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Designing Gunvolt (Part 1 of 2)

by David D'Angelo on 12/07/16 01:27:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Today we have a very special treat! As everyone surely knows by now, at Yacht Club Games, we’re big proponents of developers giving away all their trade secrets. Just kidding – but we do love when developers deep dive into all the details that make their games great!

When we took on the publishing of Inti Creates Gunvolt Striker Pack, we were lucky enough to hear a lot of the development stories that led to Gunvolt’s unique playstyle. And today, everyone gets to feel as luck as us! We’re happy to present a rare look at the design of a Japanese action game: Hiroki Miyazawa from the Inti Creates Gunvolt team has been kind enough to put together an article describing how they went about designing the action in Gunvolt. Please enjoy!

A Cool Protagonist

One of the foundations of the first game that we created was the idea that even players who were either not very good or didn’t have much experience with action games like Gunvolt to not just able to enjoy the game, but have a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment when they beat the game. It was with those ideas in mind at Director Yoshihisa Tsuda put his plan into motion.

“Let’s Make Him Totally Awesome”

If someone has never played action games like this before, even if you have the most passionate minds on staff that can come up with the most mechanically and technically sound action game possible, that person still won’t buy the game. With that being said, a decision was made that (and I by no stretch of the imagination mean this in a negative way) would put an emphasis on making the game “cool” more than making the game “fun.” Naturally, the first course of action was to make sure the hero was not just cool, but bad-ass and fascinating.

So we’re trying to think up how to make our super cool protagonist, and we decided it would be in our best interest to do some research into what kind of content the youth of Japan today are really into nowadays. So we decided to create the setting like it was something out of a “light novel,” and rather than a hot-blooded in-your-face type of hero, we thought that a cool and clever hero would be the best fit for the story.

Coming Up With the “Tag n’ Zap” Mechanic

This is a textbook example of jump and shoot style action.

While we were thinking about how we were going to create our cool and clever new protagonist, we were also thinking about how we would make the game accessible to beginners. We absolutely love action games like Mega Man where you shoot enemies to defeat them and jump to avoid their attacks, so we took the first step by deciding that jumping and shooting action as a base, and make it not just deeper, but at the same time, easier for new users to pick up and play.

This time, we also got a little hint from Bubble Bobble, which utilizes a two-step approach when it comes to attacking enemies.

Defeating enemies once you encapsulate them in bubbles is an example of a two-step attack.

This was how the “Tap n’ Zap” mechanic where you shoot enemies with tags then zap them with the Flashfield was born.

But then the issue of whether or not a character who uses a two-step means of attack will indeed be easy for beginners to use crept up a little bit. Our thought process on the matter was as follows:

We were trying to figure what made action games like Mega Man that focused on jumping and shooting so difficult, and we came to the conclusion that it’s not the jumping or shooting by themselves, but rather the act of shooting while jumping is what makes these games tough. We also came to the conclusion that games where you have to aim while evading enemies are also pretty tough.

It was the act of doing two of those really important things at the same that set up the wall that new users had to climb over.

However, if we completely eliminated the jumping and shooting mechanics, then we wouldn’t be able to make the game in the style we wanted to make it. So, the consensus that we came to was, rather than eliminating the jumping and shooting mechanic altogether, we would decrease the amount of times that doing both at the same time is necessary.

Therefore, we made it so that if you are able to land an attack, even if you don’t land additional attacks you will be able to both continuously deal damage to the enemy and  focus on evasion. This was when our new protagonist began to take shape. The idea for the automatic continuous damage mechanic was referenced from the classic MSX game Thexder, so you could say that Gunvolt is the byproduct of mashing Bubble Bobble and Thexder together! …I kid, I kid.

So with all of that said, we asked ourselves how we are gonna make all of this come together. Since the character will be utilizing an attack that does continuous damage, we asked ourselves what the standard type of attack like this would be. Poison? Nah, that’s way too shady for a hero character to use. Fire? That might be too standard, not to mention that it doesn’t have that many practical uses. Electric? Hmm, we might be onto something with this one! It has a tons of uses beyond just dealing damage!

Thus the dart-shooting, bad-guy zapping Gunvolt and his battle style was born!

Although I must digress, in the early stages of development Gunvolt didn’t fire darts from a gun. He pierced enemies by throwing feathers at them. I think our director Tsuda-san got this idea from the character Kou from the manga Fuma no Kojiro.

This idea was not completely scrapped, though. Because of this idea, equipping different guns/darts will change the color of the Flashfield, and whenever Gunvolt does a double jump or air dash, feathers can be seen scattering about.

The Hero Stands Atop a Building Late at Night

I’m kinda switching gears here a little bit, but it was about this time when we decided that the setting would be a battle that takes place in the dead of night. If you’re going to make lightning look as cool as possible, it definitely needs to be used somewhere that is dark, so that’s why most of the scenes in the game take place at night as opposed to the afternoon or morning. I have a feeling that this is because Tsuda-san is a big fan of the game Night Striker. The opening stage in Gunvolt where you board the train definitely feels like it channels some of those cool Night Striker vibes.

Dashing through the city at dusk with all the skyscrapers feels really good in Night Striker.

There is one stage in the first Gunvolt game that doesn’t in any way look like it takes place at night, though. I completely forgot about the world building that we did when I designed this stage, so needless to say, I got a pretty good verbal thrashing later on.

Since the stage resembles a huge indoor botanical garden, we wrote a line into the scenario that explained that despite the fact it looked like it was midday inside the building, it was actually the middle of the night outside. All's well that ends well, right?

Prevasion and the Flashfield

Since we now decided that our hero was going to use electricity as a means of attack, we figured it only made sense for him to use that same electricity for defense as well.

This is where Gunvolt’s Prevasion mechanic came into the picture. It was conceived by Tsuda’s idea that in order for players who were total newbies to be able to have a chance at clearing the game, we would have to be able to make the playable character basically invincible. However, we can’t just make it so you would be invincible without any sort of condition; that just doesn’t fly for games.

Therefore, until the moment comes that you fire your gun, it’s possible to remain completely invincible. But once the dart is fired and you begin your attack, you become vulnerable to attack and will need to focus on evasion; although you will no longer have to worry about aiming once you hit an enemy with the dart .

Once that mechanic was put into place, things really started to come together. We were taking the steps necessary in order to produce the type of game we were aiming to make: one that did not require the players to evade and aim at the same time.

When you’re talking about main characters that do battle in badass/cool ways, people assuming that the game will be very difficult is very much a risk that you run into. The addition of the Prevasion mechanic was a way to make sure this wasn’t a problem. At the end of the day, the existence of Prevasion served the purpose of giving us a way to showcase that the game didn’t have to be difficult in order to be visually appealing.

At the same time, by putting a gameplay mechanic like this in place, you are able to really learn the patterns of the enemy characters, and even complete newcomers to action games of this ilk will be able to connect the dots when it comes to learning the playthrough of the game.

Incidentally, the Prevasion system as it is now was a little different in the early periods of development. In the beginning, even when he wasn’t being attacked, there was a large barrier that would surround Gunvolt that was referred to as “kagerou,” which literally translates to “heat haze,” but can also be using to describe a mirage or something to that effect.

This barrier was instead used for what we now know as the Flashfield. That’s why the barrier disappears and sends lightning bolts flying at the enemies when the Flashfield is used to attack.

If you were wondering where this whole Flashfield and lightning bolts that shoot from it idea came from in the first place, well, that happened when Tsuda-san was playing around with one of those plasma globe things.

However, the barrier ended up being a lot more flashy than we originally planned, so we ended up toning it down a bit when attacks are going on. Also, the idea of having this big barrier constantly active even when the players wasn’t doing anything ended up not sitting really well with us.

At that point, we decided on the Prevasion you know today being Gunvolt’s normal means of defending himself, and the barrier mechanic would be not only used as a normal barrier, but it would be used as Gunvolt’s main means of attack.

In other words, the Flashfield as we know it today was the byproduct of another idea. However, I think that Gunvolt would not be as cool if we removed this idea altogether. So, when we decided that we wanted to put a particularly high emphasis on the coolness factor, we decided to leave the idea in the game as you see it today.

Now what that all being said, since we are all creators, we have the tendency to try to attach some sort of meaning or purpose to everything we create. With that thought in mind, we made the barrier extra useful by giving it the ability to nullify incoming projectile attacks like bombs and missiles, and added to that by making use of the electromagnetic field that a barrier like that would create to give Gunvolt the ability to hover through the air as well.

This ended up being an important factor in creating the game, because we figured that if we were gonna give Gunvolt such a useful barrier to help defend himself with, we would be able to pile on lots more attacks from the bad guys and thus create an even more flashy, intense gameplay.

More Next Week!

Send your thanks to Hiroki Miyazawa for a deep explanation of Gunvolt’s origins. Join us next week for our second dive into Gunvolt’s design. Inti will dig more into the Kudos system, songs, wall climbing, multi-layered gameplay, and more. Don’t miss it! And if you haven’t picked up the Gunvolt Striker pack, now’s the perfect time!


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