On Balance: Powerup Durations (Game Dev day 18)

A variety of video games boast some sort of powerup or “buff” system. An obvious example would be any of the pickups in the Super Mario series by Nintendo.

Mario using the “Fire Flower” powerup.

In Mario, most powerups last until you take damage, as they double as your health. However, strong powerups like the Star or Mega Mushroom have a time limit for the sake of balance.

This cannot last indefinitely.

Powerup systems are not always obvious however. The same logic is used if you have a weapon that can switch between burst fire and full auto, or something similar. The difference is that there is usually not a time limit associated with it.

Its the same logic.

Now lets look at our Space Shooter game and compare the logic.

We have three powerups available to the player that can randomly spawn:

Speed: Increases player movement speed from 5 units to 8 units. This increased mobility makes dodging enemies and catching other powerups easier. This is a substantial buff. In order to keep the balance of the game we must limit how long it lasts. In this case, the movement speed boost lasts for 5 seconds.

Speed Boost Demonstration.

Triple Shot: The player can now fire 3 lasers instead of one per press of the space bar. These two additional lasers also shoot from the edges of the player, giving them a wide spread of fire. This is also a massive buff that allows players to saturate the screen with lasers, decimating enemy ships as they approach. This buff is also limited to 5 seconds because of its power.

Triple Shot Demonstration.

Shield: This buff blocks the next instance of damage that would effect the player. Seeing as player lives are the most important value (as the game ends when you run out of lives) it is obviously very powerful to be able to ignore an instance of damage. This shield lasts for 5 seconds as well.

Shield Visualization.

Whatever your games’ “buffs” or powerups are, consider how much the effect the core gameplay experience and balance them around that. If it has a massive impact, consider limiting it in some way (duration, limit amount of times it can be used, etc).

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Jack Leavey

Jack Leavey

I am a software engineer with years of experience branching into game development, specifically in Unity. Follow along for guides on creating game mechanics!