My first commercial game has been out a while, and although it was great that I basically hit the ground running with The Next Project (i.e. SLaVE), I feel I didn’t really have the time to reflect on the game and what I accomplished with my first full-length title.
So, six reasons why you should care about this thing I made:
1. It’s accessible
Something that I wanted to focus on from the very beginning of development was very accessible controls; that had evolved with each iteration of my ‘sketchpad project’ Press Space until the culmination of a very streamlined touch-control scheme (on top of the usual Asteroids-style turning and thrusting). One of my favourite boasts about the touch controls of the game is that feasibly a person with only one working finger could play it — and this is true! Fairly rare for touch-screen controls and fast-paced arcade games (especially shooters) to go hand-in-hand like this, but here they are in blissful harmony.
I didn’t stop there; halfway through development I decided that it was paramount for me to make the game accessible to people with sight difficulties and included toggles for screen-shake, blurring and flashing sprites. A subsequent update is planned, post-SLaVE, to properly cater for those with colour deficiency, too.
N.E.O can (and should!) be played by almost anyone.
2. It’s challenging
As my first full-length game, I didn’t want this to be a throwaway affair at all. And so, I developed a whopping 126 levels, spanning 16 outer space-inspired areas and featuring 10 different types of enemies and hazards. It starts fair, and gentle enough for beginners to blast their way through the first waves, but quickly becomes relentless. But, let me assure you…
3. It’s balanced
…every wave was tested to confirm that, not only is it possible to beat; but it’s possible to beat without collecting a single power-up. Speaking of which, new weapons and such were arranged in reverse order of effectiveness, most-to-least. Although conventional wisdom might suggest the final power-ups be the most effective, I felt this turns a game into too much of an arms race to get The Best Thing And Then Win With It. Sure, a fully-powered ship in N.E.O is the best, but that first POW tablet will grant the powerful scatter shot to benefit the meek as much as the greedy. That’s balance. The shield-bot and trails are nice too, but they’re tricker to get working for you.
4. It’s beautiful, man
The default settings of N.E.O include a screen-blurring effect that is reactive. That is to say, the more hectic your blasting, the more the screen contents melt into each other in hyperactive cyan and magenta bliss – it can be turned off (I’m kind, and not everybody is into that sort of thing) but damn if it ain’t a recipe for turning the insane amount of particle effects into beautiful fireworks.
5. It’s as long or short as you want it to be
N.E.O has four modes of play; Normal, Endless, Sadistic and YOLO – each of which providing a distinct challenge from the others, but also allowing players to digest the game’s contents in their own way. Like it intense but short? YOLO fully powers up the craft, but awards only one life; and a metric shed-ton of points flying around to go with it. Slower, more considered and challenging games appeal to you? Sadistic mode strips the power-ups (and extra lives) to bring something closer to the original Asteroids. Endless mode offers a claustrophobic and intense vertical slice of most of what the game offers in Normal mode; the game of choice for those addicted gamers who wish to blast well into the night.
6. You play the game, it plays back
Seriously. The demo of N.E.O offers a small teaser of what the main game will be, of course, but stops short of the first sting in the tail for most players with the gigantic skulls that have evoked many an unholy cuss from players mouths. These things grow when shot (until their eventual demise), prompting a little more of a careful approach than asked of the player in the first three waves.
And when you get used to this? The new Hunter enemy forces you to move, constantly, in order to evade their attack. Now, what would happen if the player were forced to adapt both of these strategies, on the fly? In N.E.O’s hand-crafted waves you’ll find the answer quickly enough — every combination of enemies is explored in the 126 waves, so there’s plenty of room to try new things. In fact, you’ll have to.
But don’t worry, most enemies are introduced in ‘breather’ waves so they can be a familiar presence before they become a threat in later waves. But don’t worry too much about overly-sadistic waves, they at least have self-aware names such as “WAVE 9 : THE DEVELOPER IS HORRIBLE”. So, have fun!
7. It’s excellently-priced
Did I say only six reasons? Here’s a seventh, for good measure. And it is! Weighing in at £3 GBP (which is somewhere around $5 USD), it’s a good price.