RoverCraft: a lesson in iterative design

Rover design

RoverCraft is a game whose core mechanics are based off of tilty car games, 2D side scrollers which typically allow the player control over acceleration and reverse of a vehicle. Using these two inputs the player must take their vehicle from a start point to an end point without running out of fuel or wrecking or flipping the vehicle over.

Sometimes these games feature customization, in which the player can modify their vehicle with better parts, however Hovercraft takes this to a new level and allows the player to build their rover with whatever design they see fit 2 wheels? 4 wheels? 10 wheels? thrusters? reinforced frame? whatever the player decides they want to try out they can.  For example, in some levels which feature ice the wheels would slip, thus I tried a sled design with no wheels at all, only a thruster and it was relatively successful.

Let’s go sledding!
Safety first

At first, my main problem was my rover flipping over and killing the pilot, so I began testing out rover designs which featured a roof to create a cockpit. Although this seemed to work in preventing the pilot from getting hurt it created the issue of getting stuck with the rover flipped on its roof. Thus I incorporated a fast wheel in the dead center of the roof so that if I landed upside down it could quickly make the rover do an upside down wheelie and flip back onto its proper wheels.

Fortune favors the bold

Progressing further, I found that I needed to collect more gold to upgrade my rover than I was generating in my failed runs. Thus I purchased bounty frames, which grant a bonus to gold when successfully taking them to the mothership. The caveat with these frames was that they tend to explode if enduring a rough impact.  So I began designing a rover that could consistently deliver the bounty frames to the mothership safely, on a level I had already been able to beat.

Simplicity, mechanics informing design

After playing RoverCraft for an extended period of time, perhaps over a year of casual play, I have become intimately familiar with the mechanical systems of the game. I now concentrate on creating rover designs which solve the major challenges of the particular planet and then scale back.  Whatever piece I can do without I take off, the more I can make the design elegant and simplified the more I understand what are the crucial components needed for success.

After becoming frustrated with failing a level over and over again, I have often resorted to off the wall designs such as the sled design mentioned earlier. These radically new ideas are meant to see if there is a way to bypass my go-to design concepts and discover something new.  With each new design I learn a little bit more about how to build a better rover and take those new concepts back to rework my old designs.

RoverCraft is a fun exploration of problem solving, and driving mechanics, but it is its creative freedom and design mechanics that really set it apart from other titles within its genre.  The experience of completing a challenge and doing so with a rover of your own design is an immensely rewarding experience which teaches us to approach the difficult obstacles between us and our goals with determination and creativity.

Have you ever played a game which used your creativity as a core mechanic such as MineCraft? Do you enjoy the process of having to think of ways to put together a solution using your own designs? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please write me an email, respond to the thread for this article, or talk to me through any of my social media:  FacebookTwitter,

Play Professor is the blog of ludologist and video game journalist Andrew Mantilla. You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.



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