and mortar/chain lightning. – It seems like this the the “all out damage” book, sacrificing utility for damage. This is a good idea, but poorly executed.
    – The Hollow Chapters: Dark Torrent – Awesome kiting/CC ability, well designed. Vacuum – A great idea, but awkward and difficult to use. Needs to be more reliable and powerful (not in damage, but in range, etc). Invisibility – awesome spell, and is what makes this book good enough to be worth using it. Yes, you can chain this ability, but you can’t attack while invisible. I don’t recommend nerfing it too hard, as its what makes this book shine. I can see here that you intended to make this the utility book, and you definitely succeeded.

    The Good!:
    – You have made several visual changes to the levels, and graphical updates. I can tell that the levels now look and feel exactly the way you always wanted them to, and it shows. The levels are fantastic, and in their department I couldn’t ask for more.
    – Endless mode is a step in the right direction, it could be really cool!
    – The new enemies are varied and exciting, and really freshened up the game. They can be cheap and annoying sometimes in their own way (but i sense that’s intentional!) but are all unique and challenging. In my experience so far, there is really no change necessary in this department.
    – Visually, the new title screen looks awesome, and has a lot more depth than the original.

    In Conclusion, please consider the feedback I’ve posted here and many players have posted around the net – don’t just write it off. I think it would really benefit the game to go back on several of these changes, or tune some of those that have already been made.
    – Take inspiration from the Diablo III developers, who after player feedback, removed their in-game auction house, a centerpiece of Diablo III. It takes guts to make a decision like that, but it genuinely saved the game, and they’ll forever be respected for going back on their design.
    – Take Inspiration from D3 devs again, because their Console and PC versions are totally separate. They don’t ship their console changes to PC like you have done with Slayer Edition, and the result is 2 better games.
    – Don’t forget Gauntlet is still overall a fantastic game (though maybe it was better in 1.0?) and you’ve deserved every dollar you’ve made so far, and many more. Don’t forget that player feedback (while not always constructive) doesn’t mean the game is bad – we just want it to be perfect (you’ve earned it!)
    – If you’ve made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read this. I’d love to see Gauntlet be the best it can be.

  • Turbo857

    Awesome game guys! I’ve played every console version of Gauntlet and really like what you did with the game. The complexity added to the Wizard especially blew me away.

  • Anthony

    Yeah I’m loving the game too. Question though: Any plans to expand on the PS4 game via DLC? I’d love additional modes and characters and gladly shell out some more $$$. I’m probably not alone in this.

    • I can’t tell you too much about Gauntlet plans yet as there isn’t anything official, but we’ll keep the community posted on what happens. Great to hear you are enjoying the game so far and we appreciate the support!

      • Steeve

        Are you guys still working on this game? I’m with the OP on this one, a DLC will be well received especially if it includes new characters, new modes and features. One of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in years!!!

  • hereiam hereibe

    Just picked up the game and Im a long time fan of the series and I just want to say this game couldnt feel more like a legit Gauntlet title, you guys outdid yourselfs. Also was wondering if the game was still going to be supported or if you guys are done with it. Either way I love it.

    • Thank you for the great praise, we’re very happy to hear! We’re still working on fixes for the game but for the future I can’t really say anything for sure yet. We’ll keep the community posted when we have anything to announce.

  • John Keiler

    I have to say, the new update is really growing on me. What happened to Kill Streaks though?

    • It was a case of us wanting to make the flow of actual combat more clear and reduce the clutter of what’s happening in a fight. The kill streak system was more in the way and a distraction of what we want the game to be about.

  • Niklas Öhman

    Love the game. Nice Hack n slash with twists. You really have to learn your heroes abilities in order to be as efficient as possible.

  • MrBayless

    I’m looking to design my own Gauntlet-like. Any handy tips or tricks to know?

    • That’s quite a large question to ask! We can try and give you some tips if you have any more specific questions :) Otherwise I recommend reading articles on websites like Gamasutra – they are normally really inspiring!

  • Carl Jenno Ganzon

    This is a nice post. Too bad it doesn’t have ALL of the specific enemy names. Can’t find them anywhere too. All I got are the Risen and Corrupted Mummies, Skeleton Defender, Orcs and Orc Berserkers, Grunts and Shaman Grunts, Demon Imps/Gargoyles and Demon Horror. Plus the names of the individual bosses too. I don’t know what you call the regular Skeleton soldiers and don’t have the specific names of the members of the cultist family. I’d appreciate it if you could give us info about this, though.

    • Hi Carl! I believe we spoke earlier on the Gauntlet Facebook. Unfortunately we do not have an official list of all the enemy names which we can give you. Sorry :(

      • Carl Jenno Ganzon

        Oh. So it was… Sorry too. Just hooked on the game. It’s one of your bests definitely. If that’s it then I’ll just stick to what are available. Thank you.