I’m looking for inspiration for my next arcade game and somewhat predictably I turn to the games of 30 years ago.
Robotron was a stunning arcade game. In many respects a pure arcade game. It was a game that could only be played at a cabinet with two joysticks. The sound, the visuals, the player feedback.. awesome.

Robotron arcade game


I like the idea of it a lot as an HTML5 phone game. But the controls. Something’s got to give with the controls.

Lazy coders that port these kind of games place two virtual joysticks on the screen and expect you to handle the lack of touch feedback like it’s second nature. The purists would of course argue that altering the game to suit the touch screen’s control is an act of pure heresy so the virtual control seems to be the only option.
But I’m intrigued by the potential for presenting a similar game where the game actually handles something – say, the movement !

Radical for sure.

The thing with these mobile games is that you really need to feel comfortable with the controls.
I always present the simplest of demands on the player where possible. e.g. swipe left and right to move the player. Rarely to I deviate from this.
The game’s code tends to handle such things as laser firing automatically. That way the player is concerned more with movement and the game is as much about avoidance as it is about blasting the enemy.

But with a Robotron style game the movement is quite free and the lasers are independent of the player’s movement. The 8 way lasers define the game.
Which bit to you hand over to the code ?

Perhaps it’s time to hand over the player movement to the game. Shift the player’s avatar horizontally across the screen and allow the player to touch the screen to direct his lasers.
I don’t know. It’s just thoughts right now.

I tend to try and strip the game back to its foundations and identify where exactly the fun is to be found. In a game like Robotron the fun is in being surrounded by a ton of things to blast to piece and therefore the fun is in blasting things to pieces. It’s almost like there’s an unwritten rule that sits within this game’s design that reads “if you’re gonna recreate this for God’s sake honour the blast-everything-to-pieces ethos that defines the game”.

I love Robotron enough to attempt to honour it. (I swear Eugene Jarvis knew how to make great games)

I also love the idea of grabbing a 2px square brush in Photoshop, editing my grid to be 2 pixel squares and coming up with some cool graphics.

Watch this space :)

3 Responses

  1. My default instinct would be to hand off firing control, especially in a classic arcade game where most of the time I wish there was an autofire option anyways. The player could touch the screen where they want to move to and the game would autofire at the closest enemy. The tradeoff is that if the user is constantly touching the play area they could end up blocking their view of the enemies around them.

    It’s a tough call because whatever you hand off to the game code is what the players are going to blame when they die :) It’ll either be “The game moved me to the wrong spot” or “The autofire was shooting at the wrong enemies”.

    I look forward to seeing how you tackle this!

    • I agree. In fact that’s what I did.
      The player’s ship moves on rails around the screen and the player controls the direction of the laser fire by controlling a floating orb-like sprite. The effect is nice !
      With regards the controls I deliberately coded it such that the player can touch a small region to affect a larger region. Pretty much rolling your finger around its point shifts the orb all over the screen. So the action remains unmasked.

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