Everyone says to start making games by starting small. Try cloning Tetris, Breakout, Pacman and Super Mario Bros they say. That’s where this game design idea began, but perhaps I should go back closer to the beginning.

I have some programming experience, Basic for my Ti-86, the basics of PHP and MySQL and some C, but little experience building games even though I spend so much time thinking about how to design better ones. After reading an article by Jeff Tunnell, I decided to change and start creating stuff. I downloaded Game Maker and decided to try to create something, something simple like suggested. A rehash of a classic. Why not Pac-man I thought, but just redoing (i.e. copying) Pacman did not really interest me. That’s where this game idea comes from.

Sidenote: I might still create tetris and breakout clones before I try and build this idea, but Tetris has been done so many times and neither of them really generated a cool innovation or idea in my head. There are some possibilities with breakout now that I think about it and if an idea comes, I’ll post it later.

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The Idea: Pacman Redux

The levels: Start with one level and perfect it. If that’s too boring add more levels like Ms. Pacman. Levels should be reminiscent of Pacman, and both slightly bigger and slightly more complex.

The player avatar: A small metallic ball. As it runs over the dots it will gradually grow and gain sizes. The sizes start with tiny, what you begin as, on to small, medium and large. In order to distinguish between sizes a mellow glow effect will surround the ball. Tiny – no glow, small – yellow glow, medium – orange glow, large – red glow.

The dots: the player collects these. These also come in sizes, the same as the player’s avatar, tiny, small, medium and large, and the player can only pick up dots the same size as their avatar or smaller. If the dot is larger than the player’s size they will roll over it but the dot will remain. Dots will probably be represented as gray puddles that vary in size. A possible dynamic could be to have the dots go down in size after a certain amount of time has passed, but tiny dots will not go down in size or disappear. If allowed to, all of the dots would become tiny dots.

Enemies: Instead of ghosts, there will be various containers that will capture the player’s avatar, ending that life. Current ideas for monsters are themed as kitchen items and are listed in increasing levels of difficulty: plastic grocery bag, brown paper sack, zip lock baggie, plastic cup, and soup can. If the player is of a sufficient size they can punch a hole through the container, killing it and netting the player points. If the ball’s size is at least small (yellow) he can defeat the plastic grocery bag. If the player’s avatar is medium (orange) or larger he can defeat the brown paper sack and if the avatar is large (red) the player can defeat the zip lock baggy. The player cannot punch through the plastic cup and the soup can. When killed the containers would go to the center area, their “holding tank,” to be released shortly. The containers could just respawn or be upgraded to the next level and then be released.

Powerups: There is one powerup, the “torch”, represented by a puddle that is on fire. If the player passes through the torch they will be lit on fire. While on fire they can defeat all enemies except for the soup can, no matter the player’s size. While the player’s avatar is on fire it will shrink, but the player can turn off the fire with a keypress whenever they want to. If it reaches the minimum size while on fire there are two possible design decisions. You can allow the ball to melt into nothing ending that life if the player does not extinguish the flames. Otherwise the flame would just be extinguished and the player continues playing, with the ball at the minimum size. Other possible effects for this or an additional powerup are increased player speed, weapons to shoot, etc. I will likely include an increased speed effect in some manner. There will also be four torches on each level.

Lives: Players will begin with three extra lives and the ball in play. When the ball is captured an interesting, but short animation will show the ball being picked up and placed off to the side, keeping track of deaths and making death more interesting. It may be possible to earn extra lives, perhaps by reaching a certain amount of points, collecting a set of bonus objects, defeating all of the monster in play and putting them in the holding cell, or other ways. Extra lives may not be earned in excess of 3 extra lives.

Points: Points will be distributed for collecting dots, and defeating containers. Each container is only worth points for the first time it is defeated and any time it is defeated while the player is on fire. If the containers are upgraded when defeated they become worth points if defeated again.

Bonus objects: Bonus objects (like Pacman’s cherries and pretzels) will randomly spawn and are worth points. If a whole set of similar items is collected the player may earn a bonus.

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Problems with the idea

I like the way the game mechanics work right now with the interaction of size and power, with a powerup that increases your short term power but hurts your long term power the more you use it. What this design lacks is a coherent theme. I like the idea of a metallic ball for its aesthetic looks but the idea of kitchen containers is quirky and interesting. The ball could be a meatball or something and the dots, bits of meat or sauce, or cheese, but then the powerup would have to be something different.

Penny for your thoughts?

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