hudson caravan bus

Actually this won’t have much (if anything) to do with the caravans themselves, just “caravan mode.” That said the Hudson Caravan craze is pretty cool, read up about it over on Hudson’s site here.

Caravan mode is another name for time attack mode. For the Hudson tours (where it got the name) as well as other tournaments, companies made special short modes for some of their games, these were time limited and the only thing that mattered at the end was the score. Some games have specially designed time attack modes, while others just dumped you into the regular game. Whatever the implementation, the effect on gameplay can be quite profound.

Even in a basic implementation where it’s just the regular game with the limit tacked on, the fact that you now have a short limit and are playing entirely for score can change how you approach the game completely. It can turn a mild mannered situation into a mad rush to score, suddenly everything takes on much more significance.

A specifically dedicated caravan mode is even better. Any type of slow build up to the action is either significantly reduced or eliminated, and the highs of the action can get extremely high, usually within the span of two to five minutes. So on top of the self imposed intensity of a usual caravan, a well designed one bumps it up to another level, and then some.

A few games that come to mind off the top of my head are Pac-Man Championship Edition (XBLA, iPhone, video), Dangun Feveron1 (Arcade, video), and in a nod back to the original caravan, Star Soldier R2 (WiiWare, video). I think one thing they all share (other than previously mentioned attributes) is an abundance of scoring opportunities and little nuances in the scoring mechanics that encourage aggressive play.

pacmance

It's actually quite awesome in HD

In Pac-Man CE chaining ghost kills together can run up the points to 3,200 each and each kill speeds up the gameplay. Each dot is worth 10 at first, but eventually becomes 50 each as long as you don’t die, while the fruit are worth thousands each. The key to scoring well is basically getting the game to go as fast as possible so you can rack up all the possible points.

dangun

Bomb to freeze the disco!

Dangun already has a brutally awesome scoring system, where each enemy starts out being worth all of one point. When you blow up an enemy they drop a disco dancer off, these guys are the key. Each one is worth +1 to the enemy point value. Kill five guys, collect five dancers, each enemy is now worth a whopping six points! However if not collected they bounce off the bottom of the screen then off the top, and your score value is reset to one point. This is why the game in general must be played fast, once you let one go your score craps out massively. The time attack ramps up the amount of enemies and bullets it throws at you, and throws in some other hidden things to shoot to boot.

star soldier r

Player screwed up big time here

Star Soldier R is particularly interesting because it has a whole bunch of semi hidden huge scoring bonuses. It also has a somewhat modern standard in the combo meter, with appropriate level design to match (so you can potentially combo a whole level together). Both things are fairly important since there’s not much time to score, and the bonuses are kind of a one time affair in a run, so if you blow them you blew your chance at big chunks of points. Off the top of my head there’s the hidden letters bonus(es), ship that you destroy from the middle thing, orbs, grubs (which have their own weird requirement to even appear), eyes (which must be destroyed simultaneously), and some other mystery one towards the end that I’m not sure I ever figured out how to trigger, but I think it provided the biggest bonus of all.

Well I got off track there, but they’re really awesome! Anyway there’s another big benefit to caravan mode, they’re really accessible. At first something may seem hard because of all the action, but with a little practice it’s not a huge challenge to just complete a run. And rather than having to deal with a bunch of crap (god knows too many games have this3), a person can just jump straight into the meat of the game.

geometry wars 2

This makes more sense in motion

They also help massively with any type of game that can potentially go on forever, like Lumines, Tetris, Geometry Wars, Tilt to Live (review), etc.4 Now these games are fun, the problem is that when you’re good, games can take a long ass time. They’re intense and all at that point5, but here’s a big problem with them, pointed out by N. Ukstinas of State Home For The Ugly (from the comments of one of my upgrade posts):

I will never be good enough to last 30 minutes+ playing [Geometry Wars 2], but just knowing that the game can last that long…it creates this kind of psychological barrier, I guess. It makes me more reluctant to put time into it, because the better I get the more costly a bad run becomes, time-wise.

The longer a game goes the bigger the waste of time it could be (more than games already are I mean), and it can take the wind out of your sails. I think one of the worst things is playing for a long ass time, getting a huge new high for yourself, then seeing the global leaderboards with scores that must’ve taken ridiculously long to get. It gets to a point where you have to question whether the reward is worth the time commitment.

Not to say that you won’t blow a whole bunch of time playing a single time attack, but the time lost to a bad game is limited to a few minutes, big whoop. Give it another go (or 10), or just try again some other time. It’s like an action packed no commitment option!6

  1. Dangun is actually one of the fastest craziest shooters out there…but the first level is a bit of a bore. Too many shooters with a crappy slow ramp up to action!
  2. It even has a shot counter mode!
  3. And the more crap a game has the more crap a player has to deal with every time he wants to play.
  4. Links to buy!
    Lumines: bunch of versions and iPhone
    Tetris: DS and more, iPhone
    Geometry Wars: also a bunch!
    Tilt to Live: iPhone
  5. Although honestly if I’m consistently taking a long ass time to play, you probably didn’t make your game hard enough. Especially you, Miz. 999,999, what the hell man!?
  6. …that kind of makes me sound like a swinger doesn’t it.