Vestigial In Retrospect Part 1
Vesitigal In Restrospect: A Post-Mortem.
Part 1: Initial Prototyping.
I recently finished my game Vestigial after 3 years of labor, love, and sweat. When I started Vestigial, I had had the goal of making a marketable product, a unique and new arcade experience. In 2019 I had thought that market did in fact exist and that it was the right time to try for a couple reasons:
- the Indie games market was very saturated, and
- People were getting into retro throwbacks, arcades (predominantly barcades) were coming back in a way.
I had always wanted to make my own arcade cabinet. my formative experience with them were 90’s arcade games such as Revolution-X, Space Harrier, Virtual-On, and S.T.U.N. Runner, among many others; which formed a lot of my ideology around videogames- that they should be at least weird or unique experiences first.
I’d been thinking a lot about “Mech games” as a genre- slow methodical power fantasies. I always wanted to play them, but felt the larger market appealed to people who like the slow methodical part of it- I wanted something snappy and fast! I set out with the goal of making an original experience.
Vestigial was one-part original design goal, and one part original controller goal. The former was as mentioned above: Making an original game that took a fresh perspective on a genre. Arguably, Vestigial is not a true mech-game in that sense- that it is not a slow game. Vestigial may be easier compared to any arcade shooter. The controller, which was prototyped at the very beginning with the mechanics, was a shot in the dark in the sense that I wasn’t sure if there was even a good reason to make the custom joystick. Dual-Joystick games are not a new concept, such games as Virtual-On have already brought twin-stick mech games to the arcade- but no-one had seemingly put thumbsticks on top of joysticks. I reasoned that there was a pretty good reason for this: It’s probably not easy to use a joystick on top of a joystick. I wanted to explore this challenge.
When I started prototyping, my immediate goals were: Simple combat design to limit scope, Mech Power Fantasy, and throwback graphics. Regarding the simple combat design- I’d spent four years attempting to make a fighting game, which was so completely out of scope that i was blinded to what was my fantasy for the game versus what actually existed. I knew that any project i needed to do had to be some kind of generally simple game loop that i could extrapolate on. I quickly made a prototype for moving around, turning, shooting, and aiming.
GIF IMAGE HERE
There was immediately a problem with the gameplay. The first issue was that I was learning a lot of programming concepts and architecture, and the methods I was using to do the gameplay felt very very mechanical. There is an irony in that that may have worked for a traditional mech game, but in my case, it wasn’t adding up. The second problem was that aiming two weapons at once was just a mess. Put simply: moving while aiming one weapon in most first person shooters already takes a specific level of skill; aiming two weapons while also trying to learn to pilot a tank was completely unrealistic. The general move was to not aim the weapons but to rotate the player instead. This posed quite the problem for the joysticks on joysticks.
Still determined to “make it work”- and vowing to give it another shot- the idea of a targeting system came up. The Idea would be that the weapons could lock onto targets, and therefor the player would only use the top joysticks to change targets meant that they needn’t place all their focus onto aiming. This was prototyped over the summer of 2019, and while not immediately working correctly- was immediately better.
I want to mention that were also focused on the game “loop” at this time. Remember: It had to be a simple game loop. This promise was broken a couple of times as ideas got thrown around. The initial idea was that there would be many many levels, each with a couple enemies, and you’d just have to clear the level leaving nothing behind, like Hades, or kind of like a racing game. There is a secret scope problem with this: This requires having a huge enemy diversity or else the levels all begin to feel the same. Who cares if one level has 4 basic enemies and 3 hard enemies, and the next one has 3 basic enemies and 5 hard enemies? It is a problem answered by diversity of design, which in my opinion was out of scope for both my abilities as the pogrammer and the amount of time we had to dedicate to it.