Matt's Underexplored Game Concept #1: The Shoot'em Down

Matt Barton's picture

We've been having a great discussion over on this thread about where the future great game designers will come from. While I love ranting and speculating about such things, I also like to play fun games. I haven't taken the time to program or design such things myself, but I will happily give my 25 game ideas away to others who have the skill, knowledge, and motivation to use them. All I ask is that if you do try to make a game based on any of my concepts, do it right.

If you'd like to discuss, comment, or pose your own ideas, by all means do so.

My first concept is something I called "shoot'em downs," and it's based on three different ideas--Moon Patrol, Defender, and artillery games like Scorched Earth.

The idea is related to the "shoot'em up," where you control a ship at the bottom of the screen and blast ships, aliens, or whatever at the top. In the shoot'em down, you are controlling a bull dozer type device that can move left and right across a multi-screen playing field (perhaps using a radar system based on Defender's). The player controls the left/right movement either with the A and D keys or with the left stick (if using a gamepad). Mounted on the dozer is a cannon that can be moved independently, using the mouse (or right stick of gamepad).

The enemies appear on the top of the screen, usually flying across and dropping bombs on the player similar to Moon Patrol. All of these bombs will make small or larger craters on the surface. The dozer can move across these, but they slow it down more or less depending on the size of the crater. If it's too steep, the dozer will get stuck. The same goes for hills, which may be randomly generated at the start of the game.

When the player shoots down an enemy, it crashes to the ground and appears as debris. The dozer can then push this debris into a crater, earning points (and making the crater faster to traverse). However, if the debris gets too high, the player won't be able to move it, and it will become an obstacle pinning it in. The dozer will then have to use its cannon to blast at the top of the stack, hopefully moving or knocking it over enough to get it into a hole. It's also possible, of course, to try to use the enemy's bombs to create a deep enough crater in front of the stack, which it may fall into if the ground beneath it gives way (think here of artillery games with gravity effects).

I call this idea "shoot'em downs" because the focus is on carefully manipulating where the enemies fall rather than merely destroying them in air.

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Bill Loguidice
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I like the concept and have

I like the concept and have a catalog of my own, but the trick is not necessarily in coming up with innovative ideas - that idea is relatively easy - it's finding the time to implement them. It kills me that I can't find the time to even use something like GameMaker. As for others taking the idea and running with it, good luck with that, as it's my experience that there are far, far more ideas than there are people to implement them, and most who are coders prefer to utilize their own ideas (even if it's something stupid like make yet another arcade classic clone).

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Matt Barton
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Bill Loguidice wrote:

most who are coders prefer to utilize their own ideas (even if it's something stupid like make yet another arcade classic clone).

That does baffle me. Why go to all the trouble just to make a clone of something that's been done hundreds of times (and likely much better?) The only reason I can see for doing that is just to learn how to use the tools. Still, though, I think your views are bit overly pessimistic. Surely, there are great hobby coders out there who are eager to try new things.

I find it relatively easy to use something like Gamemaker, but the hard part is the polish. When you get right down to it, making a game is easy; making a good game is very, very difficult. I think that's why somebody Shigeru has been so successful--not so much the brilliance of his game concepts, but rather the amazing amount of work he's willing to put in to make sure every detail is as polished as humanly possible.

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Bill Loguidice
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Coders don't want ideas
Matt Barton wrote:

Surely, there are great hobby coders out there who are eager to try new things.

In my experience, if you get into the mind of most coders, most are not open to any external ideas. There are a surplus of ideas and no time to implement them all. The ideas are the easy part, getting down to the coding is the issue, whether you're a skilled programmer or not. I don't think I'm wrong in the least with that, but am certainly open to being proven wrong.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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I took a look at Gamemaker,

I took a look at Gamemaker, and boy does it look easy to use. I'm very tempted to try to implement some of this stuff myself!

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Bill Loguidice
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GameMaker 7
Matt Barton wrote:

I took a look at Gamemaker, and boy does it look easy to use. I'm very tempted to try to implement some of this stuff myself!

There are even easier tools out there, but I like GameMaker for two reasons: 1 - Performance. Most languages with a drag and drop methodology take severe performance hits. The performance in GameMaker is more than acceptable. 2 - Functionality. GameMaker is not just a drag and drop language, but includes a relatively sophisticated script-based programming option so you can really tweak things and do more sophisticated coding. You can quickly whip up a prototype using the drag and drop, then start to tweak things in a more sophisticated manner.

I have this book, which I highly recommend: http://astore.amazon.com/armcharcad-20/detail/1590596153

Of course I still haven't had time to actually implement anything!

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Yeah, it does take a lot of

Yeah, it does take a lot of time to learn the tool and implement anything even remotely worthwhile. It's not like I have huge chunks of free time or anything, especially with the documentary, book projects, and Matt Chats. Summer is coming, though...!

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Calibrator
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Creativity & Ability
Matt Barton wrote:

Yeah, it does take a lot of time to learn the tool and implement anything even remotely worthwhile.

That's absolutely true!

Quote:

It's not like I have huge chunks of free time or anything, especially with the documentary, book projects, and Matt Chats. Summer is coming, though...!

And that's why most coders entering the games industry are young and often have no obligations. That was the case in the 80ies and it hasn't changed since then. No families to feed, no mortgages to pay back, but lots of time to put into the project.

As for Bill's comment that hobby coders aren't open to other ideas: I don't agree with that completely.
While I think that there are lots of people only able to re-program clones of Tetris, Breakout, Ultima etc. there are also lots of people open enough to process ideas they get from anywhere with something they come up themselves and -sometimes- produce something really good in end.

Often they have bigger ideas than abilities to implement it equally well but sometimes they are equally good at designing and implementing. They are a rare breed, IMHO, but in most cases even they don't produce commercial quality that also sells enough.

The problem I generally see is that creativity isn't a universal, equally distributed talent. While learning a programming language is something that can be done by practically everybody (of course with varying success), coming up with something fresh and original isn't as easy.
However, one must not only train a programming language by implementing something just to not forget things but also the ways to be creative: Thinking up scenarios and settings, inventing characters like enemies, designing a plot structure if needed. Systematically collecting ideas is one way to do that and I can only recommend to use a spreadsheet like the one in OpenOffice or Excel to do that.

Training a programming language may result in hard work (not always fun ;-) and creating a 3D engine is beyond most people's dedication and ability but lots of people are able to implement their ideas with tools like Gamemaker, RPG-Maker or a game that provides an editor (and there is quite a variety to get your hands wet).
Training creativity on the other hand is beyond hard work: It really is talent no matter how methodic you are. And you also need luck to come up with something that hasn't been done exactly like that before! ;-)

An interesting example for creativity could be Quentin Tarantino:
He's undoubtedly one of todays biggest cinematic innovators - and yet: He's only taking existing elements, stirrs them, combines them and - voila! - you get a product that's often entertaining as hell and *seems* to be fresh. In reality, however, it is only a concoction of things already existing somewhere else. Just look at the IMDb trivia section for the Kill Bill movies...

take care,
Calibrator

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Rowdy Rob
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I have had so many game ideas!!!

I not too long ago reconnected with my high school compatriot, via the wonders of the Internet, and he was surprised I was not working in the videogame industry. I have always (even back then) had many, many great videogame ideas, and many of them have come to pass in some form or another. He thought I was a "visionary," a creative gaming genius (and I saw him as a programming genius, which he has proven in his successful programming career).

That having been said, it's EASY to come up with ideas, but hard to implement them. If you're a lone wolf, but have the greatest "Super Intergalactic Cosmos Blasters" idea for a next-gen game, now what? Are YOU going to program it? Are you going to market it?

Matt, your modified "Moon Patrol" idea sounds like a fun game, but is it industry-changing? Is it really "cutting edge?" Is it the next "Super Mario?" And if it is or isn't, why haven't you programmed it?

In the beginning, the videogame industry RELIED on the new, the unusual, and the something that stood out against the crowd to become successful. But now, it's big business, with millions of dollars, as well as countless employees' livelihoods, at stake. It's easy to say "they should spend more money developing this" when it isn't YOUR money. How much of YOUR money are you willing to risk, considering your family's welfare? If you consider your employees as extended family, that complicates the matter even more!

EA began as a very idealistic company, but as they grew, many factors started to come into play. Do you risk it all on the next "bottled lightning," or do you play it safe, not risking your company's welfare? The smart financial thing to do is to "give 'em what they want," unless you are a small company hoping to make a name for yourself.

(P.S. look up "Introversion Software" for a moderately successful videogame company that bills itself as "the last of the bedroom videogame programmers." )

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Bill Loguidice
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The younger the industry, naturally more innovation (by default)
Rowdy Rob wrote:

In the beginning, the videogame industry RELIED on the new, the unusual, and the something that stood out against the crowd to become successful. But now, it's big business, with millions of dollars, as well as countless employees' livelihoods, at stake. It's easy to say "they should spend more money developing this" when it isn't YOUR money. How much of YOUR money are you willing to risk, considering your family's welfare? If you consider your employees as extended family, that complicates the matter even more!

This may sound a bit harsh, but not only did the videogame industry rely on the "new, the unusual, and the something that stood out against the crowd", but the reality is is that early on it was actually easier to come up with something new or unusual because there was so little to go on. Almost by default you were experimenting and coming up with something new because there was so little else to copy from or be inspired by in the videogame world. Even something as simple as changing perspective could bring new innovation. Now, 40+ years into it, it's harder to come up with something truly new. Of course the same applies to every other mature industry, be it music, film, et al.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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invention vs. innovation
Bill Loguidice wrote:

This may sound a bit harsh, but not only did the videogame industry rely on the "new, the unusual, and the something that stood out against the crowd", but the reality is is that early on it was actually easier to come up with something new or unusual because there was so little to go on. Almost by default you were experimenting and coming up with something new because there was so little else to copy from or be inspired by in the videogame world. Even something as simple as changing perspective could bring new innovation. Now, 40+ years into it, it's harder to come up with something truly new. Of course the same applies to every other mature industry, be it music, film, et al.

I think that the goal of setting out to make something "totally original" is misguided at best. If you really get down to it, anything that people call "original" has had clear predecessors. For instance, people talk about Thoreau's "On Walden Pond" as being totally original, even to the point of creating a whole new genre of writing, yet it's loaded with quotations and references to older works. It's easy to see where the "inspiration" for Tetris came from, and Super Mario Bros. is hardly original. I still maintain that the best way to go is to take what you have and polish, polish, polish. Even if it's something that has been done many times, such as a shmup, it's still possible to make a new one that is so much better than anything before it, that it brings people back to the genre.

I guess what I like to separate is "invention" from "innovation." Invention is a wacky, unpredictable force that is probably mythical. Who knows, maybe random things to happen from time to time that lead to new inventions. At any rate, it's no use sitting around worrying about, because there doesn't seem to be anything that even the most gifted people can do to "invent" on the spot. Innovation, on the other hand, is much more manageable and happens everyday. You simply look at existing products, think of ways they could be better, and work on interesting combinations, new applications, refinements, etc. As my example with the "shoot'em down" shows, it's often helpful to pick 2 or 3 different kind of games and think about how they could be combined into something new and innovative.

One way though I agree with your views is with experience. Today's developers have thousands of games to choose from, and they all know the many hits that came before--and that colors their views, perhaps even molding them. Back in the 80s, you had many programmers who had little to nothing to draw from, and were forced to create. True, most of what they created was obvious enough, but the point is that they were the first to do it. I seriously doubt, however, that there's no room left for new inventions, and much more for new innovations.

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