Dimension Drive is a split screen game for a single player. Game designer David Jimenez explains how putting two games next to each other opens up a world of possibilities.
Shoot ’em ups were mostly played in dedicated cabinets during the golden age of arcades (80s and early 90s). These featured screens that matched the gameplay aspect ratio (vertical). Nowadays, most people play in widescreens which leaves vertical shoot’em up with tons of unused space.
We wanted to create a vertical shoot’em up that would fill a whole widescreen while keeping a vertical gameplay aspect ratio. Inspired by hardcore shoot ’em up players that are able to play co-op split-screen by themselves, we tried placing a ship on each side that a single player had to control. The result: it was impossible to play for an average player.
Enter the Dimension Drive. Instead of having two ships to control we only have one that can teleport at the player’s press of a button to a mirrored location. This not only made it fun but it added a layer of strategy to the gameplay. Besides shooting and dodging now the player had to pay attention to both games and carefully decide where and when to perform the teleport jumps.
But some players never teleported! So, we added the concept of Dimension Energy which in essence is finite ammo and thereby breaking one of the biggest design conventions in shoot ’em ups. Shooting consumes energy from the side you are on, killing enemies recharges energy for the other side. To maintain the energy levels, players have to be constantly on the move and play both games. This is fine for good players, but it may also cause a state of ammo starvation leaving the player defenseless on both battlefields. We solved this recently by moving to a hybrid system where killing enemies gives high amounts of energy but also energy auto recharges slowly over time even if not killing enemies. This rewards players for excelling at the game without harshly penalizing them for not doing so.
With the foundation ready, a dual-battlefield shoot’em up with teleportation, it was the time to build on top and expand on the concept. Taking a page out from R-Type book we implemented environmental puzzles. Just look at what some lasers, switches and doors can do with two battlefields.
The whole design of Dimension Drive is built around a simple question: how can we improve “this” to better exploit the dual-battlefield? Dual boss fights, defense levels were enemies can’t be allowed to escape, interconnected enemies, power-ups that work on the “other” side, and some crazy ideas we have in the plans for 2 player mode turn this whole decision in more than a mere gimmick.