Powerups in Runbow
Power-ups come in many forms throughout a great number of games. From Mario Kart’s shells and mushrooms to Halo’s over-shields and cloaking devices, the idea of giving the player temporary tools to overcome challenges is not a new one. From the start, we knew we wanted power-ups in Runbow, but we weren’t immediately sure what form they would take. We began to explore this concept with our own twist, but before we get into that, let’s start by answering the question of why we added them in the first place.
In some of the very first iterations of Runbow’s Run Mode, we noticed that once a player got ahead of the others, it was very hard for the chasing players to do anything but wait for them to screw up. As a result, we began looking into ways to give those that have fallen behind a chance to catch up. We played around with the idea of drafting off of players in front of you, or having a rechargeable sprint that recharged faster the farther behind you were. Ultimately, however, we took a page out of Mario Kart’s book and went with power-ups that were most useful the farther back you are. We felt that this solved our problem really cleanly while also keeping our game party-friendly by not adding a new player input or skill to learn. The easier it is for people to pick up and play without a load of instructions, the better.
We wanted the power-ups to be fun, different, and balance and tighten the races. They also had to account for whether the player is losing, in the middle, or out in the lead. The farther the player is from the front, the better the power-up needed to be. The following is a breakdown of the power-ups we came up with. Note that the groupings aren’t water-tight and some of the power-ups have a chance to appear in the different ranges.
The Losing Players
Power-ups here need to give players a chance at taking the lead or at least a few positions. An obvious way to do this in a racing game is to make the player move much faster than normal, so the creatively named Super Speed power-up was created first. Another way to do this is to stun or slow everyone else, this is where the Lightning power-up came from. Both of these power-ups are simple yet effective at for helping those at the back of the crowd.
The Middle of the Pack
Power-ups here need to give a smaller advantage but also cause more battles and player combat in the most packed part of the race. One simple way to promote combat for this group was to let them blast anyone they hit off the screen. Super Punch is still one of our favourites. We then tried to make a power-up that would do something similar, but affect everyone. After playing around with a few variables, we discovered that a Time Slow encouraged players to try a few more risky combat moves or other maneuverings to get a lead. With these two power-ups in the mix, battles for position in the middle became a lot more interesting.
Lastly, the front runner power-ups needed to either be a total hindrance or a global effect that adds an even amount of chaos to everyone. Now, when we thought of ways to add chaos, we immediately thought of playing around with the already chaotic colour mechanic. One thing that really jumped out at us was simply removing the colour, turning everything grey-scale. It forces players to really pay attention to what colour is coming because the only difference is in the shade. In keeping with our awesome naming traditions, we called this one Greyscale. Lastly, as we were exploring other ideas of cranking up the chaos, we tried simply flipping the camera upside down. Doing this put players’ ability to adapt and react to a change right on the spot and also played into the heavy visual nature of our game. We called this power-up Camera Inversion and, with this and Greyscale in play, things can get quite hairy.
Now, if you’ve played the game before you’ll notice I’ve left one power-up out, The Swapper. The reason for this is that its usefulness automatically changes depending on your position, acting like a double edged sword. For example, if you are in last place, you are guaranteed to at least go forward one position, whereas if you are in first place, it does the opposite and takes you back at least one position. Due to the potential havoc it could cause to someone in first place, it makes getting a power-up in that position a risk. Some players in the lead will avoid power-ups altogether, leaving them for other players, increasing the overall spread of the other players in the race.
With all the power-ups created and slotted accordingly, the only remaining task was to tweak and iterate their values over the remaining months of development and play-testing. We also gave the players the ability to choose different power-up load outs at the game settings screen. In the end, we believe we were able to create a diverse range of power-ups that levelled the chaotic playing field that is Runbow’s Run Mode.
Cheers and thanks for reading!
Tom McCall worked as the Lead Designer on both Runbow and Double Cross.
He enjoys board games, terrible puns, and anything competitive.