DEVLOG: Random Acts of Mining, part 1 – inspiration

It’s a tough thing being an absolute nobody in gamedev. There are far too many questions without answers, all of which can point to “what am I doing wrong?” when in fact the better question should be “what is a more successful developer doing right?“. It’s not much an easier question, but certainly one more pragmatic and less self-sympathetic. I’ll take it.

Enter Terry Cavanagh. Certainly not on the same tier of the indie developer podium as say, Notch, but he’s doing well. He does pretty much what I’d like to do, evoking feelings of nostalgia with new and interesting twists on old themes; such as a platform game with gravity-reversal in place of jumping. That would be VVVVVV, a game I really love.

I do apologise for making that.

And so, at the end of SLaVE’s development (and it’ll be out soon, I swear!) I was thinking a lot about What The Next Project Should Be, and more so how it can be my very own VVVVVV. Not an outright clone (because I’ve been there, done that) but something that would hark back to my childhood ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC games as Cavanagh evoked C64 titles with his flipping masterpiece. Enter Caves of Doom.

ZX Spectrum version
ZX Spectrum version

This is a game I discovered late, in my early teens. It appealed to me so much on the Amstrad CPC 464 as it had a level editor; a feature always perfect for people who want to make games but lack the technical ability or resources. The game itself was pretty unremarkable – get coloured keys to access other parts of the caves until the exit is reached, dodging hazards and keeping topped up with fuel along the way. It is frustratingly-difficult, often demanding pixel-precise navigation at speed. But difficult games are kinda popular nowadays, aren’t they? Alongside Cavanagh’s output, Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls and even I Wanna Be The Guy cement that fact. Maybe there’s an idea here worth ‘borrowing’, I thought.

Dev Note
Dev Note

I have this little black book I carry around with me often. Its purpose is to record game ideas when I have them, so I may refer back to them at some point; often to insulate me from distraction by them when I’m already working on a game. So I was out and about (actually, waiting in-venue before one of the East Midlands Indies meetups, which are great by the way) and thinking what I’d do to that Caves of Doom formula to spice it up and modernise (in a vague neo-retro sense) the premise. How to make it appealing to modern players.

From the pages of Dev Note, here's JETPACKS IN CAVES!
From the pages of Dev Note, here’s JETPACKS IN CAVES!

Well, this is what my shorthand looks like when the only person who has to decipher it is me. The ‘twists’ I came up with to that Caves of Doom formula were:

  • Directional control replaced with gravity-based left/right/thrust
  • An objective based around accessing a core and (possibly) dropping a bomb there
  • PROCEDURAL GENERATION

That last one was the biggie. Not least because Caves of Doom didn’t offer it with its static layout, but because I hadn’t done it before. And so, I had an idea; that was the start…

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