Pop Rock ‘N’ Roll – Survival of the Floatest

I haven’t done any blog posts in a while, and since I recently moved them to a flashy new WordPress, I figured I’d jabber on a bit about Pop Rock ‘N’ Roll, the classic balloon-popping game for the whole family(tm) that I’m supposed to be working on.

If you are late to the party (even though it hasn’t started yet), Pop Rock ‘N’ Roll is a game where you click on balloons (or resist doing so) so they pop and drop what they’re carrying, which can be allies or enemies. Let an enemy through or make an ally fall and you’ll lose candy; run out of candy and you lose. It’s just like real life.

There’s a lot more to it, but there’s something that’s been on my mind in particular lately, and that is the Arcade Mode. “Wait, Pop Rock ‘N’ Roll has an Arcade Mode?” you might now wonder, if I ever actually posted about the game. And I was wondering the same thing when I read it on the game’s info page, because I had completely forgotten about this feature. So I guess I’ll need to add that, eh?

Since the game has a story mode with pre-defined challenges, the appeal of the other mode needs to be a random challenge. And in a game about candy or starvation, sugar or death, what better way to have a random challenge than a Survival Mode? Pop endless balloons until you run out of candy by letting too many enemies through. You could be popping balloons… forever. Hooray!

But that’s also where the trouble lies with endless modes: playing a balloon-popping game for all eternity until the sun becomes a red giant is not a very constructive use of anyone’s time (trust me – I speak from experience). The mode needs to end, eventually, for reasons not dependent on the destruction of the solar system, or even a buffer overflow. The simplest way to achieve that, of course, would be to add an ending condition. “But wait,” I hear you say, “I thought this was an endless mode?” And you would be right. If I went into an endless mode and saw an end, that would be the Neverending Story all over again, and I would feel rather scammed. And this is where soft caps come in.

No, I’m not talking about comfortable head coverings, but rather a limit that is theoretically possible to cross, but becomes increasingly more difficult or impractical to do so. So, you being the sane person that you are, you stop (or get pummelled into submission by the game, whichever comes first), and the game designer has put a cap on whatever it is you were doing without adding a strict limit. Everybody wins! The obvious soft-cap for an “endless” mode is provided by the escalating difficulty. It’s important here to never make the player feel like the challenge is completely impossible to overcome, even if it does become that in practice to anyone with less than 12 ninjas worth of dexterity (dexterity is measured in ninjas, you see). If the player can’t tell whether they hit their own skill ceiling or the ceiling fan, you’ve struck the right balance.

Pop Rock ‘n’ Roll has three main ways of ramping up the difficulty: More balloons, faster balloons, or using tougher or more complex balloons/carries. The first two are easy to put in numerical form, the last one not so much. An additional concern is that putting balloons in a strict order makes the mode less random, and if you wanted “less random”, you’d be playing the Story Mode.

WIP of Pop Rock 'n' Roll Survival Mode interface
The age-old question.

What I ended up with are two separate formats for the mode: Linear, which has a pre-defined list of elements and draws random elements from within a bracket that moves along it; and Chaos, which destroys all of Station Square pulls elements randomly from all the non-boss balloons and carries available. Both increase in object speed and density over time, and last until the player runs out of candy, with the global difficulty setting determining the starting amount.

The resulting format/difficulty combinations give us ten different ways to play Survival Mode, all for the cost of me not having to design a single level for it. Top scores and times are saved for each combination and will likely be global across all player profiles, so you can compete with all your friends, or at least the ones that happen to have a profile on the same computer. Clearly, clicking on balloons is gonna be the next big thing in eSports.

So when is all this happening?? Eventually. Pop Rock ‘N’ Roll has been a project I’ve struggled to find motivation to work on, although it’s inching forward at a snail’s pace, if the snail had a picnic at every highway rest stop. There’s backgrounds to paint, GUIs to program, and possibly even the actual levels. Stay tuned for more in due time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *