the trouble with rocks. and tractor beams.

I’ve added some new mechanics to Mysterious Space for the 0.7.7 release, which I will get out Wednesday (June 17th). I was about to just list the mechanics out – bullet point style – but they’re kind of all tied together, so I better just properly explain 😛

SO:

some planets will now put Fuel in small rooms whose only entrance is blocked by a forcefield. unlike the flickering forcefields you’re used to, these new forcefields remain consistently on. troublesome! HOWEVER: there will always be a button nearby which, when held down, will deactivate the forcefield.

in order to teach the player what to do, I made sure that the button responds to the player ship… it does look like a button, after all (… I hope??), and any sane player would want to press it. so: not wanting to disappoint, and to educate the player “yes, this IS a button; it CAN be pressed”, player ships can press it. the button is also always placed with the forcefield it controls in view, so the player will always know what the button does!

you may be thinking “what do you mean ‘in order to teach’ – it sounds like you just made a button do what buttons do.”

well, kind of. there’s a problem: when the player moves off the button, it pops back up, and the forcefield comes back on.

so using your ship is not really a solution; that being the case, I COULD have simply made the button not respond to the player. but again, I really want to make sure that when you stumble upon one of these buttons for the first time, you will see it, and see what it does. it’s an important piece of information! BECAUSE: your ship is now equipped with a tractor beam, and SOMEWHERE on the planet there will be a large crate (perhaps even two). and you guessed it: crate + button = problem solved.

to teach the player how to use their tractor beam, when you see a crate for the first time, the game has some text blinking over it which reads “Closer”; when you draw close enough, the text changes to the button you must press to activate your tractor beam (depending on whether you’re using a controller, or your keyboard). doing so lifts the crate, and once you’ve carried the crate for a couple seconds, this little tutorial text goes away, never to be seen again.

and so, one way or another, the player will encounter the button, and the crate, and hurrah: puzzle solved.

fantastic.

in developing this, though, I did realize a few side-effects: (ooh, I get to use a proper list this time!)

  • in split-screen co-op mode, one player can hold the button while the other gets the fuel, circumventing the need for a crate! not my intention!
  • on desert worlds, crates can get pushed by wind! (the player could get locked inside the room!)
  • and “hold on a second,” says the player. “why can’t I just tractor beam one of these many, nearby boulders? why do I have to go find a stupid crate?” uh oh…

one at a time:

the split-screen co-op workaround does – at first – seem concerning, but I realized it’s actually a GREAT side-effect. I feel that Mysterious Space co-op doesn’t often encourage players to actually stick together, and work together; often, the players may as well each be playing their own game! that feeling is what lead me to create the “disabled” mechanic – where you don’t quiiiite die, and can revive if you avoid further damage – which encourages players to defend one another. but I never felt like that mechanic was quite enough; it ends up feeling more that you’re punished for not working together rather than rewarded FOR working together. dying, after all, is only a thing you can get frustrated about. this button/forcefield combo, on the other hand, provides a DEFINITE reward for working together: it’s a thing you specifically coordinate in order to accomplish, and accomplishing it furthers your shared goal (get the fuel), and doing it cooperatively saves you time (which in turn nets you more points).

so, yeah: happy accident! keep it!

the desert winds, however, are a little less straight-forward…

on one hand, I could simply make crates NOT pushable by winds, and I thought about doing that, but… no: allowing them to be pushed adds an interesting element of timing to the game; it requires something a little different from the player – asks them to think about things slightly differently – AND it gives further use to speed-boosting effects! (such as those from alien artifacts.)

that all seems too good to pass up!

still, on the OTHER hand, if a player happened to start up their first game, get a desert world, and encounter the button and the crate there while having little or no experience with Mysterious Space’s winds and vents… that could lead to a very frustrating experience!

fortunately, there was an easy solution: I simply disallow the button/crate/forcefield combo on early desert worlds (later desert worlds may still present this combination). since new players will almost certainly die in the early levels, anyway, they’ll have plenty of time to experience both winds, and the button/crate puzzle, before the two are allowed to be combined in later planets. and if a player IS somehow good enough to get so far in their first try, I don’t feel so bad throwing them a curve ball 😛

finally, there’s the issue of the boulders!

and I just about screwed this one all up!

early on in developing these new mechanics, it did occur to me “hey, wait: why can’t I use a boulder instead of getting a crate? that could be kind of fun, too. chuck ’em at enemies, maybe?” but I quickly dismissed it, telling myself “but we have boulders everywhere, and that would destroy the whole point of the puzzle. and it’s a game; players will understand that button + crate = problem solved. that’s how games go.”

a terrible mistake on my part!

thinking back on it now, it seems obvious that not being able to lift the boulders would provide frustration to a player! once you learn to use the tractor beam, you’ll WANT to use it, and “dude! check out all these boulders! oh man, I’m gonna try to stack them all up, that’d be hilario–aww. the tractor beam doesn’t even turn on without a crate around. lame.” and then later “wait, why did I have to go get a crate for this button? there’s a huge boulder RIGHT NEXT TO IT. JUST TRACTOR BEAM THAT. WHY WON’T YOU WORK, TRACTOR BEAM?”

and then every time you have to find a crate, you’ll think “FINE, game, I’ll get a crate, because boulders aren’t good enough for you, apparently.”

UNACCEPTABLE!

so I want to thank ACWraith for leaving this comment on my video showing off the tractor beam: “The planet is covered with rocks, but you need a crate to weigh something down? ;)”

RIGHT?!

I would have almost certainly released 0.7.7 with this error in place if not for this comment reminding me of my error.

but: how to fix it?

I’m a little less confident in this solution than the other solutions I’ve talked about in this post, but… well… I just made the boulders WAY smaller 😛 about 1/3 or 1/4 size.

rocks

it’s not necessarily the best solution, but I do think this is a good FIRST STEP. the boulders will not stand out quite so much as “OBVIOUSLY a suitable crate substitute.” you might still wonder, though: “well, but THAT one looks like it could be big enough,” or “look at all these rocks strewn about; why can’t I just pile them all together?”

so I think a good NEXT step would be to add some kind of animation when using your tractor beam in the presence of rocks; make them jiggle, signaling to the player “clever! but unfortunately, these are not-liftable by your tractor beam.”

giving the seaweed, trees, and other decorations a similar jiggle would probably be a good idea, too, for consistency’s sake.

it may seem silly (“what, you’re just gonna add an animation?”), but that explicit acknowledgement from the game IS satisfying, precisely BECAUSE it acknowledges your attempt. the game has not ignored you! and now you can wonder, in an in-character/in-game way “why doesn’t my tractor beam work on small rocks and trees and things?” instead of complaining, as a video game player: “BUT LOOK AT ALL THESE ROCKS! THIS IS OBVIOUSLY AN OVERSIGHT ON THE PART OF THE GAME DESIGNER!” you may still feel a LITTLE cheated, it’s true, but this is a huge improvement.

the jiggling reaction would have another nice benefit, too, though: it implies that there might be other things out there with more favorable reactions! it gives players a fun, new sub-goal: “TRACTOR BEAM ALL THE THINGS!”

so sure, maybe you wanted rocks to be carryable, and they weren’t, and that was kind of sad, but HEY: what else is out there that you CAN lift? ONE WAY TO FIND OUT.

there are two problems with implementing this RIGHT NOW, however: first, there ISN’T anything else tractor beam-able in the game, so I’d be sending the player on a wild goose chase, and that’s not very nice; second, I don’t think I have the time to implement a jiggle animation right now anyway 😛 GOTTA’ RELEASE TOMORROW. but I think a definite goal for the NEXT next version WILL be to add this jiggle effect, and to make some new things that respond favorably to jiggling.

thanks for reading 🙂

and I hope you’ll have fun with the new tractor beam, even if it won’t work on small rocks 😛

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