Hideout!: Designing Lasting Arcade-Style Gameplay

When I initially designed and implemented the gameplay of Hideout! I had created a game where the best players would consistently get to about level 5 or 6, while beginners would typically achieve level 3 or 4. This wasn’t very good – I wanted experienced players to be able to get much higher up, maybe up to around level 25.

During the update and port to the Xbox 360, I spent some time working on this problem and was successfully able to create a very effective solution that kept beginners at around level 5, but enabled skilled players (myself) to reach level 23!

The Problem

When I had initially programmed the level progression, I had designed a number of the gameplay mechanics to progress in a linear fashion, such as the UFO speed, the time it takes for a UFO to discover you, etc.

I wanted the experienced players to be able to get to a “high” level, maybe in the twenties or thirties. This essentially resulted in the following scenario:

problem1

Interestingly, this implementation presented a huge problem: Players couldn’t tell that the levels were actually getting harder. Said differently, the difficulty steps were too small at the beginning levels. This meant that the players would easily become bored of the game because they assumed that it was the same thing over and over, with no difference in challenge from level to level.

To resolve this problem, I simply made the gameplay mechanics become harder much more faster than in the first design. This resulted in the first version of the game:

problem2

This caused a second problem, which I described at the beginning of the article: Even advanced players were not able to get very far in the game, compared to the beginners. It became impossibly hard to get past the low-to-mid range levels.

The Solution: Using Asymptotes!

After looking back at the game and performing this analysis, it was quite easy to come up with a solution to the problems: Instead of using a linear progression of gameplay mechanics, I simply implemented a function with an asymptote. This asymptote was positioned approximately around where I had determined that the gameplay mechanic was essentially impossible for humans. I also scaled out the function to make the curve start levelling out around the level 100 mark:

solution

This new approach enabled the players to both feel that the game was getting harder and allow them to slowly creep their way up to the highest level they could, anywhere between levels 10 and 25. This gave players a feeling of accomplishment as they played the game, because they could really see themselves getting better and better the more they played, but also understand that with each level the game was actually getting harder.

It’s nice to use a graphing calculator to help you make your function just right (Microsoft Math is one example). In the end, I feel that this approach has really made the Hideout! experience all that it could be and I’ve seen lots of players really get hooked on it and have a lot of fun.

Make sure to check out the new Hideout! to see what level you can get to! (And, of course, brag to your friends.)

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