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Metroid-style powerups that are actually useful

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I'm working on-again, off-again on a project that can basically be described as "Metroid, but with melee combat". The protagonist has a power suit with bladed limbs, jetpacks, and a minor gun strapped to one arm. The limbs allow for vaguely plausible melee combat against enemies made out of metal (does it ever bother anyone else that your random fantasy hero's sword works just as well against a mech as it does against a biological horror?); the jetpacks allow for jumping more than three feet into the air; the gun allows for keeping your distance when needed, though it isn't really adequate to defeating heavier monsters. What I'm looking for now is powerups that are both useful for expanded mobility (i.e. granting access to new areas) and for general gameplay (i.e. combat and discovering secrets). As recently noted in the "hated features" thread (though I've also noted this myself from time to time), many times in Metroid-style games, you get access to abilities that really aren't anything more than just keys, since they aren't useful except for bypassing barriers in the game. These include particularly things like being able to push heavy blocks, being able to deal a special kind of damage that only a handful of enemies are vulnerable to, being able to slide through narrow gaps, and so on. One thought I've had is that the jetpack has a limited battery supply; thus, when you start out, it's only good for one "blast" to let you take off and can't be used again until you land. Later you could find more battery packs that would let you perform multi-jumps in air, so that at the end of the game, you might be able to jump upwards of four or five times before landing. Battery packs like this could also be used to unlock extra combat techniques (e.g. jump into the air, curl up, fire jets -> instant Metroid-style screw attack). However, I dislike the idea of having the extra battery packs being required for further game progress, since most "barriers" that they'd let you bypass would be composed of ever-larger big empty spaces, which doesn't sound very interesting to me. Naturally, there's always ballistic weaponry; Metroid-style rockets are useful for added damage and you can always toss in some kind of terrain that resists non-ballistic weaponry. A bit derivative, but it works. I'm wondering if aerial bombs would be helpful as well - when dropped, they'd descend, exploding on contact with an enemy or the ground (and destroying a different kind of terrain than rockets would). I suspect that the utility of such a weapon would depend on how heavily the game relies on aerial combat, which is something I haven't decided yet. Another possibility I thought of is a low-level shielding unit. It'd protect you from any mild-damage attack, but would let anything else through. Thus, if you got it late-game, it'd let you completely ignore early-game enemies (which would be totally unable to damage you), but you'd still have to deal with other foes. The only way I can think of to make this also useful for mobility would be having rooms that are flooded with spores or something, to the extent that the player couldn't pass through normally due to continuous damage (or alternatively due to continuous flinching from taking damage). However, after that, I'm pretty much drawing a blank. Part of my problem is that I have so much experience playing Metroid games, which did some really very creative things early on (the morph ball is genius; Metroid's also the first game I know of to let you freeze enemies and stand on them), that I have trouble thinking of possible upgrades that aren't already done in a Metroid game and yet are still interesting. I'm interested in your feedback, everyone. Any ideas? Ideally, an upgrade would: 1) Be in-theme. The player is wearing a powered armor suit; things like nanites, bio-armor, and the like don't make sense. 2) Be useful in normal gameplay. Not necessarily in all conditions, but sufficiently regularly that the player feels like he's "getting his money's worth" when he finds the thing. 3) Be useful for unlocking more content in the game, by making it physically possible to bypass some barrier, or by making new passages more evident, etc. Fortunately item (1) can generally be dealt with; pretty much any powerup you can think of can be adapted into some sci-fi version that does the same thing. So, any ideas?

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Hmm. Playing games of this general type has shown me plenty of possibilities, but if you're giving the player a jetpack from the srart many may not still work (and honestly they're not all compatible with each other either). Even so:

An air dash that makes you phase through stuff. Not just an air dash, since a jetpack makes that silly, but one where the primary purpose is to go through things. It'd shoot you forward, say, two inches very quickly, and until it ends you completely ignore enemies, projectiles and certain barriers or level hazards (the last being where it lets you into the new level). Make it easy to use (one button in midair, preferably) and fast, and possibly find some way to make at least certain enemies pretend to be "disoriented" after you pass through them to set up for a cheap kill (say, they won't turn around for a second and a melee attack to the back where their shield isn't is an instant kill). You get this ability right and remember it while writing bosses and it'll almost redefine the defensive half of combat in your game, and even if not it'll still be useful for getting around faster. Of course, if you end the move on top of something that hurts you get hurt, and you can't control the distance.

While a jetpack sounds like it'd make a wall/ceiling cling useless, it may not be if it A: Is given early in the game before your jetpack gets you far, B: Lets you recharge your jetpack while clinging to the wall and perform any attack that you would normally have to be on the ground for and C: Is at least occasionally intentionally addressed in levels and perhaps one boss (say, the level involves moving platforms and you at several points have to cling to one as it passes spikes, or the boss room with him on top is tall enough that you have to recharge your jetpack on the wall and most of his attacks target the walls; or maybe just a boss fought entirely over a spike/lava pit). It may still be shelved by the very end, but at least for a time it'll be useful and there'll always be the possibility.

An attack made at a differnt angle, such as the castlevania arcing axe, should not be underestimated from a design or player strategy viewpoint, but please don't make it take ammo because if the attack that takes more creativity to use is also the weapon that consumes ammo while your equally strong main attack doesn't you end up with the player using that attack as little as humanly possible and then spamming it at the bosses and a few other select monsters (assuming it deals more damage per second than the main attack and/or the bosses are generally above the player; otherwise they'll just never touch it). Heck, make it do less damage than the main attacks to make sure they're only using it when it gives them an advantage in hitting the enemy, if you're worried about removing ammo.
I'm not saying arcing axe of course, since that's done, but something at any angle other than horizontal, vertical and 45 degrees, curved or not.

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- Rocket jumping: just like the FPS staple, a rocket launcher would double as a jump boost by catching yourself in the blast.

- Ability to swap gravity for your player. So you can, at any time, switch to walking on the ceiling. Or even better, be able to flip the whole world instead, which "technically" means the same thing but the player won't be as disoriented because the bottom of the screen is still "down".

- Space Inversion. The player can enter a wall at certain points and enter "negative space", where what once were "walls" are now navigable space, and what was previously navigable is now a wall.

Edit:

- Possession (screw being "in-theme"... make things that are fun to do). The player can fuse with an enemy and take control of it, then at any time he can "break" out. Possessing a flying enemy could get you up to a ledge, then break out and land on the ledge. Etc.

[Edited by - JBourrie on May 15, 2007 9:41:08 PM]

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Rocket jumping: I am trying to work out some inventive way to "fly" (or at least to super-jump) that the skilled player could use to skip supposedly-required powerups (if I can, I'd like sequence breaking to be an intentional part of the game design). The Metroid series features morphball bomb jumping and walljumping for this purpose, for example. Rocket jumping of some kind would probably work, but if I do go that route, it wouldn't be an official powerup; instead, you'd just get the normal rockets/missiles and they'd have this "hidden" feature.

Negative space is certainly inventive, as is the gravity switch, but I feel that they'd be better-suited to having entire games built around them (that is, they'd be fundamental abilities and integral in all parts of the game design). By contrast, I plan to have hidden passageways in the walls, and I'm considering Brickman's ceiling-cling as well.

One other recommendation I received elsewhere was a hover/delayed-fall ability. This is actually making me consider possibly moving the game towards more aerial combat, as opposed to just having mostly ground-based enemies and a character that has good aerial mobility. I don't think I've seen a game that featured both strong aerial movement and melee-oriented combat.

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A exploration basied platformer with an emphesis on melee over shooting sounds a whole lot more like Castlevania then Metroid...might try useing those games as inspiration?

Or better yet...

Have a look-see at the Treasure classics Alien Soldier and Gunstar Heros...neither really depends much on power-ups, and both are great games.


...But I'm from the "powerups are such a cliche that have become lazy game design" school of thought...no offense intended.

[Edited by - MSW on May 15, 2007 10:16:28 PM]

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I'm well aware of the Castlevania series and have played most of them. However, in my opinion they have a fairly terrible record with powerups, as most of them are basically useless outside of their use as glorified keys. I'm paying attention to them more for their enemy design than for their level/character design (Metroid enemies are made to be shot; Castlevania enemies are made to be stabbed/sliced).

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This sounds very interesting...

I particularly like the hover/delayed fall idea, and wanted to expand upon it a little. (I don't know how much of this you might have in mind already - if I'm merely describing what you had in mind already, then I apologise.)

The manifestation of this ability in my mind acts as though the player had a player-only platform below them (albeit perhaps with a "standing" animation that more resembled hovering than standing on a solid surface), but which would require some form of energy cost (the type depending on what resources our player has available - perhaps jetpack cells, or central armour power.

Activation would be in mid-air, at the press of a button, and result in the player "standing" in a particular spot in mid-air on his invisible platform.

However, I would like to suggest that the player also be able to perform certain movements while in mid-air. These might be jumping and darting forward or back a short distance, probably just using the standard movement keys, with another activation of the main ability to take a new stationary position (and without which the player would fall again to the ground.

Thus a play might jump, hover, engage an opponent, dash back to avoid an attack, dash forwards to make one of his own, jump and take a new position higher up in order to attack from above, and finally jump back and down to return to the ground, using something like the following sequence:

<jump key>, <hover key>, [various combat keys], <left arrow key>, <hover key>, <right arrow key>, <hover key>, <jump key> + <left arrow key>, <hover key> [various combat keys], <jump key> + <left arrow key>

Presuming that the enemy is on the player's right, and that standard movement to the left and right are bound to the respective arrow keys. Energy would be consumed by each press of the hover key, and perhaps, depending on your system, by combat keys.

I would also suggest that, in addition to having flying enemies, you give some enemies, perhaps including certain bosses, similar abilities for the player to duel against.

Of course, this also helps with mobility and the accessing of otherwise difficult-to-reach areas - but only if the player has the energy reserves to make it that far.

(This idea, I'll admit, draws some of its inspiration from Dragonball Z's aerial fights, and yes, I am mildly ashamed to admit that. ^^; )

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If you are going to make it focus on aerial combat, maybe you could just make the jetpack function closer to an 8-directional air dash with enough fuel to also get you places vertically. I've always been a fan of good fast, dash-ish and aerial manouvers which were important to combat (so many games seem to basically have dashing as, if not just for crossing pits and empty terrain, a "punch him then dash backward while he tries to punch you, dash forward and repeat" thing that takes long enough you probably could have just attacked him three times and killed him).

By the way, I should have thought of this earlier, but if you're making a melee-oriented game in this genre, it might be nice to point you to a well-recieved other game that did the same thing. Especially since it's free (yes, I mean actually freeware, made with intention of being given out for free--I checked). http://www.acid-play.com/download/eternal-daughter/

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Thanks for the link, Brickman. Sadly, I'm using a Mac, so it looks like I can't play it. :\

Thaumaturge - sounds good to me! I definitely think that controlled flight is a very liberating concept for the player. Things like the Space Jump in the Metroid series were great fun, and they had comparatively terrible controls. This would also make expansion of the jetpack's energy supply much more useful (as previously I could only think of it being used to do multi-jumps). Instead of having the jetpack draw energy when you turn on hover and when you attack, though, I'd probably have it do a continual drain as long as you have hover engaged (though certain techniques would drain it faster, e.g. using the jetpack to perform a midair jump). Figuring out the controls is going to be tricky. Ideally I'd like the game to be conceptually playable with at most as many buttons as the SNES had.

I already have planned at least one enemy that should be able to match the player's capabilities. And the suggestion of a hover/delayed fall had me instantly thinking of duelling the Flying Pirates (from Metroid Prime) on their own turf, so to speak. Should be fun!

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Trap thing that can be thrown as a grenade and sticks to any surface until something passes close:

- Launcher: whatever steps on it get launched up at great speed. Can be used as a weapon by having something crush against the ceiling; as a delayer launching one opponent to the sky to deal with him later (or never if unkillable).

- Vaporizer: whatever steps on it becomes gaseous for a short amount of time, unless vaporous enemy, which turns material and can be hit. Pass through tiny cracks or hard critters, use fans, vaporize critter just when passing under a ceiling with a huge upward fan...

- Teleporter: Between two such "traps". Obvious uses.

- Metallizer: whatever steps on it becomes metallic (chromed). Movement slows much but lasers bounce and other attacks are partially resisted. As a weapon, can slow an enemy enough to jump over him and keep going or can bring to the ground a formerly flying enemy (partial resistance doesn't help the fragile bird agaist melee weapons). As a location passer, can use an enemy as a platform or can pass a laser filled corridor.

- Attractor: Attracts everything towards it. Can be stickied to ceiling to be used as a "spidey web". Can hold down an enemy for a while. A minigame can require many to be placed to "bend" a background laser to direct it towards a "next level" door. Can help the character keep his position against a pusher opponent (wind monster, repulsor, etc...). Can attract enemies towards other traps.


I can think of more if you like the idea.

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