Mary Rose Cook

Roper game prototype

For a few days last week, I went to the reading room at the Wellcome Trust and worked on a game prototype.

(Cinematography and set design by Lauren Karchmer, my wife.)

Sam, my friend and colleague at Makers Academy told me about the reading room. It’s great. There are lots of interesting books there, comfy seats and a palatial staircase covered in throw pillows.

I had a few goals with the prototype. First, to try out a Bionic Commando slash Spiderman roping mechanic that I’d had in my head. I wanted to use Box2D for the rope physics. I wanted the player to not be constrained to special roping points or angles. Second, I wanted to keep to a discipline of prototyping an idea and then setting it aside, rather than letting it potter along as a project that eventually ran out of steam.

I made some interesting discoveries.

First, the unconstrained roping angles led me to making the game rely on using a gamepad. This made the game incredibly fun to make.

Second, it was very satisfying to tune the controls so jumping and roping felt good.

Third, if the right stick is used for an essential function, the face buttons (X, O etc) cannot be.

I started by using the left stick for left/right movement and the right stick for aiming the rope. Using X for jump would have meant that the player had to stop aiming to jump, which would have made the character much less agile. I tried jump on one of the trigger (L/R) buttons. This was OK, but didn’t feel as good as X. In the end, I discovered that I could use the left stick for both lateral movement and aiming the rope. So, jump went back onto X and things felt good.

Fourth, though I successfully prototyped the roping mechanic, I have no idea if there’s a game in it. I worked until the core idea was fun, but I didn’t find a way to develop it. Maybe a few more hours tinkering would have revealed a world of developments, or maybe each successive hour would have produced a linear amount more fun, or maybe each hour would have turned up a new dead end. I’m not sure, and I’m not sure how to know.