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Mephs

Micro-Shooter idea

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Hey all, I'm interested in knowing what people would think about the idea of taking a concept used by some casual games and applying it to a more "hardcore" genre. I'm thinking about making a top down shooter (like the original Grand Theft Auto for example) and I've been pondering upon ways to both make the game fun and original, whilst also keeping content requirements to a minimum. Through looking at games such as Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and Puzzle Quest, I like the idea of keeping play times short... around the 15 to 20 minute mark to be precise. Further to this, I've also considered a microgame approach, like Wario Ware takes. The idea being that instead of creating hours of content that will only be seen once or twice, instead the game would contain maybe 1 hours worth of content that can be played over and over with different results each time depending on player performance. The ~1 hours worth of content would also likely be split up into shorter gameplay segments, each maybe 1-10 minutes or so long. Basically the key point being that the game can be picked up, played for 10 minutes or so, and then put down. The perfect time killing game :) Kind of like a hardcore gamers solitaire equivalent. I think it could fill a niche that has not yet been taken advantage of. I think it would appeal to people who have little time for playing games, but who are put off by the increasingly cutesy nature of most casual titles. Strange Adventures in Inifinite space already demonstrates that this method can be a success, what I'm wondering is if this approach would work for other types of game, specifically in my case, a top down shooter. In the case of SAIS though, the short gameplay works well because the game is trying to effectively emulate something like a space soap opera. I figure that with a top down shooter, the approach would work better if it tried instead to emulate a pen and paper RPG. The small segments of gameplay could be interspersed with small snippets of storyline. The overarching storyline would already be written, the player would just join in the action at key points in the storyline, avoiding the need for fluff content. In this way, though the overarcing storyline is a strictly linear affair, the actual gameplay could be completely freeform. This freeform gameplay could be almost to the scale of something like Oblivion, but would be manageable because each freeform gameplay section is small and self contained in nature. This self containment stops the number of permutations of actions from spiralling out of control, which again, helps to get more use out of the same content. In other words, segments of play have high replay value because they can be approached in lots of different ways, but this does not have the knock on effect of having to be considered (by the designer/programmer/etc) at every other point in the game. So anyhoo, as usual I have kind of lost the plot with regards to a point, but I would be interested in getting any feedback on my thoughts. Is a micro-shooter a viable idea? Would it really help reduce the level of content required to create a game? Can you think of any improvements to the idea? Any other unforseen advantages or disadvantages? Any opinions would be very much valued :) Thanks, Steve

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"Hardcore" shooter games which provide an hour of content but lots of replay value already exist in the form of most scrolling shooters like Ikaruga. It's certainly a viable idea but they don't seem to get nearly as much attention outside of Japan as they do inside. [sad]

I guess the tricky bit would be getting something which is fun to replay over and over. With scrolling shooters that usually means a very hard game which is generous with extra lives and continues, and various advanced tactics for the player to learn and perfect (like Psyvariar's "buzz" system).

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There is a subtle distinction between what we are talking about though. Firstly, I'm referring to shooters where you control a humanoid character rather than a spaceship, but that's a small distinction and sligtly beside the point, but I thought I should make that a bit clearer.

The replay value in Ikaruga (I assume as I have not played it) likely comes from tackling the same set patterns of enemies over and over more and more efficiently. The freeform gameplay I am suggesting is more like Grand Theft Auto... you aren't running on rails like a scrolling space shooter, you choose your own path and which enemies you take on, or run away from. You choose to accept side missions to make your main missions easier, or you just run in guns blazing on the main objective... it's up to you.

Then the replay value also comes from how well you achieve individual elements. Like something such as Guitar Hero, you could be graded for your performance on one of the micro-levels... providing the incentive to replay and up your score by perhaps achieving the objective a bit faster, killing more enemies, killing less civillians, getting a kill combo or whatever other incentives could be thought of.

So yes, you have a valid point, replay value needs to be considered carefully, but hopefully I have addressed that issue with these comments :)

Having said that though, I have been wondering about what kind of objectives the player could have. The problem is that to give significant replay value there has to be a wide range of potential outcomes. Shooter game outcomes are usually "kill or be killed" which is about as binary as they come :)

So what elements could such a game use that allow a wide variation in player performance?

I can think of perhaps having time as a factor... the shorter the time it takes you to clear a battlefield, the higher you score.

Perhaps dead enemies could leave behind collectibles which vanish after a short time. The number of these items collected by the player could also be another non-binary objective.

Another idea would be to perhaps rate the player based on how much damage they inflict in a given time period.

Part of the reason I've had a little trouble with this design is becaus I think coming up with these kind of objectives is a little difficult and maybe doesn't quite fit with the style of game? Maybe instead I need a single re-usable non binary scoring method... something along the lines of how Burnout crash mode scores you based on the amount of dollars damage done to vehicles when you cause a pile-up.

So yeah, any input on that would be appreciated too :)

Steve

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Don't do it if you're hoping to make money off it. Unless you have stellar production values (meaning fantastic art and everything) or a really unique style (like Platypus did with claymation) shooters are a bad idea, especially futuristic/space shooters. They're popular to download, but not to buy.

Trust me. I know firsthand.

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I would suggest a game that is less driven by plot and more on the character and its environment. Have randomized levels that make each experience different. I am just throwing stuff out there really.

All in all, I would say to write up a treatment for the game and propose it again here with your concept in mind.

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Yeah, it also bothers me that shooter games do not tend to perform too well. Having said that though, I have had great difficulty locating a single player top down shooter. There are loads of multiplayer deathmatch style top down shooters and one or two single player projects that have been cancelled or seem to be going nowhere at the moment (namely War Angels and Falcon Squad), so I'm not sure it's that crowded a market.

I plan to run two projects together though when I eventually do start working on them. This one being the more complicated but less likely to make money project, and I will probably also do a more simple and casual friendly money maker on the side.

So yeah, if I do get around to making this, it may well end up as just a labour of love, but who knows :)

Steve

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Dasubermechen:

That is interesting, but I'm not sure I understand what you mean by focusing more on the characters and the environment. How would this be beneficial?

Randomised levels is something I had considered, as it worked for SAIS... but I think this might suffer from making the game become overly generic. SAIS only had to generate random enemies as the space environment always looked the same, but when you start generating random levels that involve generating random scenery, I think it can be jarring to see components re-used, or generated levels that just don't feel right or logically organised. Still... it's a possibility.

I have a design document underway (and many more ideas besides these), but I'm ironing out the kinks which is why I decided to post here :)

Thanks

Steve

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Quote:
Original post by Mephs
So what elements could such a game use that allow a wide variation in player performance?

I can think of perhaps having time as a factor... the shorter the time it takes you to clear a battlefield, the higher you score.

Perhaps dead enemies could leave behind collectibles which vanish after a short time. The number of these items collected by the player could also be another non-binary objective.

Some kind of multiplier / combo system perhaps? Where you increase your multiplier by chaining together kills rapidly? Something where a newcomer would be able to blast their way though but get a low score, but a skilled player could keep a single chain going for the entire level if they were very good. Perhaps additional bonuses for stylish moves, close escapes and multiple kills at once?

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Quote:
Original post by Mephs
Yeah, it also bothers me that shooter games do not tend to perform too well. Having said that though, I have had great difficulty locating a single player top down shooter.


Trust me, there are loads of them, especially on Xbox Live Arcade, which you will be competing with whether you like it or not. Also, I just released a top-down shooter myself, and while I can't share exact figures, the sales are not going well at all.

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That's a nice idea, but perhaps a tad bit cliche? I think it could work if some thought were put into the system though.

The problem is it relies on a players ability to kill alone. I like the idea of the player earning a better performance bonus by acting more strategically rather than relying on how good they are at twitch play. Still, it is probably a better idea than my suggestions so far.

Also, I'm having a little trouble with the idea that the game is over (or the mission failed) if you die, but I'm not too hot on the FPS standard of respawning ad infinatum. I'm toying with the idea of somehow making the players Cybernauts of some kind... i.e if they get shot and killed... it is really just a projection of themselves being destroyed and they can perhaps hack themselves back into existance again... or something like that.

Steve

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Sorry, I was not real clear.

What I meant by focusing more on character and the environment was this. If your game is going to be short and fast you won't have much time for story. So players will become most familiar with the "character" and the general "environment." With that said I am suggesting you give the character a lot to work with to make him memorable and make the environments just as interesting.

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There are two absurdly easy ways to make a shooter replayable: over-the-top kills and over-the-top death. It becomes about how ridiculously you can stage either of those scenarios, and if you can export them as mini movies to share with your friends (who don't have to own the game), all the better!

It's kind of the secret of N (which is not a shooter): there are quite a few clips on YouTube of people performing gaming suicide because the death animations and physics amuse them so much!

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Oluseyi:

Well that's true.. certainly concentrating on making stuff really over the top will make the game that much more fun. I think that is part of Burnout's appeal.

I tried searching on youtube/google videos but it didn't seem to throw out any results that seemed relevant... would you happen to have any direct links to demonstrate?

I also have a liking for ideas that serve to virally spread word of a game... something like the movie replays sounds very interesting.

I'm not sure how easy it would be to get variation in kills in a top down shooter though, it strikes me as something that would be more easily done in a 3d game. In a top down shooter, it would be difficult to distinguish a successful headshot for example, because the z axis is relatively useless. I'm not saying it's impossible though... just that I think it would require a lot more thought.

Dasubermechen:

Right, I understand a bit better now. I kind of took that as a given really. If each segment of gampeplay is short, it certainly would need to provide lots of options and depth within that short timeframe, or it defies the point. So yes, I agree the environment and character both need a lot of depth and detail. I wonder if maybe with such small gameplay segments one option would be to go a little overboard with the physical modelling and have a lot of depth in the gameplay through the physics?

I do still think a bit of storyline would be good though to tie it all together... I see this idea as something along the lines of getting to act out the action scenes in a movie, with a little story between each segment (though not to the extent of something like an interactive movie!)

Cheers,

Steve

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Top-down shooters are a bit touchy. They're either absurdly good or underwhelmingly mediocre.

Some examples of games that did it right:
- Commando (good for its time)
- MERCs (sequal to Commando, and vastly superior)
- Grand Theft Auto
- Grand Theft Auto 2
- APB (still one of the best games ever made, in my opinion)

With the exception of the GTA series, the games I've rattled off are on-rails, more or less, but that doesn't stop you from enjoying them. If you're looking for sandbox variety, you'll probably end up with a game that feels rushed. If you're not looking to make it commercial, that's fine. Even GTA has touchy controls (at best).

And if you'd like to add randomly generated content (dungeons, cities, missions, etc), beware of the pitfalls that most roguelikes fall into (such as Izuna and the ilk). You already stated that it could cause repetitiveness, and I whole-heartedly agree.

What I would recommend is, find one central aspect of the game that you want to develop the most, and focus on that. Using APB as an example, it's a top-down shooter skinned as a police game. The control scheme was pretty slick, and they used humor to keep you hooked. I'd like to see someone do a follow-up on that where the driving is like GTA's or RC Pro-Am - free to move about a city.

But regardless of what you do, focus on a central gameplay element. You've already stated that you want bite-sized gameplay sessions. Aside from saying it, there really isn't a whole lot more to do with it other than stream-lining your missions to meet the goal. It's time to pick the focus of the game.

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Scrolling Shooters (AKA: STGs or SHMUPS) are a tiny yet dedicated hardcore nitche market, this is true to some extent inside Japan as well (the vast majority of Japanese STGs/SHMUPS are developed by Dojin software companies). Most western gamers and (and by most postings here) developers simply don't understand the genre. You can make money in the genre, but not by following most of the advice found in this forum.

A decade ago cult favorite Japanese developer treasure dropped Radiant Silvergun into Japanese arcades. It gave players seven different and usefull weapons controlled through the combination of three different fire buttons. There were no power-ups, there were no weapon shops, players had all seven weapons from the start. The game was a big hit and the genre has been inspired by it ever sense.

Treasure later released Ikaruga in 2001, a spiritual successor to Radiant silvergun. In Ikaruga players could switch colors faceing a horde of black or white ships. When black, players can absorb the black bullets but do double damage to white enemies. Switching to white allows the same abilities with white bullets and double damage to black enemies. The more bullets you absorb, the more powerful you become, allowing you to fire a special weapon. Additionaly there is a "chaining" score mechanisam where destroying three same colored enemies within a certain time yelds score bonuses. It's a very simple mechanic, but it makes for a very challengeing and even stratigic game.

Along with the arcade games of Psiyko, Cave, and R8zing with thier introduction of bullet hell or bullet curtain style games. The genre has seen a renewed intrest and lots of innovation over the last 15 years.

However, even in Japan, its still largely a nitche market now mostly dominated by Dojin software developers. ZUN of Team Shanghai Alice and Siter Skain are famous in STG/SHMUP fandom for thier PC games like Perfect Cherry Blossoms and Kamui. To really get sales you will need to localize for the Japanese market (where most of your target audiance is), getting attention on Dojin portals. Developer SideQuest Studios has its sights set in this area with thier game Söldner-X: Himmelsstürmer available on Hong Kong basied play-asia.com.

But if your not already a big fan of the genre (obviously not, as you are seeking advice here on GameDev rather than the STG/SHMUP development sites out there like www.shmup-dev.com) then I strongly suggest you investigate the genre through sites like http://shootthecore.moonpod.com/. It should at least give you some inspiration for your own project, even if its not a scrolly shooter.




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Quote:
The replay value in Ikaruga (I assume as I have not played it) likely comes from tackling the same set patterns of enemies over and over more and more efficiently. The freeform gameplay I am suggesting is more like Grand Theft Auto... you aren't running on rails like a scrolling space shooter, you choose your own path and which enemies you take on, or run away from. You choose to accept side missions to make your main missions easier, or you just run in guns blazing on the main objective... it's up to you.

Then the replay value also comes from how well you achieve individual elements. Like something such as Guitar Hero, you could be graded for your performance on one of the micro-levels... providing the incentive to replay and up your score by perhaps achieving the objective a bit faster, killing more enemies, killing less civillians, getting a kill combo or whatever other incentives could be thought of.

This somewhat concerns me, because if you make the game extremely open-ended, perfection becomes more than just a matter of performing well, but also picking the right path. That is, you could be absolutely perfect choosing one path, but still get a lower score than a mildly experienced player in a more ideal path.

However, I think I know one way you could allow for both more or less freeform gameplay and perfection. Essentially, you just toss in several difficulty modes. Not to complicated. The rub is, instead of picking the mode from the start, the difficulty shifts mid-game based on player performance. I can't tell you how the difficulty should change, whether from scoring long combos, getting a power-up, automatically increasing until the player dies, or some other option of your choice, and for that matter whether the difficulty modes should be discreet (more enemies start appearing) or obvious (the player physically moves to another path), but it makes the ideal path fairly more obvious.


Needless to say, I feel that adding randomness can completely destroy any potential value to a high score system, by effectively reducing the score to a matter of luck.

Quote:
There are two absurdly easy ways to make a shooter replayable: over-the-top kills and over-the-top death. It becomes about how ridiculously you can stage either of those scenarios, and if you can export them as mini movies to share with your friends (who don't have to own the game), all the better!

I actually get bored of death scenes easily. True, if the game's story were made heavily character-based, it would be a great pleasure to see how the baddies react to their own death, and for that matter the player's (I notice bad guys don't gloat nearly enough), but if every time I died I had to watch my ragdoll fly around the screen for three seconds before I regenerate I'd be a bit annoyed.

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