Picking up where I left off, I had just discovered the amazing Metroid example created by Arne Niklas Jansson and felt totally inspired to focus on developing a game, instead of trying to pair up a children's book with a game.
After failing terribly with the first attempt at the Adventure Apes game, I figured it was time to sit down and really establish a solid plan for what I wanted it to be like. I had just found my stylistic inspiration with this image (I honestly never get tired of looking at it):
The next step was to spend some time planning what the game should play like. Over the next little while, I spent a lot of time doodling level maps on grid paper. I wanted the game to be enormous! Everything was to take place inside a Mayan temple, so I researched lots of things about Mesoamerican culture: architecture, sculpture, music etc. My intent was to make something with a few levels that would really challenge the player's ability to find their way around. Each level would have a distinct theme, basically working downward inside the temple, from the main temple to a 'basement', then even further down into an aquifer and ancient lava tubes.
Up until this point, everything was really generic and lacking. Here's a screenshot of a mockup I did for the original style to drive the point home:
And as a comparison, here are a few images from the updated version of the game:
It's pretty night and day huh?
As I got into the level design, I came to realize my plan to make each level enormous was going to cause trouble. There is a balance you can find in any game with the size of each level and the amount of stuff the player has to do there. My first few tests were huge, but it meant that every goal for the player was spread way too thin. It made the level tedious to get through, and the last thing you want when planning a level is the player to get bored! You can challenge them and push them in one direction or another, but in the end, you want them to feel like they're actually getting somewhere. With that discovery, I decided to scale things back a little.
Once again, I used the first Metroid game as reference. The game was large enough to take some time to finish, and a lot of the levels had rooms and layouts that were similar, which could easily confuse the player if they weren't paying close attention to where they came from.
I still love this aspect of the game, but in this day and age where people want instant gratification, it's a hard sell when most other games you can basically run through them and blast your way through pretty much everything. That brings up another aspect of the game, I really wanted the player to be mindful of their ammo, so it was limited. Sure, enemies would drop health or ammo when you beat them, but if your mindset was to plow through the game with your thumb on the shoot button, you'd get discouraged easily. It became a point of contention with a few people as I asked for feedback, but I ended up keeping the limited ammo feature for better or worse.
Since I was spending so much time working on the game and ignoring the illustrated book, it was about this time that I had the bright idea to add another one of my favourite features from old school games; the instruction booklet! I'll leave that for the next post though :)