Posts Tagged levels
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.
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:
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.
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.
I recently decided to play through the All-Stars version of SMB 3 without using any Warp Whistles.
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:
Jedi Knight came out just a year after the original Quake, and was already showing its age upon release. Its development team was wise enough to include support for hardware acceleration and mouse-look controls (complete with a neat if archaic calibration of the axes that allowed for some very sensitive camera movement), but the low- poly count was much harder to mask.
Jedi Knight still received very positive reviews, though, and rightfully so. It wasn’t perfect, and hasn’t aged particularly well, but I had a blast with it.
Here are some of the points that stuck out upon replaying it:
— The level design in Jedi Knight is fantastic, and probably its biggest strength. Of course level design was a bit of a different beast back then: areas tended to be much larger with fewer scripted events, the player had an inventory of keys and other usable items that facilitated environmental traversal, platforming puzzles were quite common (although usually disliked), movement was much, much quicker, etc.
Within that framework, though, the levels were a treat.
Despite the game’s low-poly count, its geometry was quite complex and varied. Textures were often repeated, but new ones trickled in periodically and every map had its own unique motif. The player was also constantly operating large-scale machinery that dynamically changed the landscape.
It all made for a nice combination of action, exploration and some occasional head-scratching. The only complaint I had with the levels were the large, industrial looking doors that were virtually indistinguishable from walls. Since these had to be opened with a button press, there were too many instances where the player could easily get stuck simply due to dodgy visuals.
— In-between level cinematics consisted of live-action actors superimposed over CG backdrops. They were rather silly and pretty low-budget, but did a decent job of conveying the story while showcasing certain visuals that were not possible to render within the game engine.
— The player was able to carry 10 weapons at any one time, and many of them shared the same ammo source. The limited ammo made becoming a Jedi and obtaining a lightsaber all the more rewarding. Visually speaking the lightsaber wasn’t anything fantastic, but it had unlimited power and the added advantage of lighting up dark areas and deflecting smaller enemy shots.
— Jedi powers were earned as the player progressed through the game, and they could be focused on neutral abilities, the light path, or the dark side. The powers themselves were a nice addition to both the singleplayer and the multiplayer, and were sometimes necessary to progress through a level (or at least take a short cut).
Force Pull was a particularly fun one as it allowed you to snatch weapons out of the enemies’ hands or grab healing items from far away.
— All the enemies responded to basic in-world physics, even after death, which made for some cool effects like a dead body sliding along the current of a pipeline.
— A lot of the audio was taken straight from the Star Wars movies, including the iconic sound effects and the famous scores by John Williams. These greatly enhanced the atmosphere and helped Jedi Knight stand out from other FPS titles of the era.
— The way the game’s secret rooms were placed was quite clever as they followed a pattern that went against the common funneling/guiding techniques of level design, e.g., a small nook embedded into the wall just above the entrance to a room was very easy to miss if the player ran right in without looking up and behind.
Enemies were often utilized to help the player spot these locations as they would often be placed in seemingly inaccessible locations, but with enough sleuthing, the player could always discover a way to reach his foes. A tally at the end of each level also informed the player as to whether he missed any secrets.
The impetus to discover the secret areas was very good as well. Not only did these locations often contain health, armour and ammo, but finding all the secrets in a level rewarded the player with extra force powers.
Jedi Knight is available for cheap on Steam, although everyone should keep in mind that it’s a very lazy port/re-release. None of the GUI elements have been updated for higher resolutions, the title screen and in-game cinematics must be viewed in a windowed mode, and the game doesn’t come with its original music. There’s a fix for that, but make sure to check out the forums first to get a better idea if it’s worth your money.
Secret of Evermore came out close to the end of the SNES era and was the first and only game to be developed by Squaresoft USA. It tried to piggy-back on the relative success of Secret of Mana, retaining that game’s ring-menu system and part of its title, but it was not well received by the fans. The main reason for this is that it wasn’t Secret of Mana 2.
Anime was really taking off at the time, but SoE had its own aesthetic style. Its setting also had nothing to do with Mana, and the two games played quite a bit differently. Adding insult to injury, various magazines previewed Seiken Densetsu 3, the real sequel to SoM, and hinted at the game not coming out in the West because of SoE.
Despite all the fan outrage, though, Evermore was a quality game and I personally prefer it to Mana.
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