Microtransactions: ‘Non-Interactive Sequences, the Author and the Player’ and ‘Super Mario RPG and Alternative Dimensions’
November 2nd, 2009
NB: I’ve been working hard to continue the stream of Metroid Prime 3 articles, but as I round out my final few weeks of Uni I’ve had to fall back on banked material. I hope you don’t mind, I’ll be back with the program as soon as I can. Thanks.
Super Mario RPG and Alternative Dimensions
Gosh, what a peculiar game. As I said on Twitter sometime outside of recently “Playing Super Mario RPG (VC) is like opening the door to an alternative dimension.”. A couple of people misinterpreted my tweet though, so allow me to quickly elaborate as the remark has a few meanings:
Super Mario RPG was originally never released in PAL regions. In Australia, the most amount of information we’d ever received on the title prior to release was in a special RPG issue of Nintendo Magazine System (our equivalent of Nintendo Power). This issue was famously dubbed the “RPG issue” because of a massive feature spread over several pages previewing the now famous JRPG avalanche which hit the Super Nintendo late in its lifetime. (I think they also reviewed a handful of RPGs which were placed at the start of the review section to keep in theme, but I can’t quite recall now.) The magazine, unsurprisingly, featured Super Mario RPG on the cover. Ironically tough, most of the spotlighted games featured in the magazine wouldn’t see a PAL release until years later, a good majority of those on the PSone, GBA and DS—and not on the SNES—including Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.
As you can imagine the issue was something of a holy grail for RPG enthusiasts in Australia. Considering the popularity of the magazine and the rather dormant state of the internet, for many of us, this was likely our first real insight into these now iconic games. Unfortunately, for many of them, it ended up being a long tease. In the case of Paper Mario a tease that dragged on for 12 years, until it landed on the Wii’s Virtual Console service a year ago.
Therefore, as you can imagine: “Playing Super Mario RPG (VC) is like opening the door to an alternative dimension.”, stepping into the past and reclaiming what was once lost.
The second point of my tweet is simply to make the same remark players were making a decade ago, that is: the collaboration sure is an interesting one. The sad thing about this industry is that publisher’s rule the roost. Unlike in other media, it isn’t as easy for one developer to do their own interpretation of another developer’s property, even if the original developer permits. The whole process lies within the hands of the publishers who, in effect, legally internalize the creations of their developers.
Interpretations of other work therefore rarely happen, only in the rare instances where such interpretations and crossovers are managed internally or allowed by the owner of the intellectual property. Metroid: Other M is a great example, as is Capcom Vs SNK, SVC: Chaos and Namco X Capcom. Super Mario RPG is too a great example and was very much unprecedented for its time as it was one of the first interpretations of a franchise by someone other than the original creators (Wolfenstein 3D is another example, anyone have any more ideas?). For these reasons Super Mario RPG therefore felt unique, and playing it today still emits this alluring quality.
Non-Interactive Sequences, the Author and the Player
One of the core complaints leveled against Super Paper Mario and Metal Gear Solid 4 was the length of their non-interactive sequences. Super Paper Mario was too chatty and MGS4 can be considered as a game interwoven with a feature film. I know people have defended both games on the basis that the content in these sequences are actually quite good—and therefore doesn’t deserve the bad press—so I’d like to weigh in by agreeing with the assertion that so long as the content within these sequences actually serves a meaningful purpose, then they’re perfectly fine with me. (Meaningful purpose being a subjective term depending on the individual player). Of course, in saying this, MGS4 did have too much cyber babble and Super Paper Mario‘s dialogue did stretch the point at times. These are rather legitimate claims relative to other games on the market.
Games are a shared product between the designer and the player. The designer wants the player to experience certain things within their game, they want them to, to some degree, think in a certain way and act per se. The designer coerces the player’s actions by designing the nature of the world, but the designer isn’t the director, the player is. The player co-authors the experience. When the designer forces the player through a non-interactive sequence, the designer takes control from the player and pushes their own agenda. In this regard, I think that the designers and writers of MGS4 and Super Paper Mario became too invested in the messages they wanted to transmit during these sequences that they became overly directive of the experience and ultimately damaged the game(s).
I always go into a new game with the intent of being reasonable. Anything (side quests, narrative, sequences of gameplay, mechanics etc) that I feel as meaningless or damaging towards my experience, I won’t participate in. Although I read the majority of dialogue in Super Paper Mario, much of it I also skipped or skim-read simply because it dragged on and impeded on my experience. It’s the same reason why I’m disinterested in trophies for the Playstation 3, they just artificially lengthen the game. I personally don’t believe that the value proposition they’re offering me is worthy of committal—as we’ve discussed, this can feel like work. Not every player shares this view though, my work might be someone else’s challenge and so forth. It’s the subjective nature which makes designing games very tricky.