Sunday, May 2, 2010


My next game is called Sequence Breaker. The name comes from the practice, especially prevalent in Metroidvania games, of doing things out of the proper order and/or skipping over chunks of the game entirely, usually by exploiting some incredible feat of gaming skill to get to places you're not supposed to be just yet.

In that the game is intended to encourage the player to look closely at it and to discover ways to "cheat", it could be considered something of an extension of Ultrageist.The difference is that Ultrageist, by dint of its three minute time limit, kinda bends the player to its will. If you don't figure out the little tricks, you don't get any farther in the game. Ultrageist was in many ways a deliberately frustrating game, in which nothing was explained to the player-- pretty much the antithesis of how one should go about designing a game. Certainly it was a very different process than Side Saddle 2, which was play-tested up the wazoo, as the various "making-of" videos can no doubt attest.

So one thing that sets Sequence Breaker apart from Ultrageist is that it's not being built to frustrate. The point of the game is to think more deeply, to tease out loopholes and then exploit them, but the game doesn't punish you for not figuring it out.

Another difference is, of course, that Sequence Breaker is a platformer. Shmups, by their very nature, only have a handful of rules and types of interactions, and as a result the potential for "bugs", loopholes, and exploits is relatively limited. Platformers, on the other hand, are complex enough to support this kind of meta-gaming on a large scale, and also to deepen it beyond Ultrageist's simple "at this part, do this" and "here, you do that". Too many of the levels took the form of this sort of schematic puzzle, and that's something I want to avoid in Sequence Breaker, something that I think the metroidvania formula will perversely help me to avoid.

Metroidvania games, after all, take the form of puzzles-with-obvious-schematic-solutions themselves. This ledge is too high, so we need a high-jump power-up, which is behind this wall of ice, so we need the melting ray, which is on the other hand of this lava pit, so we need a grappling hook. All that, just to get to the other side of a ledge. It's fun but also somewhat mindless, and not really all that "non-linear".

But by presenting the player with that sequence, and telling them, hey, see if you can break it-- it's right there in the title! (not to mention the dialogue)-- my hope is that the player will start really thinking about the game's rules, their character's abilities, and the "unintended" ways those can interact. As such, I find that I'm really designing two games-- one very tight and linear, holding the player's hand every step of the way, directing the experience as best I can, and a second one, that's looser, more non-linear, with multiple avenues for the player to pursue if they're not afraid to give it a shot.

And while that second game is what Sequence Breaker really is, what it's intended to be, the first one isn't just an after-thought, nor can it be dull. Because if the player chooses to play the sequence from start to finish, it still has to work, make sense, and provide the player with the pleasures inherit in the genre. And that will be the subject of my next dev. journal.

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