Aqua Chase

Download Here: Atari emulator required to play (StellaOS recommended)



Aqua Chase is a two-player Evolution-based battle game designed for the Atari 2600.

Created as the final group project in my Intro to CM programming course taught by Ian Bogost, we were tasked with developing a unique game working within the constraints of the Atari's limited processing and graphics capabilities. With the ability to support two player sprites, two bullet sprites, a ball sprite, and a 40-pixel environment, the Atari is perfectly suited for the design of simple, yet fun, multiplayer games of all kinds.

I was responsible for much of the game design and art direction on this game. I worked in a group of four (David Turk, Jabari Brown, Eden Quevedo, and myself). and we did much of the design as a group. After we had the finalized concept laid out, we divided up the actual creation of the game. David and Eden were responsible for much of the gameplay code (movement, plankton spawning, scoring), Jabari was in charge of environment design and animation, and I handled all of the player sprites and animation. Extra coding and full game assembly was done as a group.

Brainstorming & Inspiration

As a team, we brainstormed many concepts, taking cues from all sorts of games (Pong, tanks, Adventure, etc.). Our final source of inspiration finally came when we started discussing Odell Down Under, a childhood favorite of everyone on the team. The idea of Odell is that you have to survive in an underwater ecosystem, eating things lower on the food chain while avoiding being eaten by creatures higher up. After you survive long enough, you gain enough points to "evolve" into a stronger fish, thus moving up the food chain until you reach the top. The main mechanic of evolving into a bigger, stronger fish is one that captivated all of us. It is a fairly unique idea that encourages the player to both fight to grow and avoid the dangers of bigger creatures.

We took this core mechanic and expanded our game from there. Working with very limited resources on the Atari, it took quite a bit of tweaking to create a game that we thought would be both solid and entertaining. We knew we wanted evolution at the core, but were not sold on the best presentation. Should we have a large array of evolutions? What is the process of evolution? Are the two players working together or battling? We tried to work with the idea cooperative gameplay, where the two players would work together to solve puzzles, with each room containing evolution sparks. We also toyed with having two players battling enemies, with evolution as a means of protecting and gaining new abilities. These were a bit large in scope for the Atari, so we dialed it back in. In testing some 
older games, faster-paced competitive games consistently provided the most outright fun. 

Final Concept & Mechanics

We ultimately decided a battle game would be the best fit, based around quick skirmishes and fast-paced movement. The concept is that each player starts as a weak little organism, and they must fight for the the "plankton" in the environment. With enough plankton, they grow and evolve into the next stage of evolution. A player that is more evolved can then eat the other player by catching them. There are three stages of evolution for each player, with each stage making the player progressively bigger. There is always one piece of plankton that randomly spawns in the environment. When one is eaten, the next one pops up. It takes five collected plankton for a player to evolve to the next stage. When the two players are in the same stage of evolution, contact results the the players bumping off of each other in opposite directions.

This design blends elements of item-collection with the basic premise of tag to create an intense battle dynamic that can change in an instant. When in the same stage, players can choose to go straight for the plankton, or try and bump the other player away first. Once one player evolves, the weaker player must try to avoid the bigger player while simultaneously accumulating enough plankton to level the playing field. If both players manage to reach the third stage of evolution, the game halts in a stalemate.