Gold Leader: Mechanics

This is part of a series of notes on the development of Gold Leader, currently being shopped around to game portals.

Conceptually Gold Leader organically evolved—arguably, devolved—through three distinct phases.

The original concept was much more of a strategy game, turn-based but with underlying shooter dynamics and conventions.  This would be somewhat similar in mechanics to Steambirds or the earlier Wings of War boardgame but different enough to be interesting.  In some part this was motivated by the narrative theme of a large scale conflict.

Mostly that got set aside just because I was starting with almost no infrastructure, writing all of the underlying game framework in addition to the game itself.  That concept seemed quite likely to rapidly become a project doomed by its own ambition and never completed.  Hopefully I’ll come back to some of the original ideas though, I think there’s interesting things to do there.

Alongside a desire to scope down the project, the underlying action gameplay being developed was actually kind of fun.  So, the game converged rapidly into being more directly a shooter but keeping some of the original concepts.  In particular, the AI pilots that fly through and help you out in the final product were originally a much larger part of the game, with a lot more player interaction.

They came out pretty good as they’re used right now; some of the later set pieces when they appear are definitely among the best moments of the game.  However, I couldn’t easily get them to work well as co-pilots like I originally envisioned.  After a lot of prototyping and playing, that component as well eventually got scoped way down, and I wound up with a really fun but classically patterned shooter.

Gold 4 flies in to help save the day in the minelayers objective.

Fortunately, I do think Gold Leader has maintained a couple small twists on the shooter genre.  For me there are really three things players need to learn how to do well to succeed:

  • Use the screen wrapping to get in and out of tight spots, strafing targets and then getting out of the way, or flipping around rather than flying all the way across the screen to hit a critical target.  The latter especially is important.  It requires slightly different spatial reflexes than most shooters and takes some time to coach yourself into it.  Interestingly, this way originally adopted for the much more prosaic rationale of being a mechanism to maximize screen real estate on small mobile devices.
  • Taking short pauses in shooting as you move around to continuously regenerate a couple shield points, rather than keeping the shoot key mashed down like in most shooters.  Originally shooting reduced your energy so you were more vulnerable the longer you shot, but this was not actually much fun to play.  The current design is a good balance of standard shoot-em-all-up and more nuanced tactical flying.
  • Waiting to use upgrades until they’re needed, but not waiting so long as to get overwhelmed, die, and lose them.  In keeping with the idea of being a simple game ready to just jump in and play for a couple minutes, as well as having limited art resources, I really wanted to stay away from cliched upgrade shops and other common shooter conventions.  Many reviewers wish the upgrades were more plentiful, but I’ve adhered to the idea that upgrades should be special, and you should be forced to think about how best to use them.

Nothing earth shattering, but I think those are different enough to be interesting twists on standard shooter gameplay.  That’s backed up by the polarization they’ve produced among the beta testers.  Something like 125 people have tested Gold Leader up to now, and maybe two dozen have given direct feedback.  Among those, there are a good number that really disliked some of those mechanics.  Just as many though really appreciated the little bits of new tactics they create.  As a designer, I’m really happy to be able to say “Well, it’s a super simple, classical shooter, but here’s three ways it’ll challenge how people have become ingrained to play these games, and force them to learn new intuitions and tactics.”