Dragon Season Developer Diary #1: Trying To Make An Interesting Endless Runner

By Dom Drysdale | May 15, 2013 |

Hey. I'm Dom. I'm one quarter of our four-man team Ghostbox, and we're making an endless runner for mobile featuring a cute dragon who can blow stuff up. Today I wanted to chat about some of the ways we're trying to make our game stand out from every endless runner you've played before, and hopefully turn you into a fan!

Whenever you meet another indie game developer for the first time, the first thing they ask, often before asking you your name, will be “What game are you working on?” This usually is followed by you doing your best to pitch your game idea to this new person. After all, it's pretty common for game developers to form a first impression of each other based on what games they've made, and you want a good first impression, right?

So when you say you’re making an endless runner for mobile, this whole pitching thing can be difficult. Recently, endless runners have earned a reputation for being derivative, money grabbing and often boring, and that’s something we were thinking a lot about when designing this game. We had created a distinct control scheme and feel for our game, but we needed to do more than just that to really get ourselves excited.

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There are two big things so far we're doing a little differently.

Shooting is something that has been in quite a few endless runners. Probably the biggest is Temple Run: Brave, in which you shoot targets just to break up the cycle of turning, jumping and dashing. You get points for it, but it doesn’t really serve any other purpose in the gameplay.

We played around with every variation of shooting we could think of. Everything we tried seemed to completely destroy the thing we loved most about the game: the way it felt. Finally, we settled on restricting fireballs so you can only shoot one every second. This forces you to be really careful with your shot, kind of similar to the feeling of shooting a sniper rifle in your standard FPS. This makes the fireballs feel really powerful, but at the same time doesn't make the game too easy!

In Dragon Season, the core of the game is still all about flying and dodging obstacles, making it closer to Jetpack Joyride than a shooting game. However, our fireballs can destroy obstacles directly in your path, which acts a get-out-of-jail-free card if you manage to time it right. If you’re pretty skilful with it you can even use the fireballs to smash your own path through the obstacles, which adds great opportunity to play your own way.

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Missions are another overused, under experimented trope of mobile endless runners. Don't get me wrong; missions are fun, and they do add a lot of replayability to games, but we wanted to see if we could do better than just a list of goals.

In Dragon Season, we have 8 characters with Quests for each character. To get a quest, you first need to pick up a character, and they'll then jump on the back of your dragon. They'll then say something zany and tell you what your new quest is. Different to other games, the Quest will only last until either you finish it or you smash into something and the round ends, giving it a great immediacy while also keeping it fresh every time you play. Tying Quests to our characters in this way hopefully will inject a whole bunch more fun and personality to the game.

At the moment we have these prototyped and working in the game, but it will be a little while before we can let you know whether or not they worked...  that will be the subject of another Developer Diary!

Ghostbox are Dom Drysdale, Troy Duguid, Cameron Pyke and Chris Webb.

Read more: developer diary, Dragon Season, Ghostbox

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