Dear John Mark,
Having run the game for my first time, I’ve completed Normal and Puzzle mode. I’ll be trying out Rush mode later, but for now I have some feedback based on what I’ve experienced.
First, Normal Mode. Difficulty-wise I’d say it’s appropriate, though the puzzles do start getting repetitive after a while due to limited mechanics. There are essentially 4 kinds of bombs, a block breaking technique that rains debris to detonate bombs, buttons that can detonate stuff, falling pipes on occasion, and that’s about it. The puzzles usually come down to plotting a path through a field of bombs, detonation path tracing, and very basic platforming. While in the 30 levels in this mode they’ve been used pretty creatively so that most of the puzzles feel fresh, I can’t help but feel that as a puzzle platformer more mechanics could be added. Moving bombs and platforms that require timing for example, or even enemies that need to be avoided and/or destroyed with well-timed bomb explosions? Temporary power-ups to be picked up even, such as double-jump or wall-jump that only lasts the level?
As for Puzzle Mode, I found it not really puzzling, most levels just involve tracing bomb paths to choose what button to push or more standard platforming, sometimes with falling platforms. Stuff like 12P was mostly skilled platforming instead of puzzle solving due to the timing required to dodge the blasts, and probably belonged in the Hell difficulty mode instead of Puzzle.
However there were some nice levels amongst them, such as 16P, where the winning move was to not push the button at all (not sure if that's intended honestly, but it should be). 17P was actually the best puzzle since all three buttons will kill you, but you can detonate the middle with goo. This is the level of puzzling that should be in the “Puzzle” Mode. 23P was another good example, with the blue button at first seeming like a very obvious trap, but there's more to it than just not pressing it; as well as 27P, which required figuring out an order and timing for pressing the buttons.
It’s true that Puzzle Mode should have more focus on puzzle solving than platforming, but with the small amount of mechanics actually in the game it’s pretty hard to make for good puzzles to be honest, which is why I mentioned above that you should consider adding more mechanics. For example, right now there are three ways to set off bombs: touch them yourself, hit them with another explosion, or use a button. In all of these cases the bomb locations are all set in stone, and puzzles would only involve tracing bomb paths starting from what bombs you have access to, to find what you need to set off and where the safe spots are. Other than that it’s all platforming skills.
Looking at incredibly successful puzzle action games such as Portal, the darkly humorous narration and story aside, the reason Portal was successful as a game series was due to active player participation in the puzzle. Pieces were pre-set in the levels, and the ways to activate these pieces were limited (use cube on button, use button to open door, etc.) but there were also pieces that the PLAYER places: the portals. These portals bring options to the level not immediately obvious, that players have more active control over rather than activating something and watching the resulting reaction unfold by itself, which is the case for Atomic Alice, where the most active role the player has other than choosing what button/bomb to touch is not getting himself killed.
I’m not really good with words, so I guess the point may be difficult to relay. As such I suppose I can put it in the more simple form of a solution: Giving the player the ability to place their own bombs. Allow the player to analyse the puzzle, locate the missing link and patch it themselves to solve it. There are many ways this can be done. Give the player a set number of different bombs at the start of each level, or have placeable bomb items on the map for the player to pick up; allow the player to place bombs in the tile right in front of him, throw bombs to detonate remotely with timing, or even just by mouse clicking the tile where you want the bomb to go, etc.
I know this is a serious game changer, but the puzzles really do start to go stale pretty fast as it stands.
What I do like however is that there are often multiple ways to go around doing a puzzle. I can’t really list all of them, but there’s a minor example in Normal level 8, where I could do a little extra platforming to drop down between the bombs from above through a platform, or jump straight into the gap from the start with a little skill. Later on there are also many opportunities to either do it fast, or do it safe. I really like that aspect of the level design, keep it up.
If I had to describe how I felt about AA’s aesthetics in two words, they would be “flashy” and “random”. The large amount of flashing bombs, lights and bright neon explosions kind of hurt the eye at times (though they do look nice), and the environment feels rather random. From what I can tell it’s supposed to be some kind of underground temple place, but the pieces don’t seem to add up. It’s hard to describe, but something about caves, purple crystals, blue pillars, glowy neon lamps, large piston buttons and circular icon-represented bombs just don’t mix for me. Maybe it has to do with the tiny pixelated style as a whole, I dunno. As someone who’s very obsessed with aesthetic design, the game just doesn’t look….coherent. The game functions properly, yes, but it’s not very nice to look at.
I’d say keep it flashy, but make the colors and design as a whole blend better together. For example, replace the random-looking purple crystal walls with smooth temple walls, give the pillars a more Aztec design instead of looking like blue pipes, stuff like that. I feel like it’s better if I outright draw an example, though that will have to wait for another time (plus I suck at drawing despite how much I like art). Heck, if your team feels up to it, maybe completely re-do graphics style and make everything look more detailed. Something like Terraria-style graphics for example, as Terraria is also block-based like AA and is pixelated yet still has a very high level of graphics; if not outright make it non-pixelated like Super Meat Boy.
The level design itself also feels weird. There are often a lot of “excess” bits added in that don't really do anything. Normally they'd just be obvious as decorations to fill up empty space, but something about the excess bits in these levels feel...out of place, a little too random. Like why can I go up to the text area and blow up half of it in Level 0? What's with the extra bombs on the side in Level 5? Why does Level 7 look like it was supposed to be symmetrical, but the camera is offset to the left resulting in a large chunk of inaccessible emptiness on the left and half of another room full of bombs and even a platform on the right? Just feels strange to me.
A few smaller things:
Bombs should continue to glow when the lights are out to increase the colorful neon feel. Lights in the background shouldn’t suddenly go out when a single lamp block is destroyed, and instead light of the entire level should decrease by percentage based on number of lamps in the map. For example, on a map with 10 lamps, breaking each lamp decreases light levels by 10%; on a map with 5, breaking each decreases light levels by 20%, etc. Remove the violent red flashing that occurs when bombs keep going off after all lamps are destroyed (i.e. complete blackout). Also the character looks like she’s hitting herself/facepalming repeatedly during the idle animation instead of chin stroking which I assume is what it was supposed to be.
Not much of a person who cares about UI and stuff, but one thing’s for sure, you should add a Level Select Screen after selecting each mode, where levels are unlocked and can be skipped to after a player has beaten it.
Also the Tutorial should be a mode on the main menu, instead of automatically starting upon accessing the game for the first time and never accessible again afterwards.
Level-based Feedback: Normal Mode
Level 0: Reduce buttons from two to one, having two next to each other detonating the same thing is redundant. I assume the giant Default on the upper portion of the level will be replaced by actual text later. Honestly, I think it would be best to use THIS level as part of the tutorial about pushing buttons. It's basic enough, there's a button, push it to unlock the door. The glowing text up above can be instructions. Might be a nice little visual if all the text get exploded after pushing the button too.
Level 1: This level silently introduced a new mechanic that's quite core to later puzzles, which is that you can smash some blocks with your head, which results in...glowy blobs falling out that can trigger bombs. While I was fine discovering this for myself, you MAY want to add an extra level to the tutorial about breaking blocks. Also, it would make more sense if only Light blocks drop the glowy stuff on destruction, dirt should either drop nothing and be a simple destructible block, or drop rocks, which can also trigger bombs. If the later option is chosen, the Radioactive Goo from Light blocks can do something different maybe? Like, rocks detonate bombs instantly, goo has a delay?
Level 4: The whole “platforming in the dark” thing doesn't quite work for me, even if I got through it with relatively no issues. I know that you can see the platforms before the lights go out and thus estimate where each platform is after the lights are destroyed, but players won't be expecting a complete blackout since that never happened in the previous levels, and as such they won't think to remember platform location on their first run. Not saying to remove the level, but some things may need to be changed.
Level 14: One complaint, the constant whirring sound from the “Flamethrowers” is really annoying, as much as it is fitting of the retro theme. Lowering the volume of the noise might work as later levels with fewer flamethrowers stacking their noises were much less irritating.
The basic concept of the game is solid, but, dare I say, it still needs A LOT of polishing. The suggestions I have made above may be incredibly radical and would take a lot of work to implement, but I do sincerely believe it would make the game better. Still, I would like to know about what you guys had in mind when you started developing this game, so I can make suggestions more related to how YOU want to make the game, instead of how I would make a puzzle platformer involving bombs.
As it stands though Atomic Alice is a decent puzzle platformer with smooth enough platforming, though I didn’t really stay interested enough to play through the entire Hell Mode when I tried a few levels on that after doing both Normal and Puzzle. I can’t even imagine how incredibly simple Easy Mode would be, considering Normal Mode was pretty standard as it is. I will attempt Rush Mode when I find the time.
Keep up the good work!
P.S. Just read your own comments on the game after writing all this and was looking to send it, so I suppose I’ll comment a little on that. The game really looks nothing like a “survival horror bomberman”, especially since bomberman plays FUNDAMENTALLY differently from what’s in the game right now, which isn’t a bad thing. I say keep AA light-hearted and bright. I can kind of imagine a survival horror bomberman though, even if it’s really just an aesthetics change over regular Bomberman, nothing particularly original. Also it seems you already have “add bomb with mouse click” in the game even if it’s just a debug feature, so that’s something we can work with.
Come to think of it, if you were thinking “survival horror”, have you ever considered giving the game some kind of storyline, even a really basic one?