Jono Shields

Making a Shoot 'em up for the masses


Kirby's Dreamland

Recently I watched an interview with Masahiro Sakurai, the designer of the original Kirby game among other amazing titles. He talks a bit about the history of platformers and how at that point in time games in general were made to be difficult. Not just for the sake of it mind you, catridges had limited sizes and developers could only fit so much content in there, so to be able to make a longer format game you had to make it hard.

He wanted the game to be accessible and a market differentiator that could attract new people into the world of gaming. So not only were you given these fun and interesting skills where you can suck in enemies and spitting them out at other ones, but you you could also just suck in air, then float over the platforms gaps and enemies heads.

This changed platforming action games forever. They didn't have to be super difficult to be fun.

Applying this to Shoot 'em ups

Shoot em ups have a long history of being difficult, even the genre already has some tropes in this regard with tiny hitboxes to help the player feel like they just skillfully escaped certain death. I want to take this further, I want the worst players to feel like they have some skill dodging bullet hell.

These are some of the must haves for this game...

  • Bye Bye Lives - Lives are antiquaited, we are no longer bound by the coin slot, let's find another mechanic to punish the player for getting hit.
  • Easier - Dying or getting hurt should be largely avoidable. It should be a risk yoy accept in turn for a reward, e.g. taking enemies head on to go for a powerup. The fun and challenge should come from creative problem solving, not from skill alone for dodging enemy bullets
  • Impact - To make any player feel skilled, if a player is to be hit, lets slow down time and give them another chance to evade. Not sure what yet, but perhaps a perfectly timed button press to perform evasive maneuvers.
  • Story - Let's got extra on the story, get some meaningful intent on why they are going through this nightmare
  • Variety - This is something a lot of shmups do really well already, enemies, movement, attack behaviour, visuals. Same thing for the player
  • A Gimmick - Some interesting mechanic or multiple that let the player come up with their own strategies on how they solve problems, like Kirby for instance do I want to suck them in? can I suck someone else in to shoot at them? Maybe I just float over them?

Core Mechanics

My core idea for this game is to try to open the genre a of the game a bit more. I like that over the year splatformers have expanded into other genres. We now see exploration, puzzles, and even rpg elements taking center stage.

  • Tractor Beam - Inspired by Kirby, maybe you are an interstellar tow truck, you can tow up to 5 space vehicles behind you at a time with your tractor beam. One button to 'swallow', another button to 'spit'.
    • Towed vehicles could be hit by stray bullets, thus you losing 'ammo'
    • Towed vehicles make it harder to maneuver your own craft, makes dodging harder or even impossible at max load.
    • The tractor beam could be used to reposition objects solve puzzles?
    • Maybe a pacifist playthrough could be possible?
  • RAM MODE ACTIVATED - Maybe with armour or a shield and strong thrusters you can ram through ships to destroy them
    • This could also explain why you have so much health or are less vulnerable
    • Might need something to slow the player down so its not super easy
      • Hacking minigame to get into places
      • Enemies that can only be rammed from behind
      • Ram can only be used when thrusters are fully charged?

Story Elements

I had some ideas already about the story. There is a common trope in scifi where pilots have these deep and meaningful relationships with their spaceship, think Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon or Mal and Serenity.

I wanted to take this a step further, Make (pilot) and Izzy (ship) have been through a lot together, over the years Make has put a lot of time and effort into maintaining and upgrading Izzy. To the point of even installing illegal AI mods among other things. Make and Izzy spend countless nights spendinng hours in deep discussions as they float through space on seemingly endless voyages between star systems.

I see this relationship as a great way to interject dialog in places where there wouldn't be any otherwise. Things like complimenting each others skills in battle or casually chatting about mutual hobbies on loading screens. I like the idea of some short dialog that is cute and witty to break up the action and make the game feel a bit more chill.

Where am I at now?

At the moment I am taking my Uridium clone demo and refactoring out a bunch of classes, so it hasn't changed.

Before I go too far down the rabbit hole coding I want to spend some more time on the art side of things. My plan is to focus on the narrative, do some art and let the gameplay evolve around that.

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