The process starts with a thought of game. After it is formed, we can spend weeks, even months thinking and talking about how the game will look and how the game should feel. Thus are formed the main ideas behind the game mechanics – a couple of short sentences that incorporate the main scope of the game and help to avoid unnecessary work and movement in wrong directions. The scope of Our Way Up is based on the following:
- Fast, movement based gameplay
- Vertical scroller/runner
Game features, art and even music is based on this list.
To force, or not to force.
So let’s talk about fast gameplay. What makes it fast? How do WE make it fast? Well, we just force the player at the speed we want. Simple. No thoughts of slow progression – we need him simply to run, jump and press buttons with those sweaty fingers of his. How does this work? How can we MAKE it fast? A couple of ideas:
- We can put a timer on each level and be, like: “you have two minutes or you’re dead. Go”. Yeah, sure he’ll run. It’s also really easy to implement, but is it FUN? You’re not running from something, you’re just fighting against some arbitrary number in the corner of the screen, which is no fun at all. Sure, there also are other problems (optimal time for each level, time balancing for randomly generated levels, time adjustment to match player’s skills), but they are miniscule compared to this one.
- Leaderboards. We all know that one – similar to the first point, it’s a race against time, only now we are pitting you against real opponents. Same problem – not fun at all. Nobody likes that “you are at the 31337th place” message after a successful run. Kills all the will to continue and try again.
- Holding the button. Remember the movie “Crank”? The one where Jason Statham is forced to run and all kinds of weird shit to keep himself entertained alive? Well, we can do the same – hold the “run” button for the player and see how he figures that one out. Sadly, our level design is based on the freedom of player movement, so holding the button will eliminate one of the ideas of the game.
- Wall of Death. An impassable and unavoidable object that rises from below, be it lava, water, dirt, stones or something else. The player dies or gets teleported forward a little bit on collision. Now that’s an actual game element that makes the player move faster, wanting to survive. That’s something that he’s afraid of, a real threat. Also a threat, which speed we can change dynamically, based on player’s skills, and control smoothly over randomly generated levels.
Of course, we went with the last option, but it was left with one last problem – usually the player is instantly killed when touching the WoD and that breaks the pace of the game and immersion (completely resets your playthrough if hardcore enough), and that’s bad. So we thought about it a little bit and changed the D in WoD to Darkness (WooOOooOOo). Sure, the player dies if he stays in the dark for too long, but at least he’s given a chance to recover and catch up to the pace of the game, which is good.
But some other problems came about:
- The map was really curvy at some points and the player had really little chance of escaping the WoD. And most of us really hates when a good game is lost because of some stupid RNG roll.
- If the player gets too, uh, consumed by the darkness, he no longer sees the light – he loses his target, then all hope, then the purpose of life itself. This is bad. Sure, we can solve this problem by stopping the darkness at some point above the player, but that would be cheating that the player could notice and call us for holding his hand.
So we flushed this whole concept down the drain and thought of a new one. We will tell about it in the next part.