Soft Body is a free-roaming bullet hell set in a meditative, musical world. As the player paints the world’s geometry, levels will constantly shift and rearrange themselves in order to trick, trap, and challenge the player. Inspired by the simplicity of twin-stick shooters, every aspect of the game highlights the fluid motion and control of the player’s snake-like avatars, the Soft Body and the Ghost Body. Players can control these two similar characters at the same time. This challenging mechanic not only creates a high skill ceiling but also provides the unique experience of learning how to split one’s mind (like singing and playing an instrument at the same time).
Zeke Virant initially developed Soft Body as his MFA thesis and is now working on the game in the NYU Game Center Incubator. You can help make Soft Body available on Steam by voting for it through Steam Greenlight.
Zeke has released a number of gifs, gameplay videos, and a jingle for the game. Check out some gameplay, the jingle, and learn a bit about the development of Soft Body below.
Soft Body’s design is built around a number of opposing aesthetic goals and mechanical decisions. The game boasts challenging levels, but it is intended to be accessible and easy to control. The moment-to-moment interactions are often tense, but the visual and musical aesthetic is relaxing and meditative. I wanted to create a safe space for people to challenge themselves and fail. In a game where one hit restarts the level, I felt the need to create a more welcoming bullet hell: the kind of game where you can become detached from the frustration of failure and find the space to challenge yourself.
The majority of my games have been developed around the sound design. I use audio as a tool or base to tweak game feel, colors, game speed, visual rhythms, etc. When you don’t know what a prototype wants or needs, there is a desire to push the game in any direction but implementing audio tends to help define a creative baseline.
Dodging and movement is the most important aspect of my game. Winding around projectiles and predicting the enemy AI is rewarding. Allowing people to learn several systems and interact with them simultaneously and spontaneously is one of the best parts of any twin-stick shooter.
In order to support this, it’s important to make discernible, consistent bullet patterns and readable enemy actions. A good bullet pattern will not surprise people. It may not even be hard to avoid. Difficulty is not important, readability is. A good pattern will force people to make decisions and take actions. If they can’t find a pattern, they will not react, they will collide with an seemingly random projectile, and they will feel cheated.
Good bullet patterns are exaggerated. One method is make patterns with lots of projectiles. For instance, a line of evenly-spaced, slow-moving projectiles is easy to see. It gives the player ample time to react, and it pushes the player to maneuver the space. If movement feels good, people will not mind moving.