October 28th, 2009
Areas Covered: Landing Site Bravo
Discussion Points: Visual design of the Pirate Homeworld, space pirate lore scans, looping environments in the Metroid series, the use of acid rain, x-ray visor
Landing Site Bravo (Pirate Homeworld)
Considering the Space Pirates’ feverish hate for federation bounty hunters named Samus Aran, it’s bewildering that they’d simply allow her to steer her ship right on through to their command and research centres without any kind of safeguard or inspection. In any case, we’re here now, let’s make the most of it!
Visually, the Pirate Homeworld shares the same dark, ominous tone of GFS Valhalla, the key exception being that the landscape is draped in a confronting, bloodshot red fog. Perhaps it’s over saturated, but, as with the Dark World in Metroid Prime 2, it seems uncharacteristically dark by intentionally drawing together design elements which clash and overpower one another. It’s ugly enough to instill repulsion without the game appearing artistically flawed. The red is very overpowering, working with the enclosed architecture to almost suffocate the player.
The pirate lore scans in this area, as has been the case with the other pirate entries from the previous two games, are absolutely fascinating to read as they throw light on the fringe operations of the rogue group in a way characterized by the pirates themselves. The lore scans here also serve to fill in the blanks on the pirate’s exploits since Metroid Prime 2, including their recent allegiance with Dark Samus. The scans, written from the perspective of the pirates, depict Dark Samus as something of a messiah, who through uniting the race with phazon, has finally given the pirates strength in the ongoing battle against the Galactic Federation. I know the space pirates are an over-zealous bunch—the previous games have said this much—but they seem of either complete desperation or completely warped by the involvement of Dark Samus. Maybe it’s got something to do with her influence over the processing of phazon. I’m curious to see how this whole saga ends.
The Metroid games always operate in a hub environment with an overworld connecting to a series of smaller areas. Each of these individual areas are designed so that the player ends up looping around, returning to their point of entry (or similar) in the overworld. This looping dynamic is either designed in a linear fashion, wherein the environment itself loops around or by relying on backtracking which—on the reverse path—rejigs the route so that the latest weapon upgrades can be utilized, thereby making the retread enjoyable. That’s not to say that the former doesn’t also tutor the newly-acquired weapon upgrades, it does, but it’s just progressional with the linear path, rather than relying on a rejigged environment etc. We’ve discussed both design techniques and their application numerous times before in this series, I just hadn’t really put it forward so discreetly yet. So in saying this, the Landing Site Bravo area relies on a linear route which loops through at the gate of the first floor elevator. It also ties in nicely with the map station which is concealed from players when they first make entry into the environment.
When you arrive to the Command Courtyard there’s a cutscene which shows a pirate entering the main section of the facility, the cutscene also highlights two upgrades which you’ll acquire in this area, being the hazard shield (the glow around his body) and the Grapple Voltage (the gate’s force field).
As a choice of environmental design, I’d probably criticize the acid rain plaguing the homeworld as being a little too cliché of dystopic environments, but functionally it’s quite clever. The acid rain throughout the Pirate Homeworld works as a tool to segregate the environment based on whether or not you have the hazard suit upgrade. The acid rain also has a multitude of other functions, here’s a list of what I came up with:
1 ) Heavy rain is a trope of dystopic environments, so it feels well suited to characterize the epicentre of the pirate’s operations
2 ) The rain doesn’t feel as though it restricts access to other areas of the homeworld, even though that’s its ultimate function. When the player walks out into the rain their suit receives damage, but they are still, seemingly, free to explore these areas despite the fact that the rations of energy tanks given at this point don’t allow you to make any real leeway
3 ) It divides the environment into (safe) interior and (hazardous) exterior components where Samus initially can only explore in sheltered areas…
4 ) …by which case Retro use the initial sequence as an infiltration sequence where the pirates are out in the open and Samus is snooping around behind glass
5 )They also use the divide as a tool for seamless narrative, so while Samus is infiltrating from behind the scenes, she can witness the stage in which the pirates are scheming whatever it is they’re scheming
6 ) By using the rain to facilitate the infiltration sequence, it legitimizes the little combat at the beginning of this area and then afterwards, as Samus obtains upgrades and further mines the complex, it legitimizes the increase in action and thereby difficulty. The presentation is one of common sense.
7 ) The rain quite obviously necessitates the usefulness of the hazard shield upgrade
8 ) If you look up at the drain it splashes black droplets, that’s neat!
After some snooping about Samus, for the second time in the series, discovers the X-ray visor. I must say, the perspective certainly looks a lot prettier than in the original Metroid Prime. I will admit that seeing the bones in her arms is a little creepy. It’s initial application on the codified key pad didn’t really leave me impressed. However, after some time with the visor, I’ve come to realize that overall the key pad mechanic is just a small addition to the application set which the visor can be used for, so it just seems a little underwhelming from the onset for returning players. Furthermore, they mix up the application a little later in the game.
At the end of the stage the player receives a distress call from a marine stationed in the next area, the pirate’s research facility. Time to investigate!