Lightrunners is a two player cooperative arcade game. Although its visual style harkens to 80’s arcade games, it deploys new ideas in multiplayer design. Lightrunners truly comes alive within the relationship forged with your partner through the playing of the game itself.
To help players build this relationship, Lightrunners inverts other genres and cooperative games. In fighting games, you exist in a cycle of yomi: reading and predicting your opponent’s moves in order to outmaneuver and dominate them. In Lightrunners, you read and predict your teammate’s actions in order to support them. In most cooperative games, skillful play is loud; players talk constantly. Skillful play in Lightrunners is quiet; players are in constant communication with each other through the game itself. Each twitch of the joystick, every pass of the ball, every block and death, are part of the players’ conversation.
All aspects of Lightrunners’ design are meant to foster this discussion. From early on in the project, the design team committed to a simple control scheme–one stick and one button–to help players focus on communication rather than technical details. The fundamental mechanic of the game, passing the ball, is a constant give-and-take. Who should be the vulnerable ball carrier and how can the other player assist them? A simple control scheme allows players to quickly learn the basic verbs—move and pass—of Lightrunners’ language. Enemies approach swiftly, and are avoided or defeated by running increasingly intricate plays, like those found in team sports. Each level is a puzzle, more difficult than the last, and only solvable by working together.
Perhaps most exciting to the design team is witnessing how this discussion evolves during play. The language of Lightrunners is constrained, but it is complete. New players must talk through each level, requesting things of, or issuing commands to, their teammate. As they gain more experience, however, spoken conversation becomes unnecessary. Having learned to read the game state and their partner’s moves, each player acts as their teammate needs them to without seeking verbal confirmation. In-game actions take the place of words, and the best teams are essentially silent.
To play Lightrunners is to engage in an intimate relationship, be it with a close friend, acquaintance, or complete stranger. The game’s limited tools give rise to near-psychic relationships between players. They saddle up, blast down the highway, inevitably fail, dust themselves off, and rush back into the fray. All the while, they negotiate the intricacies of their intertwined roles within the game.
The Lightrunners team consisted of Danny Nanni, Zach Barash, and myself. Rizky Winanda provided the (gorgeous!) 2D art for the attract mode. In addition to collaborating on the game’s design, I was the project’s tech lead and coder.
Lightrunners looks like a cross between Pole Position and a sport. It plays like a healthy marriage. First publicly shown at the NYU Game Center’s End-of-Year Show for 2017 (in both home and arcade formats), it remains the game I am proudest of.