Meteor Madness

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This mini-game resembles the arcade games Tempest and Asteroids, and combines tests of motion coherence threshold, motor inhibition, and executive flexibility. The player commands a spaceship that moves clockwise (right arrow key) or counterclockwise (left arrow key) around the perimeter of a circular field. Slow-moving meteors materialise at the centre of the field and drift outward; the player must fire torpedoes (space bar) to destroy these meteors. (This ongoing task serves simply to maintain vigilance.) Periodically, a wormhole materialises within the field. The player can open this wormhole by moving around the circle to align with it, then connecting with the wormhole (up arrow). Connecting temporarily drains the ship's propulsion systems; the ship is locked in place in front of the wormhole as an unidentified ship begins to emerge. This ship can be either a friend or a foe, with equal probability. Friend and foe ships are identical in area and luminance, but differ subtly in form: one has two warp nacelles protruding, the other three. Firing on a foe prevents the foe from firing on the player and weakening the player's shields. Conversely, withholding fire on a friend is rewarded by a weapons power-up which increases the player's firing rate. (This change in firing rate alters the game tactically but does not affect measurement of reaction times.) Friends and foes cannot be discriminated until they have emerged from the wormhole. Thus during the opening of the wormhole the player must prepare, but not execute, a motor response. Foes do not fire, and friends do not deliver weapons power-ups, until 800 ms after emerging. A hit in this task is therefore defined as firing on a foe within this 800 ms interval, a miss as failing to fire on a foe within this interval, a correct rejection as withholding fire on a friend, and a false alarm as firing on a friend. This task behaviourally measures inhibitory function, and can be used in conjunction with EEG measures to assess motor planning.

Friendly and enemy forces have no fleets of their own, but instead commandeer one of two classes of ships. The class of ship used by each side therefore can change from one session of the game to the next. A shift session is one in which the assignment of ship classes differs from that of the session immediately preceding. A hold session is one in which the assignment of ship classes does not differ from that of a session immediately preceding. Differences in reaction time and accuracy for the fire-or-withhold task between shift and hold sessions measure executive flexibility.

After the player has completed a session of five wormhole connections, the ship warps to another meteor field. Whilst in warp, the player views a field of 200 stars (white dots on a black background), a percentage of which move coherently in one direction, either left or right. Other stars move in random directions. Each star appears in the field for four video frames, or until its motion carries it outside the boundary of the field. Coherent motion of the star field signals that the ship is veering right (for leftwards apparent motion) or left (for rightwards apparent motion) of its intended course. The player's task is to compensate for this drift by steering left (left arrow) when leftwards apparent motion is perceived, and right (right arrow) when rightwards apparent motion is perceived. Compensating for drift saves fuel. Failure to compensate for an actual drift costs fuel, as does compensating when no drift is present. Each drift interval lasts 2 seconds plus a random and uniformly distributed interval between 0 and 250 ms, or until a course correction is commanded. The player's motion coherence threshold is estimated via parameter estimation by sequential testing (PEST).

KNOWN BUGS

When the player loses a ship, the display says "RESULTS: FAILURE". It should say something less damning.

In warp between galaxies, all we see is stars (drifting coherently or moving randomly). These ought to be framed by some sort of cockpit control display, which responds when a course correction is commanded.

Sometimes the friendly ship doesn't veer off in time after delivering a power-up, and instead collides with the player's ship, inflicting damage and often destroying both ships.

It's really hard to get past Level 2 or 3 or so without getting clobbered by an asteroid or an enemy ship -- maybe the shields ought to be made a bit more resilient? One idea would be to adapt the difficulty to the player's skill level. Even aside from this issue, the game can feel monotonous after a while and we ought to provide a way to exit gracefully and go to other mini-games (once we've written those other mini-games!).

The mapping between friend or foe and two-nacelled ship or three-nacelled ship should change periodically, so that we can evaluate shift trials and hold trials.

There seems to be an extremely rare condition in which the game can get into an infinite loop and freeze. I (Belmonte) encountered this condition once, but haven't been able to reproduce it.

There's a rare condition during which a sort of turbulence effect (like the bubbling on something dropped into a fizzy drink, or convecting cream in a cup of coffee) persists past the end of a shooter phase and into the warp phase, and then remains on the display till the end of the game.


Premise

A "nearby" space colony has been destroyed by marauders! Warp to their location and recover any survivors or flotsam. Be advised that hostiles may still be in the area and should be destroyed on sight. You may have to make several warp jumps to complete the sweep of the wreckage.


Objective

Salvage as many survivors and goods as possible whilst keeping your own ship alive.


Characters

Cheetah C-24 Fighters: The colony's squadron of high-speed attack ships. They are equipped with magnetic photonic torpedoes. The Cheetah's shields are capable of absorbing substantial energy surges before becoming vulnerable to enemy fire or physical collision.


Wormhole: Requires 2 entities to open; one on each side. These appear during the shooter phase and with the help of the player allow a resource or a hostile to warp through to the player's location.


UFO1,2: Marauding space pirates. Uncrewed and artifically piloted, they are armed and are capable of destroying C-24 Fighters.


Derelict Vessels: Filled with survivors from the destroyed space colony. The player can rescue them by flying into them.


Flotsam: Resources that can be salvaged by the player by flying into them.


Meteorites: Come in a couple of different shapes and sizes. Slamming into one causes a hit on a ship's shields or destruction if the ship's shields have failed.


Mysterious Dot: Random particles that fly through space in a logical manner when piloting at regular speeds, however in warp drive they seem to defy the laws of physics.


Gameplay

There are 2 phases to this minigame. The first is a warp-jump phase that lasts for about 15 seconds. After this, the game enters the shooter phase. This is repeated for 4 jumps and 3 shooters (the last warp-jump is the return home) or until the player dies.


The player's shield persists through both phases. After taking a hit, the shield is reduced by 1/2. Thus, 2 hits are enough to deplete the shield, leaving the player only 1 more hit before dying in an exploserous ball of flame. Shields slowly recharge over time (about 10 seconds for a full charge, but this number will likely change upon play-testing), but once a shield is fully depleted it does not recharge.


Warp-Jump Phase

This phase tests the subject's Motion Coherence. During warp-jumps, the mysterious dots move in a mostly random manner. A small percentage of these particles begin to drift in the same direction indicating that the ship is veering off course. The player must correct the ship's course by pressing space bar. Once the drift starts, the player has several seconds to react. If no correction is made in time, the ship slams into debris and takes a hit. This phase ends after a set amount of time which is not disclosed to the player or the ship is destroyed.


The percentage of drifting stars is determined by PEST.


Dog Fight Phase

This phase tests the subject's focused spatial attention.


The playing field consists of an invisible cylinder whose caps are parallel to the camera's viewing plane. The player's ship is located at the near cap. All entities can only exist on the cylinder's circumference but may rotate around it or move up and down it lengthwise.


The player may fire, sending projectiles down the cylinder lengthwise. At first, only a single missile, 1 second-cooldown photon torpedo is available, but power-ups appear in columns at the top of the screen. Flying through them upgrades the player's gun. Upgrades can lower the cooldown or add spreadshot.


It may be necessary to add a wingman if many autistic players have trouble with this phase. The wingman would automatically move and fire upon enemies/meteors.


Wormholes appear at the far cylinder cap. The player can align his/her ship with a wormhole and activate it. At short time later, a collectible (survivor or resource) replaces the wormhole or an emeny replaces it. The player should immediately fire and attempt to destroy any hostiles. Should the player fire upon a resource, it is destroyed. If a derelict appears, shooting it will destroy the vessel, but an escape pod will fly away indicating that no digital people were harmed in the making of this game.


Possibly Boss Phase

This game me be capstoned with a boss battle. If so, any rescued derelicts could appear to assist the player.


Additionally, meteorites appear at the far cylinder cap and scroll down its circumference towards the camera. If they hit a ship, then the meteor is destroyed and the ship's shield takes a hit. Meteors have a lower probability of appearing in a column that is occupied by an enemy ship. Meteors can be destroyed by shooting them. Larger meteors may require more shots to destroy than smaller ones.


User Interface

The only HUD necessary is the shield power.


For the warp phase, the only input will be left and right arrow keys to indicate a course correction.


While in the shooter phase, pressing the left arrow key rotates the player's ship clockwise, while right rotates it counterclockwise. This would normally seem counterintuitive, but in this case the player's ship is displayed upright when it is near the bottom of the screen. Therefore, pressing left always shifts the C-24 to its port side. Spacebar will fire weapons. Pressing the up arrow key will attempt to open a partial wormhole. This attempt is successful if the player is aligned with the wormhole (ie, they are near the same position on the opposite cylinder caps). A different color beam will indicate a successful or failed wormhole activation.


Scoring

Each completed phase awards X amount of money, for a possible total of 7. A structure is awarded if the player collects enough powerups. Any survivors rescued or resources salvaged are awarded. Money is subtracted for the cost of each derelict ship destroyed by the player. If this dips the reward into negative money, then the money rewarded is set to 0.