What Makes A Platformer?

From David Perry on Game Cliches:

The platform action game is one of the oldest game genres, and there have been multitudes of variants on the theme. Naturally, there have been some tried-and-true design decisions over the years, and many of them have become clichés of the genre.

Do Re Mi Fantasy for SNES

1. Millions of items to collect
Usually, the item being collected is does nothing on its own, but can grant the player something special if enough are collected.

Megaman 2 for NES

Special power-up and pick-up items
Some items instantly grant the player the ability to do something extra, or will restore previously lost stats like health, ammo or lives.

Super Mario Bros for NES

Plenty of low-level NPC enemies to fight
Enemies are usually defeated by simply jumping on them, throwing something at them or using a special character skill.

Prince of Persia for SNES

Your character is very acrobatic
The playable character of a platformer must be able to reach hard to get areas by running, climbing and jumping about and being very flexible!

Sonic The Hedgehog for Sega Megadrive

There are many animals as main characters
Here the protagonist is a speedy hedgehog. Interesting.

Tombi for Playstation

Oddball storylines
In Tombi! the world is taken over by evil Pigs who have stolen an ancient amulet, and must be captured in magical purses to restore order. It’s undoubtedly a good game setting.

Abe's Oddysee for Playstation

Obviously, platformers consist of an arrangement of platforms which in many cases are reached by jumping.

Limbo for XBLA

Although in traditional side-scrolling platformers to objective is to travel from left to right, in order to reach you destination the path will often take you up and down.

Rayman for Atari Jaguar

Moving platforms
In Platformer games, some platforms scroll left and right or up and down for no apparent reason other than to add an extra challenge to the player. Miscalculating a move on a moving platform can result in an unwanted casualty!

Super Meat Boy for PC

A game world in a Platformer consist of levels, usually increasing in difficulty. Each level differs slightly, although the game mechanics are usually very similar.

Earthworm Jim for Sega Megadrive

A “Boss” in a platformer is a tougher enemy, which usually makes an appearance at the end of a level. Losing to a Boss will halt progress until the Boss is defeated. The final Boss is usually the game’s main villain.

Kirby Superstar for SNES

Keeping Score
By collecting items, defeating enemies or simply reaching a destination in a certain time, the player gains points which will either grant the player a bonus or get saved on a list of high scores, which the player can later try to beat.

Braid for XBLA

Minimal Story
An example of a classic Platformer story is a Mario scenario where a damsel in distress is kidnapped and must be rescued by the protagonist. The game represents the journey the hero must face in order to save his love. Interestingly, this reference in Braid does not fully represent this scenario, as Braid has a reputation for its especially convoluted back-story!

So yes, we do have game clichés. Like all entertainment media, games have developed some clichés — situations and actions that are recognizable or that lead to predictable results and other predictable stereotypes.
Although clichés are useful because they allow players to operate within a familiar environment and they allow game designers to assume certain elements of a game and predict some of the responses of the players, they can also be an opportunity to throw some surprises into the mix…

So What Makes A Game?

What I’ve referred to as “week one” on this project was in actuality only two days and weekend, so this is still only really the first week of development. For simplicity’s sake I’m not going to start adjusting my weeks so that they begin on Thursdays as I don’t really think that’s going to help anyone. The little weekly headers are in correlation to the time-plan I’ve set myself in my Learning Agreement, which is something I’m hoping to have finished by the end of the week. Once we are all agreed, I can properly delve in.

So, I’m really still revolving my thoughts around last weeks goals, which were to research and refine ideas. I’ve already thrown out a few ideas about subject matter, but before I properly convert my theme into a game I want to make sure I’ve got a few questions answered about what a good game actually is. Unfortunately, no matter how deeply I look into this, there is no definite, resounding answer.

I’ve been especially enjoying this book Rules of Play recently. The book is designed to provide developers with an insight into the theory behind development choices and processes, without suggesting any sort of development framework to follow. The book begins by attempting to define the general term “game” by combining definitions provided by a selection of theorists. To reference a few…

Reduced to its formal essence, a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context. A more conventional definition would say that a game is a context with rules among adversaries trying to win objectives.

~Clark C Abt

A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.

~Greg Costikyan

Games are an exercise of voluntary control systems, in which there is a context between powers, confined by rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome.

~Elliot Avedon & Brian Sutton Smith

The consensus is:

A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.

Simply put, a game is something which must be “played” in order to achieve the objective. The emphasis of the book is obviously on the rules which exist in games, that the developer and the player must follow. As human beings, we understand the things which happen to us in our daily lives because of the natural and unquestionable rules which surround us. If a game does not follow rules, or consistently breaks its own rules without reason, it will not feel natural to play. From a developer’s perspective, making a “good game” is to create a sound system and a consistent set of rules, preferably ones which aren’t in conflict with the desires of the player.

In the online extra for Indie Game The Movie which I posted about a couple of days ago, Super Meat Boy was complimented for its natural playability. The objective of the game is simply to get from starting point A to finishing point B without getting killed by the severe obstacles which lie in your path. Ultimately, a simple goal.

A group of interacting, interrelated, or independent elements forming a complex whole.
Here, the system is the strange setting and world of Super Meat Boy, including its inhabitants. The way it looks and the way all the elements interact with each other create the “system”.
The player is introduced to the system by being allowed to move within it, and interact with it. The player is represented by the main character Meat Boy.
The game world in this case only exists within an artificial space, and has no correlation to reality. The player can expect the unexpected.
The underlying conflict of Super Meat Boy is between the playable character and nemesis Dr Fetus over possession of female character Bandage Girl. I did mention this is a very strange game. It’s the typical “girl gets captured, girl must be rescued” scenario.
The rules are touched on briefly by the developers, who discuss the aspect of wall-jumping. The unique game physics are part of the rules which all game elements must adhere to, as well as the outcomes of various actions etc. Every action has a specific reaction.
Quantifiable Outcome
To put it simply, either the player wins or loses. Meat Boy may die on his quest, or he may reach his goal in every level and eventual re-acquire his kidnapped girlfriend.

Super Meat Boy is incredibly challenging to play, but consistency within the game allows the player to really get to grips with the gameplay mechanics and methods of play. By mastering control of the game, the player will eventually recognise its systems and rules in order to advance.

EMP First Thoughts

Clues about my intentions for the Extended Major Project may have cropped up somewhere in the preceding posts! We were given the official briefing for the EMP at uni yesterday, so now the clock is counting down to that fateful day in mid May when my latest creation will appear to the world.
My thoughts have turned recently to questions like “what makes a game?” and more importantly, “what makes a good game?“. I read a lot of books on game theory over Christmas and I’ve been left in one of those states of existential pondering… I’ve been asking myself “what makes a good game developer??” which has a lot to do with why I decided to write seven posts on some really awesome ones.

So I guess the theme underlying all else throughout this project is:
How can I use characteristics from “good” existing games to create a brilliant, contemporary, unique new game?

The aim is to create something new, but which echoes games past. The final outcome will emerge in the form of a 2D platformer, so already it has (or should have!) echoes of the great platformers of the early Nintendo years…
This kinda sums up my thought patterns so far:

In answer to my questions about good game developers, the release of Indie Game The Movie is on the horizon, and this little online extra was released a couple of days ago. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video for privacy reasons(or something), so watch it at the link below. I think this immediately separates the exceptional from the ordinary:
Indie Game The Movie Online Extra

It feels to me better than Mario, which was in my mind the perfect way for a platformer to feel. It feels like Mario, but in a lot of ways a lot of aspects in it feel better. It feels faster, it feels like I have more control, especially in the air. I feel like I have complete control over the character. And that’s number one with a platformer.

The movement code for meatboy is nothing that isn’t nature. And it’s totally just scripted, fixed, duct-taped stuff, but there’s so much of it, and it’s so often that it actually feels pretty good. I think it’s just because I complain.

You can’t make a platformer and when somebody dies they say:
“aww, the fucking game feels stupid”
“aww, it killed me because the button feels dumb”

Advice accepted. That’s going straight onto my list of goals!
For this project, I’m revolving my research and development around a theme rather than a genre or aspect of gaming. Before, I vaguely asked “how can I make a game which simulates a strange experience?” This time, I’m saying “let’s make a game about the Japanese custom of Hanami.” All I have to do to create the game is apply the characteristics I discover from researching good platformers and combine this with some sort of objective, eg. “collect all the cherry blossoms that fall post-Hanami.” And then obviously there’s the complicated technical and arty parts to work on, but that’s what the next 18 weeks are for…