Flee, a Designer commentary

We are proud to announce the release of Flee (click for the game's website), our first commercial game.


With this game, we tried to overcome the gameplay shortcomings of LCD handhelds, adapting them to contemporary standars while keeping the graphic constraints of those devices: no 'real' animation, just a series of graphics (frames) that never overlap and are lit on and off to simulate movement.
The gameplay shortcomings we wanted to improve are:

1. Starting from scratch: in every LCD game, every time you start playing you do it  from the very beginning. As you gain dexterity in the game, beginning from scratch becomes boring and you lose interest in the game

Solution: organize the game in stages. The player can start playing in every stage previously finished, so there’s no need to repeat the easy first levels every time you play.

2. Repetitive: every LCD handheld game is, by definition, repetitive. Do the same task, again and again, at an ever-increasing pace.

Solution 1: Although the game mechanic is always the same (i.e. Avoid the Obstacle/s), we achieved a high level of variation. The game area is a grid of 6 wide by 5 high elements that approach the player. There are levels in which every lane advances at the same speed, and other levels where each lane has its own pace, some levels only use three lanes, others 4, 5, 6... The player has to adapt continuously to new movement patterns and timings. Each level lasts for around 1 minute, so every 60 (or less) seconds the gameplay changes.
Also, after the last level of every mode, every subsequent level will be chosen randomly, so even memorizing the sequence of levels won’t help you anticipate what’s coming next.
Solution 2: In mode A, the player controls 1 car and has to avoid lots of incoming obstacles.
In game mode B, the player controls the obstacles and has to avoid just one (and moving) obstacle. skills learnt in mode A are exactly the opposite of the skills needed in mode B.

3. Unsurprising: In LCD handhelds, the game’s graphics are always the same, you can never expect something new to appear. Also, pressing the screen of those devices unveiled the frames that where not lit.

Solution: we created a varying landscape to reflect the advance of the car: dense woods, a coast with sea waves, a lighthouse, a distant city on the left, fireworks, a shooting star... Each of these elements is composed of several frames which are revealed to the player smoothly as he advances in the game. Also, there’s a sun and a moon that rise and fall accordingly (the 30 stages of mode A comprise 3 full days and nights), to reflect the pass of time. The player can sense the existence of these frames (because the shade is always visible), but never knows in advance when (or why) they will appear.
Solution 2: There’s also a graphical ‘trick’: initially we only see the back of opponent cars, as if all lanes were in the same direction. Later in the game, we discover that there can be cars approaching in the opposite direction (example: level 5, mode A). We designed the cars so that the main block could be used both for the front and the back of the car.
Solution 3: in mode A, on many stages there are hidden messages (a sentence) conformed by the patterns of cars, specially in level 30 (the last one).

4. Poor sound: in the 80’s, there was no such thing as MP3s or cd-quality sound music. The game’s sound consisted exclusively on bleeps that acted as a metronome, and short tunes when you lose one life or earned an extra life.

Solution: given that the opponent cars/bunnies can approach you at very different speeds simultaneously, the use of a metronome sound was discarded right away. Also, Android sound capabilities don’t allow for precise triggering of sound effects, because of the huge delays.
As the game’s theme is ‘leave everything behind, forever...Flee!’, we chose to implement a car radio. Every time you start playing, one of the 20 songs is played randomly. At the beginning of every stage, you hear the radio being dialed, and another (randomly chosen) song fades in amongst interferences and radio programs. All the songs were taken from the public domain, or were licensed as Creative Commons without further restrictions. The musical styles are wildly varied, to reflect what you can find dialing a radio while driving, and go from baroque classical to chiptune. Also, as noted in the manual, on some levels the music beats match the rhythm of the opponent cars, while in others the music will misguide you. Music becomes, subtly, part of the gameplay.

5. Playing alone: LCD handhelds had no network capabilities, so achieving a highscore was a solitary success.

Solution: using the free Scoreloop service, every highscore is automatically sent and recorded. You can compare at every moment how you fare against other Flee players. The service also gathers statistics such as the total time player, and the total distance (score) you drove away.