(Original version with screenshots and links at http://www.klik-me.com/KMv2/article.asp?id=22 )

Shoot-em-up's are one of the easiest and usually the first game you make with creation software, and that's why there are so many horrible versions because it's so easy to get wrong. With my own shmup in development, I thought I'd give a few hints and ideas to make the free game world a better place.

1. Get your genre right
Okay, you're making a 'shoot-em-up', so this doesn't mean an action-shooter or platform-shooter or anything like that, it means you have your player character move freely around the screen (be it ship, robot, mech, owl...etc) and you shoot a hell of a lot of bullets at your enemies. The skill in playing these games doesn't come from your jumping technique but from your trigger finger and your manoeuvrability to dodge obstacles/bullets. You have variations and additions to this but you need to know what to get right first, which brings me nicely to my next point...

2. We like to move
Movement is everything, I'm sure some sport philosopher might have said, and in shmups you wouldn't want to disagree (much...of course there's more, because I've gotta fill up this page). There's something damn right annoying about moving like a slug and having to play for 15 mins to upgrade your engines so the game is actually playable (I'd mention Titan Omega but Jay did fix it in the end...good job too). Shmups should be fluid, you've gotta feel like you're in control and when you die, it's not a lack of technology, it's your own stupid fault for running into that bullet. Sure, you can have upgrades to your speed, but it works the other way as well, you don't want to make it impossible to make subtle movements that are often so important when you've got a hundred bullets on screen.

3. We also love explosions
BAM! Doesn't it feel really good to blow up a base and have bits fly off everywhere and explosions go off. You don't want your enemies to 'dissolve' leaving you with a feeling of anticlimax. Every bullet makes an impact, even your own death should be spectacular. Get yourself a particle engine, make the carcasses of enemies crash into the ground, make parts fall off your boss as you destroy it, make it look fun, your destruction of the game world is so much more pleasant in explosive technicolour.

4. Level up!
Your basic engine is sorted so let's make some levels! - but hey, if you get the engine right it doesn't matter what your levels look like because the player will be enjoying his/herself so much - yeah...right. What's going on elsewhere on the screen as you blast up your enemies might not seem important but it most definitely is. The first thing is not to over-clutter your backdrop so it becomes distracting, you don't want the player avoiding random objects in the background when they aren't lethal. The next thing is give each of your stages/levels/worlds a unique style of their own so it becomes apparent you are somewhere new and not in the same world with a different colour (very unfulfilling). Even if you set it on a specific planet you could have certain city 'districts' or have your player enter the underground or military bases of some kind. Remember: interesting, but not diverting. It's great to reward your players with a new scene once in a while.

5. The bad guys
Now, to populate your gorgeous levels with the things that will become the bane of many people's lives for ages to come (if you make it good, that is). If you can, make as many variations as you can (spice of life and all that) as it will give you option to spread your minions out among your levels allowing for a new tactic to be developed for each stage. Of course, this only works when you give your enemies patterns to follow, which may give the player a hard time at first but makes it possible for him/her to learn and progress further the next time. Don't let the player get 'too' cocky though, it's always nice to throw in a bit of random movement in now and again.

6. The Killer Punch
The game is all but done, but if you stop here, there's probably a game already out there which is similar but better. So what can you do about it? You could have a killer punch that sets your shmup out different from the rest. Some great examples of originality include Tumiki Fighters which involves you attaching parts of your dead enemies to your ship to make it stronger. Ikaruga had its clever black/white absorb/attack switching gameplay. Super Ken Senshi had it's online co-operative play. Titan Omega Revelations had a good go with it's extensive storyline and AI team members. More often than not though, the best games come from getting the basics perfect, and just throwing in some great boss battles - just stamp your own style on the game.

7. What? You can't get past the first level?
One of the hardest things about making shmups is getting the difficulty right. It's important that sometimes people relish a challenge, soletting the player bounce off walls and giving him an immense shield isn't going to enhance the sense of achievement at all. Nor should he be able to ignore all the enemies and just hold the fire button down while dodging bullets. It's a hard task to handle correctly, so this is where you get your testing buddies in. Easy exploits (like hiding in one corner) can spoil levels but making the enemies without any weakness is just plain evil. Test, test and test. And test some more. It shouldn't be boring, because you've got everything else right...right?

A lot of this info could be considered general so I hope it's useful no matter what game you are making. Future ones will hopefully be more definitive. Make sure you check out the screenshots on Klik-Me.

Next Time: So you want to make a platformer?