Welcome to the HotchPotch Indie Game Dev Blog – every week (or so) I will post updates on my current project: Holey Suit, to the escape pod! The previous posts in this series can be found here and there. Holey Suit, to the escape pod is an upcoming physic-ish space survival action game, which I’ll try to release to itch.io asap!
Two weeks have gone since the last update. Where are we with the project? Well, Holey Suit now has a death screen, a tutorial, and deeper gameplay! In this dev blog I will talk about player feedback and how implementing systems can add depth to your game.
I reckon most defining change since the last post was adding a death screen, for two reasons: it channels a sense of progression to the player, and it looks freaking awesome!
The aim of that screen is to show to the player how far he got to the pod. One of the main complaint I received from friends testing the game was that they did not know what they were meant to do… The game is about being lost in space of course, but it doesn’t mean the player should be lost too! A death screen really helps in that matter:
– it helps players visualise how far they got, and how far they had to do
– still to implement, but plan is to also show what the player best attempt to date was
– it singles out the escape pod as being the objective of the game
The opening line also clarifies the objective, in case it was unclear to the player: “you did not reach the escape pod”. and yes – this is of course heavily inspired by Nuclear Throne 🙂 (I don’t shy away from my Vlaamber influences!)
I think the screen looks nice & adds a lot to the game feel. It overlays the game rather than pausing it, so the player can see his avatar’s remains drifting in space for eternity, or at least until he/she presses restart! This conveys further the sense of failure and hopefully pushes the player to play one more game.
In continuity with streamlining gameplay, I wanted to take the time to enhance player experience and make sure they understood the game’s basic mechanics. My previous take of this was to add an in-game splash screen; in reality, this did little to explain the game.
First – the splash screen was very wordy. During play testing, people would simply not read it, or only partially. The concepts in Holey Suit are simple but still require the player to understand what the objective is, and how to achieve it.
The death screen helps defining the objective, but the how-to is a bit more intricate. There are numerous things that help the player:
– Shooting propels you go backwards
– Crates, containing weapons, and O2 Bottle, to resupply oxygen
– Your HUD displays your energy & O2 levels
– HUD also points to the nearest crates, O2 bottles and the escape pod
Of course to me all these concepts make sense and all fits in together nicely. But it’s pretty easy to overlook complexity as the game designer: that is a lot to take in for a new player! The control scheme at the core of the game is already counter-intuitive and needs getting used to. Let alone grasping the other concepts at the same time!
Hence scraping the splash screen and working on a tutorial. Luckily, this was easy to assemble due to the flexible design of the game to do; the tutorial was essentially another room in the game with slightly tweaked components (different background & sprites).
The rest was just figuring out a way to display text and script events as the player progresses through the tutorial. More work is needed there (the tutorial is still pretty wordy!) but overall first iteration works pretty well. The tutorial covers the various concepts one by one (movement, crates, HUD) so the player has time to absorb them nicely. I am also hoping to make it fit within the game story and give context to why the player ends up in a space wreck!
Extra characters & game modes to boost replayability
One of my number one rule when developing is to avoid hard coding as much as possible. First: it makes things hard to maintain and debug. Second: it is then very easy to tweak the game parameters and test out ideas.
In Holey Suit, the play & feel of the game all holds in a few lines which define parameters such as air friction, weight and max speed of the player, how much debris and aliens are floating around space etc. Changing any of these variables drastically changes the playing experience.
At first, these variable were great for fine-tuning the game feel and balance. It quickly occured to me I could quickly leverage them to expand replayability. This gave me the idea of adding characters the player could pick from – each character having its own set of variables and a very unique play style! A few examples:
– Demolition man: slower but heavier (i.e. doesn’t bounce as much against obstacle)
– Sam Fisher: more enemies but that can’t see as far – intensive for stealth play
– Dead space: brawler mode, loads of enemies but easier to kill
This also extends to game modes. I’d like the game to appeal to the casual gamer. But because of its potential for challenge, I’d also also like it to have extended modes for hardcore players. This is also easily done by tweaking the variables! I quickly implemented three modes:
– Classic Survival, or the intended Holey suit experience (challenging but never unfair)
– Hardcore Henry, for more advanced players. More enemies and less resources!
– Oxygen not included: the hardest mode, essentially a race against the clock as oxygen cannot be repleted.
Next will be to fine tune all these and keep the game balanced, but I strongly advocate for thinking ahead and have a parameter file which can easily be modded!
To do list
Second Holey Suit dev blog and somehow, the to do list doesn’t seems to shorten!
– Tutorial: now that the foundations are here, maybe leverage it as the “intro” for the game, i.e. explain how the player ends up in a wreckage chased by aliens!
– In game music. my atmospheric track is still WIP, but getting there
– Sound FX. haven’t even started!
– Unlocks: now that I have game modes and a list of characters, next is how to unlock them. This links with..
– Statistics. Need to keep track of the player progress and have a screen where this can be monitored.
– art: I’d still love to have an art drawing for the game, even if just for the website page!
– PR: finalise the itch.io page, maybe a game jolt one, and start spreading the word!
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