Iron Horizon is a fast-paced, third-person, aerial, action-adventure game focused heavily on combat mechanics. Set in a dying world that has flooded due to a series of environmental catastrophes, the remaining human factions have revived some of the old world’s flying war machines to exploit the earth for any resource that helps maintain its power. Colossal, armed to the teeth, and filled with soldiers, these dreadnaughts will stop at nothing to consume all that remains. Our game takes place in the skies dominated by these machines. Armed with only chainsaw wings and any weapon they can find, our players face the level itself, a three-dimensional dieselpunk playground of gameplay opportunities and objectives.
The Game Core
Versatile Aerial Combat: Use a combination of dynamic movement and combat mechanics to achieve your goals.
Pillar 1: Multisystem aerial movement
Use the different movement abilities granted to the player to move through a flying fortress in creative ways seamlessly.
Pillar 2: Tactical environmental combat
Use the environment as an aid while fighting, harvesting its resources, and using it to shield yourself from attacks.
Pillar 3: Resource-based attacks
Collect fuel by siphoning it out of your enemies and spending it to charge your most powerful attacks
Pillar 4: A dynamic level
The environment itself is an enemy, constantly fighting back against the player.
Pillar 5: An environment that reacts to the player
The environment doubles as the enemy trying to prevent the player from succeeding.
Due to my huge passion for characters in games that feel both satisfying and unique, the player character became my main priority on the project. While I still assisted in other areas of the project where needed, the bulk of my design work was centered around the character’s combat, gameplay loop, and flight system—the flight system I was in charge of scripting to ensure its satisfaction.
The gameplay loop for Iron Horizon is integral to keep the player moving throughout the ship. They fight enemies to get weapons to destroy components and unlock rooms, moving through until the entire ship is destroyed. This process was designed to make the player feel like they were on the ropes. The Aesthetics of a scrappy fighter taking down a massive ship was reinforced by Mechanics that had them stealing fuel, picking up weapons off of fallen enemies, and a small but regenerative health bar. All these worked together to create a balance of anxiety in the player where one might need to hide to recover health before risking it all to turn the enemy's weapons against them.
The decision to include ground combat emphasized the flight system, as it became the mark that differentiated it from any other third-person shooter. To help it stand out as a special moment, we introduced the concept of fuel. At any time, the player could still fly without fuel if they were falling and opened their wings, for example, but fuel was used for take-off and thrust attacks making the decision to fly and how you spend that time flying crucial. Those extra decisions were added to when the player flies. The flying itself had to be satisfying and cohesive. In this process, I learned about the delicate balance of too much control for the player, and it's too complicated to feel but too little, and it's either boring or frustrating. We decided to go for a simpler route, having most of the flight controls limited to one stick, rotating the character's roll, and using that angle to determine the intensity of a turn. In this process, I learned that while some automatic things, like dive angle determining acceleration, felt satisfying, other things, like automatic wall kicks felt bad. We introduced a wall hang to allow the player to decide when to kick off, as such a drastic change in orientation had to be intentional.
It was crucial to us from the get-go that air combat felt like a legitimate method of combat rather than just a transportation method. It was so important that early versions of the game actually had the player hovering when out of flying mode to ensure they could still be engaged and not on the ground. In the end, though, this fear of using the ground was holding us back, and the hover mode was scrapped. This meant that we needed another method to ensure that aerial combat was still important and engaging. At the time, we were also struggling with feeling as though our main character was disconnected from the aimed diesel punk look. Solving two problems simultaneously, the solution was adding chainsaw wings to the character. This worked especially well as previous attempts to add wing attacks had them cutting what you flew by, but this indirect attack never felt right for the player. The unique wing shape of the chainsaw, especially with the added spin move, allowed the player to fly directly into enemy combatants for a satisfying attack.