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MediEvil Boss Design - Return of the Pumpkin King

by Alexander Gold on 12/13/19 10:12:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hi, I’m Alex Gold, one of the Game Designers of the MediEvil remake for PS4. I’m going to break down the process of restoring and improving one of the most iconic bosses from the original title, the Pumpkin King.

Since we were recreating a classic PS1 title, our goals were to either make minimal changes to the bosses, or revisit their original designs and fully realize them using the expanded technical capabilities of PS4.

For the Pumpkin King, we threw convention out the window, and pushed the fight as far as we could.

True to our Roots

Our first step was to implement this battle purely in its original form, but we soon discovered that when reimagined with modern graphics, many aspects of this battle became lost in translation.

Once implemented, we were also able to identify the following design issues from the original encounter:

- Problem 1 - Boss is easy to spam: We discovered that the boss’s health could be whittled down by spamming the attack button, without regard for his behavior. For the amount of build-up leading into this fight, there wasn’t much of a challenge in the pay-off (this was the fan consensus as well). 

- Problem 2 - Too much empty space: During this battle, the player can navigate freely across a giant open area, but very little of that area is utilized in the fight.

- Problem 3 - No sense of escalation: The Pumpkin King’s behavior remains largely the same throughout the battle, regardless of the player’s progress.

We decided to build this battle out further to give fans the experience that they remembered, and not the experience as it really was.

^ This is how it really was.

In Defense of the King

Fixing Problem 1 - Boss is easy to spam

In the original title, the Pumpkin King has the following abilities:

- Tentacle Swipe: The Pumpkin King surrounds himself with tentacles that will swat the player if they get too close.

- Pumpkin Spit: The Pumpkin King spits out explosive pumpkins, which cause damage to the player upon impact.

To expand upon this fight, we reconstructed his moveset with a new overall philosophy in mind:

“Breach the Pumpkin King’s Defenses.”

Our desired loop for the fight became the following:

To reinforce this loop, we made the following moveset modifications:

- Tentacle Swipe: In order to expose the Pumpkin King’s weak point, it is now mandatory to destroy the tentacles that surround him. However, these tentacles will damage and knock back the player if they are approached directly. To effectively dispose of them, they must either be hit from afar with projectiles or cut down from the side.

- Headbutt: A new attack we added - if the Pumpkin King is approached from the front, he  delivers a nasty headbutt to the player, doing damage and knocking them away. The Pumpkin King’s head will slowly rotate towards the player, meaning that they must outpace his head’s rotation before closing in.

With these abilities combined, figuring out how to safely breach the Pumpkin King’s defense becomes the core challenge of the battle.

Additionally, we’ve dramatically increased the range of his Pumpkin Spit attack, so that the Pumpkin King remains a menace, no matter where the player is in the level.

- Once the player breaches the Pumpkin King’s defenses and renders him vulnerable, the Pumpkin King will become dazed for a period of time, allowing the player to whack away at him.

- When the Pumpkin King becomes vulnerable, we spawn deadly Pumpkin Plant enemies which move in to challenge the player if they don’t act quickly.

^ In-game, this situation is actually terrifying.

Behind Enemy Vines

Fixing Problem 2 - Too much empty space

Another problem we set out to solve was how to utilize the entire level throughout the battle.

- In the original, unlike many modern titles, the player is not confined to an arena - they have free reign to move about the entire level during the fight.

- Because of this, there’s a lot of empty space to navigate which doesn’t pertain to the battle.

Although we could have just made the fight take place in a smaller arena, we had a design goal to uphold: if we had to make a change to the original design, we could only build on what already existed, never scale down or compromise.

Our solution? We added an entirely new phase to the battle - the Recovery Phase.

Now, when the Pumpkin King’s health bar is fully depleted, he will retract into the ground and slowly heal himself. The player must then search for Pumpkin Pods scattered around the level and destroy them before he fully regains his health.

- If the player fails to destroy these pods in time, the Pumpkin King’s defenses will return, and his health will be fully restored.

- If the player succeeds in destroying these pods, the Pumpkin King’s defenses will return, but his health will not be fully restored.

The player must deplete the Pumpkin King’s health a total of three times - each time, the battle escalates in intensity (more on that below!).

^ High level flow of the battle.

Healing enemies during PVE gameplay can be a risky venture - designers risk creating the soft-fail condition of removing hard-earned progress from the player, or dragging the fight out longer than intended.

We took this into consideration before executing our design to ensure this healing-process motivated the player without agitating them.

How did we manage to pull this off?

We faked it!

^ That full health bar only looks intimidating...

Here’s the reality of the situation:

When the Pumpkin King becomes vulnerable, he will remain vulnerable for a period of time, before regaining his defenses.

- However, there is more than enough time to deplete his entire health bar, even with weaker weapons.

- This means that the player really only needs to repeat the defense-breaching process around 3 times in the entire fight, regardless of their restoration-phase success.

So what’s the real consequence of allowing the boss to heal himself further? Just a few extra sword swings, at most.

This creates the desired emotional effect, without the undesired frustration.

Growing Pains

Fixing Problem 3 - No sense of escalation

Finally, to create a sense of escalation, each time the Pumpkin King regains his defenses, we ramp the battle up in the following ways:

- Head Turn Speed: How fast does the Pumpkin King’s head follow the player?

- Pumpkin Spit Frequency: How many seconds between Pumpkin Spit projectiles?

- Pumpkin Plant Adds: How many Pumpkin Plant enemies do we spawn when the Pumpkin King becomes vulnerable?

- Number of Tentacles: How many tentacles does the Pumpkin King surround himself with?

 

^ These are the actual in-game numbers we used.

A few notes of interest on these numbers:

- The Pumpkin Spit Frequency at 1 seems unfairly low (one projectile per second), but since it takes a moment for the projectile to travel towards the player, so long as the player keeps moving, they’ll never be hit by these projectiles - it just looks terrifying.

- Pumpkin Plant Adds at 6 seems high, but once again, this is mostly for emotional effect. The reality is, the player will likely kill the Pumpkin King before these enemies become an actual threat. And when the Pumpkin King dies, these enemies die too.

- We start Pumpkin Plant Adds at 0 to ensure the player is gently eased into the loop of the fight.

- We discovered quickly that we had to keep the Number of Tentacles low. Anything more than 4, and it becomes nearly impossible to find an opening.

^ Increasing the number of tentacles up beyond 4 produces hilarious and impossible results.

With these variables in place, we were able to create a compelling ramp-up that keeps the battle exciting to the very end.


Working on MediEvil was an absolute blast.

We set out to create the experience that fans wanted and remembered, while improving on the epic feel of it wherever we could. By layering modern game design techniques upon the foundation of a beloved classic, we delivered a boss experience with the Pumpkin King that is simultaneously nostalgic and fresh.

Thank you for reading and please enjoy MediEvil!

MediEvil is available now on the Playstation store: https://store.playstation.com/en-us/product/UP9000-CUSA11227_00-MEDIEVILHD000001


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