Friday, July 24, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
A launch game for the SNES and still one of the best looking games for the system. Super Mario World took the basic ideas behind Super Mario Bros 3 and enhanced them. The over world was now much larger with many more pathways through them. It was a deep game with nearly 92 levels (much of them hidden) making it one of the most robust platformers ever released (a fact that stands to this day)
The biggest change to the Mario franchise that Super Mario World brought was the introduction of Yoshi. Yoshi essentially brought vehicle gameplay to the Mario world. Yoshi changed the gameplay by adding the ability to eat your enemies (some of them even gave Yoshi special abilities). Later Yoshi became popular enough to star in his own games and become a stand alone character (Yoshi was even the central character to Super Mario World 2).
Super Mario 64
One of the simplist additions is also one of the most important. Mario had a little camera man following him where ever he went, and the player could control that camera with the C buttons. The idea of mapping the camera to a seperate set of buttons was a great idea and gave the player the ability to move the camera around to the best position. This is something that has been copied in every single 3D game since (except those with fixed cameras).
Friday, July 17, 2009
Bugs Bunny is a perfect examples of pulling these techniques off. He still looks like a rabbit while having exaggerated human features.
Klonoa is suppose to be his own breed of animal but as you can see he has cat-like features mixed with human elements. The standard things are exaggerated and elongated (legs, arms, hands, feet) but his ears are also long. These ears not only create a unique animation but also add to the gameplay.
I can't write about animal characters without mentioning Sonic the Hedgehog. You can read more about him here.
Astro boy is one of the older Japanese characters. Notice the big eyes and exaggerated emotion. These are all traits the Japanese learned from watching Disney.
You will notice that most stylized humans in games feature big eyes. These big eyes help with expressing emotion (just like with animal characters). Also these characters usually have enlarged heads. The face is the most important thing for the player to read their character (especially in older games where the hero rarely spoke) and when you have a big head you can exaggerate the face.
Link from The Windwaker. Rather than going with the realistic look, The Windwaker took Zelda into a cartoony animation style. It was a blend of modern Anime and Disney. Some features (such as the eyes and certain character emotions) came from anime, while the colours and enemy models look like they are straight out of a Disney movie. This cel-shading style (the use of 2D art on 3D character) has become extremely popular.
A typical Tex Avery character emotion. Even though the character is very distorted it is still recognizable and easy to read.
Dhalsim was one of the more unique fighters in Street Fighter 2. What made him so strange was his ability to stretch and contort his body. The rubber qualities of Dhalsim are very similiar to a Tex Avery cartoon in which the characters were always stretched in every which way. This picture is from the newest revision of Street Fighter 2.
The Nintendo character most influenced by Tex Avery is Kirby. Kirby may take a lot of cues from anime in his design, but the gameplay is all Tex Avery. Kirby stretches and contorts his body as he eats his enemies or flies through the sky. He can change his form into a completely different physical shape and structure to attack with special powers. If Tex Avery was designing video games you can bet he would create a character like Kirby.
Because of the early cartoon like nature of video games it was only natural for designers to take some cues from animation. Furthermore, videogames started off as a children's market so it was only natural to tie it to another thing that children liked. Animation helped give designers the tools they needed in order to make a memorable and appealing game.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Super Mario Bros
I have already talked about this game at length so I am going to keep it short this time. Super Mario Bros is one of the first platformers ever, and easily the most polished. It used power ups to give the player new skills and abilites which has become a staple in all Mario games since (even the non-platform ones). It was one of the first games that had an extensive amount of hidden secrets and pathways (they appeared before in games but not to this extent). It had 32 levels, all of them were fairly unique from the last. Players could transverse the levels in many different ways, using different pathways and skipping certain levels. It not only brought in the idea of running through levels but also swimming, changing the gameplay. Being the first game in the series it introduced Bowser as the main antagonist and he has held that spot steadily since. It is, without a doubt, one of the most influencial games of all time. Every platforming game owes some of its design to Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros 2 (Japan)
Only in Japan was this true sequel released (only much later on Super Mario All-Stars did we get the game in the west). It is basically the original game only much harder. Jumps were trickier, enemies were more abundant, and the levels were designed in bizarre ways. The hidden pathways were still in this game along with warp pipes that let you skip levels. However, in Super Mario Bros 2 some pipes sent you backwards in the game, forcing you to play levels over again. Players had to be extremely careful while making decisions in this game. It was such a difficult game that it forced players to beat it 8 times before arriving in the true final level. Another strange turn of events happened if you used no warp pipes, as you would end up in World 9. World 9 was a truely bizzare world in which fire would fly underwater, Bowser was in the 9-3 not 9-4, and clouds were underwater. This game was the programmers having as much fun as possible with the Super Mario Bros engine.
One notable thing the game did change was Luigi. Luigi was now a selectable character (not forced on player 2), and had a new gameplay which set him apart from Mario. Luigi could jump higher and run faster, but was also less stable than Mario. The idea of Luigi playing this way has carried over in other games.
Super Mario 2 (USA)
Many people already know the story behind this game but I will sum it up for those who don't know. A Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic was transformed into Super Mario Bros 2 for an American release. Nintendo felt the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 was too difficult for the American gamers.
However, even though it wasn't originally a Mario game it has become an important part of the evolution of the series. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto did design Doki Doki Panic along with some of the team that made the Mario games. This is why the transformation wasn't so jarring. The enemies in Super Mario 2 (Shy guys, and Birdo) have carried over into more Mario games since. Doki Doki Panic had many levels and there was an ability to find warps and hidden pathways, which also translated perfectly for a Mario game.
Super Mario 2 was unique for having 4 selectable characters (because Doki Doki Panic had 4 characters) and each of them fit naturally with estabilished characters. Luigi was a high jumper and very fast (much like in the Japanese Mario 2 but taken up a few notches), Princess could float through the air, Toad was a sturdy character who controlled well on ice, and Mario was the balanced character who was the jack of all trades and master of none. In Mario game offshoots (the Mario Sports series, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, and other random action games) these character traits have been used again and again.
One change that has not stuck since was the way enemies were attacked. Rather than jumping on enemies and instantly killing them, you had to pick them up and throw them at another enemy. This was a fun and unique way to play but slowed the game down a bit. Mario games since have used quick attacks to finish off the enemy.
Super Mario Bros 3
The first Mario sequel that was built completely new from the ground up. Many players still hold this game to be one of the greatest platformers of all time, if not one of the greatest games in general. Personally I cannot see much fault in this argument as it is the penacle of 2D platformers on the NES (which had a lot of great games in that genre).
The game returned to its roots by just having Mario as player 1 and Luigi as player 2 both of whom played identical. It took the basic idea of the original Super Mario Bros and added better graphics, more power-ups, more enemies, bigger levels, more secrets, and more bosses. Everything was bigger and better. Instead of just facing Bowser at each castle you fought his children, each of which had their own personalities. This made for much more interesting boss battles. On top of that each boss resided on an airship which had the level moving while trying to move across it. Things like bullets and fireballs reacted realistically to the movement of the level and added an extra layer of gameplay. The standard castle levels were still found in this game as well and acting as mid-way points in the world. Each castle ended with a mini-boss.The best addition to the game was the overworld map. Each world had its own map and the player could move across it in many different ways. Some items collected in the levels could be used to break down walls in order to skip sections of the game and fast-track. It really showed the size, scale and interactivity of the game. Each world also had its own trait. There were the standard fare of levels (such as an ice world and a lava world) as well as some unique levels (a world filled with pipes that created a maze, and a world where everything was much bigger). Because of this massive variety in levels and the ability to move across the overworld in many different ways, the game never got stale.
Part 2 will continue next week and we will look at the SNES as well as the 3D Mario games. Come back friday for a new feature article.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Even though they are playable in every version afterward, in the original Street Fighter 2 players could not select them. M.Bison, Vega, Balrog, and Sagat made up the final four fights. The were all powerful and had an extra special character trait that made them stand out against the regular cast of fighters.
Balrog was a boxer who could only punch and not kick. He was very strong letting the player know that the difficulty was ramping up. In the Japanese version he was named M.Bison (a play on Mike Tyson's name) and had to be changed in America in order to avoid a lawsuit. Balrog clearly looks a lot like Tyson and takes almost all of his character design from him.
Vega was an extremely fast opponent. He could climb on the walls of his level and was the only fighter who had a weapon. He is the complete opposite of the Balrog fight beforehand trading in slow powerful punches for lightning fast arial manuevers. Since Vega was so different from any other fighter the difficulty ramped up again creating a great build to the climax of the game.
Sagat is the third fighter returning from Street Fighter 1. He was the boss of the original game and now stands as the penultimate boss. He has fireballs like Ryu and Ken but was stronger and because of his tall stature had a very long reach. He may have been a more tradition fighter but his attacks and special techniques made him a perfect boss.
M.Bison was the final boss of the game. He was incredibly strong and fast. He was given a military look making him seem more menacing and powerful. Since he was the last boss he was by far the hardest battle in the game, and beating him was a reward in itself. His main colour scheme is red so it is more than a coincidence that this colour was chosen for the final battle.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
One of the things that drew players to the game was the cast of fighters you had to choose from. Not only was their gameplay different but each of them had their own unique design. The visual artistry of Street Fighter was astounding and it created some of the most memorable characters of all time.
A somewhat central figure in the game and one of 3 characters returning from Street Fighter 1. He was the typical "Japanese Karate" fighter. In the spectrum of fighters in the game he would range in the middle of character design. However, the designer did add a little to the character to give him more personality. His outfit is a little loose and allows the character to more more freely without looking like the clothes are stiff. His head band and facial expression give Ryu a little more attitude than the other fighters.
KenAnother returning character from Street Fighter. His design is just a head swap with Ryu, and a different colour outfit. Since his body and animations are identical to Ryu it is only his head that gives him some new personality. His shaggy blond hair, and facial expression gives Ken the same rugged attitude that Ryu has. Ken and Ryu are the center piece of the game as well as the standard fighting game characters.
Even though he is yet another Japanese fighter in the game he comes from a completely different school of fighting. E. Honda is a sumo wrestler and therefore is slow but very powerful. He does have some quick attacks such as a flying head-butt and a rapid fire of palms. His design is taken straight out of what real sumo wrestlers look like. The only thing that makes E.Honda stand out against real life sumo wrestlers is his face paint. He is one of the few fighters who is a bit more linked to reality in his character design.
ZangeifEasily the most powerful fighter in the game but also one of the most difficult to use. His special moves are much harder to pull off effectively, thus balancing him against other fighters. He is also much slower than most of the fighters. His character designer is very much influenced by the stereotypical portrayal of Russians during the cold war. Street Fighter II came out at the very end of the cold war and the USSR was still a nation. Zangeif is big, tall and hairy, and has scars on his body from fighting a bear. Out of all the fighters he does look the most menacing, and he wears red, the colour of the USSR. Zangeif is basically a symbol for how frightening a lot of people felt about what went on behind the iron curtain. Now that the cold war is over Zangeif seems a lot more comical to players.
One of 2 fighters that are just bizzare. Blanka is a green monster that was created after a plane crash left a young boy, named Jimmy, to be raised in the wild. Blanka's origin and character design is closey tied to comic books. Much like many super heroes and villians, Blanka is created out of a tradegy, and gains some sort of special powers and abilities from it. Blanka also has electric powers linking him even more toward the comic book realm. Blanka plays very low to the ground and has some strange animations in the way he moves. Many players when they first saw Blanka became immediately attached to him since he was so unique and different from everyone else in the game.
The other character who is a bit more bizzare is Dhalsim. Dhalsim is a yoga master who can stretch his body and teleport around the screen. He also can breathe fire. The way Dhalsim is presented is in a very comical manner. His streched out limbs look odd, and he is one fighter who will have a smile on his face from time to time. In a game full of mostly stern looking characters he stands out and provides a nice break in pace. His design and animation may even be stranger and stand out more than Blanka (when you see him in motion). Dhalsim is not one of the stronger fighters but his reach is far greater than all the others.
Check back on Friday for Part 2.