A new feature that's come online recently is visual damage states for bosses. This means they'll look more and more beaten-up as the fight progresses.
In our very first demo, we had this guy:
That boss is still is a work-in-progress, but now it works something like this:
This is just a baseline; we'll be adding lots of effects to complete the, er... effect. So things like explosions and debris bursts when you trigger the next damage state, and persistent smoke trails, flames, and sparks which turn on in the second state and get more intense in the final state.
Here's another, more recent boss:
And here's what it looks like with damage applied (again, still a work-in-progress):
We've tied the damage state transitions to specific health thresholds for each boss, which is mechanically important because hitting one of those thresholds triggers a bullet capture; timing this correctly is important for scoreplay.
We've also been working on several new things behind the scenes. Chief among these, now that we're in a pretty good spot with the single-level experience, is that I've finally started work on the overall game structure.
Typical arcade shmups put you through a linear sequence of (usually) 5-7 stages, each ending in a boss fight. You can often clear the game in 10-15 minutes; the longevity of these games comes not from content, but from scoreplay. That is, hardcore players replay the sequence hundreds of times, memorizing the best patterns and scoring strategies through lots of trial and error, and they gradually climb the leaderboard in the process. It's satisfying, but if you're not already a hardcore shmupper you're probably a bit turned off by the repetition of so little content, not to mention the realization that the top-rated player has beaten your score by two impossible orders of magnitude.
For Legacy of the Elder Star I wanted to try something different, so I'm taking a page from games like Monster Hunter and implementing a quest system instead. I'll post more details about this in a few weeks when it's more fleshed out, but the basic idea is there'll be a bunch of quests (stages) arranged into a handful of storylines, where completing a quest unlocks the next one in that storyline, and completing a storyline unlocks a special reward. All the quests are repeatable and have their own leaderboards, so the competition aspect is preserved.
Meanwhile, Erik's been working on character designs for the Cosmonaut's sidekicks. These characters manage various aspects of the game – equipment, for example, or your list of collections and achievements – and they're also each connected to one of the quest storylines. The character designs are proving to be one of our tougher creative challenges so far, as we work to find the right visual tone: friendly and approachable, but not childish or overly cartoonish.
It's my sincere hope that Legacy of the Elder Star can appeal to the fence-sitters: those players who admire shmups from afar but don't find the genre particularly welcoming when they actually try to get into it. I feel like we've validated our in-game approach so far, since we've seen lots of those kinds of players enthusiastically embrace our mouse-driven control scheme and colorful art style at several local conventions over the past ten months. Now it's time to start testing our structure, story, and characters.
More to come!