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2D Platformers: Precise vs. Imprecise

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Howdy Gamedev.net! I'm new to these forums, but by no means new to online communities, so I'd like to kick off my time here with some thought-provoking thoughtfulness. Ever since the beginning of the 16-bit era, I'd noticed a great change in the way 2D platformers were being made. The gameplay stayed the same, yet the graphics got better and better...and then, they became too good. Developers started shooting for more realistic backgrounds, with surfaces that curve in every which direction and backgrounds that flow into the foreground. This would otherwise be a good thing...if it didn't affect the gameplay. Let's take a look at Super Mario World, a platformer that remained old-fasioned as far as graphics go: http://images.webmagic.com/klov.com/images/10/1059263535.jpg This is what I'd call a precise platformer. Notice how there's a standard size in place here; everything, including Mario, is divided up into 16x16 squares, or the size of one of those yellow blocks. Ledges are instantaneous, making it perfectly clear where you'll fall. Also, upon playing, you'll notice that you fall only once the last pixel in Mario's heel has gone over the ledge. Heck, collision for Mario + Yoshi is even split into those squares. It's extremely easy to know when to jump, where to land, weather you can make it or not, and if you're going to be hit by something. Now, let's compare that to Earthworm Jim: http://crelove.free.fr/helloworld/art/jim.gif (Eh, bad picture...couldn't find a better one, though) This is what I'd call an imprecise platformer. The background goes up into the foreground, with you standing somewhere between the two. My question is, where? As you go across the ground, where you'll be changes constantly. Ledges end with a bit of floor hanging over, usually not able to support you. I can't even say where it registers collisions with your character -- somewhere inside the actual graphic, I assume. You have to over-exaggurate everything; where you jump before a ledge, where you aim to land at within another ledge, and how you evade enemies. The graphics are nice, but it affects gameplay. And yet...dun dun dun! Earthworm Jim is a classic! Seems like everyone aside from myself is in love with Earthworm Jim, along with various other imprecise platformers (Astal, Rayman, Gex, etc...). I say the graphics, by being so fancy, fail to adequately perform their primary function: accurate representation. So why do people love imprecise platformers so much? Can't wait to hear some thoughts on this.

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You shoot your premise in the foot when you claim a platformer in which the entireity of your character's weight can appear to act outside of a ledge, yet he reamins supported by that ledge, as "precise," and a platformer in which physical depictions are more consistent with real life as "imprecise."

Basically, you want "video game physics." There's a place for it, but the majority of today's games prefer a closer approximation to "real world physics."

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As far as realism goes, yeah. Imprecise would be the Mario way, precise would be the Earthworm Jim way.
My problem with that is, Earthworm Jim fails to remain "precise" in that manner of thinking as well. Realistically, the ground should change as you trample over it over and over, ground that isn't thick enough shouldn't be able to support your weight, etc. The game remains inconsistant. So, even concerning realism, Earthworm Jim remains imprecise.
That isn't how I was thinking, though. I was more focused on the collision detection between the ground and the player's character, along with enemies. Should graphics represent where something actually is, or only give a rough estimation? It is in this sense that I got "imprecise".
Also, the majority of today's games aren't 2D platformers, and realistic graphics work much better in a 3D game environment, since everything can be represented accurately (no cutting corners with pseudo-3D looking 2D designs). I think the 3D equivilant of imprecise platforming would be covering the floors with a thick layer of moss, or something to that extent.
But weather it's a dead genre or not, I'm still curious as to why people are so in love with these types of games.

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Earthworm Jim has been heralded as a classic by many, due largely to it's subject matter. The zany irreverant character and content design really caught peoples imagination. Hell, it even spawned a cartoon series. Before suggesting that nowone favours Super Mario World style heavily tile based format you only need to look at the sales figures for the recent 'New Super Mario Bros' on the DS. That thing flew off the shelves like shit off a shovel.

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How about Prince of Persia? It didn't had this whole issue, simply because every step you took was at least several pixels, and when holding the walk key, you stopped just before the ledge. There was simply no 'half-way the edge' situation. And we're talking about yet another classic game here... :)

I believe none of these approach is inherently wrong or flawed. They may appeal to different people of course, but even then, it's only one part of the game. What I think is more dangerous is inconsistent behaviour. And I think Earthworm Jim is consistent within it's own ruleset. It doesn't conform to every physical law, but it doesn't break any of these in a too disturbing way. After all, it's obviously still a cartoony environment, an iconic depiction intended to resemble reality up to some point. And the same goes for the physics: they resemble reality, up to some point. And they're consistently applied: every ledge you walk on only supports you up to some point. Everything that looks like a path can be walked on.

But, does everything need to be chewed for us? Some games may even revolve around making decisions based on incomplete, or pehaps even false information. As long as the player is aware of this, I don't see a problem. Not everyone may like such kind of games, but that's ok. It depends on what the game focusses on. For some games, 'precise' physics don't fit well, for others, they may be an important requirement.

For example, some 3D game equivelants: some games, like Half-Life, use a 'Super Mario precise' approach - you can technically stand on even the smallest ledge, while games like Call of Duty are more 'imprecise' - often, you can't even jump over a low fence. The latter focusses on combat and general movement, the former focusses more on puzzling and movement tricks rather than combat tactics.

//2 ct. :)

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I think you're looking too far into the precise/ imprecise thing. People that play platformers are not looking for realistic physics (or really much of any at all). Looking nice for games like New Super Mario Bros and Earthworm Jim are only a bonus. You may have an edge overhang in these once in a while, but I've never seen anyone complain about something like that- nor have it cause them any trouble. The fact of the matter is why would you want to let an enemy get close enough to find out at what pixel the collision is detected and damage applied to your character or get so close to a cliff that you'd be in danger of falling off.

"For example, some 3D game equivelants: some games, like Half-Life, use a 'Super Mario precise' approach - you can technically stand on even the smallest ledge, while games like Call of Duty are more 'imprecise' - often, you can't even jump over a low fence. The latter focusses on combat and general movement, the former focusses more on puzzling and movement tricks rather than combat tactics."

This is not true in the case of Earthworm Jim and SMW though- so they're really not 3D equivelents. Both of the two former have slight puzzle solving aspects involved in the levels (finding keys, beating a boss, finding how to reach a certain location, etc.) but one is more "precise" than the other. However, as I've said the presiceness is hardly an issue anyway. For someone that's casually playing a game they wouldn't really notice the difference at all.

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I didn't refer to gameplay when talking about equivelants. :) I referred to their collision system, and added how these systems can be used to focus or unfocus on particular gameplay elements. It was just an additional comment, I agree this isn't really the case for Earthworm Jim and Super Mario.

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Quote:
Original post by ghostedBefore suggesting that nowone favours Super Mario World style heavily tile based format you only need to look at the sales figures for the recent 'New Super Mario Bros' on the DS. That thing flew off the shelves like shit off a shovel.


I was by no means suggesting that people dislike precise compared to imprecise. If anything, I meant that people don't seem to notice the difference.
New Super Mario Bros. was good, I liked it.

Quote:
Original post by Captain PAnd they're consistently applied: every ledge you walk on only supports you up to some point. Everything that looks like a path can be walked on.

But, does everything need to be chewed for us? Some games may even revolve around making decisions based on incomplete, or pehaps even false information. As long as the player is aware of this, I don't see a problem. Not everyone may like such kind of games, but that's ok. It depends on what the game focusses on. For some games, 'precise' physics don't fit well, for others, they may be an important requirement.


Ehhhh...but my gripe with this is that jumping challenges become sorta like blind jumping challenges. I've missed ledges countless times in games like this (leading to my demise), even though it looked like I was going to make it...and maybe I should have, but it's too difficult to tell. Not everything should be pre-chewed, sure, but I think if you're going to have jumping challenges, you should try to make the levels as easy to read as possible.
The original Super Mario Bros. 2 would've been impossible if it was imprecise!

Quote:
Original post by GixugifYou may have an edge overhang in these once in a while, but I've never seen anyone complain about something like that- nor have it cause them any trouble. The fact of the matter is why would you want to let an enemy get close enough to find out at what pixel the collision is detected and damage applied to your character or get so close to a cliff that you'd be in danger of falling off.


Well, perhaps Earthworm Jim wasn't the best example, since I haven't played it enough to see if it has nearly as many jumping challenges as some other imprecise platformers I've played...but take something like Astal for example. I can't tell you how frusterating it was losing over and over again in the later levels because it looked like I was landing on the opposing ledge, when in fact I was not. These are the sorts of things where you would have to know right where the platform ends and the other one begins in order to adequately make the jump. I've had similar problems with parts of Donkey Kong Country/2/3, the first one in particular -- especially on that horrid frog, suddenly you have to land in the middle of anything to have any hopes of it registering a collision. It's games that rely on basic platforming for the challenge, yet take the imprecise approach, that I'm really wondering about.
Oh yeah, and the enemy thing is moreso an issue with, say, Donkey Kong Country. Blasting through those barrels at the bees or onto the vultures, it's a good thing to know just where the bee/vulture will register a collision with you -- sometimes it comes down to a mere handful of pixels.

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Quote:
Original post by Kulor
Ehhhh...but my gripe with this is that jumping challenges become sorta like blind jumping challenges. I've missed ledges countless times in games like this (leading to my demise), even though it looked like I was going to make it...and maybe I should have, but it's too difficult to tell. Not everything should be pre-chewed, sure, but I think if you're going to have jumping challenges, you should try to make the levels as easy to read as possible.
The original Super Mario Bros. 2 would've been impossible if it was imprecise!


I agree continually failing a jumping challenge because you didn't jump at the right millisecond isn't much fun - at least not to me. In the games you describe, I think they shouldn't have gone for maximum jump distance gaps in combination with the 'imprecise' collision system. What I mean to say is, that system isn't wrong on itself. There certainly are situations when it's probably a better approach, but I believe these aren't the kind of situations where movement is of critical importance.

Although I believe gamers these days tend to have a lower frustration tolerance, probably because there's now an abundance of games to choose from, and they're not new anymore so people become more critical anyway. If those games had been released this year, they probably wouldn't have gotten that popular. What's seen as ugly now, was top-notch back then, and what was seen as challenging back then, might be seen as frustrating now.


Oh, and are you familiar with shmups, or whatever they're called? Those Japanese bullet shower games? Now that's 'imprecise'... ;)

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Quote:
Original post by Kulor
And yet...dun dun dun! Earthworm Jim is a classic! Seems like everyone aside from myself is in love with Earthworm Jim, along with various other imprecise platformers (Astal, Rayman, Gex, etc...). I say the graphics, by being so fancy, fail to adequately perform their primary function: accurate representation.
So why do people love imprecise platformers so much?

You have allowed your opinion to cloud your ability to analyse game design. You assume the purpose of graphics is accurate presentation because that is what you like. But if that were true then games with imprecise (I prefer the word "naturalistic") graphics wouldn't be any good.

However they are good, so obviously the initial assumption is flawed. Graphics are graphics and the game works provided it is designed to work with those graphics. If edges aren't 100% clear then make sure the player doesn't need to know exactly where the edge is and the game will work. Mario games are great and so were the Earthworm Jim games* - they are just great for different reasons.

*I still have my "It's the size of your worm that counts" T-shirt

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"Well, perhaps Earthworm Jim wasn't the best example, since I haven't played it enough to see if it has nearly as many jumping challenges as some other imprecise platformers I've played...but take something like Astal for example. I can't tell you how frusterating it was losing over and over again in the later levels because it looked like I was landing on the opposing ledge, when in fact I was not. These are the sorts of things where you would have to know right where the platform ends and the other one begins in order to adequately make the jump. I've had similar problems with parts of Donkey Kong Country/2/3, the first one in particular -- especially on that horrid frog, suddenly you have to land in the middle of anything to have any hopes of it registering a collision. It's games that rely on basic platforming for the challenge, yet take the imprecise approach, that I'm really wondering about.
Oh yeah, and the enemy thing is moreso an issue with, say, Donkey Kong Country. Blasting through those barrels at the bees or onto the vultures, it's a good thing to know just where the bee/vulture will register a collision with you -- sometimes it comes down to a mere handful of pixels."

Oh, yeah now that you mention it DKC 1 and 2 were terrible with this. I remember landing on ledges and sliding off. I didn't have any problems with enemy collisions, but ledges were terrible. I guess remembering these games puts this subject in a different light. With all of DKC's beautiful prerendered graphics the curved edges had you side off whereas in SMW there weren't any curved edges to slide on.


"However they are good, so obviously the initial assumption is flawed. Graphics are graphics and the game works provided it is designed to work with those graphics. If edges aren't 100% clear then make sure the player doesn't need to know exactly where the edge is and the game will work. Mario games are great and so were the Earthworm Jim games* - they are just great for different reasons."

Of course in most games this is true, in DKC however there were some pretty long jumps and it would have been nice to know exactly where I can and can't land. They're still great games, it's just one of the few problems they have.

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Quote:
Original post by Captain P
Oh, and are you familiar with shmups, or whatever they're called? Those Japanese bullet shower games? Now that's 'imprecise'... ;)


When movement isn't critically important, sure, impreciseness can work fine. 2D fighters don't need to be precise, graphic adventures neither. Heck, like you said, the Japanese bullet shower games use impreciseness to actually help the player out. It's simply in 2D platformers with jumping challenges that things get lame.
And yeah, I agree, gamers today don't like difficult games quite as much back then, but even back then I felt a bit jiffed when I'd die due to a game's deceptive graphics.

Quote:
Original post by Obscure
If edges aren't 100% clear then make sure the player doesn't need to know exactly where the edge is and the game will work.


That's just my gripe. These games often do have challenges that should rely on accurate graphical representation;

Quote:
Original post by Kulor
Well, perhaps Earthworm Jim wasn't the best example, since I haven't played it enough to see if it has nearly as many jumping challenges as some other imprecise platformers I've played...but take something like Astal for example.


Or, as I was comparing it to as well, the Donkey Kong Country series. Granted, I wouldn't think of them as bad games, necessarily; I think the level design is wonderful in those games, and they (except for the third maybe) are all worth playing. I think that the choice of graphics, however, held down the game from it's true potential; they could've easily kept a realistic look while remaining precise.
Don't take me for a graphics hater, in fact I think a perfect example of a 2D platformer using graphics to actually enhance the fun of the game is Yoshi's Island. The cactus enemies that bounce here and there, the rows of Shy Guys that drop their bombs and shake their heads at you when you ground pound...all graphical flares, but it wouldn't be quite as fun of a game without.

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I prefer the Super Mario type. I like to think of my games as a series of rules and objects that behave according to rules.

I love N, for instance, but I get mad at it when my guy's on a curved surface and I'm not sure whether he's treating it as a wall or a floor.

It's important to know that sort of thing, so you can predict the results of your actions and make confident decisions.

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I see your point.
It would definitely frustrate me if I wasn't able to improve my playing technique because some platforms' graphical presentation are accurate and some aren't.
The player would have to guess or memorize specific platforms' properties - can add the element of surprise but it takes away the feeling of control. Sure, less control is more realistic becuase we don't have total control over our lives, but that's not something I'd like to see in this type of game; that's overrding control and skill with luck.
Could you imagine in a first person shooter, a missile shot not hitting a wall but exploding because of bad collision? "The missile was very close to the wall, next time give the wall some space..."

And concerning REAL physics, when standing on a ledge you begin to fall in a rotational manner - not straight down. This means you can still make a jump based on your angle while begining to fall.
This leaves Earthworm Jim imprecise in both perspectives.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
The difference is that earthworm jim require those graphics as one of main characteristics is the cartoonish nice graphics. But, mario does require precice tilesets because the gameplay is most about jumping over holes (used to be called jumpman). Earthworm jim is very different because it is a platform-shooter, the character doesnt accelerate and often shoot ennemies instead of jumping gaps.

It doesnt mean earthworm jim doesnt have nice physics, or mario doesnt have cool graphics. Depens of if the game requires good collisions. For example, I think the remake of megaman1 on psp is very bad and I'm a fan of the original nes games. Could be because of a bad game desing, but I didnt like the 3d collisions and the nes engine had better jumping feeling and especially the gap jumpings.

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