The Plane Game Experiment: If it isn’t fun, it isn’t fun.

I made an attempt at an airplane game. It didn’t work out very well, but it was valuable experience. More, and a screenshot, below the cut.

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I had the idea of making a top down airplane shooter where instead of the screen scrolling in one direction, you could rotate your plane and move freely around a level, attacking different targets and doing missions. I’ve never liked games where your character rotates and the screen doesn’t, because the keyboard controls can get confusing, so I decided to keep the plane pointed towards the top of the screen, and rotate the screen but not the plane.  I got the above prototype working reasonably quickly (you just rotate the view and set the room to follow the player object), with enemies that move and rotate like aircraft, and attack you when you’re in range. The behaviors are realistic, and the plane handles and controls well.  The problem is, it’s just not fun. The process of lining up a shot is tedious, and the basic combat just isn’t compelling. And the rotating screen gives me a headache. Rather than continue, I’m going to scrap it, and maybe use some of the code in another game.

The moral is that if you try your game early on, and it’s not fun, and you can’t make it fun, then you need to question whether the game is worth making. It’s easy when you’re coding to get tunnel vision and focus on whether or not the game is working properly, and whether the features you planned on are there yet. Which is all stuff that you should think about, but at the same time, the purpose of your game is for the player to have an enjoyable experience. If you’re not enjoying your game when you play it, other people probably won’t like it either. If you can’t fix your game to make it fun, you should probably be working on a different project.

I think this is one of the real benefits of Game Maker that sometimes gets overlooked. Because it lets you create the basics of the game very quickly, you can get a chance very early in your development process to see whether your idea is as good as you thought it was. That means you can try a bunch of different ideas and throw out the bad ones without wasting too much time.

The other lesson learned is don’t spend too much time on your art too early. You may decide not to do the game, or to change sprite sizes to improve gameplay. I started working on a nice background I’m probably never going to use.  So do place holder art at first that just gives you a rough idea of how the game will look.

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