Game Design Notes
Mechnics. Asteroid flight paths are in straight lines which makes them easier to predict. When an asteroid is hit, it splits into two smaller asteroids that have different flight paths.
Mechanics. “Special abilities”. The addition of special abilities to Asteroids, in terms of Hyperspace, Shields and Flip, really added that extra “kick” to what could have been a bland game.
Mechanics. “Fair go respawn”. When the player dies they respawn in the centre of the screen. The designers did well to ensure that the centre of the screen was reasonably clear of Asteroids before respawning the player. This provided the player a fair chance of getting back in to the game and surviving.
Dynamics. The “special ability” mechanics really gave rise to the player developing their own unique strategies for dealing with the Asteroids. For example, using Hyperspace, in the face of certain death, the player was essentially getting a random chance of survival by hopefully respawning in a less cluttered part of space!
Dynamics. The asteroids “wrap” over the screen boundaries, which enables the player to get a good idea of where the asteroid will “pop up” (on the opposite side of the screen to that which it left). This enable a strategy of “setting a trap” for the asteroids instead of merely having to chase them or get them as they pass by. The bullets also wrap over the screen if you are close enough to the edges when you shoot.
Aesthetics. The player can thrust their ship in the direction their ship is facing by pushing up on the joystick. After the player released the joystick the ship would continue in that direction, even though the player could still rotate around. This momentum really reinforced the feeling of controlling a ship in zero gravity outer space.
Game Play Summary
Asteroids provides a nice basic set of features to provide a challenging and fun little game. I originally thought that in Asteroids you could simply fly your ship around the screen to firstly avoid the asteroids and secondly, shoot them. But the designers provided three additional mechanics that underpin three different game types. These mechanics come in the form of additional “abilities” that the player can use with their ship specifically hyperspace, shields and flip (see the game instructions for info on how these work).
These different features obviously influence how the gamer plays the game from a dynamics perspective. For example, with hyperspace, I used it purely as a means of escaping almost certain destruction. In the situation where I could neither thrust my ship out of the way of an asteroid or turn around in enough time to shoot the asteroids, hitting the hyperspace provided me a “chance” of survival by relocating my ship to elsewhere on the screen – with hopefully enough space to continue the fight. However, there was a chance that the new location would be no better – and I’d end up dying anyway.
It was amusing to note that if I was shooting close to one edge of the screen my bullets would come out on the opposite screen. This was much the same as what was happening with the asteroids – the screen essentially “wraps” and the asteroids would re-emerge from the opposite side of the screen once they exited the screen. This set up some dynamic possibilities where you didn’t necessarily need to chase asteroids – you could predict exact where they would emerge (the direct opposite position on the screen) and essentially set up a trap!
In terms of mechanics, a very nice mechanic related to controlling the respawning of the player’s ship after it had been destroyed. It was noted that respawning would be delayed until such time as the centre of the screen was reasonably clear of asteroids. Obviously, this has positive influence on aesthetics and wouldn’t result in the player feeling frustrated with the game if they were to continually die without a reasonable chance of defending themselves to start with.
And the game music! That ongoing dun-dun-dun-dun sound added to the overall tension felt during the game (sorta-kinda like the Jaws music). Simple but effective from an aesthetic perspective.
So yeah, Asteroids is a great little game. It too would be a great project to clone – and add additional features to it to make it even more interesting (like earning abilities or power-ups by picking up game objects).