Pirate Jammers thought process

So I just made Pirate Jammers during a game jam on the weekend. It’s compatible with the Winnitron arcade machine.

I’m going to go through the thought process a little bit.

First inkling of an idea was roller derby with boats going around an island. And since it’s a two-player game, you’d have to control multiple boats, by switching between them. I had been thinking about roller derby for a while as something to bring into a game, but as a scoring method that would allow for team play. With only two players, and the switching between boats, it would be a different take from what I was thinking, but it’s still the inspiration for it.

I briefly considered frogs as an alternate theme, plus then you could have parts of the track on land and parts on water, with different movement in each, but the physics of boats accelerating & decelerating was too enticing. I also had first planned to use a turn-based timer mechanic, like you’d have five seconds to adjust your direction of movement for all four ships, then they’d move for a round, then repeat. I had seen a turn-based cart racer that did something like this. But I decided that real-time worked better for an arcade setting.

I got the basic control scheme working pretty quick. I first tried a version where every ship went straight from the direction you last set them. I thought that might have potential to work with the frantic “switching between ships” thing, make you constantly grab whichever ship is getting off course. But it didn’t feel right, so I tried a version where they automatically followed the track, but you could steer them inwards or outwards. That’s basically what the final game uses, with some minor tweaks, like it will gradually straighten back into the path if you leave it alone.

Initially because of the basis on roller derby, I started all the ships on the same side of the island, but in practice it gave too much of an advantage to whoever was on the inside track, so I put them on opposite sides of the island to make it more even.

Scoring in roller derby is based on the jammer passing an opposing player, and in retrospect this is probably something I should have dropped. I spent a good chunk of time on Saturday trying to get the lapping mechanism working. I succeeded, but this scoring mechanism combined with how the game controls, made it very difficult to score any points at all, especially in the short time they would be playing the game. And if one side pulled ahead, it was incredibly difficult for the player behind to catch up.

To address this first problem, I introduced a turtle that randomly pops up and a large tanker ship, to act as obstacles that could throw the game out of a deadlock.

The other problem was that players were often confused about how the scoring worked.

Maybe I should have just dropped that method of scoring entirely and gone with something more basic like count how many laps you’ve done.

Shortly after the jam, I started considering what if I just did a version where instead of lapping a single island like this, you were racing down a long path filled with obstacles, and if your ship fell too far behind, it was lost. It might get more mileage out of the frantic-switching element.

And actually while writing this, I’m wondering if I should have done more with the outer bounds of the track. Basically, as it is, the penalty for going too far from the island is fairly minor, it just means you’re lapping a little slower than everyone else. If being outside the track meant you were chased by a kraken, or there were many more obstacles out there, then I think that would both help emphasize the frantic ship switching, and would create a new way the player in the lead could accidentally lose the lead. This wouldn’t address the players being confused about scoring, which may be a problem I’m importing from roller derby.

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