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Pond Scrum Post Mortem

Game Mechanics

Pond Scrum is an arena shooter, where the player controls a ship that fires bullets at randomly spawning enemies, which all attempt to collide with the player.

In Pond Scrum the player controls four bullet emitters (or 'options') that follow the player around. These emitters shoot bullets in varying patterns depending on the current behavior of the player which the player can cycle through on the fly. Emitters can also be placed on the field, becoming immobile. Placed emitters are no longer controlled directly by the player. Placing emitters also reduces the amount of emitters orbiting the player, and vice versa.

Here's a quick design breakdown of the things I considered while making the game.
 
Interesting player mechanics : bullet emitters/options instead of traditional firing schemes

Interesting is a loaded word, but many arena shooters are based off of the Geometry Wars model -- a single ship shoots many bullets. Pond Scrum diverges from this a little bit with four options that shoot many bullets instead, with the ways they can shoot bullets. There's also the additional choice of putting them on the field so they shoot many bullets from a different position.

I'd like to think that this changes how a player approaches threats in the game -- the balance between offensive firepower (orbiting emitters) and battlefield management (placed emitters) can let a player proactively shape the battlefield and where they can expect enemies.

In addition, the player can also juggle between three different behaviors, where each behavior has a unique use. Red functions fantastically as the quickest way to blow a hole in an advancing wall of enemies, while Yellow damages enemies while the player is moving to a safe location. Green and the 'plague effect' can really quickly clear the field if you have time to wait around.Placed emitters also have their niche. Placed Red deals great damage and ignore shields enemies, Placed Yellow is the only source of instant AoE damage, while Placed Green slowly sucks up nearby enemies -- great for throwing off enemies that follow the player.

Player Encouragement : Enemies that try to encourage different player behaviors

Enemies try to keep the player from sticking to one mode for too long. Shield enemies take focused fire to take down, or else they'll block the player's attacks, while other enemies render portions of the battlefield inaccessible, or spawn 'mines', or fire bullets when detonated.

Spawning patterns can encourage the player to stay still (such as the one that encircles the player) or force the player to move (such as the one that spawns an enemy near the player periodically). Other patterns might temporarily present a barrier to the player by spawning enemies in a line across the room.

Player Excitement : "Difficult - Easy - Difficult" and raising the stakes

Pond Scrum awards the player distinct powerups depending on the multiplier, which is in itself a measure of how many enemies the player has killed during their current life. Each powerup dramatically increases the player's ability to shred enemies.

Since the multiplier is also tied to the difficulty, this means that I can tune the game so that the player feels rewarded for making it to a powerup tier by being able to slice and dice enemies effortlessly, but eventually feel challenged as the difficulty rises and the pace of enemies spawning increases.

In all games the attempt to grab and keep player engagement is an ongoing one. The graded scaling of difficulty in this game is my attempt to address the issue -- difficulty still exists, but a player has smaller short-term goals to aim for.

All's Pond-Well That Pond-Ends Well

Overall I'm very pleased with how Pond Scrum turned out, though this is from the same perspective as that of a new father. In the future, if I return to Pond Scrum I'd like to expand the quality of the graphics and the size of the viewport (800x600 feels a bit tiny), and maybe look into ways to make it more visceral. I've been toying around with the idea of an arena shooter with an 'endless' field, so the top wraps around to the bottom and the left wraps around to the right, as well as taking a page from Pacman DX and having 'slowdown' occur whenever the player is near death.

Both of them fundamentally change the 'arena shooter' paradigm -- that of avoiding walls because they present an obstacle as well as having arena shooters be the realm of the twitch-gamer, but they're also things that I'd like to plan for ahead of time. Pond Scrum won't inherit these changes without serious updates!