Out of all of Mech Mania's Arenas, Scrapyard is the one that so far has been through the most iterations to try and get it right. It's still ongoing but right now we think we're getting close!
Cramming everything you need on one screen for four players is a bit of a balancing act, constantly trading off between various essential elements to get the game as playable as possible. Below are some of the issues encountered designing not just Scrapyard but across all of our maps.
Scroll to bottom for TL;DR
The Arenas have to be large enough to allow the four players to move around and actually play the intended mini-game. Some required larger areas than others. The larger the map however would put the camera further away from it in order to keep all of it in shot at once.
Race encountered few of these problems as all of the action takes place near the camera with the sides free for any HUD we needed to add. The addition of player markers at the base of each character further helped with distinguishing who was who.
But, the further away the camera went, the smaller the player characters got and it became difficult to distinguish who was who or even where you were.
It also made spotting obstructions even more difficult resulting in lots of getting stuck on knee high boxes.
To get around this, all of the maps had to give the camera an unobstructed view right across from corner to corner forcing us to be more creative with how maps were decorated. Anything suspended from the ceiling or towering into the sky in the map had to be removed and replaced with something either lower or which the player could see through.
This gave us a finite distance the camera could not go beyond before the game became difficult because of poor camera placement and a few guidelines for object placement for the levels design.
Scrapyard eventually ended up looking like this-
Exacerbated by the fact all four players are sharing a single screen , we also needed to bury part of it under some essential HUD elements. These had to be in a position the players could quickly glance at, realize which one they were and not need to squint to make out what it's trying to tell you.
Thankfully the games are very simple, but still these bits and pieces have to be found an ideal position!
Here with Skycrane we've got it pretty wrong, not only is the camera pulled back unnecessarily far from the players, we also have fog! Blue/gray fog on a blue/gray arena with a player playing as a blue coloured character. The HUD is also much bigger than it needs to be and the detail a bit distracting.
A bit of tweaking later and we have what ever coloured fog we like. It is also moved down to give the appearance the craft is flying really high above the clouds with the tallest spires of buildings poking through.
The camera has also been brought in closer and elevated to a similar angle as in Race.
A little bit further down the line we arrive at this, though still a work in progress. Everything is already infinitely clearer, though the camera has been intentionally pulled out for this screenshot and the fog colour is yet to be changed.
The HUD itself (in this game mode) displays the players current state using three health bars as well as a more obvious central head which changes expression depending on how well each player is doing.
We also ditched Orange as an Orb colour in favor of blue as the two were pretty similar. This did however raise the worry that the blue player may assume blue Orbs are uniquely for him/her.
Each mini-game is also fronted by a short instructions screen displaying the controls and how to play. It appears as the level is loading and must be dismissed by the player before it disappears and the game begins. This gives unfamiliar players time to work out what they need to know before progressing without it becoming intrusive for experienced players.
This one currently appears before Race (as Race is presently stand-alone), very placeholder but you get the idea!
There is still a lot of work to do on Mech Mania, but we're steaming ahead. Each time we encounter a new problem I've found it really fun trying to find ways to overcome it. As you can see we have a lot of old assets and placeholders which we're slowly rooting out and replacing with the real thing as we go.
The TL;DR of it is, designing for shared screen mini-games was very different from my first days messing about with first person shooter mapping. I'm really looking forward to moving on with this project and then choosing an utterly different genre to attempt for a next game (ever hopeful!).