Re: [stella] Game concept and brainstorming

Subject: Re: [stella] Game concept and brainstorming
From: "B. Watson" <urchlay@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2002 13:17:16 -0500 (EST)
Grr. My email client is being a pain. List moderator: you should be
getting another copy of this mail marked `not from a list subscriber',
you can just delete it, since I'm reposting it from the correct
address here...

On Mon, 21 Jan 2002, timchrissnider wrote:

> As many of you probably know, I'm working on, what I laughingly refer to as,
> "the first survival horror game for the Atari 2600." The name of the game is
> "They're Risen" or "The Ravenous Dead," depending on what day it is and what
> mood I'm in. ;) Basically, it's a "you versus legions of the undead" game.
> (Here's a real simple website with a bit of info:
> ) .

Hmm, the basic idea sounds like Evil Dead.. Perhaps you could arm the player
with a chainsaw? The idea being, you have limited ammo, and if you run out,
you can still kill the enemy, but you have to run right up on top of him
to do it...

> I'm a fan of the "overhead shooter" (Venture, Robotron 2084, Berzerk,
> etc.) - hence the basic concept of my game. The game takes place on one
> screen - that of a walled-in cemetary. There are a few gravestones scattered
> here and there to act as barriers/obstacles/shields the player must
> move/shoot around. At either end of the playfield are closed gates (sprites
> acting as "doors."). These are the exits to the next level that, for now,
> remain closed.

Will you offer the option of controlling the game with 2 joysticks, a la
the Robotron arcade machine? That has to be my favorite control scheme for
an `overhead' shooter. Though on the 2600, it should be optional, since
not everybody has a pair of Wico Command Control sticks to use for it
(they have a nice large solid base and can be used one-handed.. I'd hate
to use regular 2600 sticks for Roboton-style controls though.)

> At the beginning of the game (and each round thereafter), the player begins
> in the center of the playfield. Zombies begin to enter the playfield from
> the edges. I'd like to have them "track" the player, but I can see it being
> too easy to just stand in the center and pick them off as they approach. On
> the other hand, having them randomly bounce around lacks a certain appeal.
> That's my first gameplay problem. Suggestions?

2 or 3 different AI types.. Some that come right at you, some that move randomly,
some that move in fixed patterns (or maybe fixed patterns until they get within
X number of pixels of you). Also, you could have some that use missile weapons
instead of hand-to-hand attacks (think of the Imps from Doom)... In fact, while
I'm thinking on Doom... maybe some of the zombies don't attack until they `see'
you or `hear' you shooting at something else.

> Each "wave" of zombies lasts for 6 zombies times the number of the level
> you're at. (EX: At Level 2, you must shoot 12 zombies to complete the level.
> Level 3, 18 zombies. Level 4, 24 zombies. Etc.) Whenever a zombie is shot,
> another one enters the playfield from the edge to take its place. In other
> words, the zombies keep coming. (I see no more than 3 or 4 on-screen at any
> one time. Even then, I see a lot of flicker about to happen.)

You should either top out at some number of zombies, or else give the game a
definite ending. By level 20, I would be bored and annoyed at having to shoot
120 zombies :)

> Every other level (Level 3, 5, 7, etc.), the speed of the zombies will
> increase. Since the number you must shoot increases as well, in later
> levels, you'll have to shoot quite a few incredibly fast zombies to escape.

You might also consider either `intermissions' a la arcade Pac-man, or else
some type of `bonus round' after every 2nd or 3rd level. This really helps
break up the monotony of a straightforward game like this (the bonus rounds
in Tapper are a good example, tho I dunno if the 2600 version has them). If
you do this, you might end up having to bankswitch to cram it all into one
cart, which might be something you don't want to do (I like to stick with
4K carts myself, since I have no bankswitching development cart yet)

> The scoring system is pretty simple too. To give it a "survival" game feel,
> the player only gets points for zombies counted towards completing the
> Level. On Level 1, the player must shoot 6 zombies before the key appears.
> The player gets a point for each of these zombies (6 points scored).
> However, once the key appears, the player gets NO POINTS for more kills.
> This keeps the player from just sitting there, racking up points. To
> increase the score further, the player must grab the key and make his escape
> to the next level. Completing Level 2 successfully means that the player
> would have a total of 18 points (6+12). Level 3 completed would mean 36
> points (6+12+18).

I dunno... there should probably be something else during a level that the
player can do to get a different score, something optional or at least
random. In a game like this, after a while, the point is to rack up a higher
score than your friends... A good example is Galaga: My friend and I used
to spend hours playing that game in the arcade, and I always played for
score (e.g. wait for the blue guys to dive-bomb with 2 escorts before
shooting them, they're worth more that way...) whereas he played to clear
levels as fast as possible. The end result was, he always got to a higher
level than I did, but I `robbed' him of victory by getting a higher score..
Eventually, he got so good at clearing levels that I couldn't keep up, but
for a couple of years my playing style reigned supreme :)

I guess the point is, if you *always* have the same score after the same
number of levels, you might as well not keep score... Just count levels,
in that case.

> This scoring system would force the player to move on to the next level if
> he or she wants to rack up more points. However, moving on to the next level
> will be difficult seeing as how the player must manuver across the playfield
> while the enemies are still just as numerous and just as aggressive.

I do like the idea that you stop getting points after the gate is open. Kind
of like Choplifter, where you don't get points for killing the enemy at all:
you actually have to play the game as intended, to get a good score.

> Bells and whistles I'd like to eventually add: I'd like for the enemies to
> have some simple animation, rotating between two sprites. I'd like to add a
> title screen (probably not with the huge titles I've come up with) or a
> simple horror-movie-organ dirge at the beginning (very likely). Part of me
> would like to do a "super-sprite" animation for the "End of the Game" ala
> Frankenstein's Monster. (After the last life is lost, maybe just one big
> zombie sprite gnashing its' teeth at the player.) This is, of course,
> looking way, way ahead.

For the music, I suggest either Ozzy Osbourne's `Mr. Crowley' (or at least the
pipe-organ intro to it, it has a dark and cemetery-like feel), or else `Don't
Fear the Reaper' by Blue Oyster Cult (which is mostly guitar instead of organ,
but I've heard it played on an electric organ and it still sounded pretty
dark). Unless of course you're going to compose original music, which would
be even better!

> Anyway, I wanted to get some feedback before I committed to a particular
> gameplay pattern. I like my concept, but I can see the game getting kinda
> repetitive, and I'd like to flesh it out while it's still early. I'd
> appreciate any input anyone may have posted to this list.

Don't you love it when someone who hasn't seen your code, starts making all
kinds of suggestions like this? My first reaction is always `but, I'll have
to change everything...' (but my second reaction is usually to say, `hmm,
it's worth changing everything').

> Thanks for your help and advice,
> Tim Snider
> "Eating aspirin like Pez for his 6502-induced headache"

Taking breaks to play Super Breakout or River Raid is also good for
avoiding the 2600 coding headaches... remind yourself why you're doing it
in the first place :)


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