Author Topic: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?  (Read 1301 times)

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Offline Strato Incendus

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What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« on: October 17, 2018, 10:17:26 pm »
This is a big one :) . Probably the one most subjective and therefore hardest to grasp.

While there are a lot of great packs out there, and a lot of levels with very clever solutions, many of them stray from what would be considered Lemmings at first glance quite a bit. I've asked you guys before about what stuff turns you off immediately in a level, as well as what makes a level rewarding to you. Even though the latter may be the counterpart of the former, "reward" is something that can only be assessed after the level has been completed. This here, in contrast, is more about what draws you in, when you see the first glance of a level, what makes you think "Oh, I really wanna play this thing!"?

It's also about what we associate with Lemmings directly and indirectly. In a nutshell, given the age of most forum members, we're talking about nothing less than "how can we convincingly revive our childhood?" :D

Ideally, a pack or level fulfilling these criteria should feel as if DMA had just decided to do another Lemmings release. You know, the thing we were basically all hoping for after having played through (or gotten stuck on) Oh no! More Lemmings back in the day? ;)

Here's what I could boil my list down to:
  • It all starts with the main menu: The big Lemmings title logo, perhaps slightly modified, like in "Oh no! More Lemmings", but still recognisable. And then, new rank names, preferably adjectives, increasing in intensity, and the font must be somewhat warped, slightly raised to the right. No straight letters, no custom backgrounds, just white font with a black outer border on the green background of the rank sign. And don't forget the yellow bars below to indicate the difficulty! ;)
  • Next, the level preview screen: The feeling when it "rolls open" starting from the middle, revealing the first sight at a new selection of levels. This is, as said before multiple times, the biggest immersion-breaking aspect of the New Formats player, currently. Because the change was made for talismans, and original packs didn't have talismans. Neither did they have an author field. So don't put your name here if the entire pack was made by you anyway. ;)
  • No level preview-texts.
  • Tileset choice. As awesome as many of the custom-made tilesets look, many of them were directly taken from other video games. Custom-made sprites, in contrast, often can't quite keep up with the original Lemmings and ONML tilesets, or at least have a very different tone to them. L2 tilesets are also fine, although many of them look very similar in shape (very block-ish). So I'd probably restrict myself to mostly original and ONML graphic sets, and avoid graphic set mixing wherever possible. If you add new graphic sets, make sure they blend with the existing original Lemmings ones as well as possible. This can be easily achieved by e.g. taking original hatches and exits and merely recolouring them. The rest of the terrain and objects can look whatever way you want, but don't go all crazy with the design of the hatches and exits if they are going to look drastically different in one tileset while all the others are very similar to each other.
  • Level shape. Most original Lemmings levels looked abstract, but still very much like a landscape. No copy-and-paste sections of repetitive terrain, no disjoint-unions or "miniature levels", no large number of unconnected, free-floating platforms, no long detour paths or awkwardly placed hatches to enforce specific timing-based solutions, no random flags planted everywhere across the level, and most of all: No vertical scrolling! :) Just a landscape you can navigate through, and that you can cover with your camera only moving left and right.
  • Music. Sticking to the original Lemmings and ONML music is certainly a good start; a lot of the L2 tunes, in contrast, are not very memorable, at least to my ear. That said, there are a couple of pieces that fit well among the original tracks, as if they had always been part of that selection. For me, Amiga 02 / DOS 01 is THE most iconic Lemmings soundtrack, and since it is very heavy on strings and piano, other songs relying on these same instruments might fit as well. For example, there are two songs by Vanessa Carlton which always seem to remind me of the Amiga 02 / DOS 01 track, "Ordinary Day" and "A Thousand Miles".
  • Level concept. In contrast to original Lemmings however, I don't need execution difficulty ("All or nothing") or repetitive reaction-time challenges ("We all fall down") for a pack to feel like Lemmings; an entire pack worth of "No added colors or lemmings"-like puzzles will feel just as much like Lemmings, while at the same time being a lot more entertaining and challenging for the average NeoLemmix user :) .
  • Skill choice. And here comes the funny part: One would expect to say "Stick to classic skills only" here. And a lot of packs already do that anyway, in fact it's possibly the only point from my list a lot of packs stick to rigorously. For me however, skills somehow are not the main determinant of what makes original Lemmings feel like Lemmings to me. Actually, a lot of the negative aspects of original Lemmings are associated with classic skill restriction, for example, iffy builder-fests in places where you'd rather want a platformer to go beneath a low ceiling. Stubbornly sticking to classic skills in such a case just makes the execution fiddly and annoying. Likewise, the reason Lemmings 2 doesn't feel like Lemmings to me at all is more associated with the vertical scrolling, the un-catchy music, and the jump-and-run-style platform structure of the similarly unmemorable levels - not with the abundance of skills that Lemmings 2 provides. Since NeoLemmix doesn't even include all those weird and redundant skills from Lemmings 2, but only has had a comparatively small number of skills added, each of them after careful consideration, I don't see a reason to refrain from using them, even in a scenario where one tries to recreate an "authentic" Lemmings experience.

As you can see, none of my packs really fulfil a lot of the criteria on this list. :D
Paralems started out with original Lemmings reruns, but in the end evolved into a huge mess of movie- and politics references, tileset mixing, oversized levels with vertical scrolling, and not clearly defined music choices.
Pit Lems was just a collection of mechanically semi-challenging random puzzles.
Lemmicks was all about the gimmicks, thereby deliberately getting away from original Lemmings as much as possible.
And Lemmings World Tour, while doing a twist on the original music, through its artistic approach made clear right from the getgo that heavy tileset mixing and more realistic-looking levels, rather than the above mentioned abstract landscapes, would makes this feel very different to a DMA-made Lemmings expansion.

So that is probably what I'm going to shoot for in my next pack, whenever that may be: Mechanically-driven puzzles, largely in original Lemmings tilesets, featuring only a couple of levels in new graphic sets that blend well with the classic ones. I'll likely keep the music theme from Lemmings World Tour, meaning the music I've recorded + the level titles refering to songs. Because otherwise, without an overarching theme, I fear this would simply devolve into Pit Lems 2.0. I don't like level titles that feel as if they had been randomly selected; it severely reduces the sense of "progression" when solving them one after another.

Finally, other stuff Lemmings is associated with in my childhood: Star Trek: The Next Generation; Bryan Adams; Jingle Bells (Christmas Lemmings was actually the very first Lemmings game I played, even before original Lemmings). Bryan Adams was pretty much the only musician I was familiar with at that time. And Star Trek: The Next Generation used to be aired here in Germany on the channel Sat.1 - a channel whose logo looked very similar to the loading icon on the old Macintosh I used to play Lemmings on :D .



Okay, that's enough on my part. What requirements does a pack need to meet in order to feel like authentic Lemmings to you? ;)

Just in case this hasn't become clear: This is not meant to be a dogmatic list of rules, more of an associations game... :P
Ghost Lemmings - help us test a possible new NeoLemmix skill!
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour, my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Paralems, a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems, a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Offline Proxima

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2018, 11:12:18 pm »
Great topic. I have to admit, that feeling of authenticity is something I'm trying to achieve with GemLems, so it's very interesting to read your list of desirable qualities. First I want to respond to a few of your points....

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It all starts with the main menu: The big Lemmings title logo, perhaps slightly modified, like in "Oh no! More Lemmings", but still recognisable. And then, new rank names, preferably adjectives, increasing in intensity, and the font must be somewhat warped, slightly raised to the right. No straight letters, no custom backgrounds, just white font with a black outer border on the green background of the rank sign. And don't forget the yellow bars below to indicate the difficulty!

...yeah, that would be great, but I'm not enough of an artist. (Also, I went with a different theme for my rank names, because so many adjectives-increasing-in-intensity have been taken already, it's hard to find good ones now.)

Quote
Next, the level preview screen: The feeling when it "rolls open" starting from the middle, revealing the first sight at a new selection of levels. This is, as said before multiple times, the biggest immersion-breaking aspect of the New Formats player, currently. Because the change was made for talismans, and original packs didn't have talismans. Neither did they have an author field. So don't put your name here if the entire pack was made by you anyway. ;)

Indeed, I don't use the author field. I do have talismans, because an aspect of the game I've always loved is coming up with challenges on the original levels, and attempting challenges set by others. Talismans are just a convenient way for the author to record the challenges they come up with, and for the player to track their progress.

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Tileset choice. As awesome as many of the custom-made tilesets look, many of them were directly taken from other video games.

Well, original Lemmings had one level in each rank with graphics taken from other video games. That's my excuse for doing the same :P

Quote
Level shape. Most original Lemmings levels looked abstract, but still very much like a landscape. No copy-and-paste sections of repetitive terrain
Going Their Separate Ways
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no disjoint-unions or "miniature levels"
You Take the High Road, Creature Discomforts, Synchronised Lemming
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no large number of unconnected, free-floating platforms
These are all over the place. Lemmingdelica comes to mind, but if you have a look through The Lemmings Encyclopedia you can find plenty more.
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no long detour paths
Lemming Express
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or awkwardly placed hatches to enforce specific timing-based solutions
That one, I give you. :P It helps that original Lemmings had a tight limit of 4 hatches per level.

Still, nitpicks aside, you have a good general point, and I do indeed try to make my level layouts have that authentic "feel" to them.

For me, though, the main thing that makes a pack not feel like playing Lemmings is when I have to pay close attention to individual pixels of terrain. You could get through the entirety of both original games without ever knowing that a lemming can walk up 6 pixels but not 7, for instance. There are no levels that depend on really precise and fiddly tricks. (This is another reason why I'm glad to have talismans -- for example, the 1-builder solution to "In the Gallery of Frost" requires a lot of precise tricks, so the "Simon option" of making it a separate level is not something I'd consider; but it is an interesting challenge that I want to point out to players.)

The other big thing is objects. Having to send lemmings to several different places on the level to hit unlock buttons or pickup skills can be an interesting puzzle, but too many and you're getting away from the classic experience -- especially if it's a sprawling level that takes over 10 minutes to complete. Updrafts and splat pads don't fit in harmoniously, especially in appearance. Teleporters are okay if only the pioneer lemming uses them, but having a whole crowd milling around and waiting to use a teleporter clashes with the classic "set up the route, sit back and cheer on the lemmings as they walk".

Offline Nessy

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2018, 02:10:39 am »
I'm not going to lie I actually have some level design habits that are very parallel with some things the original games have done. For example all of my hatches face the right no matter what. Even when it is extremely obvious and almost annoying that a left-facing hatch is more appropriate. All of my hatches are always 100% visible and not even a single pixel overlaps with it.

However I don't agree that if a level or pack doesn't do these things then it isn't a "Lemmings" game. I feel like videos games should be allowed to grow and try new things without losing the core value of what it is. What is the core value of Lemmings? In my head it's a puzzle-platformer game about cute little green-haired rodents with a never dying determination to conquer thousands of landscapes to get to their beloved exits. Our levels do just that! However, at the same time we only got a taste of the large world that the Lemmings live in. What other skills did they learn since the 90s? What other weird landscapes have they discovered? Our content tries new things like new tilesets, new skills, and new objects in order to expand the world of the Lemmings and I feel like that doesn't take away the core value and feel of the game. I feel like our content expands and tries new things to only add more pleasure and fun to a game I feel we still only got a taste of in the original games. This isn't a bad thing at all. I mean just look at all of the wonderful levels we have made and even DMA would be proud I'm sure.

Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2018, 10:38:36 am »
Quote
However I don't agree that if a level or pack doesn't do these things then it isn't a "Lemmings" game.

That's not what I said ;) ; it's just that it feels less like original Lemmings then, and more like e.g Sonic instead. That's what I meant by "this is not supposed to be dogmatic".

Good points so far about the right-facing hatches and objects (pickup skills, buttons, updrafts, splat pads etc.) though! Yes, teleporters are the ones that blend in with the original tilesets most naturally for me as well. Pickup skills and buttons feel more like Super Mario, or something along those lines :) . SuperTux was a different game from Pingus (=Lemmings on Linux) for a reason!

That's why I generally only resort to pickup skills and buttons to patch out backroutes that can't be fixed any other way (i.e. through adding steel or one-way arrows, or slightly altering the skill set). In such instances, they're great emergency buttons, though - quite literally :D .
Ghost Lemmings - help us test a possible new NeoLemmix skill!
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour, my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Paralems, a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems, a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Online IchoTolot

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2018, 11:38:07 am »
For me it's simple: Every NeoLemmix level is Lemmings. Doesn't matter the quality.

I don't care for thing like having the exact same physics, main menu screen or so. That can all change. I also embrace well made new tilesets that change things up and have a unique feel. That's also a reason why I don't care much about a changed preview screen, but care about a customisable main menu to give my content a unique new touch.

I would go as far and say the original games aren't the real Lemmings for me, it's NeoLemmix. I think they got the focus wrong on the execution and not the puzzle itself. We are not only doing a revival of the past, but also a reshaping.

An ideal level pack for me doesn't have to feel like it was from DMA, in contrast straying away from the DMA formular is beneficial. The pack should challenge me, teach me new things that I can use myself then and bring me to my mental limits in the final rank.

While I also feel nostalgic for the old games, I don't think they are that good compared to most custom stuff here and I will gladly choose the custom content over the original one.


Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2018, 01:52:27 pm »
Yeah, what I'm aiming for is "can I recreate the positive feelings about old Lemmings, i.e. the nostalgia, but also conceptual challenges like No added colors or lemmings, without the frustration from back in the day that resulted from execution issues?" ;)

I should therefore probably rephrase my initial goal (and thereby shift the goalposts :evil:): It shouldn't strictly feel like a DMA pack; it should feel as if DMA had learned from their fans' concerns :D !

Prime example: Lemmings Redux. That was made up entirely of original levels. Can we recreate something like that out of custom levels? That doesn't seem like an unreasonable goal to me.
Ghost Lemmings - help us test a possible new NeoLemmix skill!
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour, my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Paralems, a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems, a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Online namida

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2018, 08:17:46 pm »
One thing I definitely agree on is your point about other-game-rip graphic sets, to the point that I wondered at one point if I even should release graphic editing tools because I knew it would happen. But I guess at the end of the day - it's up to the community, not one developer, to decide if such becomes acceptable or not. But to me it just feels kind of cheap and tacky as a full blown graphic set (of course, a single reference level like the special graphics levels from Orig is another matter - those are tributes, not shameless rips).
My released level packs:
Lemmings Plus Series | Doomsday Lemmings

Offline Proxima

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2018, 09:11:08 pm »
From the player's point of view, it doesn't matter whether the tribute levels come from graphics sets or single images. The graphics sets are just a convenience so that if anyone else wants to do a tribute to the same game, they don't have to redo all the same work. 8-)

This was something we did back in the Cheapo days, with Insane Steve's Mario style and my Repton, Prince of Persia and Minesweeper. There may have been others, I don't remember all the graphics sets that existed back then and wouldn't necessarily recognise some of them as coming from other games :P

Offline Nessy

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2018, 11:11:25 pm »
I never saw other-game-rip graphic sets as something that's tacky or even shameless which might be a bit too extreme of an adjective to use in my opinion. In my mind they were just another graphic set for the Lemmings to interact with. It allows us to create puzzle levels with it just like any other graphic set whether it's based on another game or not.

So to support this:

Quote from: Strato Incendus
That's not what I said ;) ; it's just that it feels less like original Lemmings then, and more like e.g Sonic instead.

How can this game ever be like Sonic, or Dune, or Freedom Planet? Just because, for example, someone uses one of the Sonic graphic sets in their levels the game won't suddenly turn into Sonic. They are two completely different things that go beyond visuals. The same exact thing with other graphic sets based on other video games. They are just another landscape from a pure visual perspective and making a graphic set around it isn't always something you can do quickly so I wouldn't call it cheap :P especially since not everyone is an artist and can make a graphic set from scratch but they still want to contribute.

Offline Strato Incendus

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2018, 01:41:42 pm »
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How can this game ever be like Sonic, or Dune, or Freedom Planet?

For example if the level features a lot of vertical scrolling, buttons and pickup skills. Games like e.g. Sonic Jump feature more vertical than horizontal movement, and things you can collect by walking through or jumping on them. Vertical scrolling was only introduced in Lemmings 2 (I don't remember any Lemmings 3 levels having vertical scrolling); pickup skills were exclusive to Lemmings 3. None of the original two games Lemmings and ONML featured either, and when you average across all Lemmings games, including Lemmings Revolution, the common denominators are indeed still "no pickup skills, no buttons, no vertical scrolling".

Vertical scrolling gets a little more of a pass because of Lemmings 3D. In Lemmings Revolution, you were only able to scroll vertically when you had already zoomed in - the standard layout of all the cylinder-style levels did not require any vertical movement of the camera.

So while buttons, pickup skills and vertical scrolling have become pretty commonplace in NeoLemmix, they're also some of the main things that make NeoLemmix feel very different from any other Lemmings engines. They had to be added to the standard game later on, because the template did not include them, obviously. So while they are NeoLemmix exclusives, they are also where NeoLemmix strays from the original game the most - aside from the additional skills, of course. But the additional skills at least still look like lemmings performing them, and in most cases are even based on actual original Lemmings sprites: Glider = floater, disarmer = digger, platformer = builder, or now, in New Formats, the platformer animation is inspired by Lemmings 2, I believe, just like the swimmer and, presumably, also the shimmier and jumper are going to be.

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They are just another landscape from a pure visual perspective and making a graphic set around it isn't always something you can do quickly so I wouldn't call it cheap :P especially since not everyone is an artist and can make a graphic set from scratch but they still want to contribute.

I wouldn't consider it cheap, in fact I think GigaLem's Freedom Planet tilesets are among the best looking ones we currently have. That said, GigaLem has done both, "compiling" tilesets from sprites from other games as well as improving namida's existing sprites. I can understand where namida is coming from, though, because once you're a little familiar with Photoshop, or Paint, or similar programs, you can let a couple of standard effect like bevel and emboss do the heavy lifting for you with regards to lighting, texture, 3D-illusions etc. to make your self-drawn graphic sets really come to life. You don't even need to be a great painter for that, since colour gradients and standard shapes like polygons and circles can all be taken care of by the software. As long as you can draw some rough outward lines for whatever shape you desire, you're fine.
Ghost Lemmings - help us test a possible new NeoLemmix skill!
My packs so far:
Lemmings World Tour, my music-themed flagship pack, 320 levels - Let's Played by Colorful Arty
Paralems, a more flavour-driven one, 150 levels
Pit Lems, a more puzzly one, 100 levels - Let's Played by nin10doadict
Lemmicks, a pack for NeoLemmix 1.43 full of gimmicks, 170 levels

Online namida

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Re: What makes a level / pack feel like Lemmings?
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2018, 06:34:21 am »
For the record: 90% of the "fancy" effects on my graphic sets are just a combination of Add Noise, Gaussian Blur, resizing with different resize algorithms, and semitransparent layers.

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inspired by Lemmings 2, I believe, just like the swimmer

While Lemmings 2 gave the inspiration for the skill itself, it had nothing to do with the sprite. I don't even recall what L2's swimmer looks like - the NeoLemmix swimmer was actually based off the walker sprite, with a lot of editing.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2018, 05:14:39 am by namida »
My released level packs:
Lemmings Plus Series | Doomsday Lemmings