Project Good Robot 19: Unbalancing the Game

By Shamus
on Sep 30, 2013
Filed under:
Good Robot

I don’t know if they’ve appeared in any of the screenshots yet, but one of the mechanics in the game is a system of power-ups. The leveling system provides numerical improvements: More speed, more shields, more damage, etc. The powerups provide functional improvements: bouncing laser shots, homing for your missiles, highlighting of obscured enemies, etc. The game is currently set to drop one on every level. If there’s a boss on this level, then the boss has it.

For a while you could only carry one of these at a time, but that wasn’t very interesting. When you picked one up you would drop the previous one. You could pick it up again if you didn’t like the new one, but I quickly found that I liked some better than others and once I had my favorite they were no longer useful as a reward. Since they were random, it was possible to get my favorite on level 1 and then never care about powerups again until I died. (Powerups last until death.) That’s like a first person shooter that gives you the best weapon in the game at the start. It’s just setting the player up for disappointment.

Question: How is there snow in an underground cave? Answer: SHUT UP. It’s like, condensation or frost or whatever.

You might suggest ordering them so the “best” doesn’t drop early, but it’s not that there is a best powerup, it’s just that everyone is bound to form a little order of preference, and getting a less preferred powerup is a disappointment.

My rules in designing powerups are:

1) They shouldn’t duplicate or overlap with the improvements you get from leveling.
2) They should always be clear upgrades and not trade-offs. This means something like “Lasers go twice as fast but use more energy” wouldn’t work, since the extra energy drain could wind up being a huge handicap for low-energy builds.
3) They don’t need to be equivalent. (Not that there’s any way to objectively measure something like “homing missiles” versus “visible targeting laser”.) Some can be better than others, as long as there are a lot of them and they all do something interesting.
4) Nothing new mechanically. Powerups should alter the way existing systems behave, not add new ones. This means that powerups for mines, or pets, or sprinting are out of the question, because those add new things to the game or require new inputs.

I just really felt that allowing the player to carry more than one was the right thing to do. Now that I’ve done it, powerups have gone from “interesting feature for variety” to “central to the gameplay”. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Now we have all kinds of crazy synergy between powerups. Twin Shot fires an extra laser bolt behind you for no additional cost. It’s nice, but only useful when you’re getting swarmed. Depending on your playstyle, it might be useless to you. But if you ALSO get the bouncing laser powerup then twin shots suddenly becomes very powerful, because you can run into an enclosed space and fill it with bouncing death. Combine it with the large laser powerup and it will be hard for anything to get through. If you ALSO get the penetrating shots powerup then those huge, bouncing, numerous projectiles will keep going even when they strike an enemy, allowing them to go on and hit someone else.

Twin shots with bouncy shots is cool.
Twin shots with bouncy shots is cool.

This solves one of my big problems with the game, which was that I just didn’t have a good penalty for player death. If you died, you respawned at the last waypoint, Diablo-style. Big deal. There’s no money in the game and no inventory, so there’s nothing I can “take” from the player. Sure, I could take away some of their XP or saddle them with XP debt, but I abhor games that mess with my XP income. I feel like there’s some sort of contract that’s being broken when it happens. Also, XP debt doesn’t sting the way it should. It’s never clear just how much the mistake just cost you, time-wise. Worse, it makes you start thinking about the game in terms of time. It’s a penalty that frames the gameplay itself as a punishment. That’s messed up.

But powerups? We can take those.

During playtesting, I got into the habit of making shields my dump stat. I mean, why invest in shields when it’s more fun to shoot moar boolitz? Upgrading damage gives a nice visceral reward, while shields just maybe cut down on the number of times you feel momentary shame. But now shields have an important purpose: They protect your precious, precious powerups.


The problem is that this unbalances the game in a big way. As I said above, powerups have synergy so that the more you have, the more useful they are. This means that if you find the game to be a little too easy, then you’re likely to live long enough for it to get even easier. If you’re struggling, then you’ll never have much in the way of powerups and the game will be even harder. It’s a system that pushes everyone away from the center, towards either boredom or frustration.

A good balancing feature is the health system in Half-Life 2. The lower your health, the more healing you get from items. This makes it harder to maintain full health (where you feel like you can be careless) while also enabling you to quickly pull yourself back from the brink after a mistake. It’s not an overpowering effect, but it gently nudges the challenge level towards the sweet spot in the center. Best of all, the player likely never notices this.

I have the opposite of this. And yet, it feels like this is the right way to go. I took some of the edge off of death by having it only destroy half of your powerups. The other half are scattered where you blew up, and you can recover them if you can get back to where you fell and solve whatever problem that led to to your death. (Spoiler: The problem was bad robots.) This also encourages players to get back on the horse right away after failure, rather than just quitting right then. This makes the unbalancing effect less extreme, but it’s still there.

Let’s see… Ice level, jungle level, lava level. What am I forgetting?

The project is starting to slow down now. New features are taking more time and I no longer have half a dozen new things to show you every week. So ask some questions. Maybe you want to hear about some of the features I skipped? Or about the technical back end? Or whatever. I’ll look for common questions and use those to guide future entries.

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From the Archives:

  1. Karthik says:

    Shamus, how do you intend to structure the game? Are subsequent levels meant to be geographically linked? I mean either depth-wise spelunking, like in roguelikes, or “laterally” linked areas, like in many shmups. Or are they areas linked only by some thin narrative thread, like in many platformers? (“Here’s your lava level!”)

    Or do you a hub-and-spoke structure in mind, like in some metroidvania games?

    Also, you’ve written about providing some narrative context to the levels. I’m eager to see how you go about it.

    • Cuthalion says:

      Earlier, it sounded like the levels are horizontal, and then there’s a brief vertical strip at the end that moves downward to the next level. Dungeon delver style. Wonder if he’s still doing that?

      • ET says:

        I thought that those were just the shape of the *current* level.
        Like, each level was shaped like a long twisting snake, with long horizontal sections connected by short verticals, like this:
        (Needs fixed-width font to make sense. ;)
        Did I read that old post wrong?

  2. Deadyawn says:

    Sounds like the powerups could really change up the gameplay. I think its interesting that they are distributed randomly as compared to the leveling. It means that because you can control how you level but not what powerups you get, that if you want to get the most out of what you have you’d need to intentionally upgrade your ship in a way that complements the powerups you have. So on the one hand it discourages playing the game exactly the same on subsequent playthroughs but it also saddles the player with a degree of random chance. It definitely sounds interesting and I suppose the preferred balance between the two would change depending on the player.
    I have to say, I’m really starting to look forward to this. No pressure.

    As for questions, I was wondering what you were going to do about difficulty levels. I’m kind of assuming there will be varying difficulty levels and if so what would they be and how would they be different? While turning enemies into bullet sponges isn’t generally a fun way to up the challenge, increasing enemy numbers and changing their types could be very difficult to balance design-wise not to mention better system requirements (although from what you’ve said about it seems like you’d need a pretty old computer for that to really be a problem).

    • kdansky says:

      I want to add something to this: If it is a good idea to keep your points unspent (so you can adapt to future power-ups), then people will do that. It happens in Diablo 2 to the extreme where you keep the vast majority of points unspent so you can quickly pump STR if you find a bigger weapon.

      This is bad.

      Not because it breaks the game, but because it is not fun. The player will always have to make the choice of either risking spending his points wrongly (and feeling robbed of the points), or not spend it (and being robbed of the points). Dark Souls had a brilliant solution: If you die with unspent point, you lose them. Which means people are quick to spend them whenever they think the going is tough, which is exactly what you want. Make them spend their points without feeling guilty for it. As soon as they die once, they will think “boy am I happy I spent these points already”, and not waste a thought no whether the investment is ideal. It’s better to have the wrong stat than to have no stat at all.

      • Klay F. says:

        Another easy way to solve this is just allow painless respeccing. If you start getting lots of powerups that happen to run counter to your build, you can just respec at no cost to better take advantage of the RNG.

        I actually like being forced into unfamiliar playstyles when the game actually encourages me to do so, instead of just punishing me for sticking to my safezone.

  3. So what are you doing about story?

    You mentioned before having story drops which give XP (Similar I guess to the Mass Effect mechanic?) but how much impact does this have on the game or is it just to give context?

    Given how the project evolved, I wouldn’t expect that this was a story driven RPG, but have you had a chance to scratch your writing itch?

    Most importantly: have you left yourself open for the sequel: Good Robot II: The Robotening?

  4. HiEv says:

    Have you considered limiting the number of powerups you can have at one time?

    Perhaps, if you get one too many, the oldest one pops out, and you can re-grab it if you want to keep that one and get rid of some other one. That might help limit how much overkill the powerups can give you.

    Also, maybe one of the things you can level up is the number of powerups you can hold at once.

    Just a thought or two.

    • Good point, I thought about something similar. What if the Powerup capacity was also increased by a powerup. This might make even backtracking desirable if you find a powerup slot upgrade.

      Another though I had was that one could have a limit of using one defensive and one offensive powerup at a time only. And not allow you to swap during combat. This would make it a bit dangerous but exciting to enter a new area as you have no idea what awaits you or which powerups you should equip.

      • From the looks of the game, I don’t think trying to get backtracking to be desirable would be a good thing – It looks like you go through the level, clearing out enemies as you go, so backtracking would mean a minute or two of just moving through an enemyless level until you find the powerup you were looking for.
        That doesn’t sound fun at all.

        • Xyllar says:

          What if you kept the powers in inventory, but could only have a set number of them active at one time? That way you wouldn’t have to backtrack, just select the ones you want to use in a menu subscreen, sort of like how bone charms work in Dishonored.

          • jwwzeke says:

            I was thinking the same thing. You collect as many as you want, but can only have 2 active at a time. It still allows for combo’ing powerups, but not just stacking them all until you’re invincible.
            You could also increase the number of “activated powerups” over time, based on level. You can only have 1 active at first, then later 2, then 3, etc. Dying and losing some or all of your collected powerups would still hurt obviously.

            Also, considering you’re a robot these powerups definitely feel like add-on modules. Like you’re bolting on the twin laser, or the targeting laser scope, etc. Perhaps having a limit to how many can be active is explained by only being able to “power” some at a time? When you die, all these modules get knocked off your robot body, and some are so damaged they aren’t recoverable?

            • Iunnrais says:

              This causes the same problem Shamus mentioned. You find your “favorite” combo, and then all powerups from then on are no longer a reward.

              • jwwzeke says:

                Sure, but having ALL of the powerups at the same time isn’t much different. I guess if he spreads them thin throughout the entire game, then you won’t have ALL until near the end.

                I figured having the # of active powerups increase would give people that decision of “which do I want for now”… which can change based on what types of enemies you’re facing (large numbers of swarmers vs 1 or two big brutes).

                I guess this mostly comes down to personal preferences. I’d rather make some choice on which few powerups I want to use (assuming I’ve found them), but I can see how many others would prefer getting a cool boost every time they find one, that cumulatively adds to what they already have.

    • DrMcCoy says:

      Or how about time-limiting the powerups, i.e. they might just work for 2 minutes or so? And leveling might increase the time you get out of them, too.

      • Or limiting them to last so many levels after they’re picked up, maybe?

      • Iunnrais says:

        You could have two types of powerups, time limited and semi-permanent. Or heck, ammo limited or even location limited. The limited ones would be dropped by normal enemies randomly, but the semi-permanent ones would be dropped by bosses only.

        Like this, the time/ammo/whatever limited ones would be permanently gone on death (until you kill more enemies and find new ones) but the semi-permanent ones would either drop where you died or be recollectable upon beating the current map’s boss (in addition to the new powerup that boss would give). Maybe half your powerups would drop where you died, and the other half could be reclaimed at the boss?

        The idea is that permanently losing powerups the game is balanced around assuming you have is a bad idea, and NOT balancing the game around assuming you have max powerups is also probably a bad idea.

    • Primogenitor says:

      My first reaction was to limit the drop of new power ups based on how many power ups the player currently has – say 10% chance for a new powerup to not be placed for each powerup the player currently owns. I’d be surpised if players notice that, but reduces the rich-get-richer problem.

      • Chuck Henebry says:

        This is clever, in the same way that the HalfLife health system is clever.

      • IFS says:

        That actually reminds me a lot of how Binding of Isaac handles upgrades (which are very central to it), certain types of upgrades become less likely to drop when you’ve picked up one of them already. This can get annoying when you keep getting upgrades that overwrite each other, but overall it means you keep seeing new stuff and it makes it more rewarding when you get those upgrades that stack especially well.

        Binding of Isaac might be a good place to look for ideas on types of upgrades as well, although it certainly has some that completely change how you play, and a few can break the game (either through synergy or on their own) such as the one that turns your shots into missiles. Still it has a huge variety of upgrades from homing shots, piercing shots (of two varieties, one for piercing enemies another for objects), splitshot (same as what’s shown in the article), shots that split on hitting an enemy, upgrades that make your shots low damage but instantly hit where you aim, an upgrade that makes your shot a slow but powerful attack that needs to charge up, etc. Obviously not everything would work for Good Robot but there are probably a few ideas that would carry over well.

        • Koriantor says:

          I agree. One of the really cool things about Binding of Isaac is that not one upgrade is overly powerful. It’s designed so that you get a small list of powerups throughout the game that collectively make you a lot stronger than otherwise. Even the worst powerups in Binding of Isaac make you more powerful when used with the other bad powerups.

          If you happen to get the unlikely run through where you get all the powerful items, then it feels very rewarding. Say normally such and such level has some poweful mooks. The mooks that would normally give you a ton of trouble are a lot easier and you get the fun of “breaking” the system. Binding of Isaac has some brilliant design in that sense.

    • Entropy says:

      Got to be careful with a system like that. In this kind of game, players can easily accidentally hit a powerup. So your oldest one pops out. But you didn’t want the one you picked up at all. So you bump into it again, and now your second oldest one pops out. You have to keep cycling through till you get the damn random powerup you didn’t want out.

      • Burton Choinski says:

        It might be a pain, but perhaps they can be “carried in a pack” and then slotted and unslotted using an interface when you are in some quiet place?

        • MichaelGC says:

          Like the Gene Banks in Bioshock.

          • Burton Choinski says:

            I never played bioshock; is the method the same? I was thinking of terms of a robot taking a break to rewire itself to accept new hardware.

            • MichaelGC says:

              Broadly similar, yes – you could collect large numbers of ‘plasmids’ (each of which basically enabled you to cast different ‘spells’), but you could only have a limited number equipped at a time. There’d be Gene Banks dotted around the levels at which you could stop and change which ones were active from your overall inventory pool.

              I should probably stop talking about Bioshock, now – don’t want to send the Spoiler team into fits of incandescent rage! ;)

    • Jarenth says:

      Your first suggestion is actually a slightly more expanded version of what Shamus describes in the second paragraph, just with multiple powerups instead of one.

      I do personally like the idea of combining stacking powerups with a powerup-limit upgrade.

    • Burton Choinski says:

      Perhaps each powerup can have a “power drain” or “attachment point” value, with the ones that provide a tiny bit of help rated low, while other rated high. It can even be complex enough such that certain powerful combos require “extra connections” so that the player need to make a choice about what to drop in order to connect up the god-powered synergy combo.

      Playtesting for “feel” can be used to tweak the costs.

      • MrGuy says:

        Stupid simple extension of this – Power-ups require energy.

        You can keep all the powerups you want in a metaphorical backpack, but every powerup you have equipped drains your max energy and is a hit to your energy recovery rate. Maybe also have it drain your shields slightly if they’re not directly linked to energy.

        This can be an escalating effect – having one powerup drains your energy by 3%. Having two drains it 10%. Having three drains it by 40%.

        Make it so the tradeoff is pretty obviously in favor of “use a powerup” for the first one or two (this preserves the idea that “powerups have value and need to be defended.”).

        Whether to use 3 or 4 powerups is now an interesting gameplay decision.

        • Burton Choinski says:

          Wouldn’t that have an impact on the build you choose (or be forced into, if you wanted them)? I though Shamus didn’t want powerups to be overlapping or impacted.

          I figured, as a robot, that you only have so many sockets for hardware packs…some require more linkages (those that playtest as powerful), with some synergistic combos needing an extra one here or there. As it’s own system, people can go with the build they choose and still juggle the power-ups.

    • Disc says:

      One idea would be to make them unlockables that you can slot between levels. Finish a quest/mission/level and receive the upgrade or make it work as a reward system, where the player can pick one from a pool between levels or wherever it’s appropriate. The further you get, the more choice and potential power you have. You’ll retain all upgrades you get, but with limited slots you also need to make some strategic choices.

      Edit: If you wanted to limit their use, you could also add somekind of cooldown mechanic.

    • Syal says:

      Or turn the powerups into Limit Breaks; they all stack but you only get to use all of them after x condition has been fulfilled. That would make it so they aren’t the only determining factor in the game, at least. Don’t know if it would balance anything.

    • Grampy_Bone says:

      What if Powerup slots was a stat you could level?

    • Muspel says:

      Personally, I really dislike games that take important things away from you on death. In the case of these powerups, it’s almost the opposite of self-balancing gameplay— because once you get to a spot where you have trouble and need to try it extra times, the game weakens the player before making them do it again.

      It discourages experimentation on the part of the player, because dying means that you have to gather up powerups again.

      The only real time that death penalties work, in my opinion, is when they’re taking away something that doesn’t directly or immediately affect combat performance, like repair costs in Diablo or how it takes away some of your money if you die in Borderlands.

  5. Tektotherriggen says:

    I took some of the edge off of death by having it only destroy half of your powerups. The other half are scattered where you blew up, and you can recover them if you can get back to where you fell and solve whatever problem that led to to your death.

    That’s like the “medium core” option in Terraria, except you drop all your inventory on death. That’s a big problem if you were wearing, say, an underwater breathing item, and you died at the bottom of the ocean. Hope you had a spare back home! Irritatingly, dropped items disappear on save/load, so you can’t quit until you get your items back. I don’t know if Minecraft has an equivalent.

    The system you describe sounds a bit fairer, unless you died in an area with a LOT of tough enemies. Which is probably where people are most likely to die…

    • In minecraft, you drop all of the items when you die, regardless of difficulty. The items will despawn after about 5 minutes, so it’s often a frantic rush to try and get your stuff back.

      • Sam Courtney says:

        I believe they despawn after the chunk is loaded, so if you’re far enough away the timer doesn’t start ticking immediately (less punishment for exploring!). Not sure if they stay through load though…

        • swenson says:

          Yep, this. If, for example, you die in the Nether, you can leave your items there indefinitely so long as you NEVER re-enter the Nether near enough for that chunk to load. Closing and reopening the game should have no effect on this.

        • Jordan says:

          Well the reason they don’t despawn is because the chunk has been unloaded and saved to drive. So quitting doesn’t make any difference.

    • IFS says:

      Something that could be interesting is if the death penalty was adjustable (either as part of adjusting difficulty or as a separate option) as it would allow people who don’t like the downgrading to remove it.

      Also its been awhile since I played Minecraft but don’t some enemies pick up your dropped inventory and use it? That seems like it could be interesting in this game too, if to reclaim your powerups you might have to hunt for some now empowered enemy wandering the map, hopefully such enemies would wander more than others though so you don’t just have a pack of them waiting where you died, could make for interesting miniboss type encounters.

      • swenson says:

        Yeah… don’t accidentally throw your beautiful enchanted sword when a zombie is nearby.

        On a side note, I learned today that zombies actually deal more damage the lower their health is. Yet another subtle but effective mechanic!

      • Joe Cool says:

        Now here’s an idea. Make the death penalty dependent on difficulty. For instance, on easy mode, maybe you don’t lose power-ups on death, but on hard you lose them all.

        Also, robots picking up your power-ups could be interesting. Kind of like the thief bot from Descent II, who would sneak up on you and steal some random items, then run, forcing you to chase him through the level.

  6. Tektotherriggen says:

    A question about those segmented enemies – do they lose segments as they lose health? That might be a fun way to show the player they’re doing damage, although I’m sure it’s a bit of a cliché.

    • IFS says:

      I’ve always liked it when enemies have some visible reaction to damage like that, its even better when they have additional reactions such as moving faster as they get smaller, or the segments possibly turning into a new (small) version of the robot assuming they’re long enough (thats assuming the segments take damage and break individually). Probably not the thing to do with every segmented enemy but with some it could create some interesting fights where you have to try to be accurate to reduce the number of enemies you have to fight, or can just spray wildly to kill them faster but make things more dangerous for yourself in the process, different builds might favor different approaches to such a situation.

  7. Cuthalion says:

    I can’t be the only one waiting with genuine curiosity for when someone inevitably shows up to explain how, in fact, there can be snow inside a cave complex.

  8. Ozy says:

    I was JUST thinking about death spirals and similar sorts of things today, while playing my recently-arrived copy of Double Dealing Character. Many of the games in that series use some implementation of an often-derided mechanic, which is to say, “You can get extra lives by proving that you don’t need them.” The exact mechanic is always different, but there is always some test of skill for letting you get away with failures of that same skill. The most extreme example is perhaps the one used in Subterranean Animism, where you just straight-up get extra lives for not dying during boss fights.

    But something about this set up only just now occurred to me today, which is that it amplifies improvements in player skill. Since passing these tests of skill early on is easier, a player who progresses from being able to defeat an early boss to being able to capture all of their spell cards will be better equipped with lives and bombs for the later stages in addition to being more skilled. Thus, a small improvement in skill produces a somewhat larger impact in the player’s success in the late game due to this method of giving items.

    A similar thing would seem to happen in your game. An improvement in skill with both help in its own right, as well as make the player better equipped in the late game due to not having lost their powerups.

  9. I’d like to see a post titled “Stuff Josh Broke” or something. You did touch on a few things in these posts but a quick rundown of things that went wrong and how you fixed them might be of interest to folks. But if might end up a tad too dry for some folks here.

    Oh I just had an idea for a new enemy you could make.
    Most of the enemies her seem fast.
    But imagine a enemy that has a lot of armor/health and hits really hard, but is very slow, so slow that you can easily outrun it even without speed upgrades.
    But if one is hiding in a side passage near the start of a map and it spots you, it will sluggishly follow you through the entire map.
    Maybe call it a Stalker or Creeper or something.
    Thing is that at some point you have to deal with it unless you want to get sandwiched in-between a possible map boss and this sluggish thing.

    Also, are there any Bad Robots that has shield or barrier walls or similar?
    I.e. You run into a energy barrier in the main tunnel, and you have to go down a side tunnel and take whatever is generating it before you can get back to the main tunnel and continue.

    Also, any underwater/in-liquid sections? The effect liquid could have would be reduced mobility/speed, reduced visibility (use that flashlight code maybe?) and reduced laser damage or unable to shoot rockets. It would also allow a new enemy or two.
    And why would the Good Robot go down into some liquid? Maybe to shut down a barrier or maybe there is a powerup down there?

    I’m sure others here can come up with even more gameplay ideas.

    • (making another post to continue the one above, for some reason I was told I was not allowed to edit my post)

      You could even have half a level under liquid/water, imagine near the start the tunnel goes down into the water, and near the end of the tunnel it goes above the water again.

      Also, what about underground wind/draft so strong that it makes it difficult to stay in a steady line (underground geysers?) if you pass through one.
      And what about jets of lava or water that might randomly burst out (you could even add some timing puzzle to them), and what about falling rocks or stalactites (-mites?!) in some areas?
      Acidic clouds that float around slowly, touching them damages you (but can also damage enemies if you manage to trick them into the cloud).
      I could go on all day rambling up stuff like this :)

    • Mephane says:

      Your stalker/creeper concept sounds… creepy. It’s the stuff my childhood nightmares were made off. I usually can’t stand games that do that*. The very thought that at any time something might be following me just out of sight (something deadly on top of that) gives me the shivers, in a very not-fun way.

      *I even have trouble with games where something openly follows you and you are meant to outrun it. That undergound tunnel in HL2:EP2 where you have to outrun the big antlion – I had to actually cheat myself through that short section with god and noclip, otherwise I’d have to quit the game.

      • Akri says:

        I’m the same way. As a kid this was one of the main reasons I never got through the Warrio game I had (well, this and my general failure at platforming). There was a level where a big spikey block chased you, and would crush you if you didn’t get away fast enough. Any time I tried to play the game I got there and was like NOPE! Makes me anxious just thinking about it. Absolute game-killer for me.

    • Exetera says:

      The stalker idea is interesting, but it’s enough of a change to gameplay that I’d be very cautious about implementing it; assuming players don’t immediately go to kill the stalker, it effectively adds a time limit to the area (you need to be out before the stalker gets there) and makes dead ends much more dangerous (because your robot could get trapped inside by the stalker). I’m sure there are other, subtler effects, but even off the top of my head this sounds hard to make work.

  10. Primogenitor says:

    I’d be interested in hearing about the background you’ve got going on. In earlier screenshots it looked like a map overlay, but now I’m noticing it is not quite the same. Plus the layers have increased. To me it looks visually interesting, without being distracting. Any comments / problems you had with that?

  11. Mephane says:

    Okay, here comes my question: do you have any plans regarding procedural generation of maps?

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Yeah, I wanted to know about this, as well. Will everyone’s play-through be using the same map, or will the layout be different on every run (fly/hover/whatever)?

  12. Irridium says:

    Hm, that sounds a lot like how Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls handles death and difficulty. The better you are, the easier it gets. The worse you are, the harder it gets. And when you die, you lose a lot of stuff but you can regain it all by walking back there and beating whatever killed you.

  13. Rick says:

    The visuals are looking very polished, how far along is the non-gameplay UI? Menus etc.

    Did it ever cross your mind to try a co-op mode via split screen or LAN?

    Assuming everything is procedural, would you consider letting people see and enter the seeds?

    Have you enjoyed making your own assets instead of them being supplied by an art department?

  14. Jarenth says:

    Remind me to send you that screenshot where I have Every Powerup. There’s more lasers on-screen there than there is empty space.

  15. mac says:

    I don’t suppose you’d consider having the drop be a choice of powerup? Possibly from a limited set (offensive/defensive/missile boosts/laser boosts).

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      I was thinking something similar to this, but yet entirely different.

      Which is to let death force powerups to re-spec, so that you aren’t stuck with the same ones that gave you your current death.

      Which is, on death, you would lose all but one powerup, or perhaps you keep all of them, but they get randomised – so if you had a shield powerup and a dual-shooting powerup, if you die you might instead spawn with a super fast laser and powerful laser powerup setup instead.

      Would allow for players to get used to all the power up options, and if you did remove all but one of the powerups before randomising, then bad players get a new specification that hopefully helps them do better, and better players get a massive penalty in losing a large sum of powerups, and having to deal with an entirely new powerup.

      How this is in any way similar to mac’s comment is that it would allow the player to see more of the powerups early in the game, even if not necessarily able to specifically choose one.

      Though…perhaps with a randomised list of ones you can choose from? If you had 12 powerups, only allow them to pick from a randomly picked 4 of them?

      I have no idea if this would work or be fun, but it sounds like it should make players worse off get better options.

  16. sab says:

    What are your plans for the different level types? I can see the different background-ish levels have different styles of foreground details. At the same time, there is some repetition in the foreground style.
    For example, the bouncy-shot screenshots has two slopes at the bottom, and the left-side is identical in both of them. Maybe it’s an idea to have multiple variations of the same angled sprite, and procedurally loop through them when building the level?

    also: can’t wait for this game to be released.

    • silver Harloe says:

      Well, obviously, he has to have the ice level, the fire level, and the sewer level. I mean, we wouldn’t want him to get arrested for making a game without those :)

      • sab says:

        Ooooh, and a sky level! Oh, wait.

        • postinternetsyndrome says:

          Why not start with a sky level? Dead easy since there’s nothing to crash into. It’d be the tutorial. Players who doesn’t feel like repeating the tutorial could head straight down and enter the tunnels within seconds, while new players could follow various balloons or whatever to designated training areas for different skills.

          I imagine the whole game starting with Good Robot saying “bye mama!” to a big huge mama-robot in the sky.

          • Atarlost says:

            Not sure about the momma robot, but sky level as tutorial is a good idea.

            • MrGuy says:

              The problem with a sky level is that it’s effectively unlimited – you can go anywhere you want. That requires thinking about a lot of concepts you don’t need to think about in a relatively confined space.

              What happens if you decide to go “up” indefinitely and not “forward”? Do you eventually hit a “ceiling”? Or not? Do bad robots spawn as you move? Unlike a “fixed” corridor, you can’t “pre-position” bad robots in an effectively infinite space. Do they come back even after you’ve “cleaned out” a given place? If so, can you get infinite XP from roaming indefinitely? When are you “done” with this level? Is there a destination? How far away from that destination are you allowed to get?

              There are all kinds of issues you need to deal with in an open world you don’t have to think about in a linear one.

              • Eldiran says:

                Cloud walls!

              • Shamus says:

                I’m running into this problem already. I had the problem where people didn’t know if they should go left or right at the start. I solved this by putting a sheer wall directly to the left of the spawn point. Then everyone reliably went right, away from the wall.

                Everyone except the three (out of of my seven) playtesters that began by going straight up. Deprived of purpose, I suppose going up seemed like the most interesting choice. The first level takes place outside, so this is the only place where this is even possible.

                I’m sure this will be smoothed out once I add the tutorial prompts.

                • PhoenixUltima says:

                  You could just put some kind of hazard up in the sky. Like, have the whole sky past a certain (low) point be nothing but highly corrosive gas, powerful enough to kill even a fully upgraded robot in seconds. As long as it’s bright green and kind of glowy it should be immediately recognizable as something you don’t want to go flying around in. Story-wise it could be the aftermath of some great war that killed just about everybody. That’s why the robots all went underground, and why there are no (or very few?) humans running around.

                • topazwolf says:

                  I sense a cinematic opportunity. Have some kind of massive end level type bosses hanging around in the upper part of the level and have them slowly descend. Make them basically immortal to the players weaponry, and with one shot kill capabilities (make sure to only have them attack if the player is above them) so that the player is driven downwards and into a tunnel that the enemies can’t fit in. Thus you have explained why the good robot is under ground. Make them slow but easily seen by the player.

                • MrGuy says:

                  Or you have an opening cutscene that explains Good Robot’s motivations and his arduous journey to the Lair Of The Bad Robots.

                  The level starts with Good Robot at the entrance to the underground lair. Any attempt to NOT enter the lair results in a message like “Surely you don’t want to abandon your quest!” and a shove back towards the entrance of the cave.

                  Or just stop people going the wrong way in their tracks with “Sadly, you lack the programming for cowardice.”

                  • anaphysik says:

                    ““Sadly, you lack the programming for cowardice.””

                    Oh gosh that’s good.

                    • Steve C says:

                      I really like it too. I also like Roger’s suggestion.

                      I don’t like the cloud walls, or invincible bosses or corrosive gas. All that is bullshit mechanics Shamus has railed against on this blog in the past. Which instead of a heavy hand it’s an arbitrary hand.

                      If players choose to avoid the game, let them. Give them a text box of what happened after they flew off screen and never interacted with the game world again. Maybe Good Robot had an uneventful existence. Maybe Bad Robots took over all of underground and eventually poured into the sky and destroyed the world because Good Robot was not there to stop them.

                      Whatever happens just let them do it and have the game end for the player. Then the player can restart and go down.

                    • Syal says:

                      I was kind of liking the idea of a super-boss in the sky, that acts as a tutorial for new players but then powers up to ridiculous challenge mode if you don’t run away when it tells you to.

                • Solution is simple. Someone mentioned intro cinematic.

                  So what you do is have the Good Robot exit a mothership in the sky/space (you just need to show the bottom of it and so,e pretty lights, UFO style), a port opens and the robot exits and descends to the ground/asteroid/whatever.

                  As it descends you are given some quick instructions (datafeed from the mothership?), and you pass through some kind of atmosphere or something on the way down.

                  And if the Good Robot try to fly to far up/left/right you could get a “Program Error” or “Parameter Error” or something “Current Program parameters indicate descending as the only logical option!” or similar.

                  This can also explain why you are getting more datafeed (aka tutorial) near the surface than you do deeper (data signal limitations or disturbances?)

                  Your a writer Shamus, you should have no issues writing things that make sense gameplay wise as well. And as the main character is a robot, intentional odd programming limitations or even glitches on purpose are actually in character.

                  And wouldn’t it be awesome if Good Robot turned out to be just a delivery Robot, bringing a USB stick to Shamoo the Whale living in a asteroid? (slight HHGTG and Star Trek nod there with the space whale thing) ok I’m just joking around here now! Or am I?

                • Ross says:

                  Don’t know if someone already suggested this but surely the easiest way to deal with this is the fact that your Good Robot only has the ability to reach a certain altitude before falling downwards again?

                  Since it is clearly a robot for ‘indoors’ battle, this makes sense to me.

              • wererogue says:

                If you don’t go down, you wrap around the same empty, infinite area a bunch until you decide to go down. Put a warm glow or your first powerup (a lazer!) at the bottom of the start screen, and you’re good to go.

        • Chris Robertson says:

          Along those lines (and given the problems raised with a true sky level below), perhaps a windy level, where your character is buffeted by random(ish) breezes (or wind from vents)?

  17. Xapi says:

    I agree with Roger Hagensen, reports on interesting bugs, what caused them and how they were solved would make an interesting post.

    RE: Powerups, in my opinion, the best way to limit them would be to allow you to pick any number of them, but only have N active at a time, N being any number you feel is right, and possibly increasing as you level up.

    Loosing half of them on death and having to retrieve the other half seems pretty fair.

  18. Joshua says:

    What if you made the prevalence of powerups weighted by how well you were doing? If you’re dying a lot there’s an increased chance of getting more than one in a level, if you are cruising through the levels not dying there’s a chance of not getting one that level. A problem is that it might makes it that once you’re good enough the game becomes more static (but if you’re already there the additional powerups are probably making it even more boring), but at least if you’re struggling you’ll start to accumulate powerups to help.

    • Chuck Henebry says:

      This also a clever solution.

    • Matt K says:

      I like that solution as well. Perhaps have power-ups only last through that level but then make them appear every X kills +/-Y (at semi-random intervals).

      That way it doesn’t make say level 3 super easy and if someone is having a hard time, you can make them appear sooner (and perhaps keep it so that you loose all power-ups on death). Also if someone is doing really well, then they can get them on the later end of the curve.

  19. KingJosh says:

    I love pretty much all of your posts, and I have particularly enjoyed “Good Robot.” For what it’s worth, though, posts on programming/technical concerns tend to be my favorite posts! More posts on gameplay, philosophy-of-design, and spam would all be great, too. But I love your programming posts.

  20. Kevin C. says:

    [Note: I play Eve…wording will be based on that game. Sorry.]

    Here’s what I think would be a good way to go:

    Your starter ship has one generic powerup slot. Yay! (There will only ever be one Generic powerup slot.) The Generic one can fit any type of powerup.

    When you can improve things (level up), you have an option to add another powerup slot to your ship, but only an “Offensive” or “Defensive” type. Once selected, you cannot remove / change it (though you can chose to not pick it back up when you die). Speaking of which, when you die, your powerup slots are dropped as well…so after getting back to your wreck you can refit it as it was…or not.

    Note: There should only be four or five powerup “mount points” on the ship even though there may be many more powerups.

    This lets a player decide what works best for them, whether it’s “three defensive powerups and an offensive one” or “four offensive ones” it’s completely each player’s decision.

    Purchasing the powerup mount points works to make the progression slightly slower, but in theory this game could go on indefinitely (just add more baddies as they go deeper).

    Again, it’s what I think would work. I could be wrong.


  21. Jeremiah says:

    A few random thoughts. I think at least one of these has been mentioned. And they’re not necessarily all meant to work together.

    1. Have powerups be more temporary, like on a timer.

    2. If you can keep multiple powerups, put a limit on it. Then decide what happens when new powerups are found when you’re at max. Maybe a sort of inventory screen so they can drop something in favor of something new.

    3. On death, let the player choose which powerups are destroyed. For one, it means not losing a favorite powerup to chance. Two, if they have a lot of powerups they really like, now they have to make the gut-wrenching decision of which ones to get rid of. Having players make that choice is both really fiendish and also avoids frustration at random loss (these are the sorts of things I love forcing players to do when I’m a GM).

    4. I know you mentioned not wanting anything new mechanically, but maybe powerups have to be activated. Maybe there’s even a pack where they get collected and you can activate them as you want. This would work well with the timed/temporary powerup idea.

  22. Here’s some thoughts off the top of my head:

    1. Make individual powerups more powerful when you only have a few of them. You still get some effect from each powerup when you have 5 of them, but a single powerup does a lot more on its own when you only have one. I understand that a system like this would be SPECTACULARLY difficult to implement, though, because you’d have to figure out gradations for every powerup (eeek) and then implement them. Okay, maybe not. It might be easier and better to put a graded time limit on all the slots after the first one, so, say, powerup 2 lasts 1 minute, 3 lasts 45 seconds, 4 lasts 30 seconds, etc. and when the latter ones run out of time, they vanish.

    2. Make one of your levelup abilities be “how many powerups can I carry at one time”. So if someone loves powerups and wants to stack them to the sky, they’re giving up power in other areas.

    3. Have enemies that can steal your powerups and make use of them.

    4. Have hazards that will occasionally steal your powerups.

    • Karthik says:

      #3 and 4 sound brilliant, especially if there’s just one (sneaky) enemy archetype that does the stealing mixed in with the mob.

    • Syal says:

      You could make 1 work by just rotating through all the working powerups. So shot 1 uses the Twin Lasers, shot 2 uses Bouncing Laser, shot 3 uses Split Laser, and shot 4 goes back to Twin Laser.

      • kmc says:

        I really like this idea, although it could get weird with different types of powerups and, whenever the player notices it, could be aggravating. It would be hard to tell how effective, say, your shields are or your energy pool if there’s a constantly fluctuating effect modifying them. And in the case of those, it would sort of make them obsolete, because you’d have to spend your level points boosting those stats anyway in order to prepare for worst-case scenarios, and then you might not want to bother breaking up your nice cycle of your damage-dealing powerups. Maybe if it’s not too complicated to implement, you’d have categories of powerups and you’d cycle through each category each shot or hit or something. For instance, you’d always have one bullet-based one active, one shield-related one, one missile one, &c., but it would feel like you were getting random (but beneficial) effects as you fought.

        Heh, you could have some fun cycling through different shield powerups, such as one that caused a little explosion around you when you got hit or one that recharged your energy a little bit on hit. Say one of the incoming shots was in phase and set up a resonance in your shields that sent a little feedback into your power core or something.

        Oh, but if you cycled through them, you wouldn’t get the effects stacking like Shamus talked about, and then there might not be as much interest in picking up new ones if you already liked the one you had. It just gives you a chance to *not* use that on a shot because a different one is up in the rotation, and either they’re not fundamentally different and you don’t care which ones gets used or it’s disappointing. Maybe.

    • kmc says:

      I was thinking along the lines of #1 myself, although I don’t think this way would really be worth it to implement. My thought was related to something someone else said in an earlier comment, that for N powerups, each one is fueled by 100/N% of your energy–not that each one would use up that much energy, but just as a way of calculating how effective each is. I’m not describing it well, but maybe you get the idea. Maybe, to simplify, you have a max of, say, 10 simultaneous powerups (or some other number that seems very generous), and each one has 10 levels of effectiveness. It’d almost be like having a set number of points that you can use however you’d like among your equipped powerups without all the fiddlyness that would be associated with something like that.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But arent random powerups leading exactly to the same problem you had with FTL?Having money that you use to upgrade your ship the way you want is much better.Instead of random powerups,why not have powerup tokens that you can use to purchase one of these extra feats that arent available via regular XP?

    Keep the mechanic of having them being scattered once you die,though,thats a nice penalty for death.

    • Matt K says:

      See, that’s why I like my idea above. Having them be more numerous but only lasting the level would put the emphasis on the leveling system being the main thing you rely on to survive while the power-ups only serve as a bonus and a bit of a change up during the level.

      If it only lasts the level then it being random doesn’t seem as bad, especially if you get a bunch of them each level.

      That said with this type of system you’d have to balance out the earlier portion of the level as each level you coming in fresh. But on the other hand it allows for increasing the late level difficulty so each level has it’s own increase in tension while you still get a bit of a breather to start.

    • Klay F. says:

      I think the key difference is that you can still beat the whole game without even worrying about powerups, whereas in FTL its just not possible. Shamus might even introduce a score multiplier that decreases when you acquire a powerup.

  24. I’m pretty interested in the backend side of things, personally.

    The flashy gamedesign stuff is a great read, and reading about skipped features sure sounds interesting, but I could use a bit more technical details :)

  25. Kian says:

    Are there any environmental hazards in the game? Areas that slow you down, drain shields, damage you through shields or the like? Spiky walls that deal more damage if you run into them? Or flipping that around, any areas that provide benefits to you like faster recharge?

  26. LazerBlade says:

    I, for one, like the direction you’ve taken the powerups. They aren’t temporary easy mode. I’m also in favor of the balance between punishment for dying and incentive to keep playing after. I hate it both when powerups feel gimmicky (invulnerability/cloak in Descent always felt like this to me), or when after a bit of gameplay, losing one life means you may as well restart because all of your powerups went bye-bye, and you need them. See: Gradius.

  27. Daniel says:

    What about adding a minimum number of powerups you can get back from the place you died?

    Say you made the minimum 3. Then, someone with 6 powerups would be able to recover half (as in your system), but someone with 4 would be able to recover all but 1 and someone with 3 or fewer could get them all back. That way, dieing is always a penalty, but it’s not nearly as bad if you didn’t have as much to lose. (You might need to raise or lower the minimum depending on how plentiful powerups are.)

    What do y’all think?

  28. postinternetsyndrome says:

    Lots of awesome ideas above. I don’t feel I have any better ideas for the systems, but that example of the double, piercing bouncy shots makes me think their effects should maybe be toned down a little? Like they will only bounce/pierce a specific amount of times (and lose power after each bounce).

    Like others in here, I’d like to see a “tales from playtesting” post. Also video of the game in action. Or at least bigger screens.

  29. Khizan says:

    Make some of the upgrades mutually exclusive. You can have, say, two main weapon upgrades, one missile upgrade, and one defensive upgrade. When you get a new powerup you get the opportunity to slot it, leave it, or junk it for EXP.

    The ability to scrap it for bonus EXP keeps powerups useful even when you’ve got the ones you want already.

  30. Brandon says:

    Since everyone is full of suggestions, and I’m sure you love suggestions, here’s my 2 cents.

    One way other games manage having lots of powers and upgrades is by limiting how many you can have active. You can have collected 10 different power-ups, but you can only use 2 or 3 at a time. Then you can penalize death by taking all the active power-ups, but leaving all the inactivated ones. That way players have to be careful. If they tear through with their most potent power-up combination, they may make the game easier, but if they get cocky and make a mistake, they risk losing their best mix.

    This also encourages folks to try different power-up combinations, so they don’t lose all their best power-ups in one bad moment. Maybe put in a really good one and a couple mediocre ones and create a combination that might not be the best, but is certainly workable. This could also allow players to dynamically change their abilities as the situation demands.

    Just a thought…

  31. Thearpox says:

    Since it seems like the powerups are now central to using your power effectively, obviously some varieties are going to be more useful in some situations than others. Some are more useful in hallways, some in open space, some against bosses.

    How do you plan to deal with an “A” focused player suddenly encountering a “B” situation?
    Are we going to have multiple paths through the levels? (Claustrophobic route, open space route, etc. The getting lost problems could be solved with some kind of markers, or a depth meter on the avatar, or a map of the explored area.)
    Are the powerups going to be easily interchangeable, so players can swap them instantaneously?
    Is the game going to adjust to what powerups the player has?

    Also, what new enemies will appear to counteract the increased player’s DAKKA? And what abilities will they maybe have?

    Regarding the game being easier if the player doesn’t die, you could experiment with what many bullet hells do, to speed up the game if the player does well. That could be a bad idea, but could also make the gameplay more challenging for someone doing very well.

    And will you experiment will game sections that will take the powerups away? Like some power generators that will temporarily weaken them, or you could take some lessons from the Bioshock and have the powerups randomly swap out for a few hours in the second half of the game.

  32. l3f4y says:

    Instead of just putting the powerups on a timer, why not give each one an energy bar? Still finite, but then the player has to judge how best to use them instead of rushing to get the most value out of them before they disappear. You could show an icon for each powerup on the side of your screen with a litle meter or counter beside it.

    That said, my favorite idea so far has been making powerup capacity another upgradeable (with XP) stat.

  33. swenson says:

    “A good balancing feature is the health system in Half-Life 2. The lower your health, the more healing you get from items.”

    I love this. I mention it as often as I can in discussions about how games should drop things, because it’s brilliant. And it’s easily testable yourself–damage yourself next to a crate, and suddenly it contains a full-sized medkit. Walk up to it with 100 health, and you get only a small medkit, or maybe no medkit at all. It’s such a beautifully invisible system, but it manages to keep you right at the sweet spot of feeling a game is difficult, yet through sheer skill and luck (and totally not the game having mercy) you’ve pulled through.

    As for what I’d like to hear about, I’d be interested in some of the directions you considered taking Good Robot, but decided against (and, of course, why you didn’t think they worked out). And of course I always love to hear about programming stuff in general.

    Oh, and of course I’m curious about why, precisely, Good Robot is so good, and what he’s after anyway.

  34. Jordan says:

    Perhaps something akin to Call of Duty’s deathstreaks might make some sense? A temporary buff to survivability (such as increased damage resistance, or increased speed) to help you get back to where you where without the penalty of being weaker disadvantaging you too much.

  35. Ilseroth says:

    I’d have to say, based on “what we would like to see next” kinda thing, I would say, all of the above? really anything that you would like to write about, after all that’s why you have a blog, to write about things you wanna write about.

    That being said, a bit of gameplay video would be cool. I know you said you didn’t wanna crush some peoples dreams of what the game is going to be, but simple truth is your game is going to be what it is, doesn’t matter if you crush dreams today or tomorrow, better to do it now before someone gets hyped for a game that you aren’t making.

    While I do look forward to trying the game, the most valuable part, for me, is reading about you making it. It gives an interesting perspective on game development while in the process of actually doing it.

  36. BitFever says:

    What you could do is pull a dark souls. When you die you drop all your powerups but you can pick them all back up. if you die again then they are gone forever.
    You can allow people to grind back up for more powerups by having little challenge rooms that will drop a powerup for you after beating a wave of relatively easy enemies. These challenge rooms could be used once per life so if someone is struggling with the game they can go back and buff themselves up a bit for hard bosses.

  37. bigben1985 says:

    “Maybe you want to hear about some of the features I skipped? Or about the technical back end? Or whatever.”

    Yes. In that order, please :)

  38. Paul Spooner says:

    Yeah, those powerups are difficult to handle huh? It’s fun to be powerful, but not too powerful… Here’s an idea, why not have powerups apply to enemies as well (when you pick them up)? Then the game gets crazier and crazier until you die. If you know you’re going to be fighting a lot of missile foes, maybe you choose to NOT get the missile upgrades. Could be an interesting strategic choice instead of just making things easier all the time.

    Things to talk about? How about:
    Procedural level generation (mentioned above)
    Enemy visual design
    Boss design and progression

    Have you added terrain destruction? If not, why not? It seems like the engine is designed to support it easily enough.

  39. topazwolf says:

    I have an idea on how to increase the challenge of the game for loot hogs. Have an enemy type that is essentially a mimic bot. For every power up you have, this enemy type will also have a power boost (be it the same power ups or not). So while these enemies will be instantly killed if you are without power ups, a hoarder will be confronted with a boss level monstrosity at regular intervals to challenge his incredible power. The up side is that if you die, this enemy becomes progressively (or if you lose all your power ups until you pick up half it would become instantly) weaker so that it will eventually be able to be overcome. This will almost guarantee that the player loses half of their power ups if they have become unbalancedly strong. The real bonus is it can act as a limiter to keep relatively unskilled players from rendering the game to easy by exploiting the power-ups, while not providing too massive an obstacle. However, extremely skillful players will still be able to kill the enemies and continue their rampage of death. If you go this route however, I would space these enemies out so that they only appear rarely and with a bit of fan fair so that the players can learn to fear them without becoming too aggravated at them.

    Bonus point if the mimic bot looks a bit like the player.

  40. Eldiran says:

    To throw another suggestion into the pile: perhaps the player can gather as many powerups as they want, but can only use one at a time? And can switch between them at any point?

    You could also add a sort of “limit break” mode where, for a brief time, you can use all the powerups you have at once. Possibly as an item drop, or a 1x per level kind of thing.

    The downside to this is you’d have to add a key to switch which powerup you have ‘equipped’. The upside is you get the balance of 1 powerup at a time while also still allowing the power trip of combining them all.

  41. Felix says:

    What about letting the player collect as many power-ups as they want, but only letting them have 2 active at any one time. That prevents some of the overpowered synergy and allows for some interesting combo-ing still.

    You could also make it so you lose all non active power ups on death, and if there are no non active power ups only then do you lose the active ones. That gives a little leeway for error if a player is struggling, but can still give some real punishment to a player who has been sprinting through the game and acquired a huge inventory of power ups.

  42. ThomastheRhymer says:

    My only question is when can I buy this and play it for myself!?

  43. Phantos says:

    What are the robot’s names?

    Also, is there an end state/final boss in mind?

  44. Harry says:

    You know, the system of collecting powerups and getting more and more powerful as the game progresses really lends itself to the roguelike formula. Hugely successful roguelikes, like Binding of Isaac and Spelunky, rely on the player finding items and getting more powerful as they go, but keep up tension because the player is constantly fearing death – which is permanent.

    (This also opens the opportunity to have certain powerups provide “respawn” powers, to have you resurrect rather than die. Like the Ankh in Spelunky, or the 1UP in Binding of Isaac.)

    You clearly have a very definite vision of what you want this game to be, and I know how you feel about “punishing” gameplay – but as a huge fan of perma-death roguelikes, I have to say, the fun is in the journey and not necessarily in reaching the destination. And a fun, interesting death can be reward in and of itself. Perhaps you could at least consider this as an optional “Iron Man” mode?

    (Also, not to be all crass and commercial, but there’s a HUGE effin’ market for indie roguelikes right now.)

    • Phantos says:

      I actually think perma-death in Roguelikes is really annoying. At least in regards to always-random dungeons. It just feels more like the game is condescending me than anything.

      ME: “I could’ve beaten that!”
      GAME: “Surrrrrre you could have. Whatever you say. I mean, I won’t let you try again, but no, you totally had a chance there pal. ;)”

      I decide what’s too difficult for me, and I resent that option being taken out of my hands by a game just to fulfill a gimmick. At least Rogue Legacy lets you lock down the previous castle layout after you die. Even if it comes at the price of how much loot you get.

  45. What you could do is do a rogue-like configuration. If the powerups are randomized, you can make a certain combination that is really savage. If the enemies scale up, such that you have to deal with hosts of weak enemies from the start of the game combined with rough enemies at the end, then the challenge is maintained: You are playing through until you get the strongest combination.

  46. ehlijen says:

    Is it possible to represent the power ups as visible components stuck to your robot?

    Then having more would increase your hit box and thus bring a corresponding increase in difficult.

  47. dan says:

    How about you randomize the Power Ups on death?

    The player loses their “favorite” build, but it’s not like they measurably become less powerful–the “penalty” in this case is just being forced into a different playstyle. They might even find it’s a reward if it’s a combo that fits them better! I think this would mitigate the Death Spiral effect enough while still making it a “punishment for dying.”

  48. Fang says:

    What about instead of some time limit, like others were suggesting, why not a “durability” meter? You are limited to 2 powerups(1 offensive and 1 defensive), that have durability in the sense that at full durability it does its full effect, half durability halves the effect, zero durability still lets the effect activate but isn’t anywhere near as powerful.

    Still lets you “reward” the player by having boss fights, either with a new powerups or a recharger that refills their powerups whilst still letting the level system play a major role.

    For the whole Death Spiral thing, with this system you could make death lose X percent of the durability. Still hinders them, but nothing impassible.

  49. rayen022 says:

    in regards to your power-up problem limit the number of power-ups you can have. either a hard limit of like 3 or 4 or a variable based on difficultly (easy 5 power-ups, medium 4, hard 3, impossible 1 etc. etc.). Or make it a leveling option, one of your stats, a character build based on power-ups would be interesting.

  50. Nidokoenig says:

    Couple of ideas for balancing power-ups:

    1. Increase enemy numbers and strength based on the player’s DPS. Not an autocalculated one, just record how much damage they dish out during a level and divide it by the time they take. People can game this by finishing all but one robot and waiting twenty minutes before killing it, but this is balanced by them having to sit around for twenty minutes. It’s also cool to see how much damage you dished out total, and having more robots appear means the difficulty either escalates or the player moves to a more defensive stance or spends more time running away while their shields and energy regenerate and does less damage per second, thus stopping the difficulty increase. Obviously you’d put in a sanity check so the game doesn’t become a meat grinder, though that should also be togglable in advanced difficulty settings.

    2. Include a form of Kick Me Sign. In God Hand, you can activate special abilities that deal heavy damage to opponents, but using them blows off a Kick Me sign the companion character sticks to your back early on. This leads to Kick Me runs, where players attempt to beat the entire game while wearing it. This solves the problem of any one special ability being too strong by making the truly impressive runs dependent on not using it, and forces a focus on making the core game sans special abilities viable and fun. This would probably require an explicit input for picking up an item, or an equipment menu.

    3. Track how many power-ups the player equips. Someone upthread mentioned reducing the score multiplier the more power-ups you have, but you could also just have a set number of power-ups and a completion percentage, which encourages low percentage runs that we see in Metroidvanias. This is basically a soft version of the Kick Me sign, losing the all-or-nothing aspect, but it gains the strategic consideration of what particular power-ups are worth dinging your low percentage for. It does require testing to make sure no optional power-ups are significantly better than all the rest, though I suppose you can just note down the power-ups the player picked up and what percentage of the game they had them for on the final results screen and let the community decide what they consider skilful play.

  51. RyanMakesGames says:

    Perhaps players can only use 1 power up at a time, even though they can carry any number of them. This would mean that you gain more options over time, but not necessarily more power

  52. Chiller says:

    My reaction on reading about losing powerups on death (based on previous experience with similar games):

    “This is a terrible idea.”

    Read a bit more…

    “Hmm, I guess it’s worked out for him.”

    Read more…

    “Ah, nevermind.”

  53. WillRiker says:

    I’m not sure I like the idea of losing powerups on death at all. This was one of my least favorite things about old-school rail shooters — you’d go through the level, picking up powerups and getting stronger so you could take on more powerful enemies. Then, the second you die, you lose all your powerups but are fighting the same powerful enemies, and they crush you. Effectively it meant that even though you had 3 or 4 lives, you actually only had *one* real life–the one where you have all the powerups and are actually capable of fighting. Once you died once you became powerless and were forced into losing battle after losing battle until you got a game over. Not fun at all. Thankfully the bullet hell shooter genre ditched that idea years ago.

    Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it–Good Robot isn’t Galaga, obviously. But it creates a conundrum — either it’s possible to be effective at the game without the powerups, in which case the powerups will make the game too easy; or the game is too difficult to fight without powerups, so the first time you die and lose them all the game becomes a farce where it kills you over and over again just to be mean. I don’t know if there’s a middle ground here, but I think the more powerful the powerups are, the less likely that is to be the case.

  54. ET says:

    What type of pathfinding do the enemy robuts have?
    I know you mentioned that the baddies have limited AI, where they just do some predetermined flight patterns, but I don’t think you mentioned pathfinding specifically.

    Another question:
    When/if you release this game, will you plan on making any of it open source?


  55. Syal says:

    Since I keep mentally comparing this to 1943 (the level-up system anyway), I might as well mention their powerup system. In it certain enemies would drop powerups, but you could shoot the powerups and turn them into health pickups. That might be easier to balance than anything else; you get one usable powerup, but the rest regenerate your health/energy so they’re still worth finding.

    Also one of them got more effective if you got another copy of it. Maybe Twin Shot become Trine Shot if you find it again.

    • ET says:

      Super Raiden Fighters Jet IV (Or whatever the heck it was called before they started moving from 2D to 3D.) had pretty good powerups too.
      It would cycle between shot/missile/…something-I-can’t-remember, and if you always got the same type, you’d get more powerful.
      If you got a different type, you went down to power level 1…or maybe stayed the same?
      I can’t remember; Good game though! :)

  56. TMC_Sherpa says:

    I don’t remember if this has been posted somewhere but how long is a typical game/level?

    Power ups, level progression and death mean different things (in my opinion) depending on how long a play session is.

  57. Rob Davidoff says:

    So, I can’t comment on twitch and don’t really feel like registering another account someplace, so I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading this series, and having watched in in action…wow! This looks like something I really want to play, even more than I’d thought that from the posts.

  58. Zak Mckracken says:

    Thanks for the livestream Josh (and Shamus for tweeting it) — unfortunately the chat somehow doesn’t work for me, so here’s a bunch of stuff that got in my mind:
    – Inky depths — how I love the atmosphere! Flashlight plus dark-ish environment equal very cool
    – at least in the very dark levels, explosions of enemies (or even shots? Special light-shots?) should light up the adjacent scenery
    – reflecting shots should loose power with every reflection
    – ohh, and pretty good music choice, even though this is extremely far from my usual music of choice. But the whole 8-bit vibe is just very nicely underlined. Maybe sometimes it could be a little more action-y? Like the robot factory doesn’t sound like a proper rave, rather laid back actually,
    – Gameplay: I’m not sure if Josh would still evade them, but it would be cool to have some ambush-like attacks where the player will be surrounded by lots of enemies, to more a variety of “few hard enemies” vs. “many not-so-hard ones”
    – Wooow, that giant ball of enemies! Something like that MUST be in the final game at one point (or two)!
    – Bigger Asplosions for bosses might be nice
    – Ohh, zooming! Could this be happening during regular play depending on the environment, movement speed or maybe just as response to player input?
    – The Walters should maybe give you more energy. That cloud of yellow from several Walters doesn’t even fill a third of Josh’s energy.

    • Zak Mckracken says:

      P.S.: The console is totally not ruining the game! Pleaaaase lieave that in for the final version because that was the best part of Josh’s game!

  59. DerekTheViking says:

    Loved the livestream – sounds like the game wasn’t quite “where you left it” in terms of the Spider movement, story pickups and so on, but it was still fantastic to actually see it in action.

    The game is much slower than I expected – ambush and snipe, versus the “geometry wars in tunnels” picture I had in my mind. This is no bad thing, and I think you can do some really interesting things with it. Shadows of bots zipping around in the background to set up an ambush, periods of frantic action interspersed with calm, true ambushes where retreat is blocked…

    I did feel, however, that most enemies moved in too similar a manner – limited by the same speeds and accelerations. Geometry Wars has some fantastic variety here – green squares that “dash” out of your line of fire, so that you could corral them with your lasers; Red berserkers that are front-shielded and dash at you, so that you have to dodge them and shoot from the side; stationary powerful enemies that draw you in…

    With the enemy AI as it is, it all seems a little too docile. I’d love to see you really cut loose and see what you can do with the enemies.

  60. Nick Powell says:

    For an example of good powerups in a game, look at Shooter in the Abstract. It’s one of the most satisfying little games I’ve ever played.

  61. Winter says:

    Release a beta.

  62. CJGeringer says:

    what if the power-ups funcioned as weapons in megaman(and some shoot-em-ups). You can have many of them, but you only have one active at any time, and you have an input for cycling trough power-ups?

    This way the power-ups don´t raise your power-level as much as they raise your flexibility.

  63. cory says:

    Punishment on death should be focused entirely on the player’s ego. Keep track of how many times they die and give them a gold star if they don’t die at all, a silver star if they die less than x times, etc. Maybe a comical “Golden Turd” if they did really bad. You can make other challenges if you want, too. (Beat the game without using missiles! Without putting points into X! Without putting points into anything!) Players will think “Oh I died! I guess I won’t get that reward!” which is much less frustrating than “Oh I died and the game is punishing me!”

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