August 25th, 2014
The Mario player uses the stick, buttons, and the Wii-mote’s gyro to run and jump their way from the start of a level to the end. The co-star player uses the Wii-mote as a pointer to point to stuff, pick up coins, grab and fire star bits, stun enemies, and execute various contextual actions. The Mario player takes the lead role and the co-star player takes an assist role. Where the Mario player engages with the 3D space surrounding Mario, the co-star engages with 3D space from the first-person perspective. Because the camera’s behaviour is based on Mario’s movements, the co-star player’s viewpoint is subject to the Mario player’s movement.
What this means for gameplay
- Although the two players are playing the same game, they’re engaging with it in entirely different ways. The Mario player is playing a typical game of Mario and the co-star is playing a rail shooter with motion-control aiming.
- Because the co-star can interact with the same world that Mario inhabits, the Mario player must be aware of, and be able to adapt to, any spontaneous actions that the co-star may make. Likewise, the co-star must be ready for any sudden changes in the perspective that result from the Mario player moving about. By interacting in the game world, the two characters organically alter the challenges for one another. This is similar to how the difficulty of New Super Mario Bros. Wii scales with additional players sharing the same space.
- In this way, to play well, the two players need to have a strong understanding of the game system as well as each other in order to predict and prepare for what will happen during play. The greatest joy that I got from playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 was having my wife, who rarely plays video games, come to better understand me as a player, learner, and person through our interactions in the game.
The dynamic relationship and interdependence between the player roles make co-star Mario Galaxy 2 a game about cooperation, communication and understanding. This is not unusual for multiplayer games, but Mario Galaxy 2 does it in a way where experienced and novice players can play together.
August 19th, 2014
Not long after I released Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4 a handful of readers emailed in and gave suggestions for amendments. I’d like to share them here.
Quest Hawthorn had a theory that Aerodent’s biggest weakness is Large Lips because in Japanese “kiss” shares the same sound as a mouse squeaking.
Rowan Divey found a small mistake in Mario and Wario – A Character Comparison:
“You claim that the act of Mario taking away the golden princess statue is an example of Mario going against his do-gooder nature.
However, if you had read the manual for Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, you would know that the statue had belonged to the mushroom kingdom before Captain Syrup had stolen it, and that Wario was planning on holding the statue for ransom when he had succeeded in obtaining it. Ergo, Mario’s action are not an act of spite, but an act of securing someone’s property before further crimes could be performed with it. This is even discounting the possibility that Mario was aware of Wario’s efforts or presence during that time.
However, it is still an embarrassment for Wario, as his greedy nature sees the inability to obtain any potential material reward as a failure, despite how many rewards he may already have obtained at the time.”
CM30 wanted me to add a bit more context to some sections in the Need to Know chapter:
“Okay, one more thing. On page 70, you talk about the flowers in Wildflower Fields and say:
‘wither up and be attacked for a few loose coins’.
This is technically right, but it’s also a bit misleading. The game actually gives you a different amount of money depending on how long you wait before breaking the flower bud, with the larger ‘bud’ giving the most money and the broken one (which occurs if you wait too long) giving you the least.
You might also want to mention that Robo Bird enemies are one of the very few monsters that actually respawn in this game, which adds another layer of challenge.”
Thanks for the submissions and thanks to everyone who continues to email and tweet in to let me know how the book is helping them better understand games.
May 12th, 2014
Over the Christmas break, I burned through Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the PS2. It was the first time I’d ever played Mega Man, and now I’m a big fan of the series. A lot has been said about the original NES games, so I’m just going to focus on a few key observations.
Since the platforming gameplay is fairly static, most of the trials (think trial and error) that the player makes are in the robot master battles. That is, testing to see whether a certain beam will take off more damage, whether a new tactic will help you dodge a certain move, etc. This is why the pre-boss checkpoints introduced in Mega Man 3 are so great: they remove the redundant repetition that occurs when the player is learning how to beat a boss. So there’s no need to repeat half the level when you’ve already done it once.
The robot masters get wackier and more obtuse much earlier than I thought they would. And as such, it becomes hard to figure out the their weaknesses, which means more hypothesis testing and trial and error. Since there’s only a handful of beams, though, the player can find out which attacks work best relatively quickly. Like the clues in crosswords, you want the answer to seem intuitive without being too obvious. Usually the combinations make sense, but sometimes they’re a bit less elegant (Plant Man is takes more damage from a Blizzard Attack than a Flame Blast?!).
The original series isn’t as difficult as internet folklore would have you believe. The extra beams and abilities (Rush Coil, Rush Jet, etc.) allow players to scale the game’s difficulty, so there’s plenty of wiggle room.
Besides the inclusion of Proto Man in Mega Man 3, which mixed up the progression structure a bit, the elaborate stories of the later games don’t really complimented the gameplay a great deal. They just pad out the opening introduction.
The warp pads that teleport Mega Man out from the individuals rooms and into the robot masters selection room in Wily’s castle should require that the player press down to exit. Several times I accidentally left the rooms before I could pick up the health pellet.
In Mega Man 4, the final few bosses and levels in Wily’s castle are quite short and easy, throwing the difficulty curve out of whack. It’s nice that they added more content, with the second phase of Wily’s castle, but it could have been better placed.
The charge shot in Mega Man 4 contributed a great deal to the series. The mechanic allows the player to suspend gameplay over multiple areas, allowing them to remain more consistently engaged in the game.
As a kid, I imagine that I would have played a very pure game of Mega Man, focusing on my dexterity and reflex levels. As an adult, I move some of the stress onto my knowledge skills. So I’ll look for patterns or internalise timings.
After beating a level, you’re given two options, “continue” and “level select”. The “continue” option always confused me as instead of allowing you to continue you’re game, you’re put back in the same level that you just completed. It should be relabelled as “retry level”.
Although the series ran out of fresh ideas around Mega Man 4, the later games still had some glimmers of innovation here and there. Gravity Man’s stage in Mega Man 5 is a great example. I think of it as a precursor to VVVVVV.
In Mega Man 5, many of the enemies die after taking a hit from a fully-charged beam, so it’s easy to defeat enemies as soon as they come into view. Since the enemies have no way to counter, the mechanic is overpowered. Some simple dodging or reflecting moves could have gone a long way to making the enemies more effective.
In Mega Man 5 and 6, tank reserves are suspended across game overs, so it’s possible to stock up supplies for the final boss battle. These games are also way too generous with the distribution of tanks. What was once a reward became a right. Find a spot at the start of a level where there’s a free energy tank and go crazy.