August 19, 2014

A 2D shooting game where you fight against yourself

Game design is tricky. Right now I'm struggling with the idea that this game might be both too hard and too easy at the same time.

I started making this game around a week ago, so this is a little into the process. It's a 2D shooting game... but not really. It's perhaps a bit like reverse Breakout, or 1-player Warlords or Pong, only with a lot more bullets. Sorry, I'm having trouble describing it. All right, let's go specific:

The game at two different states. These are very much placeholder graphics. (Also notice there's no lose state at 0 lives yet, so it just keeps dropping.)

You are the little red ball, which you control with an analog stick. From this, you shoot the even smaller yellow bullets (I call them bullets, because the whole calling-everything-balls thing all the time is really confusing. Also, balls.) The goal is to have the yellow bullets hit the yellow corner, then you score. Meanwhile, you need to make the bullets not hit the red corner. This you do in a couple of ways, through repelling them and setting up defensive walls. There are more nuances, but that's the gist of the game. (Also, see the vine from the previous post).

Right now, I can see (at least) three problems with the game as it stands:

  • The "Wall Problem."
  • The scoring and lose mechanic.
  • Too much focus on the defensive.

I'll probably go through each of these in different posts, since they are large enough to warrant that for themselves. I'll go through the first one here. The "Wall Problem."

The thing is, since the bullets all behave like in perfect physics (they don't lose momentum, bounce purely off each other and walls), the bullets will naturally spread around the map equally (It's actually kind of magical how this always happens, regardless of how you shoot them!), and so they will hit the red corner more. Why? Because it's larger. Probability and so on.

Right now, it functions on a life system: Let the red corner be hit 10 times and you're out (at least, that's the plan, right now losing is not implemented). To help alleviate the natural balance, the player has several ways to help him, like the green walls, or the ability to repel the bullets from your position. However, even with this, I'm finding that it is still profoundly difficult to even score 100 points before you lose.

But what's the problem in that? 100 points as a goal? That seems reasonable, no?

See, that's where the issue comes in. Right now, the game is actually easier than I want it to be. Right now, you can create 4 walls all around the red corner, blocking it completely. This is balanced with the fact that they eventually destroy themselves after being hit enough times, but still, the problem with this is that you only ever have to put walls in four positions on the field throughout the game, and you're set. That's boring. There's an optimal way to play then, and it's just a matter of execution (which, mind you, is still really difficult when there are over 30 bullets on the field).

Now, I understand a couple of things about that: The basic interaction of defending a set spot with walls means that there is an optimal way to defend it, and that is in most aspects fine. The crux of the issue comes down to the fact that it just becomes an issue of managing already set walls, rebuilding them whenever they get destroyed, leaving little interesting decision-making about what to do otherwise. Ideally, I would like the player to have to place walls more on basis of an interesting choice, but also on instinct, placing them down quickly because you need to block that one bullet coming right there.

This already sort of happens when I play—at least I feel like it does, it's difficult to play test your own game—because I'm not precise enough with the controller to place the walls in the most optimal positions (and that introduces the problem of whether I have picked the right interaction, but that's for another time).

Some of the ideas I've had include having the thing you need to protect move over time, limit the amount of walls you can place (making it even more difficult—and possibly creating a shitty situation where the player can't do anything but let a bullet hit the red corner), and allow you to move on the entire board (which I might end up doing for different reasons), but none of these seem to solve the immediate issue effectively, at least design-wise. If you read this and have any suggestions, I would be glad to hear them!

The solution might come later, it might come in an entirely different form, but for now I am probably going to tackle some other stuff and see if that helps me come up with an idea about this.