Some notes about the design and development of Astral Schism.
I had two main goals when adjusting the game difficulty:
- The two modes must have similar difficulty levels
- Both modes must be winnable by people who don’t play games that often
I adjusted difficulty by changing the spawn rates of enemies, asteroids, and ore/hulls, and by changing the number of starting shields.
While I managed to strike a fairly good balance for the project deadline, I feel that it could still use some work. However, there are some more fundamental design issues that need to be addressed first:
It’s possible to get stuck in the game
The way the game works, level advancement is based on how many ship upgrades you have. When you run out of shields, you restart the level with the same number of shields and the same upgrades. This means that it is possible to get to a level that is too hard for your skill with few lives. Unless you can collect enough ore or hulls to return to base, you cannot gain enough lives to clear the level.
One possibility is to always grant a minimum number of shields to the player on starting a new level. e.g., if we have determined that the third level should be beatable with 6 shields, then the level-change code will also set the player’s shields to 6 if the player has fewer than 6 shields. Any other fixes to this problem will probably require a change to the current level mechanic.
Level advancement uses an unusual mechanic
I got comments from several people that the level mechanic “seems a bit weird.” It has the bonus that at a given level, you always know the ship has a minimum number of upgrades and should therefore be able to handle things. It’s just not what most people expect.
The “boss” for the ambassador mode doesn’t fit in
The “boss asteroid” requires a method to defeat it that never shows up elsewhere in the game. I’d like to change that, although it might “spoil the surprise”. On the other hand, there’s no such surprise for the Exterminator mode.
I want a scoring mode but don’t know how to do it
Scoring for the Exterminator mode is pretty straightforward. Just count shots fired, enemies extinguished, that kind of thing. But what’s the equivalent for the Ambassador mode?
There are some statistics I could keep score on: number of times levels are played, total time spent on a level, amount of ore picked up. For all of these, lower numbers suggest more player skill, which can result in slightly weird scores.