The Up/Down/Left/Right Scrolling Platformer

So far I’ve been referring to terms like Platform Game and Side-scrolling Platformer in a similar way, but I’ve been thinking about how different these two terms are, and how this effects what I’m doing.

In my original Synopsis of Study, I stated that I would be making a Side-scrolling Platformer. In its most basic from, this simply refers to a game which is viewed from the side, and generally plays from left-to-right. The reason for its significance in history is due to its impact on the standard “Platform” game.

Donkey Kong is among the original and most notable Platform games. The game was played on one single screen at a time, which would only move onto the next by completion of the level. The game actually only consisted of three levels, which repeated until the player ran out of lives or reached the game’s “kill screen” which ended the game mid-level.

Super Mario Bros transported the hero of Donkey Kong into a much larger world by creating a screen which was simply a view of something much larger. Dedicated technology could process the game’s larger levels by drawing a slither at a time, as the character moved from left to right. Thus the Platformer became the Side-Scrolling Platformer.
Having a game that moved from a starting point to a finishing point meant that the game had a more obvious end, rather than simply repeating screens.

One game that astonished players with its non-linear gameplay was the original Metroid for Nintendo Entertainment System. The beginning of the game acted like a normal side-scrolling platformer, but at times would also allow the player to travel up and down.

Here you can see a cross-road where the player has the choice to continue jumping onto the platforms above, or open the door on the right and travel horizontally. The vast map made Metroid one of the first games that a player could get lost in, and part of the challenge of the game was simply to get from start to finish. I am quite ashamed to say that I’ve never finished the original Metroid, partly due to the frustration of being lost!
The vastness of the game can be seen in its map as a whole:

So can you call Metroid a side-scrolling platformer? It’s played from a side-view, but moves in four directions.

Obviously, as technology improved, games were able to draw larger levels and the ability to free-roam 2D levels became more common. A great example of this is the Gourmet Race from Kirby Superstar for SNES. Traditionally, the Kirby games have always been Side-Scrollers, with the occasional ascent and descent here and there. The Gourmet Race demonstrates the progression from side-scroller to free-roam platformer in three levels, and proves how this adds challenge to gameplay. In level one, the object is to move from left to right, but by level three, the player must make swift path choices which could help or hinder them without warning. As the level zig-zags, the player is more disoriented and the end more unpredictable. But as well as getting from start to finish in a limited time, the player must avoid obstacles and collect items, so there’s a lot to concentrate on!

I’ve played this level on Kirby Superstar now several times to work out how to start my level design for Hanami. The pace will be much slower, but in terms of objectives they are quite similar. I want to present the player with options which could end up with positive or negative or simply unpredictable results. Ultimately, the player must reach the end of the level with all items collected. So, in conclusion I don’t think the term Side-scrolling Platformer is really relevant, more of an up/down/left/right scrolling platformer really.

Edit: I found site dedicated to Video Game maps which has a great high-def map of the each of the Gourmet Race stages. You can see the third (and most complicated) stage here.

Tiles & Sprites

I may have been wrong in a previous post where I stated that character sprites were often double the height of a single tile in 2D games. I’ve been working out some background tile to character sprite ratios, and firstly have found that there are very few recurring ratios, and secondly that there are a lot of games which use character sprites that are exactly the same height as their background tiles.

Most interestingly is that I hadn’t noticed this yet in any of the game I’ve previously written about on this Blog. In my head, I think I assumed that character sprites needed the extra detail provided by double height.

In Fez, Gomez measures the exact same height as the background tiles (with the exception of The Fez which sits on top of this height).

Again, in The Archer the character sprite and tile height are very similar, except for hats which seem to cause the illusion of height in games!

In Jonathan Lavigne’s Ninja Senki, the character sprite is not only the same height as the background tiles but is a pretty similar width too!

And in Cave Story, the character sprite for main character Quote is the exact same height as the tiles, however the NPC character is slightly taller.

What confuses me about this selection of new(ish) games, is why they all decided to work to these proportions. From an aesthetic point of view, I think it makes everything look neat and tidy, as every aligns nicely to a consistent grid. I can imagine that from a gameplay perspective, these proportions work in the favour of the player who must calculate jump and fire distances etc. However when I looked back at old NES platformers like the original Castlevania, Contra, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and Metroid it seemed that traditionally, character sprites were double the size of the background tiles (actually, in the case of Contra I couldn’t decide what size the tiles actually were, so I could be wrong!)

Background tiles half the height of character sprites:

One slight exception I found amongst old NES platformers, was the original Super Mario Bros, and similarly Kirby’s Adventure. In Super Mario Bros, Mario starts the game as a half-sized sprite, which is roughly the same shape as the background tiles.

However, this reduced size is probably just a way to leave room for growth when a mushroom is eaten:

This might similarly explain Kirby’s small size in Kirby’s Adventure, as Kirby expands when swallowing an item or enemy.

In this case, it’s probably just more likely that Nintendo have tried to show how small Kirby is in comparison to the world!

Even as we move into the world of 16-bit, sprite sizes remain consistent with previous versions of games. In Super Mario Bros 3, the sprite proportions remain pretty much the same as the original. In Super Matroid for SNES, character Samus seems slightly taller than before. She does wear a helmet though, so this additional height is another one of those hat things…

So the question is “who is right??”
After reading various forums, the general consensus is that it all dimensions are entirely the choice of the designer. There is no right or wrong, or good or bad. Which leaves me at a point in development where I need to make a choice… So for now, I’m going to concentrate on creating a sprite equal to the height of my (hypothetical) tiles. This means creating a sprite which is 16 pixels in height, rather than the 32 I was expecting to be using. Personally, I think this makes the game look nicer and hopefully will make it play fluently. I will have to convert if I find it difficult to add a decent amount of detail to my sprites, or if the space limitations make it difficult to animate, although I’m feeling pretty confident and inspired by my Indie Heroes who have proven 16px sprites to be ideal!

EMP Countdown 6 – 2 More Days…

Interestingly enough, over 50% of my chosen Indie heroes are Canadian. Today I’m broadening my world a little by focusing on Daisuke Amaya, the Japanese creative genius behind Cave Story.

Cave Story has been brought to the attention of the masses in the last year, gaining a make-over for the Wiiware and Steam versions of the game, and a complete conversion to 3D for the upcoming 3DS release. But years before all of this, Cave Story was a simple 2D shooter which gained appreciation from a small cult audience. It was this audience who created an English translation patch for the game, gradually spreading the phenomenon worldwide.

And this all happened way before the whole retro pixel-art movement really took off (in the Western world at least!). The chosen graphical style was an echo of the game’s genre and functions- ultimately the player is required to traverse a 2D world acquiring weapon upgrades in order to shoot and gain experience from anything in the way, very reminiscent of early Metroid games. There is a story to follow, and if the player wishes, gameplay can be quite linear. However, if the player decides to backtrack at certain times, progress can twist and turn and secrets can be revealed. It has an exploration undertone which adds a layer of enjoyability to the game.

From these you can see how Cave Story adheres to traditional development, therefore appealing to the player’s sense of nostalgia….
1. Indoor shots contain the player in a small space, surrounded by a black screen.
2. Outdoor shots show a full-screen world. Text boxes showing dialogue appear at the bottom of the screen. If a non-playable character is speaking, then quite often a character portrait would appear next to the text. Noticeable in this example: the HUD disappears while a message is displayed.
3. Powerups appear as capsules and health pickups appear as hearts. It’s just tradition. The HUD here allows the player to scroll through each weapon, and also displays weapon progress and player health stats.
4. The inventory menu allows the player to scroll through carried items and weapons, displaying information on each.

Rumour has it that Cave Story took years for Amaya to finish as he took on every production role personally. The game was then released as PC freeware, which I think is because Amaya creates for love not money. As fortune would have it, his game went to gain huge commercial success… And it’s success is probably due to its nature. It is a very traditionally made game, with all the features of a traditional side-scrolling shooter, however it surprises the player with unpredictable additions, which occur if the player chooses to play non-linearly.

Links for Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya:
Amaya’s Online Development Log
English Cave Story Fan Site
Official Japanese Cave Story Website
Cave Story+ on Steam