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Questions about Retro/Grade

Posted: Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:38 pm
by macaca
Hi Matt et al.,

I'm still working on my followup thread "The Physics of Retro/Grade" which I hope will help start some discussions on gameplay elements and other details players observed and/or appreciated within the game. In the meantime, however, i was hoping this thread might be a good place for us Retro/Grade fans to ask you some general questions about the game we can't figure out on our own.

I myself am quite curious about how you calculated the unique "high score" that players start each level with. One thing I love about this element (aside from it's relevance to the game's plot) is that it creates a score benchmark for players to work toward, which is quite a unique element for games that focus on maximizing scoring. Since the point totals you start out with on "Tough" and "X-Treme" are exponentially higher than on "Beginner" and "Casual" levels, this element also makes it clear how much more your success at higher difficulty levels proportionally impacts your overall "campaign score." Each level's starting score effectively operates like a raw materials mining resource in a RTS game, telling you how many potential points there are available to "extract" in that level towards your campaign scoring total.

Anyway, I recently was able to finally get the X-Treme Astro Admiral rank for the level "All Your Bass are Belong to Us" and was surprised to see that my "Low Score" still numbered well into the millions. Clearly I could have used the overthruster powerups in locations populated with a greater concentration of shots, but I wonder did you actually calculate the ideal locations to use the overthrusters for maximum scoring? That is, is it theoretically possible to score exactly "zero" on every level, and is it at the same time theoretically impossible to attain a negative score (excluding some of the powerup-heavy challenge levels, of course)?

One more scoring question that's a bit more personal: in the spirit of some friendly competition, do you mind sharing with us what your gamer ID is on PSN and/or Steam and perhaps some of the game's other developers willing to reveal theirs? For any takers, my ID on both platforms is "QuestNemestrina". (See you guys on the leaderboards!)

Re: Questions about Retro/Grade

Posted: Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:43 pm
by matt
I created a program that uses all the rules of the game, brute forces the optimal positions to use the overthusters in order to get a score of 0.

The way the scoring works is actually a bit complicated. In order to ensure everyone CAN get a score of 0, the powerups have to spawn at the same time for everyone assuming a perfect playthough. The times that the scores are applied have to be deterministic. Otherwise, you can actually get a better score by being earlier or late. We also have a dynamic difficulty adjustment system to help out players who are struggling, but I assume that if you are getting perfects, you will be at the maximum difficulty.

Because of all this, the scoring will be the same for everyone. Each level has 5 overthrusters, and you have to use them when your multiplier is 20x and there are the most scoring events. Mash segments or segments with lots of player shots are the best.

I believe on PS3 on at least some of the newb levels, people have gotten a score of 0. Honestly, I don't check the scoreboard anymore because just running the game makes me sad. If there are a lot of 0s on Steam, I suspect it is due to cheating. It is basically impossible to prevent cheating with steam scoreboards.

Re: Questions about Retro/Grade

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:55 pm
by macaca
Hi Matt, Thanks for answering my question. I noticed during my Astro Admiral runs that the overthrusters (and other powerups) always came at the same time, so I figured you used an optimum scoring algorithm to calculate starting scores similar to what you described, but I wasn't sure. It certainly confirms the practical value of the reverse-scoring mechanic as a way to give the player a tangible goal on each level to shoot for (no pun intended). I think this may be the only rhythm or shooting game I've played that lets you know from the very beginning exactly what the most points that are achievable on each level are, which is a pretty useful gameplay innovation (for both genres) that I hope other developers of arcade-style games borrow in the future.

It also reveals something interesting plot-wise, regarding how bad ass Rick Rocket's skills were in the forward-time battle, which would tie in to some of the moral themes in Retro/Grade that I tried to explore in my "metaphyics" post. I think when things seem too easy it allows us to "check out" and go on autopilot like Rick, which can lead to missing a lot of really important stuff in life and causing a good deal of damage to ourselves and others in the process (even if not always the obliteration of an entire universe). Our vulnerable mortality, and the fear of loss that comes along with it, is also what helps us progress towards a greater sense of awareness towards the world around us. Many of the greatest artistic and scientific advances of our society come from people that have experienced suffering in their lives. I think the high quality of your own work as an artist reflects this principle, and it probably also accounts for why people were drawn on KS to what you have to say. Awareness has always been in short supply, so people tend to respond positively when they notice someone who has some of it.

Anyway, it's good to now know that the game limits you to five overthrusters, which can all be held onto at once. It will stop me from burning some of them earlier in the levels in the futile hope of collecting more (I had been working on the assumption the game might give you less of them if it saw that your arsenal was close to full, which I now know is not the case).

Re: Questions about Retro/Grade

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:49 pm
by matt
It was a bit challenging ensuring there is a maximum score. Originally, for the missiles, the faster you could mash, the more points you could get with no limits. We changed that, so we could have a score of 0. It also nullifies the advantage guitar controllers get during those segments. It’s funny because a lot of people feel like guitar controllers would give you an unfair advantage, but our best players use gamepads – even at PAX when both controllers were available.

Re: Questions about Retro/Grade

Posted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:09 pm
by macaca
Ahh, I completely forgot about the missiles. I see how that would have made max scores impossible- or at least physically impossible, since I assume the maximum score on absorbing missiles would still be restrained by the game's frame-refresh rate? But I guess even the amazing Rick Rocket is incapable of manually firing 60 missiles every second.

The reason I was excited about the Steam release was so I could try out my Xbox guitar with the game (I didn't own one for PS3, and I preferred spending money on a second copy of Retro/Grade rather than a second guitar... also having Retro/Grade on my laptop allows me to play it in my office when I'm procrastinating). Like the PAX players you mentioned, I am also much better at the game with a gamepad than a guitar. However, I expect this not because of the physical interface itself, but rather because the guitar "rhythm" input configuration is fundamentally different from the one for controllers (i.e. each fret button corresponds to its own lane). For example, I find that my skills with the gamepad translate immediately over to a PC keyboard, even though I don't use my thumb on the keyboard so the neural somatic mapping is all different.

In contrast, playing on "X-Treme" with the guitar controller poses a qualitatively different sort of challenge than the controller configuration, because it requires you to regularly shift your four finger positions to accommodate the newly added fifth lane. However, it also introduces an entirely novel way of experiencing the game, effectively transforming the gameplay style to one more similar to Guitar Hero than Amplitude. So, I am enjoying the process of working to relearn all the songs from the ground-up using the guitar. It really is like playing new game, yet another example of Retro/Grade's unique design the sets it apart from other games in the rhythm genre.

(Side note: obviously, the guitar configuration would be the ONLY way to go in an alternate reality where Rick Rocket was faced with enemies that didn't choose to fire in sequence from immediately adjacent lanes. Lucky for Rick, but I assume he still would have found a way to take everyone out just the same given what a bad ass he is.)

Re: Questions about Retro/Grade

Posted: Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:11 pm
by matt
Yeah, there would be a limit on the points based on the refresh of the game (which technically could be unlimited on PC with vsync off, but I actually force a max of 60 fps because there were a lot of issues).

The fire patterns aren't always in sequential lanes, but I designed the patterns so the transitions wouldn't happen too fast. There are different rules for how fast the lanes will switch for each of the different difficulties.