My OUYA dev console arrived last week, and almost immediately afterwards I heard about the Kill Screen CREATE game jam. Since deadlines do wonders for my productivity, and since I knew I eventually wanted to make something for the OUYA anyway, I decided to give it a shot.
I started late, unfortunately. It’s billed as a 10-day game jam, but in fact you were allowed to start on January 7th and can finish as late as the 23rd. I started on the 13th, and worked too slowly on the first few days (since any deadline that’s more than a week away seems like it’ll never arrive). But, at the halfway point, I’m happy to report that I’ve got a working prototype and that I’ve learned a bit about making Unity games for the OUYA.
Bombball is a simple eSport designed for competitive local multiplayer. It was inspired directly by Hokra, an excellent indie game that I had the privilege to play at GDC 2012, although Bombball focuses is a little more complicated and targets 1v1 tournaments instead of team play. I was also keeping in mind a panel discussion about eSports from IndieCade 2012. The goal was to make a game that’s perfect for playing on a couch and that’s as fun to watch as it is to play.
The basic premise of the game is that you need to knock a ball into your opponent’s goal. To do this, you can catch and shoot the ball, but you can also employ various explosive tools to help in this process. In the game’s first iteration, you could drop up to two remote bombs at a time and detonate them whenever you wanted. Thus you could “pass” the ball to your bombs and use them to direct the ball into the goal. I figured that this was a simple system with some tricky timing challenges that would make for deep gameplay.
Unfortunately, using omnidirectional explosions to direct a moving object to a specific point is nearly impossible, at least at first. To make it a little easier, I changed the bombs to be “directional” bombs; when you detonated them, you could indicate an angle, and the bomb would explode in that direction, taking the ball along with it. This made it much easier to pass the ball from one bomb to the next (or to the goal).
Unfortunately, the bombs still weren’t as useful as just picking up the ball and carrying it. So, I removed the ability for the player to “catch” the ball; now the player could only bump into it to knock it around the arena. This made the bombs much more essential.
Unfortunately, it had a side effect of making bombs far too effective on defense. Since the opponent couldn’t just score a goal without using bombs, you could effectively guard your own goal with one bomb at a time. To prevent players from using this strategy, I changed the way that the remote bombs worked: instead of being able to lay two at any time, the bombs were randomly spawned around the arena (in symmetrical pairs to keep things fair), and the player could “arm” them to take control. Now, the player had to make the best use of unreliable resources, and the defensive strategy was undermined.
This version of the game sorta kinda worked. It was balanced enough, but I got to that balance by constantly nerfing the player’s abilities. The game was fair, but you didn’t feel like you had much control over the ball, and you certainly weren’t getting many awesome combo explosions like I had originally envisioned. The best strategy, in fact, was just to constantly chase the ball and try to knock it further into the opponent’s territory.
Fortunately, I was able to completely scrap the changes I had made and go in the other direction, re-empowering the player with the ability to catch the ball while changing the bomb system. Now, three different types of pickups will randomly spawn: remote mines, speed boosts, and bullets (think shmup-style projectiles). The player can carry any two of these at a time and can deploy them with one button. Now, the player has several very powerful abilities at his or her disposal, as well as better control over the ball, and offensive and defensive strategies remain roughly balanced. This came at the cost of greater complexity, but I think it’s worth it.
Above is a look at the game in its current state. I have five days to nail down the bugs, add sound effects and music, completely replace my placeholder art, add a menu and other structure to the game, and get it working perfectly on the OUYA. Stay tuned.