SubTerra - UPDATED \0/

edited in Projects
Hey everyone

Happy new year!

I'd like to start the year off by sharing a prototype about cave exploration that could do with some honest MGSA style feedback :)


Note: Audio and Visuals are just placeholders for now, and the "collect gems" gameplay is just to make testing a little bit more entertaining.

Currently, I'm evaluating the following:

* Character Movement & Navigation + Physics

The main focus of the prototype is to button down the character movement - I'm trying to aim for snappy but somewhat forgiving player controls; because the game will be targeted more towards exploration than "control/twitch skills".

Does the physics (movement, grappling, swimming) feel good enough without emulating reality?
Does any of the navigation controls feel wrong or need improvement?
Any glaring glitches?

I've also added a health/stamina system to facilitate some RPG elements later on (skill levels, better equipment, etc.). This may be fine as-is, but may require some balancing to get the initial levels right.

* Exploration & Darkness Mechanics

The game levels will have two facets: (1) upper environments that will have puzzle-like gameplay, (2) Deeper, darker, environments that require careful exploration.

Does the darkness and flashlight mechanics work?
Does it give the feeling of being lost and claustrophobic without hampering gameplay?

* Keyboard/Mouse vs XBox Controllers

Both schemes are supported, so if anyone has the ability to give feedback on controllers that would be awesome.


Playable Build


Quick vid on what to expect:

456 x 352 - 162K
Thanked by 1Elyaradine


  • I like the idea of exploring the ninja rope movement thing, I don't see your game actually using it that much, I think it would be good to focus the gameplay around the hook.

    There's a buggy bit about the hook that I saw that the player was rising before the hook hit a surface, and that feels broken.

    Without actually playing it, it's hard to say how it feels. If you want the player to actually see where they're shooting into the camera might need to be much further out.

    Then there's a little thing in that the headlights flicking on and the light actually coming on are out of sync, the lights come on three times and you hear the clicks much later.
    Thanked by 1farsicon
  • @Tuism: thanks for the comments - it's just the video that sucks - I didn't even notice that the recording sound and visuals are so much out of sync (DOH!). The ninja rope is central to the game and most of the dev time so far was spent to get it to behave acceptably (to me at least.. :P) ... I'd love to hear some feedback after playing it though :)
  • edited
    Okay played it a bit, and I feel like the rope mechanic isn't thoughtful enough - I feel like I'm just spamming into any old direction most of the time because I fall too fast to feel like I'm prepared fro it, and also walls that I can hit are usually far far out so I'm gonna be aiming out of hope rather than being considered. The player attached to the wall before the rope arrived isn't as obvious in the gameplay but I think it's still there? I think the whole feeling is mostly too fast/slidey to make me impressed with the movement. And there's some inconsistency in it - I feel like sometimes I have a rope out, and press/hold jump and nothing happens. And sometimes it happens after a while. A good solid feeling is important, feeling like I pressed a button and got nothing from pressing the button will make it feel broken.

    Look at how the ninja rope feels like in Worms. The worm moves slower through the air (or at least feels so because the camera is static and not following so rapidly) and the swing feel feels very solid, you can let go of the rope and the worm is in the air for a little bit because of inertia, which gives you a chance to feel like a ninja.

    The bars top left feels unnecessarily complicated. I think they have something to do with when I can jump? I don't know if a complex breathing and stamina simulation is what might make something like this fun, or maybe it might be if there's enough proper feedback to me about what it all means, and having limited whatever resource feel more like a puzzle to solve than spamming actions.

    And to me it feels too dark and there's not enough to see where there might be something to see. It feels like all chance with not enough feeling of control.
  • @Tuism, thanks for checking it out - I do feel however you are looking for a completed game, which for now this is not yet.. the level design is only a sandbox to test out all the possible scenarios that can be encountered with the character so that I can root out navigation and physics anomalies.

    Regarding future gameplay - this won't be a fast paced action platformer - the intention is to have an upper level that will be a bit more puzzle oriented and a lower level which is completely black, forcing the player to explore more carefully and to feel their way around the level (in a way trying to encapsulate the risk and scariness of the caving experience - I want the player to almost feel lost and alone while in the deeper areas). The completed game will also probably ease the player a bit more slowly into the mechanics, allowing them to get used to the controls before throwing them into the deep end :P

    The stamina system, which causes your jumps to fail when the character stamina runs out is a bit restrictive for now causing too many jumps in succession to make it run out too quickly - I did note that this will still require balancing in the future, but for the purposes of the prototype it works. These bars will be linked to a survival type system in the future - but not sure yet where I'm going with it. For now, I'm only focused on the test objectives in the OP.

    I appreciate the feedback, though :)
  • Hey, I played a bit, some thoughts are below.

    [-]Would be nice if the hook could be used while on a ladder, feels like an unnecessary restriction not being able to do so.
    [-]The view is too restrictive when using the hook, however it feels fine for walking, maybe zoom out the view when the hook is active.
    [-]The space bar for pausing is killing the game for me, for some reason I instinctively press the space bar for jumping, not only does it not make the character jump it pauses the game. The pause key should be tucked somewhere else, either traditionally as the [P] key or [Esc]. I would prefer space bar to be mapped for jumping, the thumb is sitting on it all the time and it feels more intuitive.
    [-]Not sure what is happening with the darkness, I stopped playing after going too deep and not being able to get out of the dark. You should at least give a little light to the player in the dark sections so he can get back into the light.
    [-]Sound is nice, presentation is nice, it's a nice prototype.
    Thanked by 1farsicon
  • @farsicon I wasn't looking for a "completed game" :) I was looking at just the mechanics around moving around and using the hook and how it feels :) I think I barely mentioned anything outside of game feel :)

    Your saying it wouldn't be a fast paced platformer supports what I was saying that it feels to fast currently. So it FEELS faster than I would like it to be in moving and sliding around. The movement feel.
  • edited
    Play through the stage and got to the finish.

    - One of the very first things I noticed was that gravity felt way to strong, giving me very little time to line up a shot while I was in the air. This was compounded when I wanted to do subsequent shots to swing like Spiderman, it was just to fast for me to aim, so I just shot randomly and hoped for the best. Making the character more floaty would help this a lot.

    - I think this game would benefit from a camera similar to Nuclear Throne, where the camera looks in the direction you're aiming, instead of having the player centred all the time. This could help lining up your next shot to get that Spiderman swinging going.

    - The stamina meter didn't make sense to me in a game that has a grappling mechanic at its core. I found myself trying to explore certain areas, only to have to stand still and wait for 5 seconds for my stamina gauge to refill. Maybe consider having the stamina bar fill back completely when you touch the ground or even omitting it for jumping and grappling. Putting a restraint on movement in a game all about movement takes away some of the fun for me.

    - I didn't enjoy the dark sections at all. They fit thematically, but not mechanically. Shooting your hook in the dark feels even more random, and I was just hoping I didn't land anywhere dangerous. Maybe have the flash light make a permanent outline on any surface that it's shone on (like a mind map), so that way you can survey the area before shooting your next hook. (I would imagine an expert spelunker to have a good memory of the cave they're in :)

    - Consider putting jump on a button, rather than the up direction. It may feel fine on a keyboard, but it doesn't feel very intuitive on an analogue stick. Also maybe consider giving the character a small little double jump, just to give yourself some time to think in the air.

    - Having two competing briefs for the light and dark sections, one fast and reactive, the other slow and considered, feels very risky to me. Though it is a great way to flex your design muscles, if you fail at one, you fail at both. Maybe test each on its own to see what it is that makes that specific scenario shine, and then try and combine them. In its current combined state it might also muddy the feedback, as people might be focusing on one mechanic more than the other.

    Bug/not bug: I found that you couldn't use the mouse if a controller was plugged in (just kept facing the same direction), but the keyboard still worked.

    I did have some fun moments looking and finding treasure, tightening up the movement mechanics, I believe, will help show whether there's potential here or not.
    Thanked by 2Elyaradine farsicon
  • edited
    Played it to the end. I don't have a lot of time right now, so my apologies if this feedback is a bit short/curt.

    There's some patches where you can't use the rope that feel wrong. The ladder climbing especially. You cannot rope from water either (I'm not sure if this is on purpose).

    You've described your desired movement feeling as snappy but forgiving. The feeling I'm getting is quite similar to Broforce actually, in terms of the gravity and acceleration. Which makes it a bit more snappy than Spelunky for instance.

    What I'd like to know is if you want this to be a twitchy game, in the sense of dexterous performance (like N++) or more strategic, like Gunpoint?

    I ask because a bunch of the feedback above is of players spamming the ninja rope and trying to hold on (which is clearly them trying to play it in a reactionary way, without planning ahead).

    And while you've clearly put a limit on the ninja rope, which I assume is for a reason, it's not making the game less fast and snappy, and it is still quite possible to play a reactionary way (without planning much and just kind of moving through the terrain and reacting to it). So what I'm asking is is this your intention, or are you trying to make a game where navigating the terrain forces more consideration (like in Spelunky for instance).

    If you're trying to make the terrain navigation more of a puzzle (like Spelunky), then you want the actions you can perform to be very predictable and very clearly constrained. Like having a significant delay before the ninja rope can be thrown again (maybe it has to come back to you). Like slightly lower gravity affording more time to take action in the air. Like not being able to fall off of walls while on them (so you have to actively fall or jump off). Like having a more limited range on the ninja rope (and a clear indicator of that range). Like having a less effective jump that necessitates using the ninja rope more (for example Spelunky's jump is much lower, it allows exactly 2 blocks upward of movement if you pull yourself over the edge). Maybe even having less air control, so necessitating planning before a jump (Spelunky for instance is quite slippery in the air). Like giving the player less life, but clearer indications of whether they will lose some life or not (i.e. making players feel more confident about not losing life, but making the loss of life more painful).

    But if you slow down the game and make terrain navigation more of a puzzle, then you're making terrain navigation more difficult, which means you have to (eventually) add more things to consider than you currently have going on here (obviously you intend to add more, but what I'm saying is the slower you make it also the more stimulating it has to be). If you slow down the game as it currently stands it IS going to feel less good than it currently feels, and that has to be compensated for.

    On the other hand, if you do want a more N++ style of cave exploration, then you probably want really fun and forgiving ninja rope controls that are enjoyable to master, and make swinging around more of a thing (because lots of interesting mobility is where you'll find the joy). You might even want to remove fall damage. But from your initial post this doesn't seem to be the approach you favour. Though I don't know how far towards tactical cave exploration you want to go.
    Thanked by 1farsicon
  • @critic, @pieter: thanks guys for the very actionable feedback!! I've already implemented some of the suggestions and it made quite a difference - as devs we tend to forget how much we upskill against bad mechanics during all the thousands of test plays :)

    You've also given me a lot to think about, so hopefully I can respond with a build that's worth another play.

    @critic - just one thing: did you use the headlamp in the dark or was your comment based on gameplay with the light on?

    @pieter - your comment on the surface outline: I'm busy implementing a little prototype to try it out and I'm noticing that it is detracting a bit from what I'm aiming for, because now the dark areas are way too easy. Have you tried to use the map to aid in the exploration?

    @tuism - noted :) - regarding the pace: I want the character control to be fast and agile, but the gameplay itself to be exploratory. The end goal is a puzzle and discovery game. But.. I also want players who gain more confidence in the controls to be able to do amazing stunts and speed runs, which gives the game a skill curve without affecting the exploring mechanics. I'm hoping the changes to gravity, etc. that I've implemented so far will address your comments in a way, so let's see how it goes for the next iteration :)
  • @EvanGreenwood: thanks for your considered response! I don't really play a lot of games myself, but I actually bought broforce specifically when I started on the prototype to get a feel for a well executed 2d character controller, and I guess it shows :P

    There's definitely a couple of items that were hard to notice by myself, which I have already started to adapt - like gravity and camera tweaks, etc - and the difference felt quite good so far. Adding the stamina system so early was also a bit of a misstep, so that will need to change before the next build so that it doesn't punish the player so much. The "sandbox" level also leaves a lot to be desired in terms of giving context, and sharing an early prototype is always bound to have some downsides in terms of player expectations.

    Regarding your main question:

    I'm hoping to integrate both play modes, but leave it to the player to discover. The level design and progression should drive the puzzle/exploration facets, and the emergent confidence and skill level of the players should drive the way they choose to play - that's why I'm trying to get the character controller as smooth as possible - the character should almost be superhumanly agile and sticky, so that when the player loses control it should only be because of a calculated risk or an honest mistake.

    Later gameplay elements will probably shed a bit more light on where this game may be heading - although most of it is still just vague ideas rolling around my head. RPG elements like character skill level affecting strength and stamina, equipment upgrades, etc. and also that caves would be massive and persistent. Multiple "missions" (like spelunking, rescuing peeps, or contracted surveying, relic hunts, etc.) would necessitate further exploration, while carrying over the discoveries from previous playthroughs (like sections of the map opening up over time, the receding "fog of war" on the map, etc.)

    Thanks again for giving it a go :)
  • @pieter - if jump were to be re-assigned on a controller with both movement and aim on the sticks; which button do you suggest? Adding jump to triggers or bumpers feels clunky as hell, and using ABXY takes your thumb off the aim stick... so the default (which I assume would be A) is a bit of a no-go...
  • farsicon said:

    @critic - just one thing: did you use the headlamp in the dark or was your comment based on gameplay with the light on?
    No, I had no light on, didn't know there was a key for it, maybe it should be automatic.

    Thanked by 1farsicon
  • critic said:
    farsicon said:

    @critic - just one thing: did you use the headlamp in the dark or was your comment based on gameplay with the light on?
    No, I had no light on, didn't know there was a key for it, maybe it should be automatic.
    lol.. there are two separate instructions to "Press F to Toggle your Headlamp" on the way to the darkness.. not sure how you missed them.. XD

    I'm considering a mechanic that would require conserving "batteries", so for the moment it will still need to be actively switched on until I decide to dump that idea.
    Thanked by 1critic
  • The idea I was having with the outline is that it is bright when you first shine on it, and then fades out over a period of time. And I was imagining it ingame, not on the mini map (which I never used :)

    On the jump question, I was pondering it for a bit and the best solution I could come up with is removing aiming with the right analogue stick completely. Moving and aiming is easy with a keyboard and mouse, but is a feat of dexterity with a gamepad.
    So my suggestion is to have the left analogue stick for both moving and aiming. To me it just seems more intuitive having a single stick for both these actions. You lose the ability to move in one direction while aiming in the opposite direction, so I don't know how important that is to your vision. And while airborne, the character preserves aerial momentum so it wouldn't matter that you're using the left stick.
    The benefit of this is of course that all your face buttons are available to you. Great for all those Jump, Attack, Interact, Use actions.
  • Hey guys!

    Thanks a mil for all your feedback so far - I've made a lot of changes to address them and I think all of them made quite an improvement.

    1. Adjusted gravity down by about 25% - anything more and it feels like a moon simulator :P
    2. Fixed the ladder shooting - for some reason I introduced a bug that went unnoticed.
    3. Camera zoomed out a bit and aim sensitivity increased - during earlier prototypes I had to slow it way down to prevent nausea, but so much has changed that it feels better now - please let me know if it is too much now.
    4. Added a draft outline mechanic for the dark areas - there may be potential to keep this in as a training aid while the player is learning the game - Press T (for training) to remove for the original experience.
    5. Wall grabs are now sticky, and I tweaked various subtle elements to make the controller feel a bit better
    6. Built an entirely different stamina system, but then decided to remove it completely - it was a sad funeral, but we had to let her go :P
    7. Added some additional gameplay elements - collecting food to repair health, checkpoints, and some hazards like spikes and bats.
    8. Couple of map changes.
    9. Reworked both keyboard and joystick controls - adding jump to additional buttons, while retaining some of the old "up" jump events - added some additional automated/situational jumps.

    Few other notes:
    1. Shooting from water is still disabled on purpose for gameplay reasons.
    2. While building I don't disable the keyboard when a controller is inserted so that I can use the debug commands.
    3. I tried out the double-jump mechanic for a bit, but it felt a bit "arcadey".. not sure how to explain, but I took it out again for now.

    As always, any feedback on the changes would be awesome!

    This is make or break for this prototype - if it works, then I'll move on to the next stage, otherwise it will just have to make new friends in the drawer :P :P
  • edited
    This is feeling much better. I'm probably also better at the game, having played the previous version, but it feels solid and responsive. Not sure if the bending around corners was a feature before of the ninja rope, but it felt pretty good.

    I know it's not part of the current prototype, but what I'm feeling now that this game most lacks is a feeling of purpose and progression. I can functionally navigate my way around the cave, it technically works, but I don't feel that motivated to collect a bunch of gems and find an exit.

    The gems are arbitrary, the exit leads nowhere, the cave is a maze and essentially just requires patience to get through (i.e. there's no way to infer you're on the right track). And in any case, because you're told to collect gems the way you're told to progress through the maze is to go down every path, which is maximumly tedius, and there's no incentive to make decisions along the way about which paths to take, you just have to go down every path, and every path has about equal rewards (though some paths come with extra dangers).

    I know engagement hasn't been the purpose of the current prototype. But it now feels like you've got some good movement down, which is a great start. I'd suggest that the next step is trying to engage the player.

    Is that what you're planning for the next stage? Obviously what I'm suggesting isn't the only possible next goal.
    Thanked by 1farsicon
  • Thanks @EvanGreenwood! Yeah, the collection and exit for now was just to give a reason to explore the sandbox level. Next steps would be to make this a game - engage the player, like you said :) Most likely I'm going to add all the other gameplay features next, and then work on some kind of progression system and storyline which would then inform the levels.
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