Dangerous Games – the sequel to Monochrome

This is an overview of Dangerous Games, which is my sequel to Monochrome. It is not as detailed as a proper design doc would be, because it’s not supposed to be. I also assume some amount of familiarity with Monochrome, as it is a sequel after all.

TITLE

The reason that it’s not titled “Monochrome 2: Monochrome Harder” or something standard like that is because I’m actually dropping the black and white aesthetic of the previous game. Also, I can’t believe that there isn’t a game title “Dangerous Games” yet. What’s more, it totally works with the game as designed.

MECHANICS

Solving the “steadily less interesting” problem.

There are lots of different game modes, most of this will describe the SLAYER game mode, where the objective is to simply kill all the enemies on the screen without dying. I’ve previously written about how it’s quite difficult to create a shooter where the objective is to kill all the enemies, since the fun gradually falls off as the enemies are killed. Imagine the difference between battling while dodging 10 hunters, a sea of turret bolts, 4 snipers constantly trying to get angles on you, etcetera. Now imagine dodging one hunter. The former is much more thrilling, but the latter is what the former will always degrade to.

To solve this problem I first thought of putting up a time limit. That way the game is still intense since at the end the player is trying to kill the enemies quickly. The problem is that the player can screw himself over by killing the first few enemies too slowly, thus losing well in advance of officially losing, and we still haven’t actually made killing that last enemy more fun in and of itself. What that means is that the player can effectively be dead, but not know it until he runs out of time with 3 enemies left, and there aren’t really any more tactics or strategies the player can utilize at the end, they just have to kill those enemies quickly. It also has the smaller problem of forcing me to fine-tune the time limits for the levels for each difficulty, which is much more work. Finally, it changes the feel of the game somewhat from the player having a blast killing some enemies, to the player being put on a trigger the entire game. That’s a fine tone to have, but it’s not what I’m going for.

The solution is to have the players maximum health slowly deteriorate the longer he plays. I could do this on a timer, but that has some of the problems associated with the first solution. Instead, I have the players maximum health lowered for every enemy he kills. This means that when he starts, and there are 10 enemies, he’s at 100 health. Later, after he’s killed 5 of them, he’s at 75 maximum health. When there’s just one enemy left, he’s at 55 health. I could play around with the exact numbers here, but what this does is keep a somewhat consistent amount of danger for the player. It also encourages the player to change the tactics with which he plays, which I’ll discuss later. Furthermore, it allows me to keep my other health systems in place, which will be discussed later.

Health Systems

Health is great way to provide interesting choices in the game. I have 4 major health systems in the game.

1) Lowering maximum health.
This was detailed above. Basically it makes the game more interesting even when there are only a few enemies left.

2) Recharging health.
Unlike most games, there is no delay after being hit. Health just recharges slowly. I did this because I didn’t want the player to feel punished for mistakes made 5+ seconds ago. It contributes to the action feel.

3) Placed health packs.
I haven’t decided if I want enemies to drop health packs, or I want the game to spawn them. The purpose of placed health packs is to give the player another choice to make. They can make a dash for one of the health packs, or they can play it safe for a while. This encourages tactical positional play.

4) Area health drain.
I noticed that players could simply go around the outside and stay very safe in Monochrome. I decided the best solution would be to slowly drain players health if they were in these safe areas. That way, the player can still tactically go into those areas, but they also can’t stay in there forever, and must balance the safety with the slow death. To get more informative, I actually want the health draining zones to give a small grace period, which further encourages the player to pop in periodically. This is something that must be tweaked in response to players, but it also encourages tactical positional play.

Frankly I consider the combination of these to be vastly superior to any system of simply recharging health, or non-recharging health. This provides a solid amount of tactical play in and of itself, and furthers the gap between beginner and mastery. Even better, none of these systems reward motor skills, such as lining up a headshot.

Enemies

Lots of enemies that were cut from Monochrome are making their way back over to Dangerous Games, although only the hunter is mostly unchanged. I’ve also, I believe, intelligently added enemies with an eye specifically to what tactics they force the player to play with, as opposed to in Monochrome, where I added enemies mostly because I thought they would be cool to have. Having said all that, all the enemies really do is force the player to dodge in some specific ways. That doesn’t quite capture the big picture, because there are differing tactics stressed by each enemy type.

The Turrets are the same. Nothing needs fixing, so nothing will be fixed. They force movement out of the player, and encourage the player to find “paths” through the bolts, as well as “spread” the turret fire by strafing close to the turrets.

The Hunters are also essentially the same. They are called Hunters partly because they lock on to the player and try to get as close as possible, but mostly because they behave very similarly to the Hunters from Halo:CE. They get close to the player, and when they are within a certain radius, they charge in a straight line to well past the player. It’s simple to deal with one Hunter, as the player just has to step to the side, but multiple Hunters require the player to both side step Hunters from all different angles, or “herd” the Hunters by crossing the map, which limits the angles that Hunters will come at the player.

I couldn’t quite figure out how I was going to create the Snipers, who are enemies that charge up a laser shot, that once fired is undodgeable, but can be blocked by the players shield, or by the walls strewn around the map. The reason I couldn’t figure out what to do with them is because I couldn’t figure out how I was going to do their pathfinding, without them all eventually bunching up. At one point I was fairly certain they would be immobile turrets, that fired the chargeable laser instead of bolts. In the end I’ve gone with stationary turrets with an attack radius. If the player is within the attack radius, they start charging. If the player is not within that attack radius they don’t charge. This encourages the player to treat the area around the Snipers as “hot spots”, which can’t be lingered in. This therefore encourages moving about the map, and I have massive flexibility with regards to where on the map the Snipers are placed, and how far their range is.

There is a new enemy type called the Spinner. What the Spinner does is shoot out four beams, up, down, left, and right. It then rotates one quarter circle clockwise or counter clockwise. It rotates at a speed such that it rewards the player for sticking close to the center, and thus being able to turn with the Spinner. It also rewards the player for quickly moving outside the radius of the Spinner. The player has to quickly decide to move towards the center, or away from it. It also constrains the size of the battlefield, and forces more tactical positional play.

Spinner prototype

Since I knew that it would be difficult to understand I drew this picture in Paint. The Spinner here is moving counter clockwise and the circles are players who must move accordingly. Although you can’t see it, the Spinner basically traps players, who must move towards the center and then away again to get out. I know this, because I based them on the spinning things from “World’s Hardest Game”.

The twist for the spinner, is that it, after being “shot”, moves towards the player across the battlefield, but then simply disappears when it goes off the battlefield. This differentiates it from the Snipers and the Hunters, and provides another set of movements that constrains the player, and temporarily, if it “captures” the player, tightens the battlefield considerably.

My plan is to fully implement the Hunters and the Turrets, which won’t be particularly difficult, since the code can be almost copy-pasted from Monochrome, minus refactoring. This should provide as a good base to test the concepts of the game, like the health systems, game types, and offensive weapons. At that point, I will re-visit the issue and decide what needs to be added to the game, and how specifically. At that point I will have a much better idea of how the game is going to turn out.

Offensive mechanics – weapons

The player character is equipped with three different weapons. The first is a very high damage melee weapon. The second is a low damage shotgun. The third is a high damage, but delayed, Area of Effect, or AoE attack. I’ve said before that rewarding skilled fast-twitch aiming, although defended by hardcore players, is actually not good game design. There is no depth to lining up a headshot, and we should be rewarding tactical skill, as opposed to physical skill.

The melee weapon is the highest damage weapon in the game, that kills everything in a few hits at most. It is a high risk, high reward weapon, since the player must actually get close enough to the enemies in question to use the melee. Additionally, since not everything dies immediately, it may or may not be wise to rush in, since the enemy may get a hit in on the player before the enemy dies.

The “shotgun” is a weak gun. I only made it a shotgun because I didn’t want to reward aiming skills overly much. Unlike most video game shotguns, the spread isn’t ridiculous, meaning that it is capable of shooting across the map, just not with anywhere near perfect accuracy. Damage is not reduced with distance. The shotgun does not need reloading, but can overheat, which prevents the player from simply spamming the fire trigger. Basically, the shotgun is used when the player wants to hold back, or needs damage immediately.

The AoE attack doesn’t have a proper name yet. The way that it works is that the second the player presses the button to fire, a circle is put down where the cursor is the center. This attack does medium damage against stationary targets, but high damage against moving targets, which encourages the player to utilize timing to focus fire on where the enemies are going to be, and hopefully get some stationary targets involved as well. The gun has a cooldown, which prevent players from just spamming the attack over and over again. On harder difficulties the size of the blast may decrease, I’m not sure yet.

The ranged weapons are not spam attacks. They both need to be utilized effectively. The player will be switching between the two weapons frequently, due to the different characteristics of each, or because one has “overheated”. The melee attack is always available, and has a special key, so it does not need to be selected.

Offensive mechanics – Interrupts and Focused Fire

There are two concepts I’ve thought about a great deal, but don’t currently have as part of the design. Interrupts are any attack that interrupts the enemies attack or movement. An example would be if shooting a turret caused the turret to temporarily be “stunned”, and not fire. Alternatively, we could stun a Hunter, or have a Snipers’ charging be knocked back to zero. Interrupts encourage players to fire upon enemies not just offensively, but defensively as well.

Focused Fire is a concept that is in a lot of First Person Shooters. The idea takes many specific forms, but basically it all boils down to the notion that the enemy that is being targeted is only temporarily weakened and will return to full strength if not fully incapacitated. Probably the easiest example is the Elites in the Halo games. They have shields that are damaged from fire, but those shields will recharge if the Elite isn’t targeted again before a few seconds. Focused Fire encourages the player to fire upon one enemy until it is finished, or at least make firing at that enemy a priority until the enemy is destroyed.

I’ve been brainstorming ways to include some form of the above ideas. The problem is that I just can’t fully imagine how any of these ideas will play out. I like the idea of being able to stun a hunter, but will that trivialize the challenge of dodging them? I’m even less clear if I like the idea of Focused Fire, as it could turn target selection into an easy game of spot the weakened enemy. I do believe that these mechanics will benefit the game, but I’m not going to put them into the game immediately.

GAME MODES

The first, and most carefully considered game mode is simply the Kill All Enemies game mode, which I’m calling Slayer. Pacifist mode, which takes its name from Geometry Wars, has the player surviving a room for a certain amount of time without having any weapons. Gauntlet has the player running from one side of the room to the other, picking up the item, and bringing it back within a certain time limit. It’s pretty much the same as Monochrome. Finally we have Points of Interest, where the game spawns 3 semi-random points, one of which the player must pick up in a small time limit, his choice. This game continues until the player dies or fails, and is the most arcade feeling of all the game types.

ART STYLE

I looked over the previous  videos of the game during development, and while I appreciate the simplicity and elegance of the stark black and white, with only a dash of dark grey to stand out, I have to admit that it’s just not as interesting as the old, colourful game was. Playing Chopin while the user played the game was supposed to be relaxing, but I’m afraid it was just dull. I still very much believe in abstract images and sounds, and don’t plan on changing very much shape-wise. I also don’t want to change to go to a bright colour palette. I want the colours to feel very dark, but also vibrant at the same time. This is not a real example, but here’s the hunters from the old game and the new game side by side:

monoHunterOldmonoHunterNew

Nothing much has changed, but if we keep doing this do the different characters:

monoBurnPreOld monoBurnPremonoBurnActOldmonoBurnAct

monoTurretOldmonoTurretNew

…we make the game more visually interesting as well as more readily understandable by the player. Colour is another trick we can use to help describe the world the player inhabits, and feed them information on the state of the game. I especially enjoy the two-coloured scheme I have with the Hunters and the turrets, where the outside is coloured darkly, and the inside is black. It makes everything look very classy. I don’t want to make any rules this early into the project but I really like that look. Trying it with the Player Character:

monoPCNew monoPCmonoPCNewmonoPCNew

I don’t like the yellow, which I picked only because it stood out the most, and the player should never lose sight of their avatar. The burnt orange looks much better and fits with the theme well, while still drawing attention to itself. The green doesn’t look too bad either. Really, there’s no point in me tweaking things yet, since I’m probably going to be creating totally new images anyway.

I can’t stress enough how much I’m not an artist.

CONCLUSION

That’s basically it for now. I didn’t promise a real design doc, but I hope this provides a gist of what the game is.

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