Toothpaste Spaceship and other Shmups

Yesterday I began working on a prototype for our first class project this semester, a video game of the “Shoot ‘em up” game genre. After I had written enough code to make the player movement, the enemy spawning and movement, as well as the shooting mechanics, to work as planned, I realized something. The coding was the easy part. After this point, the rest of the work on this project would be about game balance. Adjusting the values for the movement speed of the player and of the enemies, how fast enemies spawned, the amount of damage a bullet does to enemies, and so on. This is what entrances me most about Shmups. In many games, designers spend the most amount of time coming up with innovative mechanics and making sure that those mechanics are fun to play. The mechanics of a Shmup, however, have been established ever since Space Invaders and Asteroids invaded arcades. They focus solely on the balance between the skill level of the player and the power level of the computer-controlled enemies. Enemies appear, you shoot them, and when the game ends your achievement is based on how long you survive or on how many enemies you kill. All Shmups are mechanically similar. What makes one different than any other game of the same genre are the values assigned to these variables.

The working name for my Shmup project is Toothpaste Spaceship. This is a rather literal interpretation of what the game will involve. The player moves a tube of toothpaste around the screen as they would a spaceship in a conventional Shmup. A click of the mouse sends a globule of toothpaste out of its mouth. Enemies, which are portrayed as unhealthy, cavity-ridden teeth, spawn at random points at the top of the screen and slowly make their way down toward the bottom. The player’s goal is to hit the oncoming enemies with toothpaste globs, in doing so clearing their cavities and making them white, clean, and healthy. The toothpaste tube has 100 shots of toothpaste, but the player can refill the tube with toothpaste packages that periodically spawn in the same manner that enemies do. When a tooth becomes healthy, it drops to the bottom of the screen and the player gets some points. If ever an unhealthy tooth reaches the bottom of the screen, it disappears and the player loses points. The game ends when one of three things happen – 1. The player runs out of toothpaste to shoot, and is left with an empty toothpaste tube; 2. The player has a negative number of points; or 3. The size of the pile of healthy teeth at the bottom of the screen reaches a certain height.

I hope that the prototype of my game will, first of all, show whether or not the game is fun. Of lesser priority is the goal of finding out what behavior it will bring out in players. I’ve already noticed that, because of this unconventional mechanic of filling up the screen with dead enemies rather than clearing it of living ones, my prototype has made me move my character in a different manner than I have in other Shmup games. I look forward to seeing what other kinds of player behavior I can nourish in this environment.

For my narrative analysis, I’ll be breaking down the story of my favorite narrative video game “To The Moon” using Dan Harmon’s Story Structure 104 essay.

1 – “You” – Establish a protagonist

The two protagonists, the people who the player plays as, are Drs. Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, scientists and employees at Sigmund Corporation. They are put in a position to help someone in need, a position that solidifies them as protagonists and one that gives players a reason to play as them.

2 – “Need” – Something’s not quite right

The protagonists receive a request from a dying man. Johnny Wyles, ill in bed, diagnosed with an incurable disease, wants to go to the moon. There’s something off about the world, a question that’s begging for a solution.

3 – “Go” – Crossing the threshold

The protagonists take on this task by setting up a mechanism to implant a fake memory of him being on the moon, as Sigmund Corp. is usually tasked with creating memories for people in conditions such as this. Once they go into his memories, there’s no coming back without a result, be it for the better or for the worse.

4 – “Search” – The road of trials

The plan does not go as smoothly as intended. Johnny’s mind doesn’t form the new memory they attempt to give it, and everything goes awry. It is revealed that Johnny’s brain is missing many important life memories, and as the protagonists attempt to recover those memories, they are met with puzzle after puzzle in order to do so.

5 – “Find” – Meeting with the goddess

In recovering these lost memories, Eva and Neil divulge important events in Johnny’s life, events that shaped his very personality and events that reveal his very reason for wanting to go to the moon.

6 – “Take” – Meet your maker

In this section, Eva and Neil use their newfound knowledge of Johnny’s life story to forge a perfect version of what his trip to the moon could have been, as well as fixing various other imperfect events in his real life.

7 – “Return” – Bringing it home

After giving Johnny his dream life sequence, Eva and Neil bring themselves out of his memories and into the real world once more.

8 – “Change” – Master of both worlds

Johnny passes away, but not before reveling in his newfound memories. Eva and Neil are content with the fact that they brought Johnny endless happiness in his final moments. They return to Sigmund Corp., ready to begin a new adventure.

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