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Postmortem: Freeverse's Top Gun For iPhone
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Postmortem: Freeverse's Top Gun For iPhone

December 15, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

4. Mistakes in level design

We made a few mistakes in level design that I will list for you here.

Not progressing the game mechanic or obstacles along with the story.

Two examples of this are your missile supply and enemy jets. The missile lock-on system is actually very customizable in code: the number of missiles you can fire at once, the speed at which they lock on, the speed at which they reload, and your bullet speed and power are all customizable, but at no point did we allow for it to be upgraded or changed.

This would have been a great place to allow the player to progress over the course of the game, allowing them to kill enemy jets with greater efficiency. Similarly, we added a few different types of jets towards the end of the project, to add variety to the enemies.

But instead of introducing these jets over the course of the game, they appear from the first level on. So instead of having new enemy types and new abilities be rewards that are unlocked over all the levels, we blew them all on the first level.

Having three separate level designers each working independently on their own subset of levels.

Because we were short on time, and because making the levels was the "fun" part, the level design was split up to myself and two other guys. While this allowed the levels to be completed much faster, it resulted in a less consistent level progression.

There are three noticeably different styles of levels present in the game. These styles include level difficulty, cutscenes, and even the personalities of the characters expressed through mid-flight banter.

For example, I tend to value challenge more than most people, and my levels are noticeably harder. With a mission that lasts only a few minutes, I think it's perfectly okay to have a mission that players will fail once or twice. The result is that you might find a particular mission that I did to be much harder than the next few missions after, which were done by others.

Another example is when the characters reference the enemy during the mission. Some of us followed suit with the movie and never explicitly mentioned the origin of the enemy jets (which is why you never see it in some missions, and the cutscenes) but in other missions the pilots will call them commies or drop Russian references. (Even though I still maintain the enemies in the movie were not Russian at all, but North Korean -- but oh well.)

5. Leaving no extra time for testing

We scheduled the project in such a way that we were making levels right up until the deadline. While we did make sure to test all the levels upon completion, we spent the vast majority of time testing the stability of the levels, and simply whether or not they worked. Whether or not a part of the level was too easy, too difficult, or too boring -- these were all things that received less focus than they deserved, and we ended up shipping with a few annoying gameplay issues:

At the end of the project, the issue of "hours of gameplay" was raised.

To address this, instead of adding more levels (which we had no time to do) or adding more gameplay elements, such as leveling up or unlockables (again, no time) we instead simply raised the number of jets that you needed to kill in each dogfighting segment.

Where originally you would have to kill 10 jets in a dogfight to continue, you had to kill 30. While it added a few minutes onto each level, it also killed the pacing of levels and made the dogfighting sections more tedious, as the limit of even my patience is about 20 jets. When I say it was changed at the end of the project, I mean in the last few days.

Enemy difficulty balance was off.

A few enemies and targets don't make themselves vulnerable for very long, or stay out of targeting range for absurdly long periods of time. One example of this is seen in the gunboats in the third mission. In Mission 3, you have to take out 10 gunboats scattered around a few islands jutting out of the water. The problem is that a few of them are only visible and therefore targetable for a moment. If you miss it, you have to make another pass at the island.

The larger problem is that the person that tested the fun factor of this level was me. I knew exactly where the boats where, blasted them all out of the water, confirmed the level worked, and moved on to the next level.

Similarly, the huge bomber boss jet, which uses the same movement patterns as the small jets, has a few targetable points on the wings and tail that are off-screen for large stretches of time. The result of this is the player has to wait until the bomber swerves far enough to the other direction before you try to target those points.

Project Overview

Development time: 4 months

Development team: Producer, two programmers, one 2D artist, one 3D artist, one audio designer, our crack-QA squad, office cat

Platform: Apple iPhone/iPod Touch

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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