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Space-based mine sweeper game: lost the fun factor

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A few years ago, I wrote a very simple game in VB that was essentially the player driving around in their boat in a minefield trying to destroy mines. They didn't get any tools, so the only way to do it was to get close to a mine, have it follow you and then drive it into another mine. It quickly became challenging as more and more mines got added to the field and they began to behave smarter and move faster. Recently, I decided to take this idea to the next level and incorporate some other things that interest me into it in an attempt to create a more sophisticated strategy game that requires thinking in order to clear all the mines. So, I made some changes: Changes 1. The game is now based in space, and objects retain their inertia. 2. As an extension of (1), the player's ship can move independently of their heading. This increases the learning curve a bit, but gives the player more flexibility to use the tools at their disposal. 3. The player now gets 3 active abilities to manipulate mines: Tractor Beam: Mines within an area in front of the player match the player's trajectory. Repulsor Beam: Mines within an area in front of the player are pushed away from the player, based upon the player's heading. Stasis Beam: Mines ... are slowed down and eventually stopped. I coded up a prototype to check things out(here's a Screenshot). Here's another showing the tractor beam. The problem is that the game just isn't fun. It's tedious going around trying to collect all the mines for destruction. I had planned to incorporate things such as: red mines only explode when they collide with other red mines, some mines are linked to other mines and explode when their counterpart explodes, etc but without some changes to the core gameplay, I doubt the game's fun factor will see any improvement. I'd like to salvage this game if possible. Any ideas on how to raise the fun factor? Or is it time to scrap the game and move on?

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It sounds like with inertia, the ship is much harder to control. Is that the case? Controlling an inertia ship (e.g. the Asteroids triangle) can be a pain if too much player energy and focus is required.

The map is probably too big. Having to control the above ship in a large area would be just annoying trying to get to where you want to go.

My main suggestion would be to make the tractor beam be direction-less ala Startrek style. All you need to do to use it is to place your cursor above a mine and turn it on. The tractor beam remains active between your ship and the mine as long as the distance between them remains below the maximum range. I.e. you don't have to be facing your target to use your beams.

Think of this style of a tractor beam to be a fly fishing line between you and the mine that you are slowly reeling in. Or imagine it to be a gravity beam. The beam applies a force vector (you can adjust this to be constant or depend on distance, or heck you can let the player adjust its strength by using the mouse wheel) that is applied to the mine at one end and your ship at the other. Graphically, all you need to do is draw a dotted line between your ship and the target.

The pressor beam acts the same way except it pushes instead of pulls i.e. it is an anti-gravity beam. You don't need a stasis beam because tractoring/pressoring a mine in the opposite direction of its travel will slow it down and vica versa.

Secondly, using the tractor/pressor also moves your ship (although not as much as the mines due to the law of conservation of momentum). Thus you can use tractor/pressor to help maneuver your ship too.

In summary:
1. make the area smaller so that you can concentrate more on maneuvering mines, dodging, and sling-shotting (dodgeball!) instead of traveling from one place to another and ferrying mines to one location (cleaning up your room)
2. allow the player to use tractor/pressors to slingshot mines or their ship

[edit] do you have an actual demo anywhere? It's hard to give feedback from screenshots.

[Edited by - loom_weaver on August 13, 2008 8:35:52 PM]

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You can adopt elements from the classic Minesweeper game into yours; more specifically on these suggestions:

Intel vs Stealth - Make the mines hidden/cloaked and make the game be about the detection/calculation of possibilities of where these mines might be hidden using your scoutship sensors. Rather than use a radar, do something like what Minesweeper did by displaying a colored number representing the possible mines that might be in your proximity. It is then up to you to guess where that mine actually is and move your scoutship accordingly based upon previously-established safe zones and mine location possibilities you've discovered in other places. Also be careful of maneuvering your ship especially if you're going with the classic Asteroids game controls where momentum of your ship won't stop unless you turn around and apply thrust in the other direction.

Deadlines - A timed deadline would make your mine clearing game be a bit more intense. Make it be about piloting a scoutship trying to clear away mines before your mothership arrives over the area (and your mothership is automated and can't stop or steer away from the area). Show the mothership on the screen and make the game side-scrolling, thereby showing the player the actual creeping progression of their deadline.

And here are some additional suggestions that are based upon your ideas:

Non-Lethal Mine Clearing - Your ship can only use a variety of tractor beams to remove mines away as setting one off by shooting would blow the whole region of space up (due to them being nuclear in nature, or some other high tech). So in order to clear a region of space, you must detect where they might be, successfully tractor one without spending too much energy (so to limit constant tractoring), and then "throw" it away to the sides of the screen all the while making sure that where you throw won't set off possible mines around the area especially if you haven't cleared those areas yet.

In order to implement these things the mines would have to be stationary. Hidden mines that have different headings and speeds would take the strategy out of the game and force you to implement a radar system which would just turn the game into a classic Asteroids-type game.

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Thanks for the advice. I think I'm going to combine some of both of your ideas. To start with, I'm going to try returning to the core gameplay -- using the homing systems of the mines themselves to get them to collide with one another, and removing the player's tractor beam and variations for now. In hindsight, the bouncing, colliding minefield was a bad idea and turned out to make the game horribly tedious, so that's out the window.

I especially like the idea of a time limit, I hadn't considered it before and it would intensify the gameplay a bit. It will be more interesting if the player doesn't auto-fail if they go over the limit, but if the friendly ship takes too much damage and explodes instead.

As for Intel vs Stealth, I'm not sure how to implement this in a fun way considering the realtime nature of the game. However, it's given me a number of other interesting ideas.

Thanks for your help!

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