SAM:DATA vs Dr. Mal Ware 2
SAM:DATA vs Dr. Mal Ware 2: Saving Your Friend’s Computer From Being Taken Over By An Evil Overlord, or How to Defeat the Evil Doctor Again is an epic continuation of the original SAM:DATA vs Dr. Mal Ware game series. Continuing the use of the NLS Engine, DvW2 is set as a 1st-person twitch game where players take control of SAM:DATA as he speeds through the circuitry of another computer where the need to purge the infection must be carefully balanced with the need for preserving the user’s programs, and the need to keep SAM:DATA online!
The evil overlord’s defeat at his attempt to take over your own computer hasn’t slowed down his attempts to take over other computers! Due to advances in security you are now able to help SAM:DATA directly by assisting in the identification of Dr. Mal Ware’s evil creations. You’ve got to be fast though: SAM:DATA can’t stay in the computer’s circuits for too long without becoming noticed by the dreaded Spy Bot!
As SAM:DATA is speeding through the tunnel-like circuits looking for the source of infection, you keep your eye open, marking every program that whizzes by you as either clean or infected. Be careful! Missing your marks decreases the time SAM:DATA can stay in the circuitry as each bad program you miss notifies the Spy Bot of SAM:DATA’s presence. Each correctly identified good program increases your score!
It’s critical that SAM:DATA find the source of infection in that circuit before the Spy Bot finds him!
The year is 1991, and the evil Dr Mal Ware has begun infecting computers with the first forms of computer viruses. You, as a Robot Virus Hunter, are leading a new generation of skilled computer technicians who can control the virus removal robots. With a great deal of practice you mastered the indirect control method required to guide your robot SAM:DATA around the inside of the computer hardware and software. But this was what was needed last year when you cleaned your own computer of Dr. Mal Ware’s minions. Over time he has increased his attacks, requiring new ideas to counter his baleful influence: you’ve rebuilt SAM:DATA as an externally-interfaced program, leaving the robot body behind.
Just as you finished rewriting SAM:DATA a friend knocked on your door complaining that his computer has gone on the fritz and has used its modem to knock out his phone service! You immediately recognize the handiwork of the evil Doctor, and take SAM:DATA’s interface hardware over to your friend's house to clean out his system and, more importantly, try to find out how Dr. Mal is infecting these computers.
A different and modern rendition of an old-school gameplay mechanic done in a new and exciting manner guaranteed to appeal to a large section of current gamers.
The player will interact in real-time with the game from the perspective of the digital edition of SAM:DATA, attempting to manually identify the two types of programs, “basics” and “malware”, as SAM:DATA flies past them in the wire. Correctly identifying the good basics increases the player’s score, while missing or incorrectly identifying bad malware will result in time penalties. Too many time penalties will prevent cause the Spy Bot to identify and eliminate SAM:DATA from the system, with the consequence that the player loses and is taunted by Dr. Mal Ware.
Incorrect identification of a Program, whether Basic or Malware, will result in lost points. Points cannot go negative.
As a twitch game, the gameplay is simple: click fast and accurate. While there’s some randomness in the position of the programs as the player flies past them, the final score is almost entirely dependent upon the skill of the player. As the game progresses, the speed and density of programs that need identification increases, reducing the margin of error and demanding ever faster response times from the player.
While the gameplay is simple, there is room for players to develop strategy. Players will need to balance the need to mark the good basics, so as to increase their score, against the need to mark the malware, so as to keep their game time from being reduced below the threshold that marks when they are expected to reach the end of the level. If the time left runs out before reaching the end of the level, the player loses. On the flip side, the more time the player has, the longer the gameplay, and therefore the higher the potential score - depending on how many Basics are identified.
Theoretically, a player could play for hours and get a score of zero. This would be accomplished by ONLY marking the Malware. However, while players might do this for a variety of reasons, most players will tend toward balancing the marking of Basics and Malware so as to attempt to reach the highest score.
Building this game was a reminder as to why games are produced by a team. Having to act the parts of designer, programmer, 2D & 3D artist, Foley/record studio, etc. was quite the exercise. However, a flexible plan and a solid vision helped make sure that the game was produced within the allotted time with a minimal remaining bug count.
GDC2012 was a success - not only did the game demo well, but it received some high praise. Many of the players noted that this would work very well, possibly even better, as a mobile game - something I am planning on doing. During the show the game, as well as the engine, received several updates and new features. If I recall correctly the login screen system was finished at the show! Adam, my co-developer on the NLS Game Engine, even hacked controller support into the engine in a single evening - though we never committed that code to a release as it was too hacky for a production release and didn't really enhance gameplay for this game due to precision issues. (Turns out that even with a clean non-linear response curve, joysticks just do not have the needed resolution to target the bots accurately and rapidly.)
My only complaint about this game is one born of my deep underestanding of the code: the screen/menu system is based on a finite state machine, and as such it made devleopment of the menu system very modular and easy to extend and maintain. However you'll notice the background pop in and out when switching between some screens. While this could be cleaned up, the ultra short development time combined with the complexity of the fix and the realization that it didn't detract from the gameplay, resulted in that being marked very low on the to do list. If the game gets popular, or when I revisit it for porting to a mobile platform, I will definitely revisit the design.