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Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games
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Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games

September 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 10 of 11 Next

17. A.P.B.

Another driving game with heavy exploration influences, Dave Theurer's last effort for Atari Games was like nothing seen before, and little seen since.

Developed by Atari Games

Designed by Dave Theurer

Platform: Arcade, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube (last three: emulation through Midway Arcade Treasures 2), assorted ports

Length: Arcade

Of Note:

The Game:

A.P.B. sometimes feels like an extended exercise in rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, what with it having a gas pedal, a siren button, a gun button and a steering wheel, but that could just come through playing it through Midway Arcade Treasures 2.

The player drives a police car through an overhead-view, scrolling world. Each level starts him off in a different place, and asks him to arrest a quota of lawbreakers without acquiring too many demerits. Earlier levels task him with arresting litterbugs, while later levels feature harder-to-arrest perps like honkers, drunks, and eventually murderers. The player has a crosshair that floats in front of his car, and pressing the "siren" button causes it to flash.

The unique properties of this button are a big part of the game. While the siren is pressed, lawbreakers pointed at by the crosshair get hit by what we'll call "arrest damage"; when a certain amount of damage is inflicted, they pull over. You don't have to brake or anything, if they get enough damage you get credit for the arrest. Further, while colliding with other vehicles will ordinarily give you a demerit, if you do so with the siren button held down there is no penalty unless you actually hit the car hard enough to destroy your own vehicle. But the player can't just keep the button held because other cars will never break the law while the siren is on.

Got all this so far? In addition to this, there are shops around where the player can, once per level, pick up an improvement for his vehicle by driving through and pressing the siren button while the crosshair points at what he wants. Starting with level 4, the player can get a gun this way, and can use it to "arrest" people in addition to the siren... but hitting innocent people with the gun is worth a demerit.

There are also doughnut shops and stands scattered throughout the game. Shops are just driven through, but stands must be driven past just as they reach out with a doughnut to collect it. Doughnuts are worth extra time; if the player runs out of time the day ends, and he gets demerits for every quota not yet acquired.

The player's car also has limited gas. If he runs out the day ends, he gets the usual demerits for not making quota, and an extra demerit for getting stranded. Gas can be refilled by stopping at gas stations or by docking with special refueling cars while on the road.

Players also get demerits for running people over, for crashing their vehicle, and for who-knows-what other things. All kinds of things give out demerits in this game, and doing well at it requires that players be incredibly attentive. But there are also secret areas scattered around, off-road sections containing all kinds of hidden bonuses. Of course, it's counter-productive to grab bonuses when the player's behind on making quota. I haven't even mentioned the A.P.B.s themselves yet, who if brought in mean the player doesn't have to worry about quota.

So, with all this stuff to keep track of, does A.P.B. make it work? They make it rather unfriendly to new players, but buried beneath it all is a genuinely interesting game. Once all the various aspects have been mastered it is possible to get quite hooked on it, but it expects far more out of the player than most arcade games.

Design Lessons:

The coolest thing about A.P.B. is how it's a level-based game that also takes place in a huge world. While early levels generally take place along a single stretch of road, nothing prevents the player from ducking down a side road and exploring areas he wouldn't ordinarily see until much later!

At first it seems like there's not much reason to do this, but towards the end the purpose of allowing players to jump the rails and look around becomes apparent. Each level requires that the player collect an increasing number of perps of various types. Most of these will be drivers, who appear generally anywhere he might go, but some are Hitchers and some are "Helps," people seeking roadside assistance.

While drivers appear on most roads, Hitchers and Helps appear only in certain places. They get refreshed every day, but to collect them requires the player knowing where to look, and more and more as the player reaches higher levels he'll have to stray off the main path to find them. Also, the locations of the A.P.B.s is told to the player at the start of the levels, so to find them the player must generally know his way around and where to find landmarks.




18. Todd's Adventures in Slime World

The most unfortunate casualty of the Lynx's failure in the marketplace, a vast game supporting many players and possessing amazing game variety.

Developed by Epyx

Designed by M. Peter Engelbrite

Platform: Atari Lynx, Sega Genesis

Length: Long

Of Note:

The Arcade maze on the Lynx version contains a secret exit! If found, the player is given an address at Epyx to write to, presumably long gone by now.

The Game:

This is one of the greatest games you've never heard of. It is absolutely awesome in every way. It's clever, it's huge, it's strange, it's filled with secret areas, and it comes with no less than seven different ways to play it. That doesn't even get into its multiplayer, which on the Lynx supported up to eight people!

The player is a guy in a jumpsuit with a water gun who's just crashed on the appropriately-named planet of Slime World. Somewhere within the many caverns of the planet is an exit to an escape ship. All the player has to do is find it.

Between him and rescue lie one of the most devious game challenges ever devised. The walls drip, slowly, with slime, and whenever a drop of slime touches the player's guy he gets a tiny bit greener. When he gets fully green he "pops," losing a life. Most modes give the player infinite lives, but he gets sent back to the last checkpoint arrow found. This is almost never a huge problem though, because arrows are all over the place.

Scattered around in great abundance are a variety of useful items. Among the most useful of these is the Slime Shield, which can be saved until needed. When activated it provides a kind of limited invincibility: it cleans off all the player's slime, and protects from anything else that might make him greener until it wears off. Interestingly, there is rarely a shortage of these items.

There are also gems that clean the player off a little, red gems that are worth huge point awards and give him an instant shield, jet packs that allow ascending long vertical shafts, cleansers that let the player turn pools of slime into water for cleaning himself off, bait that draws monsters towards it to their deaths, and the awesome Mega Bomb that utterly destroys the contents of a single room—including the player, if he's still inside when it goes off.

These things help the player combat the great variety of monsters scattered around the world. Of these there are two general types: green ones and red ones. Both cause the player to rapidly get much greener when touched. When green monsters are shot with the water gun they explode into a spray of "boogers," which on contact stick to the player, making him steadily greener by degrees. Shot red monsters spray out in red slime. Red slime is instantly fatal, even if the player is invincible. Red gems, if accidentally shot, also spray into red slime. Sometimes this creates interesting situations like a room full of green monsters hovering over a number of red gems, that force the player to consider his options, and his aim, carefully.

If this were all there was to the game then it'd already be fairly interesting, but the extra features push the coolness clean off the charts. Slime World actually contains seven different game variations within the cart. Three of them, Easy, Exploration and Action, contain worlds of various sizes and monsters of various viciousnesses. These are largely specialized versions of the same game. But there's also Logic, which asks the player to survive without his water gun, and all the game elements are arranged in ways that turn Slime World into a puzzle game!

Then there's Suspense, where there's a two-minute clock that forces the player to explore quickly. Finding a mushroom in Suspense adds another minute onto the clock, but the caverns contain a great many dead-ends, and while death is still a minor problem, the game ends in failure if time runs out. Arcade mode contains a small, but excessively devious maze even by Slime World standards, where none of the checkpoint arrows work. The player must return to start after every death!

The final variation, Combat, deserves special mention. In it, two players in the Genesis version, and up to eight on the Lynx (provided enough systems, copies of the game, and ComLynx cables), roam around Slime World with five lives each, all trying to kill each other. A special power-up here, the Slime Gun, allows player guns to damage the others. All of the other items and enemies can also be found here, and killing an opponent's last life using a Mega Bomb, is an extra special experience. Alas, as we all know by now the Lynx was one of the freshly-sprouted Game Boy dynasty, and sold poorly. Because of this it's possible that, outside the development offices of Epyx, no one has ever gotten together systems, cartridges, cables and batteries enough to play a full game of Combat Slime World.

Design Lessons:

Slime World's seven game variations prove just how flexible the open world game paradigm can be.

Central to the design of the game is the modes of movement the player is allowed. In addition to walking, he can jump up, jump forward, or long jump forward. Each takes the player a predefined distance away; there is no way to control a jump once the player is in the air. He can also grab onto walls and climb up or down along them, or jump off.

Slime World prominently features another aspect of the "significant void" idea I mentioned earlier, but in reverse. The game contains an enemy colloquially called the Snapjaw. It is nothing more than a giant set of teeth laying on the ground. Any player that walks into the gaping mouth dies instantly, regardless of invincibility. Those are easy enough to avoid, but there are also hidden Snapjaws, lurking within certain spots of ground. There is no explicit clue that a Snapjaw lies there, and the only way to kill one is for another player, if one's even in the game, to shoot it while it eats you.

But if the player is observant, there are often other clues that Snapjaws lurk about. In the Easy maze, there is a huge secret area containing dozens of red slime gems, worth tremendous score bonuses. There are also, however, many hidden Snapjaws in these chambers. The key to cleaning the treasure rooms of their wealth is to realize that there are suspicious gaps in the line of red gems laying on the platforms. Sure enough, each spot where there's not a red gem contains a hidden snapper. The result, however, is that the very process of looting the rooms removes the only indication the player has that there's a fatal trap laying there! I hope he has a good memory....



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