Devlog: Crank - Gimmick or Useful Input Method?

To Crank or Not to Crank

The most intriguing part of the Playdate is the crank. When I decided to make a game for the Playdate, I naturally began thinking of interesting ways to use it. In the end, most of the control design choices in SOLAR DESCENT, once the decision of what to do with the crank was made, followed somewhat naturally.

Don't agree with some of the design choices? There will be options to substitute the crank or bypass it entirely, e.g. a passive stamina regen or turning off the stamina system entirely. 

Stamina System

The first idea was to use the crank as an attack input and use the angle of the crank for direction, kinda like the analog stick that controls aiming in a twin-stick shooter. That idea never reached the prototype stage because I felt it would be awkward to go from holding the crank to pressing the face buttons for secondary actions. Furthermore, the attack would be too powerful if the hitbox was active all the time, or too unreliable if it had a cooldown.

I settled on using the crank to refill a stamina meter. This adds another dimension to the combat since you can't stand in one place and spam the attack button. It encourages well-timed attacks and careful resource management.

Pause Menu

Since the crank should be in the undocked position while playing the game, I figured docking and undocking the crank could be used as inputs to enter and exit a pause menu.

Cranking State

If every turn of the crank restored stamina, the player would be able to more or less crank and run, which would defeat the purpose of a stamina system to begin with. In order to prevent this, the first turn of the crank puts the player in a cranking state while subsequent turns refill the stamina meter. Moving while in the cranking state exits the cranking state.

Switching Sub Weapon

Implementing a cranking state opened up a second set of possible actions for the face buttons while in this state. This allows the player to switch sub weapon on the fly without the need of pausing the game and entering a menu. Simply crank to enter the cranking state and then press the face buttons to cycle through your unlocked sub weapons.

Healing System

Inspired by Dark Souls and Hollow Knight, I wanted a healing system with charges that refilled when hitting enemies. Initially, I planned to have a face button while in the cranking state be the healing button. I then realised that the motion of cranking backwards kind of reminded of taking a sip from a flask. This allows the face buttons to cycle through sub weapons backwards and forwards and won't result in accidents in the heat of battle such as switching weapon instead of healing.

The End of the Beginning

I'm amazed at what a complex system you can build with only two buttons and a crank. With that figured out, now I have to build the rest of the game. That should be easy... right?

Roughly 50 % of the dungeons are either completely done or planned out. An updated demo with a new dungeon serving as a tutorial in addition to the one in the current demo should be out Soon™.


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Wow I didn't think about this. A player can have 4 buttons (minus the d-pad) by simply changing the dock state. You could also have a near infinite amount buttons if you use the crank to cycle through different sets of buttons. Holding a button while spinning the crank could activate a secondary crank state. It could be useful to map out all possible combinations in a spreadsheet to find more creative ways to embed actions. Thanks for sharing!

Yeah, the dock/undock could also be used to change states. That gives you two actions when docked and two additional actions + crank when undocked. From there you could go into a crank state to get additional actions. Don't think that's practical, though. Would probably be a bit too fiddly. :D