Of Spiders and Incremental Development

So, this was basically what I was going to write about yesterday, before I went on a super killer big quest of infinite unravelling.  A few days ago I was working on new enemies, mostly for the first dungeon (the Rootworld Ruins), and decided I wanted to do spiders. I already had spider art I did for another game ages ago I can modify to fit with this game's style, specifically this dungeon's style. All I had to do was code up the movement patterns and I was good to go.

Of course, I wanted the spiders to have more complicated movement patterns than the usual enemies in the overworld. I'd kept them simple on purpose, walk back and forth, that sort of thing. To ease the player into the game and how it works, basically. But in the first dungeon I wanted to step up the complexity a notch and see what happens. My original thought was spiders sliding down webs might be a bit difficult, given the gravity and physics of the game (super simple gravity and physics, as you can see when you throw a skull, hah...), so I thought I could make them into jumping spiders, and they would be like the fleamen in Castlevania.

So I coded up some stuff, and it was wonky. They weren't doing an arc jump exactly right...in fact, they seemed to move too slow, and just glide up and down. And it looked exactly like how a spider eases up and down a web in real life! You know what I mean, they go down a little, climb back up, go down a little more, go up a little, easing down a little at a time on their thin strand of web.

So, then I was like, I can use this. It might be easier to get them to do webs after all. So I coded the slide up and down routine, and I was like, I can have it so when the player walks under them, they drop down on them. Which, man, it worked perfectly. I also coded in some basic routines that the allows the spider to break the web once they hit the ground, and then run after the player. So, even if the player doesn't walk under them, since they're easing down each moment, eventually they'll hit the ground and take after her.

Brilliant. This is what I loved about incremental design, it's able to simplify on the fly, and use a disadvantage to your advantage. Something not working as planned? Scrap the plan, see if you can use what you got. Sometimes this require sacrifices on cool ideas, other times it helps make the game into something unique and interesting.

For example, with this game, the first two months of coding and design where discovering what this game *really* was about. I had some basic gameplay ideas, and some basic themes I wanted to go with, but that was all there was to it. I knew I wanted exploration, non-linear gameplay, and simple, stripped down controls. Sure, my original controls got tossed out, and my original idea, as cool as it was, got tossed out, too (science fiction game, where you pulled shadows that infected your enemies instead of hurting them, you heal them. Great idea! I just couldn't get the gameplay right. It wasn't fun, nor interesting, or rather, I couldn't make it fun nor interesting. This might be an idea I return to later, after I shake the rust off my game development skills). Eventually, I got to where I am now.

A stripped down, tiny epic, that's big on exploration, environment interaction, and mood and theme. Environment interaction was something that grew out of this incremental design, and once I made it easy to drop in items it became a cinch. Funny enough, my kids were beta testing it (both of them love video games) and they kept wanting to pick up things I just stick on the maps as details to make them more interesting (mushrooms, flowers, skulls, bones, etc). My daughter even had another suggestion about the skulls I won't tell you about here, I don't want to spoil the surprise.

I think that's also key to this game- surprises. I have a ton of them in store for the player, and I don't want to tell them anything. Games these days are constantly shouting at the player- press this to do that! Do this, do that! If you put this thing here, this other thing will happen!

I wanted this game to be pick up and play. A few control information at the start to give you the gist, and the rest is all up for the player to explore and discover on their own. And I think that will give a lot of extra oomph to this experience. It's going to be a smallish game, and the surprises and discovery aspects, I think, work best like this in a smaller game, giving more time to run off and find secrets that aren't key to beating the game. A tiny open world that allows players to just mess around and do stuff.

A larger game that would become unwieldily and a bear. But a game of this size, with about four or five bosses and tons of little secrets? Well, I think that's something else entirely. It's completely doable, a ton of fun, and short enough that the gameplay doesn't wear on the player and become a chore.

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