Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On Shmups - Shootdodge!

Avoiding obstacles can be challenging, especially when you're only allowed limited control. Jumping in a 2D platformer for example is a careful exchange of control. Players read the map and formulate a strategy which informs their decision to relinquish substantial control in exchange for a height advantage. All this happens within fractions of a second. Players move between a state of having control and being vulnerable in an extremely discrete fashion. It's almost like they're switching between two modes. I find that kind of play extremely exhilarating - when the pace of your thoughts has to maintain an alignment, speed up and slow down, to match frequencies with the action on the screen.

Some shmups don't like to bother with this. There's no ebb and flow to it, there's no exchange of control. Shmups never snatch any control away from you. You have to be more strategic with your position. You can evade enemies in multiple directions which allows for more than a single way out of a difficult situation. But with all that freedom, you can also easily set yourself up for failure by navigating into a corner of the screen which later happens to turn into a tight spot. Every other system in a shmup then complements this freedom. A dense swarm of slow moving bullets cover the entire screen which move in unique patterns, conveniently leaving a small square millimeter for your tiny hitbox

Still from "Mushihimesama". The purple stuff is bullets. Yes
Image Credit -
Evasion and avoidance here is given too much importance. It leaves no room for taking aim and lining up your shot. I enjoy lining up my shots. I actually like it so much, I made a game about it, it's called Lovely Planet. I want more of that in my shmup. Shmups solve this particular problem by giving players an endless pool of bullets which rapid fire to form a beam of infinite destruction that covers half the screen. The game doesn't offer the second to second build-up and payoff you get from firing a single projectile to later see it make contact with the target. I'm sure that kind of shmup exists, one where ammunition is a precious and limited resource. If you know about one, I'd love to give it a try. Running out of bullets in a shmup is not fun, but I trust that the mechanic could prove its worth if it's able to encourage precision and demand more strategic play.