Development Diary #5: Player Movement and Screen Real Estate

A lot of the decisions behind the original Cally’s Caves movement and combat were made based on the platform the game was shipping on.  Screen real estate is a big issue with iOS games, especially ones that use virtual controls.  A few years ago, an iOS game came out called “Pizza Boy” that utilized a virtual control idea that I thought was brilliant.  Instead of including a virtual joystick that would move in 4 or 8 directions (or using 4 directional buttons), Pizza Boy used a “slider” for left and right movement and simply did away with up and down movement.  I’m not sure if it was the first iOS game to use this tactic (that may be League of Evil, or others), but simplifying the control scheme like that minimizes the amount of screen real estate dedicated to controls.

Pizza Boy for iOS
Pizza Boy for iOS

Of course, there is a trade off for every decision when you are making a game.  In this case, not having an “up” button means the player can’t aim up, or diagonally.  Cally can only shoot straight left, or straight right.  Not having a down button means no crouching, and no jumping down through smaller platforms. It limits the player’s options, and makes designing interesting levels more challenging. We feel like it’s an acceptable trade, as long as we keep the player’s tool set varied using several methods.

Using Verticality Combined with Weapons

With shooting straight left or right being the only options, having some sense of verticality with the weapons is important.  The player must be able to shoot enemies above and below them without having the option to aim diagonally.  We start the player with a pistol, which is a single-projectile weapon that shoots in a straight line. To give the player more options, the player receives the shotgun as their second weapon. The shotgun shoots 6 projectiles in a spread (the projectiles choose a random direction within set constraints creating a spread of bullets). This spread allows the player to shoot enemies above and below them. Later weapons, such as the grenade and blade guns add even more verticality through gravity and bouncing effects. The player can stand on a platform above an enemy, shoot a grenade or blade, and take out an enemy that is not on the same horizontal plane as Cally.

Cally is able to attack this enemy from below with her sword
Cally is able to attack this enemy from below with her sword

Sword arc and jumping

In Cally’s Caves and the in-development sequel, the player has a melee attack that uses a sword.  The sword object swings in an arc, with the base of the sword staying “glued” to Cally.  With a high sword arc, Cally can hit enemies that are almost directly over her.  The sword also swings down at the end of the arc, allowing Cally to hit enemies that are on a level below her.  Combined with a jump (or double jump, or triple jump), Cally can melee attack enemies that are flying around above her.  Although technically the sword is only swinging to Cally’s left or right, the large arc that the sword swings on helps counteract the lack of diagonal aiming.

Cally's sword range (pictured in red)
Cally’s sword range (pictured in red)

Level design

When the player is limited to horizontal shooting, theoretically most of the levels should be horizontally shaped, with lots of open areas for enemies to inhabit.  Since we have the added benefit of a melee attack, we can design the levels to keep things interesting and not just rely on the player shooting left and right.

Cally's Caves level 3
Cally’s Caves 2 level 3

In this level, the player enters and immediately encounters a ledge down, where an enemy is running around.  One way for the player to approach this situation is to jump down and shoot or melee attack the enemy.  This brings the risk of getting hit and losing HP, and if the player utilizes their whole tool set, they can avoid any risk to their health.  They could stand at the edge and melee attack, which would still hit the enemy on the sword’s downwards arc. They could also use one of the weapons that has a spread, or a bouncing weapon like the grenade or sawblade.

Cally's Caves 2 level 3
Cally’s Caves 2 level 3

Next the player sees a platform above them, with another enemy on top of it. Here they can use the double jump to jump and shoot the enemy with any weapon without much danger of being hit.  Although she doesn’t have the ability to aim up at a 45 degree angle, Cally has all the tools she needs to handle any vertically-oriented situation like this.  We hope that by designing the levels in an efficient, focussed way, the player’s attention on the lack of up and down controls and diagonal aiming will be minimized.

We know that it’s important to keep our UI as clean as possible, and if we design the levels with the constraints we decided on in mind, we can keep the game as fun as possible, while retaining a simple design aesthetic and minimizing UI clutter.  The up and down arrow controls that are pretty standard for 2d platformer games are not present in Cally’s Caves 2, and we hope that decision is the right one.  The key will be to put every ounce of creativity we have into creating fun levels that focus on the tools Cally does have, instead of leaving room for the player to notice the tools that she doesn’t

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