Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Trees

The mission:

Play as many of the 80s games as you can and consider:

* The evolution of the basic elements that you looked at last week

* Describe a favorite 80s work in terms of the evolving design features discussed in the lecture (Genre, World, Narrative, Graphics and Perspective)

* Find a descendant (literal / emotional) and compare

* Particularly consider how many of the core mechanics have evolved in conjunction with improved graphic capabilities – compare with some contemporary games

The last post was about the evolution of narrative and whether it is a background element or an integral part of the game. There are still many games where the story adds background flavour, you can replace the main character and other elements without disrupting the story.

Games like Super Mario or Sonic could have different characters without affecting the story line or way you play. Castlevania(1986) or Metroid(1986) could almost be the same game if the narrative did not dictate what the game world was.

Top: Castelvania (1986)
Bottom: Metroid (1986)

Both games offer similar gameplay, you must explore the environment, defeat bosses and find items or abilities to progress deeper in the environment. The fact that one is a gothic fantasy and the other set in space could be overlooked but the narrative enriches game play.

Let's take a closer look at the Castlevania and Metroid Series.

The 1st Castlevania and Metroid games were released in 1986 and are classed as action-adventure games with platform elements. Unlike Castlevania, Metroid doesn't feature distinct levels, instead the game world is connected via doors and elevators. Castlevania would adopt this approach in 1997 instead of the linear stage it had previously used.

Both games would also feature a character with a changing arsenal of weapons. This would change how the players took on obstacles(enemies). Instead of jumping on the enemies, the player would need to think more tactically, eg. Time their attacks or movement, weapon choice etc.

Top: Castelvania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
Bottom: Metroid (1986)

World and Narrative:
The worlds and narratives of Castlevania and Metroid form a symbiotic relationship. They could work without each other but the game experience would be lacking. Both the main characters need a goal to complete but also creates an opportunity to create an expanded world.

A larger world means the player will spend more time in the game which gives rise to the many sequels or related games from the series. The story of Metroid is grown in each installment, Samus is constantly fighting against aliens that are from another planet or produced by human organisations. Space travel provides a convenient method of creating different areas and using these environments to provide enough challenges in the game to make it enjoyable or difficult.

Top: Metroid map
Bottom: Castlevania map(1986)

In Castlevania, the ever present threat of Dracula's revival fuels the narrative of the series. In later games the narrative becomes more complex as different characters fight to prevent Dracula's resurrection which is heralded by the appearance of his castle. The castle then becomes the game world in which the player explores and experiences the game.

Graphics and Perspective:

You can look up the specs of the Nintendo Entertainment System on the Internet. A pull from the internet monkey gives us this on the graphic capabilities of the Nes.

The system has an available color palette of 48 colors and 5 grays. Red, green and blue can be individually darkened at specific screen regions using carefully timed code. Up to 24 colors may be used on one scan line: a background color, four sets of three tile colors and four sets of three sprite colors. This total does not include color de-emphasis.

A total of 64 sprites may be displayed onscreen at a given time without reloading sprites mid-screen. Sprites may be either 8 pixels by 8 pixels, or 8 pixels by 16 pixels, although the choice must be made globally and it affects all sprites. Up to eight sprites may be present on one scanline, using a flag to indicate when additional sprites are to be dropped. This flag allows the software to rotate sprite priorities, increasing maximum amount of sprites, but typically causing flicker.

Obviously the 1986 Castlevania and Metroid are pretty much pixel pancakes. They're flat and don't come in many colours. Even with a limited colour palette, the games were still able to deliver a believable game world if you just squint with your mind.

The graphic and technological capabilities of the era made 2D the easiest option. We're only offered a side view of our character, any sense of perspective is flattened. The game space has only 2 layers, the moving background and everything else that the player can interact with.

Moving ahead in time and the use of 3D, the graphics and perspective change. Being able to move and see in three dimensions means that the environments should be follow realistic perspective. As stated before, a bigger narrative means a bigger world and vice versa.

Top: Castelvania: Lament of Innocence (2003)
Bottom: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007)

With better graphics the action becomes more realistic (within reason, if you're sporting a cartoon style you can play with reality). The 3D player has to be able to turn around and see the world or whatever hideous creature is about to come at them. Gameplay is more intense now that you have a (fairly) realistic world to explore.

Core Mechanics & Evolution:

In both Castlevania and Metroid, the core mechanics are:

- A player character that can move in 3 directions and jump
- A player character that can attack and has subweapons
- An explorable map/world that scrolls

Castlevania also offers:
- Stages that must be cleared
- Sub weapons that have different effects
- Whip that can be upgraded

Metroid has:
- One big world connected by doors and other passages
- Samus has upgradable weapons and abilites
- Some areas need certain abilites to be reached

During the later games, a lot of these mechanics are enhanced or changed. The whip in subsequent Castlevania games becomes a tool for reaching other areas. Samus' abilites change depending on the game environment, locking onto an enemy becomes possible in the 3D games.

The core mechanics of a game have to change to keep up with the changing complexity of the environments. When technology progresses more, the audience will expect the game to be capable of much more.

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