Falling Up

Did some playtesting recently, or rather, I had some playtesting done and I came to a couple of conclusions. First of all, Paper Zeppelin is kind of difficult. I watched my tester get killed no fewer than 5 times before they got the whole dodging while firing thing down. Second, the Turret Enemies are too small. Their long range shooting crossed with their small size makes them quite difficult to shoot at with anything resembling safety. It get even worse if they happen to get behind the player, or if they are above them.
Thirdly (not sure if that’s a word…but Blogger is okay with it) there is a Design Flaw in the game. The thing itself is kind of dumb, but the logic behind how it’s a flaw in the game’s design takes some doing, besides, I can explain some of the core conceits while I’m at it. Okay then, Paper Zeppelin is a twin stick shooter. That in and of itself narrows down the game’s focus. Furthermore, it’s a scrolling twin stick shooter (of which there are much fewer). It’s designed to support and encourage multiplayer. It’s also, and this is the key bit here, focuses on the positioning of game objects.
4 Conceits. Every individual mechanic in the design of Paper Zeppelin can be followed back to supporting one of those conceits. For example, I shortened up the player’s firing range because the longer range hampered the fun aspects of conceit #2 – the scrolling bit. Most of the AI is designed to track specific players based on explicit criteria to encourage teamwork. The Bomb mechanic is designed to change the way a player plays in order to alter their positioning to something that is less ideal.
Speaking of the ideal positioning, I had the hypothesis while doing the design that the crashing enemies mechanic would influence players towards the top of the screen. Turns out that is exactly true, and I so love it when I get these things right in advance. However, since turrets usually live outside of the range of the guns, I find that I have to put myself in danger in order to eliminate ground targets, so the game areas become far more open.
Anyway, this doesn’t have anything to do with that flaw I was talking about. The thing is, with a couple of exceptions, if you are above an enemy, there isn’t too much that most of them can do to you. This came into play when the tester was carrying the bomb, which limited their ability to fire below them. So what they did was simply hug the top of the screen until it was time to drop. The enemies just rolled on by below, harmless and not terribly fun. To remedy this, I’m going to go ahead an modify the Dive Bomber enemies to that they can also dive up. I know, I know, diving up doesn’t make sense. But since their whole point is to give you a great big hug anyway, up works. It also makes them more dangerous while you’re trying to do anything.

Right then, titles! The next big part of the development of Paper Zeppelin is to go ahead and lovingly craft all the levels. So I went ahead and figured out different “types” of levels that I could have in the game with the minimum amount of effort required for each. Basically, like I learned in the development of The Thief’s Tale, the specifics of each level don’t really need to jive with the specifics of the mechanics of that level per se. So for example, in PZ there are rolling grass levels (the first level is one of these types) and Deserts. Topographically, they both have long sloping hills in them. However, the Desert level will instead have almost no ground enemies (since it’s sand) and the tiles and backgrounds that are spawned up will be different. That’s it. No other differences. I could swap the art and they would still work.
Instead, the different kind of levels will force the player to reconsider their positioning again. Island levels are almost completely open, with the “water” being implied off screen. So the majority of the level is all about lots of flying enemies and open movement. Same idea with the Mountain levels; which are more open, but instead of the sloping islands have sharp peaks covered with ground enemies, forcing the player to radically alter their playing on the fly.
In any case, unlike in Thief I’m going to try something a little different for the levels in Paper Zeppelin. I’m going to go through and block the levels out first. All of them. Not build one and keep playing it until it’s perfect and works great. Instead I’m going to have all of them working and able to fly through, and then tweak them as I need to. What this will do is A) allow me to understand how the game is working by being able to play all the way through and B) allow me to develop a difficulty curve. If I just go in all willy with the possibility of nilly and build the levels one at a time, there is a very real possibility that the curve will suck. Balance requires that the difficulty curve definitely not suck, it cannot be too steep, and it certainly cannot be flat. Having all the levels available to play with at once will let me adjust the difficulty along the entire game.
To do that though, I need to know the order that the levels will exist in. There are 7 types of levels in Paper Zeppelin, and they look like this:

Rolling Hills
Steep Hills
Floating Islands

Each of these, as far as I can tell, will play differently. For kicks, let’s see how. Rolling Hills, Steep Hills and Desert are all very similar one could argue. Let’s start with the different kinds of hills. They are different in the kind of play spaces that they allow for. Rolling Hills have hills that a long and low. Most of the screen is available for movement at any given moment. Steep Hills by contrast, are steeper and taller. The ability to move around within the screen will vary wildly based on the player’s progress within the level. Dealing with turrets that are much closer and having less space to with which to deal with enemies should provide a different experience that the Rolling Hills levels would. Deserts, like I said before will instead provide an abundance of a different enemy types, also providing contrast.
At least, that’s the theory. Once I get the levels blocked out I’ll know for sure.

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