Having followed the development process pretty closely I thought I would ask Alan a few questions about the game and it’s development.
Alan: Hi Ben. Well, I’m Scottish and currently live in Aberdeen with my wife and kids. I’ve been programming since I was 11 (and I’ve just turned 35) and I now code for a living doing web development for one of the local universities in C# and ASP.Net.
Ben: Why did you start developing Gun Wing?
Alan: I’ve been wanting to write a game for years, or should I say decades? I’ve tried a few times, but never got very far. Then in the middle of 2005 I rediscovered my old copy of Blitz3D which I’d bought a few years before but had never really got into. I fired it up, realised how easy it was to use and decided to give it go. To be honest the choice of doing a shoot-em-up was more by-default than by-design – it’s one of my favourite kind of games and was a manageable enough undertaking that I thought I could do everything myself and do it to a reasonable standard.
Ben: The art style in Gun Wing is very simple and in a number of ways similar to Geometry Wars on the XBox360, is this intentional and are you worried about comparisons?
Alan: No, it wasn’t intentional. One of the first decisions I made was that the graphics had to be something that I could realistically do myself without too much effort – I know from previous experience that my tolerance for doing art is much lower than for coding. So the graphics had to be 2D and fairly simple, but still nice looking. The main influences on the vector art style that I eventually settled on actually came from discovering Kenta Cho’s games, and my love of Tempest 2000 on my old Atari Jaguar (which no longer works, weep!). Am I worried about comparisons? No, not really. Plenty of games use that style of graphics and the game plays nothing like Geometry Wars anyway.
Alan: As the game developed I’d sometimes find that I’d have to decide between different ways of implementing a feature, such as should shields be usable when you don’t have any power left, or should you lose weapon levels when you lose a life. Often I’d be able to decide which way was the best, but other times I’d decide that each was worth keeping and the way to keep each was to make them available at different difficulty levels.
Ben: I have never found a shoot ’em up that has mouse controls that I’ve liked but yours works very well. Is this control scheme original, and if so what made you think of doing things this way?
Alan: It was original to me at the time, but I’ve since discovered that Jeff Minter’s Grid Runner++, which predates Gun Wing by about three years, uses the same idea of moving the ship towards the mouse cursor at a fixed speed. I’m sure there are probably other examples too.
Anyway, I decided really early on that I had to make the game work well with the mouse – I though it’d be mad to ignore the simplest and most obvious input device the PC has. I had a look at existing games and realised there were two ways it was being done: one was to “attach” the ship to the mouse position, but that allows you to move much faster than when using keyboard and can lead to you being able to “jump” over enemies and bullets if you move the mouse fast enough; the other was to limit the mouse’s movement to the same speed as keyboard movement, but that leads to the mouse feeling really sluggish which I don’t like. So I decided that the mouse had to feel “normal”, and that the mouse movement should be at the same speed as keyboard movement. From there I did some experimenting and quite quickly came up with the current scheme of free mouse movement with the ship always moving at a fixed speed towards the cursor. And I’m very happy with the results.
Ben: The easier difficulties are very easy, which I think is a great thing, but this seems to go against the general trend in shoot ’em ups for making things for the hardcore audience. Is there a reason for this?
Alan: I guess it stems from the fact that while I love games, I’m also a working parent and just doesn’t have the time to dedicate to becoming “good” at games any more. I just don’t have the time or energy for uncompromisingly difficult games any more – if a game can’t work around my lifestyle then I won’t buy it. So from that standpoint, it just seemed natural to include easy difficulties that were genuinely easy, while still making sure that the game offered some challenge for the more skilled players.