In the past couple of months I’ve started and stopped a couple of games. The reason was quite simple in both cases – I just didn’t have the vision for the completed game. This is vital for me. I have to be able to see in my mind how the game will look and play right from the outset in order for me to pursue it.
Area51 is a game I’ve always wanted to make. I loved the graphics and love the theme but for some reason I’ve just not warmed to it.
Distant Orbit is another one. I enjoyed the challenge of creating the animated landscape but even with that and the arcing starfighter swooping across the screen I couldn’t quite see the end product.
So I shelved them both.
Instead I’ve started work on a game that I’m currently calling Danger Ranger (after the excellent game of the same name by Ken Kalish almost 30 years ago which was a Dragon32 hit and something I played to death).
The premise is simple – you use a jump pad to leap around the screen collecting stars whilst trying to avoid the 3 bad guys. There are platforms to walk along and as with any platform game it’s largely about timing.
In something of a departure for me there is no shooting !
(The original Danger Ranger had lasers and I’ve fought hard with the idea but ultimately resisted the urge. I wanted this to be a game about leaping around, collecting and avoiding.)
So far I have 8 stages that are built using random art content. I quite like that. As the game nears completion I hope to add another random factor. In fact I urge anybody looking to make cool arcade games to read this interview with Ken Kalish. It really helped me to think about tightening up game content and adding relevant challenges.
In particular this paragraph in response to the question “What is the history behind the creation of some of your games?“:
[“Starship Chameleon”] was my first foray into designing arcade gameplay. After the basic concept was put in, I discovered that it was too easy, too much like shooting fish in a barrel. So I took the path of adding more objects and making them faster. That helped a little, but it wasn’t nearly good enough. The gameplay wasn’t totally absorbing, it didn’t make you step outside of your conscious mind and put you into that zone, in the way that a good arcade game could.
So I would sit there, playing game after game, waiting for the insight that would make it work. Finally, I thought of using the change of color as a way to add complexity. The on-screen movement was two dimensional, and changing color added another needed dimension. That seemed to make the whole thing work. It now required enough parts of your attention and your co-ordination ability and your decision-making, with narrow focus to avoid collisions while also requiring wide focus to be always setting up for what you would do after the immediate threat or opportunity was over.
It also had, at least for me, acquired something that’s essential: when I was done playing a game, I immediately wanted to go and try again because I felt I could do better the next time. A good game always has you right on the edge where you feel that you were just at the limit of your ability the last time out, and you just know you can push that limit the next time. You have that instinctive recognition that if you can just get into that part of yourself where you react immediately and perfectly, while your conscious mind is mostly an observer, that you can go on forever.
Of course, you never achieve perfection, except maybe for some fleeting moments here and there. But that’s enough to make you want to go back into that little world again and again. The actual shapes on the screen and the premise of the game are just a cover story.
At that point, the next thing to do is to insert a wild card. You make up an object that’s worth a lot of bonus points, in order to strike up the players ‘greed’ and make him step out of the proven pattern that he’s developed after practice. So, the player hopefully takes the risky move to go after the high value item. Then he either pays the price and gets destroyed on screen, or else he narrowly escapes by instinctively using his ability to the utmost, dodging, twisting, turning and blasting until he can get back to his normal pattern.
Or, he might have refused to take the bait of the high-risk high-profit opportunity, and curse himself immediately after for not having tried. In any event, the designer and the player both win because the game engaged the player fully and in a way that’s innately very rewarding.
Finally, you add the explosions and the sound to complete the effects of the game. Then the scoring goes in. Scoring is not a trivial thing, since the way you set values on things influences what the player will be going after and that also affects gameplay.
I hope to have my take on Danger Ranger finished in the next week or two.