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September 01, 2014, 10:44:39 PM
TIGSource ForumsPlayerGamesEuroshmups and Arcade Games
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Author Topic: Euroshmups and Arcade Games  (Read 2961 times)
Mischief Maker
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« on: August 01, 2008, 12:42:14 PM »

This was originally intended to just be a comparison of so-called “Euroshmups” verses J-Shmups, but a lot of the observations here could be useful for just about anyone making action games. There’s a reason dozens of innovative freeware platformers come and go every year, but good old Icy Tower is still at the top. I’m sticking with shmups because they’re the easiest genre to describe conceptually.

So ever since I’ve gotten back into shmups in a big way, I’ve seen several games referred to derisively as “Euroshmups.” The obvious follow-up question is, “what makes a shmup a Euroshmup?” To this question a laundry list of features may be listed, along with “general poor quality,” but in the end no satisfying answer is given, just, “I know one when I play one.”

But I have to admit that it’s not just slavish Otakuism. While Japan makes its share of bad shmups, side by side the best of the Euroshmups, like Jets ‘n Guns, always seem to fall short of the best shmups coming out of Japan. This is despite the fact that top Euroshmups usually have more content and as good if not better graphics and production values. Why is that?

In my opinion it’s because Euroshmups are designed with home systems in mind while J-shmups are designed with the Arcade in mind, even if the game will never see the inside of one. There’s nothing inherently cultural about this, it’s a difference in design philosopy. Stray from that Arcade philosophy, and even veteran Japanese shmup developers will create Euroshmups; R-Type Final is a perfect example.

So what is so special about making a shmup for the arcades that makes them turn out so much better than Euroshmups? 3 main differences:

1. Good Arcade games are built around a scoring system that rewards the player for taking risks.

2. Arcade games are intended to be over (or at least loop) in 30 minutes or less.

3. Arcade games must be difficult, yet fair.

Risk-Rewarding

Scoring may seem like an unnecessary anachronism on a home system, but it’s the heart of a good arcade game. And considering the success of modern games like Tony Hawk’s Pro skater and to a lesser degree the Devil May Cry series, it’s not that foreign a concept. When the scoring system rewards the player for taking risks, then when the player gets better the emphasis shifts from merely getting from point A to point B in one piece, to looking good while you do it. A well-designed and integrated scoring system gives the player options.

Think of it from an arcade designer’s viewpoint. The money a successful arcade game brings in comes one quarter at a time. You want both to keep the player dying and prevent them from getting bored. When a player starts getting good at the game and can beat the first couple levels no sweat before hitting the harder stuff later on, that’s several precious minutes where the player isn’t dying and is at risk of getting bored and losing interest. When you throw a risk-rewarding score system into the mix, a player going through the easier levels starts playing things dangerously to get an early boost to their score before switching gears to survival later on. This keeps the early levels from getting boring, since getting better at the game is actually opening up a whole new level of gameplay to take on.

From a design standpoint, building the game around its score system helps you to avoid a number of pitfalls that bog down Euroshmups. Some of the biggest complaints lobbed at these games include features that at best do nothing to improve the gameplay, at worst break the game, like inertia, weapon overheating, etc. The only justification is the same rallying cry for 99% of all bad game features: “It’s more realistic.” If instead the game is being built around rewarding the player for scratching bullets, then maybe inertia will need to be scrapped. Maybe if the designer really wants weapon overheating in the game, they can incorporate the overheating mechanics into the score system, maybe giving bonus points for the player keeping their heat level in the danger zone.

Building around the scoring mechanic can also avoid another of the biggest complaints about Euroshmup: boring random enemy formations and bullet patterns.    If you're building around bullet scratching, you're going to want to tend toward line formation bullets, great for heavy scratching, to tempt the player in and out of traps.  If you're making point items only maximum value when picked up at the top of the screen, you're going to want patterns with temporary openings for the player to try to dive through to maximize score.  There's a LOT more to a successful shmup than just a bunch of ships shooting at you.

Short game time

Most arcade shmups are designed to last about 6 levels that are 5 minutes apiece. This sounds even more counterintuitive than playing for score on a single-user computer. Why is a shorter game a good thing? The reason is, it doesn’t give the designer any time to screw around, whatever goes into that precious 30 minutes must be fast and furious and good, and that means a lot of merely okay ideas will end up on the cutting room floor.

It’s funny how in an arcade a player who is only out a quarter will simply walk away from a game that gets dull, as opposed to a home-game player, who is out anywhere from $20-60, and will put up with tens of hours of crap in the faint hope that maybe something neat will peek out in the end. R-Type Final would bomb in the arcades. The dull and dreary first level, and the blah second level would drive most players and their quarters away long before things start to pick up in level 3. The same with Jets’n Guns Gold, which has tons of excellent and hilarious levels that are unfortunately interspersed between horribly dull levels (Like Ben Affleck’s wardrobe or the DNA-collecting level) that wear out their welcome before they’re even halfway finished. No arcade game could ever get away with boring the player like that.

Deadly, but fair

Eugene Jarvis, one of the designers of Defender and Robotron, once said that a successful Arcade game must threaten the player with death at all times. To that I would add, yes, but if the player does die, they must walk away satisfied that it was their fault. More than anything, the two biggest complaints about Euroshmups are that they are too easy AND that they will suddenly and unfairly kill the player with something they would have never seen coming. This does not mean you never give the player a breather or two, or never have something big and fast swoop in from offscreen. It does mean that you keep the challenges coming at a steady pace and make sure the player gets some kind of warning before something big attacks from offscreen. Tempo is an underrated facet of game design.

Keeping the three big facets of Arcade design in mind won’t guarantee your next action game will be a classic, but they can make the difference between finishing with a good game, and finishing with a great game. Designers of the west, let’s take back the word “Euroshmup” and change it from a mark of shame to a badge of honor!
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2008, 01:50:39 PM »

Playfield fx that obscure the action but do not directly affect gameplay are the bane of the Euroshmup.  Particles spraying from exploding ships.  Glowing anti-aliased bullets that are had to tell where the hitbox is.  Lifebars, and the diminishing of the bar in the corner being the only onscreen indication of collision short of a game over.  Inertia the prevents immediate precision response to the controls.

In short, obfuscation is the order of business in a Euroshmup.
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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2008, 02:26:19 PM »

First time I see the word "euroshmup"
And yes this is borderline otakuism
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2008, 08:22:26 AM »

Never heard the name Euroshmup, and i am from Europe.
I don't recall any arcade (coin-operated) shmups coming from Europe.
Only on home computer systems like C64 or Amiga and the were inferior to japanes arcade and home console games.
Any names beside Jets'n'Guns?
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2008, 03:04:28 PM »

I consider X-out for amiga to be a classic euroshmup. Don´t know if you mention this but a big problem with these games were that they often had shields and/or lifebars. To counter this the enemys dish out patterns that cant be avoided by the player. Classic endgame euroshmup dilemma. I remember an intresting discusion about this on shmups.com.
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« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2008, 04:20:27 PM »

Well, they did say it's not *just* otakuism.
I'd disagree that the arcade game design philosophy is inherently better then the other -- without directly mentioning it you're stating that every Japanese shooter is  tremendously better then non-Japanese shooters because "They don't have time to put in crap". If you've exhaustively played Japanese shooters and non-Japanese shooters, and you know that all Japanese designers think this way, but I don't see any of that evidence in your essay.
Also, the risk-reward idea -- while it sounds like a good game design theory, I doubt this is what's going through every "Japanese" shootemup designer's head as they design their new game. Unless you mean only "good" games, but then you better define what "good" games are, and NOT by saying "Japanese"  Cool
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2008, 04:34:18 PM »

I played "Jets 'n Guns" and "Dove" more than any other shmups.

Both are "Euro"shmups.

Coincidence?  WTF



...yes.
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« Reply #7 on: August 25, 2008, 04:40:40 PM »

Meh.  Always prefered the shoot 'em ups on home computers, particularly the Amiga, to arcade ones personally.  I've had far, far more fun playing Battle Squadron, Uridium 2, Project X, Apidya and the Amiga version of Silkworm (which was a conversion from the mediocre Tecmo arcade game but far, far better) than just about any japanese shooter (though Axelay and UN Squadron on SNES got a lot of playtime from me too).  Always did have a soft spot for R-Type but only the very first one.  I did buy R-Type Final and Graidus V for my PS2 but I just didn't get that much enjoyment from them.  Never been too keen on 'bullet hell' and certainly never liked abstract shooters.  Found most other japanese shooters just dull.  Hard to explain why.  With the Amiga ones I mentioned I found it easier to get involved in what little story there may have been and I guess I found the pixel art graphics appealing (and loved the catchy tunes... I always like a catchy tune while I'm shooting things) whereas most japanese ones especially mid 90's onwards felt to me more about avoiding craploads of usually dull samey looking round projectiles that covered so much of the screen I couldn't see the nice backdrops much.  I dunno.  I just remember playing Dondonpachi for example and feeling just so incredibly bored.  Also I have a major dislike for stupid tiny hitboxes especially on the player ship.  Seems a cheap way of making the insane amount of bullets easier to dodge.  At least give me some damage if the bullet clips my ships wing or something.

Darn my tiredness and lack of decent communication skills but I can't seem to do a good job of explaining why I preferred western shoot 'em ups.  I just wish there were more of them.  There was just something I found much more endearing and enjoyable about them.

Didn't like Jets N' Guns though at all.

Also I dislike the term shmup...

Bleh I never like trying to contribute to discussions like these.  I never come off well.  I just know what kind of games I like is all...
« Last Edit: August 25, 2008, 04:44:30 PM by Carnivac » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: August 25, 2008, 09:13:14 PM »

I do appreciate how tight the really good Japanese bullet hell games are.  A game like Jets n' Guns, by comparison, feels really sloppy.  Doesn't make it less fun, per se (poor level design and balancing is the reason for that!), just sloppy. Tongue

If you've got the stomach, try reading Alex "icycalm" Kierkegaard's article on "arcade culture."  Alex tends to rub people the wrong way, and he might be a sociopath, but... his perspective on video games is actually pretty refreshing (and bitter) in this age of casual gaming.

I have to admit, once I gave up on continuing when I played shoot 'em ups in the arcade, I did better appreciate them.  I also started to see why hardcore shoot 'em up players loathe bloated games like JnG.
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« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2008, 01:31:17 AM »

....because we all know that easy games suck, huh!?  Wink

Haha, I get his point though. I mean, he's talking arcade only, right? Huh?
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« Reply #10 on: August 26, 2008, 02:04:11 AM »

I really don't like "bullet curtain" games where the bullets move slowly, or maybe even semi-quickly but you have to memorize. What I'm saying is, memorizing an input so you can play blindly as the only way to play (can't really win by super tactical skill) = not enjoyable for me.

Win on your first time "possible" + Hundreds of bullets + They move very fast, sucka =  Kiss
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« Reply #11 on: August 26, 2008, 02:32:05 AM »

I do appreciate how tight the really good Japanese bullet hell games are.  A game like Jets n' Guns, by comparison, feels really sloppy.  Doesn't make it less fun, per se (poor level design and balancing is the reason for that!), just sloppy. Tongue

You... you didn't like Jets 'n Guns? Monster!  Cry

I think Jets 'n Guns isn't quite as focused on the bullet patterns. The real difficulty is checking out the massive variety of gun patterns for the combination that works best.

I share MDK's thoughts on bullet curtain games, sorta. I prefer larger bullet concentrations moving at slower speeds, so that you have a chance to plot where they're going. Games like rRootage just frustrated me, because of the random shots that spewed from the boss at the speed of light.

The best shmups are mouse-based. This may be because there aren't many mouse-based shmups on the market right now, and the only ones on there are very highly polished. Anyway, mouse-based controls allow you to make far greater movement in a shorter amount of time, which allows for extreme bullet curtains.
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« Reply #12 on: August 26, 2008, 02:53:07 AM »

I share MDK's thoughts on bullet curtain games, sorta. I prefer larger bullet concentrations moving at slower speeds, so that you have a chance to plot where they're going.
... I think that's exactly the opposite of what MDK said.  Gentleman
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« Reply #13 on: August 26, 2008, 11:01:54 AM »

I do appreciate how tight the really good Japanese bullet hell games are.  A game like Jets n' Guns, by comparison, feels really sloppy.  Doesn't make it less fun, per se (poor level design and balancing is the reason for that!), just sloppy. Tongue

You... you didn't like Jets 'n Guns? Monster!  Cry

Haha, actually I did like it... but man does it need some balancing!  It's sooo frustrating to wail on a tiny beer mug for like a straight minute with 50,000 bullets before it explodes. Cry
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