Posts Tagged 2D

Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 3

smbasheader Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 3

For my second SMB 3 post, I took a look at worlds 2 through 8 and picked out 30 stages that exemplified clever level design. World 8 is the last standard zone in the game, but I decided to write one more article detailing SMB 3′s hubs.

smb3piranhas Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 3

The unique piranha nodes lead to stages filled with venus fly traps and an end-level treasure.

Hubs are an old videogame trope, but in SMB 3 they are much more involved than in previous incarnations.

Each hub in the game has its own visual theme and unique layout, e.g., World 7 is a scrolling archipelago, while World 8 comprises multiple skull-filled maps. These areas are not only littered with standard level nodes, but also contain unique stage-icons such as quicksand pits, tanks, and piranha plants. Offsetting these challenges are shops and sporadic minigames that provide bonus rewards.

All these elements — and plenty of additional ones — turn the overworlds into individual mini-levels that are also connected to the main gameplay stages. Here are 10 examples of how that’s done:

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Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 2

smbasheader Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 2

In my previous post, I took a look at the various level designs lessons gleaned from Super Mario Bros. 3′s first world. A lot of them naturally dealt with introductory tutorials, but I wanted to take a slightly different approach with this article.

Super Mario All Stars 3 chomp Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 2

The elegant introduction of new mechanics is still present throughout SMB 3. In this example, the first appearance of a Chain Chomp is marked by two columns that indicate its range and allow the player to safely observe its behaviour.

SMB 3 is filled with great levels, so I decided to pick out a bunch of clever, fun or simply unique moments from the game that originated with its architecture. I skipped over a lot of possible examples trying to keep the list down to 30, but I think I came up with a good collection that complements the original post.

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Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 1

smbasheader Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 1

I recently decided to play through the All-Stars version of SMB 3 without using any Warp Whistles.

smb3title Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons, Part 1

SMB 3's playful title screen has Mario & Luigi messing around with a bunch of enemies and powerups. The sequence is fun to watch, but it also serves as a great preview of numerous game mechanics.

I suspect that the majority of people who replay the game are familiar with the secret and use it to skip to the last world. This also means zooming past a plethora of well designed levels. It’s been my habit as well, but this time I resolved to experience SMB 3 in its entirety.

A lot of small, geometric stages later, here’s an overview of what I found to be the most notable points in the first world:

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A Layman’s Guide to Projection in Videogames

Oftentimes when a videogame has a skewed, overhead point of view, we call it isometric. That’s rarely the accurate term, though, and it’s not just pointless semantics.

echochrome A Layman’s Guide to Projection in Videogames

Although Echochrome uses a single projection type, its gameplay is based on constantly rotating and morphing its 3D structures. With each new view, the physical architecture of the level changes to reflect what the player sees on the screen.

Projection basically means taking a three dimensional object and displaying it on a 2D plane (i.e., a screen). There are various ways of accomplishing this, and each technique has a deep impact on a game’s look and mechanics. The advent of 3D games and free-floating cameras somewhat lessened this role, but being aware of the pros and cons of each projection type is still applicable to both 2D and 3D titles.

So what exactly are these projection types? Well, let’s take a look:

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Creativity and Handicaps

Many creative fields employ workshops where the attendants take part in various types of challenges. These tasks are usually meant to hone one’s skills, but also to explore specific concepts. What’s interesting here, though, is that people often find themselves liberated by these constraints.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon that gives a little insight into how we think and create. What it suggests is that when the world is our oyster,  it’s a lot more difficult to come up with a good idea. The possibilities are endless, and we simply have a hard time starting off.

By limiting our choices, we slices away a lot of the unknown. What we’re left with is a challenge with a goal, and to conquer it our brains go into a problem solving mode. It’s not be the most romantic conceit, but it can result in some surprisingly creative work. I was mulling this over while looking at various 2D, raster-based indie games I’ve played in the past year (pictured below):

Some of these titles perfectly exemplify working with limitation, e.g., let’s see what we can create using a limited palette and a small resolution. Others take the opposite route by removing handicaps and going directly against the status quo of a long standing tradition, e.g., let’s see what we can create when don’t have to worry about tile-based maps and sprites whose dimensions must be multiples of 2.

Putting this into practice, I decided to give myself a challenge: create two relatively fun-sounding concepts, one based on a handicap and the other on the removal of a constraint.  I chose the Atari 5200 and its limited palette for the first task, and the Nintendo Wii and its ability to simultaneously render hundreds of sprites for the second task.

As I was finalizing these goals, my brain was already busy analyzing the possibilities…

1). Atari 5200 entry.

For my first challenge, I envisioned a stealth-based action platformer, with a clear focus on camouflage. With only 4 colours to work with, I planned on using black to outline various features and fill in the background, while a different colour would be used for foreground elements. A third colour would be dedicated to the main character and the HUD, and the final colour would be used for enemies. This would create a very clean look and provide significant contrast between the scenery and its mobile inhabitants.

urban bench sleeper camouflage Creativity and Handicaps

The focus of my first concept...

The player’s goal would be to run, jump and ambush his opponents while traversing variously themed environments. Through the use of some clever transparency and stippling (or even dynamic alterations to the character’s palette), the player’s avatar would seamlessly blend in with his surroundings, allowing him to deftly take care of his foes.

2). Nintendo Wii entry.

The second challenge’s plethora-of-sprites concept immediately made me think of a casual, top-down strategy game. I imagined controlling — or rather influencing — a large swarm intelligence reminiscent of boids. This would be the player’s army, relentlessly marching forward and battling other swarms in its path.

flocking boyd1 Creativity and Handicaps

...and of the second.

The control scheme would be very minimal, relying on a few basic gestures that would dictate movement and various attacks and maneuvers. The challenge would stem from adjusting to the rival armies, constantly responding to their actions while accommodating for environmental stimuli.

Neither one of these ideas might be that new or unique, but neither one is wholly generic. They also both exemplify how useful it is to add or remove a handicap in order to kick-start the creative process.

If you were faced with the same challenge, what would you create?

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