July #1GAM: Castaway Exhaustion, Meters, and Richer Experiences

Now that it is July, I’m continuing work on my One Game a Month project, Shipwrecked.

At the end of June, I was trying to create a new image to indicate that the player is either drowning or collapsed on the ground. I had a first try, but it didn’t read very well:

June #1GAM

That last frame is supposed to be the “collapsed on the ground due to exhaustion” image, but it didn’t look very different from the “facing up” image.

So I asked for help on Twitter and Google+, and I got some great suggestions:

July #1GAM - HelpfulTweets

Unfortunately, I ran out of time last month, but that’s when I created Dark Horse last Saturday and submitted that game for June.

So when I got back to work this month on Shipwrecked, I wanted to make it obvious to the player how dangerous it is to stay out in the water too long.

I created a few more frames of animation for drowning, which happens when you’re out of stamina and swimming. You can still swim, but you only have a few seconds of air left. If you run out of air, you die. Swimming has the Castaway bobbing in and out of the water, but drowning shows what little of his face that is above the water in anguish:

July #1GAM

And if you make it back to shore in time, here is the new “collapsed due to exhaustion” look, based on the feedback I received:

July #1GAM

I also added a stamina bar to the top right of the screen. If you are drowning, a second bar appears to give you an indication of how much air you have left. Both of these bars can be seen in the above screenshots.

When you stand still and aren’t swimming, you regain stamina slowly.

What I like about everything I just described is that it is a pretty simple system that provides a better play experience. It is slightly more complicated than what I had before. Originally, if you had no more stamina and were swimming, you instantly drowned. It was harsh, and you had little feedback.

Now, stamina informs whether or not you have the strength to swim. If you don’t, then you start drowning, but you still have time to get back to safety before you run out of air. Air becomes a secondary resource, and the player has more options. Do you risk swimming to that smaller island that may or may not be within swimming distance, or do you turn back? It’s up to you how conservative you want to play. What’s more, stamina doesn’t recover if you are moving, so if you have to keep running away from something chasing you, you are risking the danger of not being able to swim very long.

I’m reminded of a talk given by Chris Crawford in which he discusses the use of variable ranges rather than booleans to provide a larger experience. If you have an NPC in adventure game, you could have a boolean that represents whether or not the character is hostile towards the player, but wouldn’t it be possible to have a richer experience if there were any number of in-between states, such as indifferent? Or secondary states, such as confident or fearful?

While I’m pleased with the stamina and air supply systems, I still need to give the player some way of eating food and recovering from hunger. I could implement a simple system in which touching nearby food objects automatically consumes the food, but in keeping with the above ideas, wouldn’t it be a richer experience to have an inventory system and give the player the choice of when to eat? As a couple of examples, I can introduce the concepts of food spoilage and cooking.

At the same time, July 31st will be here before I know it. I can’t get carried away with feature creep before I have created the core of the game play.

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