Monday, July 03, 2006

Steal this Game Design: Lightspeed


Overtake your opponents at the SPEED OF LIGHT!


Lightspeed is a racing game in space. The player flies his one-man ship like a starfighter or fighter plane. The controls are laid out in a similar way to what is found in games such as the X-Wing series, the Freespace series, and so on.
Similar games may include:
  1. Plane Crazy, by Segasoft, which had floaty, imprecise controls and some dubious game mechanics (it was still fun, however.)
  2. F-Zero X and F-Zero GX, by Nintendo, which constrain the player to a track, so that they feel more like terrestrial racing games than true 6-degrees of freedom racing.
  3. Rocket Jockey, by Segasoft, where one of the gameplay types was a somewhat more freeform type of racing than most racing games offer.

Racing types vary; for some races, the player is required to go through a course made out of rings, other races have more of a rally-style structure where you have to go by or past a few specific checkpoints. Further racing styles may include flying through long pipes or tunnels, or require the player to shoot special targets down along the way (biathlon-style).

Except for the biathlon type of race, weapons are rare, meaning that, when permitted and available, the player will likely only have very limited ammo, say, 3-4 shots. A few basic weapons simply damage opponents, but there are also specialized weapons that have very specific effects, affecting the opponent's weapons, speed, maneuverability, or course. For example, one weapon can be shot in a continuous stream not unlike silly-string, and if a continuous shot hits an enemy and then another object (or another enemy!) the two are then stuck together, on a leash.

The ships are extremely customizable. Many different basic hulls are available, and the ship building module shows all the "attach-points" on the hull for various components, such as engines, weapons, generators, force fields, thrusters. Placement of components always has a significant effect on how the ship "feels" in flight.
The "attach-points" feature was inspired by playing around with the ship-building component in Galactic Civilizations.
For example, a ship with one main rocket engine and three spall thrusters will have a high top speed but less maneuverability than a ship with three rocket engines where the thrusters were on the first ship. Placing multiple thrusters or engines farther apart gives more maneuverability, at the cost of stability. The placement of other components also affects maneuverability and stability, because heavy weapons and generators affect inertia.

The player is also able to customize the paint job on his ship, and buy some cosmetic enhancements (spoilers, holograms, special paints.) These enhancements can be bought using the player's winnings.

The player's first races are in local racing leagues, but as he progresses, he'll get opportunities to race in more prestigious leagues, culminating in the space equivalent of F1. Up until reaching the top league, the player also receives "private" racing challenges from other racers, and these are special challenges where the player can make extra money. Some of these challenges may involve out-of-the-ordinary mechanics, such as orbit-racing around a planet, where flying as close as possible to the planet gives better speed, but fly too close, in the wrong trajectory, and you run the risk of slingshotting out of orbit in a hyperbolic trajectory, losing all hope of winning the race.

As the player progresses up the league structure, the new tracks that are unlocked tend to become more complex. At the beginning, most of the tracks tend to be very flat, with only a little deformation in the third dimension, but the more advanced the tracks, the more they twist and turn in all three dimensions, gradually removing any distinction between up and down.


The ships and course objects have to look as real and solid as possible, with damage modeled as accurately as possible. At the same time, however, ships and environments have to be colorful and stylish, with ships gradually accumulating sponsors on their hulls as the player climbs up the league structure. The impression of speed must be maintained as much as possible, so there should always be at least one object close to the player, moving off-frame to provide that impression of speed.


Sound effects should be exaggerated. Engine sounds provide cues as to how hard the engines are being pushed, how hot they're running, and if anything's not working properly. Weapon sounds should be impressive and powerful, as well as funny for some of the special weapons. The announcer voice should be very excited, although having multiple different announcers (some female, some obviously alien, and some robotic) could also be fun. Collision and weapon hit sounds should be positional and provide cues as to the extent of the damage.


The music should vary between spacey (à la Pink Floyd) and heavy rock (à la Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and so forth.) Ideally, the music can flow seamlessly between those two styles: instead of full songs, the music is built up from shorter bits (30-120 secs.) that crossfade into one another. The last lap or the last 30 seconds of a race should always use faster-tempo music. Most of the music should be instrumental, but the front-end music can have some sung lyrics.


There are two parts to the multiplayer:
  1. All racing forms and all tracks can be raced on online against other human players. An online league structure defines the constraints for building up ships (for example, some low-level leagues might limit the amount of money that can be put into a ship, or require/prohibit the use of certain components.) If it's worthwhile, the game can also offer a split-screen mode.
  2. Players can also design and customize ships in the "garage" part of the game. These ships can then be "sold" to other players online. Each ship is rated so that players will know if they're buying ships that are allowed in the leagues they want to play in.

I would love to hear all your comments, criticism, and any additional ideas you might come up with for this potential game.

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