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Redeeming the plasma globes

Months ago I wrote about redeeming the Strike Laser, a weapon I feared would invalidate the others in Super Space Galaxy. This week I’ve managed to redeem the plasma globes, which used to be the worst weapon of all.

To begin with, I had simply cut the plasma globes out of the game. I think having one glaringly bad weapon can really spoil what would otherwise be a fun arsenal. One bad apple really could spoil the barrel. I already suspected they weren’t working very well, and reviews from people who played Super Space Galaxy‘s demo agreed.

These Balls are bad in combat… They seem to be enemy seeking I think, but not fast enough.

aaron2005x, Reddit user
Originally, the plasma globes couldn’t reliably hit.

The original plan for the plasma globes was indeed that they be ‘enemy seeking’, but slow. However, they inherited your ship’s speed, and the homing programming I’d given them wasn’t up to the task of finding their way back to the enemy.

Another glorious diagram made in Paint.

I’d made them accelerate towards the enemy, but because they could start with different speeds, this wasn’t enough. Accelerating directly towards the enemy with an initial speed could make them curve in their path, but otherwise still miss. This kind of thing is how orbits are formed with planets in real life.

As per this player’s suggestion, an easy solution would be just to make the globes accelerate faster, but that would also make them less interesting and more like every other projectile. Players are normally right about what annoys them, but the solutions they suggest tend to be too simple. What I wanted was a projectile that didn’t always take a direct path, but still hit the enemy reliably. Rather than making them faster, I wanted to make the plasma globes smarter.

For many hours, I wrestled with this problem and tried a few solutions that didn’t work. Eventually I realised that the curved path the projectiles would take made it impossible to use any simple calculation with a straight line to guide them to the enemy. A ‘straight line’ solution only worked if the path to the enemy really was a straight line!

This story is becoming quite familiar to me now. Many times already, I’ve decided not to cut out bad content from Super Space Galaxy and find a way to redeem it instead. It normally involves hours of work, but I like being principled and making the things I really want instead of just doing what’s easy. The results can surprise even me.

The orange dots are positions in a possible path.

My solution was to simulate different directions of acceleration ahead of time, taking into account the speed of the targeted enemy, current speed of the projectile, and its future changes in speed. This let the projectile intelligently try out different paths in advance and pick the best one. It’s quite similar to the way I got the drones to aim at you.

The Mine Layer side-weapon also uses the same programming to guide its mines, so it’s indirectly had a rework too! Now its bombs gravitate towards enemies much like the plasma globes. To test my solution, I got the game to show potential directions being chosen as a series of orange dots. They can be seen in the video below.

With this latest ‘redemption’ in place, Super Space Galaxy now has an arsenal of 30 main weapons, and I’m glad to say I’m proud of each one. From now on, I don’t think you’ll ever be saddled with a weapon that sucks, no matter what you find.

Thanks for reading,

Kenneth Dunlop

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Published by Kenneth Dunlop

Earth's Mightiest Game Designer. Making Super Space Galaxy. Previously made Super Space Slayer 2.

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