DSP: What I think

Tell us what you think about Starr Mazer: DSP Forward Squadron!
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DSP: What I think

Postby NSman » Mon May 16, 2016 11:16 pm

Just my own 2 cents, but here goes:

Its the most fun I've had with a demo in a long time.

My experience: I've played probably 8 hours of DSP, finished the game on single ship runs, with both gold and silver ships. I pretty much only play single ship runs now, both for value and challenge. I feel like I've got a good feel for it, but I may not be super familiar with the tiny details.

- Movement: I feel like A rank ships are too fast. Having an acceleration to top speed might make being precise with movement a little easier, so all ships accelerate into movement at the same rate, but some reach a higher top speed than others. Also, stopping feels a bit abrupt on A rank ships as well, you could try adding a "drift" of deceleration on movement to see how it feels, although you'd probably want this to be a bit faster than the acceleration. Alternately, you could try having the ranking modify the ship movement acceleration with the same top speed on all ships, it might make the lower rank ships feel more "wild" if they have a lower acceleration and deceleration, because their movement would be inconsistent, while the higher ranking ships would feel more responsive.

- Shooting: It's pretty easy to maintain Charge level 3 and have a maxed out primary for the entire run, provided you can get it to 3 in the first place. If you can maintain Charge 3, it makes the game much easier, and so long as you're smart with your secondary you never have to lose it. It might be better to have the primary drain more energy so getting to charge 3 is actually a significant achievement and happens less frequently. This might mean tweaking enemy HP as well, since it will make enemies harder to clear if the weapons deal consistently lower damage. A visual indicator of being on Charge 3 might be nice too, like an "overcharge!" flash, either as a flash on the ship or as pop-up text. It should also be clearer that gem rating affects charge build-up in ship selection. Since a high gem stat lets you maintain charge 3 basically indefinitely, it's definitely the most powerful stat in the game and this isn't immediately clear. It might be interesting to try having a separate "Charge" stat that affects how much charge you get from a single gem. Either way, I think Charge 3 should be rarer and harder to maintain, maybe impossible for some crappy ships.
I also think there should be more visible difference between Charge 1 and Charge 2. Charge 1 should feel like "you're running out of ammo and your ship is struggling", and Charge 2 should feel like "this is how my ship is supposed to perform", Charge 3 should feel like Hyper Beam in Super Metroid, where you get to feel godlike for a short time. Maybe shots cost more ammo the higher the charge level? It might be something to try. I think you could try changing the ratio on the charge bar as well, it feels too even. I think it should be split so Charge 1 is maybe 0-25%, Charge 2 is 25%-75% and Charge 3 is 75%-100%. You could also try altering this ratio based on the gem stat, or another stat so some ships have a lower threshold for charge 1. I feel like this would feel a bit more natural somehow, so Charge 1 feels more like a failure state and Charge 3 feels more like a reward, and most of the time you're staying in normal Charge 2 mode.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you, but given that gem collection is dependent on number of kills, weapons with a large spread like Mass Lettuce are easier to maintain a high charge, and therefore OP when paired with a powerful secondary like Solar Tensor. I'm looking at you, Bunny Killmaster.
I didn't find shot erasing super useful since most shots were either easy enough to dodge or you could just kill enemies faster than they can shoot, if you are smart with your charge usage. It might be good to add a secondary incentive system for shot erasing, like more gems, or amplifying the power of the next shot after an erasure. I feel like there should be a reason for people to adopt shot erasing as a playstyle, and right now it doesn't feel like there is.

-Health: I like the random damage thing, although it does feel a bit arbitrary sometimes. You can have a low level ship survive a couple hits and then a gold that dies in one, so there isn't a whole lot of incentive to get a ship with a high health stat. It might be fun to try replacing it with a shield stat, that takes one hit and has variable recharge times, with crappy ships having no shield and A rank ships having very quick recharge. Another alternative might be to have variable invincibility frames linked to the health stat, so even if the F ship can take 5 hits and the A ship can take 2, the A ship will still be invincible longer after it takes its one hit, whereas the F will definitely die to a rapid succession of hits. The invincibility frames as they are now are not quite long enough in any case, and there are a few times where I've been hit once and couldn't avoid my next ship almost immediately dying on respawn.
The hitboxes on some ships feel weird. The Sunspear in particular feels really off. The hitbox seems to be slightly higher than the center of the sprite.

-Enemies: I feel like the enemies don't telegraph enough without memorizing their patterns. In the demo its simple enough to memorize all the patterns and start avoiding, but in a bigger game with more patterns you run the risk of it feeling unfair without more telegraphing. You could solve this by having an off-screen indicator (like a red arrow, or glow, or warning sign, or radar mark or something) when enemies are going to pile on-screen to show the direction they are coming from. There were a few times I was playing the demo, and even after memorizing the patterns some attacks come so quick from off-screen they just feel cheap and unfair. This is particularly bad when the enemies come from the top or bottom of the screen. When you have a horizontally oriented game, it is off-putting to have enemies come from the top or bottom without warning. You could also justify increasing enemy speed if you telegraph off-screen, since the player would be prepared for an incoming wave and you don't need to give them as much warning once the pattern actually arrives. This also gives leeway to do unusual horizontal shmup things, like more enemies from top/bottom/behind, since you've already given fair warning. Off-screen telegraphs could also add to the "panic" feeling of giving the player more sensory information to deal with at any given time.
Enemy bullets telegraph well though, and I think that is done very well.

-Gems and packs: The way the system works right now, the best way to pick ships is value for money. With stats the way they are now, an optimal ship choice for the money (imo) ends up being something like a Health(D/F), Movement (B/C), Gem (A/B), which is pretty easy to get in Silver. There is no reason to go "all in" on ships or buy expensive packs when you can farm gems off good value ships from a free pack, then either win on a lucky run with a good value ship or get so rich so quick that wolf packs become nothing special. I feel like there should be something else for players to spend their money on other than ships to counter this, that way you can sink more money per run and make players want to try and purchase the more expensive packs. You could have purchasable "traits" or "modifiers" that apply to all ships in a run that cost a certain amount of gems. That being said, this is just one level and may be a poor indicator for the full game. It might be a different story when you have to play through all the levels on one ship selection. I still think you need more things to spend gems on than just ships though. It feels like it needs a money sink or an alt currency.
I also think the value from the packs biases it towards dog packs. It's far too easy to get 300,000 or so gems off free packs in two or three runs, then run tons of good value silvers out of a lucky dog pack and steamroll. Value should not be balanced, but have higher variance built in, based around the pack selected. Dog Packs should have the worst variance for value, and Wolf Packs should have the best. Some pilots should be overpriced, so good value ships with bad stats become just as valuable as gold ships with a high cost. If you can buy a ship for 200 gems with all F's, and kill 10 enemies with it, you still win because it paid for itself and then some, so its a good inclusion to a Wolf Pack. Conversely, if you can buy that same ship for 13,000 its a terrible value, but its a good inclusion to a dog pack, because you'll take what you can afford, but that same ship is more optimally purchased from a Wolf Pack, so long as you can afford the price of entry. Getting better value out of Wolf Packs would incentivize players to want to buy them. You'll have to make the pack tiers more expensive to compensate for the value change if you do this though. It has to be balanced to the point where a good run with a Wolf Pack is always good value, but a bad run with a Wolf Pack is ruinous.

Graphics: I know its still a work in progress, but there are a few effects I'd like to see, if its in the cards:
-Vapour trails on ships to make the screen feel busier and more chaotic.
-Visual cues for charge level change and gem collection. It should feel more satisfying to pick up a gem, or to see a gem fuse and become a bigger gem.
-Low opacity overlay effects to give a greater sense of speed, like space dust streaking past or your "Star Trek TNG sparkly lines" which let you know the Enterprise was going somewhere. I know you have the cloud things, but they seem too passive and slow imo. Maybe they just need to be faster.
-I'd like it if Phase Slip produced an after-image for your ship, or something to make it feel cooler and crazier. Right now it just feels kind of slow.
-Right now Infinite Salvo feels like you're dropping mines instead of tiny missiles, which is not as cool.

Sound and music: GOOD JOB!! :mrgreen:

Specific Weapons:
-Gungnir is far too awkward for most players, the AoE needs to be bigger and more dramatic and obvious or people won't want to use it. It should feel like a Quake rocket launcher and not some slow dart.
-Mazer Blade: Shouldn't split on high level, it becomes too similar to Plasma Ram. You don't have any primaries that focus and become more precise with charge and I think Mazer Blade is a good candidate for this. I think with that name it would get thinner and more precise and powerful, like a blade. High charge should be penetration, so it can damage multiple enemies on a line.
-Plasma Ram: Good balanced weapon, I like it. This feels like the "default".
-Mass Lettuce: Makes a good salad, but also due to the nature of the game, with large waves of weak enemies, kills everything dead real quick and makes tons of gems. It is super easy to wipe waves with lettuce, and since it deals more damage with proximity to enemies, it is just as powerful as gungnir or mazer blade so long as you're careful with it. There really isn't any reason to take any other weapon? I hate to say it, but it needs to have a clear "sweet spot" and not deal more damage with proximity, or just plain not deal so much damage.
-Drive Thrust: This secondary feels good and also well balanced. It can be used, but not overused, and it pairs well with an A rank movement ship like Princess Voltax, where you can "Sweep" the screen really quickly. I like it.
-Solar Tensor: I have mixed feelings about this one. This weapon completely wrecks the boss. And the minor enemies. And pretty much everything. Its probably overpowered. I feel like that's fine though, it just needs a greater penalty for using it. Using lots of charge doesn't feel like enough though, because it usually kills everything everywhere, so you make all your charge back whenever you use it, so long as there are enough enemies around or you've saved enough gems floating around the screen.
-Phase Slip: I feel like this is cool, but it doesn't do enough. Maybe if it added some kind of warp field in front of you that you could ram enemies with? Would add an extra element of risk/reward so you could question whether you had enough time to go for the ram.
-Infinite Salvo: Infinite Salvo is way too cheap, if you have a good primary at level 3 you can keep it on pretty much all the time so long as there is an enemy on screen to kill, and you'll never drop down to charge 2. I also feel like it doesn't appear visually enough like an itano circus, it feels more like deploying mines.
-Deth Blossom: Feels good, I like it, cost seems ok, could maybe be a bit more expensive.
-Rupture Beam: I know this has great shot erase, I just don't feel that shot erase is much of a "thing" in this demo. This either needs to be paired with a buff to shot erase or its just a crappy drive thrust, imo.

Bugs and issues: I've had my controller give double-input on movement once, had to restart the game to fix it. I've also had enemies circle the screen endlessly, I know this is a known issue. I've also had the boss drift up off the top of the screen, which made him pathetically easy to kill, I know this is a known issue as well. Load-up times when the game is starting are atrocious, the first time I played I thought the game had locked up. Most of the time though, the game ran great.

These are just my off-the-cuff ideas, but...will post more later when I have more time to think about it.
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Re: DSP: What I think

Postby Kazuo » Tue May 17, 2016 10:56 am

Hey NSman, Thank you so much for your feedback! It is extremely detailed and will be very helpful for the team. I'm going to post this in our team channels and let everyone know to check it out.

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