Saturday, January 20

Shmup Design

Hello readers, this article is a follow up to the previous post, This is how we Shmup. Go ahead and check that out if you havent already, and then please continue with this post. Thankyou kindly and enjoy.

Ray-Hound: Indirect Interaction
Defining Ray-Hound as a shmup, for some gamers, may be pushing the boundaries of the genre. You see, while the Ray-Hound can fly around by moving the mouse, it doesn't have a gun. Instead, the game features an alternative mechanic. Normally, enemy fire will only damage Ray-Hound, not enemy cannons. Click and holding the mouse button, however, will activate a magnetic field of sorts switches enemy shots, allowing the Ray-Hound to take control of them. Holding the mouse button will magnetically cause the shots to draw towards the Ray-Hound and swarm around it. When the button is released, the magnet will power down and the shots will fire away according to Newton's First Law. If you've ever played Warcraft III, it looks very similar to the Warden's Avatar of Vengeance ability. An oft used strategy is to activate the magnet as a shot draws forward, and release it as it comes back to Ray-Hound, sending it flying towards the enemy from which it was shot. The player can also fly around while holding the button, dragging the shots behind the ship and flying them straight into enemy cannons.

What is so great about this design? A few things. Firstly, the control is fantastic. Second, the physics are perfect, really. After playing long enough, the player can direct enemy shots with ease; the magnetization is spot-on. Most importantly, however, Ray-Hounds gameplay is indirect. This is very near and dear to me. Direct gameplay is what we normally play, and can be found in Galaga, Warning-Forever, and most other games in existence; this is where the player directly creates gameplay, basically by shooting. Indirect gameplay is where the player interacts with the game indirectly. Ray-Hound (game, not ship) creates substance for the player to interact with, as opposed to the player creating substance him or herself. You see? Ray-Hound is truly a model example of this.

One last thing I want to mention is balance. The scoring system in Ray-Hound works like this. The players score per hit is multiplied by 4 for each hit delivered with the same magnetic activation. The game awards the player for hitting more cannons per magnetic activation (by point multiplication) then if the player were simply to tap away at the magnet. The goal is to hit as many cannons as possible with a single sweep of shots. However, the player is also pressured by time. Time is constantly ticking down in Ray-Hound. At the end of each level the player is awarded with more time to play with. As the levels progress, the player must balance time with waiting for a great volley of shots with which to turn on the enemies. In the end, it all comes down to skill and knowing when to activate the magnet and when not to.

Warning Forever: Adaptation
Warning Forever is slightly more traditional than Ray-Hound. However, it does bring a few palatable dishes to the table. For one, each stage consists of a single boss fight, and thats all. Unlike Ray-Hound, which has a more calm methodical gameplay atmosphere, the boss system makes for a rather exhilarating rush as you zoom from stage to stage. In addition, you never quite know what your going to get on the next level. Each boss is symmetrically weighted, and built of a variety of different parts around a central heart. The goal is to take out the heart of each boss. How you attack each boss though, will determine what types of bosses you fight in future stages. The bosses will evolve based upon the way you destroy them and they destroy you. If you just kill the front plating over and over, that body section will expand and grow stronger. The game runs algorithms that adapt to your style of play.

Fortunately, Warning Forever allows players to tackle bosses pretty much any way they want to. The ship is controlled with the arrow keys, and can be moved at a slower speed by holding the X key. To fire hold Z. The real skill factor comes in with the fire cone. By pressing D, the ship will activate a cone of fire that will automatically move with the ship. Move right and the cone moves left, up and the cone aims down, etc. Also, the cone gets thinner the further the ship gets from the center of the screen, and wider as you near the center. The fire will be spread out over the entirety of the cone, so a smaller cone makes for a more focused shot, a wider cone for a larger target area. The player must maneuver around the boss and decide the best course of action while avoiding being shot.

Warning Forever design is awesome for two mirrored reasons. One, the game evolves to meet your play style. It will throw bosses at you that rival your latest strategies. However, the beauty of being human is that we can evolve as well. This creates a constantly ebbing and flowing challenge as the player and game compete to out strategize each other.

Shmup Em Up
These shooters are fun, a lot of fun. Why? They employ fantastic design. Ray-Hound features gameplay indirectly manipulated, Warning Forever adapts to meet the players shooting style. Simple, but oh so effective. In what other games feature similar elements to these? What other uses can these elements be put to?

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