I’ve very much come to the conclusions that the key to turning a series of well met challenges in to something that is fun lies with meeting the player’s expectations. In order to do this we of course need to set those expectations.
With Invaders from Mars I decided to set expectations by identifying each alien by its own trait. Some just hurl bombs whilst others dive when shot and others actually launch laser bolts. All the aliens move in a uniform pattern and none fly around the screen in a series of parabolic curves a la Galaga and Galaxians. This is a deliberate move that in part has got plenty to do with the fact that I have no idea how to plot those curves. Besides, it just doesn’t seem necessary to create a good game.
As I’ve written previously I’m a big believer in presenting a bonus and immediately presenting an obstacle to aquiring it. Most of the game is executed in this style with the ultimate bonus being the high score in the top corner of the screen.
To expand on this I balanced the game’s levels and placed what I considered to be the trickier opponents in the later levels.
When the level loads and the screen fills with aliens the player gets a glimpse of the task ahead. Initially I thought it was just a cool prelude to the action but I’ve since realised that there is a level of excitement that builds as the aliens move in to position. In one sense the player is looking at an organised structure that he knows he will bring crashing down, and in another sense the player is looking for familiarity. If, for example, he sees the Beholder move in to position he instantly knows that they take a shot at the expense of some acid coming his way. A whole line of them is going to be more problematic than a vertical stripe. Similarly the Drones that tend to sit atop the level pack will fire a laser when agitated. They also fire the lasers at some pace. If therefore any Drones fall in to position lower down the pack the player knows that he has little time to respond.
The pack formation may only take a second or two but in that time I’m successfully setting player expectation. Once the level kicks in it’s up to the player to destroy them all. I’m convinced that there is a good deal of satisfaction to be had by knowing just how the pack will perform as it takes shape and a far greater satisfaction in destroying the pack in a patterned way.
I’ve seen it written before that patterns hold some clues to the secrets of fun in games. Perhaps I’ve never acknowledged it before due to not actually having first hand experience of it.