Monday, November 7, 2011

Super Meat Boy 64: World 1 Warp Zone and Other Secrets

One of the things I most love to implement into a traditional video game design are secrets, especially when the space to hide them in is three dimensional. I love all of the hidden and mysterious things one can find while exploring Peach's Castle in Super Mario 64 or running through the expansive canyons of Greenflower Zone 2 in Sonic Robo Blast 2. The behind-the-scene chambers found in Portal, the well hidden quad damage items in the simple maps of the fast-paced FPS multiplayer experiences of the Quake era, and the procedurally generated natural wonders of Minecraft are other examples of spatially hidden secrets in video games. So, it would make sense for me to have some hidden discoveries for the player's to find in Super Meat Boy 64.

In Super Meat Boy, there are portals to hidden warp zone levels found in each of the worlds. These warp zone levels are much more difficult than their contemporaries, but yield large rewards including including new playable characters. Each warp zone also had its own theme, usually harkening back to the visual and stylistic limitations (or perhaps, qualities!) of old video game hardware. There are levels that look like a Atari 2600 game. There are levels that look like they belong on the Gameboy and there are levels that would be at home on the Nintendo Entertainment System. And the warp zones are just a small fraction of the hidden content of Super Meat Boy. It seems that Team Meat has just as much of an affinity for providing opportunities of discover to their players as I do.

So as such it be natural for the inclusion of warp zones in Super Meat Boy 64. There is only one warp zone hidden in World 1 and it can be found in a underground section of 1-5. I hide the portal to the warp zone and Rykuta actually created it. I must say, he did a fine job, even though it is hard to make it stand out visually from the rest of the stages using Blockland's rendering engine.

The warp zone of World 1 is almost too graphically ambiguous. It is difficult to perceive both the depth and the edges of the structures due to the bright, uniform colors that texture their bodies. This effect was intended to make the stage stand out from the rest of World 1 as something special. While it might get in the way of fairer play, it definitely adds a new layer of challenge, though a tad thin and frustrating.

In particular, I really enjoy the vertical nature of the warp zone. It is really unlike anything else we built for World 1 and adds a unique pace and flow.

While technical limitations eventually made us scrap the idea, there were also intentions to hide bandages in each level for the players to find. I even had several of the dedicated testers help me find spots to place them and showed me the bounds of what could be done to traverse the environments in search of the bandages. As the overhead map of the levels shows, all of the stages are connected to each other. The binding landscape was accessible, to the dismay of many and to the delight of myself. Its game breaking? Oh no, the player can start in one level and finish in another! And along the way they can find all sorts of hidden secrets. Excuse my self praise, but I call that brilliance. It was unfortunate that the bandages had to go, but in the new format that Rykuta and I had established they would once again be a design possibility. Yeah boi!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Super Meat Boy 64: World 1-4,1-5, and World 1 Boss

Of the levels found in Super Meat Boy 64, World 1-4, 1-5, and the World 1 Boss are probably the sloppiest. World 1-4 suffers from being just to difficult for how early it is encountered in the "game," even though I do think it has an interesting gameplay element. World 1-5 was designed around an idea that was eventually discovered to not work in Blockland's engine properly, and thus half the design is plagued by a visually uninteresting replacement. And finally, since Blockland doesn't allow for complex enemy AI, or for that matter, enemies, (there are mods that do add enemies, but we didn't have the ability to make our own custom model/code for the first boss) we couldn't create a proper boss and thus we resorted to a "boss stage" which would be more sinister in theme and play.

World 1-4 is one of two stages which I had no hand in designing; it was completely designed by Rykuta. It definitely feels as if it was designed by the primary scripter. The main gameplay elements here are disappearing blocks which the player must time their jumps to properly land upon. Compared to the previous hazards, these are more complex in how they are scripted (though as anyone who knows Blockland's scripting system should understand, it is actually quite simple to execute). While the artistic vision isn't as strong, for the stage is contained within a more basic looking square arena, the gameplay is the tight, hard stuff Rykuta is so good at creating. Unfortunately, World 1-4 innocently spikes the difficulty curve. I can attest to this from personal experience, but it was very noticeably seen in the advancement of play testers as well. Everyone got stuck on World 1-4 and almost gave up. Almost though, since the design is still fun to play on, even on the 30th time through.

The gray blocks fade in and out of space in a rhythmic fashion.

The black pit of doom is ugly and almost nonsensical in hindsight.

The last stage I designed for World 1 was 1-5. Now at this point I had definitely started to become well adapted to the tools I was using. One of the things I have learned from playing Super Mario is that a great platformer needs a new idea to be expressed in each level. This design technique is simple and is used in all sorts of games; the idea is introduced in an controlled environment and then, as the level progresses, the player learns to use the element in new ways while the situations that demand its use become more difficult. Rare does this almost obsessively in the Donkey Kong Country series.

The new concept I wanted to introduce in 1-5 was a box that shot out saw blades (taken from Super Meat Boy of course). After some experimentation and the breaking of false hopes, it eventually came to be that due to technical issues too obtuse to describe through text that it wasn't possible to make these work without more extensive modification of the game's fundamental code. Which wasn't going to happen. So a substitute was implemented, and just didn't have the same feel of potential. Basically, the replacement was a electric floor that let out a shock every few seconds. Players would respond to it similarly as they would the blades in that section of the level, but it really stuck out as a tacked on and undesirable solution.

The beginning of World 1-5 starts the player off in a cavern system beneath the rest of the level. It is here where the saw blades where originally intended to be placed.

 The upper level of 1-5 turned out very well; it might be the most interesting part of World 1 in its entirety.

 Fans and spikes collide to test the player's sense of air control.

For some reason I took a lot of screenshots of this stage...

There is not much to say about the boss stage of World 1 except that there is no boss and it is highly unlikely that a boss like the one found in Super Meat Boy's World 1 could even be made to satisfactorily work in Blockland. Anything is possible, but the estimated opportunity cost is way too high for a rather dull result. This part of the forest is drenched in fire and has a floor of lava, because if the history of video games has taught use anything, those two objects = boss-ish stuff.

In the boss stage, the player is jumping from falling platform to falling platform over a pit of lava to reach the end. There was some tweaking that needed to be done to the amount of time before the platforms fell in order to make the stage fit in anywhere as the next step after 1-5 in difficulty, but otherwise, there is not much I can say about it, since the majority of it was designed by Rykuta (I did decoration and tweaking).

And some images of the dark world versions of these stages, of which I have nothing to state. As always, Rykuta succeeds in making very difficult, very fine tuned, yet very satisfying variations of my designs.