In Party of Sin, like most games, you control a character. Your connection to that character is incredibly important. It is your in-game identity, and you experience the game and all its interactions through that character. We've spent a ton of time tweaking all the details of how your character handles in Party of Sin.
I was pretty happy with the results. To me, the characters feel pretty good, but I've been building this game for 3 years, and if you talk to Liz, our art director, she tells a different story. It's a good thing too, because she is incredibly discerning about game mechanics and instantly notices when something feels off. This has lead to some heated discussions that look something like this:
Liz: The characters feel like shit
Dan: Okay, what do you mean?
Liz: They're all floating and stuff
Dan: Well I don't want to change the gravity, that will mean redesigning all our puzzles!
Liz: And did you see at PAX, everyone kept trying to jump over and over?
Dan: So what am I supposed to do about it? I don't have any problem making those jumps.
Liz: Fix it!
and most of the time Liz is right.
Our battle with character controls has always been about the platformer vs puzzler conflict we have in Party of Sin. When we initially designed the game, we actually had platforming in mind. Players would jump around in a world filled with moving platforms, obstacles and death traps. The problem is this goes against our puzzle and shooting sensibilities. Through our 3 year development cycle, the puzzles and shooting won out, and so we've had to strip a lot of the platforming out of the game, because it just wasn't that fun.
The Ballad of the Rectangle and the Square
In order to have a successful platformer, you need fast characters that can jump around. Jumping is THE main interaction of a platformer, and so it has to feel good. If you look at most platformers (Mario, Super Meat Boy...), their characters are all square. There's a really good reason for this. First, it makes your characters look like they are jumping a lot higher. Second, it makes aiming jumps a lot easier, because your character is just a small point, and you can use all that brain circuitry that works so well when predicting the trajectory of a tennis ball.
In Party of Sin we chose to make our characters rectangles. This is because we can make them more distinct from one another by altering the silhouette, but also because we have guns, and shooting at a fast-moving tennis ball isn't easy. Rectangles, unlike squares, are terrible for platforming. You don't seem to jump as high because your character is ~4x taller than he is wide, and you have a much harder time landing on things because you will hit your head a lot more.
Speed is another concern. Once again, because we chose to implement guns, it made sense to slow our characters down quite a bit. Contrast this with Super Meat Boy where you have an incredible sense of momentum. The speed is critical, because it allows you to develop a rhythm as you traverse the level, and that's a key part of any successful platformer.
The conclusion of all this is that Party of Sin isn't a platformer. We have platforms, and you can jump around, but this is no Mario. Our characters are much slower, and rectangular, and our puzzle interactions are a lot more complex. Most of our time has been spent cleaning out the platforming areas in the game, but also making our characters feel less like they belong in a platformer.
Hold to Jump
One of the features we had since the beginning was the option of a variable jump. Platformers do this a lot: Tap the jump key, and you do a little hop; Hold the jump key, and you will jump a lot higher. This gives you a lot more control over your character, and when you're moving fast through a level, it feels really great.
Watching people play at MAGFest and PAX East has demonstrated that this probably doesn't work so well in Party of Sin. A lot of players will just tap the jump key and not realize they can jump higher by holding. Even once we do teach them that they can hold it down, they will then try to hold down jump to make jumps that are meant to be impossible (because you need an item to boost you up, or Pride to long jump). This leads to what I call game designer doucheyness. It's usually not a good thing, because players begin thinking "WTF, I should be able to make this jump! Why would the designer be such a tool and make this just barely unreachable? Let me try again."
So last week, I cut out the variable jumping. All characters now jump to maximum height, which seems to have helped curb some of Liz's anguish, at least for now.
Next Time: Jump Assist