Oh, right, another thing:
One of the passive upgrades is something I've had an inkling about for a
while, but I haven't really been clear on how it'd work. I like the
idea of having autoscrolling rooms, you see? I thought it seemed like a
fun genre changeup that still maintains enough of the main gameplay loop
that autoscroll rooms are a "change of pace" without feeling disconnected
from the rest of the game in a mechanical sense. You still have the
same character, same resources, same controls; it's just that now you're
trying to fire and maneuver as you're whisked from point A to point B
at a breakneck pace, instead of putting those tools to use in the more
cerebral game about space control and pattern recognition that the
"standard" combat is.
"Cerebral" is a relative term, of course - because combat is never exactly slow. I love Dark Souls to death. I even tolerate Dark Souls II, mostly for its DLC. I haven't been able to buy Dark Souls III
yet on account of being broke af, but I'll probably like that, too! But
I'm bringing these up because, while there are definitely some Souls-y
aspects to this game, they also offer a really useful contrast as far as
pacing goes. Dark Souls wants you to watch patiently, avoid
going in half-cocked; it's a fairly gentle game moment-to-moment that
finds difficulty to allowing your mistakes to accumulate. Hammer does
not do that. Hammer is the kind of game where if you're doing perfect
for 90% of the battle and then you spend a couple seconds dropping the
ball, you're dead. The player is much more powerful relative to foes
than they are in Dark Souls because they have to be - you're
expected to perform with speed, efficiency, and precision in equal
measure. But the nature of playing efficiently does preclude the purest
sort of reactive arcade action - the energy system will punish you for
tackling encounters without a gameplan, right? You have to prioritize
targets and use space to maximize your own opportunities for offense
while minimizing the times at which you're exposed.
Autoscroll rooms, then, are a "different" kind of shooter: pure bullet
hell, fast enough to make ground combat seem kinda pokey, with much more
emphasis on simply... reading stimuli and reacting to it. No level
terrain, no cover, no hazards or obstacles - just you and wave after
wave of foes, and your goal is just to keep yourself alive until you're
automatically delivered to your goal. The situation is too fluid to make
a plan that'll do you a damn bit of good, and while there's less
mechanical complexity here it can be difficult to stay alive in spite of
that just because of how fast everything is shifting and changing.
I don't want autoscroll rooms to be a frequent thing, mind you; they
should be a fun, kinda stressful break from the more standard gameplay
rhythms. Equal parts refreshing, even relaxing - you're not expected to
be working out battlefield tactics with bullets flying at you from all
directions; you have exactly one tactic, "dodge things, fire at them,"
if you get into the zone it should feel kinda Zen - and harrowing.
You're having a blast the whole autoscroll interlude - let's say we want
these to be about 90 seconds long on average - and then you're really glad it's over.
So basic gameplay rules of an autoscroll room:
a) you're automatically pushed forward along a "room" without room collision at considerable speeds. You can maneuver freely around the screen with the same controls you'd use for walking.
b) enemies fly in - mostly, but not always, from the same direction
you're moving in. These are fast-moving, somewhat more regular in their
patterns than standard foes so as to be easier to read, and typically
very deadly and very frail. You're going to have great difficulty taking
more than two hits and surviving, in most cases, but you can also kill
something with basically whatever weapon feels good, and the free flow
of energy lets you be cavalier with expensive things that you normally
have to be much more reserved about playing with.
c) the bottom of the screen has a progress meter - literally, a track
representing the total length of the autoscroll room w/ a player icon
that moves from one end to the other; you know exactly how much longer
you need to hold out at all times, which can be both reassuring (just a
little longer) and really harrowing (FUCK I AM GOING TO DIE LIKE FIVE FEET FROM THE END OF THIS STUPID THING FUCK)
As for the role autoscroll rooms play in larger game structure: well, I
think I'd be remiss if I didn't take advantage of the obvious fact that,
given the Metroidvania aspects of this game, you're going to notice that 90 seconds of autoscroll is a long fucking room. That's enough to cross a huge amount of space.
So: autoscroll rooms act as quick transport between outlying regions.
An autoscroll room is mechanically and aesthetically "other," compared
to the more standard gameplay types, and it takes place in a space which
suits that. When you enter the autoscroll area, you're shunted off into
a... "tunnel" or "wormhole." Aesthetically, I like the idea of
rendering this by actually using a garbage mix of tiles from the two
connecting regions, with each "side" of the autoscroll room having
greater quantities of tiles corresponding to its associated region.
You're poking a hole in the world and speeding through a space that
doesn't behave by the same rules to get where you're going - so working
with my Game Boy aesthetic, a "glitchy" garbage screen (think the g1
Pokémon games'"glitch cities" for a quick idea of what this looks like)
is an effective way to get that concept across.
You never have to enter an autoscroll room to get where you need to go, but it might be the most efficient path.
World design rule here: there should be a back way into any space of
any importance. If you need to get somewhere, there should never
be a scenario where you don't have multiple options, either in the tools
you use to get there or the path you take. So, from this angle:
anywhere you go using the autoscroll rooms is still connected to the
rest of the world, and you could get there without ever entering the
autoscroll, if you wanted. But being comfortable using the
autoscroll mechanics as a means of getting around can be useful. You
might, for example, be able to dive just a little bit deeper into
a space you've already made some decent progress in, find an autoscroll
entrance, and come out deep into a region you haven't really touched
yet, really close to the boss! Exploration is rewarded - and since
autoscroll rooms are difficult challenges located at far reaches of the
world, tied to a hard-to-obtain "key" item, the rewards you can get out
of taking that leap can be huge. This falls back to
boundary-crossing as a theme - entering the autoscroll room is choosing
to "cross over" and take a step into the unknown. You either die or you
get spit out somewhere interesting.
Narratively, then: keeping in mind the sort of thematic content and
aesthetic language I've been working with, and the role these spaces
play, I feel like it works really well to have the autoscroll rooms
situated in a "world of mirrors." Literally - each autoscroll is the
non-space that connects a pair of arcane mirrors located in the world.
We'll call these looking glasses - devices dating back to times long
since faded from memory, constructed to allow their masters to keep
perpetual watch on... something. Built in pairs at spatial extremes - a
great mirror and a sentinel's seat; each sentinel keeping vigilance over
their own station, their counterpart's... and each other. But now the
seats are empty, the mirrors dusty and forgotten, and whatever they felt
it was so key to keep watch over can no longer be seen.
The key item that you hold to gain access to these spaces: the
Sentinel's Mask. Again, we're just trying to go for broad strokes right
now; tone, themes, important images - let a more coherent narrative
emerge naturally from these concepts. So, the Sentinel's Mask -
the cursed mask of one such sentinel who fled their duties. Whatever
they saw during their watch broke them; they abandoned their post, and
with it the ceremonial mask that these sentinels used to hide their
individual identities from their counterparts. The mask of dereliction
of duty is an affront to whatever power enables the looking glasses to
function. When it's brought into their presence, they shatter instantly
to deny the traitor their use. But there's a perverse kind of usefulness
to this thing - because while it does mean that you can't see
the looking glass's destination any more, you can also step through the
broken mirror and emerge on the other side.