The game that would be known as Super Space Slayer 2 started from humble beginnings. A small group of eager game testers at NaturalMotion Games had assembled to work on a side-project that was known only as Super Space. All of them wanted to break out of the drudgery of game testing and create awesome games themselves. Fancying myself a Game Designer, I created a spreadsheet of questions in Excel about the game. Everyone was supposed to fill it in to give their input on what the game should be like.
This approach didn’t work, however. I was the only one who actually filled in the spreadsheet, and most of the people there didn’t really know what they wanted the game to be like. If you asked them, they might have said that they had great game ideas, but tell them to write it all down and they just couldn’t do it. I realized that design by committee didn’t work; you needed a single, authoritative Game Designer with a singular vision for the game. The Super Space team was disbanded… and only I remained!
Over the next months, however, I was still inspired by the abandoned Super Space project to make a space shooter for mobile phones. I knew I could create one in Clickteam Fusion 2.5 and I had years of experience using it. I tried out various shooters on my phone to see how I could improve on them. With most of them I found that the levels too long to complete (what if my bus arrives?), the controls weren’t well-adapted to a touchscreen, and the long levels also meant that it was frustrating to die late in what might be a 6-minute level and lose all that progress.
For weeks I created notes, game design documents, read books and gathered my thoughts on what I could make. Ultimately I set to work on creating prototypes for my game with a few principles in mind.
- Game sessions should be short, for players on the move. - They should also be short because losing 6 minutes of progress was annoying! - The controls needed to be designed from the ground up for mobile devices and not just adapted from games that use the mouse on a PC.
Over the coming months I worked in Clickteam Fusion 2.5 to create prototypes that would show me how my ideas might work in practice.
The first demo was a simple game. You tap the enemy to target them, then your ship goes into range, and each of you shoot at the other until one is destroyed. The skill in this game consisted of prioritizing the right enemies and maneuvering to avoid projectiles.
The problem with this prototype was simple. Although it functioned strictly speaking as a game, it just wasn’t any fun. There wasn’t anything playful or engaging about tapping bad guys and waiting for them to be destroyed. I gave up on prototype #1, vowing to make something much faster and more fun next time.Demo #2: Mouse-driven shooter
After the boringness of the first prototype, I vowed to create something much more fast and fun. Thus, the second prototype used fluid mouse controls and had short, intense sessions inspired by CSR Racing. Showing the prototype in a presentation, however, I was told that it was too skill-based for a general audience. There was also the fact that the game might work well with a mouse, but I was trying to create a touchscreen game. I hadn’t yet learned the crucial differences between a mouse and a touchscreen.Demo #3: Weird rotating game
At this point, having tried all the conventional options I could think of, I was willing to go crazy and try something strange. The third prototype let you rotate the ship 45 degrees left or right, effectively making each level a matter of navigating a cone. Whilst it felt like I was slowly getting somewhere with this design, the ‘cone’ movement made it too hard to avoid enemy shots and I never felt like I had enough control.
The ‘cone’ version did introduce one important thing to the Super Space formula, though. It was in this prototype that I added weapons you could acquire on the side of your ship. Most of the shooting was still done by holding down the mouse button at this stage, but you could also click to shoot special projectiles from your side-weapons. In the final build I would remove the ‘holding down’ aspect entirely, and the ‘side-weapons’ on either side of your ship are now the main weapons in Super Space Slayer 2.Demo #4: The final prototype
At this point, having tried everything I could think of, I has no idea what I’d create next. I’d gotten thoroughly fed up with trying to redefine how moving your space ship would work on a touchcreen, so the next prototype had no movement at all to start with. I decided to make a simple game based on the side-weapons from the previous attempt; shoot enemies before they shoot you, much like a light gun shooter.
I programmed some drones that would swoop in, shoot three shots, and then leave, as basic enemies, and they worked well enough. There was a problem, however. After drones shot a bullet, the play would feel helpless as they watched the bullet move towards them with no way of responding. Looking for advice, I went to one of the game designers at NaturalMotion for advice. ‘Why not give it lanes like an endless runner?’, he suggested, and that was what I did.
Finally, inspired by bullet-hell shooters like Giga Wing, I made tapping the ship activate a projectile-deflecting field that could also be used to defend yourself. So far tapping the ship did nothing, so it made sense to let it do something, and a counter-attack fit nicely in between attacking enemies and dodging their attacks.Super Space Slayer perfected
Finally, the three basic elements of Super Space Slayer were ready. There was a long journey left ahead of creating the game’s content, and refining the formula I’d created, but I finally had a solid foundation I could build on.
It was a long, often frustrating journey to get to this point. It’s a difficult thing to spend hours working on a prototype that you’re sure is going to be great, only to have it swatted aside and to be forced to make another one. It was often uncertain what I had to do next, but by trusting in my vision and methodically working my way through any issues, I eventually created the Super Space Slayer 2 we know today.