Area 51Decisions, decisions.
Having broken the back of the arcade element to Area51 I’m now left standing at a crossroads in terms of game design.
There are numerous elements to the game that I am enjoying – the cramped gloomy corridor feel, shooting monsters – spawning blood, shooting toxic barrels and fireballs, powering up your weapon base, muzzle-flashes, watching the discarded bullet shells thrashing away from your current weapon with every shot.. all adding up to a quite enjoyable experience in terms of fun and player feedback.
But still the game seems incomplete. It’s just not enough to work your way through endless hordes of monsters. Players need more intricate challenges.(I just can’t seem to make a 2p game where all the action is over within 10 seconds and the rest is just repeat ad-infinitum)

So I’m looking at ways to boost what I call the “immediate action”. i.e. the challenges that are thrown at the player mid-level. Which essentially boils down to having more to shoot, more to dodge, managing health and managing ammunition. The base weapon – the pistol – will have infinite ammo so you can always fall back to that. But the better weapons will sap ammunition at a good rate.

But there is another element to the game that I want to improve and that is what I call the “deep action”. This is essentially the true goal of the game.
I had always intended for Area51 to be a game about survival and ultimately escape. I had toyed with the idea of rescuing the good guys but am now not sure it is necessary.
I want the player to move along a fairly linear path blasting his way out of situations whilst facing increasingly more menacing adversaries. I also want the player to have some sway on the direction that the action takes.
At the end of every battle I currently reset the level and present a ticker text display of the next area. e.g. Entering Bio-Mechanical Research Center
I hard code these scenarios.
What I really want is to provide a loose map that is generated randomly at the start of every game. As the player progresses he is given choices as to which direction (basically left, right or straight ahead – never back) he wishes to take. Where I take the player away from the central “core” path I ultimately ensure that I bring them back. So regardless of the areas that he ends up in he can be sure that at all times he is actually moving forward.

A likely scenario might be:


These decisions are exclusive. You cannot for example enter the weapons lab and then come out and go in to oxcart research.
Each location will be weighted. That is, depending on the location there will be an increased chance of receiving health, ammo or bigger monsters ! The title of the location will give the necessary clues.

One of my favourite games as a kid was The Eidolon. An Atari 800XL masterpiece of tension and graphical loveliness. The highlight was of course the dragon that you always knew you were close to because the screen glowed and the noise level increased.
I am looking at implemented something similar for Area51. A simple radar implementation wouldn’t be hard.

I deliberately took a couple of weeks off developing this game so that I could just sit back and play it.
I’ve found it useful. Very useful. It allows me to see the game through a gamers’ eyes as opposed to a developers’.
I feel like I can now finally move forward and complete the game to the original vision.

As always I aim to complete the game code such that I can concentrate on playing with the graphics. I need to get these sketchbook illustrations and convert them in to pixels !

Watch this space !

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