Prototyping Air Raider

Authored by Jordan Bergamin

The focus of my work over the past few weeks has been devoted to developing a game prototype called Air Raider; a side scrolling shooter with a retro 80’s theme. The mechanics behind Air Raider drew inspiration from an old flash game I remember from high school. This game put players in control of an aircraft and gave them the task of shooting down enemy aircraft while bombing enemy watercraft. I remember the mechanics for this game being very satisfying and I thought it would be a good starting point to expand on.

Due to the game being designed for mobile devices, we wanted to keep the poly count and texture sizes as low as we could to ensure good performance. This in part led to the chosen art style, called New Retro Wave. Based on cheesy 80’s representations of cyberspace, science-fiction, and the future, this art style lends itself well to mobile devices due to its relatively simple nature. Bright colours and low poly models abound, with a few post processing effects where necessary and a fantastic variety of appropriate music as a bonus.

Unreal Engine 4 was my choice for building the game, due to my familiarity with the engine and its general ease of use, as well as its ability to make things look pretty. I knew what I wanted to make and how I wanted it to look, and I had a pretty good idea of what the engine was capable of, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get it to work. I started by sorting out what was the most essential feature to add next and went from there. Occasionally while making one feature, I’d find that there was something else that I would need to make to get that first feature working. If I ended up requiring a load of new systems to be made in order to get one system working, I’d write them all down and take a step back to make sure I was working on the correct thing. Whenever I became stuck, my team was there to help work through it. Beyond that, the Unreal forums and YouTube were an incredible resource.

Testing the game was always an interesting experience. I usually had a pretty good idea of what needed to be tweaked or fixed but our testers were always able to find something new. Some of the best solutions to the gameplay problems present in this prototype came from test feedback and improving features based on that feedback. There were some ideas that the team thought might be interesting that turned out to be poorly received by the players, and other that we weren’t sure of that turned out to be great. This really proved the importance of testing and testing often.

There were also instances where the testing feedback didn’t give us a clear answer to some of our questions. For example, the controls of the player ship were a point of contention. While a majority of players thought the controls could be improved, some wanted the controls to be tighter, while others wanted them to be more “floaty”. Adjusting the damping and increasing the acceleration of the ship seemed to improve the feedback we received but players were still divided.

It was fun to watch players use and abuse the basic upgrade system implemented for the second round of testing. We were trying to find out the best way to balance these numbers and quickly discovered that we would have a lot of work ahead of us. With no cap on the upgrades and a price that was far too low, players were making short work of the enemy ships, obliterating them as soon as they spawned. Others wanted to see just how fast they could go, maxing out their shields and throwing caution to the wind as they went speeding from one side of the play area to the other, annihilating all in their path. Game balance is important.

While working on this prototype I learned a lot about UE4, the material system, and the blueprint system. Looking ahead, if we develop this prototype further in the future, I think there is a lot of potential for a great game. It may be worth rebuilding some of the systems differently to improve efficiency, and there is a lot of work to do with balancing. Overall, I really enjoyed working on this project and hope that at some stage in the future we will be able to make it a complete game.

Jordan

Jordan B
Air Raider Prototype Lead Developer.

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