Published: November 5th, 2021
I mentioned last week that I was still trying to figure out what to do about the coins that I've had floating in the air in the middle of jumps. These things:
I liked having these coins around since they provided visual interest (they're animated, which is nice) as well as a simple way to visualize the path that the player should take across the gap. To a lesser extent, they also serve as a way to visually show the timing of the midpoint of each jump -- which becomes important in later levels when instead of a coin you have an additional mid-air jump or flight path.
However it was a bit weird that the coins didn't actually serve any gameplay purpose and didn't actually serve as currency. They weren't really set up to be treated as such, either, as there wasn't really any way to "miss" a coin and the number of coins per stage was pretty arbitrary (the number of jumps that didn't happen to have any other obstacles in the middle of them). But I didn't want players to just be left with a lingering thought of "I got all these coins, how do I use them...?".
At the same time, I was also thinking about the level clear UI, which currently just shows the number of times you died during a level. That's working just fine, and sort of serves to suggest the goal of doing perfect clears (which reward you with special medals). But I thought it was kind of weird how when you finally clear a level, the first thing you see is the amount of times you =failed=. That's a feel-good moment if you did it perfectly, but sort of a negative emotional feeling if you happened to die a bunch.
I was wondering if I could show something more positive, like a combo count or some sort of score. At the same time, I've been pretty set on not introducing scoring mechanics to the game, as I want to keep away from any extraneous gameplay "baggage" to allow players to just focus on the gameplay and music.
When you have questions or problems like these in game design, sometimes you just have to make a list of things to try out and then see what sticks as you iterate on the possibilities. Other times you need to just need to keep the problem around in the back of your head long enough and then come back to it later once you've had a breakthrough or see a new solution.
This particular pair of problems fell more into the latter camp. I had both of these problems in my mind at some point, and it occurred to me that I could try to tackle both of them at the same time.
One of the problems with using the coins as currency was that they were only tied to empty jumps and not to anything else. Well, I can change that by having enemies also give you coins when you attack them:
So now the number of coins in a stage is more directly tied to the difficulty of that stage. But it still doesn't really make sense to use as a currency because you can't "miss" coins -- going through the entire stage means you've collected all the coins by design. What if we make the player lose a portion of their coins every time they respawn?
Here I'm using a particle emitter attached to the player, with the collision module set to "world" collision, so that the coins collide with the surfaces of the level (which are on their own collision layer). I've also disabled the white flash on respawn so that you can see the coins spilling out, and I've added a flickering effect on the player to represent that you're respawning. To be honest, I always thought that the flash was a little harsh to begin with, but I kept it in because I needed something to cover up the fact that all of the defeated enemies pop back into existence. (I'll probably need to fade them back in gradually instead now...)
Okay, so now you can only get all of the coins in the level if you do a perfect clear. That means I can use the coin count as a score to show at the end of the level:
This still isn't quite making sense though, because all of the obstacles reset every time you respawn. So if you die, you lose coins, but then you collect some back as you replay that section...? That's weird. So instead let's make it so that the enemies respawn, but the coins don't. That means you have one shot at each coin, and it's your job to try to hang onto as many of them as possible.
...aaand that's where I'm at right now. There's still some kinks to iron out...for example, the actual number of coins that you lose on respawn is something that I'm still iterating on. And, right now the total number of coins that you're carrying is never actually shown until the end of the level. I could of course just add a numeric UI counter, but again, I'm trying to keep the game screen clean of clutter and distraction. And then I need to deal with how to display the total amount of currency that you've accumulated in the menu screens, ugh...
All of this maybe seems very logical in hindsight, but honestly when I started thinking about this I had no idea what I was going to do with it, and it wasn't obvious to me what the way forward was. Hopefully this example illustrates a little bit of how these systems get designed. Again, a lot of it (for me) tends to be about just keeping random issues in the back of my head and then dealing with them once I figure out something I want to try and iterate on.