When a new video game is announced, you’ll often hear previous titles “name dropped” as a way to express the design in understood terms. How many times have you heard a sidescroller described as “Mario-like”, or an open-world tile as “GTA, but with _____”.
I’m guilty of this too: my elevator pitch for Helicopteropolis is “Choplifter meets Crazy Taxi”...and while it gets the point across, there are huge design holes that such a gross simplification leave out.
Go watch a play-though of Crazy Taxi...its design was fun because you’re dodging, swerving, and jumping your way through a city at breakneck speeds. The 3D city streets were your opposition. Choplifter....not so much. Its opposition comes from enemy fire, but once you hit a decent altitude on the 2D playing field, it was smooth sailing back to base camp.
So, Helicopteropolis...a 2D game that needs to control like Choplifter but feel like Crazy Taxi. We have obstruction from below (the city itself) but what about the skyline? What opposition can we use to fill the space above the city, making the trip from point A to B more exciting?
We can white-box in some vertical-space obstructions easy enough. In the above pen-and-paper example we've added some floating obstacles above the city, bonus routes for the daring (tight spaces with stars), and give a nice tapered ceiling that prevents the "one altitude fits all" approach to victory.
But the main task (as see it) is adding these impassable areas in a way that logically fits in the world. I can't really have flying buildings (Bioshock Infinite has that idea covered quite nicely) but what else would prove an interesting and logical blockade to our airborne players.
The solution to the 'airborne obstacles' turns out to be completely artistic: make simple background tiles that are obviously passable but retain the structural integrity of the assets being supported (billboards, water towers, tree canopies, buildings, etc).
Here we have a dense part of the city that showcases this idea...impassable areas are visually pushed to the front with bold outlines and multiple colors (all hand-picked from the old NES palette). Background bits of the composition use a consistent color (light blue) and blend into the sky, letting your brain easily dissect what can be flown through and what should be avoided.
We also have a nice, impenetrable nanobot cloud that hangs above the city...providing an impassable ceiling AND a point of interest in the story! Gotta love 2 for 1 solutions!
So, with some clever use of atmospheric perspective, we get to make some interesting routes through our 2d city, giving us the winding speed of Crazi Taxi while retaining the feel of Choplifter! But the question still remains...will this unlikely pairing result in something that's fun to play? All the design bits are in place...now it's onto Helicopteropolis's first major milestone: a proper gameplay demo!
Next Time: Will all our hard work pay off with something cool and (fairly) unique? We implement some basic pedestrian AI and drop points to get the basic gameplay up and running, and answer that all important video game question - "Is it FUN?"