About 3 months ago I decided to make 3 games about jumping. And no, i didn't make a Mario-like platformer, it was more about how I would make a one-screen arcade game where all you do is jump. The first game was trash, it was me trying to make flappy bird without making flappy bird if that makes any sense. The second game was about you bouncing between two walls and avoiding rockets and saw blades, it was interesting. The third one was a bit better in my opinion. It was about timing your jumps to two bullets on both sides of the screen and hitting a box on the top part of the screen.
Timing the jumps to those bullets was quite enjoyable to me, but it was still -essentially- the same "flappy bird" mechanic as before, so I deiced to add something to make your choice of jumping matter: A big fucking laser. The bullets fire at a constant time, but the laser is random.
Why? If all you have to do is worry about counting to 2 and jumping to score a point, the game gets boring in 10 seconds. But with one element of randomness in the consistency of the rest, the game gets interesting and hard, very hard. Suddenly you have to worry about timing AND reaction. You can't just count anymore, and that's fun. But one thing isn't: Unexpected deaths. The laser is fast, so fast that reacting is hard (not impossible, but hard) and I realized people would die and ask themselves "what happened?" and you never want to confuse players! If they don't think the game is fair, they'll walk away. The obvious solution to that is, well, a warning. Something as simple as a "hey! Something is about to happen!" was enough for people to understand that they might not want to jump super high right then. Sure, they didn't know what it meant the first time, but I'm counting on it; They need to die in order to learn the rules of the game.
I also thought the game needed more cool stuff. What are cool stuff? any mechanic that makes interacting with the world fun. in this case, that would be wall sliding and bullet hopping. Wall sliding is just what it sounds like: You slide on walls and fall slower. that helps to control where and when you'll land so you can avoid getting hit as you fall, pretty simple. The other, bullet hopping is more complex. Basically, if you jump directly on top of a bullet, you'll bounce off of it. That allows all sorts of neat things to happen, for example, if you keep moving to the same direction as the bullet you'll "surf" on it; If you hold the jump key when you bounce, you'll bounce higher and when you bounce, you get an extra jump. But this is a risky thing to do, it's very likely that you'll just hit the side of the bullet and die. That means this mechanic is more about player expression than an advantage, you can play it safe and just jump normally and wait, or you can look cool AF and do all these tricks.
Time To Die
Another important thing to think about is TUD, or time until death (fancy name I made up). That is: How long until the player dies, and how long until they get back on the game? This is not a hard concept, the quicker you die, the quicker you should be able to just jump right in again. Think about Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami and how fast things feel, partly because you restart the level almost instantly. In my game, I wanted you to restart so fast, you wouldn't have time to consider stop playing. At one point, pressing the space bar becomes instinct, so when you die, you automatically press it and restart. But the restart button isn't a specific key really, outside of the escape and enter keys, any key will restart the game, so you could restart the game by accident and, funny enough, players that do that will likely just say "OK, one more" which works for me.
And this is pretty much it, the design of a *very* simple game. It's amazing what you can do with a simple starting mechanic, a combination of timed consistency and randomness and some cool player expression stuff in your game. The visual style was just a color combination that I thought looked cool really, I just wanted a clear difference between you, the space and the bullets so that even if you're squinting at the screen (or drunk) you can tell what's what.
The game will release later this week, I'm just fixing some high-score related stuff and adding a button to send people's high score to me over twitter if they want, since the game is fucking hard.
Thanks for reading this long post!