Level Design 101/NiGHTS
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NiGHTS is a type of level in which you fly around as Super Sonic on a circular 2D track in a 3D environment, collecting items such as rings and wing logos in the process. NiGHTS can be used in conjunction with either Single Player, where the player must collect enough rings to destroy the Ideya Capture, or Circuit, where players have to complete laps on the track as fast as possible. Since the technical aspects of making NiGHTS maps are rather complicated, you shouldn't attempt to make one unless you know what you're doing. For an explanation of the technical aspects of NiGHTS mapping, see the NiGHTS tutorial.
It's important to note that the items in NiGHTS change depending on what mode you're making the stages for. In normal NiGHTS maps, the items are hoops, rings, and wings. In SRB2 Special Stages, the items are hoops, spheres, and rings, respectively. For the sake of consistency with SRB2, the items in this page will reference the Special Stage-style items.
- The sector layout should match the track. Since the 2D track isn't visible by itself, the player needs visual cues to understand where they will go next. It is not required that there be an outline for the NiGHTS track (See Black Hole Zone for an example of this), but in general the stage layout should make it predictable where the player will go.
- Place lots of obstacles, but make sure they don't cramp the flow. Obstacles provide interesting variance in NiGHTS maps, but it's necessary to avoid making them interrupt the flow of the stage. Generally speaking, an obstacle should be large enough to force the player into having to move around or dodge it, but not so large as the player must come to a dead stop to avoid it altogether. It is important to remember that the player should always be able to go at full speed through a map, even if it's not advisable.
- Having the path diverge at different heights adds replay value to the map. There are generally two ways to go about doing this. The first is using FOFs to allow the player to go into a separate area, or using items in order to lead the player in different directions (more on item placement below). This should not be done frequently throughout a map as one of NiGHTS' strengths is the ability to plan and use the best routes for score and time attacking, but having such options occasionally can make a map more interesting and add new thought processes into score attacking a stage.
- Moving obstacles are the best obstacles. Moving obstacles provide pattern-based movement and can encourage tempo-based tricks for the player to do to go through areas of the map without hindering the player too much. Static obstacles get boring and predictable real quick. Moving obstacles force players to think ahead and anticipate how they will react to a situation.
- Hazards add a very important risk system to maps. Hazards can be better than obstacles for providing variance to stages. Having sections a player has to dodge can force people to think harder on how to approach sections and allow for more creative stage and risk/reward design. However, it is important to realize that the 5 seconds of damage taken can be pretty hefty, so make sure damaging hazards are used intuitively and are something that players can predict. Take advantage of pattern-based hazards. Those typically engage the player the most.
- Visual design matters. Unlike traditional maps, NiGHTS maps have a fixed camera that frequently takes a look into deeper areas of the map. To keep the stages from being boring and bland, be sure to include interesting visuals in the backgrounds of deeper map areas the camera might be viewing. This keeps stages unique and from being an eyesore.
- Define the track well with your items. Just like the sector layout, the item placement is important for showing the player the progression of the track in advance. Although players cannot escape the layout of the track, they can still control the height at which they move, and without items to collect, they will be aimless and confused.
- Each successive NiGHTS item should be clearly in view. Aside from getting lost, players will feel cheated if they miss items because they couldn't see them the first time. This holds especially true for important items like the Ideya Capture and large quantities of rings.
- Different objects have different purposes, so plan accordingly. Hoops refill the player's dash meter, spheres are used to both break the Ideya Capsule and give a bonus of 50 points per sphere at the end of a stage. Rings are generic objects that just add points to the same scale that hoops and spheres do with no other additional bonuses. These are things to be aware of when making the track layout and planning risk/reward elements.
- Give items the proper distance from each other. Visual cues are important in NiGHTS mode. If items are too close together, the visual can overload the player. There is no absolute set distance items should be away from each other, so it's important to eyeball things and make sure that, in general, items aren't causing undue strain on the player.
- Place enough power-ups throughout the track. Powerups are fun and provide an interesting way for players to time and score attack a map, so be sure to use them, and use them wisely. For instance, Super Paraloop can be placed in a way that players can get either items that would be unreachable through normal paraloop, or otherwise are outside the track. Be aware that each NiGHTS powerup can only be used once per playthrough, so plan the placement accordingly. Remember that there is a 2x multiplier after the capsule is broken, so be sure to figure that into items that make item collection easier.
- Create a proper sphere requirement for the Ideya Capture in any given mare, and make sure there is a proper amount of spheres for each Ideya Capture. The amount of spheres that it takes to break the capsule will vary per map. Typically, the more spheres required, the harder and/or longer a map is. Be sure to scale this to the size and difficulty of the map.
- Don't allow it to be easily possible to get hurt on Axis Transfer, or the beginning and end points of an Axis Transfer Line. If NiGHTS Super Sonic is hurt on one of these, collision breaks down and it's possible to cause him to desync from the track and render the map incompleteable. It's not always possible to avoid this, but in every place where it's possible, this should absolutely be avoided.
- Paraloop tricks are fun. Rewarding the player for doing unusual, challenging, or otherwise interesting paraloop tricks makes a stage more fun and engaging to the player. Examples of paraloop tricks are placing items so that they can only be grabbed by paralooping around them, or allowing the player to do a full horizontal paraloop around a room to grab a lot of items quickly.
- A perfect stage-round link should be possible. Making big links is fun in NiGHTS mode. Be sure that the player can link a stage all the way through. Making this a challenge is a good idea, but it should always be possible.
Time and score
- Keep the time realistic. Remember that damage takes time away from the player. In general, it should be possible to loop a single track at least twice.
- Score requirements can make or break a map. Score attack is fun and making the player work to get that A rank is great, but remember it's possible to make a score attack too lenient or too harsh. In general, have experienced NiGHTS players run a track and come up with a score based on their runs. Also, remember that the rainbow A rank exists as a challenge further than what should realistically be expected of average players. Use it as a reward for those who go above and beyond.
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