Blog Series Goals

Hey, I’m Nick- my goal here is to tell you a bit about all the aspects of making my first video game. For each design element I worked on (game design, Unity & Visual Studio, art, music, narrative) I’ll talk about:

  • What I learnt
  • What I think went well
  • What I'd do differently next time or things that still need a lot of work.

Also - This series has a heavy focus on Unity Editor and Visual Studio because that's where I spent the most time learning. I was brand new to coding at the beginning of this journey (and have a very long way to go still...)!

In this post I'll be going over Basic Game Design. But first, the game...

What's the Game I made?

Aether Run is a classic space shooter with a simple twist: you can’t shoot everything. Choose from one of two aether craft pilots and fly through 5 planets in the solar system: fighting against space raiders and aether beasts while (1) rescuing escape pods and (2) avoiding destroying native aether crafts.

Choose power-ups wisely and fly with precession to stay alive through this simple but challenging shmup (shoot 'em up).

Background for Context

A little about myself and a little about my life experiences - they definitely affected my development.

  • I have a small business I run as my full-time job. In other words, I’m not a full-time game professional
  • I have a spouse and three kids
  • Here’s the experience I had when I started:

o I am one of two Lead Designers and Writers for 7 tabletop products

o   I didn’t have any prior coding/scripting experience outside of working in Basic on my family’s x386 in the early ’90s 😊

o   I had significant experience as a jazz musician and singer/songwriter but had no experience in sound/audio engineering when I started this project.

o   I didn’t have any significant experience as a visual artist except making some maps and a few other pieces in Photoshop for tabletop products.

Game Design

The game design for this project isn't particularly deep as I was really focused on learning Unity/Visual Studio. However, I did want to give myself at least a couple of interesting design problems to work on, so here are a couple elements I added:

  • Certain space crafts are “friendly.” Destroying too many of these space in any level results in Game Over.
  • Each level has a certain number of “escape pods” that must be collected. If that number isn’t met, the level starts over.
  • The game is meant to be fair, but also difficult.

Playtesting

I did a small amount of playtesting with a small group of people I know. I realize that this kind of feedback is usually VERY different than feedback from testers you don’t know. Aether Run was not designed for a particular audience- it was designed to be a training exercise for me. Ultimately, I wasn't terribly concerned about who play-tested the game.

However, I broke feedback into two groups: (1) people who have played a lot of the classic space shooter genre AND (2) people who have limited or no experience with this genre.

There were a lot of types of feedback from players, but I’m going to focus on what I found most interesting for this game: DIFFICULTY.

At first, both groups talked about the insane difficulty and that it felt unfair. So, I figured I had to make some ways for the game to have a better feel and still maintain its challenge. Here’s what I did:

  • I added two player ship options. One ship is slower, takes less damage from each hit, and delivers more damage with each aether laser it fires. The other ship is significantly faster but more fragile and deals less damage.
  • I didn’t really change the number of enemies on the screen at once. I really wanted to maintain the bullet-hell feel, so I found other ways…

Here are some mechanics I changed after initial feedback:

o   Some enemy bullets/lasers were firing from slightly off-screen; I removed those

o   I reduced the maximum speed of escape pods traveling across the screen to give players a more reasonable chance of collecting each pod without crashing through waves of enemies

o   I reduced the total hit points of some enemies

o   I reduced the damage some enemies inflict on the player

Game Design Summary

Some Things That Went Well

  • I was able to keep the classic space shooter feel while implementing my new mechanics. Not being able to shoot everything on screen really changes the tone and feel of the game.
  • Players liked the option of two different ships. It reportedly made the game feel more fair and adds variety. Different players preferred different player ship styles.
  • Adding the functionality of a stage select for 4 out of 5 levels gave more variety to players upfront and kept them interested.
  • Players enjoyed the variety of individual enemy designs

Some Things I Would Do Differently

  • I would add an “easy mode.” This could be a third ship that makes the game easier or an actual different set of enemies that do even less damage and take fewer hits to destroy. This would increase the number of people willing to play the game.
  • Get feedback earlier! This would have made my design & scripting jobs so much easier.
  • Add more variety to enemy movement patterns. They start to blend together after a while…

Post #2 -

Next time I'll dig into some Unity & Visual Studio experiences - sharing some specific examples of what I'd do differently next time.

Below is a link to itch.io where you can download Aether Run for free.

https://nightlakegamestudio.itch.io/aether-run

You can also check out my "in progress" website link below if you're curious about some of my past projects or the upcoming puzzle game I'm working on. There isn't much info yet on the latter but there will be much more when the alpha build is released (TBD October 2021).

https://www.nightlakestudios.com/