Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gaming Thread: Metroidvanias

Well, thought I'd get some opinions on Metroidvanias, those platforming games where you explore areas, gaining new abilities that expand the territory you can reach. Metroid and Castlevania are, naturally, the trope namers for providing quality examples of the genre. Sometime I should try out the Castlevania side of that. Anyway, over at GDL, I'm trying to pick up some pace with making an Untitled Platformer that will dip into Metroidvania as well as more traditional sorts along with RPG. So, anyway, I'm asking for examples of stuff you love or hate to see in these games.

Some of my thoughts:

I hate obstacles that only exist so that you can destroy them with a particular weapon. If you need the heat ray to open red doors and the ice beam to open blue ones, that's a sign of lazy design. You can get away with some of that when it makes some physical sense, like drilling into cracked walls, but too much of that can get old. I especially hate it when color swapping an obstacle means you have to upgrade.

A map is a must. I needed a guide for Metroid 1 to get anywhere, and most of my Metroid 2 time was eaten up by wandering back and forth trying to figure out whether or not a particular path was one I had been down, or a new one that was a copy-paste job. When they added the map to Metroid 3, I was ecstatic.

Some obstacles don't have to make sense. In the Metroid Prime series, I liked a number of the morph ball puzzles enough to not care about fridge logic and accept the crazy explanations of the mechanisms for moving spheres about.

Tap into Survival Horror: Early in a new Metroid game, I'm very cautious. When you're still weak, an enemy or trap popping out from behind a corner can be terrifying. Surviving a series of narrow scrapes or finding a safe spot brings satisfying relief, and an urge to brag the first few times you accomplish the feat... Especially if you end up having to do it without all your stuff. Space pirates are much scarier when you're naked.

Sometimes, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your players: Not every location needs enemies or traps. Sometimes you can drive a "narrative" just by setting a tone with an empty region to navigate. Silence can be scarier. And of course, when you finally do spring something on your players, well, you might want to leave Eversion's start up warning on the game: "Not recommended for children or those with a nervous condition."

Forget block puzzles. Unless it's particularly clever, the game isn't about solving arbitrary puzzles, it's about finding new areas with your expanding list of abilities.

Forget endurance bosses. I don't think Metroidvania bosses should be about simply outlasting the boss. You should have to be clever to reliably avoid his attacks and strike his weak spots. I recommend looking at some bosses from An Untitled Story... Maybe a bit easier. Sometime I need to beat that game. I've made it to the Dark Castle.


Akusai said...

I'd say that naturalistic obstacles and solutions are definitely the best. Arbitrary roadblocks are always bad, be they completely nonsensical block puzzles or magic doors that can only be opened with the right color of phlebotinum, so I'm with you there.

I'm thinking things like high walls and jump boots or climbing gear to get over them, long crevasses and some sort of jetpack or grappling hook or something. Even cracked walls and drills, like you said, get old, plus they feed the metagame unnecessarily: "Ooh, that wall is cracked. I bet I get some item to break through it later on!"

I think, though, that connecting some further exploration to at least a few weapons might be a good idea, provided you could do it cleverly. It would then feel more rewarding to get the new weapon, and not just "My power number went up. Yay." Things I can think of offhand are like a machete that cuts through thick foliage and enemy heads, a flamethrower that burns through, I dunno, trash heaps or something (and enemies), a goo gun that creates sticky patches on walls and ceilings in addition to sticking up enemies, stuff like that.

I think that drilling in the ground/walls might even be totally awesome so long as the ability wasn't restricted to just cracked walls; say you could drill through any or all of a particular substance. Maybe entire locations are made of that substance, so you could dig all through them looking for stuff. Maybe in some places, it could act as a bottleneck to the next location.

Of course, you'd have to allow for the dirt or rock or whatever to come back after you left an area so the whole place wasn't totally messed up, but still...Could be cool.

Incidentally, Metroidvanias are one of my favorite genres of game.

Bronze Dog said...

Oh, good idea for the expansion of the drill to general materials. Making your way by tunneling adds a lot for one of my clumsier characters to do. I feel stupid for not coming up with it myself.

Though there's a danger of sequence breaking if I'm not careful. Have to keep things reasonable without making it feel like I'm throwing in undrillable rocks just to be contrary.

King of Ferrets said...

Just make some undrillable bedrock, and have it fold up sometimes. That's probably the easiest way to make undrillable rocks.

One thing you might try doing is make it so that people can't just keep on drilling, or tunnels collapse.

Akusai said...

Another thought: it's probably best to avoid new abilities that are just "upgrades." That always feels cheap. To use the drill example, it's probably a bad idea to have 3 types of rock and each needs a more powerful drill to get through. It might be okay from time to time, but as a general rule, that's kind of lazy design.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, I'm in agreement, and it's extra lazy when those involve palette swapping the rocks you're drilling through.

Tom Foss said...

One thing that would be nice to see is the allowance for clever or unorthodox uses of your various weapons. The drill should be usable as an effective, if crude, melee weapon. Shooting your main gun--particularly if it's some kind of infinite-ammo energy weapon--at the rock ought to accomplish much of the same effect as the drill if you do it long enough (i.e., the tedious brute force method). I think one of the biggest mistakes of this sort of game is to lay down the railroad track by making only one path accessible with a given set of weapons. If I'm clever enough to figure out how to cross the chasm without the jump-boots, it shouldn't break the game. Now, it's entirely fair that I could be screwed by enemies that take a lot more shooting to kill, or that I can't get back across the chasm the way I came, but I shouldn't be punished for being creative, and I shouldn't be forced to stick to the rails.

Something that might solve a lot of the problems would be to play with the setting. Lush alien jungles are great, but bizarre alien geometries might provide both a justification for some of the traps and obstacles, and a justification for previously-drilled segments coming back and so forth. In fact, it'd be a good source for the weapons upgrades and such, too--you gather progressively more bizarre, specialized, and body horror-inducing upgrades as you go through the game.

Pardon me for a moment, I'm going off on a plot: I'm envisioning a Samus-style armored character crashing or otherwise ending up in some bizarre Lovecraftian dimension, scattering his/her equipment over a fairly wide area. In this scenario, I would imagine that the more conventional and mechanical weapons (flamethrower, drill) would be the ones you start with and gather early on, while as you go on, you find upgrades that alter your armor (and then, your body, senses, and mind) to make you more effective in the bizarre environment. By the end, it might be questionable whether or not you'll even be able to return home.

The fun mind-screw story would be if you dispatched some hideous boss-monster when you first arrived, then work your way through the world and back to your ship, where you fight your just-crashed, unaltered self in a mirror of the opening battle. And then, you kill him. And then the fun starts.

King of Ferrets said...

So why aren't you on GDL exactly Tom? XD

Tom Foss said...

I read GDL. Infrequently, I admit, but I read it. I just rarely feel like I have anything worthwhile to contribute.

Nes said...

I think one possibility for a "drill" weapon to go through terrain could be a flamethrower/heat ray/whatever in an area that has seams of ice running through it. You just have to be careful and avoid giving away, like Metroid Prime did, that you can eventually melt that ice so you aren't feeding the metagame.

On the other hand, that's probably a trope anyway (I can't go look, I have to go to bed soon and I have the same problem with TV Tropes that I have with Wikipedia), so anyone seeing ice is going to wonder, "Where's the fire weapon?"

Bronze Dog said...

In UP, Fire-type weapon attachments will be available very early on, so that'll be one bit of metagaming somewhat skipped. Also, I think I might make melting ice to be a bad thing most of the time. Don't want to end up falling into a frozen lake and taking Ice damage as a result.