Monday, June 16, 2008

XeO3: changes.....

I've been playing with the speed of the ship and its really is just too fast if I double it. It makes it more of a dash/avoid style game which isn't what I want. The real problem I guess is that I can't just speed it up a little since a multi colour sprite must rest on 2 pixel boundarys.

Luca has just finished playing the sped up version and while he enjoyed it, he thought it was way too easy - as did I. All the paths have been built for a slow moving ship, and speeding it up pretty much spoils everything.

What we could do is add a powerup that speeds your ship up for 30 seconds or so, which means you get the benifit of it, but doesn't ruin the game

I'm still really surprised that everyone finds it too hard, as all the games people go on about; I'm stinking at! I think its just practice everyones all needing. Thing is, if its too easy then everyone will just finish it too quidckly and get no long term enjoyment from it.

Thats the thing about trying to balance the game with the feedback I get, everyone playing it wants to finish it and in some respect wants it as easy as possible so they can do it pretty quickly. But theres no point in that. You need a game thats challenging and does make you scream, but that you'll come back for more too. In this respect I think it has to be harder than everyone's wanting, but not so hard that theres no chance in reaching the end.

Blood Money on the C64 was hard, way too hard. While I did manage to pass each wave individually, I couldn't do a whole level. I think the trick here is to make sure I can pass at least level 1 and 2 (since I really am crap at these games), then make the later ones harder; perhaops getting someone much better to actually playtest it and make sure its possible.

So on Friday I'll release a new version, but the ship won't speed up, that'll come when we add power ups again. I know this won't be particually well recieved, particually since I dont intend to add restart points either but hay ho...

As to restart points.... The scripting makes this hard since you have to fastforward through it (much like the debug system does) and its pretty nasty to say the least. I also think the amount of shield you have means you're actually pretty well protected! You can get hit a LOT before your thrown back to the start! Many games need the restart because if you get hit by a single bullet your dead! We don't. Also since we let you keep most of your weapons, you have the chance to actually build up even more next time around so when you get to the place you died, you should have more shields and weapons this time around!

Still... thats the theory, so for these 2 things I'm at least partially sticking to my guns. I will allow a temporary speed boost, but not permanent. I just find games where you fly around at great speed too hard and frantic, and thats not what I'm trying to make.

Edit: At the end of the day, it has to be a game I enjoy making and playing, and I don't agree with the restart points as I believe you would HAVE to lose all your weapons and coins and I hate that! Mid way through a level with a pea shooter is nuts! You might have 10 lives but they'll all go when you restart with a crap weapon. If you start from the begining, then I feel you can keep most of the goodies you have as you've been punished enough.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

I've got much better at the alpha demo since we last spoke. My comments about the ship speed were in part frustration of missing coins, but now I tend not to miss them so much. It's very much a pattern-learning exercise, like Delta, which I'm not going to complain about.

But still, I can only get a bit further than were those static turrets before starting again. Intelligently planned restart points would be nice. As for the speed-up bit, well, maybe a 10 second blast on collecting a power up of some description? It doesn't need to be much longer than that in my opinion.

I take it there will be a bonus score at the end of each level times the number of coins collected? Not that it's important.

Further comments? Hmm... I always like shoot-em ups to have multi-directional fire power for the armoured vessels, but I can see what you are trying to do. Again, if it is possible, maybe just a short time with such a weapon?

Keep up the good work. In my opinion, this demo is better than Enforcer II that I played recently. I know that there is a long way to go for each project, but this feels like the better game to me.



simon said...

You shouldn't really be surprised that people are finding it harder than you do. Generally, the creator of a game will always be pretty damn good at his own game as the testing you've done means you will have learnt where all the waves appear, possibly without even really trying to. This is particularly relevant for xeo3. Because the player's ship moves so slowly, placing it in the correct position for each attack wave is crucial. If you're out of position, it can be a long slow slog to try to get to where you're meant to be, and usually it will be too late and you end up missing the wave or getting trapped by it. Once you know where to position your ship in advance, you fare much better.

In that sense it's true that people finding it hard need more practice - in other words, they need to learn the attack patterns - but if that's the case you run the risk of creating a slow-paced game that relies very much on memorisation. If that's what you're aiming for, then that's fine: It's your game and you have to stick to your vision. That fact that you say you don't really want a 'dash/avoid style game' suggests that you're not so keen on dodging and reacting to a situation on the fly, but instead prefer learning the attack patterns and positioning the ship in advance.

However, I disagree with the suggestion that people offering feedback simply want the game to be 'as easy as possible'. Gamers usually enjoy a challenge. It's frustration that turns them away, and one of the things that can cause frustration is the feeling that your onscreen player doesn't respond or move swiftly enough. So when people say they'd like the ship to move more quickly, it doesn't necessarily mean they want the game to be easier - they might be just trying to turn it into a different type of game.

For myself, I'd prefer the ship to move at double speed, and for there to be no energy bar. Instead I'd prefer the classic 'one hit equals one life lost' system. I'd also like the player to not be sent back at all, let alone all the way back to start of the level. Obviously my preferences push the game into being something more like Armalyte, which I gather isn't your goal, so I honestly don't expect you to make those kind of changes, but still, it's my honest feedback.

One thing I'd like to add about returning to the start of a level after death. That can be frustrating, though I take your point about having the shield, which does alleviate the problem to some extent. However it's worth noting that if you're playing for a high-score, that kind of approach can cause a problem in the sense that someone who plays a good game but unfortunately blows all their lives early in level 4 could end up scoring less than someone who never made it to level 4 but instead died at the very end of level 1, died twice at the end of level 2, and lost their final life somewhere in their attempt on level 3. The poorer player could actually have a larger score due to killing level 1's enemies twice over, level 2's three times over, plus however far they got in level 3. It's not the end of the world or anything, but it's just something to bear in mind which you might not have considered.

Phew. Sore typing fingers!

Mike said...

There are multi-directional weapons, just not in the demo. You will be able can shoot up, down and backwards although you'r main fire power us always forwards. I think I allow 2 bullets in each of these directions so the turrets above/below won't be as tricky in the full game as you'll be able to take them out by flying over them.

"Generally, the creator of a game will always....."

No, I do take that point and do agree, its just I never thought it would take people as long to finish the demo as it has taken. That said, I have reduced the difficulty quiet a bit and both Luca and I can walk the 1st level now, so on Friday when we release a final update it'll be interesting to see how people fair.

I also take your point about not wanting it easy, just less frustration - although thats partly what I meant. However, they always want it a little easier than it should be. But the goal is to strike a balance if we can, so its a little harder than they'd like, but not as frustrating so they enjoy pushing themselves.

Yes the games definetly more in the Delta vain than games like Commando or Armalyte where its very much duck and cover.

Like I've said the next demo won't feature powerups either so you still wont get faster ships or multi-directional weapons, but they are in the full game.

Luca said...

@Shaun: collecting enough pickups, you will be able to shoot in 4 directions, if you like ;)
This takes me to think this way: all the Alpha1's feedbacks have been precious to us; now we have to consider them much opinion than something directly related to the final gameplay. I'm feeling like this because including weapons and pickups would add both alleviation for the player and a random variable to the slow paced self repeating attacke waves.

@simon: as very first tester of the attack waves Mike has put into this Alpha1, I can say that the first attempts to play it were PANIC till the 15nth minute of play, then you begin to optimize your shooting more and more in order to strategically collect coins at your best; in the first half hour I reached the boss, after few minutes it was gone under my fire. Easy? Hard? Am I loudmouth? Well, as I wrote before, now it's time to see in the next project step what would happen with pickups and weapons which help you, and I'm sure we shall have to reinforce aliens'skin :D
About checkpoints and speed. Yes, as you can read in the post, I liked the speeded up version, but the compromise Mike has found should be a nice one; checkpoints: eventually, a XeO3 level should stop in the middle for a nasty attack wave, then restarts to scroll, and to me that was a good chance to set a checkpoint. On the other side, Mike is worried about that, because you should have full shield and loose all the weapon's enhancing, hence fighting against nasty waves would result frustrating and "martyrdom-ish" (because you have enough shield to reach the final boss with no fighting!).
Will you be so brave to quickly reload your weapons? Well, a demo including pickups and weapons will say, now is too early. But hey, these are my 2¢: if the player dies after the midst of level, let's allow him to buy the checkpoint, paying in coins and weapons! :)
Oh, and don't car about score and level: if a destroyed boss will give you tons of points, and if shooting, e.g., boss'bullett would make you rich, the difference between loosers and brave fighters will pop out ;)

Mike said...

Oh yeah score.... The idea is each level will have a higher score per baddie, so getting to level 2 will mean you get a lot more points per baddie than restarting level 1. That said.... You WILL be able to sit on a boss screen and rack up points, but I dont see that as an issue, it takes a fair bit of skill to manage that to any degree so its just another way increase your score.

simon said...

It'll certainly be interesting to play the next tweaked demo.

I had another go of it, and reached the end of the level. That was probably my 3rd proper attempt at it, so I don't think it's too hard at the moment. Mind you, after dying at the end of the level, I didn't feel like continuing through the level from the start again, so I stopped playing.

Actually that's another problem with having to restart from the beginning of the level: If the player dies on level 1, he might as well quit and start again. Considering he's going to be starting from the beginning anyway, he might as well restart so he can do it with a full set of lives.

I very much like the sound of a midlevel baddy + midlevel checkpoint, though I don't think the player need lose all his weapons when restarting from the checkpoint. Perhaps you could just have them go down a level?

One other thing - I take it that it was a deliberate decision to make the enemy bullets travel through the background? In most horizontal shmups I tend to use the background to cover myself. It's kind of interesting not being able to do that in xeo3... not sure exactly how I feel about that yet. :)

Finally, I just want to say thanks to you guys for being so open to receiving feedback. I understand that it can be tricky for the creators of a game to decide how much weight to give to the various feedback comments they receive. Ultimately the game still has to have its own identity and its own goals, and of course you can't please everyone. And Mike, upon reflection I do agree that although gamers might not necessarily want a game to be easy, they probably have a tendency to speak out against certain challenges when given the opportunity, rather just knuckling down and learning how to overcome them. In my case, for example, the slow speed of the ship has bothered me less after I made more of an effort to allow for that and approached the level with a little more caution instead of just jumping in with guns blazing.

Also, glad to see you have my score concerns covered already. I agree that milking bosses for points is OK. If you have the skills, rack up the kills!

Looking forward to the next update!

simon said...

Ah, I just realised that the comment I made about quitting and restarting if you lose a life on level 1 doesn't really hold true, as the benefit of not quitting is that you restart the level with the increased firepower you've collected.

Luca said...

@simon: yeah, Mike set the restart with, I guess, a couple of weapon's levels less than you reached.

Mike said...

Dying at the end of level boss is a major concern I have to admit, but I think if you died and came back on at or close to it, then you won't fair well anyway due to lack of weapons!

I think as long as the BOSS makes sense and its easy to see how to beat him, then it shouldn't be too bad; particually with the shield

I was playing the Enforcer 2 demo and I have no idea how to kill the boss, and the way it zipps around the screen I lost every life on that screen - and STILL have no idea how to defeat it!.

simon said...

Well... you don't *have* to strip the player of his weapons when there's a restart point. The player can be allowed to keep his weapons and the game can be made harder in other ways.

re: the boss at the end of the enforcer 2 demo. Just shoot him in the eyes when he is zoomed up to full size. In fact, one fully charged beam shot in his eyes is enough to kill him outright.

Take it from me. He is far easier to deal with than the stuff at the end of the xeo3 demo! ;)

Mike said...

I think if you didn't lose your weapons it would be just too easy and hardly any punishment for dying at all - particually if you just passed a way point.

Well, I tried shooting various places but there was no indication I was even hitting it!

XeO3 boss is really easy! Just move to the middle and shot as fast as you can! Dodge the occasional bullet, and your done!

Perhaps its too easy and people are looking for a more compilcated solution! ;)

simon said...

I think if you didn't lose your weapons it would be just too easy and hardly any punishment for dying at all - particually if you just passed a way point.

But dying can be punishment enough. You don't necessarily need to kick the player in the goolies as well.

Like you, I think that being left with nothing but a peashooter midway through a level is too frustrating, particularly if it's a later, harder level. Even Gradius adjusts the difficulty of the game to compensate when you lose your weapons, as otherwise it would be too unfair.

Personally, I prefer to see the weapons just get taken down a notch after dying, or even not reduced at all. Think of all those modern vertical shmups that not only let you continue on from the point at which you died, but give you the chance to immediately re-collect most of your weapon upgrades. Or take Ikaruga, which doesn't even have weapon upgrades to remove or reduce. These games remain challenging without needing to severely punish the player by sending him back to the start or leave him midlevel with nothing but a peashooter.

Bear in mind that I'm not trying to say "You must do it this way! Or that way!" I'm just trying to offer food for thought regarding the idea that a restart point must equal removal of all weapon upgrades.

In xeo3, suppose there was a mid-level checkpoint and the player's weapons only went down a level after dying. If the game consequently felt too easy, you could always tweak the difficulty in other ways. eg: you could reduce player's shield, or make enemy bullets do more damage, or even scrap the shield altogether.

Anyway, these are just thoughts. I don't want to be the kind of guy who is offered an apple (for free!) and keeps going on about it not being an orange. In the end xeo3 will be xeo3, and I think it will be pretty cool. Also, I've only made comments about the gameplay so far, so now I just want to congratulate Luca on his graphics and music. Nice work!

Mike said...

But dying can be punishment enough.

I don't think so, particually if you've just passed that checkpoint. You really need to be punished more than that. Also getting to that point would have already cost you in shields (since you just died!) which you've now just gotten back! So you've almost been rewarded for dying!

I'm not totally against it, but I haven't thought of a suitable punishment that doesn't make it impossible later on. At least if you go back to the start of the level, you have've lost distance and some weapons but have a better chance this time because you've also KEPT most of them.

Bear in mind that I'm not trying to say "You must do it this way!

Yep i realise that, and if I didn't want the discussion, I wouldn't ask! :)

A lot of these other games can throw more at a player than I'm able to so have finer control over difficulty, so having a load of pickups appear in front of you isn't something we can do - we need the sprites for baddies!

.....or even scrap the shield altogether.
We can make the bullets hurt more, but I think they hurt enough as is. I also hate the 1 shot and your dead thing, drives me mad! :)

simon said...

So I was speaking to the Grim Reaper the other day, and he said: "Mike Dailly? Oh boy, he's hardcore! Trust me, you do *not* want to die around that guy!"


Yes, I'm still on the punishment for dying issue. To me, losing a life is pretty much punishment enough, if only because if you keep losing lives you're not going to get far through the game. When a game makes me retread familiar ground after losing a life, my interest starts to wane. If I die in a hard bit, I want to either tackle that hard part again immediately or be allowed to blunder through it at the expense of a life while cursing myself and making a mental note to try a different approach next time. What I don't want to do, straight after dying in a tricky bit, is to have to wade through a whole bunch of stuff I already handled pretty well just to get back to the bit that did me in. Sure, going back over that earlier ground might help me find new ways to improve my performance and so put me in a better position to handle the tricky part, but that's what the game-over screen is for - You used up all your lives. Time to start over and try to do better.

Mind you, after thinking about this I can see how restarting a level after dying might appeal to some. There's something interesting about being forced to master the current level before proceeding to the next, but I do wonder if the player might end up becoming so familiar with the earlier levels due to being forced to restart them every time he dies, that by the time he has improved and can make it to the later levels the earlier ones won't hold much interest any more and he might end up just coasting through them on autopilot.

I don't know... It would be interesting to see what other players prefer. Come on people, make with the feedback!