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Game elements that are actively hindering players to complete game goals.

Many games have game elements that portray people or monsters that try and hinder players' goals. These Enemies can actively resist players' intentions through actions or they can be an explanation for challenges or obstacles in the Game World.


Early video games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders have Enemies which provide challenges to the players even though they have a limited set of behaviors. Later games like the first-person shooter Doom series and the real-time strategy Age of Empires series have many types of Enemies that players need to face.

All the infected in Left 4 Dead series are enemies to the players, although some are possible to avoid by not disturbing them. The same applies to Assassin's Creed 2 although this game allows more options for avoiding confrontation, e.g. distracting guards with hired thieves or courtesans as well as bribing heralds to stop being wanted by the authorities.

In fighting games, e.g. the Soul Calibur or Tekken series, players choose one of the available character to then meet another as an Enemy controlled either by another player or the computer. Similar structures exist in death-match versions in first-person shooters, e.g. the Doom or Quake series, and those game in the genre specifically designed for team play, e.g. Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and the Battlefield series.

Several games, e.g. Super Mario series, let players know who the main Enemy is but only makes it possible to actively fight him or her at the end. A version of this is to let players know that there is an enemy but only reveal its identity when one can act against it.

Space Alert shows how Enemies can exist in games as more abstract challenges that need to be overcome, in this case card representing threats that players need to work together against to beat.

Using the pattern

Enemies may be added to Multiplayer Games to provide Conflicts in otherwise Cooperation-based games or to create Complex Gameplay, but is a necessity in Single-Player Games that wish to have Conflicts or Combat. Agents in the form of Avatars or Generic Adversaries or Units that have Eliminate or Capture goals aimed at the player is a typically way of creating Enemies with diegetic presence in a Game World but Game System Player provides another option. By this they are natural ways of providing players with ways of interacting with them and understanding how the Enemies can effect the environment and the players. Enemies can however be indirectly present through how they create challenges to players, e.g. through Cards or by activating Traps, which in these cases are also typically accompanied by narrative explanations, e.g. through Cutscenes. This indirect approach is especially common when the final Enemies are Boss Monsters which the players only get to directly struggle again at the end of the game, Game Boards, or Level. Enemies may also only be Enemies because they are Agents trying to hinder players' goals toward them, e.g. trying to avoid being the objective in Capture, Eliminate, or Herd goals.

If Enemies are permanent or temporary is a basic design choice regarding their use. Permanent Enemies can be used as the main driving force for Narration Structures and make the gameplay clearer as their role does not change, and making these Enemies into Predetermined Story Structures puts the designers in control of their impact on gameplay. The Enemies do not have to be present at the start of the game though, they can either be the result of Spawning or be friendly or neutral entities that at some point change (this being an example of a Irreversible Event), e.g. related to a Gain Ownership or Eliminate goal. Ever Increasing Difficulty can through this be added to a game by guaranteeing that more and more Enemies or more and more powerful Enemies oppose players as gameplay progresses.

The same options regarding when the entities become hostile apply to temporary Enemies. In addition, these need either a fixed limitation on how long the hostile stance is maintained (which gives rise to an Ultra-Powerful Event and provides a basis for a time-limited Survive goal) or have rules for determining when the change occur. Thus, player may have the options of choosing if they want to try to make NPCs into Helpers or Companions, or turning them into Enemies. This is typically a Trade-Off.

The cause for enmity between the player and the Enemies can usually be described through a Goal/Preventing Goal pair. Such an overarching goal can then be used to create numerous subgoals within Goal Hierarchies: a Collections of goals that consist of several duels, Gain Information goals to gain the identity of the Enemies or their Vulnerabilities (or Achilles' Heels), Overcome to defeat the henchmen of the Enemy, Supporting Goals to find the Tools, or learn the Skills for defeating the Enemy, and so on. However, causes compatible with the diegesis need to be found to explain why these Enemies cannot be encountered early in the game if Diegetic Consistency is to be maintained. For Multiplayer Games, Mutual Enemies can be created by making them hostile towards sets of players (and thereby suggesting Alliances if Teams are not already present). Sometimes Enemies can be simply created through providing Inhabitants with Loot.

For game elements to be able to function as Enemies they need some way of negatively effecting players. Actions that allow Combat and can remove Health or Lives (and thereby threatening Survive goals) are the most common, but those giving players Penalties offer alternatives that do not diegetically imply Eliminate goals. Since these action reduce players' Resources, Enemies can often be seen as a form of Consumers. Giving the Enemies the possibility of doing the actions players can may be required to provide Challenging Gameplay, e.g. Enemies without the possibility for Movement are in themselves typically not a challenge against players that control Avatars or Units that can move.

Another primary design choice when defining Enemies is how players can Overcome or avoid them after they have begun to actively oppose them. There may be many ways to do this, which may change during gameplay, often mirroring the way the Enemies can effect the players. For example, Evade goals can allow players to avoid Penalties the Enemies can cause but only if these are caused by them succeeding with Aim & Shoot actions, Connection goals, or similar (and for this reason this pattern is seen as modulating Evade rather than instantiating it - it is the threat of Penalties that is more important). For more challenging Enemies, and especially Boss Monsters, players may have to complete several subgoals before having the chance to challenge the Enemies at all. Typical ways of overcoming Enemies are by Elimination (most often in the form of Aim & Shoot as in first-person shooters such as the Doom series), by permanently making Interferable Goals impossible or by converting through succeeding with Gain Ownership goals. Internal Rivalry is a way to use Diegetic Consistency as a way restrict the ways Enemies can struggle against each other. Related to overcoming Enemies is the effect of doing so has. Besides fulfilling any eventual goals, the handing out of Experience Points and Loot are common design solutions (and may be expected by players in certain genres, e.g. Roleplaying Games) and the latter makes Enemies into potential Resource Sources.

For Enemies to actively oppose players they do need some kind of behavior, which can either be controlled by humans or by predetermined structures (i.e. Algorithmic Agents). Other humans (as players or Dedicated Game Facilitators) ofter the most unpredictable behavior, so in many cases the most challenging Enemies are found in Multiplayer Games but Algorithmic Agents can also be made very challenging by having Privileged Abilities or more information (i.e. the game has Asymmetric Information), but this easily conflicts with players' sense of Player Balance and quite likely also with Determinable Chance to Succeed, especially when this makes the effect of the Algorithmic Agents' actions into Ultra-Powerful Events. By definition, Dedicated Game Facilitators and Game Masters can provide unbeatable Enemies since they can enforce Ultra-Powerful Events whenever they wish, but this is tempered by their assumed goal of making players have somewhat of a Determinable Chance to Succeed and an Exaggerated Perception of Influence.

The difficulty of Enemies can be modulated by giving them Improved or Privileged Abilities compared to other Enemies, and this is one way to create Boss Monsters - the other being to create powerful Non-Player Characters as Enemies. Specific ways of improving Enemies includes changing their Stats and Skills, equipping them with Tools (that can become Rewards if they are Transferable Items), giving them Privileged Movement compared to the players, penalizing players with No-Ops, or simply changing how many Enemies are met. All these can be used to provide Challenging Gameplay, and this be further increase (and adding Complex Gameplay and Varied Gameplay) by using Orthogonal Differentiation to give different Enemies different abilities. One example of this is the inclusion of the Arch-vile in Doom 2 and Doom 3 which can revive other dead Enemies or summon more respectively, and the priest of Age of Empires and monks of Age of Empires 2 that can convert enemy Units. Invulnerabilities can easily make Enemies hard - or too hard - to Overcome but can be used to force non-violent solutions; For Boss Monsters the pattern can also be used to force players to first complete a sub goal which makes them vulnerable. Vulnerabilities and Achilles' Heels can instead make the Enemies easier to Overcome as can No-Ops applied on them, but these may require players to complete Gain Information goals first. Achilles' Heels can also required players' to engage in Varied Gameplay to take advantage of the enemy weaknesses. Clues in the form of their appearances, behavior and the Traces they have left in the game environment can help support this search for information. Randomness can of course also be applied on the factors which determines the Enemies difficulty. When this is done, it introduces Uncertainty of Information and a certain level of Varied Gameplay, and can motivate Gain Information goals.

Since setting the right difficulty of enemies can be hard to in advanced, especially with games which supports Gameplay Mastery, it may be desired to be able to adjust the difficulty in direct conjunction to the gameplay. Difficulty Levels put this in the hands of the players and can let them choose between Casual and Challenging Gameplay if the range of difficulties is large enough. Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment makes use of algorithms to modify the difficulty of the game during gameplay depending on player performance or number of players. Game Masters can modulate players' Determinable Chance to Succeed not only on their actual chance to succeed but also what the players believe, but may also do so after the players have performed actions through Fudged Results.

Another aspect of Enemies is if they always behave in the same way or if they have different set of behaviors. Having Enemies in passive states, as for example some of the infected in the Left 4 Dead series, can provide players the opportunity to have a Freedom of Choice between Combat and Conceal (and thereby Stealth) goals. The same goes for Enemies that patrol areas with Guard goals, except that this create more Complex Gameplay. Players may not need to choose any of these, but if the Enemies populate the environment needed to cross to complete Traverse goals, a choice can be forced from them. Games providing these different states have the possibility of using Alarms, either as Traps which players can set off or to give players the Preventing Goals of hindering the Enemies to activate the Alarms when they have detected something. Enemies that flee when hurt or outnumbered may provide Diegetic Consistency while at the same time also making it possible to have Capture or Eliminate goals before they heal, regroup, or get reinforcements. Passive Enemies also allow players to try and engage in Stealing Transferable Items from them.

Where Enemies are met in Game Board, Game World, or Level also need to be considered since placing them in features such as Galleries, Sniper Locations, and Strongholds can make them much more difficult to Overcome. Their location may be fixed or based upon Randomness, and can be done either so that the Enemies are placed before gameplay begin or as Game Element Insertion during gameplay through Spawning at Spawn Points. Their appearance to players may be explain through Diegetic Consistency or through Alien Space Bats. Waves can also be used to introduce many Enemies are specific points or at specific intervals at Levels while Laning can make their appearance predictable but still allow for different choices of tactics and strategies. They can also be used to ensure Ever Increasing Difficulty due to steadily increasing numbers and difficulties of Enemies.

They may block paths to Traverse goal (especially easy at Choke Points), may make areas into Inaccessible Areas, may be the objectives of Reconnaissance goals as long as there is Uncertainty of Information regarding their location, or may be Surprises in Game World Exploration goals. In games requiring Maneuvering they can provide additional hazards that have to be actively avoided. Used together with Galleries or other types of areas that have Choke Points they can effectively create Conditional Passageways. These in turn can create (temporary) Inaccessible Areas until the Enemies have been dealt with. Sniper Locations and Strongholds can also create Inaccessible Areas but in these cases this is not so much an effect of Movement being denied as easily being eliminated while moving.

Some Enemies, typically Boss Monsters, are large enough to be Diegetically Outstanding Features. Examples of this include the Colossi in Shadow of the Colossus and some of the Boss Monsters in the God of War series. As mentioned above, having several Enemies appear at the same time is an easy way to make the encounters more difficulty (and may demand Attention Swapping), but having Enemies appear separated allows players to decide what Enemies to challenge first (which can be useful to counter Orthogonal Differentiation) and provides Freedom of Choice.

Diegetic Aspects

Typically Enemies are clearly differentiated from other game elements through shape and color to help make them into Diegetically Outstanding Features so players become aware of them. However, by presenting the Enemies in ways suitable, players can have Identification with them it can create a form of Social Dilemma as can having to perform certain actions to Overcome the Enemies.

Narrative Aspects

Many games show Enemies to the players through Cutscenes before they can interact as a way of presenting Predetermined Story Structures, and this is especially common with Boss Monsters.


Enemies are integral to many game themes and therefore necessary for a game's Thematic Consistency. They may however also need to be modulated according to a game's theme for players to recognize them as Enemies. While Agents with goals to Capture, Eliminate, or Herd game elements belonging to the player make them Enemies, Agents can also become Enemies because players have the goals concerning them. In general, Enemies not controlled by other players create PvE gameplay.

Enemies give rise to Preventing Goals for a player, not only in the sense that the player oppose the Enemies goals but also in the sense that the Enemies oppose the player's goals. The presence of Enemies in Game Worlds causes Tension and gives players motivation for Overcome goals, often through Combat or Capture, but sometimes through succeeding in Herd goals through Maneuvering. As such, they naturally cause Conflicts or Competition as they threaten to make the players lose Lives or Resources (working as a form of Consumers), or otherwise block the players' progress in the game. Enemies with Reconnaissance goals can give rise to both Conceal goals for players and the need for Rhythm-Based Actions.

The presence of Enemies introduces disturbances, so in this sense they modulate or even counter Camping or Stimulated Planning by making it more difficult or impossible. However, if players have control over when and how they encounter the Enemies, or if they have Vulnerabilities or the environment contains Environmental Effects or Traps, this may encourage and modulate Tactical Planning and indirectly promote a certain level of Stimulated Planning. A special case of this can be seen in Multiplayer Games, where if players can identify Mutual Enemies this may form the motivation for creating Alliances. Testing and confirming that Enemies actually have Vulnerabilities leads to Experimenting - this also happens with Achilles' Heels but then may more take the aspect of Puzzle Solving.

The appearance of Enemies are nearly always Disruption of Focused Attention events or Surprises. The presence of them in turn create Attention Demanding Gameplay and can require Attention Swapping when several different groups of Enemies exist.


Can Instantiate

Aim & Shoot, Alliances, Attention Demanding Gameplay, Attention Swapping, Capture, Challenging Gameplay, Collections, Combat, Competition, Complex Gameplay, Conceal, Conflicts, Consumers, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Disruption of Focused Attention, Eliminate, Ever Increasing Difficulty, Gain Information, Gain Ownership, Guard, Identification, Interferable Goals, Narration Structures, Overcome, Penalties, Preventing Goals, Predetermined Story Structures, PvE, Social Dilemma, Surprises, Survive, Tactical Planning, Tension, Thematic Consistency

with Achilles' Heels

Experimenting, Puzzle Solving, Varied Gameplay

with Choke Points

Conditional Passageways

with Improved Abilities, Non-Player Characters, or Privileged Abilities

Boss Monsters

with Loot

Resource Sources

with Randomness

Gain Information, Uncertainty of Information, Varied Gameplay

with Reconnaissance

Conceal, Rhythm-Based Actions

with Sniper Locations or Strongholds

Inaccessible Areas

with Uncertainty of Information


with Vulnerabilities


Can Modulate

Camping, Challenging Gameplay, Evade, Game Boards, Game World Exploration, Game Worlds, Levels, Maneuvering, Multiplayer Games, NPCs, Determinable Chance to Succeed, Player Balance, Single-Player Games, Stimulated Planning, Tactical Planning, Traverse

Can Be Instantiated By

Agents, Algorithmic Agents, Avatars, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Element Insertion, Game System Player, Generic Adversaries, Internal Rivalry, Multiplayer Games, Units

Agents together with Capture, Eliminate, or Herd

Inhabitants with Loot

Can Be Modulated By

Achilles' Heels, Alarms, Alien Space Bats, Asymmetric Information, Choke Points, Clues, Cutscenes, Diegetic Consistency, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Difficulty Levels, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Experience Points, Fudged Results, Gain Information, Galleries, Game Masters, Goal Hierarchies, Improved Abilities, Invulnerabilities, Laning, Loot, Movement, Mutual Enemies, No-Ops, Orthogonal Differentiation, Privileged Abilities, Privileged Movement, Randomness, Skills, Sniper Locations, Spawn Points, Spawning, Stealing, Strongholds, Thematic Consistency, Tools, Traces, Transferable Items, Traps, Vulnerabilities, Waves

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Camping, Companions, Determinable Chance to Succeed, Diegetic Consistency, Helpers, Player Balance, Stimulated Planning, Traverse


An updated version of the pattern Enemies that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.