At fan request, I'm making Space Godzilla (as realized in G:StE) the subject of this retrospective.
Space Godzilla, not surprisingly, is the main villain of the 1994 film "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla." This film is widely available in English as part of a double DVD package along with "Godzilla vs. Destroyah." It's probably my favorite Godzilla film - which is to say that it doesn't put me to sleep as much as many of the others.
Of course, Space Godzilla in the film doesn't matter too much - because my job back in 2003 or so was to translate the character into our final boss in Godzilla: Save the Earth. Pipework's sophmore Godzilla game was going to be much better than our original attempt, and a big part of that was going to be a better fighting system.
A (very brief) overview of G:StE's design goals
I could easily write an entire post on the combat mechanics of Godzilla: Save the Earth. But I'll just give a high-level overview here, so you'll understand the sort of holes I was looking to fill with Space Godzilla.
1 - Every character needed to have unique strategies, which players would need to learn in order to play that character to maximum potential, and opponents would need to learn in order to defend themselves.
2 - For each possible combination of characters, one character should have the upper hand in one mechanic, and the other character should have the upper hand in another mechanic. (Our "mechanics" were: Fighting Style, Damage Types, Health, Manuverability)
3 - All characters had some common basic abilities including grapple, jump, throw building, block, beam weapon, roll, getup attack, walk & run.
4 - All characters had some unique skill, triggered by squeezing L + R buttons at the same time.
Space Godzilla's Character
So what sort of abilities did Space Godzilla have from the films? Well in the films he flies a lot by covering most of his body in crystals - rather like a floating island. He has a beam which twists & turns, which he fires from his mouth. He also summons crystals from the ground. He hurls these crystals at opponents with his telekinetic powers. He is ultimately defeated when his crystal power absorption is interrupted.
I started with his Telekinetic powers - how could we model those? I experimented with a few options, and quickly discovered that firing an invisible weapon (without a particle effect) gave an awesome approximation of what looked to me like a Telekinetic Uppercut. This became Space Godzilla's central attack very early on. He could knock down three foes from across the screen - it was awesome and very boss-like.
I also wanted SG to use a telekinetic grab/throw. This was scheduled for programmer time, and languished for months - we'll get back to that later.
Starting with such a powerful ranged attack, it was clear that SG would have to be a slow, heavy monster. I also really wanted to make his energy collection a strategic element - to match the film. I had already "broken the mold" with the energy collection systems of Mothra & Megaguirus. I was able to get the "grow crystals from the ground" ability in relatively quickly, and make SG's energy collection rate depend upon the number of nearby crystals. This helped cement his low-mobility status, as he needed to stay near his crystals to remain strong. It also allowed me to tie his grab, Telekinetic punch, and other moves to energy, despite his terrible energy regeneration rate without nearby crystals.
Unfortunately, my good friend Solomon - creator of the monster tool and my unofficial design partner (he was a full-time engineer on all Godzilla games, but I think he contributed a great deal to the design as well) had a big problem with Space Godzilla - he wasn't fast. Solomon was worried that the AI he was writing couldn't perform well on a slow monster. Collecting power-ups is a critical skill in the Godzilla games (that's why "mobility" is a critical balancing element), and SG was so slow that he basically could never collect a power-up.
We tried a few different solutions - I was really happy with the way SG was developing as a low-mobility character, but I understand the need for a robust AI - especially for the boss! The solution we eventually decided upon was this - Space Godzilla would "run" by floating in the air very rapidly. This would allow him to move quickly and be competitive at the powerup collection game. The trade-off was that it took him a moment or two to enter and leave this state - because he had to take off and land - much like Rodan. (But unlike Rodan, SG's start and finish aren't blindingly fast and don't travel very far.)
We actually cheated this system even more - the AI is allowed to start and stop "running" much faster than a human can. The AI also cheats in energy consumption - because we couldn't put that into the AI in a workable state within our time constraints. You see, I also made SG "drain" energy at a very slow rate while flying around - to ensure that human players couldn't just play keep-away all match, like early Rodan players could. This worked fine, but it gave the AI fits - so we let the AI ignore it. (the AI still drains energy - it just doesn't have to stop when energy reaches zero.)
Playing SG was a bit difficult for new players, but once people understood how critical his towers (and energy management in general) were to him, he could dominate some matches. This had a ripple effect on our other characters - it became critical for all characters to have some way of quickly destroying SG's crystal towers. This seemed like an easy thing to do, but in practice it was a bit frustrating. We auto-aim characters such that they are always attacking their opponent - so as long as SG stood near his crystals, all attacks came at him, and opponents could not actually strike the crystals at all! We never found a really good solution to this - targeting in a 3D game with a control stick is still an unsolved problem. We compromised by extending the effecting range of many sweeping attacks - allowing them to hit out to the side, and hopefully smash any nearby crystals. Anguirus is the best at this, with his Whirly-gig attacks.
The final step for balancing SG was to assign his damage type resistances, and finalize his damage output types. I wanted him to take extra damage from edged attacks - which really allowed melee experts like Anguirus, Gigan, and Godzilla to rip him up, if they managed to destroy his towers and get in close. Other than that, I mostly tweaked his resistances and vulnerabilities to equalize some specific matches. Cold damage is pretty much exclusive to Kiryu and Destoroyah, Electrical damage resistance makes a monster stronger against Ghidorah - etc. Space Godzilla's weapon was set as "Alien Energy" - which seemed like a natural fit for a space monster.
The one big balance problem with SG was against Megaguirus. This didn't show up right away, because Megaguirus was the last monster we implemented, and absolutely the last monster we got tuned properly. Megaguirus is an energy-parasite, and lives off the energy of her opponent. She's also blindingly fast, and can't be grabbed much of the time. A good Megaguirus player could absolutely destroy SG every match.
This wasn't a unique problem - Megaguirus was giving a few other monsters fits, most notably the Godzillas. I fixed that problem by making Megaguirus super vulnerable to Nuclear damage - a type reserved exclusively for Godzilla. (A character's resistance to Nuclear Damage was basically a "balace this character vs. Godzilla" lever.)
Very near the end of production, I switched Space Godzilla's breath weapon to Nuclear type. This sort of violated the original idea that Nuclear was exclusive to Godzilla - but it fit reasonably well with the fiction, didn't break the SG balance much at all in his other matchups, and it was a hugely effective band-aid against Megaguirus.
When we shipped, there were just two problems with Space Godzilla - both related to poorly integrated special-case programming: his grapple, and his Rage Attack. His Rage Attack was implemented in a way that only 1 engineer understood, and we could never space that engineer's time to fix it. The original idea was that a swarm of crystals would impale his opponent - but in reality it basically never hits, and only rarely even spawns any visual effects. His grapple, on the other hand, works perfectly - too perfectly. Space Godzilla's grapple violates all of the design rules of other grapples - it works on airborne monsters, it works on prone monsters - it can even work on monsters held by other monters(!). Space Godzilla's grapple is just ridiculously effective in ways I never meant it to be. I turned up its energy cost to try to compensate, but it allows degenerate strategies that I really wish were not possible. Sigh.