HyperGunner – level / wave design theory

HyperGunner is turning in to something to be proud of. I’m very excited to be developing it just now and am thoroughly enjoying assembling different game elements – scoring multipliers, power-ups, hyperspace bonus phase etc.

hypergunner title graphic

HyperGunner titlescreen graphic

What I’m most thrilled about is the pace of the action.
When I first started assembling the game code based off the previous game – Wizard Wars – I fell firmly in to the trap of thinking it should be just another formulaic shooter a la Galaxians. As much as I loved that game in my youth I knew that it needed something more.
A brief foray in to manic shooters taught me a great deal about maintaining pace in a shooter and increasing the perception of pace through some visual trickery.
I employed as much as I could in HyperGunner.

 

I guess the biggest success in terms of game design was the concept of waves within waves.

Initially I created a screen full of about 32 aliens all jiggling across the screen and essentially lining up to be shot.
It was dull. I knew I needed something more and that something was to have the aliens move much more freely. Rather than simply being cannon fodder they needed to be cannon fodder with a bit of movement.
So I stripped the alien count down to 8 and implemented movement patterns.
Depending on which stage of the wave you are in you will see the aliens move in a certain pattern.

Naturally each wave was over very quickly since with just 8 shots you could dispatch the lot !

HyperGunner in-game action

HyperGunner in-game action

So I looked in to having layered waves. That is, waves within waves.
On the first level you have 3 waves of aliens to clear before you officially complete the stage. Or level. Depending on which terminology you prefer.
On later levels you can have up to 25 waves of aliens to clear.
Each wave to be cleared is represented by a small flag icon in the lower part of the screen. This visual indication is vital to show the player what he must achieve.

 

I implemented 4 movement patterns for the aliens and it plays very well. But again it needed something more.
So I looked in to having a wave that is quite different. For this I looked at an old Atari game Threshold. This game had swooping bird-like aliens falling down the screen and I loved the way that it broke up the standard flow of the game. It was quite simple to implement even though the calculation for adjusting the x co-ordinate took some playing with. I’m still not totally happy with the movement of the swooping aliens (they tend to fall in to line too easily) but there’s enough in there for a challenge. For now.

 

HyperGunner in-game action

HyperGunner in-game action - older version

So with the core challenge figured out I set to looking at the bigger picture. After all, it’s fine blasting through countless waves of aliens but it’s important (I think) to focus on greater goals.
I was obsessed with the idea of hyperspace. So much so that I wanted to encourage the player to aim for hyperspace. I also wanted to have the visual effect of hyperspace with the stretched stars falling down the screen at high speed.

So I implemented an energy bar that is boosted with the collection of stars.
Bright gold stars fall down the screen when aliens are shot. Essentially the aliens release them. The more stars that the player collects the larger the energy bar. When the energy bar reaches right across the screen the player enters hyperdrive !

Hyperdrive is both a visual diversion and also an opportunity to score double points for each alien hit.
It currently lasts for about 10 seconds. I also went to the trouble of affording the player 5 lasers per button press as opposed to the normal in-game maximum of 3. The effect (I think) is stunning.
The rewards to the challenge of collecting so many stars without losing a life are great on both levels – visual and interaction.

By the time the hyperdrive phase is complete the player could have easily scored an additional 10,000 points.

I will discuss the game elements in detail a bit more once the game is complete. I have quite a bit more to do before I can call it complete. But for now it is, I think, a hugely thrilling game to play.

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