Crashland Heroes (Working title) is an endless runner currently being developed for android devices. The game seeks to merge the the fun and fast paced action of an endless runner with the depth and intensity of an Action RPG.
In addition to the traditional endless runner gameplay of jumping over traps and dodging obstacles, the game also features many new elements, such as enemies that attack the player, interactable obstacles such as breakable pots and switches, and various weapons for the player to unlock and upgrade.
The game has been developed from scratch in the free time of three people for several years.
- Engine: Unity 5
- Development Time: 2 years of spare time for three very busy people and various contractors
- My Responsibilities/Contributions
- Level Design and Content – What obstacles we have and how they are arranged
- System Design – Determining what systems are available and how they work, and all of their content
- Enemies and Bosses
- Weapons System and balance
- Item System and balance
- Pet Systems (Pets allow you to use a unique special ability during a run)
- Obstacles (Type of obstacles, Two height level system)
- Breakable obstacles
- Interactable objects
- Overall Game Progression and Structure
- Character Special Abilities (A passive ability unique to each character)
- Monetization – Making sure all systems work with a free to play business model
- Other Contributors: João Leal, Sara Pinto, Jason Dixon, John Yip, Matthew Solomon
Not Quite Random
Rather than use a completely random level generation solution, Crashland Heroes uses pre-constructed sets of enemies and obstacles to establish specific styles of gameplay throughout the game. Below is an example of one such pattern (Click to enlarge):
As you can see, this pattern makes liberal use of the lane divider asset, forcing players down a single path. This path has two enemies, and is blocked by a moveable target switch (see video above for demonstration), so players have to make a choice to try to kill the enemies before they are hit, or to jump over them as they come. The breakable pots in the beginning can spawn a random reward such as a chest of gold, but also occasionally an enemy, offering a bit of random excitement before bringing them into the more serious challenge ahead. Due to the lack of complex mechanics, this pattern would likely appear early in the game, but certainly after the player understood moveable target switches and this enemy type due to the inescapable nature in which they are used here.
A pattern such as this uses Lane Dividers, Breakable Pots, and Moveable Target Switches, but does not make use of other enemy types, or height levels. This was done very specifically in order to set up a specific game progression and structure. Crashland Heroes is broken up into several zones, each with their own style and combination of mechanics. As players progress through the game they will unlock new zones and be able to experience new combinations of mechanics that create new styles of gameplay unique to each zone. Below is another example of a pattern from a different zone (Click to enlarge):
Notice that this pattern makes heavy use of multiple height levels, and rewards players with the ability to plan ahead. If players manage to stay on top of the blocks to the end of the pattern, they will be rewarded with a powerup. This powerup is blocked by an enemy however, so he must be dealt. The upper level with the coins on it is the only place where the player can kill the enemy, so they have to let loose a burst of bullets here to kill the enemy, then make several successful jumps to stay on top of the blocks and make it to the powerup.
Run and Gun
Crashland Heroes’ main hook is the use of weapons to kill enemies and break obstacles as you run. Players begin each run with a simple semi-automatic rifle, but as they run they find new weapons that behave in various different ways. Here is a link to a simple prototype that allows you to try out each of shooting styles for the weapons below: Prototype (HTML5)
Semi-Automatic Rifle (4)- The standard gun of the game that shoots as fast as you can pull the trigger. the damage of each shot depends on how much energy is in reserve when it is fired.
Mega Cannon (5) – This is a weapon where timing is very important. It has a long reload time, but each shot is very strong, and causes splash damage to everything around the target that was hit.
Burst Rifle (6) – Each shot fires a three round burst. There is a slight delay required between shots so that bursts do not overlap. Energy is removed in discreet chunks each time a burst is fired, and chunks must recharge fully before it can be fired again. Energy level does not influence damage in any way.
Super Repeater (7) – This gun balances accuracy and power. The more you tap, the less accurate the shots get, but the stronger each bullet is. Each tap fires two shots, so rapid tapping will release a flurry of bullets in a wide range in front of you.
The ammo management system for the default Semi-Automatic Rifle has changed a lot over the course of development. It was determined early on that in order to keep things exciting, a limit had to be placed on the damage output the player had at any given time. Initially this worked in the traditional manner where after X shots you had to wait a few seconds to reload your gun. We found very quickly this wasn’t fun at all, and so it I suggested the idea of recharging ammo.
The main change in this new system is that instead of needing to reload, ammo was slowly refilled whenever the player was not shooting. This system was better but it still didn’t feel right and was frustrating to some players. Finally we made it so the player never ran out of ammo, but instead the damage of each shot would decrease from an energy meter that corresponded with damage output. Because more energy means more damage and each shot decreases energy, we found this system made players happy and still limited their damage output in a way that worked well with our other game systems.
Learning from Legends
We found that when a player taps the screen, they always expect for their weapon to fire, which is why have the ammo system discussed previously. This is problematic for weapons like the Mega Cannon since they have a set time between when they can be fired, and it feels like the game isn’t reading your inputs. In order to help players develop a better understanding for how weapons work, we have implemented many forms of feedback for each weapon. One source on inspiration for feedback comes from the classic shooter DOOM. DOOM uses animation and sound effects masterfully to indicate to the player the timing of each weapon, as shown in the video below:
Notice that each weapon has its own rhythm that can be understood very easily through sound and animation. The pistol has a 1/8th note pop, and the shotgun has a quarter note tempo that is equal parts firing and pumping to reload. For Crashland Heroes, we borrowed this idea, and supplemented it with some visual popups to better fit our needs.
In addition to audio cues and reload animations, we also used particle popups that appear each time the player tries to fire their weapon. This aspect has been very important in providing feedback for all kinds of weapons. Here is a link to a simple prototype that allows you to try out each of shooting styles for the weapons below: Prototype (HTML5)
Semi-Automatic Rifle (4) – Notice that both the particles and the bullets themselves change with different levels of energy, making powerful shots look and feel stronger. In addition to this, the size of the impact the shot makes on an enemy can vary as well.
Mega Cannon (5) – Notice that when the Mega Cannon is in its reload state, there are still particle popups that appear when the player attempts to fire, but they are clearly different from the particles that appear with a fired shot. There are also particles that fly out at specific points in the reload sequence to help queue players in to the state of the weapon. These are similar to the sound effects used in DOOM’s Super Shotgun.
Burst Rifle (6) – Since this weapon uses up energy in discrete bursts, it is possible to attempt to fire the weapon when it is not ready to be fired. When this happens, small gray particles still pop up to acknowledge the player’s input, but to let them know that the weapon is not ready yet. Also observe that as it refills each each chunk of ammo there are larger and larger particles that are drawn in toward the weapon, letting the player know that the weapon is being refilled.
Super Repeater (7) – Since this weapon becomes stronger the more quickly it is fired, the bullets and particles reflect that by becoming larger and more colorful
Additional feedback was also provided for all weapons in the form of damage numbers that pop up whenever an enemy is hit. The game typically moves too fast for player to be able to pay much attention to individual numbers, but you can still pick up on the general size of number from your periphery as you run.
Overall, working on Crashland Heroes has been a long, but rewarding process. The game has proven to be interesting to work on for long periods of time, and it has been steadily improving since the day I started working on it. That being said, since the two other primary developers live in Portugal there have been some extra challenges to overcome. Thankfully difference in language has not been a major hurdle as they are able to communicate well in English, but instead the distance has been the greatest challenge.
In order to show off an idea I have often needed to spend extra time creating images or prototypes because there is simply no other way to convey the message clearly. I have also had to write everything out ahead of time, which has actually been greatly to my benefit. Because I need to write everything down in order to communicate my ideas, I am forced to think through every aspect of an idea ahead of time, and am able to see flaws and make improvements before I discuss it with the team. This has been a boon for me as a designer, and is something that I try to do now with all my projects.
In the end, I am confident Crashland Heroes will result in a great game thanks to the dedication everyone, including myself has shown in making the game the best it can be.