Some words about the laser gun in ESA

I’ve been thinking about some design issues in ESA over the past few days, and due to reasons unknown it felt like a good idea to share these thoughts with the world, so here we go:

In ESA, the player’s tool of the trade is the laser gun. It shoots simple, teal lines in rapid succession, and later on can also charge up the gun to shoot a larger, more powerful teal line. I’m quite sure several of the GIFs I’ve posted show this in action (yay for animated screenshots!)

However, there’s one problem I’ve had with the laser gun since (almost) the beginning of the game. It’s boring. At first I blamed this on the fact that there was no rapidfire option; the player had to keep pressing the ‘shoot’ button to get more teal lines flying across the air. However, quite recently I did an exprimental overhaul of the control system, implementing said rapidfire and tweaking (and/or breaking) other control-related stuff. It turns out that the shooting feels even more boring this way; the bullets don’t feel very impactful in that you just hold down a button to shoot them, yet it’s a tad harder to perform some more precise shooting due to the player very easily accidentally shooting an extra two or three bullets.

So, after focusing on other things for some time, a possible solution struck me – the laser gun clearly needed something to make it less of a mindless “just hold the button” -action and more of a strategic one, and what was also needed was some extra oomph (as they say, I think) to make those bullets feel like they actually do something. What if the gun was changed from Your Generic Laser Weapon to a shortranged, almost melee-range Laser Burst Thing? At least it’d solve the problem of it being ‘too easy’ to use and spam; the short-rangedness (while not having to be that short) would require the player to think more. Also, the bullets (or bursts, whatever) could be more powerful, since it’d be somewhat harder to hit enemies (or at least the enemies would be able to get closer to the player before being in range). (Obviously some stuff would need to be reworked to support this change, but I think it might be worth it!)

Here’s a handy image to explain what I mean:

PICTURE
Option A. is what the game uses now, a rather fast, spammy laser gun, and option B. is what I have in mind currently, a shorter-range, less spammy but more powerful burst attack. The charged shot of the burst could still be as long-range as needed, since that’d only increase the feeling of “hey, this charged shot is actually more powerful!” To further increase the feeling of impact, I think I’ll (finally) implement some kind of a ‘flash’ for enemies that take damage, even though that might slightly break the 32-colour palette.

I’m not sure if I posted this to get feedback on the idea or just to talk about the design process out loud, but feel free to leave any feedback or stuff you feel might be (or not be) relevant.

EDIT: Looks like this:

11 Comments

  1. GlaDOSik says:

    I also like option B. Option A. evokes me “farting under water” sound. Have you considered “longer you press shooting button, longer and stronger the burst will be”? Like Impact Hammer from Unreal Tournament.

  2. Bitcoon says:

    Good to hear I’m not the only one who considers drastic changes to core gameplay mechanics later in development. I suppose it’s just part of the game design, as you start to really see the final form of the game taking shape and fully playable, you get a feel for what does and doesn’t work.

    It sounds like a good solution. I mean, I could see a rapid-fire teal lines sort of weapon being fun to play with but I would think it might need more to it to really come into its own. I’m a fan of weapons that fire as fast as I can mash the button, because that does make it feel more skillful, but making it short-range would give it that little something extra, I think. When you get an opening and rush in there, jamming the fire button as fast as you can, that’s a good feeling. Letting the player either get in close to deal a lot of damage, or wait out a good moment to unleash a skillful charged shot at any range sounds like it would make for a nice dichotomy that would give the player more options for how to go about combat.

    Alternatively, you might try (if you didn’t already have it) limiting the number of shots that can be active at one time. They could travel as far as you care to let them go, but by only being able to fire off 2-4 before you have to wait for the existing teal lines to hit something or disappear off-screen before shooting more. The player could spam as fast as they want at very close range, but the farther they go from their target and the more shots that miss (and thus travel longer), the less damage they’re able to do. It’s a classic solution I see all the time in older games, and I still like the way it feels.

  3. Leon says:

    I think this is a cool idea. Although, if option A. seems spammy, why not put an energy bar? If someone is spamming too much, they will have to wait a short amount of time for it to recharge, and in that amount of time, will have to use a short ranged attack like you said. FEEDBACK SENT.

  4. Cybe says:

    Cannot wait to see a gif of the new attack in action :3

  5. Micah says:

    That could be a very interesting change. It will probably create more tension overall, forcing you to get up close and personal.

    And then when you do get the upgrade, it will be one of those great moments where the player goes, “Now you’re all in big trouble.”

  6. Skian says:

    this is just a thought, but after going back and looking at some of the previous animated screenshots, here’s one other variation to consider.
    What about implementing a 2-stage charge system for the gun/
    Leave the regular projectile unchanged, but if the player holds down the fire button instead of just tapping it you get the short-range burst shot, and if the player holds the fire button down for a longer predetermined amount of time, you get the damage of the burst-shot and the range of the projectile.

    Just another possibility to consider.

  7. Hempuli says:

    @Skian: I think I’ll try removing the regular projectile entirely at first, since it might bring some refreshing insight on how the game could work. Obviously I’ll re-implement it if the new system feels awkward! :)

    Thanks for the feedback & support!

  8. James says:

    It sounds similar to a system implemented by the most powerful gun at the end of Cave Story! It works really well in practice, and makes for a good base weapon that has room to be mastered by people who play the game to the max. It’s looking really good, keep up the good work!

  9. Cybe says:

    I think the principle Hempuli has in mind is a short ranged burst though, similar to this
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZG2x9sGWZqM
    The the polar star’s final form in CS is more like a screen wide laser beam.

  10. Hempuli says:

    Spur was a good lot of fun!

  11. Hempuli says:

    Sorry about the wait in approving the comments, I made a sticky note about this!

    @GlaDOSik: That’s basically what the charged shot will be. I’m considering maybe making the charge be something you have from the beginning, but with it getting upgrades where you originally got the charge itself.

    @Bitcoon: The best thing about games you make your own level editor for is that you really have a lot of power over how things work. Makes it easier to redo things you dislike! :) There was a 4-shot limit on the previous gun, but the screen is a bit too small for it to really work as a limitation.

    @Leon: Hmm, possibly yeah, but I’m not sure how interested people are at having to pay attention to an additional counter in the HUD.

    @Cybe: Actually MS’s Shotgun was very much in my mind when designing this! :’D

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