This game started as a thought experiment I had one day while I was bored out of my mind at work. The question started: How can you take a bad or annoying mechanic and turn it into a benefit? I think that you could come up with dozens of games by using this concept as a springboard, but the one that this turned into is a project that makes me want to learn how to code games just so I can make it. The gameplay mechanic I wanted to go with was: What if death wasn’t annoying? This is what I came up with...
The Concept Each level of the game has two sides, one side showing the world at sunrise, the other at sunset (not noon and night, because that is overdone). Every time something get’s exhausted in one world, it gets replenished in the other. To start simply, every time that the player character dies he would flip into the other world with full health. Every time that you kill an enemy in Sunrise, it will be waiting in Sunset. To continue with this theme, I figured a shooter would add an interesting twist (probably third person, although a shmup style would fit well). Every time you fire a bullet from your gun the bullet falls through the floor to the other side, exactly where you leave it. Ammo drops and powerups? Take it here, it becomes available there. I’m not 100% sold on the shooter though, because that does limit a lot of what you can do with the enemy design. It could work like an Action/Platformer, or even something like Dark Souls, maybe?
Why is this awesome? When you first reach the level, the difficulty is medium. If you can make it through with no problems, you don’t see the other side. But as soon as you mess up in one world, the second world is waiting. And it now has up to double the resistance of the last level, but also, double the resources. Do you want this shit yet? When I thought of that, I was so excited, but trust me - it only gets better.
Enemy Design So what would the world contain? The first thing I knew what that the game needed a Ticker from Gear of War - the enemy kills itself to take out a chunk of your life, and is then immediately waiting for you on the other side. You would have to have your basic cannon fodder, but I would like to have some kind of non human be in this role, but probably something with a head or other obvious weak spot for a one hit kill. You would have your typical charging brutes, and sort of gimmicky enemies with a weak spot on their backs or something like that. I really want to capture the feeling from Dark Souls on the enemies though, where every enemy is a legitimate threat. A larger enemy poses a greater challenge, and there is no such thing as an easy fight. I have gone back on forth with enemies that wouldn’t leave their spawned world, or ones that permanently died, but at the end of the day I don’t think it is worth it.
Level Design As mentioned before, all levels would contain a set of items that, when exhausted, move to the other world. Every level would start out symmetrical, but in a matter of seconds it would be thrown out of balance. Starting small, this would be extra ammo, powerups, maybe sub weapons. You could also have environmental hazards, like exploding barrels, levels that release traps (setting them on the other side), maybe even one time use shortcuts. I think there is a lot of potential with the hazards of setting all the traps in one world, killing yourself, then being able to chain an entire level in one shot. Theoretically, this could be done as puzzle solving, but two world puzzle solving is terribly trite, so I would never want something like that to be mandatory. Given that these resources are finite, the player character would have no ‘free’ attacks such as punches or swords.
As far as level progression goes, I think that the start would give the player plenty of resources, but would still have enough challenge to leave the player rewarded for not dying. After a few of those I think it would be fair to start introducing some moderately cheap shots. Something like the tickers above that wreck your health in one shot, and will continue to do so until you figure out the best practice of dealing with them, after multiple deaths in both worlds. This would be the introduction of an arcade feel: The levels should not be handed to you. You should have to have multiple runs through a level to know all the tricks and secrets, and the first time you complete the game, you will suck at it. The end game would take this to the extreme: imagine a level with 5 enemies on each side that could only be killed by a headshot (or similarly skilled feat). The player enters the level with 7 bullets. There is zero room for error if you want to complete the level without flipping over, and it becomes easier if you give in a little, and kill off a few enemies, then just die twice, hoarding your resources. This gives the player a chance to progress without giving them a high five. The player should know that they weren’t good enough to fight the level head on, and that they took a cheap way out. I have a better balance for this other than shaming the player, but I think this game needs to keep a score. Completing a level without dying rewards an enormous bonus, and each death would remove a significant, but not obscene, amount of points. Even still, this isn’t quite enough. The game needed one more touch to balance it out...
Boss Design Once a side is cleared of enemies, the boss door would open/unlock/appear/macguffin. Each boss would be grandiose in scale, using design similar to some of the bosses from Devil May Cry/Ninja Gaiden. I think that it would be interesting to have a boss have a Sunrise Tendency and Sunset Tendency giving them a different appearance, moveset, weakpoint, or hell, maybe a completely different boss. The different boss wouldn’t be a big issue with switching worlds, because when you die...you go back to the level spawn. Where every. Single. Enemy. Is waiting. Death against the boss means that the level is now the hardest it will ever be. Unless of course you kill yourself on purpose, then there are zero enemies, and you are right back at the boss. This would require a balancing mechanic, which I am really fond of: Every enemy you kill before reaching the boss makes the boss easier. If that boss is impossible to kill, you just have to get really good at beating the level with all of the enemies, and then you can progress. If the level is too much, you can say “screw it” and go to the boss...who now has seven heads instead of two, each one moving at 150% speed - all because you cheesed the level. In the event of a shmup, this could be done as with a change in the bullet pattern (more layers, increase complexity, etc). This offers 3 ways to play through any level (hard boss, normal boss, easy boss, vice versa for the level), forcing the player to consider how they want to approach based on their strengths and weaknesses in that level. It also opens up the game for XXX-Hardcore-MLG boss runs with a boss rush mode almost built in, and removes the need for a difficulty selection. Bam. Elegant. As. Shit.
Finishing Touches I know I would like to have the death animation very short, something where the player falls through the ground (maybe leaving ripples, or cracking the ‘pane’ of the world) and using the momentum from the fall to get to his feet in the new world. This would leave you in the same spot where you left off, which may mean you start the new world in imminent danger. This means a death would have a few seconds of invincibility to get you to a safe spot. If the game used the shoot em up format, then I think that the levels would still have to be free and flowing. At the start of the level the camera should be able to zoom in onto something that is like a tabletop or board game, showing mostly the sunrise portion, but a glimpse of the sunset. I think this game would be either an XBLA title or a budget release. Before any kind of release though, there would have to be an enormous amount of playtesting to ensure that the game is that perfect level of difficult that gives you a sense of defeating a powerful foe, but never feeling (overly) cheap.
I know it was a lot to read, so thanks for sticking though! Writing this ignited my desire to learn how to code it (I know I can write in other languages, with more...corporate applications), and hopefully it sounds like something you all would enjoy as well.