25 October 2010

The Funny Thing about Design by Influence - by Benjamin Quintero

      Posted 10/25/10 01:17:00 am  

I have most recently been working on Seizonrenda, a game that will hopefully see the light some time soon.  It is currently in review through the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) community.  The review process has been anything but graceful, and I can only hope that it will be over soon.  In the process of getting this game approved for the Marketplace I have had a few conversations on the topic of arcade-style games.  While I wait for the game to be approved, I thought it would be a good time to write about some of my influences.

Super Mario Galaxy

Mario Galaxy had a fluid concept of 3D space.  The simple idea of free movement on a planet stirred a number of game ideas.  I researched a number of interesting topics.  I first thought about creating a game that involved terraforming.  I thought that it would be interesting to sculpt planets and allow the simulation to react over time.  It was an interesting research topic, but not one that would likely be fruitful for the XBLIG target audience.

I later started reading short stories and folklore that revolved around lone travelers in space.  I was fixated on the idea of re-imagining a literary piece, but ultimately dropped this design.  The concept felt novel and the ideas were interesting enough, but I found myself in a financial constraint.  Convinced that one programmer, with questionable artistic ability, was going to do any literary piece justice felt laughable.  This is when I started returning to my roots.

Robotron 2084

There may have been other dual-stick games before Robotron (I can't say for sure), but for me, this was it.  Strangely, when this game was released in the arcades, I was just a toddler.  It wasn't until my adult years that I discovered Robotron for the first time.  I think that it helped me see the evolution of these types of games when I was able to graze over nearly 30 years of arcade shooters in a compressed amount of time.  Other break-out games followed over the years, each evolving the formula.  Smash TV, and the more recent Geometry Wars and Stardust HD.  A boost in graphical power didn't hurt these later titles either.  Arguably, these later titles have simply been graphically enhanced versions of the original.

Asteroids

After settling  on two main concepts, shooter and space, the idea of making a new-age Asteroids game sort of fell into place.  Combining a spherical "Galaxy" prototype that I had created with Robotron run-&-gun seemed eminent.  Not owning a PS3, it wasn't until I submitted my first build of the game that someone showed me a video of Stardust HD.  Though my spirits were slightly crushed, my direction felt different enough to continue with the project.  I was also slightly glad to see that they fell into the one trap that I aggressive protect the gamer from; life after death.  So many shooters strip the player of their ability to fight back from a lost life, losing everything.  It is enough to make you question why the developer bothered to give you more than one life.  There are many offenders of this in shooter history, so I am not picking on them for following suit.

Zombpocalype

This was my first real attempt to recreate the Robotron formula.  I was pretty big into zombies at that time and it made perfect sense to create a zombie shooter.  I wanted the impulsive gameplay of a modern dual-stick shooter with zombies, so raging infected made the best choice for me; fast moving, reactionary zombies.  Of course this was before the game industry put zombies into everything from coffee creamer to Red Dead Redemption.  Still, I felt that it was a fair stepping stone and, though it was not ahead of it's time, I felt like it arrived exactly when it needed to.  It also served as an inspiration, reminding me that completing one good game feels so much better than completing dozens of poorly designed games.  It was reminder to slow down and playtest when I felt rushed to release the game.

Seizonrenda is Coming

The sights and sounds of every user action in Zombpocalypse took some time to get right, and it was absolutely something that i wanted to re-create in Seizonrenda.  Zombpocalypse was criticized for being too simplistic; a sentiment I fully expect for Seizonrenda, but I find a certain pleasure in a minimalist design.  I think that a very few people notice the real effort that goes into a minimalist game design.  I rarely have the time to learn the intricate hierarchical progression trees for various classes of avatars that exist in most modern shooters.  A game has to be really engaging for me to care at all to learn their crazy systems.  I can certainly appreciate when someone focuses their attention on the minutiae rather than epic tiers of bullet point features.  I want people to play my game and just say, "that was fun".  I don't want gamers to dissect the game into a collection of statical abbreviations; weapons, damage per second, ideal armor classes.  I want Seizonrenda to have all of the little things that no one notices, the things that make the game "fun".  It could be anything, pitch-perfect weapon fire, smooth animations, motion-sickness aware camera systems, or well timed enemy encounters.  It could be all of them combined.  I hope that I've achieved this and, when you finally get to play the game, I hope that you agree with me.

I hope that Seizonrenda serves to raise the bar for XBL Indie Games, both in graphics and gameplay.  I hope that the little things like elegant pause management, and simple UI navigation, influence other indie developers to follow.  If my games influence others, even in the slightest, then I've done my job to keep chain alive.

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