Retro-styled space shooters are recognizable for ships that are armed to the teeth and handle like a glove. Retrobooster, a 2.5D survival shooter from one-man developer Really Slick, features less of the latter, as players pilot a ship powered by thermal thrusters through a 3D outer space environment.
To learn more about thrusting towards victory, I talked to the game’s sole developer, Terry Welsh.
“Retrobooster is a survival-themed space shooter, which gets a lot of inspiration from old school cave-flyers like Gravitar and Oids,” said Welsh. “The main thing I wanted to get right is the thrust ship flight dynamics. The idea was to make your ship as maneuverable as possible, while still obeying realistic physics. This adds a bit of simulator feel to its arcade appearance and lets you navigate through very tight and dangerous situations using pure skill. You won’t master the controls right away — the levels keep throwing new challenges at you so you get better and better.”
It’s the thruster element, however, that makes Retrobooster a challenging arcade experience. “Careful, skilled use of the controls is necessary,” Welsh explains. “There is an assortment of enemies, some mechanical and some organic, and they all want you dead. There is alien technology, such as teleporters and different types of force fields. There is also man-made technology to pass through, such as gears and other machinery. Sometimes you cannot just blast your way through a level and need to figure out how to get to the exit. Your ship is old and rusted and cannot take much damage, but you have three of them to start and you can earn extra ships along the way by scoring enough points. The choice to make this game arcade-style with multiple lives was an easy one — I wanted to include plenty of crushing machinery. And once you get crushed, that’s it, you need another ship.”
Players can defend themselves by picking up tokens to gain power-ups and weapons. Four of the weapons are primary and influence forward shooting, while six secondary weapons focus more on defense. Power-ups augment shooting, restore health, or offer a temporary extra shield. These are among the items currently in place, though Welsh is still taking suggestions for ideas to make the final version of the game.
Retrobooster is a culmination of Welsh’s vision of weird worlds and juicy monsters. While previous games in this genre used 2D backgrounds and sprites, Welsh sees new possibilities with 3D environments, particularly when it comes to enemy movement and obstacle placement. While the gameplay is in 2D, players will now have to watch for objects moving in and out of the screen.
Welsh put significant effort into Retrobooster’s environments, making their creation one of his top priorities. “One of the first things I made during development is a simple level editor,” he said. “It lets me place and warp terrain tiles, add enemies and decorations, and script the behavior of moving obstacles. Some tasks that are still easier to accomplish with a text editor have not been added to the level editor. The 3D models are created with 3ds Max, and the textures are created with GIMP. I usually start with a concept for a level, which could be a flying challenge, a puzzle, an introductory environment for a new enemy, or anything that feels like an interesting hook and then I iterate between sketching on paper and prototyping in the level editor. After the main idea is working, I usually do or do not feel inspired to complete it and add polish. The amount of inspiration is usually a good measure of whether or not it will be a good level.”
Retrobooster has been in development since 2007, starting off as a hobby project. Because of his day job, Welsh didn’t have too much time to devote to the game at the outset. Welsh began devoting all of his time to the game, starting in July, having overcome a number of technical challenges along the way. Over the past five years, he’s been able to find the right look for his custom particle engine and lighting system, while programming reliable physics.
One of the major additions that Welsh has added over the last five years is four-player support. Fans of Atari ST-style Asteroids co-op will feel right at home with Retrobooster’s co-op mode. There’s also four-player deathmatch, which Welsh says aims for a rock-paper-scissors atmosphere, with certain weapons proving more effective against others.
Welsh is aiming for a 2013 release for Retrobooster. In the meantime, there’s a playable demo available on Really Slick’s website. Look for the game to arrive on PC and Linux with a Mac release possibly coming thereafter.
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