In making Lone Hoarder, I really wanted to capture the sense of exploration and discovery in games like Spyro, while still maintaining a simple design.
In Spyro, you can glide around levels and get to areas that you wouldn't be able to jump up to without gliding from a higher point. There are many platforming elements, hidden areas and secrets that make use of this in those games. I knew I wanted a similar feeling and mechanic but gliding in a 2d sidescroller doesn't work very well to fulfil that feeling, as your view of the level is very limited by what the screen can show you.
The reason why the glide mechanic works to aid exploration in Spyro is because you can see for a big distance in front of you and can then plan where you want to end up when you land. You can't get this level of planning with a limited view. So, with my character having wings, I decided on free flap-based flight, in order to maintain a reasonable degree of verticality in level design. This enables the player to feel like they can travel and explore to the degree that they want to without being hindered (much) by the limits of the level.
I was initially not going to have collectables (i.e. gems) in the game, but I realized that they would be what gave players the agency to explore the areas and levels without making it feel forced. Collectables like coins in the Super Mario games, bolts in Ratchet and Clank and even the Wumpa fruits in Crash Bandicoot are a fantastic way to make the player slow down within the level and experience more of your content without taking control away from them.
Without things to make them stop and examine the world, most players will dash through levels in the fastest way possible, which may mean that they lose out on some of the parts that you want them to experience. Its also good because it does not get in the way of progression (unless the designer wants that) as players can simply choose to ignore the collectables. This gives the choice to players that they can also play in a manner suiting them. Though if you put in too many collectables it can very easily feel like a chore to get them, so finding the right balance in amounts and placement is important.
Its worth noting that towards the end I was starting to see the limitations of what Game Maker was designed to be used for. Notably, I struggled with a succinct solution to keeping track of the individual gems in the level, so that they would stay collected. I did come up with several solutions for this, but all of them were far too big and ugly for Game Maker to handle gracefully. Things like having a small database of gem ids, locations and statuses (which is a pain to expand upon), and having each gem stay active and keep track of whether or not its visible and/or collectable (which lends itself to a huge pileup of objects for the game to keep track of).
These are problems that I'd need to surmount if I was to continue making Lone Hoarder using Game Maker as-is. Nevertheless I am happy with how I was able to get the game looking and feeling overall, and I was pleased with how cohesive it felt, going area to area and whatnot.
There is also no real reason why finding solutions to the problems I had would interfere too much with finishing the game in Game Maker. With the amount of time I spent setting up expandable systems, it'd be silly to let them go more or less to waste, especially with how much I have planned out for the full game.
Initial progression concepts:
Mostly unchanged, though obviously I now have a tutorial level before the Bright Meadows.