Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Innovation in Retro Gaming

Retro-style games are great for student projects because of their small scope of implementation, and necessary focus on gameplay. The down side is that all of those older genres have been done to death -- they've been around the longest, so they've had the most time to have every last drop of innovation squeezed out of them. Right?

And yet, this was the task set before my Capstone students: come up with something that can be done in twenty weeks with relatively little programming.

They came up with a surprising revelation: one particular genre, the 2D platformer, still has a lot of life left in it because of a curious property: every successful game takes the basic platformer mechanics and adds just one or two "gimmicks", so all you have to do is choose a gimmick that hasn't been done before. And I think they're right, looking at successful platformer franchises and their gimmicks:
  • Mario = hidden stuff
  • Sonic = go really fast
  • Castlevania = short-range attack with whip
  • Pitfall!, Prince of Persia, Impossible Mission = time limit to complete the entire game
  • Metroid, Blaster Master = explore a huge map, gaining access to new areas as you get more powerups
  • Mega Man = choose the order of stages, earn boss's weapons
  • Incredible Machine, Lemmings = build and/or destroy the platforms as you go

There are some interesting ideas there, but really, they don't even scratch the surface of what's possible. There's a lot of room for new gimmicks that haven't been explored yet, which is why we're still seeing new 2D platformers in this day and age:

So, it would seem this is a promising direction for aspiring game developers who want to create something interesting on a student's schedule/budget.


Darius Kazemi said...

You're leaving out something for Mario: continuous smooth scrolling. While it's partly a graphical advancement, it had major ramifications on gameplay (at the very least in pacing).

Also, I find it weird that you're including Incredible Machine with these platformers. (Lemmings I'll buy.)

Ian Schreiber said...

Mario: don't get me wrong, this game innovated in many ways, essentially creating the side-scrolling platformer that we know today. Most of its innovations are now considered genre conventions (including continuous smooth scrolling); the hidden stuff in each level is the only thing that isn't carried over to other SSP's but seems specific to the Mario series of games.

Incredible Machine: to the extent that there are platforms, and in this case you're the one building the level (rather than navigating it with your avatar). I justify LocoRoco the same way: you're only controlling the avatar indirectly, you're really controlling the level itself. Kirby: Canvas Curse would fall somewhere in between the two, but I'd still call it a platformer.