As Wefiends (Our small band of 3 Game Devs) continues making progress on Dandy (Our new game) I feel like I should write some stuff about it.
Dandy’s a remake of a terrible old flash game I made when I was 15. The theme i’m exploring with the game is taking old things and making them new. It’s a schmup, in the vein of R-type and Gradius, but made through a lens of incredulity toward the archetypal game design choices the genre carries.
The image above is the third revision of the first area of the game. One of the things I always loved about Gradius was that there weren’t any transitions between stages. The game relied heavily on repeated play throughs and memorization for the player to make any progress. If you lost all your lives, you’d start back at the beginning. After dying over and over, progress felt very impactful. You were seeing something new in the background or some new enemy every time you lived a little longer than the last time. When you’d start over it was immediately clear where your last threshold had been and when you would cross it. There were other indicators such as your score and stage titles, but they felt kind of vestigial.
This design choice stands at stark contrast with other games where progress is delineated by separate levels/stages. The language used to describe the scenario seems to change to a frame outside of the game. “I got pretty far into level 1,” versus “I got to the point with the mushrooms floating in the sky”. It’s important that players thoughts and emotions are linked 1:1 to the avatar they control (even if through abstraction), for me that’s what makes a great game. All sorts of player thoughts change with separate levels. The players goal becomes to get to the end of each stage, instead of a new place. Progress also becomes incredibly concrete in a way that limits the feeling of discovery. When you know there are only 5 levels, you know how close the end is. I’m not saying this is bad design, because levels are very near and dear to games, but that it is “design” and that levels need to be implemented carefully and purposefully.
Dandy is what i’ll call a rogue-esque (rogue-like-like twice removed). It’s got sorta random enemies and sorta random power-ups, along with perma-death. Because of this, you’ll be starting over from the beginning a lot. There isn’t much memorization involved, but there’s a lot of learning. For this reason it calls for the same tricks Gradius employed. The background marks your progress in the game. There are no levels or scores. Just the background and the speed you move through it.