Posted on May 25, 2014 by Scott

Last week I was down at the Tool Bar enjoying a drink I invented called the “Gin & Vermouth” (it’s served in eleven pint glasses with a meatball hero and fries on a plate), when I heard one of the patrons loudly proclaiming that Metroidvania games are fine the way they are, and that there’s no reason to improve upon them. Taking umbrage to this assertion, I removed my Gin & Vermouth Bib, selected a three-pack of Donna Summer on the jukebox, and engaged the lout in fisticuffs which predictably escalated into an exciting brawl.

Any-hooch, at some point between jumping (being thrown?) through the establishment’s plate glass window and running from local law enforcement (ha! they’re so slow!), I realized that in my rush to violence, I hadn’t actually responded to the cretin’s argument. So I started to think about some different ways a Metroidvania designer might control a player’s progression through the game world.

When I woke up two mornings later underneath one of our city’s beautiful bridges, inspiration struck! So I borrowed a pen and soup can label from a nearby vagrant and wrote out this blog post. Enjoy!

Crap We’ve Already Seen

New Player Abilities

The most common method for gating access, without which most people wouldn’t consider a game to be a true Metroidvania. Usually presented in the form of an item.

Examples:

  • High Jump / Double Jump Boots
  • The ability to walk under water (without floating to the surface, requiring oxygen, or experiencing shrinkage)
  • Less-dangerous-than-it-ought-to-be Grappling Hook

Teleportation

Another mainstay. The player is presented with a teleportation device that warps him to another area of the map. This teleporter also serves as shortcut to minimize backtracking. It usually makes a cool noise when you use it.


“Whoosh.”

Environment

The player uses the environment to grant himself access to additional rooms.

Examples:

  • A large block which, when pushed, crashes through the floor of one or more rooms, granting access to additional rooms (player forfeits his security deposit)
  • A room is flooded with water, allowing the player to swim along the surface to additional rooms (requires player to be a strong swimmer or have water wings equipped)

Room Swap / Room Reconfiguration

A major game mechanic with a puzzle element. The player has the ability to swap the positions of two or more rooms, so rooms with different layouts could be used to access additional rooms.

This could be expanded further to the notion of a sliding puzzle, allowing the player to reconfigure a group of rooms in different ways to allow passage to different areas. The danger here is that if a player happens to not like sliding puzzles, you’ve now alienated that player. *
 


Think VERY carefully before adding one of these to your Metroidvania.

Potential New Crap

Items Bought or Crafted, Spells Learned (single use, no ongoing abilities granted)

The game could allow a specialty item to grant access to additional rooms. This item might not grant the player any abilities, or might grant them just until the player has accessed the new rooms.

Example:

  • The Enormous Granite Fist of Wall-Punching
  • The Sour Potion of Turns-You-Into-Mist-And-Lets-You-Walk-Through-Grates
  • The Amulet of Charm-The-Surly-Doorman

Typed Damage

Damage of different types allow passage through various barriers.

Examples:

  • A Fire ability eliminates Ice or Wood barriers
  • A series of Rock/Paper/Scissors-style damage systems
  • For God’s sake, hopefully something less cliche than the previous examples

Narrative

The story narrative can provide scenarios in which the player is granted access to new rooms.

Examples:

  • A boss destroys a wall during battle (plausible, seen it happen)
  • An NPC grants access (less plausible, he’d have to be really cool)
  • A series of incidents causes additional rooms to be conjured from another dimension (really reaching here)

Z-Depth

If the player had the ability to drop back along the 2D Z axis into the “background” space, this ability could be used to access new rooms and/or stealthily stalk other characters.
 

Sheer Difficulty

A section of world could be designed so that the player can traverse it without the “proper” ability, but they must execute perfectly and/or they are somewhat limited in how much of the area they can explore.

To avoid confusion, this would likely need to be accompanied by some type of messaging to inform the player that if he turns back, he can more easily access this area later.

Examples:

  • A water-filled area that allows the player just barely enough oxygen to survive the trip, while allowing no exploration. Later the player can return with an enhanced swimming ability to more easily traverse and explore the area.
  • A toxic environment area that requires perfect speed and timing to traverse without the player losing all of his life, while not allowing for any exploration or collecting of extra items. Later the player can return wearing a suit that guards against the toxic environment.

Combo Bonus: Mini Games

A number of these ideas can be combined with mini-games. For instance, lots of first-person and third-person games have lock-picking mini-games… why not a Metroidvania? Any type of mini-game that requires some obtainable component, or can be ramped in difficulty, can be used to gate access.

Examples:

  • Lock-picking
  • 2D puzzle challenges, such as Bioshock’s hacking mini-games
  • A short combat challenge or skill challenge

Conclusions
1) Always strive to make your game unique in one or more ways.
2) Drink responsibly, unless not doing so can inspire you towards improving your game, in which case, do whatever you want.


Author’s partial Metroidvania collection Not-to-scale Lego Space Needle added for scale.

. . . . .

* One of my strongest memories from the PS2 era was encountering the sliding puzzle in the (decidedly non-Metroidvania) Onimusha. It showed up completely out of left field, and design-wise it was a screeching left turn from the game’s combat-oriented challenges. I tried to solve the sliding puzzle a few times, gave up, drove to Onimusha’s house, put a flaming bag of poop on the door step, rang the bell, ran away, and never played that game again.

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Posted on September 18, 2013 by Scott

The guys at LEVEL-DESIGN.org just issued some huge updates to their already impressive level design image reference database.

So whether you care about level design, video games, architecture, 3D spaces, or just like to look at pretty colors, head over there post haste and prepare to invest some time.

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Posted on August 21, 2013 by Scott

Ryan at Video Game History posted a new review of Burden of 80 Proof, check it out here.

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Posted on July 25, 2013 by Scott

Shadowrun (1994)

Shadowrun Returns (2013)

I loved playing Shadowrun for Sega Genesis when it was first released in 1994. With both top-down action and turn-based RPG combat, an extensive upgrade system, and Neuromancer-style slang and aesthetics, the game made a huge impact on me at the time.

It was my first exposure to the Shadowrun world, and to this day it’s still one of my all-time favorite games.

Since then my life has gotten steadily more Shadowrun-like:

  • I built a career in IT, which exposed me to cutting edge technology and shady characters with questionable hygiene.
  • I moved to Seattle, where the game world was invented and where many of the core stories take place. Specifically I’m in Capitol Hill which, if we’re being honest, is the closest real-life version of actual Shadowrun neighborhood.
  • I entered the games industry, which exposed me to cutting edge technology and shady characters with questionable hygiene.

Today a new chapter in the saga has been released, Shadowrun Returns. It’s built by a number of original/old-school Shadowrun creators, and has really captured the fantastic atmosphere of those great earlier games. And it comes with a content editor, so hopefully the stage has been set for a resurgence of great Shadowrun content.

So in honor of all this, I present to you my notes from my first playthrough of Shadowrun, written in 1994. Enjoy, chip-heads!

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Posted on March 23, 2013 by Scott

Gears of War: Whiskey Squad, my single player level for Gears of War is now available!

Video, image gallery, walkthrough and design challenge, and post mortem are all online.

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

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