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TraderJack

Sidescroller

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Hey. I'm working on a commercial sidescroller project, and I've been going through draft after draft with the design document. I have level themes, a fleshed out concept, details, and a prototype in place. It's about 10 levels long with three boss fights. My question is: What kind of design features do you look for in an enjoyable sidescroller. These can be anywhere from level design features, features you think are most important, game play ideas, anything. Just trying to get a clear sense of what most people are looking for in a great sidescroller. Thanks! -IV

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Hmm.. one thing that comes to mind in a good sidescroller is some sort of wall climbing/sticking ability. Think something like the walljump in megaman or the wall kick in metroid. Its just nice to have a second chance if you dont make a jump and in general it adds some gameplay elements. It also prevents needing some sort of ledge hanging ability which usually restricts movement and gets annoying(think trying to jump down a hole in most 3d games).

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I second that. Being able to use the walls adds a lot of playable area to the game. If you only have two dimensions, you may as well use both of them. It opens the door for a lot of hidden stuff, too.

On the other hand, it also offers players more chances to trick and "break" the game. Jumping or climbing over world boundaries is a common pastime in games that might allow it. Super Mario Brothers rewarded players for such tomfoolery by hiding warp zones past the end of levels, and now players will instinctively snoop around the forbidden areas of the game, looking for easter eggs. Curse you, Shigeru Miyamoto!

I also always liked being able to use the background. Hiding in Blackthorne was freaking sweet. Some other game (Rolling Thunder? Thunder Dash? I dunno) from the old 8-bit days used a two-tier system where you could jump up or down from a catwalk in the middle of the screen. There was a cool animation (probably two or three frames' worth, anyway) of the hero vaulting over the railing whenever you jumped up or down. It added some credibility to the Contra idea of being able to jump through platforms. The illusion of a third dimension may or may not be what you're looking for, but I sure liked it.

Ladders to climb in the background, railings to jump in the foreground, and various pipes and bars to grab will all help add depth to the side-scrolling world.

Will you be shooting? Climbing? Spelunking? Each of these presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. Some more details could help us help you.

Rmember that today's game controls and game players are used to complex play systems. We can handle flying a spaceship while powering up weapon systems, maintaining a missile lock using seven different buttons and talking on a microphone at the same time. Don't be afraid to fancy up the game a little with sophisticated melee commands or a mouse-bound aiming reticle. We can handle it, just give us a chance.

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ok I myself wanna work on a sidescroller so I have been thinkin about it pretty deeply


A) Walljump can be very good, or very bad, dont make it useless, pointless, and if you want make one of the bosses quick and agiile, have both of the people fighting against eachother by juping around slicing(or shooting) eachother.

b)If you are trying to get an old style game do NOT make an advanced combat system with an overly complicated system. Base it off timing, not overly compicated combos. If you are going for new style, allow the player to have full aim over their weapon or add special attacks (like have q do an uppercut than you jump and slash up em over and over again, than press e to smash em into the ground)

Id say more but I gotta go, more later

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Things to consider:

- Make the camera not fixed (Such that the game doesn't feel like the background is just being panned; I am not talking about making it look 3D)

- Amplify the sensation of speed (The player should feel the speed while the character is running without sacrificing a long distance in the game)

- Amplify the sensation of tension (When the character look around after a fight, the camera should swing to the other side)

- Amplify the sensation of force and impact (When the boss deals a hard blow and miss, the room should shake; if it didn't miss you should be flying across the screen. The character should be able to run the wall)

- Amplify the sensation of pain and responses to stimuli (When the target is hit, you should see the target's automatic response to pain)

- Implement action elements related to timing and spacing (These are easier to do in sidescroller than in 3D, such as hitting an enemy in the air and jump and hit it again so that it smashes onto another enemy.)

- Allow the characters to attack while moving.

- Allow the character to switch weapon swiftly. (Such as letting the character hit with a melee weapon on enemy1, while it is down, let the character pull out a gun and shoot enemy2 on the otherside, and when enemy1 is up again, pull out a sword and finish it)

- Allow rapid interactions with objects (Such as kicking a box across the room to stum an enemy)

- Discrimination of enemies and target judgement (Such that there is a priority list for the enemies, that you would rather dodge some enemies than to attack them.)

- Destroy the notion of comfort zone (The player should not be able to inch forward shooting everyone with a gun faraway. The sidescrolling stage is not a piece of cheese for the PC to chew away. The PC should be constantly moving around, interacting and taking advantage of the stage, which can be too spatially complicated to control in 3D)

- Promote brust attacks and the sensation of engagement (Such that the gameplay feels like stretching and letting a rubber band go. The gameplay shouldn't favor drawn out fights where the PC make a hit, runs back, and make a hit again. Condense the action instead of diluting it)


The cost of amplifying the sensation of action in sidescroller is much lower than in 3D. This is an advantage of sidescroller over 3D.

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Try to design levels with unorthadox features, but not ones that will make the experience boring or intimidating. One reason Sonic was so succesful was because of it's strange style of level design.

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honestly I would challange you to come up with a new or different take on the genre...maybe take inspiration from other genres, especialy the early arcade games...and above all else keep it simple, easy to get into yet hard to master.

I tend to design "weapon systems" rather then collections of switchable weapons/power-ups, etc. By that I mean give the player a powerfull weapon to start, give him full control over it, yet tweek it to be difficult to master.

for example the player controls a little soldier with a big gun. game controls are an 8-way gamepad (or curser keys) and a fire button and thats it (no jump button, duck button, etc). players can move left/right when they are standing on a platform else the gamepad only aims the big gun in one of 8 directions. tap the fire button to launch a regular shot, the gun has recoil and pushes the player in the opposite direction. hold down the fire button for a weak but rapid shot with less recoil. quickly double tap the fire button for a large shotgun like spread shot that has lots of recoil...so if players want to reach higher platforms they fire the gun to the ground below with the recoil launching them up into the air..once in the air, if you want to move to the right, press left and fire...simple really, but challangeing all the same.

levels can then be filled with enemies, traps, spiked walls, shootable objects, moveing platforms, you name it...players success then isn't basied on the particular power/pick-ups they have, but on thier ability to control the powerful gun they have on hand.


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I agree with what MSW said, you can borrow many ideas from R-Type and BioMetal. They were shooters but you can adapt the idea for melee or humanoid-avatar system.

Those two games were wonderful in how they integrated defensive and offensive elements.

Biometal also enhances the sense of rhythm.

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Ive been thinking alot about Side Scrollers lately. Recently, I bought an adapter to plug my Xbox controller into a USB port, and have been replaying SNES side scrollers via emulation.

There are some things that stick out in the best ones.

The primary thing i noticed is that the gameplay is like a long series of minigames.

In Yoshi's Island, you can eat enemies and turn them into eggs that follow you. You can shoot the eggs at other enemies with a targeting system. The target automatically goes up and down along a semi-circle infront of Yoshi. You Hold A to start the targetting, and let go to shoot the egg. If you strip away the rest of the game - the art style, the levels, etc - You have a very basic mini-game. "Hit stuff using a moving target". Also, the eggs can bounce off walls. That small addition creates a world of different since level design can be built to maximize that minigame's enjoyability.

Speaking of Level Design: The format of the level should play like a minigame, too. In Metroid 3, there was a pit where you had to jump towards the wall to spring off it, then catch the opposite wall to spring off that, and back and forth. The level design of the pit created the minigame where you had to press right and jump, and hit left and jump at the right moment. There was nothing else about that specific level area that you were required to do. In this minigame, the player is rewarded for every 3 sequential wall jumps they successfully pull off. There is a ledge that the player could 'start over at' if they messed up the wall jump higher up. Thats sort of like "level 2" of that minigame.
In Mario 2, 3, and a ton of other games, there are sand traps. When you step into them, you have to continuously press the jump button to get out. Again, this is a minigame. Theres usually ice or windy levels in games where you must fight the natural 'pushing' in a certain direction.
Water levels are also minigames. They have their own set of rules.
In the above cases, the player is not told that they're playing a minigame. To them, they see it as variation. Most successfull Side Scrollers use intelligesnt level design and effects to vary up gameplay. The player doesnt want to be doing the same thing over and over again.
I guess the above is really how the player's movements can be incorporated into the level design.

Enemy AI also can create minigames. For example: Super Mario. Goombas just need to be jumped on. The player can also hop from Goomba to Goomba and build up their points (and may reach a 1up). Turtles are tackled differently. The player must jump on them, and hten decide whether or not to kick the remaining shell. If they do, the shell will slide along the ground, bouncing between obsticles. The shell becomes a projectile, harming anything it hits. Using the Shell and avoididing it becomes a small game. The player reacts to the turtle shell differently than they react to any other object in the game.
Also, the way enemies move effects gameplay. When the player encounters those hoping turtles with wings, they have to decide if they want to jump on them, or run underneath them. If they choose to run underneath them, theyre playing a minigame of timing the run so that they dont run into it or have it land on top of them. If they choose to jump on it, theyre playing the minigame of jumping above the turtle, and landing directly on top of it. If they fail and miss the jump, they risk harm.

Enemy movements and level design can be mixed to create new minigames. In Metroid, there are some spikey guys that cannot be killed. They stick to walls, and the player must advance through that section of the game without getting hit by them. This is most effective in a section of level where the player must go up the screen. The art of landing on ledges and jumping off of them before the enemy comes is another minigame.

The way an Enemy dies is also a minigame. Some enemies must be pushed off cliffs, some can only be hurt in speficic areas or by specific weapons, some just need to be shot alot, etc. I wish I could think of an example, butI cant. This bit seems sort of obvious anyway.

Enemy Attacks also create minigames. Megaman is full of them. There are enemies that shoot missiles. Some missiles can be shot down, and others must be jumped over. Some attacks shoot a bullet along a pattern-made path. They can shoot in a straight line, bounce along the ground, stick to the ground and move towards you, explode into smaller buckshot when the player shoots them, arc along a path etc etc. Each variation of the way the player has to dodge these attacks is another minigame. Another great example of these sorts of things is in Castlevania (mostly in SOTN). Most enemies have a specific mode of attack.

Mixing Enemy Attacks with Level Design adds alot, too. Im going to use Megaman as an example again. There are areas throughout each stage where the level is laid out in such a way that makes an ordinary enemy more difficult to attack and avoid. Alot of times theres, a wall you must climb, yet on the opposite wall is a wall cralling robot that only shoots horizontally. As you climb the wall, you must also dodge the enemies attacks and maybe try to destroy the enemy. Contra 3 has alot of this sort of thing, too.

Special objects and terrain should be used to vary gameplay too. In Contra 3,there is a boss where you're jumping from missile to missile. The missiles come from the left,and shoot to the right, right into the boss. The player must jump to a new missile before it hits the boss and exploads. Also, they player must always be on a missile because the fall will kill him. The minigame is jumping from missile to missile quickly.
In Super Mario World, there are falling donut blocks, see-saws, jumping dolphins, spring boards, weird diving board things, vine stalks, and fences Mario can jump onto. Each of these have their own set of rules that make up a minigame.

Finially, Player attacks and Items should be minigames. Each weapon should have a different style of attack. Each one should have its benifits to use, and its dissadvantages. If you have to charge up a weapon to fire it, it will inflict exponential damage, but the drawback is that you have no ammo for a few seconds. The gun creates a strategy that the player needs to figure out. If your gun shoots a grenade out of it and explodes either on an enemy it hits, or after three bounces off the floor and walls, then it will play much different, and a new strategy is created. Using a different weapon should always play like a different minigame. Definitly examine the Megaman series for this.
Also, Items can be used as a minigame. In Zelda 3 (I know, not a sidescroller), Link can use his shovel to find hidden items.

Items and Weapons could also be mixed with Level Design. In Metroid 3, you can use a grapiling hook to swing along the roof to reach high places. Also, you could use a freeze beam to freeze enemies to reach high places (this is more of a mix of Enemy Movement, Weapons, and Level Design). In Mario World, there ar ea few places only accessible by flight and the level is designed around that mode of transportation.

And Finially, you could just blantantly throw out minigames. In Donkey Kong Country is full of these. There are a few minecart levels where all you do is choose when to jump, go faster, and slow down. You ride along a rail and must avoid obsticles. Theres also "Choose the Barrel" games and such. The end of Super Mario World levles give the player a chance to play a minigame. Mario 3 has its mushroom houses, select 2 cards game, and line up the image game.

Most of these minigames are short (1-10 seconds - sometimes up to 30) and are used frequently throughout the game. Also, they have varied difficulty.
Also: The harder the minigame, the more the player should be rewarded. Jumping from MusicNote Boxes to higher MusicNote Boxes over a long distance is difficult, and there should be some sort of powerup or secret at the end. This is real important. Your player will not play difficult or complex minigames if there is no reward. They will simply skip the bullshit and beat the levels.

I played a demo of Wario Ware are wallmart the other day. In that, you are giving a ton of minigames that are very short. The player has to first assess what to do, and then do it. you either fail or succeed and move on to the next minigame. Each one of them has its own graphic style. Play through it some,a nd you'll start to see how you could use some of those minigames - or similiar concepts - using your own graphic and control style that fits into the rest of your sidescroller.


Using Minigames is only one aspect of how to create an addictive side scroller. Ive got alot more in my brain about how a good sidescroller should be made, but Im more than sure that if you've got this far, you dont want to read too much more. And if you havent got this far, nothing else I say would be too interesting. oh, and sorry for saying the word "minigame" too much. heh.

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