Posts Tagged super mario bros

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.

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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

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.

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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

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

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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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The Uncanny Valley Of Videogames

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I’ve recently praised the use of states and derided their absence, but it’s not a one-way street.

To put it simply, states are great for abstractions. They fit unrealistic settings very well, and give us clear signs of what’s actually going on inside the game. They can also diminish the need for complex transitions while making the best use out of limited resources. A clear benefit of this approach is gameplay that can rely on instant, i.e., twitch, responses. For example, a character in Street Fighter II can go from doing a leg sweep to a backflip in a split second without looking too awkward.

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Despite being a 3D game, Wind Waker -- like most Zelda titles -- made great use of state-based mechanics.

States are not directly tied to arcade titles, though, nor are they unfit for 3D games. The correlation here is between states and the lack of realism, not states and projection types. The further a game gets away from what we know of real life, the more explanation and experimentation it requires. Sure, Super Mario Bros. might be pretty intuitive, but you can’t really tell how fast Mario can run and jump until you try it out yourself (or see it happen). Conversely, when initially approaching Call of Duty 4, there are many preconceptions for how the characters should move and animate because of their depictions.

Of course CoD4 isn’t a life simulation, but it does aim for what “feels” right and consistently follows its own rules. As does SMB, actually — both titles have a real sense of verisimilitude. One’s just more abstract than the other, and as a result can get away with being much less realistic.

Which leads me to my main point: as the fidelity of games approaches real life, state-based mechanics increasingly detract from that illusion.

But first, let’s take a look at two drastically different titles: Snow Bros. 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV.

In Snow Bros. 2, the enemies have a few basic states. There’s walk, jump, covered in snow (1/4, 2/4, 3/4, or fully), and a couple more. The physics behind movements are very basic, while the transitions are instant. As soon as an enemy gets hit with a shot, its visual representation changes to an animation that shows it on its back struggling to get free.

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Say what you will about Assassin's Creed, but the way it allowed Altair to interact with his environment spoiled the audience of third-person action games.

In GTA IV, all game objects respond to a wide variety of variables. The cars don’t have a simple moving/idle/dead state, and their visual representation is a reflection of their physical properties. The cars accelerate on a curve and dip with each turn, while a drunken character’s skeleton animates him as he hangs on to the door handle.

Trying to apply the state mechanics of Snow Bros. 2 to GTA IV would result in ludicrous situations that would detract from its sense of realism. In fact, making the world feel more organic was one of the major improvement of GTA IV over GTA III.

And this gradual raising-of-the-bar is to be expected in videogames in general. Dialogues were once just text, with the occasional frame or two of a “talking head.” These days they’re fully voiced and lipsynced, and character models even emote and use body language. However, many games that rely on a realistic presentation still insist on state-based mechanics. I think one of the more notable examples of this is the upcoming Final Fantasy XIII.

Here’s a video of its demo:

Various fans have praised this game’s detail and fidelity, providing glowing commentary on its rendering of hair and other such tidbits. Well, it is quite a long stretch from the deformed pixel art of the older titles, but it’s also a clear example of dissonance between visuals and mechanics. The player character’s movement has an instant acceleration, and, when she gets stuck on a wall, she performs that old running-man animation. The topography of the obstacle at the 0:52 mark is also quite complex, but its collidable surface is represented by a giant, invisible block. Furthermore, traversing this obstacle is done with a single button press that initiates an instant and perfect jump. This movement is entirely scripted, and it looks quite awkward and unreal when contrasted with the scope of the environment and the proportions of the character.

Now I’m not sure if this is technically an example of the uncanny. After all, that phenomenon describes a feeling of unease brought on by an almost-but-not-quite-real object, and I don’t think anyone would describe the above example as being entirely realistic. Still, the uncanny concept deals with the contradictions between what’s expected and what’s witnessed, and I think high-fidelity games that rely on state-driven mechanics embody that point quite well.

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Fun With YouTube

Recently I’ve been browsing YouTube for some examples of JRPG combat mechanics. This little search led me to a low-level, initial equipment playthrough of Final Fantasy IV (Advance). It was a pretty interesting watch, and it reminded me of just how much varied content exists on the site. Sure, you have your usual gameplay footage, corporate trailers and fan reviews, but there’s a lot more beyond that.

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Broadcast Yourself. And videogame clips.

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