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What made Super Metroid great?

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Ok, so what I really want to do in my life is become a game designer. I learn programming and drawing so I can become a good designer. But the most important thing I do to be a good designer is, well, play games. Play lots of them and write down all the elements that I can find and whether I believe they are fun or not according to how I felt as I gamer when I first encountered them.

So I make this topic, with the first notes I've made and maybe some improvements I thought while playing that could make the game better. I create this topic as a gathered knowledge topic, meaning essentially, that i want your opinion and observations too about what you found great about Super Metroid's game design. Whether that's level design, game mechanics, story, atmosphere, whatever. Ok, so I begin:


Positive:

+ Samus with the click of a button does an instant, quick movement that lets the player move in a different way in the environment (Jump).

+ The character has two morphs that essentially play the same. The only difference is that the player can go to particular places and interact differently with the environment with the second morph. (Morphball)

+ The character has special moves that allow him to search the environment so he can move on. Essentially trial and error without losing. (Character moves)

+ In many cases the player can see a path by where he could move on but if he doesn't have particular abilities he can't go there. (Backtracking)

+ Rooms have essentially two orientations. Vertical and horizontal. (Environment design)

+ Constant change between vertical and horizontal design to keep the feel and flow of exploring. (Flow)

+ The player is encouraged to search every inch of the rooms by being rewarded with new secret rooms or upgrades. (Game / Level design)
* Maybe there should be more indications that a reward is there to more secret places.

+ Enemies that at first were harmful become harmless as the game progresses. (Feeling of achievement, Flow)

+Enemies reward you for killing them, but not always. (Game design)

+ Most enemies take 2-3 hits to die and Samus can shout rather fast. (Flow)

+ Enemies that take more hits at the beginning of the game to kill take much more less as Samus upgrades her beams. (Feeling of achievement, Flow)

+ Occasionally different tactics or beams to kill an enemy. (Enemy design, Flow)

+ Environmental and Logic Puzzles. (Game design)
1. In most Environmental puzzles you seem to be stuck in a room and try to find a way to break through by scanning or searching the room for breakable blocks, invisible walls etc.
2. In most Logic puzzles an obstacle is or appears between you and the next room. You have to figure out a way to destroy the obstacle or preventing from appearing at all. In some cases go through the obstacle before it obscures your way (Speed Booster).



Minus:

- Begin from save without full energy. Sometimes the player has too little energy and he has to kill enemies or find a refill room to be able to continue the game.



Personal thoughts / improvements

* Maybe there could be a scanning ability in the jump of Samus. For example if she jumps towards a wall, and there are breakable blocks, an instant change of sprites for these blocks could help the player find new routes. Exploration could be much more convenient.\


Ok, for the moment this is all I have written down. I will most surely add to these lists. Now if anyone else has observed something I didn't see he's more than welcome to point it out and I will add it to the list.

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Ok, so what I really want to do in my life is become a game designer. I learn programming and drawing so I can become a good designer. But the most important thing I do to be a good designer is, well, play games. Play lots of them and write down all the elements that I can find and whether I believe they are fun or not according to how I felt as I gamer when I first encountered them.

So I make this topic, with the first notes I've made and maybe some improvements I thought, while playing the game, that could make the game better. I create this topic as a gathered knowledge topic, meaning essentially, that i want your opinion and observations too about what you found great about Super Metroid's game design. Whether that's level design, game mechanics, story, atmosphere, whatever. Ok, so I begin:


Positive:

+ Samus with the click of a button does an instant, quick movement that lets the player move in a different way in the environment (Jump).

+ The character has two morphs that essentially play the same. The only difference is that the player can go to particular places and interact differently with the environment with the second morph. (Morphball)

+ The character has special moves that allow him to search the environment so he can move on. Essentially trial and error without losing. (Character moves)

+ In many cases the player can see a path by where he could move on but if he doesn't have particular abilities he can't go there. (Backtracking)

+ Rooms have essentially two orientations. Vertical and horizontal. (Environment design)

+ Constant change between vertical and horizontal design to keep the feel and flow of exploring. (Flow)

+ The player is encouraged to search every inch of the rooms by being rewarded with new secret rooms or upgrades. (Game / Level design)
* Maybe there should be more indications that a reward is there to more secret places.

+ Enemies that at first were harmful become harmless as the game progresses. (Feeling of achievement, Flow)

+Enemies reward you for killing them, but not always. (Game design)

+ Most enemies take 2-3 hits to die and Samus can shout rather fast. (Flow)

+ Enemies that take more hits at the beginning of the game to kill take much more less as Samus upgrades her beams. (Feeling of achievement, Flow)

+ Occasionally different tactics or beams to kill an enemy. (Enemy design, Flow)

+ Environmental and Logic Puzzles. (Game design)
1. In most Environmental puzzles you seem to be stuck in a room and try to find a way to break through by scanning or searching the room for breakable blocks, invisible walls etc.
2. In most Logic puzzles an obstacle is or appears between you and the next room. You have to figure out a way to destroy the obstacle or preventing from appearing at all. In some cases go through the obstacle before it obscures your way (Speed Booster).



Minus:

- Begin from save without full energy. Sometimes the player has too little energy and he has to kill enemies or find a refill room to be able to continue the game.



Personal thoughts / improvements

* Maybe there could be a scanning ability in the jump of Samus. For example if she jumps towards a wall, and there are breakable blocks, an instant change of sprites for these blocks could help the player find new routes. Exploration could be much more convenient.\


Ok, for the moment this is all I have written down. I will most surely add to these lists. Now if anyone else has observed something I didn't see he's more than welcome to point it out and I will add it to the list.

Share this post


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Well Darklink_, you did a great job breaking game down the points, but the problem is that perhaps you are too young to know the context in which the game appeared and what made it outstand. I'll try to explain my point of view, but it will probably take a lot of text.

Super Metroid is essentially one of the last, high-budgeted specimen of arcade-maze genre which was popular on home computer in the 80-s. In Eighties, if you decided to make an action-based game, you couldn't make a game interesting by inserting any kind of scripted scenes because you didn't have memory (something like 40 kilobytes) for that. You couldn't even add plot text messages because you didn't have memory for any except the very basic ones. All you had is some kind of primitive game engine and couple of kilobytes for sprites and levels. So if you did such a game, it was usually about running right in linear levels consisting of few premade graphical tiles. Say, Super Mario Bros is prime example for that.

But some people preferred not to make player run from left to right, but instead to put him in a complex 2D maze that had some kind of ultimate objective and ability to backtrack the completed rooms. Usually the final room had some kind of door which could only be bypassed by collecting or activating some kind of keys throughout the whole maze.

But you still had limited memory problem, which is now only aggravated with the necessity of making that huge maze. So the devs only made the basic pattern for maze and let the engine fill the empty space with semi-random tiles. To make things more difficult for players, some flying weirdo-things were thrown into the maze. Usually, the results were like this:
ftp://ftp.worldofspe...rraqueous_3.png
ftp://ftp.worldofspe.../N.O.M.A.D..png
ftp://ftp.worldofspe.../t/Tantalus.png

Unfortunately, the maps don't translate the weird sounds (if the game wasn't mute at all) and idiotic flying enemies. Now you probably think that those games were just a bunch of crap. Basically, they were smile.png But it was 80-s, home computers were still regarded as a miracle, and people treated all related to them very seriously. So the players always tried to rationalize the picture they saw (Remember how Mario manual explained that the brick blocks in the game were transformed Mushroom kingdom folks). And the conclusion was: they were put against a world living, breathing, alien, completely irrational to human mind, completely devoid of purpose that human mind could catch, and loving it.

Metroid on NES was a typical arcade-maze, carrying two essential upgrades over predecessors. First were boss battles that home computers in 80-s never could get right (that limited memory again). Second, the keys were not keys but the abilities that unlocked different parts of the maze. Player wasn't just opening the doors, he could jump over them, run and break through them, melt them down. But despite those qualities Metroid never was really big thing before Super Metroid.

When SNES come out, literally walls fell down that limited the creativity of game developers. And yet Nintendo consciously took the unique athmosphere of obsolette arcade-maze game and breathed new life in it. They recreated on purpose the setting of first game and fleshed in code the behind-the-scene links that were previously only in player mind. So you feel that the world is hostile and doesn't want you in it? There is your spaceship that is your piece of home in this place, to add to the gameplay that is centered around keeping working the suit which is literally your barrier from the environment. See the creepy fly things? There is their mom nearby, which is even more disturbing and has a proper lair to emphasize its horribleness. But the game world is not completely hostile, it's just lives on it own, it can be benevolent when it wishes so. The statues may fight you, but usually they guide and empower you. And some inhabitants of the world see you as a playmate, showing you how too use some of acquired abilities. I would say the psychology is most important about Metroid series, which the most recent installment lacks in.

Super Metroid was also a major shift in gaming flow. Most games of it time depended on inhuman difficulty to compensate for small amount of actual content. SM was literally one of the biggest games to release, it was nearly cancelled due to required cartridge size. And it was quite easy, I see that it is absolutely possible for a new player to beat it without dying once.

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Well, I most certainly understand the breakthrough that the game was in terms of atmosphere and liveliness, actually realism of the world. I don't believe any other game of that time does a better job at actually making you feel like you ARE in this world. It's very difficult, especially for a 2D game as the brain works in 3D.

But the major achievement here, is the balance, the attention and the incredible sense of exploring an actual planet. For a 2D game I literally cannot imagine something more true and real than Super Metroid. Actually, I believe it's one of the very few 2D games that can even claim to have touched that feeling.

I personally broke down the game mechanics so I can observe more clearly what made this game so great. I learn from it in the hope of one day maybe achieving something like this. I believe that Super Metroid is an encyclopedia of game designers as it contains almost all game design mechanics of the 2D era. From strategy, to platform, to shootting, to horror, general atmophere, aim and levelling up or upgrading your character. All the essence is there in a masterfully balanced and impeccable way. This is what does Super Metroid so great and this is why it is still fun today.

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