Yawn! Man, I’m tired but can’t fall asleep. Just finished my first play session on Gunstyle on the Xbox 360 a few hours ago with a friend (2 player split-screen). The day before I finally got split screen working fully (up to 4 players) with the exception of the in-game HUD. Overall, we had a good laugh and the rounds were exciting, but I’m not satisfied with the controls :|. Since a big part of Gunstyle is movement, this creates a poor gameplay experience. Guess that’s the nature of game design :). Gunstyle from the very beginning was always designed with a PC in mind and the flaws in the 360 version are apparent from this.
First off, the thumbsticks do not have anywhere near the fidelity/accuracy of a mouse. This makes aiming at fast moving objects (while you’re moving at a brisk pace also) very very difficult. Sure, after a few rounds of play we were getting accustomed to the aiming scheme but on the 360 I felt like 50-60% of my shots are just pot shots with little hope of hitting anything. As a result this turns into a spam fest. I’m going to have to come up with some alternate aiming schemes that come close to retaining the accuracy of a mouse, possibly implementing a slight auto-aim of sorts (ala Halo) or maybe something more drastic: Altering weapons to become more thumbstick friendly. This could come down to actually making new weapons that require less accuracy to make a hit.
Secondly, there are moments while running around the level and you want to do a simple jump up to a ledge or hop over a gap, but simply don’t have any way to express that movement. This has been somewhat of a problem in the PC version also, so it’s definitely a more fundamental issue regardless of platform. But it seemed more pronounced on the 360. As some of you may know, this version of Gunstyle on XNA is a remake of an older version built 2 years ago for the PC, except with several new maps. I think the key difference here is some of the maps are more corridor-like and closed-in compared to the first version where maps were wide-open terrain with a focus on smooth speed. So our physics-based control issues could have existed back then, but weren’t visible due to maps not requiring that much finesse to navigate. I’m going to experiment with a ‘digital’ control scheme where your left/right movements and speeds are more concrete, where as right now you simply slowly accelerate left/right based on a key press or thumbstick movement. This may alleviate some navigation issues. Another issue here is that wall jumps on the 360 are harder to do for some odd reason. I may make them stronger to give the wall jump a straighter trajectory on the 360 so players won’t miss jumps as easily.
And lastly, another major point of concern (as it always seems) is performance. Having 2 or more player split screen sends FPS below optimal (30 fps). I’m hoping GarageGames releases their newest version of TX with performance improvements sometime this year, otherwise I’m going to have to roll up my sleeves and start gutting TX or Gunstyle to trim down on some of execution time. Interestingly enough we hit our 30 FPS goal with eight players on the PC (no split screen though), but the 360 struggles with 2 players and 2 view ports. I’d like to think it’s something we’re doing on the game-level that’s slowing it down, but I’ve yet to find this bottle neck :/.
So anyway, that’s the state of Gunstyle on the Xbox 360. At the moment I’m still not absolutely sure where I want to take Gunstyle platform-wise. Getting Gunstyle running the 360 took about a week and a half (working in the evenings for a few hours), so it’s been a pretty quick turn-around and exciting to see it running on the console. It still is fully cross-platform code for the PC, so I haven’t abandoned that. On the plus-side, the overall performance tends to be better on XNA-capable PC’s. But networking and hardware compatibility (mostly shader and render target issues) is a bitch. With the promise of Xbox live access this coming holiday season I’m really drawn to the idea of not having to write a dedicated server version of the game (basically from scratch). Right now, Gunstyle works by letting players host servers on their running game. Without a dedicated server on the PC version, it’s hard to retain players in games and overcome networking issues such as firewalls and routers. Not knowing too much about the Live networking, that could also be the case there, but I can dream can’t I? I fully intend to be ‘done’ (aka feature-complete) with Gunstyle by year’s end. That way all that is left is bug fixing and maybe a little polish, but ultimately free me up to start a new project with a much smaller scope (read: single player). Having started development of Gunstyle in XNA in February it’s quickly approaching a year-long development time! That’s enough late night rambling, Happy Halloween!