GAMEOLOGY is a series where indie game developer Attila and game player/writer Mat discuss various topics related to making and playing games. The Make it or Break it episodes look at Attila’s rough draft game ideas as Mat and Attila decide to make them or break them
A top-down motherlode, that looks like cave exploration in classic Pokémon, Cave Story’s loop revolves around digging deeper into a cave’s puzzles to find resources and upgrade for the ability to go deeper with better abilities. Similar to Dark Souls bonfires, the player weighs the risk/reward of turning back with what resources they have or pushing on to find the next charging station. Puzzles are designed rather than random. It will use a campaign rather than score-based systems and de-emphasize lost progress,
This was an interesting one where there Attila didn’t feel there was anything glaringly wrong with the design doc, but also no obvious ‘hook’ either. I thought of the first Steamworld Dig, and it’s simple, yet satisfying loop. I don’t remember much from Steamworld’s story, but I absolutely remember the tone and feel of steampunk cowboys digging for treasure in their version of the wild west.
As a solo game maker with a strength for systems, Attila’s Cave Story idea could be the best example of how great games are usually collaboration between the technical and artistic. Attila decided to ‘break it’ for lack of the all important hook. I suggested he keep it around in case a great story or art style is in need of a tight gameplay system underneath.
Conclusion: Break it
How close can a game be to Tetris? Shooters for example, often share many identical features, but we accept that a genre game will have a certain amount of generic mechanics. Other games like Stardew Valley copy another game’s formula so closely, they walk a thin line of inspiration and plagiarism. Is a puzzle game with falling tetrominoes off-limits?
Attila’s design idea started by imagining four-sided Tetris. Below his inital notes he wrote ‘better idea’, and laid out an idea where the player controls the center polygon catching falling pieces, rather than controlling the falling pieces.
This second idea is immediately more compelling, for the twist on the formula and also the ideas that spark from worrying about four sides rather than 1. I mentioned the frustration of backing yourself into a corner in Tetris, but perhaps focusing on the other three sides of the rotating polygon could help reduce the issues on a poorly planned side.
This was a fun idea as the possibilities are numerous. Do you give the player four pieces at a time to deal with? Do they fall at different rates? Or is it one piece at a time with the four sides rotating. Heck, you could even pull off motion/gyro controls although I’d still prefer the precision of even on-screen buttons and reduce the risk of dropping my phone while spinning it feverishly.
Tetris is arguably the greatest video game of all time and obviously any attempt to freshen up the formula or borrow tried and tested mechanics is intriguing. I loved the competitive aspects of Tetris Attack on the SNES and GB that also saw the player moving the bottom rather than descending pieces.
If Attila can inject enough originality while retaining Tetris’ perfect blend of simple yet deep gameplay, this could be a great one.
Conclusion: Make it.
Check out the video for more of our thoughts on these games and another game idea: Collapse.