Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Games you get Great at.

Back in the 80's, Great Giana Sisters is probably the best game I've played on my C64. If you allow yourself to go beyond the likelihood with Super Mario Bros on NES, you'll discover a challenge that is well-tuned and that appeal you to improve your skills -- a dimension that is imho too much abandoned nowaydays.

that damn'd fish!
The game is designed with no save state, but with "warp blocks" that are invisibles and that will throw you further ahead in the game. This is quite unlike the "warp zone" of SMB1 in that here you have several secrets to discover and to remember. If you fail to activate one on your way, it will turn into a different experience, so the game is not only made speed-run-able, but also diverse in this way.

With repeated re-plays of the game from the start (but usually less than one minute to beat one level), you quickly realise that even with a decent skill level, you'll often fail on the very same jump. Difficulty comes from the need to properly identify hitboxes and manoeuvre your character on tighter timing.

I started playing back the game with the ambition to beat it without cheating back in late 2008, when Mr. Sid released it as a Nintendo DS homebrew. Only then I realised that the "curious items" between the homing fireballs and the 1-UP offered unique ways to undermine some challenges. Do this jump in level 11 look near-impossible ? Well, if you're wet (raindrop powerup -- which you lose on picking a 1-UP and lacks visual feedback), the fire won't burn you. That makes it a whole lot easier (on the C64, only a game engine bug allowed us to cross that screen).

Once I realised that, my challenged changed. If I wanted to get a chance to beat the game, I need to get and hold the raindrop when I'm playing level 11. That essentially means *playing perfectly all the levels before*. If I just fall for that tricky jump in level 4, I'll lose all my power-ups, and I'll never be able to find enough power-up blocks before I reach level 11 again -- esp. since the block just next to my respawn point will be empty >_<. This is something that feels completely alien in a platformer nowadays, where you can almost always revisit at will levels you've beaten once (and thus stock power-ups at will). Then, it turned obvious that I could undermined "that damn'd fish in level 22" if I could "simply" find out how many power-up blocks I need to skip so that I have a "clock" to freeze the fish when I reach that place.

This, friends, was the original Great Giana Sisters, and when my 11-year-old nephew discovered it, he kept playing it for roughly 1 hour and a half, although by then, he hardly managed to beat level 2. Stay tuned for part 2 on "Twisted Dreams (PSN)".

Likely, if you played Super Mario Bros on NES, most of these "dangerous places" look not so dangerous to you. That's because you've grown up in a game that helps you, not in a game that hates you. When SMB game engine detect that you can't keep jumping because there's something on your path, it doesn't just stop you to your doom: it tries harder, checking whether aligning you on the next tile wouldn't help. This makes the game logic a bit more complex, but it compensates the lack of complex collision system and the crudeness of rectangular hitboxes.

(Trop chaud pour la version française. Revenez demain)

1 comment:

cyborgjeff said...

Claire, nous étions loin d'avoir saisi toutes les subtilités de gameplay de ce Giana Sisters à l'époque... après le double éclaire, les bonus semblaient juste être là pour le fun ;)