Posts Tagged ‘shoot-em-up’

The Pirates! Land Lobber

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I built this game with Aardman to help promote the Sony/Aardman release of the awesome and hilarious film The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists.

Lob eggs at the targets on stage until you’ve knocked them all down. Then take the gold you’ve earned and upgrade your fruit-slinging weapons in the shop.

Play The Pirates! Land Lobber.

Light Strike

Monday, October 31st, 2011

To advertise the kids laser-tag toys Light Strike, I built a simple target-range game. It was created over the course of a couple of days, with supplied graphics from Chris Minett.

Even though this was a super-quick build, there was still time to work a little depth into the game. The gun has a 3-round auto, and using it will help you score higher. Don’t hit your own team colour too, and aim for the centre of each target for maximum points! There’s even a faux-3D effect on the gun lasers.

Play Light Strike

Star Wars: Clones V Droids

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

clones-v-droidsYou have just 30 seconds to anticipate your opponent’s thoughts, give your troops orders and move them into position in this multiplayer ballistic fighting game. Then everyone opens fire, and another turn starts.

UPDATE! On playing this recently it seems to have been updated by someone, and broken in the process. The game now crashes often when you’re walking around, which never used to happen. What a shame.

Postmortem:

I could hardly believe it! Not only were we doing a game for the giant Star Wars Clone Wars franchise, but we’d pursuaded them to try something risky and unusual too! A custom-made ultra-light PHP back end would join random players together in an almost anonymous way over the internet so that they could battle each other rather than some shonky AI.

Not only that, but it worked too! In a little over a week, I’d built the game engine and back end and proven the concept. Then the public was unleashed on it. The server coped admirably with the strain of thousands of people playing it over and over. Success!

It could have been better, of course. Just about all things can be improved. In this game, I’d have liked to have spent a little longer getting a few of the interface details working smoother. It’s fiddly to set up shots, which is an area that could do with as little interface-friction as possible. That aside though, I’d really like to have improved the multiplayer features.

I designed the game to put a game together for every two visitors to the site. You get paired off with the next random that comes along, and you’re playing. Minimum fuss, minimum barrier to entry. My experience with lots of multiplayer games is that you get to a daunting room full of 11yo kids who are just waiting for a newbie to kick about the place. I specifically designed against that effect here by removing the ability to pick your opponent, or play them again, or even to know who they are. All you get is a rank – a single number to hint at whether they’ve played before, and whether they were any good or not.

This really works – people dive in and play in generally fair games, which is great. It also means we never have to store user accounts on the server, which is also great. Each player keeps their rank in their shared-object, and it is exchanged at the start of the game. At the end of the game, each player calculates their new rank based on the Elo chess ranking system, and stores it away for next time. Yeah, you could fiddle the number and cheat, but really, who cares? There’s no leaderboard, and no way to shout out how great you are, so there’s very little incentive to cheat. That’s the best cheat-protection system I’ve ever come across!

The downside is that whilst it’s addictive for a while, it won’t hold people for a great length of time. After a while you get bored of there being no further progression. Of not being able to chat with your opponent and of not being able to have a rematch if it was a great game. These features I’d add in another similar game.

I’d give the players a chat box, that they could use at any point especially including whilst waiting for the server to sync up and exchange the moves. I’d also add a ‘play this person again’ checkbox that appears mid-game, so if you both clicked it and left it selected, it’d arrange your next match against each other. I’d also consider an optional match-up room of some sort, so you could meet up with friends. I’d definitely let you enter a name for yourself and exchange that with the other player, so you had some idea who you were playing. Maybe allow a pictorial avatar too. And some sort of earned rankings beyond a simple number. Maybe a veteran’s medal after 10 games, a high-roller medal after they hit a rank of 1600 and so on. You could even allow different things in-game based on what they had earned. Maybe veterans get the ability to pick their fights more carefully. Perhaps high ranked people get access to new weapons when playing against other high ranked people. Giving the player some sort of progression, something to work towards, would go a long way.

Lessons:

  • Multiplayer immediately adds depth to almost any game
  • People love playing against people, even if they’re unidentified randoms
  • Provide a way for people to communicate in-game
  • Provide a way for people to arrange battles with people they know, if they want
  • Provide a way for people to give themselves an identity of sorts in your game
  • Provide some sort of progression for the player to work towards, over multiple games
  • Removing incentives to cheat is far more effective than building technological safeguards against cheating

Bareback

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

barebackTranquilise warewolves and bring them back to the safehouse in this moody driving game.

Use cursor keys to drive around and the mouse to aim/shoot. Use the minimap to navigate.

Play Bareback

Postmortem:

This game was written to promote a novel called Bareback, about lunes (warewolves to you and me). It has nothing to do with what you’ll find if you google for ‘bareback’, which I don’t suggest you do if you’re in the office!

The premise is that there are various people out there who turn into wolf-like creatures by night. It’s your job to drive around in a pickup truck tranquilising them and locking them in a safehouse until the morning. It’s got good ingredients: Driving, shooting, dangerous creatures. Unfortunately, the overall effect just doesn’t work in this game, as you’ll see if you play it for a few minutes.

I think the core problem here is that there’s too many concepts mixed together. You have to drive around in the dark, slowly, navigating. Then you have to do shooting and dodging and collection of knocked-out-animals. Then you have to get them back to the safehouse with more dodging/navigating/driving in the dark before one of them wakes up.

Another problem is that none of the tasks ended up much fun! The van is slow so that you can keep it on the road. What’s fun about driving a slow van? Might as well do it for real and earn some dosh for it. Navigating is hard, as the mini-map is small and whilst the zoom works well, a lot of the time your attention is entirely focussed on a tiny part of the screen. The roads are dark and colourless, meaning you’re squinting endlessly to see what’s happening. That’s an eyetest, not a fun pastime. Shooting is difficult and restrictive, so isn’t very rewarding. Then when you do get a vanload of warewolves all sorted, you probably won’t make it back to the safehouse in time before the buggers wake up, undoing all your hard work.

This game went through a lot of itterations before it’s final state. We spent much longer than we normally would on trying to get it right. We knew at each itteration that it didn’t play well, but no matter what we did it just didn’t improve much. 

Lessons:

  • Sometimes, the core concept is just broken. Give up on it already!
  • There’s truth in the saying: Throwing good money after bad
  • Games must be fun. MUST
  • If it feels like work, it probably isn’t fun
  • They can’t all be hits!

Iron Maiden: Different World

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

iron-maiden-different-worldUse cursor keys and mouse to fill the screen with bullets in this platform-shoot-em-up. Collect as many of the blue power-ups as you can to upgrade your puny starting gun into a harm-producing device of chaos. Double jump if you need to, and press down to reload in quiet moments.

Postmortem:

After the success of the first Iron Maiden game we built, EMI comissioned a second. This is the result – a fast paced platform shoot-em-up. I had a specific goal in mind from the start, and that was to make it as over-the-top as possible. I wanted to be able to upgrade the gun tens of levels so that it goes from a weedy pop-gun to a bullet spitting death dealing mayhem device. I achieved that, but somehow a screenful of bullets still wasn’t quite as satisfying as I’d wanted. The solution was a mega-powerup that gives you all the max gun settings, at double the firing rate and with a rose-tinted death-glow over everything. That works quite well!

I think one reason the gun isn’t quite as satisfying as I’d wanted is simply that it doesn’t make much noise. We tried out various sound effects, and none really fitted. Plus, they dominated the sound-stage completely since you’re pretty much firing the entire time you’re playing.

The platforming element works remarkably well for the simplicity behind the scenes. Everything is based on a simple hit-shape that defines where the ground is, and care is taken that you can’t fall so fast as to tunnel through it. The sliding trapdoors are then just animations in that hit shape. So simple! The character can climb gentle slopes and stairs, which is essential if the player isn’t to get stuck on the slightest of objects.

The automatic, fixed pace level scrolling works well to keep the pressure on. It wouldn’t suit all games of course, but it serves its purpose well here. The only downside is that the character animation moonwalks a lot of the time!

Baddie AI is ultra simple too. They are generated at fixed positions in the game, and follow a set path. They shoot at random, but directly towards the player. This is enough in this game’s case to produce plenty of challenge, since there’s lots going on.

We struggled graphically for an explosion sequence. They always just looks pasted on top, rather than being part of the action. In the end, we settled on not having one and instead flashing the baddies brightly for a second and making them fall apart. The result works well!

Whilst this game was well received, it wasn’t anything like as widely played as the first Iron Maiden game we built. I never quite understood why, but very few portals seemed to pick up on it. I don’t think it was seeded any differently to the other game. It was still a success, but nothing like as strong as A Matter of Life and Death.

Lessons:

  • If your game contains a dominant power-up, make sure it is given at designed points in the game rather than at random
  • Everyone loves to fill a screen with bullets
  • Don’t force your character to stop shooting back whilst he’s taking damage!
  • Spend the time to make the character climb up slopes and stairs automatically. It’s well worth it for playability
  • Double jumps add to the fun factor and controlability of a character

Iron Maiden: A Matter of Life and Death

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

iron-maiden-a-matter-of-life-and-deathUse the cursor keys and your mouse in this all-action shoot ’em up. Kill anything that moves, including zombies, parachutists and more. Don’t forget to reload by ducking behind the defensive wall.

This was my first big game with Hyperlaunch, promoting Iron Maiden’s new album ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. A build time of a couple of weeks allowed us to push the boat out more than we had done before, and add effects and flair for the sake of polish, rather than just getting the minimum done. The result is a game that plays well, and looks and sounds great. It was played by over 3 million people worldwide, which was a huge success for the campaign.

Postmortem:

The game features destructable baddies that you can hit in all sorts of places for different effects and scores. For example, shooting a parachute a number of times makes it collapse, but you can get more points for hitting the tiny zombie figure on the chute itself. He can even be seen dropping his rifle and slumping on his ropes, and you can still take out the chute for even more points. This worked really well, and people who liked the game and wanted a deeper experience would learn how to maximise their points from each baddie.

There are 3D bullets too! I spent a fair bit of time getting them just right, including having them drop off in their trajectory in the far distance. The interraction between 3D bullets and the essentially 2D game engine worked surprisingly well too, with bullets being hit-tested as they passed through a particular Z-depth. I expected that to feel wrong and look unfair, but you just don’t notice what a faux-effect it is when playing! In fact, this is a game entirely made by it’s gutteral feel. Essentially all there is to do is click on targets that pop up, and reload occasionally. Having the atmosphere just right really makes it work.

The bullets even ricochet off objects. On the third level, this is really noticable with the tank turret. Bouncing bullets can still hit baddies, and it can be a surprisingly effective way to take things like parachutes out. Again, these tiny subtle features all add to the overall experience and help produce depth that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

On reflection now, the sound stage is a little overpowered by the music. I spent quite a bit of time getting things like the ratatatat of the machine gun just right, and it gets drowned out by the Iron Maiden song. Not that I don’t like the song of course, it’s excellent!

This game really reflects how essential a good graphic artist is to a project. The artist involved was superb, not just in his artistry but also in understanding the requirements I gave him in terms of how I was going to build the game. I’ve worked with lots of artists who can produce a pretty picture of a game, but only the top few can produce it in such a way that it’s then easy to convert it into working software. It’s not just about organising assets to be easy to work with (although that does help), it’s also about things like effeciency of design so that good-looking effects can be built up from a minimum of runtime elements, which helps keep performance brisk.

The only bit of artistry that didn’t quite work as we’d have liked was Eddie’s gun-arm. As it bends around the screen, it flips to some pretty unnatural and disturbing looking angles!

Lessons learned:

  • Add subtlty in gameplay wherever possible
  • Work with the best graphic artist available for maximum win!
  • A big name client helps considerably