Planet Smashers ( & Spork Engine )
Activision Independent Game Competition Pitch


Design Document - December 2011

drMikeyStudios - Mike Stanton

(If you have not watched the included video yet, please do. A visual understanding of the core idea behind the engine will help things make more sense.)

While this proposal will attempt to focus on Planet Smashers and its primary gameplay and mechanics, it will also go into other intended uses of the Spork Engine (being developed by me as part of this project). Some of these would end up being future expansions to Planet Smashers and others would likely be separated out into their own projects. Regardless, many engine features and  game concepts would end up finding their way into Planet Smashers in one form or another.

Game concept

Planet Smashers is a class-based multiplayer 2D shooter at its core. Using the Spork engine, it is not played on a traditional flat / platformer environment. Instead, players run around on the surface of moons. When available, players can use jumpjets, vehicles and launch platforms to move to nearby moons. In this way, we are able to add a new dimension to side-scrolling 2D game play without making it 3D.

Players will run around the surface of small moons firing at one another as they go. At a moments notice, they can lift off using jump jets and land on another moon, making progress towards the enemy base. Vehicles will allow some players to control the spaces in between, but prevent them from landing. Some weapons can only be fired in a short range, while some can fire between moons. While everything may be going poorly on one moon, a player can quickly hop to an adjacent moon controlled by their team and change the game up.

While the rest of the gameplay, interaction and fun factor will of course be extremely important in how well this game is accepted, the unique nature of the planetary engine is a big draw as well. In earlier uses of the engine, and in early tests of Planet Smashers, the engine and the fluid movement between running and flying were enough to get most people into it.


Most game rounds would be designed to last only 5-10 minutes. Rather than feeling like you are stuck in a long game that you don’t want to abandon, you can play in easily digestible chunks.

Respawning players will not spawn on a moon, but instead in a jump pod on their way to a controlled moon. This way, players will never just randomly appear in front of anyone, they will always seemingly show up as reinforcements from elsewhere.

The game will attempt to support 16 players, 8 vs 8. We’ll see how that goes.

Simple stat tracking will allow players to rank on global leaderboards.

Game types

Kill ‘em all - a standard deathmatch / team deathmatch. Kill the enemy team as much as possible.

Flag thief - Capture the Flag works well in Spork. Bases can be two moons with several small moons in between. Limitations in jump technology will force flag runners to hop between small moons as they struggle to return to their home base.

Moon control - With the map divided up into moons already, it is easy to make some of these moons into capturable objectives. By completing a goal on this moon or holding it for a certain amount of time, a team can capture it and be closer to winning for their team.

Moon king - Players win points individually by being the owner of a moon. Other players try to kill them and hold that moon to get points for themself.

Beast mode - The first player to get a kill gets special abilities and only loses them when he is killed.

Core collector - Whenever a player is killed, their suit ejects an energy core. Cores are collected for points. But cores are also very volatile, and carrying several makes you easier to kill!

Unit classes, weights and skills

Units come in different weights (heavy, medium, light) that affect movement, weapon selection, available vehicles, etc.

Units can also specialize in a class (medic, pilot, engineer, soldier, strategist, jump soldier) that affects what extra abilities and skills the unit has, as well as usability of certain weapons and items that are specialized for certain classes.

Medic - Yep, you guessed it, medics can heal their teammates.

Soldier - Some advanced weaponry can only be used by soldiers, and they have more armor than other units.

Stragegist - Can create UI indicators to coordinate their team and can call for placement of engineer structures. Also, some advanced structure attacks can only be used with a strategist.

Jump soldier - While their are alternate ways to jump between moons, jump soldiers can do it with jumpjets on their back.

Engineer - There are certain buildable structures that can only be created by an Engineer. Such structures also require enough resources, collected from dead units, destroyed vehicles and the environment.

Buildable structures include turrets (automated and player controlled), jump pads (for launching non-jump units to other moons), unit repair pods, class change / weapon swap pods.

Pilot - While other classes may be able to use certain vehicles in certain situations, Pilots can control all vehicles and have advantages in all vehicles.

Surface vehicles include tanks, jeeps, crawlers and quads. Flyable vehicles include strikers, transports and starships.


Of course, the main feature of using Spork is that the maps are composed of several moons of various sizes and shapes. In order to support more advanced game types (and other uses of Spork) it will also support structures and underground areas. For multiplayer gameplay, this will allow more variety than just running / jumping around the edges of a moon. For single player scenarios, this will allow a much deeper storyline and more extreme environment changes.

Inititially moons will be designed as lifeless rocks, but in time they will come to have surface details such as grass, alien trees, rocks, water, etc. Basically, there will be very simple elements added to the surface just to make moons more visually interesting and realistic.


A final list of weapons is going to depend largely on how playtesting goes (obvious, but true!) Currently being considered are a low strength energy pistol, plasma rifle, spider mines, grenades (frag, flash, fire, energy), flamethrower, terradeformer (manipulating the landscape), minigun, rocket launcher

Visual style

Generally my games involve a lot of solid fills with subtle glows and a slightly retro look. I work this way because it is time efficient for a one man team and because it has a nice pop, especially in a time when everyone is going for as much shiny glossy HD detail as possible. For Planet Smashers I would begin with this same simple style and evolve it as things went. If needed, I would employ some full time artists to really jazz things up.


For audio, where I am totally useless, my intention would be to work with who did work for a previous game I worked on a few years back. A few basic ambient audio tracks and nice sounds for all game actions, etc.

Further gameplay variants and expansions

As stated earlier, the multiplayer shooter portion is the main portion of the game I’m trying to push. There are other concepts that very much go hand in hand. You will see that there is a lot of overlap in all these ideas, and that it probably wouldn’t make much sense to have every single one of them in the same game. That said, they share enough common roots that I think they help to illustrate where I hope to take this universe and game.

Single player adventure - The single player story that goes along with the multiplayer is almost a survival horror in the same multi-moon Spork setup. The player awakens dangling several feet off the ground by their foot. The cable holding them is part of the debris of a crash several stories up in the structure they are in. The player learns to use the pistol to free himself, and begins to explore. Eventually we discover that the ship the player was on crashed here, killing most of the crew. The few who survived were able to leave the ship and are now elsewhere on the moon. Unfortunately, they are not the only things on the moon. The former inhabitants have been taken over by an infection, turning them into swarming monsters. On guidance from the captain, the player finds what is needed to get another ship up and running so they can all escape... only to miss the ride. Turns out that isn’t such a bad thing, as the ship goes dark shortly after launch, and is then destroyed by an orbital weapons blast.

A voice crackles in the player’s headset, “They couldn’t be allowed to leave, you understand. The infection must be contained.”

The voice belongs to MECI, a once human, now artificial intelligence attempting to contain the nanotech virus to the small moon system. The player must eventually construct different items and move between moons, fighting infected beings and completing goals in order to eradicate the infection.

Engineering - As listed in the single player story (and in the engineer section of multiplayer) engineering plays a partial role in some of the game. In single and multi player, the player can harvest resources from various places and use them to create different tools. In full Engineering mode, the player is given a system of moons as their sandbox and can go crazy building. They start with very little on them and must begin by creating basic components. These components can be combined to later build electronics, tools, weapons, ships and structures. As certain components are learned and completed, their manufacturing becomes easier and more automated.

This mode also has small story elements, as players will learn when they travel to certain moons that have infected creatures on them. There are abandoned structures and bits of story to be found, and eventually the player will need to defend themselves against new found enemies.

Ready moon - Whether launching a single, multi or engineering mode game, the player will have a home moon in their own private home galaxy. This can be thought of as their ready room, but also as their public wall. The player can sculpt the galaxy as they want, building structures and landscaping, and can invite other players to visit and see their creations. There will also be a way for a player to ready their character for an upcoming battle, etc. It all happens here.

Deformable terrain - A previous engine of mine may find use here. As moons come under fire, the terrain under players may deform, creating a constantly shifting landscape. My previous engine was pixel based, and could cut arbitrary shapes. A newer iteration would most likely involve hexagon based landscapes, but the core concepts are the same. This would be especially applicable in Engineering mode and for the Ready Moon. It would also be great to see large assaults in Multiplayer mode result in a giant explosion that dents the very face of the world.

Defense - Though it would mostly fit as an accessory or separate game, Spork and moon layouts lend themselves very well to “tower defense” style gameplay. Enemies spawn out in space, and crawl as far as they need to hop to another moon, ever closing in on your primary defense pont. Send your engineer out to continually fix towers and build new defensive structures. Destroy moons if needed, but not ones that are crucial to your moving forward!

Real time strategy - Almost certainly a separate game (almost!) would be a real time strategy game based around different moons. Players start on opposite ends of a galaxy and build bases in towards each other, all the while sending volleys of ground, air, and space units and vehicles at one another. This was the original idea that spawned the Spork engine in the first place.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I think this game has a lot of potential to do well, and only hope for the chance to actually build it on my terms.