When creating a Pikmin area, there are some tips and guidelines you can follow to make sure your area looks good and plays well. This guide is made for Pikifen, but it can also work for any fan-made Pikmin-like area. This page will not include very obvious tips, like "your area should have objects".
Don't take the tips here to heart. It's perfectly possible to create an incredible area that uses none of these tips. Areas can be so insanely diverse that one guide can't establish the ideal way to do them all. So trust your instincts and follow player feedback more than anything. Plus, some tips here are just educated guesses or theoretical, and not outright proven to be better.
- Landmarks are very important. Also, don't have too many or too few.
- The spatial awareness challenge in Pikmin comes from understanding where everything is, will be, and must go to, and what paths there are in the area to achieve that. The player will naturally map the area in their head, so most of the time, they'll understand its layout from heart, even if they may still check the radar sometimes. However, having the area mapped out in your head becomes next to impossible if it is just made of several nondescript corridors. Dedicate some parts of the area to include something no other part has.
- In a stage like Silver Lake, one landmark would be the L-shaped terrain at the north, while another would be the round alcove at the northeast. If the player is around the corridor circling the lake, they will have a much easier time understanding where they are, and where the rest of the map is in relation, if they notice and understand where that alcove is. However, if the alcove looks like any other alcove in the area, and there are dozens of them, the player won't be able to tell them apart.
- All of that said, you can have fewer landmarks to make your area harder to understand on purpose. But don't push it, and make sure the area is still interesting in other ways.
- Players should be encouraged to replay areas.
- Don't make the stage so easy or manageable that the player can ace it and get bored with it after one run. The idea is to get the player to play more than once so they start to get a better understanding of the area, as well as refine their own strategies. Add small things that would go over the heads of players who don't explore thoroughly. Have several different ways to approach problems, so that the player can feel encouraged to try something different next time, and learn what works best and what doesn't.
- Practical examples include multiple paths, unlockable shortcuts, and special objects that can be used in multiple ways (like bomb rocks for enemies or for shortcut opening).
- Don't have too many empty sections.
- Although some large open areas are fine, if they are filled with nothing, the player will get bored, and will need to walk for several seconds before they reach anything important. This is especially bad in a game of the Pikmin series, where players need to cross the same sections multiple times, back and forth.
- Pikmin is a real-time strategy series. Have loads of options to keep the player deciding what to have their Pikmin do next.
- If your area is too linear, then there isn't much the player can pick from when deciding what to do next. Similarly, if every task is just defeating an enemy, the player doesn't need to decide either, because their goal is "defeat all enemies", and the order doesn't really matter. But if there are bridges to build, gates to take down, Pellet Posies to farm, and enemies to defeat, the player will have a lot of possible ways to tackle the tasks, in different orders, and with different Pikmin amounts.
- Shortcuts need to cost resources.
- If there are two paths open, the player will just always pick the fastest one, which is something you rarely want because it's not engaging most of the time. If the fastest path is locked behind something like a gate, the player can decide if it's worth it to keep their Pikmin and take the open path, or if they should take some time to open the second path, since it might be faster for their needs. Make sure that the answer to this problem isn't immediately obvious, and requires some experimenting from the player.
- Instead of blocking shortcuts, you can also try making them more dangerous, which requires the player to decide if they want to risk it just to be faster.
- Path splits aren't just left-or-right choices.
- If you want to split a path into two, you are not limited to creating a wall between the two corridors. Make one of the paths be parallel to the other, but go up or down instead. Or have an open area with several exits. Or make a section of the area seem normal and (sensibly) cluttered with decorative geometry, and if the player goes around some of the clutter, they'll find themselves in a completely different place than if they had gone the other way. Or split the paths with an obstacle that can be walked on as well, like water or terrain in some other elevation (higher or lower). Just use your creativity. You can even have two different paths that are separated by a very small wall, such that it is possible to throw Pikmin or leaders to the other side.
- Use a lot of verticality, but don't go insane.
- Areas work best when they have a lot to explore and a lot to do. In two dimensions, you already have a lot of movement possible, but with three dimensions, you have even more. Whenever you can, make your layout have ledges and ramps here and there. These provide visual variety and gameplay control (since objects can only go one way through ledges). But don't abuse this, otherwise there will be too few readable places and the player won't be able to make anything out of the area.
- Entice the player by letting them see something good before they can get to it.
- For instance, have a large Pellet Posy on top of a ledge that requires a long path to get to, or is behind some gate. This will keep the player interested, and they will have to measure if the time and Pikmin investment is worth it. The longer the player goes without being able to get their reward, the better it will feel when they get it, but keep it within reasonable limits!
- Make sure the player can't get themselves stuck.
- Whenever there is a drop-down somewhere, make sure your leader has a way to get out. The player shouldn't have to remain stuck forever just because they fell in a hole. If you somehow want to punish the player for falling, at least don't make the punishment keeping them stuck. Instead, place them in a hazard, or make the drop be a bottomless pit. This tip also applies to Pikmin, but since they're disposable, it's not as important as the player's leader.
- Special effects aren't as subtle as you think.
- To give an area some mood, you can use some special lighting, for instance. It's easy to exaggerate it, though. Using a fog effect to limit the player's visibility can be a great gameplay mechanic, but remember the type of game you're working for. In Pikmin games, the player needs to be aware of the state of the world, even in parts where they cannot see right now, which means the fog effect adds a neat, but perfectly fair challenge. However, if it is too strong, the player will take much longer to explore and scout the status of their troops, making adapting the plans difficult or nearly impossible. That is neither fun, nor what Pikmin is about.
- Even if an obscuring effect looks subtle to you as a developer, you have to remember that you know the area and the player doesn't. Plus, combine that with the fact that the player needs to focus on playing the game while trying to explore.
- Avoid symmetry and right angles.
- Unless your area takes place in a more mechanical or man-made environment, chances are you shouldn't have many symmetric layouts, or many walls and walkways that bend at rough 90 degree angles.
- Save some space for details.
- Not every part of an area needs to have something to do. It's perfectly fine to reserve a small alcove or roundabout in an open plain that just serves to add detail to the area. A forest area with no branches or stones in sight is going to look weird, and if all branches and stones are tucked away outside of play, the area won't look natural. That said, don't sacrifice gameplay just for these details.
- When there is a fork in the path such that one side ramps up or down, try adding a boulder in the splitting point.
- Imagine you have a path, and then further ahead that path splits into the plain you started on to the left, and a path ramping up to the right, such that this path is a wall to the path below. You can have that split happen just like that, but you may want to consider placing a boulder or some natural solid decoration in the place where the path splits exactly, to make the cut seem less jarring. This is used extensively in Xenoblade Chronicles (example).
- Try the golden ratio to make things look more natural.
- The golden ratio is present in a lot of things in nature. If you're struggling to come up with a layout that looks neat, try resizing the openings, floors, curves, etc. to relate with the golden ratio to other such openings, floors, or curves. It may make it better, or it may have no effect at all, but it's worth a shot.
- The out-of-bounds terrain should be cluttered and/or colored darker.
- When you see the entire area from afar, it's easy to tell what is out-of-bounds scenery. But when you're playing, that ledge up there could as well be reachable later, as far as the player knows. To make sure the player understands the limits of the area and doesn't get lost, try picking darker floor textures for the out-of-bounds terrain (this is because light is usually attractive). You can also fill it with foliage or debris to make it an unwelcoming place to navigate in. This should hint to the player that they aren't meant to be up there.
- Don't go overboard with this though, otherwise the player will feel caged off in an artificially crafted room.
- Use varied textures, but keep them thematic.
- A beach area that mostly uses a sand texture and a rock texture can get very confusing to navigate in. Using sand textures of different shades, using rock textures of different patterns, and even adding some more textures to the mix, like gravel or dirt, can help create an area that still has a bunch of beach-themed textures, while keeping things varied and engaging for the player.
- Think of the logic behind the placement and shape of the area's elements.
- You may need to create a maze inside this tree trunk that leads to a small stony cave with some Pellet Posies. If you must do exactly that for your level to play well, then do so, but if not, try to take a step back and check if that makes real-world sense. A dirt pathway can be twisted and have all sorts of openings, but a maze path inside a tree trunk? Who carved it, and why is it so convoluted? If you don't have an answer to that, you may want to try changing the setting behind the maze (again, to dirt, for example), or remove the maze entirely. And what about the reward at the end? Why are there Pellet Posies growing inside a cave? Don't plants need water, soil, and sunlight to grow? Maybe consider changing your reward to some eggs or, again, rework the setting around the reward.
- You don't need to constantly run away from this trope, since often, the level's layout and flow will be more important than the realistic object placement. Don't sacrifice your gameplay just because one object doesn't entirely fit its surroundings. You could also want to combine elements in a non-realistic fashion to create a creepy vibe. But other than that, try to keep this detail in mind when developing.
- The edges of the world shouldn't be easily visible.
- The out-of-bounds geometry has to end eventually, and beyond that, there's only the void that encompasses the game world. It's good practice to make that geometry fade out into the darkness so the cut isn't so jarring. On top of that, the player shouldn't be able to see this darkness, most of the time. If they do, it might throw them out of their immersion, since the void isn't very realistic. Make the edges be far away from the playable area. Since you can't stop the player from seeing it all the time (the player can use a far away zoom level, high screen resolution, etc.), you shouldn't stress on placing them super far away. Some stages look good when purposely enveloped in a dark void, or they have some other stylized void which fits the theme, so this tip may not apply to all areas.
When creating an area, if there's too much going on, the game can slow down. Even if it doesn't on your machine, it could on weaker computers. Even if you don't use these tips, it's important to keep them in mind to stop your area from being too bloated and running into performance problems. These tips mostly apply to Pikifen, but can also be useful when editing areas or caves in the canon games.
- More content means more processing time.
- The more geometry and objects in an area, the longer the game will have to take to process all of them, from figuring out their physics and logic, to rendering them on-screen. As a general rule of thumb, try not to bloat your area with too much content if you're worried about performance.
- Walls don't need to be very smooth to be convincing.
- To make a smooth curve, you'll need several lines. But you can probably create a decent curve using less lines than you think. Unless the player passes by and rubs against that wall a lot of times, you probably don't need to make it very smooth. The simpler it is, the less processing time for checking collisions and rendering. Even the canon games have jagged geometry.
- Pikmin and enemies are the biggest performance hogs.
- The logic behind a gate is no more complicated than "lose health if you get hit". But Pikmin and enemies use a lot more logic than that. Try not to have an area with a massive amount of enemies just because, and consider reworking its design to make the numbers more manageable by the game's engine.