Bullet Time: Design & Skill Spectrum
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:02PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Indie, Misc Design & Theory, Review, Shmup, Skill

I've been playing Bullet Time by Terry Cavanagh every day for the past week. It's a Shoot 'em Up (SHMUP) that only takes minutes to win it big or seconds to realize you don't have what it takes. Not only has it won a place in my favorite SHMUPs of all time (sitting side by side with games like Ikaruga, Bangai-O Spirits, Everyday Shooter, and Defeat Me), but the game is a perfect example for explaining solid design, how game tempo affects the skill spectrum, and why taking play to the next-level isn't obvious.


Anti-spam design? No need. 


Uneven Bullet Time


A Wonderfully Tuned Powerup


Well Rounded Enemy Design 


When I first played Bullet Time I didn't realize I had a BULLET TIME mechanic. So my first impression of the game was that the game tempo was just a bit too fast. The combination of the small screen, the types of enemies, and the number that were spawned at once was a bit overwhelming. I was dying after only a few seconds of playing. Then I read the instructions more carefully and everything came together. By using the BULLET TIME mechanic I could slow down the game to buy myself more time to see and think or to pull of tight evasive maneuvers. Doing so helped me survive longer and develop my knowledge skills faster. So here's how the skill spectrum breaks down...








I hope you take some time to play Bullet Time even if it's just to experience how changing the game tempo with the BULLET TIME mechanic affects the skill spectrum. At this time my record is 105.66 seconds achieving the second highest rank in the game, demigod. Stepping up your game to this level and beyond requires a deep understanding of the game and at least an intuitive understanding the skill spectrum. If you think just staying alert and moving around will eventually get you there, then you're most likely in for an uphill battle made harder than necessary.

The skill spectrum is flexible. As I've described in great detail here, many lacking skills can be boosted with knowledge skills. The most effective way to do well in Bullet Time is not by sharpening and focusing on one's dexterity, reflex, and timing skills. Rather, by discovering certain sweet spots where bullets and enemies are the least likely pass through, you can greatly reduce the difficult of the challenges. Learning how to move into these spots and when to temporarily move out of them frees up the pressure of constantly using your reflex and timing skills. 

By simplifying the game using sweet/safe spots, you can turn choice reflex challenges into recognition or simple challenges. In this way, you can use knowledge to help you react faster to danger. If you think this strategy breaks the game, know that acquiring and organizing the information needed to develop these strategies isn't easy. To do so, one must understand the game as completely as possible, which includes understanding everything I've described above. And even when you choose these strategies, because of the solid enemy design you'll still have to adapt within the strategy. Because there are so many combinations of challenges you can randomly confront, you will eventually encounter "new" combinations. At these times, being able to switch to a more reflexive, adaptive strategy is key. Therefore, playing to win doesn't simplify or reduce Bullet Time. Rather, it fully embraces it. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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