In today’s entry, I’ll simply list inspirations I got from different games and how they were applied into Gravitators. There will be some game spoilers below, so you might want to play and finish the game before reading.
You’ll probably notice that I took inspiration from varied sources and for various purposes, and then adapted the main idea into our game (if necessary). This is why I insist in the importance of playing all kinds of games (even the genres you don’t entirely enjoy); you never know which game will spark a new idea.
Super Metroid (SNES). I always loved how the doors on this game looked like and how they opened and closed, so when we had to implement the art for the spawn point doors, they were the obvious choice.
Super Metroid (SNES). The charge mechanic for Samus weapon was the main inspiration for the Lancer’s main weapon, which can charge to release a more powerful shot, or fire a weaker shot immediately.
Star Fox (SNES). I loved the Space Armada level, specially its boss. Going inside a huge enemy ship, destroying the core and getting out when it was exploding was an amazing experience. I had already decided that we were going to have huge alien space fortresses as levels, but we needed a way to destroy them with tiny ships. This level’s boss was the perfect inspiration for the Space Fortress Reactor.
Sonic (Sega Genesis). The ship’s “bubble shield” is from the game’s original inspiration (Thrust, from Commodore 64). But this kind of shield fully protects against all enemy shots, and nothing else. Sonic’s bubble on the other hand, protects you from all sources of damage but only 1 hit. So when I was brainstorming ideas for power ups, I thought it’d be nice to have an Alien Shield power up, that wouldn’t require player action to protect the ship. Instead of a single hit (not that useful) we made it have its own full Health Bar.
Sonic 2 (Sega Genesis). After designing the first batch of enemies, I was still thinking we needed something a bit different than ships flying towards you and just firing. While browsing other games for enemy inspirations, I suddenly remembered the star enemy from Metropolis stage, which was really annoying due to the fact that it fired into 5 directions (our brains are more wired to easily dodge a 4 direction shot). Contrary to other enemies, Gravitators Stars will just float around firing their shots, so they are harder to predict.
X-Men 2: Clone Wars (Sega Genesis). There are many examples of games that do this, but the one I used as reference for our Rammer was the first final boss of this game (note aside: I still can’t believe I was able to beat this very long and hard game when I was a kid without using any cheats). This boss rammed onto the wall, revealing its brain after hitting it. Our Rammer uses the same mechanic, except that the brain will be revealed after the attack, no matter if it hits a wall or not (this allowed us to place the enemy in open areas too).
X-Men 2: Clone Wars (Sega Genesis). After destroying the Mastermold, you had to play previous level, but in reverse, while everything was exploding. I always love when designers use the exact same level layout but changing it in a way that makes it completely different. So at the beginning of the project, while brainstorming for Mission Type ideas, I immediately remembered this level. In the end, we didn’t do the 2 parts (regular level and exploding level), and instead focused on just an exploding level where you had to go in, retrieve something, and then get out. And instead of just having damaging explosions, we have both fire explosions (damage) and electrical explosions (stun).
Gravity Crash (PS Vita). This game had little flying guys as enemies. They were a pain to destroy because of their size. They are the main inspiration for our Soldier units. Soldiers are interesting because they are small and weak, but at the same time they are hard to shoot at for bullet-based weaponry. So instead of saving the secondary weapon for tougher enemies, Fighter and Lancer ships sometimes need to use them to kill these small guys.
Gravitron 2 (PC). I liked how lasers were done in this game, so when we implemented ours we took them as main inspiration. BTW if you like punishing retro cave flyers, you should check this one out. We tone difficulty down as much as we could for Gravitators, while this game actually amped it up. It’s near impossible.
Plants vs Zombies (PC). There are many many examples of Armored variations of enemies, but PvZ Football Zombie is the nicest looking one, so I’ll use it as an example. A rather “lazy” enemy design from the old days was to just “paste” a shield or an armor sprite on top of a regular enemy, instantly making it harder while using the same sprite. This of course was used to save memory and dev time, but it carried on throughout spacetime, and it’s still currently used in many, many games. We were no exception, and not only we did it, but we did it several times. That’s why we have: Hunter and Shielded Hunter, and then Armored Hunter and Shielded Armored Hunter.
First we had the Hunter. It was the first enemy implemented in the game. Then we decided to add a variation of it, with an Armor and firing triple shots instead of one. The Armored Hunter cannot be killed with one shot, no matter the damage. First the armor is broken, and only then it can be killed. Later on, to increase the difficulty of later stages, we added shields to both the regular Hunter and its Armored variation. And voilà! We got 4 different enemies using the same AI.
Gears of War (PC). The first encounter I had with the Berserker is still one my most cherished coop memories. I liked the fact that it was a boss you couldn’t just shoot and destroy. You had to get its attention, and guide it somewhere. This is exactly what we did with the Worm. Instead of a shoot-to-kill-high-health-boss, we made it invincible, but attracted to your attacks. This made the Enemy Base levels quite interesting, because you have to simultaneously handle: 1) Guiding the Worm, 2) Destroying all the other enemies, 3) Nuke Timer.
Hotline Miami (PC). It’s probably in my Top 10 games of the last decade. Something I loved about the game was the fact that you could quickly choose a mask before starting a stage, with the mask slightly changing your weapons/abilities, with most of them being quite useful at one moment or another. This mechanic was the seed of having a power up loadout in Gravitators, where you can place power ups in the Cargo, and gain a little advantage at the start of the level (depending on what you needed).
GTA V (PC). The one bad thing about playing on PC is the fact that you cannot gradually accelerate/decelerate the cars when you’re using keyboard and mouse. At the same time, I absolutely hate aiming with controllers, that’s why I never play FPS/TPS on consoles. I searched about the topic online, and I read a guy saying “play the walking/shooting parts with keyboard and mouse, and the driving parts switch to controller”. So I did just that. And I was amazed at how smooth the transition was. You just needed a single input from one or the other, and all the UI changed automatically. I loved it. So we did the same for Gravitators. I believe every single game should be like this nowadays.
Gazillion games with Scrolling Levels. Anything from Mario to old shoot’em up games. Having a continuous scroll forces players to make quicker decisions, with less time to calculate enemy movement and terrain location. I was interested to see how something like this could play out for Gravitators, so we applied scroll to what became our Wormhole levels. To keep them fresh, we made them shorter and harder experiences vs other missions, with the focus on surviving rather than killing enemies or exploring.
Team Fortress 2 (PC). While I was terrible with it, I always loved the Spy class. The fact that you could just pretend to be the enemy and cause mayhem on the other team is just so perfectly designed. I wanted to have an enemy like this. So we came up with our own version: the Stalker. This enemy unit discreetly looks like something you need to connect to or pick up, but when you do, it will stun you and then attack instead.
Unreal Tournament (PC). While I wasn’t an amazing UT player, I always loved this game. Weapons design and feel were fantastic. After deciding the Lancer was going to be a “charged energy” ship, I remembered about UT’s Shock Rifle: you could shoot at your secondary and create a powerful explosion. It was sort of hard to connect the shot in the fray of battle, but so satisfying when you did. So this was the base idea behind Lancer’s Secondary, with the difference that any shots would trigger it.
Overwatch (PC). Roadhog’s Hook mechanic can be so confusing at first when starting out. You’re there a second, and then suddenly you are hooked, pulled towards him, and (many times) killed. So we tried doing something similar with the Biters, which launch their tongue to catch you, then chew you and finally spit you into a random (and potentially dangerous) direction. Most people that played the game really hate them, so in a way that means we did a good job with this enemy design 🙂
Tetris. I always thought each Tetris piece has its own “personality”, given by its shape. So when creating our 4 playable ships, we wanted to have them color-coded, but also shape-coded. Hence we ended up having: Fighter = Blue Triangle, Sparker = Yellow Rectangle/Trapezoid, Lancer = Purple Inverted “T”, Crusher = Red Square. Not perfect Tetris figures, but with their own distinct shape.
Ideas not yet implemented: We haven’t done the ones below yet, but we’d love to include them either for launch or maybe for a game update.
Disco Elysium (PC). There is a tiny feature in this game (almost a detail really) that I loved. If you press ESC in the Main Menu, it removes all the options and lets you appreciate the Main Menu BG. This is much better than having a useless Splash Screen, forcing the player to press a key to move to the Main Menu, something that makes no sense design-wise. By adding this feature, you allow players to enjoy the BG if they want, while cutting down the amount of player actions to reach gameplay. Perfect, simple solution to a very old problem. Not sure if any older game has this feature, Disco Elysium was the first one for me.
Quantum Break (PC). Unfortunately, unlike what seems the popular opinion, I found this game rather boring. While very simple, I actually did like the story. The effects were amazing. And I actually enjoyed the mix of live-action with video game, which I found novel. But the gameplay was really basic. What I found really interesting was that at certain points of the game you had choices to make. And after you made your choice, you were shown stats on both friends and worldwide players stats. I thought that was a neat idea, as it gives you a bit of an insight about what other people do but in a single-player experience, something that isn’t common within the game (and so easily shown). This feature is also present in the Spacechem stats at the end of each level, a brilliant (and probably the hardest I ever played) puzzle game. I thought it’d be really nice to see how other Gravitators players did at the end of each mission, in the Debriefing. Hopefully we can implement it one day.
I hope these examples show that you can take ideas from varied game genres and apply them to your own game, whether it’s game mechanics, level design, UI, UX, art, visual effects, AI, etc.
Everything can be useful as long as it’s properly implemented. Any time you’re playing a game, remember to keep that little guy in your mind, always pondering the same question:
” Could I use any of this in my own game? “
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