(To get familiar with the game, check this video of the older version.)
Bottom Feeder: The Hero
- How do I create a better incentive to destroy enemies, besides earning points?
- How do I teach players they can move up?!
The second point was infuriating. Even when the controls were explained, many players wouldn't try or realize they can move up and down. This may partially be due to how similar Qualdrin looks to Galaga, a game you can only move left and right in.
Years later, the "solution" came in the form of the Bottom Feeder. It’s a toothy smiling wall at the bottom of the screen that destroys the player when touched. It grows in size by consuming enemies players don’t destroy and shrinks back when hit by blocks.
Now players are better incentivized to destroy enemies. Otherwise their playspace will get smaller and harder to move in. And if a giant chomping wall was gaining on them, players’ survival instincts should kick in. So they’ll press the up key in a desperate attempt to flee!
A Flawed Hero
Playtests before and during the expo revealed everyone’s eyes are glued to what’s coming down from the top of the screen. It was fun to hear some cheeky players ask as soon as they start, "What happens if I let the enemies pass me?" It wasn't quite as fun when the Bottom Feeder is triple its original size before they commented, “Hey, is that thing bigger?!”
When asked after playing, most players surmised the Bottom Feeder grew by eating enemies. But no one realized it shrunk from getting hit by your blocks, despite the frowning face it would display
Players who didn’t realize they could move up and down still steadfastly refused trying to press the up or down keys, even when they realized the Bottom Feeder could grow.
Due to not realizing their blocks shrunk the Bottom Feeder, once the Bottom Feeder grew big enough, players played much worse. They feared destroying themselves with the limited space to move in so they fired less and hardly tried dodging.
The failure here is not conveying an important tool for empowering the player. Even when the Bottom Feeder gets large, knowing you can do something about it means you still have control in this situation. And gauging the size of the Bottom Feeder is a super simple metric for understanding how well you're doing.
What fate awaits our hero?
- Difficulty levels: I'll be going into more depth about why I didn't consider this earlier. But with this, I can adjust the growth rate, shrink rate, and maximum size of the Bottom Feeder depending on the skill of the player.
- More visual effects: I didn't get to implement this in time, but I want the Bottom Feeder to briefly flash white when it grows and flash red when it shrinks.
- Option to turn it off: I was planning on adding this from the start. The Bottom Feeder isn't critical to the game and could be removed if the player so chooses. After all, the earlier versions proved players will try to shoot everything without a stronger incentive.
- Scanner: I'll also be talking more about this later. Essentially, when you play for the first time you can get a quick description of what the Bottom Feeder is.
Now that you know all about the Bottom Feeder, I guess I can't ask if you noticed it or not. But you can still play and give it shot. Stay tuned for the next Reflection piece.