Metroid Prime 3: Quarterly Diaries #7

October 15th, 2009

metroid-prime-3

Areas Covered: Imperial Caverns, GFS Valhalla, Skytram East, Sky Town

Discussion Points: Scrambled radio message and the random detour to GFS Valhalla, Skytram East’s level design, Phazon Metroid initial set piece

Imperial Caverns

Imperial Caverns has a beautiful calmness to it that really reflects on the area’s seclusion from the rest of the planet as well as the player’s quietening journey deeper into the environment. At about the most ambient point in the journey, a scrambled radio signal bursts out of your speaker—scaring the living daylights out of you and totally breaking the mood. Like all radio chatter it’s played over gameplay so it totally creeps up on the player.

Back in Bryyo you find out that it was the always intrusive Galactic Federation. Supposedly they lost your connection because of the warp point. In worried exasperation the respective Aurora Unit explains the reasons for static before pointing Samus to the abandoned GFS Valhalla. Another spot will open on the galaxy map, so away we go.

GFS Valhalla

GFS Valhalla was overrun by the space pirates and sits in a desolate sphere of space as a lonesome carrier for renegade pirates and other creatures. The visual tone of the area is typically brooding with a slick dark black and rich red aesthetic. The handful of enemy creatures still around put up an admittedly tough challenge, really puts you on edge and gives the atmosphere a sharp taste.

Valhalla_Arrival

I have no idea why we were sent here though. The explanation put forward on Bryyo was simply that the place warranted investigation yet the abandoned wreck at this stage in the game has no use. After some quick exploration you’ll realize that you need four or five energy cells to re-power the station, but we don’t have the energy cells, and in fact won’t acquire any until the next area of the game! I can’t find the justification for sending you out here, particularly when the player already has an idea regarding the next point of passage (screw attack pads in Sky Town). The whole sequence, including the radio static, feels preempt, misplaced and unecessary—a red herring?

Skytram East

After screw-attacking your way up to the rather funky sky tram (everything in this area is so elegantly designed!), you arrive at the next portion of Elysia. The level design of this area is tightly interwoven and if you become too analytical (like me!) it’ll probably become confusing. The trick is to just follow your senses though, it’s all very straightforward.

Essentially, this area houses a series of bomb parts which will later be assembled and then dropped on the leviathan shield which’ll open up access to Elysia’s seed ie. the boss for this area. The player requires three things from this area: the ‘ship grapple’ upgrade (to lift the various components) and the first two individual bomb components. Acquiring the upgrade is obviously your first priority and to do that the player simply needs to make a linear trek to the opposite side of the map. The linear swing around the right-hand side works to introduce the general layout of the area, which is quite necessary given that the clump of floors in and around the three main centres can be particularly daunting. On the first romp not everything is accessible yet, which compartmentalizes your route nicely to lower areas of the map and keeps everything manageable, while at the same time teasing the unreachable areas. There’s a lot of smart layering in this section as the ship upgrade and seeker missiles manage the flow of access.

metroid-skytram-east

Once you reach the end and power-up your ship, the two components can be obtained in order of closest to furthest out from the end point; the design folds, accommodating the route reversal. Unfortunately the triangular, three-point design may mislead players to take the wrong route, but if you abide by the closest-to-furthest principle the design won’t pose any problems.

The ship grapple is used initially to lift a projector (large, circular mass) in the Chozo Observatory, doing so reveals a faulty circuit. Fix the circuit, drop the projector back in place and you’re given access to the upper floors. Eventually the upper route will overlap some with the route you originally took on the way in, concluding at the Concourse centre. Again we see Retro organically making clever use of the level design by interlocking different sections and having them feed into one another. I discussed this to death in the previous article, it’s prevalent throughout the series and a great design philosophy as it gives new purpose to borrowed material and allows the area to be exploited entirely by the player. In this case, by concluding at the Concourse centre the player has travelled in full circle and now has a thorough understanding of the environment. It’s makes play meaningful and this matters.

As for the room-by-room design, I think the three hub areas (centres) and the multiple floors and corridors which immediately stream off these areas are most interesting because they encompass a visual and structural design which feels very unified. This helps the level design too feel structured and organised, even though it’s all rather elaborate and could be entirely unwieldy.

Stepping back for a moment, there’s an offshoot area before the 2nd bomb component which leads to a Metroid research laboratory. This is the first time we’ve seen the nasty face rippers in Metroid Prime 3—and there’s a great sense of tension that builds up as you walk past the glass tubes of Phazon Metroids, a breed new to the series. You worm your way into the depths of this laboratory in search of the seeker missiles knowing all too well that soon these Metroids will break loose and trap you inside.* You know that the game is leading you down the garden path and it’s a real tension builder. The music is set perfectly and the transparent panels are good at making you feel cased into this danger zone, where the danger itself is highly visible.

metroid-prime-3-phazone-met

On reaching the end point, Samus must depower a shield to access the seeker missiles. Doing so will switch off the security measures and free the Metroid’s from their cylindric cages. I guess you gotta compromise, so you grab the seeker missiles and leave. The lights are out and only the surrounding alien hues provide sufficient light. The transparent flooring highlights trails of Phazon Metroids rushing their way to flank you at the exit. You literally see them scurry under the floor beneath you. There’s a wonderful feeling of dread and tension in the air. I rather enjoyed this moment, it has a typically implicit way of communicating meaning to the player which is very much traditionalist Metroid.

*You know so because Retro drop subtle clues which the player may or may not gather, and this is why I have so much respect for Retro Studios. Other developers in this industry would at this point hold up a huge sign saying “AND NOW WE’RE SETTING UP AN UBER COOL SET PIECE, I HOPE YOU’RE READY, IT’S GONNA BE AWESOME, BY THE WAY I’M THE GAME DESIGNER”. Metroid is and will always be a mature and engrossing experience simply because it respects the player by assuming that they can actually think for themselves. The developers don’t need to connect the dots or pre-boast about a forthcoming event with pretension that demeans the player. I admire games that do this and I hope to talk about it a little more in future writing.

Sky Town

After obtaining the second bomb component, the ship heads off to send supplies elsewhere and you make your way back to the Sky Town for the last part which is located in the Transit hub which we spotted on the way in. The component is locked in place and requires the seeker missiles to break from its lock. Now we have all of the upgrades for this area, bar the spider ball which we don’t get until later.

Additional Readings

Metroid Prime 3 Wikitroid Entry

  • I wish I had the time to do lengthy, in-depth features like these. I love what I’ve read so far, awesome job. The screenshots you’ve chosen are beautiful, too.

    I agree, I think Metroid is probably the most intuitive of Nintendo’s franchises, when it comes to puzzle-solving and knowing what to do with your surroundings. I really hope Other M retains some of that and turns out to be halfway between Super and Fusion, instead of being solely focused on better story development.

    Like you pointed out, Retro very much understand the appeal of the series and the way a seasoned gamer’s mind works. I know SPD2 (previously R&D1) and Yoshio Sakamoto are the original minds behind the franchise, but they’ve been away from it for so long — not to mention, Sakamoto doesn’t seem like he was too involved with the Primes — I fear they might not have as clear an understanding of what people expect from a Metroid game in this day and age.

    Retro are incredible at designing environments, probably the best studio there is in that vein. Team Ninja, while good at designing combat, don’t have nearly as much experience when it comes to making you feel like you’re IN the game.

  • Thanks for the props, Ishaan. I ripped all the smaller screen caps from an IGN walkthrough. ^_^

    Other M will most certainly be interesting. Team Ninja are the sort of developer like the one I alluded to in the second to last paragraph of the article, which is why I think Other M will likely turn out to be an over-the-top fangasm. That’s not necessarily bad–I know I’m looking forward to it–but the approach does seem rather un-Metroid-like.

    Exploring Samus and the federation’s backstory just doesn’t feel very “Metroid” to me (neither does the action element too). As I discussed in one of the first posts in this series, Metroid Prime 3 integrates story well, but the very nature of story and an actual cast of characters in a Metroid game doesn’t gel with the series’ ethos and therefore feels awkward and weird. As much as I’m paying attention to the design and presentation aspects, I can’t follow the story for the life of me, it just goes over my head.

    I’m most curious to see how it’ll go as it appears to be an entirely different beast from the Prime sub-series. I’m particularly interested in what the fans who soured on MP will think of Other M.

    BTW, you should give MP2 a thorough play through, it’s less conventional and in that regard I think it’s really appealing. Keep writing the great pieces on Siliconera, I love you guys, been reading the site for years.

  • Haha, a little feature on Prime 2 is going up on Siliconera in a few hours today. I’m almost done with Prime 2, and honestly, I think I like it better than 1…as strange as that sounds.

    I think 2 has better level design and the layout of Aether actually makes sense as opposed to Tallon IV’s crazy out-of-the-fire-into-the-blizzard setup. (I never could visualize the transition between Magmoor and Phendrana) I also LOVE the logs and scans in Echoes. There’s more of them than in Prime 1, and the Luminoth lore makes a lot more sense than the Chozo logs. 2 straddles the line between story and Metroid-ness very well. Plus, those kickass remixes from Super Metroid don’t hurt. 😀

    Other M…honestly, I’m very excited for it. I like the idea of exploring Samus as a character and her relationship with the federation. That said, I’m trying not to get my hopes too high because the Primes set the bar so high, I’m not sure anyone can outdo them. They are, perhaps, more “Metroid-esque” than any game before them, barring Super Metroid of course.

  • Oh, I love the layout of your blog by the way. It’s very tidy and organized. 🙂

  • Awesome, I look forward to reading what you put up.

    The ice caps in Bryyo’s Firey Airdock area (MP3) are another example of the somewhat contradictory environment design you mention. 😀

    I agree, Metroid Prime 2 was certainly a progression on all accounts. The light/dark world dynamic is embedded very effectively into the level design of Metroid Prime 2 with sequences of gameplay folding nicely into one another. All of the Metroid games have a way of courting off parts of the environment from the player, usually through weapon upgrades and so forth, the dark world adds another dimension to that, and it’s executed on wonderfully. The world is very complex because of this, yet it’s designed so seamlessly that the player would never notice. You can see how Retro Studios refine their craft with each game, in MP3, the planets all interweave into one another, that’s their design crutch. Metroid Prime didn’t really have one of those, which is fine, but maybe it’d feel a little less sophisticated playing it now, I should go back and try it. >_>

    As you say, the logs too are more about civilisations and ideologies. Very interesting stuff.

    I personally adore Quadraxis’ theme in MP2, wow, such a pumping track.

    If you like we can continue this conversation through email, IM or Skype. My details can be found here, there’s a contact form on the site too. Thx

    http://danielprimed.com/about/

    http://danielprimed.com/contact/

  • I’ll add you to my MSN today. 🙂