Levels As Toys

April 22, 2012 by Terry

When I started development on Retrobooster, the main design goal was to make it feel like a big toy you can play with. Later on I read Jesse Schell‘s wonderful The Art of Game Design and learned that he had already named this idea The Lens of the Toy.

The best way I have found to make Retrobooster toy-like is to make each level a unique toy. Testers have been letting me know which levels keep their attention the best, and I have a chart in my notes that lists what new concepts I introduce on each level. Testers pretty clearly start to lose interest on the levels where I have neglected to introduce something new and fun.

Lately, I have been working on a level that is an homage to Asteroids, which is a good example of a toy level. It’s hard to imagine making this game and not throwing in some asteroids. After all, it already has a thrust ship and some decent physics for bouncing things like asteroid off of one another. Of course, I had to add Retrobooster’s sense of fun by making alien critters attack you while walking around on the asteroids.

There are other, more subtle ways that make this game like a big toy. Once you unlock a level, you can start a new game on that level anytime you want. This is more like something you would see in a racing game instead of a linear action game, but it supports the toy concept really well.

I suspect the biggest deficiency right now is that the weapons don’t feel enough like toys. Testers spend most of the time using the primary weapon and often forget about the secondary weapons. Part of this is probably because the primary weapon is too powerful right now, but part may be because the weapons just aren’t enough fun to use. I’ll have to keep working on this and tune the weapons a lot better.

3 Responses to “Levels As Toys”

  1. One option I like to use for encouraging gameplay beyond holding ‘fire’ is to put a limitation on the main weapon. Specifically, I use magazines that can be reloaded infinitely. The reload time gives the player a definite and predictable break in their firing, which makes them explore other tactics (like a task switch). Usually, the standard “reload when out of ammo” is annoying, so I use a timer that autoreloads when the player hasn’t fired lately, regardless of their ammo level.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Jonny. I was thinking of trying the weapon overheating thing, but your idea sounds much less annoying. I’ve been trying to remove everything that annoys or frustrates people. Ever play a game where there is an alert sound that sounds just like your alarm clock in the morning? Sooo annoying.

      I haven’t seen your website before, but I’ll read more of it after work today. Looks like you’ve been making games a lot longer than me.

  2. No problem. :)

    This also happens to be another one of those cases of bonus vs penalty. I used to have overheating in my game, but it feels like a penalty for shooting too much. You end up riding just under the heat limit, firing slowly. This infinite magazine method is more of a neutral limitation that leads to perceived bonuses if you get improved rate, reload, or magazine size later.

    Send me an email sometime and we can chat more about shooter design!

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