Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Thoughts on Spacejacked and Game Design

Spacejacked for PS Vita is finally out! It feels as though a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Time for a retrospective on what could have been improved.

One of the things I would have liked to see in Spacejacked (and the rest of the Rotten Mage games) is more depth. In other words, I want some higher order effects in the game. By higher order effects, I'm talking about chain reactions, i.e. systems interacting with each other, resulting in more complex outcomes.

Now, Spacejacked does have some of these higher order effects. Some examples I can think of are:
  • Using a Stasis Turret to slow down enemies so that they can get damaged for longer by the other turrets.
  • When a Mimic dismantles a turret, the METAL from that turret is regained, which allows you to build another turret in a pinch without having to spend time finding one to dismantle.

It's interactions like these that make gameplay interesting for me. I've been playing some Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle lately, and I enjoyed how the various mechanics worked together to create unexpected scenarios. Here are a few mechanics in the game:
  • Some weapons have special effects, like hitting the target so hard that they bounce around the arena.
  • Some characters (like Mario) have a special ability to shoot out-of-turn when an enemy crosses their line of sight.

Here's a possible outcome with those rules: during the enemies' turn, one of them could walk into Mario's line of sight, causing Mario to fire at it, bouncing it off the walls and into other characters on the map, in turn bouncing these other characters and changing the positioning of both teams. With this combination of mechanics, it's possible to see a complete reversal in fortunes and turn the tide of the battle.

I've always been fascinated by simple rules combining to give rise to complex systems, just like in Conway's Game of Life and other cellular automata. It's an elegant kind of depth. For Spacejacked, I can imagine a chain reaction where an enemy does an area attack that also hurts its allies, among whom are some enemies that explode upon death, triggering even more damage and chaos. Or maybe in Rotten Mage's fighter jet game prototype, we could make it such that destroying a massive plane causes debris to fly everywhere and knock other planes off their course.

In essence, we should be thinking more about how our mechanics interact with each other, because these can result in situations that get players excited, that get them talking. I want to experience more serendipitous moments out of our games, like being in a tight spot fending off a bunch of aliens while having no METAL to spare, then having the Mimic dismantle a turret elsewhere (which is normally a bad thing), providing me with resources to build just one more turret so that I have just enough firepower to win my battle.