Game Design Essentials: 20 Atari Games
May 30, 2008 Page 23 of 23
Off The Wall, a Breakout update, seems to be the last middle-era Atari Games production. From there, for a while, they produced a much restricted array of games, including a number of racing games, a fighting game or two, and some first-person shooters.
While the Area 51 series was popular, most of the others aren't particularly remembered today. But when the industry shifted to 3D gaming, Atari Games returned to form with a number of newer hits. One of these was Gauntlet Legends, which takes the basic premise behind Gauntlet and successfully moves it to 3D, while adding further play features.
One cool thing about it is how little the game changed in its move to 3D. The basic play, of evading and outgunning streams of enemies and using limited overwhelming blasts of power to clear out the greater flows long enough to take out generators, is basically intact. There are more types of blasts now, but they all fulfill the same purpose in the game.
The slowly draining health total providing time pressure is still there. The character development system is more modern RPG-like (experience points increasing stats) instead of old-school (acquiring permanent powers), but still present. The game included a player recognition system revolving around a three-letter username and PIN number, that allowed characters to persist across many sessions, a very nice addition.
While there was a limited inventory and a chance to purchase stats and power-ups between levels, characters weren't customizable beyond class. The long-term building coupled with four-player simultaneous play gave the game a dynamic that players of MMORPGs might find familiar.
Image courtesy of Arcade-History
One distinctive aspect of the game's design is the overall collection quest. The game is divided into four "journeys," selectable at the beginning of play and after a journey is completed. Each is a sequence of levels that must be played in order with a boss at the end.
If a character is in the game when a boss is defeated it receives credit for it, but to gain access to the first endgame it is only necessary that each boss has been beaten by at least one player in the game. (So, if there are four players and they've all killed a different boss, access is granted.)
But each character also records Runestones that have been found. Runestones are tracked in a similar manner as bosses, with the sum of all Runestones found being the qualifying factor for playing the final level. All players in the game when a Rune is found receive credit for it so there is no competition for the stones. Each of the twelve must have be found by at least one of the players in the game to reach the second endgame.
Runes vary a bit in finding difficulty. Some are out in the open, some appear when an area has been cleared, some require that the player break open fake walls, and there are some minor secrets to discover. Most Gauntlet Legends levels are laid out along a linear, if winding, route, but a few, like Forest 1, branch out a bit.
Most Runes aren't too hard to find for a group of players focused on locating them, but a couple must be tracked down. After the first endgame has been completed, the game provides the players a Hot/Cold meter in each level with an unfound Rune.
The result, which not coincidentally also fits in with the MMORPG style, is a game with multiple goals. Like the original Gauntlet games, it can be played just to lope around and kill stuff with friends, or players can attempt to become skilled at the action play and maximize their per-credit time. It can be played to complete levels, or to collect Runestones and win the game, or to reach maximum level with a character.
I'd say perhaps the most interesting thing about the game, however, is how it changed when it came to consoles. Consoles were coming to possess enough power to duplicate the arcade experience, and the home versions of the game were developed by some of the same people who worked on the arcade game, who played around with the design in interesting ways.
The Nintendo 64 edition, of them all, is a standout: it replaced two of the worlds of the arcade version with new ones that would turn out to be two of the new areas worked on in Gauntlet Dark Legacy, and featured four-player drop-in-anytime play similar to the arcade, using that system's controller-based memory card ports.
The PS2/Xbox/Gamecube port of Gauntlet Dark Legacy also featured special character abilities related to their use of magic, which helped to distinguish the characters from each other (one aspect of play that had been lost from the old games).
The console ports, on the other hand, sometimes seem as if they miss the point. Without the time pressure caused by the arcade versions' constant health loss or the need to pay money to play, a lot of the challenge of the game is missing.
What had been a race to collect health safely and defeat foes skillfully became more a matter of replaying levels over and over to building health and experience in order to tackle later levels. In short, the gameplay became a grind, and this was yet another way that the game would foretell the ascendancy of MMORPGs.
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