The Lazy Designer

Making Monsters


A while ago I discussed designing areas. As with areas it is vital to understand the purpose of the creatures you are designing.

What will they will do, how they will be used, and why they are needed? Not only do artists and audio and animation need to have the time and resources to build the required creatures but the game engine needs to be capable of rendering and using the creatures in the way you intend. A boss monster that players fight once in a grand, blood-splattering final battle has significantly different cost than the lowly goblin they’ll fight horde after horde of.

Even Monsters Have a Reason For Being

Why do you need this creature? That should be the first question you ask. Building a list of creatures, especially for a new game world is exciting, but there should be some logic behind each creature.

  • Raaaarrgghh! Will the creature fight? This will dictate different audio and art and animation requirements from a stock creature that is meant only to be an object in the scenery. The creature will need to be able to fight and to die. Might seem obvious but there are times when it makes sense to build creatures that do not do these things… to flesh out a crowd scene or for cinematics.
  • Hello. Does this creature talk? Will it talk in cinematics? If so this creature has became significantly more expensive. If possible specify the scenarios where the creature might be talking so constraints can be identified (maybe it only talks as part of a cinematic, for example, or in a particular area).
  • Popularity. How often will this creature be seen in game? Once and at a distance? Or all of the time? If so, maybe it requires variation (alternative skin colors/clothing) so players don’t get bored of seeing the same thing over and over. Art and audio should understand which creatures they should be focusing their attention on.
  • World and Game Justification. The creature should fit into the game world and into the intended gameplay. Basically there should be a world design and a game design justification and some flavor that will help guide the other departments in the co-creation of this new creature.
  • Optional? If you are not a designer reading this (and especially if you are a project director) stop reading and skip to the next section… as a designer it is important to have creatures on your list you are willing to cut. You should genuinely want all of the creatures you put on any list but there should be some that are merely wants and not needs. This gives the other departments a clear idea of your intended scope but also creates some leeway and flexibility when cuts are necessary. As a designer you will always be given less than what you think is required to make a great game. So ask for more.

Combat Roles

The roles — or types of creatures — will vary depending on the nature of the game you are building. The following list is basically what I would use with an RPG.

There are a several reasons for defining the creature roles for your project and ensuring the team understands them. First, it will affect gameplay: where and how the creature will be used. Secondly, it influences how art and audio build the creature.

Some creatures may fit into more than one category so be clear to be specific as to their use when filling out a design document for the other departments to view. A creature that originally starts off as a tank might eventually become a mob creature, for example, as the player becomes more powerful.

Creatures that travel in groups, especially mixed groups with other creatures, generally require lower art quality… there’s more of them and that taxes the game engine. So if you need a horde of goblins and intend to have fifty of them on screen that is very important to mention!

  • Scout. Generally travels alone or in small groups of the same creature. Usually used to distract the player or to signal the arrival of a larger horde.
  • Tank. Big, burly and slow. Tough melee opponents. Appears in mixed groups, usually supporting ranged creatures.
  • Ranged. Fast and agile with ranged weapons. Die quickly if attacked in melee. Usually appears in mixed groups.
  • Mob/Horde. A creature meant for dying. Will be seen in large groups.
  • Special/Magic-user. A creature that uses special powers, generally abilities that the player might have (i.e., using the same spells or similar spells). Usually seen in small groups with ranged and tank support.
  • Tricksters. A creature that uses one-off powers that the player generally doesn’t have access to. This might be a goblin that explodes when it gets close enough to the player or an invisible creature that stalks the player.
  • Mini-Boss. A higher-end creature with a variety of powers and abilities. Originally encountered alone at a lower-level the mini-boss will be fought in small groups with other creatures later in the game.
  • Boss. High-end creature… loads of custom animation and art and sound. Be very specific how the boss monster will be used… if you intend for it to fight in a group with other creatures as well as appear in cinematic scenes two or more different models might be required.

At this point it is also worth considering (and noting!) the speed of the creature. Create a category system (i.e., scavenger robots are faster than artillerybots but slower than strikedroids). This helps animators understand how the creatures move in relation to one another. Also specify how fast they are when compared with the player.

One final point… and one I have limited experience with but designers should be aware of… does this creature move in three dimensions? That is, can it fly (or swim, if making an undersea game)? If so all the departments need to be on the same page as to how this will work. How does the player compete against a flying creature? Can it perch on objects out of reach of the player? Address concerns at the design or prototype stage before too much time is invested in creating art models and animation.


Where will this creature be used? Any area in the game? Or only specific areas or art environments (which might allow some texture reuse or other optimizations that makes the creature less expensive in terms of game performance).

Are their height requirements? Width requirements? Do you need to fit ten of these creatures into a standard sized room?


As games become more sophisticated players (perhaps) expect more interaction between creatures, their environment, and the player.

Your game might not require any of this but as a designer you should at least consider the following:

  • Does the creature need to be able to pick up other creatures?
  • Does the creature need to be able to destroy terrain (or simulate destroying terrain)?
  • Can the creature pick up/throw the player?
  • Can the player pick this creature up?

After the Request

Periodically check into the construction of the creature as it moves through art and animation and audio and programming. Look for problems early. If the creature ends up lower quality than initially intended it might be difficult to get more resources later to clean it up. If a horde creature intended to be fought in large groups has been created at too high a fidelity it might no longer be able to fulfill its purpose as a horde creature.

There’s so much more that goes into planning a creature — what’s cool about it, how is it different/same from other creatures in other games, why players will love/hate it. But I wanted to highlight a series of more mundane steps that are very important to the process of designing the creature. I’ve seen a lot of potential creatures die during development because of murky requirements.
Designing — and communicating the requirements — gives the creature a better chance of ever setting foot or tentacle into your game world.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.


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