Cursing. Screaming. Victory dances. Lots more cursing. Occasional airborne controller. This is daily routine when working on SpeedRunners. You recognize this feeling if you played it.
SpeedRunners is like Mario Kart if it was a 2d ultra competitive platformer. It will make you reevaluate certain friendships after playing. It will bring out your inner-rage. The competitive nature of the game is probably the most important focus for us.
So here's a step by step crash course of how we approach the design behind SpeedRunners:
1. Making it fun for new players
We're not designing the next Starcraft with a 4 hour learning curve. We are making something that's super easy to pick up, that makes you instantly understand what's going on. In SpeedRunners, you simply hold RIGHT or LEFT to start running. Running is usually enough in the beginner maps. You can instantly start having fun without knowing any of the deeper mechanics. You discover how to jump, jumping over platforms. Everyone knows how platformers work.
You don't need to know all mechanics of SpeedRunners to start having fun.
2. Easing into deeper mechanics
Within 3 matches you will know how to grapple onto white ceilings, do super quick wall jumping, and that you can boost mid-air to quickly change your direction (Devil May Cry style). You will start discovering more interesting ways to use items. Dropping boxes onto people's heads while wall jumping makes them lose grip and fall. The shockwave mid-air makes people fall to their deaths. The grapplehook can change the outcome of a match in a matter of seconds. Sliding just before getting hooked makes you dodge it.
It gets really deep really quickly, without feeling overwhelming.
On the 4th match or so, out of nowhere a Wheel of Fortune will appear. It will choose one of several modifiers - like all items being grappling hooks or everything being super fast - to spice up the game. What it also does is force people to use key mechanics in different ways. When everyone has grappling hooks, you quickly realize how to use them more effectively, and how to dodge them.
3. Level design & choices
Even if you have all the mechanics in place, the game easy to pick up, etc -- it won't matter unless your level design is spotless. We spend most of the time balancing and fine-tuning levels. This makes or breaks SpeedRunners.
If you look closely to all the levels we have, there's always a risk-and-reward thing going on, along with mini-races to specific goals.
Messy illustration of a hard and easy path in the upcoming Factory level. The easier path enables you to block the harder path, or to choose an item instead. If you succeed on the hard path, it's almost a guaranteed point.
The most fun - and competitive - aspect of SpeedRunners is when you're about to win, or about to lose. This makes alternate paths in levels very important. Each path has it's own risk/reward. You can take a more risky path with lots of spikes and tricky jumping sections, at the end of which is a trigger. The trigger closes the other path, giving you an almost-guaranteed point. Fail that path and face certain defeat.
These paths spawn mini races. You clearly see someone going for a trigger. It makes your heart race. Palms sweat. Unintentional cursing. Glory of winning or shame of defeat.
Levels are designed so that everyone always has a fair chance. You mess up a small wall jump, your gate gets closed. You weren't fast enough. If you were friends with your opponent, you're not anymore.
The mini races become more interesting with specific rewards. Item pick ups are strategically placed, giving you incentive to try specific paths. More experienced players will hold on to their items and wait for specific moments. It's much smarter to hold onto the Invincidrill (a drill powerup, making you fast, invicible and knocking down opponents) until you are in a narrow corridor, than using it in a wall jumping section.
In the recent Theme Park level we have two large Leaps of Faith. These are long jumps that result in insta-death if you mess them up. Each time you are about to do one of them, it's a good idea to be aware of what items other players have and prepare to counter. Think split-second reaction of assessing the situation on-screen, timing your counter -- or item use -- and preparing to double jump to land on the platform correctly. These split second decisions contribute to the competitiveness, and keep SpeedRunners interesting for more experienced players.
4. Testing, testing, testing
It definitely helps to be in Steam Early Access. We can getaway with breaking the game and label it as testing. Before introducing the Wheel of Fortune, we had an event every Thursday where we'd break the game. We'd make rockets fall from the sky, force everyone to use only grappling hooks, mirror all levels, etc. The fun game breaks made it into the final game as a Wheel of Fortune modifier.
Pictured: Wheel of Fortune that modifies the game every 4 matches or so
During a Twitch Lets Play session with several thousand viewers, the players got a bit confused and started running _wrong way_ around the map, which doesn't exactly work. This is when we started to pay more attention to labeling maps as finished or Prototypes.
Prototypes are levels in development. Some levels we're instantly confident in - they are just really fun to play and easy to understand. Others we will release without much artwork, with the intention of doing more tweaking based on player feedback. We take that feedback and perfect levels before putting in final artwork. And we'll sometimes do 3 releases a day.
Past few months we've been working out the core mechanics of SpeedRunners, and how to streamline new level creation. Both are nailed down by now, and are going into overdrive mode on creating new levels for the next couple of weeks. The initial success of levels is usually measure by the amount of cursing during local playtesting.