Interplanetary Travel

17 07 2008

I’m using planets as a larger style zone divider. Older Metroid and Castlevania games have one large connected world (or castle), with a bunch of loosely defined zones within them. This worked well for Metroid, because the transitions between these areas were fairly subtle. They connected in ways that allowed you to believe that they were all part of the same planet. Castlevania’s zones worked because they all maintained the gothic castle vibe.

Later versions of these games started to have the zones become much more discrete. Metroid Fusion and Portrait of Ruin featured hub worlds that connected to smaller, (mostly) self-contained levels within them. The upcoming Order of Ecclesia has, from my understanding, an overworld map that connects twenty locations.

I have decided to use different planets for a couple of reasons.

First, I want to be able to play on riffs and variations of themes within a single planet. On Dyce 36, I want to mash up a slummy dystopian view of a futuristic society with a clean, glossy, sterile and white view of the same, in close proximity. By sticking these contrasting sorts of areas together in a single logical space, they will hopefully be connected in the player’s mind more tightly than they would be if they also shared that logical space with a dinosaur theme park built inside a volcanic crater and a snowy mountain populated by death metal yetis.

Second, I want a metaphor for fast travel that allows people to quickly revisit areas that they’ve been to before without hoofing it around. Castlevania has warp rooms, which eased the pain of backtracking somewhat, but Metroid leaves little recourse for a player who wants to travel long distances. I also wanted a metaphor that would allow me to avoid save rooms. This second point is what I wanted to talk about in this post. Please forgive me for taking four paragraphs to get around to it.

In Stick Ninja, your ship acts as sort of a hub. There’s a large room that has holographic representations of every planet that you have access to, and from here you can set your ship to travel to the planet of your choice. Once you’re in orbit, you can beam yourself down. Planets have several waypoint markers that you’ll run into as you’re exploring, and each time you find one, it gets added to a list of beamable locations from your ship. You can beam back UP to your ship from any location, but you can only beam back down to waypoints. When you die, you’re beamed up. Simple as that.

Something I didn’t like about the discrete areas of recent Castleroid games is that there were very few “Oh COOL” moments when you found a path connecting two areas that you didn’t know about. There are very few of those moments because there rarely ARE paths connecting these areas. Metroid Fusion had one or two that I can think of, where you were climbing around in an air duct in one area and came out in a joining one, but it was rare. Nowhere to be seen was Super Metroid’s awesome big glass pipe that could be destroyed from the inside to give limited early access to the water zone. So I think this planet system needs to have a few twists.

Something I thought of, which I may or may not decide to use: maybe there is an existing network of teleportation devices on the planets that can take you to areas on OTHER planets that are not otherwise reachable. The catch to this being that since you are being teleported to another planet, your ship is still in orbit around the one you just came from. This means that you’re out of range. You can’t beam up, you can’t upload waypoint coordinates, and when you die you’re toast. This is not a developed idea yet, obviously.

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