Friday, September 23, 2016

On Shmups - Scrolling

Summer is hot. If you're anywhere within a few hundred miles from the hills, it is only too easy to pack your underwear and drive off to the nearest village for a cool breather. I like my peace and quiet, which is something I don't get here in the city. Cars honking in the distance never made for a serene work environment. I've been to the beach but that's always more of a party. I'm not fun at parties, which is why I think I prefer the mountains. The settlement nearest to where I live has something special to offer. Something that aligns with my tastes that I had never expected to find on a hill-station, seven thousand feet from sea level.



The kids require something with a little bit more punch to keep their attention while the adults sip their lattes and swoon at the sunset. That is why they have the arcades. Yes, we have arcades here, not in the city no, but all way up in the hills. They mostly keep games from the late eighties to the early nineties but only very rarely would I run into an older machine. One of those games, which dates back to the early eighties I think, is called Speed Race CL-5.

arcade-museum.com

I feel shmups are slow. Nowhere does it say they need to be fast and if Sonic isn't the most obvious example, scrolling too fast in 2D isn't the best idea. Flying a spaceship should feel more exhilarating. I'm strapped to a machine that's delivering a few hundred thousand pounds of thrust but it almost never feels that way. There's the kind of shmup that doesn't scroll at all. Enemy spaceships enter the scene making interesting patterns which the player must follow with projectiles. Other shmups scroll through a few static enemies and structures that funnel players into tight spots. The few recent Gradius games also have environmental hazards like geysers and rocks. Players navigate some turns and dodge timed hazards by moving freely in all four directions. The scrolling only stands to deliver those few mechanics exclusively. If those things were removed from the game, the scrolling wouldn't have very many reasons to exists, like in Space Invaders and Galaga which do away with it altogether.

Speed Race CL-5 scrolls its background so fast it's almost a complete blur. You don't realize how fast you're going before the game freezes you in place after an accident. The play area will spawn cars that move down to the bottom of the screen quite slowly. Increasing the tempo of the gameplay further would make for an awful experience. There's only so much screen that works as a warning for the player to react to obstacles that are otherwise not visible. Some games that scroll faster spawn warnings on the edge of the screen from where the object would finally appear. Going any faster than Sonic requires a slight change of perspective (pun intended). These machines showed up a good decade after Speed Race CL-5. Pseudo-3D racing games from the 90's had players racing the coastline at hundreds of miles per hour. Road Rash let players kick and whack other racers to slow them down. These games aren't shmups; I wonder if there's room for guns and alien spaceships in the 90's arcade racer genre.

Image result for outrun

I think it would be quite hilarious to have an Outrun style game and a vertical shooter rolled into one. Pickups and obstacles can be delivered at any rate we like. The shmup can exist in screen-space selectively isolated from the road. I think there is interesting gameplay to be had if players are made to haphazardly juggle between navigating those two different spaces.

A prototype is in progress. Right now, I'm calling it Rainbow Driver.