Sunset Blvd

The Problem

Create a game on any platform that is fun to play.

The Process

 Team Size: 1     Role(s): Programmer, Designer     Engine: Unity3D     Platform: PC, Web

Sunset Blvd is a game where you play as a bird that just wants to stay under the spotlight. If not, you will start shrinking and eventually cease to exist. It is a fairly simple game, but packed with cheeky surprises that will make you hate it. You may look at it as Flappy Bird, but here, you take control of the obstacles. So, if you fail, it’s not the game, it’s you.

THE IDEA​: I first came up with the idea before the West Coast trip for the ETC began, when I arrived three days earlier and stayed in a hotel on Sunset Blvd. The initial idea did not contain metaphors, I just wanted to make a game about a film actress trapped in Hollywood constantly requiring to bring herself under the spotlight in order to stay relevant, or she will fade away and eventually her existence will be forgotten. Eventually, I thought it would be rather appropriate to symbolize it with a bird. The original idea was also an inspiration from a movie of the same title ‘Sunset Blvd’. So, I knew that if I was going to make this game, the title has to be Sunset Blvd.
Pre-Execution: ​I wanted the game to be challenging yet laid back. It was either going to be a 2D scroller or a 3D bird flight simulator. The latter did not fit with my theme and scope so I decided to go with a 2D side-scroller. The first thing that naturally came to my mind while thinking of birds + 2D side-scroller was Flappy Bird. Since I wanted spotlights in my game, I immediately pictured a game in my mind which sort of looked like Flappy bird, but instead of randomized pipes, your obstacle is to stay under the spotlight, while you are in control of the spotlight.

I drew a *very* abstract drawing of how I wanted the game to play out. Once I had a rough idea, I started thinking about mechanics.


Gameplay Mechanics: ​The basic movement of the bird was always going to be WASD or Left Analog Stick. I did not want an auto-scroller. So, the player should always have both the horizontal as well as vertical control of the bird’s movement. For the spotlight’s rotation, I was torn between mouse drag and Right Analog Stick. Due to scope reasons, I ended up never implementing controller support. So, the bird can move only using WASD and the spotlight can be rotated with Mouse Drag. Also, if you’re outside the spotlight, you shrink. Great, the basic mechanics were done. Let’s put it together and start playtesting!

Skipping the putting together almost feels wrong because it took ages for me to gather all the assets and make everything work without Unity complaining about adding more than 2 spotlights. Anyway, I made a Unity WebGL prototype with four spotlights and base mechanics, uploaded it on my website, and sent it to a few people. Also, submitted the same build during the first deadline. Let the playtest sessions begin!

 

Playtest Takeaways: From most of the playtests, it was apparent that people were not very open about their thoughts given that the game was very early in development. I fixed all the technical bugs that came up during the playtests, and realized that from a design perspective, there wasn’t much to take away from, except dashing. So I added a dash feature where you can move quickly using LShift. The cooldown is 5 seconds and you lose scale during the dash, so people don’t abuse it. Even though there wasn’t much, I was still happy that people were positive about the concept. So, I decided to stop the playtests and come up with puzzles using level design and movement restriction. So I drew a grid-like structure. The grids were designed in such a way that every unit is a 10 degrees angle. Since I had restricted the movement of the spotlights to 10 degrees on each side, it worked perfectly as every 3×3 grid represented a spotlight. I started placing spotlights and tried to think about the puzzles I could implement using these grids. I figured that I need to play some puzzle games to refresh my mind in designing puzzles. I started playing Baba is You. However, I could not see a connection and I started giving up on this level design structure because of lack of time to think about potential puzzles. This is a rough idea of how it looked like before I scrapped it:

Interest Curve: Since I got rid of puzzles, I had to find a different way of making the game fun and interesting. I immediately thought of my naive friend Akshay’s suggestion of adding a blinking spotlight. What if not just a blinking spotlight, but what if I added more variety of spotlights? That would surprise guests and make things interesting! So I began thinking of different kinds of spotlights, and I came with a total seven.

1. Normal Spotlight – Your daily spotlight that functions like a normal spotlight.
2. Blinking Spotlight – Goes on and off every 1 second.
3. Restricted Spotlight – This spotlight does not move even if you move the projector. Tricks user into thinking that it as a bug, but actually isn’t.
4. Timed Spotlight – Goes off in 3 seconds.
5. Spotlight of Darkness – Avoid this spotlight. You will shrink twice as fast if you’re inside this one.
6. Spotlight of Chaos – This spotlight will mess up your controls. It’s not WASD anymore it’s AWDS.
7. Spotlight of Distraction – Puts a blurry distorted noise on your camera which makes it harder to see your character.

Final Takeaway:  Upon thinking on all the playtests, I realized that I need to either decide between a laid back but strategic gameplay or an Angry bird-esque keep playing and get better gameplay. Or I could simply let the user choose their own playstyle, which is what happened during the playtests, and which is what I decided to keep. There were various other takeaways that I already mentioned. After the playtests, I added the following things, most of which were balance changes:

1. Tutorial at the beginning and each different kind of spotlight its own hint text.
2. Background music and sound feedback
3. Timer
4. Decreased the scale factor, slightly increased the bird’s scale
5. Blinking Spotlight doesn’t harm you if you’re inside it but the light is off.
6. Increased mouse sensitivity to make the spotlights easier to control.

 

The Result

Sunset Blvd: https://syrupsandwic.itch.io/sunset-blvd