8bitrocket Diatribe July 21, 2008: Air-Sea Battle Hour 1: Research and Plan

So, I have decided to make a game like the Atari 2600 (and Arcade classic) Air-Sea battle. I don’t know if we ever owned this cart, but I am sure I played it many times. By the time Steve and I had a 2600, the games had improved well beyond these simple early diversions.

Here is the schedule I have set up for myself to create a game in 24 working hours (not necessarily in that order though)

2 Hours to research and plan
4 Hours to build simple sprite, sprite sheets, etc
10 Hours on the game engine
4 Hours to fit all of my graphics into the game engine
4 Hours of clean-up, Mochi Bot, Mochi/GameJacket

Research and Plan
I am using Atariage.com to do the bulk of my research on this classic game. They happen to have the full manual scanned in to read, many game play pictures, as well as reviews and even a rom to play via emulation.

This Atari 2600 game, released in 1977, originally as a Sears Telegame title called Target Fun. It was programmed by the great Larry Kaplan, who would later go on to create the brilliant Kaboom! for Activision. Air-Sea Battle is a two player game. You either play against another human, or a rather dull computer opponent. Currently I don’t plan to have a second player in my version, but rather have a single player move through successive levels of differing play only if he/she is able to attain a pre-determined score/time. There are 6 different types of games and I plan to use some of these ideas for my levels. I will change them a lot, and create my own simple graphics, so I won’t have any IP issues to deal with. This is going to be a tribute to the game play ideas rather than a direct port of the game.

Game Idea
Having played a few rounds of this game so far, it really will need a fresh coat of polish and ideas (even simple ones) for it to be anything other than a real bore as a single player game. A lot of the fun in this game came from playing with another person, so since I haven’t budgeted any time for computer AI, I will need to gather up some ideas to make it a fun single player game.

I plan to have the game play Gorf Syle or Point Blank style -The 4 or 5 different levels types will repeat and get hard and harder. The original Atari cart played out this way: One player against a pretty dumb computer, or two players against one another took various types of target practice for about 1:20 (one minute 20) and then the game was over. I plan to have just one player do various target practice with a limited bullet and or time supply and a goal for each level.

Original 2600 Game Types
1. On the ground stationary anti-aircraft gun- The player mans a stationary gun that can be positioned at 30,60, and 90 degree angles (in only one direction). You fire above you to destroy formations of planes. A new formation doesn’t appear until the current formation is destroyed. One variation in this game is "guided missiles". The player is able to steer the missiles left and right as the fly up the screen. This game type also includes some objects that you can shoot, but give you no points. This is a little like Point Blank, and If I use these, I will make it so the player loses a life if he/she shoots one of these.

2. Submarine Torpedo games – These are pretty much exactly like the anti-aircraft games, but you supposedly man a submarine that looks suspiciously like the anti-aircraft gun and are shooting up at "floating"boats and subs. I can put a level like this in for graphics variety, but I will need something a little unique to keep it interesting. I will need to come back to this one. You can’t shoot the mines (they look like dandeloions below).

(Image courtesy of Atariage.com)

3. Shooting Gallery Games – These games are basically the same as the others, but you are shooting a duck like objects. All oft the same variations apply with things you can shoot, things you shouldn’t shoot, and 2 variations where you can steer the missiles after they are fired.

4. Polaris games – in these, your ship at the bottom of the screen moves left and right. You have the ability to change the speed of the missile in flight by changing the speed of your ship’s movement. (this sounds strange). It will be doable though.

5. Bomber games – you fly above the enemy in these variations and drop bombs. I would need a little balloon to carry up the power ups, or maybe the power ups won’t need to be collected, just destroyed. That will be easier to fit into the time I have.

6. Polaris v. Bomber games – this is something I will need to add into the multi-player version. I know there are some free multi-player gaming options out there (Nooba, etc). I have to leave this out of this version though.

My Game Ideas so far:
I like the target shooting ideas, and the simple graphics that I can update slightly with some new colors and 2-3 frame animations. I also like the gradient backgrounds that can change on each level. There really isn’t a lot of variety in these games though. If I want it to have more of an addictive feel, I will need to come up with a few more Point Blank like scenarios. I don’t really like the variations on control themes, but I think I MIGHT will add in levels where you can move and levels where you can change the angle of your cannon. This might push the game passed the budeted time though. (There’s always 24 more hours for a sequal!). I want to player to be able to move side to side with inertia, and I want the missiles to fire with acceleration to make aiming a little more difficult. I don’t need to targets to fire back, so this won’t be a traditional Galaga style shooter (I have one of those in the works already).

I think the game will run like this: You have a limited about od time 5-60 seconds to make you goal, or a certain amount on shots to complete a task. If you miss the goal, you will lose a life. During each level you will have the chance to obtain some power ups (some will depend on the goal restraint on the level, and the time I have to implement). The power ups will NOT happen very often. The types might be:

1. More time
2. More missiles
3. An extra life – this might be obtained by clearing all of the levels the first time w/o losing a life.
4. Rapid fire
5. Time freeze

Basic Level Types
1. Shoot everything as fast as you can with with unlimited ammo. You will need to hit a certain % to move on. Constraint – Time
2. Shoot everything with limited ammo and (like 10 shots to hit 10 items). On early levels, you only need to hit 5 of 10, and later levels you might need to hit 10 of 10. Constraint is ammo.
3. Shoot everything as fast as you can with limited ammo and time.

Game types:
1. A swarm of circling targets with a power up target in the middle. On successive levels, the number of bad targets in the circle increases.
2. A set of doors that open at increasing rates. Behind each is either a good target or a bad target. A fast opening door can have a power up.
3. A massive amount of enemy target sstart dropping straight down the screen. Shoot as many as you can. A power up might be in the middle of the crush.
4. 3 Targets all turn around together. You need to shoot the good ones and avoid the bad ones.

Combinations of those 4 games and level types will give a decent amount of different levels to use.

I will have a refined game design document in my next post. That will put me at 2 hours for planning. In my limited time budget I will need to trim this idea down even further, to get to the essence of this game play. I will only have 10 hours to do the game engine, but I will allow myself a few extra hours to finish my simple game object frame work. I will write a tutorial on it to justify the time and not have it count against the 24 hours I have budgeted for this title.

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