Genre: Arcade Shooter
Team Size: 1
Development Time: 6 Weeks
- Top-down arcade action
- 3 custom power-ups
- Custom HUD and menus
- Old school sound design
- Play as the Cole Train
“Cole Train Saves the World” is a level that transforms Gears of War into a top-down, arcade shooter with a lighthearted, old school feel. Playing as the eternally boisterous Cole Train, the player mows down waves of enemies with either their standard machine gun, or three power-ups unique to the level: the Spread Shot, the Flamethrower or the Super Boomshot. The level removes the usual Gears of War cover mechanic in favor of a more open environment, increased player movement speed and enemies that either use either melee attacks or slower moving projectiles that can be actively dodged. When combined with the large number of enemies on screen, the result is a fast paced, arcade feel that is completely different from the prototypical Gears of War experience.
The level is broken into seven waves spanning two zones, each escalating in challenge by either increasing the number of enemies, spawning the enemies from different spawn points, or adding new enemy types. For example, in Wave 1, the player fights a very manageable number of standard Wretches. In Wave 2, the number of Wretches and their spawn points are increased, and in Wave 3, the exploding Lambent Wretches are introduced. In Wave 4, Boomers are introduced, and once the player moves to Zone 2, they fight all three enemy types at once in escalating numbers from spawn points that gradually surround the player.
Major Design Goals
As “Cole Train Saves the World” is incredibly different from a typical Gears of War level, it was important to make sure that the player could grasp the level’s unique mechanics quickly and understand everything that was going on. In designing the level, I had three channels of communication between the level and the player: in-game visuals, UI elements, and sound. For any given piece of information that I needed to convey to the player, I made sure to “double tap” these channels. That is, I would use at least two (if not all three) channels of communication to convey the same piece of information. That way, there was no way the player could miss it.
The power-ups are the best example of this. When the Spread Shot (represented by a Gears Crunch box) or Flamethrower (represented by a Smokin’ Hot Salsa jar) appear in the level, a special sound plays and the power-up itself has a glowing white outline and spins around. It uses two channels of communication – sound and in-game visuals – to “double-tap” the information that needs to be conveyed to the player. Likewise, when either power-up is about to disappear, it blinks red and plays a special sound as its time runs out. When either power-up is actually grabbed, all three channels of communication are utilized. Cole Train spouts a catchphrase, a HUD icon appears to indicate what power-up the player is using, and the reticule below Cole Train changes in-game.
This “double-tap” conveyance strategy is used throughout the level, and as a result, players are never confused despite it being almost nothing like a normal Gears of War experience.
Sell the Old School Feel
Turning a gritty, cinematic game like Gears of War into something that felt more upbeat and old school was a fun challenge to tackle, and to make it work, I had to attack it on all fronts. The menus and HUD feature pixel art and a pixelated font, 8-bit sound effects are strewn throughout the level and music from Contra and Metroid play in the background to emphasize the arcade style of the level. Meanwhile, Cole Train spouts lewd catchphrases, a cheesy announcer enthusiastically marks the player’s progress, and Cole Train receives his powerups from cereal boxes and jars of salsa to keep the mood fun and lighthearted. This helped make smiles and laughter more common during playtests than intense looks of concentration or frustrated grumbles.
Challenge My Visual Scripting Skills
By the time I started making “Cole Train Saves the World,” I had become very comfortable with Kismet and wanted to see how I could push my skills with it. This level proved the perfect opportunity, because the Gears of War editor allows no traditional scripting whatsoever. Everything must be done entirely through Kismet. This lead to a huge amount of Kismet nodes that I had to try to keep organized across multiple streamed levels, and a lot of creative solutions to problems that I wouldn’t normally have in a traditional scripting language. The result was an improvement in my scripting skills and logical thinking, in addition to all the features I managed to implement into the level.