Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

Enemy Study: Castlevania Dawn Of Sorrow

The next major step in Aztez is taking our enemies to the next level. We've had enemies for a long time now, and while they currently have distinct mechanical identities, they're missing a couple crucial features. Some of them I'm going to save for a future post, but the major feature they're missing now is the ability to control YOU, the player. A good friend and design mentor says it best. "Good action games set the pace for the player." What he's referring to the is a game's abilities to raise meaningful hurdles for the player that they must get themselves over in a fun and challenging way. So before I got in there and shook up my enemies in a major way, I wanted to do some studies. The first one has been of Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS.

Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow

All I did for this study was get a piece of paper and a pencil and start a new game. The rule was that whenever I encountered a new enemy, I had to take a couple very quick notes on their movement pattern, remarkable properties, attacks (if any), and most importantly, their REQUIREMENT. What I mean by "requirement" is the player behavior required to move past or kill the enemy. I wanted to start developing a specific library of meaningful hurdles to draw from. Castlevania games throw hundreds of different types of enemies at you! And while they all have very straightforward behaviors, dealing with them is oftentimes not at all straightforward. It's one of the many incredible things about these airtight action games, and it seemed like a good place to start taking notes. Anyway, here are the notes (click on the image to zoom in).

Castlevania DOS Enemy Study

Obviously this doesn't even scratch the surface of the gold mine this game has buried inside of it in terms of meaningful hurdles, but even in this sampling of very early enemies there is incredible creativity and challenge. I realize this is terribly abstracted, and I realize beautiful essays could be written on individual enemies. But this is just a springboard, and in the next post I'm going to share a much more intricate dissection of Devil May Cry 4's UH-MAZING cast of enemies, which are much fewer in number but more individually nuanced. If you want to talk about any of these enemies, just bounce on into the comments there and I'll rap with you.


  • Really looking forward to seeing where this is going!

  • Sam250

    I never saw the combat merit in these games. They are grindable, and easy: you have a huge healthbar and frequent save points. You don’t have to vary how you deal with enemies too much because you can take those hits and as you get more powerful can mow through enemies effortlessly. Even against enemies above your level I remember it as mostly jumping attacks and backing off where appropriate. You don’t have to pay too much attention to that stuff to survive, unlike Classicvania where it is all positioning and dodging.

    When you look at the patterns out of the game, though, I can see the variety, and when you analyse them like that I can see ways some of them, used properly and in another game, could be a very interesting challenge.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “abstracted”. Also, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t call that essay on Medusa heads beautiful. Fuckdumb, more like. Pseudo-intellectual tripe would be accurate also:

    “The sine wave is a function of such enormous mathematical depth and beauty that you could spend a meaningful lifetime studying it”.

    Almost every line is dumb.

    I’m also looking forward to what you do with this stuff.

    • I don’t disagree that DoS is not particularly challenging at the end of the day, especially if you understand the system and how to produce and maintain synergy between weapons and souls (and if you know how to utilize jump/land/dash cancelling to fire off multiple attacks very quickly). But that’s actually why I enjoy DoS; there is a lot of variety on every level and ultimately it’s an exercise in mechanic exploration. I spend more time having fun with soul combinations then I do making my way to the next advancement point.

      The variety is definitely they key, which is why I picked at it. Well, and also because I have always enjoyed running and jumping (even for its own sake) in IGA’s Castlevania’s, and if I was going to observe and jot down as I played, I’d better be not be miserable between jotting sessions. Haha! Because there’s so much meat, I figured it would be highly likely to inspire some shit, and it did. ;)

      I think that essay is beautiful because I find obsession beautiful.

      All I meant by “abstracted” was that there’s a lot more nuance in each of the examples I jotted down, but I simplified and distilled for brevity, and to ensure a bird’s eye view at the end of the study.

      I’m looking forward to it, too! Haha! Our enemies as is are aggressive, distinct, and punitive, but they have NO control over an aggressive player. Since I built this combat engine on fast paced aggression, mid to high level players clean house. So it’s time to level up but I don’t know exactly how it will go down. I’m excited!

  • RexT99

    Long time fan of this blog and really looking forward to more dissections like this (DMC4, whoo!). Been doing similar research for the sake of my own game so it’s nice to be able to compare notes so-to-speak. Keep up the great work!!

  • Chris Wagar

    honestly, I think you should be examining Castlevania 3 or Castlevania Order of Ecclesia if any of the Castlevania games. Symphony of the Night was a revolutionary Castlevania title, but it really undermined a lot of the level design dynamic that classic Castlevania games had running, and I feel only Order of Ecclesia really came close to reclaiming that with its enemy placement and use of more dynamic enemies in general that actually functioned as roadblocks that had to be negotiated in order to progress. The majority of situations in other post-sotn Castlevanias don’t really actively challenge the player or block progression.

    The key in design for a good Castlevania enemy is that avoiding an encounter with it is as dangerous as actively attempting to fight it (it is a good roadblock), it actively threatens passive players (Good chasing or attack patterns), and it is difficult to kill. I feel like this style of design was common in classic Castlevania games, but short of order of ecclesia, it has fallen flat in more recent Castlevanias, which were stronger in other, less important, areas.

    Study of the Castlevania enemies makes sense, as Castlevania does represent a very wide and diverse design space, ripe with potential for ripping off in other 2d action titles (imagine a guy who shot medusa heads from afar, that would be hell), but you’ve gotta remember that the devil’s in the details, the idea for the pattern might be good, but Castlevania itself does not take as much advantage of these patterns as it could be. If you want to really make use of it, you will have to do better than your source material here.

    • I fully agree with you about all of this, actually. There are certainly very crucial distinctions between pre-IGA and IGA Castlevanias, but I believe high level notes of this nature would have looked identical regardless of which Castlevania I was performing the exercise on. Assuming it isn’t one of the many joke entries in the ancient series. ;)

  • Victor Borges Angelo

    The Games that incorporates this in an amazing way, are the Lament of innocence and Cures Of Darkness games. the Enemy design in said games is amazing. With just some tweaks the enemies would be perfect for a Beat-em-up in the style of Bayonetta and Devil may Cry.

    • Chris Wagar

      Lament of innocence was a beat-em-up

  • Tombrien

    Can’t wait for DMC4 enemy stuff