Metroid Prime: Federation Force Podcast Project (8+ hours of content!)

June 24th, 2017

Wireframe

Last year two friends and I played through Metroid Prime: Federation Force together. Overall, we invested about 80 hours into the game each, completing both the main campaign and Blast Ball on both difficulties and with all medals and unlocks. Needless to say, we enjoyed the game very much and being the savvy folk we are, we wanted to dig deeper. So over the past few months the three of us have been trading notes and partaking in a series of podcast discussions to better understand Federation Force‘s cooperative take on the Metroid Prime template. As you may have noticed from my screen name, I’m particularly fond of the Prime games. The original Metroid Prime changed my perception of the video game medium and remains a personal favourite. So I’m pleased to finally share this project with you.

Each podcast runs for about an hour in length, with hosting duties taken by yours truly. We generally start out by introducing the particular design element we wish to discuss, teasing our its nuances, and then working our way towards the higher order questions. The topics tend to follow in a sequence, so it’s probably best to start with the first podcast. However, the final podcast (a standalone recording on Blast Ball) includes our conclusion on Federation Force and isn’t a bad taster either. Unfortunately, our recording process for the first two podcasts meant that some of the audio wasn’t as clear as we would have liked. By the third episode though, everything is cleared up.

Episode 1: Core Mechanics

We discuss the player’s abilities and how they’re tuned to create clean gameplay and accentuate the spatial and timing dynamics. Understanding the role of space and time in Federation Force is essential for understanding the core moving/shooting gameplay.

Episode 2: Mission Variety

Federation Force was rightly praised for its mission variety. We identify the different types of missions and discuss how the mission types are arranged to create variation across the campaign.

Episode 3: Incursion

For the next three podcasts, we analyse our favourite missions starting with my pick, Incursion. This podcast focuses on the spatial arrangement of each room in conjunction with the nuances of the particular enemy sets.

Episode 4: Blender

Greg discusses Federation Force‘s “mine cart” level, Blender. We break down this unique level and how roles are created through the natural limitations of perspective and space.

Episode 5: Insurrection

Adrian’s favourite level, Insurrection, divides the crew into mech and mech-less players. We discuss how Next Level Games were apply to explore this gameplay concept through the differentiated catacombs of Bion.

Episode 6: Boss Battles

Federation Force‘s bosses are both generous in their number and variety. We break down each boss and analyse the gameplay challenges and play strategies we employed to secure victory.

Episode 7: MODS and Loadouts

MODS and Loadouts modify the core moving and shooting gameplay by changing the player’s viable options. We discuss the implications and share our favourite combinations and strategies.

Episode 8: Blast Ball

In our final podcast we dissect the sports side-game, Blast Ball and conclude by discussing Federation Force‘s place in the Metroid Prime series (sans Pinball).

I feel like we were able to have so many deep and constructive discussions because we really listened to each other, kept the conversation grounded, and chewed through our ideas collaboratively. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, I’ve include links to the other podcasts which I’ve recorded with Adrian and Greg as part of the VG Commune on the About page.

On a final note, I can’t help but feel that our completion of this project was quite timely. At E3 Nintendo announced the development of Metroid Prime 4. However, they didn’t reveal the studio developing the game. Personally, I suspect that Next Level Games (the developers of FF) are at the helm of Metroid Prime 4 (most likely partnering with Nintendo Japan and possibly with some oversight from Retro). My reasons for are as follows:

So, in saying all this, I think the podcasts provide a useful lens for considering how Next Level may develop Metroid Prime 4, if they are indeed working on this project. A tasty proposition in my books.

Racing Commentary Mini-Mix (Wave Race 64, Wipeout HD, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift)

April 9th, 2017

In finalising copy for the (eventual) release of the Adventures in Games Analysis bookazine, I decided to roll several articles on racing games into the one essay. Four months of semi-regular writing later, the essay has evolved into a side project of its own. I’m very happy with how the copy is shaping up and plan on releasing it as a separate piece of writing at some point in the future. The following three sets of comments were clipped from my original notes and I thought it appropriate to share them here.

Wave Race 64

Bumps Fog Clearing Lens Flare Tide 1 Tide 2 Tide 3

Wipeout HD

Wipeout Flip

MotorStorm Pacific Rift

I’m currently taking a break from writing the racing game essay, so expect to see more material up on the blog.

Additional Readings

Getting the Most from Speed Races in MotorStorm Pacific Rift – Playstation Blog

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift – Can You Beat Us? – Playstation Blog

Nintendo Magazine System – Wave Race 64 Maps (I couldn’t find any decent maps online, so I put them online myself)

VG Commune Episode 35: Dynamic Challenge (Wave Race 64)

VG Commune Episode 36: Optional Challenges (Wave Race 64)

Cracking the Resident Evil Puzzle Box – Chapter Overview

January 6th, 2017

image26

Last year I wrote a chapter called ‘Cracking the Resident Evil Puzzle Box’ for the just-released edited book, Level Design: Processes and Experiences. Around the time I was invited to write the chapter I was interested in researching the knowledge game which underpins Metroidvania-esque exploration.

On a base level, the role of memory and level design is relatively easy to understand. As the player moves through a level, they encode chunks of the level design into memory. With each line of movement across the map, the player adds another row of bricks to their mental reconstruction. Yet games such as classic Resident Evil, Metroid, and the post-SOTN Castlevanias have the player pass through the majority of rooms multiple times and the level design change over time (with new enemies, routes, or player access). And so these games task the player with not simply encoding and withdrawing information from their memory banks, but doing so while also reorganising the schema and editing the information within. I knew that there was an artistry to way these games scaffolded and tested the player’s ability to encode, organise, edit, and withdraw information, but with so many other projects to finish I lacked the impetus to do a thorough analysis. The chapter submission therefore seemed like the perfect excuse to dive deep.

code-veronica-analysis

Each yellow bubble represents a comment

I sat down with Resident Evil: Code Veronica (the most recent Resident Evil game I had completed) and spent about three weeks full-time playing through the game, mapping out each instance of movement across the map (from each key to lock), and noting the implications for the player’s mental model. I ended up with 64 pdf files which each look something like the image above (Evil Resource is an incredible resource for Resident Evil maps by the way). The details were staggering, but fortunately everything coalesced around several distinct trends.

In brief, I found that each chapter of Code Veronica‘s gameplay had a different function within the knowledge game and built on what had come before it (tutorial, developing a mental model, testing the mental model, overhauling the mental model, etc.). The Prison area acts as a tutorial and focuses on a 4-step lock which sees the player doubleback through a handful of rooms. As Claire explores more of Rockfort Island the player is given access to large portions of the game world and the single thread of progression unravels into a system of branching paths. During this time the player can develop and refine their mental model in a freer environment. Claire’s brief excursion to Antarctica pauses the first half of the knowledge game before Chris Redfield arrives at a partly destroyed Rockfort and the player’s pre-existing knowledge of the island is used against them. The final chapter in Antarctica combines the earlier themes together, but stumbles due to the mish mash of environments which are different to mentally organise and logically fit together.

The chapter also covers progression, player choice, environmental story telling, and the components of survival gameplay.

It’s probably the most dense and challenging thing I have ever written. I found it difficult to give grounding and coherence to what is a highly detail-focused but also abstract topic. In any case, I found what I was looking for, so I can’t really complain…but I will encourage you to check out Level Design: Processes and Experiences. The line-up of contributors and range of topics covered is excellent. If this post has tempted you to read my chapter, then I would suggest playing through Code Veronica and reading as you go. The book is available on Amazon or through CRC Press in physical and digital versions.