5 common mistakes in shmup creation

When a programmer or a video games enthusiast tries to create their own game, they often go for a Shoot Them Up. After all, the genre is one of the oldest and most emblematic among all. Plus, with little to no physics required gameplay-wise it sounds easier to create than a 3D high paced racing game or an MMO, obviously.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why there exists so many boring indie shmups on every single platform. Despite the efforts, we can see many recurring mistakes which could have been avoided if these creators had more knowledge of the codes of the genre and the reasons why they exist.

1.     Inertia

Having a little bit of inertia makes your ship having smoother moves than if it was just move full speed – stop instantly. However, this is a terrible idea when you need accuracy to dodge bullets and predict the movements of your ship. It gives the player another parameter to pay attention to, and it’s not a fun one. Forget the looks, do not bother implementing inertia in player’s movement, it will save you time and make the player happier when thriving through bullet curtains.

2.     Life gauge

We are accustomed in many games to have a life gauge, whether it is in GTA or Street Fighter. But in the Shoot Them Up genre, even though it may exist in some classic games, it is usually perceived as a turn-down. The issue here is all about feedback: when you hit a bullet, you die, period. If hitting a bullet affects a gauge, it lowers the feedback effect and game feel of risk-reward. For a more impactful game experience, go for a life counter (3 lives are a standard, but up to you do to otherwise) and not for a gauge.

3.     Size doesn’t matter

Well, actually it does. I see too many shooters with small sprites. It is tempting to have small ships all over the screen and think the game is richer, but believe me it’s not. Do not hesitate to make the player’s ship BIG, but with a smaller hitbox, it will make the action livelier and easier to read. Same for enemies, shmups are actually more about dodging than aiming, though both are important. There is not much fun to be found in chasing small mosquitoes flying all over the screen you can hardly aim.


Please do NOT plaster all your game events with loud noises, otherwise the player will soon suffer from headaches with all the noise coming from everywhere. The sound is an important feedback mechanism in any game. The more diverse sounds you have for different types of events, the better. However, pay attention on levels and focus mostly on what is gratifying for the player: when an enemy dies or when you grab a bonus item. Also, don’t bother making noise when the ship is constantly shooting, it’s not a significant information. On the other hand, a satisfying sound when you unleash a huge charged beam is very satisfying!

5.     I’m a creator, not a gamer

Well, that’s probably why your shmup is boring and does not stand out. As said before, the genre is huge and has been there for a long time. There are things to know about what is fun and what is not, therefore you should take some time to actually play classics of the shmup history and learn for yourself what is satisfying, the pacing, the feedback loop experience. Play and learn! I promise it’s a good investment, plus you will enjoy playing classics and show off your skills to your relatives.

In conclusion, the most important is having fun. Have fun playing, and then have fun creating. The Shoot Them Up genre is all about sensations, dodging stuff and destroying other stuff. Realism does not matter much here, so keep these insights in mind and focus on the player’s experience!

Want to put in practice what you learned? Go to myshmup.com, the online shmup editor.

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Gwennaël Nicolas
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