Breaking Formation: Debug Formulation

Due mostly to being rubbish, I am one of the world's leading gameover screen scholars.
A spaceship nips back and forth across the bottom of the screen while aliens line up like the damned at the top, void-plodding from side to side, their ranks regimented, their only purpose to painstakingly work their way left, down, right, down, left, down. It’s one of the first things that ever happened anywhere and shortly after the aliens moved to a burb called Galaxian and learned how to break formation and dive. A dark day for tiny ships that do not understand how to move vertically themselves. Debug Formulation is an indie game that harks back to those early days but complicates things just a little, while looking and sounding rather spiffy.

Whenever I play something like this I always try to work out whether it’s better to hold down the fire button or place my shots carefully. Debug Formulation seems to know that is the extent of my thinking so it ensures that neither method is correct, but rather a combination of the two.

The ship fires a cannon but while a shot is in motion it cannot fire again. Except it can. Sort of. There’s a secondary fire, tied to the same button, which only destroys objects at close range. That’ll be either swooping aliens or the cores that drop out of them and those cores are the second complication.

Exploding an alien isn’t enough to get rid of the pest, you also have to burst the core that is left behind, which will then release a powerup. If the core falls off the bottom of the screen – and brilliantly, bullets will juggle them back up again even before destroying them – the alien respawns. Each wave of enemies is tougher, with more aggressive nasties to fight and more missiles flying around the place.

I probably wouldn’t be writing about this little demo though if it wasn’t such a pleasant aesthetic experience. The music, which is procedurally generated, reminds me of sea mammals cooing to each other on a moonlit night, while the particle effects and gentle glow of destructive projectiles are quite lovely. While it can become hectic, I reckon it’s a strangely relaxing experience. You can download the demo here.

12 Comments

  1. Text_Fish says:

    Article needs more hyperlinking.

    • SCdF says:

      link to indiedb.com

      “The file you are trying to view (Debug Formulation Demo – DebugFormulation_138_demo.zip) uploaded by jph_wacheski is currently awaiting authorisation. Authorisation can take a couple of days during which time a site administrator ”

      :(

    • Text_Fish says:

      That’s a shame, the video looks quite fun!

    • Tei says:

      Yea, lets hope a admin auth this download soon.

  2. kavika says:

    The same guy makes a bunch of games with ZGameEditor.

    link to iterationgames.com

    Many of them are pretty cool looking (VectorLocust, Gyro-phyterNeo, Artificial Life)

  3. Donncha O Caoimh says:

    Demo is up, it was a fun blast!

    ZGameEditor looks like an interesting project too. First time I’ve come across it.

  4. LTK says:

    I think it could be a little more fast-paced. The first wave alone quickly got frustrating. It doesn’t help that there’s a timer for respawning either.

  5. Caiman says:

    I love it. It starts off perhaps a little too sedately, but by the time you get to wave 3 (as far as I got in the demo) it really starts turning the heat up. But the best part is the music, which sounds like it’s straight out of Forbidden Planet. The fact that it’s procedural imparts a lot of its atmosphere. Brilliant. I’d buy it now if I could, but who knows if/when it will be released, by which time I’ll have undoubtedly forgotten about it.

  6. Roshin says:

    Sorry, but I expected more. I thought this was quite dull and I honestly thought the “procedurally generated music” were poorly chosen sound effects, rather than music.

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  8. jjujubird says:

    Hopefully this game gets more interesting in later levels. I’ve been working on something somewhat similar for fun using blitzmax. I have to say, although I’m fairly new at this (and the graphics I’ve made can range from pretty cool to meh – they aren’t as consistent) I think mine starts out a tad more interesting.

    1st level – Your “health” is a shield that rotates around you (the ship graphic updates based on how much shield you have, along with a shield meter at the bottom), with shield and plasma gun (powerful 1 charge gun) powerups that drop every so often. You also get gold from killing enemies and from drops which you’ll be able to buy stuff with every 5 levels but I’m not sure if I’m going to leave that in or not. There are 4 very different types of enemies right off the bat –
    – Your standard flyer that takes 1 shot to kill (collision kills it and -1 to your hp)
    – Variation on the standard flyer that homes in on you. You should dodge these as they aren’t quite as fast as you, or take them out quickly. (collision kills it and -1 to your hp)
    – Slightly larger enemy that strafes that I like to call a “Mimic”, while it can’t shoot quite as fast as you, whenever its bullet delay is up and you are shooting it will fire as well. These guys should be a priority because ignoring them while firing a lot will fill the screen with enemy fire. This puts some importance on accuracy instead of button-mashing. (collision kills it and -2 to your hp)
    – one very large enemy that provides a giant umbrella type shield for the others, you have to kill him when his shield is down (which is about 10-15% of the time, so you have to watch the pattern of when it turns on/off) (collision kills you instantly)

    2nd level – You get ambushed by a very large, fast group of enemies that strafe all over the place (collision kills it and -1 to your hp). A quick level, but intense.

    3rd level – You come across a friendly base ship which is being attacked by enemy fighters. You have to “liberate” the ship. The ally base ship covers the top of the screen, with the enemy fighters in-between you and it. The ally ship only has so much health, so you can’t recklessly fire because too many misses will destroy the ally ship (there’s a counter on the ship that tells you how much hp it has left) – another “accuracy matters” idea. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that this base ship is near a belt of debris so you have to dodge the asteroids that go from left to right while saving the ship. I’m considering having the enemy ships continue to fire periodically at the base ship to add a time/realism element, but not sure I want to make such an early level any more difficult than it already is.

    at L5 you have a branching story arc (one branch you get to take the reins of a captured enemy ship, the other you get to buy addons for your existing ship.. these branches won’t ever meet for the duration of the game, and will probably have sub-branches even, so going for a bit of replayability here). Probably do 30-35 levels and see if anyone cares about it other than me and my gf (lol), if they do, then add more.