Next Jump looks to take everything about the shmup genre and alter it for tactical, turn-based combat, taking bullet dodging and returning fire and giving it a slower pace.
Siliconera spoke with Filipe Dilly, the lead developer of Next Jump, to ask how they intended to take the various elements of shmups and make them into something that can be played turn-by-turn.
What made you want to create a shmup as a tactical game instead? What do you feel connects the two genres?
I really love shmups and I’m also super bad at them. At first, I was trying to think on how to design a more "approachable" Shmup. One that could be played by anyone, without the "easy and cheap feel". Around the same time I was playing Jeanne d’Arc (a tactical game for psp) and thought: what would it be like to design a Tactical shmup game?
So, I started thinking about it and analyzing the shmup genre, reading articles and interviews with famous developers. The more I read, the more convinced I was that it could work.
At the same time the Stencyl Jam 15 started and I had one Month to test out my ideas, which you can try out here. My game won third place and received a lot of good feedback, with both compliments and critiques. So I decided to review all the (now apparent) problems with the design, taking into account the feedback received in order to turn the flash game into a PC game.
About what connects the two genres… I actually wanted to reinterpret one into another. But there are a couple of things that I think connect the two, one being that both genres have "puzzle" elements. Like, the way a shmup stage can be a puzzle, with all the enemies patterns and stuff. A tactics game (especially the Japanese ones) are also very like a puzzle game, with enemies having attack patterns, just like Chess.
I like to view my game as a "Chess where you play with only one Piece against all others", but you are "faster" (ie: have more actions per turn) and are not "constrained" (there is not an AI on the game, every enemy has a fixed pattern).
How do you convert such a quick reaction-based genre to a tactical format? How did you capture the essence of a shmup with a tactical game?
But, in general terms, what I did was reduce everything to its simplest action, plus make every action super meaningful. The simple act of "moving" is important, and has clear, different consequences. Following that principle, I tried to replicate (in a tactical way) the basic loop of a shmup: Look to the bullet and enemies pattern, decide where to move, IF or WHO to attack, and do this by scoring as many "points" (in this case, Reputation and Scrap, the "money" of the game) as possible.
You have stated that the game will be procedurally-generated. How will that work to give players unique experiences each time they play? How will it put together a round for the player to fight through?
In Next Jump the players do "space Jumps", just like in FTL. Simple mission: pursue a Dragon mothership and stop it. Every one of these "jumps" is a procedurally generated "board", lightly inspired by the Chess board. The procedural systems and rules are designed to create a "classic shmup situation": Different compositions of enemies, bullets, and scenarios, getting harder and more complex as the player’s score grows.
The way the board is generated is quite simple: there are four "rows" on the board, the top one being reserved for the bigger, harder enemies and the other ones to the less dangerous (like in Chess). The player starts below. Each difficulty level has their own pool of enemies to pick, along with rules on how and where to position each one.
In addition, although enemies have predefined behavior patterns, the first action of each of them is randomly chosen. This creates a board with new situations but still with fixed rules.
The goal of this design is to quickly create a combat situation reminiscent of shmups, with enough variation to (hopefully) never get boring.
Next Jump has a bit of a silly storyline involving lost alcohol. What do you feel this lighthearted tone adds to the game? Will there be other silly elements in it?
I always liked the "silliness" of Japanese games. In this case, the shmups are full of examples, especially in the graphics and art direction. My game, being a love letter to shmups, could not be any different. The lighthearted tone comes more from that, but I also like the fact that it also have a serious and sad side: The dragons are addicted to alcohol.
The inspiration for this lightweight and silly approach comes from a developer I love: Vlambeer. In Nuclear Throne, you have these stylized and colorful visuals, but if you observe the lore of the world and its characters, things are very sad and tragic.
I really liked this tone and wanted to put it in my game. The whole thing is fun, but behind it there is a very serious subject. One of the consequences of this is that the game never asks the player to "kill" the Dragons… You can do it, of course, but you don’t have to do it to finish the game (there are two endings!).
There are other small silly elements, especially on the "random events" that can happen when a Jump is finished (similar to FTL, but more simple).
How will the upgrade and equipment systems work in the game? What sorts of new weapons and tools can players acquire?
There are four Ships to choose, two at the start and another two unlockable in random events or by finishing the game. Each ship have its own collision size (like in shmups, collision size is really important here) and base weapon, but the other attributes are the same:
1. Battery, which dictates how much energy you have (energy is equivalent to the "action points" of tactical games).
2. Engines, which translates to greater Tile movement per Energy point and overall Jump distance when updated.
3. Hull, which is basically your HP.
4. Base weapon can also be upgraded for more damage or effects.
Furthermore, the ship have Accessory and Weapon slots, and these items can be obtained at stores or events. The accessories change and/or add to the ship features: "Spiked Hull" can make your Ship do damage when touching the enemies, "Teleport" can teleport the ship to a tile of choice. Some are passive (always active) and others cost energy. The weapons offer different types of attack, with the obvious versions of classic bullets patterns (sideways, rear…), but also with different damage types (normal, toxic, emp, pierce).
You’ve called Next Jump an "excellent coffee break game." How is the game well-suited to those who only have a little time to play?
First, the game have a really fast pacing. Each combat encounter lasts around 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Just like a shmup, it’s possible to finish the game in 1 hour, more or less (but few players will be able to do so at first attempts). I also tried to design something that wouldn’t stop the player by showing fluffy texts every turn.
You can obviously also play the game at your own pace, slowly planning the best move. :]