Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Events, items, pick-ups, and power-ups in Shatterhand

at 6:00 PM
Key to understanding the elements that make a game interesting and challenging is classification. The same way genre taxonomy sheds light on what we look for from games as a whole, grouping individual components by function and presentation clarifies their role. Items - pick-ups or power-ups or what have you - are one of the more boring classes to discuss, but they are a powerful tool that can shape an entire game experience. Shatterhand is one such experience, reliant on a complex combination system for building power-ups. So let's take a step back and define some categories of elements that form the baseline from which this system is constructed. These definitions are contextual (as always) and are here formulated primarily for Shatterhand and its parent class of action platforming games. That said, they could easily serve as guidelines for similar rules in other game types.

An event is an input-result link tied to some fixed point in the game's progression. The game state where the event is available and the input that sets it off are together called the trigger, while the resultant game state is called the outcome. The fixed point could be a fixed point in time, location, etc., the idea being that the player can't take an event with them.

An example event from Shatterhand is the elevator activation in Area F: when the player moves through a certain area, a platform starts moving upward from the bottom of the screen. The trigger is pressing right on the control pad when the player character's X coordinate matches the midpoint of the below screen before the elevator has begun moving (that is, crossing the midpoint). The outcome is the same as the original state except a new moving platform and enemy have spawned and are moving upward from the bottom of the screen.
The invisible trigger line for the elevator event
An item is the visual representation of an event. Some events, like the one described above, are not paired with an item. However, an item not paired with an event would simply be a graphic (a visual representation); thus, every item must be tied to an event. Items are extremely common, including everything from doors (which represent an event that transfers the player location) to coins (which represent a score-increase event).

An example of an item from Shatterhand is the transporter. The transporter present at the end of every stage represents an event where the player is transported to the boss chamber. The trigger for this event is pressing down on the control pad while standing on the transporter. The outcome is that the player's location is set to the middle of the boss room and the boss is spawned. The boss spawning is not a separate event because it does not require further input from the player. It is part of the outcome of the interaction with the transporter - that is, if you aren't ready to fight the boss, the only way to stall is to not trigger the transport event.

Other Shatterhand items that don't fall into the lower classes are the health-up/extra-life stations, the money bag, and the act of punching an Alpha to turn it into a Beta or vice versa.

The transporter item
A pick-up is a specific class of single-use item that does not change the environment state. A pick-up can change the player state, the enemy state, or the state of other items, but it cannot change the environment state - that is to say, it can't move the player around or change the room. There's a bit of intentional ambiguity here - I initially had that a pick-up also disappeared or visually indicated once its event had transpired, but I realized that that conflates the functional and visual roles of the object. Aside: an item that changes the environment state and that may be multi-use is a switch (there are none of these in Shatterhand). 

An example of a pick-up from Shatterhand is the coin. The trigger for the coin is crossing it's location while it is visible and the outcome is an increased player G count, the disappearance of the coin, and an otherwise identical game state.

The coin pick-up triggering a score increase event
A power-up is a specific class of event that has a beneficial effect of variable duration to player mechanics. It does not necessarily have to be a pick-up or even an item, but often is. An instance of a non-pick-up power-up would be the Pow station - when the player presses down on the control pad while standing on a Pow station and carrying more than the displayed amount of G, their jacket turns red and they gain additional attack power until they are damaged three times.

An example of a pick-up power-up from Shatterhand is the sword helper. The trigger for the sword helper is walking across an Alpha item when the player is already holding exactly an Alpha and a Beta (in that order) and does not already have a helper. The outcome is that a sword helper spawns, the players letter inventory is cleared, the Alpha item disappears, and the game state otherwise remains the same.

All of the helpers in Shatterhand classify as power-ups, each with a corresponding letter requirement. Another pick-up power-up is the armor suit, which is triggered when the player already has a helper and collects the same three letters in the same order that created it.

Picking up the Alpha under these conditions causes the creation of a sword helper
[this random-ass post courtesy of a nearly finished outline I wrote six months ago for a podcast]

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