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Understanding Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels {Final part}

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mario dying in lost levels


Environment & levels 

The Lost Levels is quite a creative game that allows for different solutions to the problem of finishing a level, so one can run and jump and hope for the best (risk always increases with more acceleration), but in the situations with the flying Koopa platforms many times just using the A button and directional pad is sufficient because if Mario lands perfectly on a Koopa he gets an extra bump up in the air which allows space to maneuver another jump to the next Koopa. What happens after a jump though is Mario gets pushed forward a bit and so he changes his position in space. With the directional cross the player must really get a feel for tapping back and forth while Mario is descending in order to land the next collision. A few instances in the game require the player to perform this with very few if any other solutions around the problem. 

There is a deeper interaction with the environment that the player has through Mario, and through the core mechanic. Mario can also use his fist to effect change in the world. Littered about the world are different kinds of blocks that can be interacted with.

In each level there are usually several small groups of ? blocks, or question mark boxes. By jumping and punching (the punch is simply an automatic aspect of the jump) the bottom of these blocks coins invariably pop out and disappear into Marios invisible wallet. There are some clear purposes for these coins. They add to the high score and when 100 have been collected they add to Marios life count, thereby giving the player an extra go. However, neither of these are very meaningful in the larger context of the game.

The extra lives gained from absorbing 100 coins do not really add up to much as SMB: TLL thankfully grants the player infinite continues if they choose to save their progress and continue at the game over screen. There are checkpoints in some of the longer levels, and that checkpoint progress would be lost but there is no real risk to the player.

The other purposes of the coins are more veiled, but soon become obvious when noticed. The coins act as a breadcrumb trail to lead the way for Mario and to give hints about where it is possible to go in the landscape, the idea being that if you can physically get a coin you can also jump over to that place. This is a consistent rule throughout the game, and even if it does not add much value in the sense of lives and high score it can greatly increase the challenge of the game as the player struggles to collect them from tricky places and risks falling to their death.

The ? blocks have a number of purposes in the game. Symbolically they act as a mysterious landmark within the levels. They glow and are strangely attractive. This surreal thing adds to the general mystic quality of the whole aesthetic. They have a play function, because it is fun to punch them and to hear the coin sounds. They have an environmental function to furnish the level with interactive objects. But the ? blocks also hide power-ups in them. Sometimes a red and white mushroom will come out, which when touched by Mario grows him into Super Mario. They also hide poisonous mushrooms which either shrink Mario from super Mario to regular Mario or from regular Mario to dead Mario. The other power-ups are the fire flower and star, but more on them later.

A huge aspect of the gameplay in SMB: TLL comes from the interplay between the three types of blocks: the mystery boxes, the mutable bricks, and the fixed bricks in relation to the status of Mario and his proximity to turtles and other creatures. There are many floating structures throughout the levels that seem like little animal pens that the turtles often patrol.

The Koopas are the most complex of the creatures in the game. They are what the Greeks call pharmakon, which roughly translates as drug. But a drug is neither good nor bad and can be used for either healing or destructive purposes. In the same way the turtles have a dual function. When Mario lands on them they get back in their shell. Another hit by Mario (an automatic kick, essentially) sends the shell flying across the ground in whatever direction Mario is facing. The second kick of the shell is a bit of gamble because it could fly off and ricochet off a fixed or mutable block and end up hitting Mario. The player always has to be prepared for the return of the shell because in these situations with the animal pens and the tight architecture it can bounce back in many ways and there may be as many as four turtles on the screen at once.

Furthermore, the limitations of the hardware make it so that the player cannot scroll the screen too much forward and cannot go backwards. But a part of the screen that is hidden on either side is still in play and could be hiding a fixed block that could spit the shell back at Mario.

Theres still so much to explain about the turtles though. You can use the shelled Koopa as a ground missile to knock other Koopas off the screen, or any other creature, thus turning the enemy into a weapon that benefits you. But there is a time limit as to how long the turtle stays in its shell. If youre too late and try to kick it when it is emerging it will bite you and it could be game over. Also, when landing on a winged turtle, it loses its wings and devolves into a land Koopa but it has a tendency to quickly turn directions towards the place that Mario is going to land. In both examples, the trickster nature of the Koopa tends to be the cause of many deaths in Mario games and SMB: TLL is no exception.

A big part of the satisfaction of mastering the control system is down to its application in these situations with the turtles as an extension of the threat of Bowser, or King Koopa. It gives meaning to such a subtle and finely-tuned system of movement and action. One has to land a perfect jump and then adjust Marios position in mid-air to land on the right side of the turtle or to land on the turtle again, catapulting it across the screen.

When the player has not gained much skill they may be confused and frustrated at their constant deaths, but this confusion and frustration borne of a lack of understanding of the rules is closely connected to artificially high levels of joy and relief at being successful because the player will partly attribute their success to luck or chance when actually it is mostly a matter of skill. But even when the player has a lot of skill there is still this sense of vertigo that you experience; a kind of uneasiness at the way the world shifts and moves. There is still a bit of fear and uncertainty.

 

mario vs wind in lost levels


Everything in the game is so well inter-related. Often, the animal pens are patrolled by Koopas some of which just move back and forth and others of which keep moving left or right until they fall off a line of blocks or off the screen itself. Upon investigating these floating sub-levels and exploring the mystery boxes you can punch upwards, the force of which will push the turtle into its shell. This is fun and seems like a good tactic, but in a tight space the next hit could just as easily kill you if you are not careful. Turtles could also fall off the top and hit Mario. A red mushroom gained from punching the box empowers the player as they grow big, but the danger and peril of the situation could just as easily take that power way.

Upon growing into Super Mario, the player can punch and destroy the mutable blocks, opening up holes in the floating structures and gaining access to the top of the level, or to coins, or to other mystery blocks. Some situations and level designs allow the player to form strategies such as kick turtle shells down multiple levels, destroying all the enemies below. In some levels you can play skittles. If you jump on a Koopa, turning it into a shell, and then jump on it again and keep following it as it shoots to the right it will knock over all the other Koopas and Goombas in the way and if you knock down all of them you tend to get a 1-UP.

Sometimes there is a fixed block at the end of the path though and the shell bounces back at you, which keeps you on your toes! Some animal pens trick the player by placing a patrolling Koopa in a very tight space between two pillars. If you jump in there and miss hitting it then youll fall into the gap and it will come to bite you. But if you hit it and jump out and then hit it again you can witness its spinning shell shaking left and right between the pillars for all eternity.  All of these subtle, well-hidden rules of the game create rich and challenging play only with a few buttons.

The size of Mario as he changes into Super Mario affects the design as a whole too. It is not all easy sailing from there. In tighter spaces Mario does not have as much room for movement and jumping on enemies is more difficult. The player can be aided in this by learning a new skill: ducking. By ducking and jumping you create just enough space to land successfully on creatures. By virtue of his size Mario also seems a little slower and heavier, but this may just be psychological.  

The evolution to Super Mario also opens the game up to exploratory play. In many of the underground levels if you have a super mushroom you can break through the bricks in the upper part of the screen like in the 80s Atari arcade game Breakout. This can lead to secret warp pipes that transport the player to distant worlds. The very fact that Mario can run in front of the statistical text at the top of the screen symbolizes the playful nature of the game.

The fire flower power-up modifies the gameplay so much in SMB: TLL that Im not surprised they are quite rare and difficult to retain as death and de-evolution is very common. It turns SMB into a shooting game, allowing Mario to spit out a constant stream of fire balls in an unstoppable reign of terror. Cleverly the power-ups also transform the gameplay. The animal pens become sniper spots and if you are in possession of a fire flower in the underwater areas, SMB becomes almost like a game of Asteroids.

The star grants the player limited invincibility and while a nice variation in play does not add that much value to gameplay in the long run.

The yearning and romantic melancholy of the world of TLL creates in the player a desire to explore and investigate, but also to reflect. What is this strange land? How can I deepen my experience of it? The inclusion of making some warp pipes explorable and some not plays on the austerity of the aesthetic in a physical way. Quite often I would go around testing all the pipes to see which ones I could go through. This leads to surprise when one is not blocked, followed by elation at finding a stash of golden coins (which is often the case) or perhaps disappointment at finding the same stash of golden coins. But often in those secret dungeons there are things hidden further in the mutable blocks and through using a super mushroom and some creative jumping and ducking skills one can extend their exploratory play.

The ambiguous narrative and the gameplay inherent within the narrative may also bring forth many questions about Mario. Is he using his plumbing skills to unplug that pipe? What tools does he use? How does he stay so clean? Who left all this gold here? Why is there a massive image of my face in this dungeon? The questions are endless. It is finding the answers that prove elusive.

 

 

Conclusion

In SMB: TLL I see the age old Mario game design stretched to its limits, and even though it is sparse in areas, it repeats a lot of backgrounds and arrangements and it only has a four background theme songs; even though at times it is infuriating and had me cursing and almost throwing my control pad about it kept me coming back with its charm and its challenge.

It is perhaps a long way from the open world play box design of the contemporary Mario, but most of what eventually came to fruition with Super Mario World and eventually Super Mario 64 is in this game in some form or another which is a pretty impressive feat for game from the late 80s.


Afterword

I love and still dread how the world of Super Mario Bros. shifts and shimmers. It feels as if it is world set on ice, with everything in play and everything to play for. I enjoy the way some Koopas patrol their specific bit of land, and the way some of them simply keep on marching and appear to commit some kind of animal suicide. Or perhaps they fall into another dimension? Who knows what goes down in the MushroomKingdom?

I enjoy the way the flying Koopas dance about mirthfully with stupefied expressions on their faces. I enjoy tap dancing on their shells. I enjoy spinning around and around under fountains of hammers. I enjoy falling into the endless abyss only to pull back at the last moment and come crashing back to land. I enjoy the echoing funk of the underground music and the satisfying plunging noise as Im sucked into a warp pipe. I enjoy the steel drums, the smiley clouds, and the way Mario slides down a pole at the end of each course. I remember the expressionless, squashed up face of a tiny man never ready to give up. All of these encounters express the characters in the game and the character of the game. The whole experience feels like becoming part of an understated but nonetheless grand slapstick comedy or theatrical play.

The Lost Levels is a story of courage as each jump, heart in mouth, could mean the end. It takes such bravery and boldness to overcome and rise against gravity, the true boss of the game.

 

***

Thanks for reading! :-)

Please don't play this game!

Understanding Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels {Part 2}

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bowser fighting mario

 

Mechanics & Enemies

 

One of the first enemies the player encounters is the Goomba. It takes one clean hop on the head from Mario to delete the fiend (or is it Mario who is the fiendish one?) from the landscape. This is easier said than done. The hop really does need to be clean. The player dies if he collides with the front or the back of the Goomba. This is a typical snapshot of the narrative in SMB: TLL. It is all about the precision landing, and this is the single most consistent law to abide by throughout the game system and if mastered the whole game can beaten without too much trouble. You need this skill for everything in the game, from hopping on flying Koopas to cross a chasm, to landing a super jump onto a narrow platform, to landing on Bowsers glowing axe thereby dismantling his bridge and sending him falling to his fiery doom.

The core mechanic of most of the Mario games is often implied by gamers to be the jumping. The term platforming has been invented to describe the nature of the games. It is an interesting word that appears to combine this idea of jumping and landing at the same time. This made-up word demonstrates the complexity of the core mechanic and the various actions and interactions that make it up.

Walking, running and jumping are the core interactions of the game, but through running and jumping the landing is the result of these actions. So the landing aspect is the core mechanic. It is always how Mario lands that defines the outcome of the game, but the walking, turning directions, running, and jumping create the landing. All of these interactions make up the core mechanic. In this way the Mario games remind me of a more evolved and expanded Lunar Lander, a 1979 arcade game by Atari in which the sole objective is about guiding your spacecraft towards specific landing bases, or Nintendos own Landing game proper, Pilotwings, which for some reason makes me feel that it was based on the Super Mario Bros. design.

The controls are so finely-tuned and transparent; if you make a mistake it is more often than not, your own fault. To jump the player has to press A. A is the primary action button, but creating a meaningful jump (i.e. not simply jumping up) requires some momentum and a sense of direction in relation to the object. The momentum, or acceleration from walking or running comes from the secondary action; button B and fine-tuning Marios collision with the object comes from creative use of the directional cross. These are clear rules, but a game is not just its rules, it is also the play, and when these embedded rules are transformed into living movement the complexity and nuance are very physically and sensually understood!

The abstract nature of the controls has to be fully explored and discovered by the player. One becomes conscious that they are operating a machine. So with the Goomba example, it is a case of pressing the finger onto the forward part of the directional cross, looking at the screen and noticing where Mario is in relation to the Goomba and then pressing A at just the right time in order to land correctly. In a way, you are blind when doing this. It is like typing words into a word document while not looking at the keyboard; your eyes are guiding your hands.

It takes situational awareness, a visual understanding of the characters and the landscape, a grasp of the controls, and using the ears to listen out for audio cues to aid the play. In life there is not as much skill, generally speaking, in jumping on mushrooms; there is no need to think: how do I jump on mushrooms? Because you understand how to move the body, you can do it. But with video games the console and controller become your body, and your consciousness becomes the intelligence. There is a new man-machine entity, or human consciousness-digital machine entity.

 

Play experience

 

The rhythm of play in SMB: TLL consists of many different types of jumps and landings. The running aspect of the game and the physics of the character of Mario both play a significant part in this. Mario is very heavy and also slippy; when pressing B to accelerate he moves very fast. This is interesting because it is very enjoyable and smooth to run in SMB: TLL. It feels exhilarating and you dont want to stop. The game appears to anticipate this and play on it because as soon as you begin to enjoy the running aspect you come across some turtles that you run head-first into and die!

A major aspect of the gameplay, and the tension of the narrative, is in managing Marios mass and restraining his speed of movement, just like racing a car around a track with obstacles. The way some levels are designed, actively encourage the player to run. Some levels allow you to run at full linear speed mostly without stopping, while others combine flat, horizontal spaces with busy and crowded architecture. The player must switch between ecstatically free movement and very restrained and painstakingly accurate judgments. At first it might seem jarring, but once the player has learnt this unique discipline he can begin to play with skill and consciously feel the rhythm of the gameplay as it speeds up and slows down, becomes tighter and then looser.

The elegance of the mechanical design is all based around Marios weight in comparison to the athletic speed of his legs. Gravity is pulling him down quite fast so the player has to really push him up and throw him forward with B, but in doing so there is always a risk that he will go off the rails and tumble and fall into a gap or an enemy and this is due to his slippyness. So the player has to carefully manage a balance between running and jumping.

In a narrative dimension, this finely-tuned mechanical system transforms into the core drama of SMB: TLL as often the player is faced with the dread and terror of keeping Mario safe and alive throughout his strange mission. Each good landing is a relief and each bad landing fills one with rage! The narrative of games is there in the play itself. It is there in the way the player establishes their journey throughout the landscape, it is there in the way the player feels emotions of joy, fear, and anger, and it is there in the nature of the progression. The story is always being written through active participation. Furthermore, it is not separate from the characters story. It is a collaboration between the character and player.

In the Boss levels where you fight Bowser, the design of the level is set out to intimidate the player and to make him feel hemmed in. Its a strong contrast to the sweeping plateaus and roaming green pastures where you could run and jump to your hearts content. Many of the corridors have little blocks with a swirling line of fireballs connected to them. They turn around like the hands of a clock. It forces the player to gently tap the D-pad forward and walk as if you are tip-toeing, and then when the timing is right you can jump around them. Accompanied with the unsettling music, this structure creates a lot of the drama and tension that builds-up to the encounter with King Koopa.

One of the hidden skills to managing Marios mass is skidding. After holding down B to run, you can press in the opposite direction on the directional cross to skid. This not only slows Mario down but it is essential for stopping him falling off a cliff, into lava, into water, or into a creature. It doesnt stop there though because the player can use the built-up momentum in some interesting ways. For example, you are running along quite fast because you need that momentum to super jump over a lava pit, but on the other side is quite a tall platform with another lava pit below. If Mario makes the landing on top of the platform it is so tiny that he will just spin off into the other lava pit, so by skidding for split second and then jumping backwards the energy of the momentum is channeled upwards and then lost as Mario hits the platform and steadies.

Another example are blocks in the sky that cannot be reached by just jumping up. Mario needs to use the horizontal space below the block to run and build up momentum, jump up and then turn in the opposite direction to land on the block. In some parts of the game there are no platforms below so you just have to literally drop Mario almost into the abyss and then press left or right on the directional cross to maneuver him into the crevice. These are skills that are necessary to learn to beat SMB: TLL without too many tears! The design is very harsh and unforgiving, but when you understand the rules through play it cannot hide anything from you and must accept your authority. Part of the appeal of The Lost Levels for me, however silly, was in establishing my authority over the game until I could be dominant. Personally speaking, I didnt care about a princess! Perfection was my prize. 

Too much use of the B button creates too many super jumps, but too little use of the B button creates very weak and feeble hops that are likely to make you miss the mark or collapse in the face of a turtle or floating squid. It is mastering the balance between these two extremes that gives favourable results. Some jumps require such sensitivity and balance of Mario. For example, deeper into the game there is a lack of platforms and so flying Koopas take the place of those absent platforms, the only difference being that its a much more fiddly affair because the Koopas are tiny platforms with no space to move or stay on, they are moving quite fast and in a strange rhythm and once Mario connects with them they fall off the screen. Also, if you miss the mark you are likely to fall into their faces and die.

There is such a drama inherent in these nuances of the gameplay of TLL. There was a similar drama in the original Super Mario Bros. but TLL tweaks everything so that it almost feels unfair, but there is never anything downright awful (except perhaps the hidden blocks in the sky) about it. The designers are testing the limits of the systems they built and offering the most extreme challenge you can have without it being impossible. Gaps are wider, levels are bigger and structures taller, tight spaces are tighter, enemies are faster and more plentiful. Some things are hidden. Lots of things are hidden. The mystery of the game is attractive in the way a moth is attracted to a light bulb. It needs to learn restraint and it needs to see the object of its desire from a distance.


End of part 2. In part 3 we will look at the environment design and then conclude!

Thanks for reading. :-)


Understanding Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels {Part 1}

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I just noticed that the essay is eight pages and so I will break it down in different blog segments to make it easier to take in. What I've written is not really a comparative analysis of the differences between the original Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels. There is a bit of analysis on that, but my main focus was on breaking down the elements of the game in isolation and then putting them back together to explain the gameplay.

In future I won't be writing epic essays like this. I've realized how much time and effort it takes. Lol. Not that I'm not down for a bit of hard work, but I just don't have the academic credentials to do this kind of thing the way I would like to. In future it will be through the blog as if I am talking to you through words. :-)

 

NES screenshot of Mario jumping on a flying Koopa over a pit

 

Introduction

 

The Mario series of Platformer games have always been interesting to me. I first began playing the games on the Super Nintendo with Super Mario World and the Super Mario All-Stars compilation cartridge. What struck me about Mario was his surreal and jolly little world. I enjoyed the colourful graphics, funny characters, and chirpy tunes. There was also something mysterious about Marios world that would keep me coming back and re-investigating all the different levels and the things that you could do.

When I was younger I was not very skillful at games and Mario was very hard for me back then. I used to play easier games such as Donkey Kong Country which, in addition, captivated me more with its 3D-rendered graphics.

Compared to DK, Mario always felt more austere, plain and inscrutable. It was only until fairly recently, in my mid-twenties that I came to an appreciation of Marios elegant design and rich gameplay. I understood what was compelling about Mario by dying over and over again and finally realizing the chubby plumbers full potential and talent for dive-bombing turtles and sentient mushrooms with little boots.

I have understood that this skill of Mario, his true potential and the core mechanic of the game, is essential to learn and perfect in order to gain a full appreciation of the game series. Furthermore, by understanding the central role of the player-character relationship through physical, imaginative, and sensory experience one naturally unfolds the grander meaning and scope of the design and it all comes together nicely.

This essay is a thourough investigation and meditation on perhaps the most difficult Mario game of the Platformer series, Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels which in Japan was simply the direct sequel to the first game. In the western markets it was re-branded and updated with more contemporary graphics for the time.

There was no special reason for choosing this game in particular, other than for me it was the most neglected game in the series and I was curious about it. I never intended to write about it or analyze it at first, but it just ended up that way due to interesting circumstances. I wanted to create a clear understanding of the game and explain its magic through my own experience. I feel that an improvement in our individual and collective understanding of play and game design will help in the construction of more compelling experiences and also create a discernment and gratitude in players for games such as Super Mario Bros.

 

Goal & narrative


Theres one simple goal in Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels (hereafter referred to as SMB: TLL) and that is: reach the exit. This is the key act that perpetuates and concludes the narrative, of which is rather mysterious if your understanding of the game begins at the title screen with the little squashed man in the doorway of a castle facing squarely forward on a grassy plateau accompanied by the whimsical play of harps and flutes.

One might be forgiven at first for not understanding the simplicity of the programmed objective, for you are thrust straight into a strange land full of extremely flat grass (with some clumps appearing to dance in the wind), chunky little castles, lumpy bumpy hills, floating bricks, clouds with happy faces, and many green pipes sticking up into the air. Such an arresting site, accompanied by probably one of the catchiest and most memorable jingles in history has always tended to take my attention away from understanding Marios level design and play mechanics. But once you get a few levels in and beat the beefy dragon monster, some little toadstool men inform you that although they are thankful for your rescue, the princess is in another castle. Well, that explains everything then. No need for any elaborations there.

Its a very ambiguous and mysterious premise and much can be read into it, but eventually the player understands that their life purpose in this system is to locate and perhaps retrieve and bring back the princess. This design goal and narrative premise is just enough to gain some sense of grounding in the mushroom kingdom.

Even though the goal of SMB: TLL appears to be simple (walk forward to the exit) Mario faces the daunting task of navigating the cheerfully dangerous path through the world. The colourful visuals and chirpy music feel completely at odds with the very treacherous and very physically demanding task of avoiding all the pitfalls (literally) and avoiding head-on collisions with the weird and wonderful creatures that prance throughout the candy-covered landscape.

You can be forgiven for assuming that the childrens cartoon visual aesthetic extends to a childrens cartoon play experience. It led me to understand a more conceptual and esoteric understanding of the term child-like. This is a childs world, but it is the paradoxical and radical concept of the child as an archetype of consciousness, not a game made for children who cant play with complex systems. The character of Mario himself is said to be based on the trickster god of Japanese culture, Tanuki. This is why Mario continues to appeal to older audiences and why as a child I had a lot of difficulty playing the game. SMB appeals to the inner child.


Mechanics

 

The difficulty of playing SMB: TLL arises from the depth of the mechanical structure of play and how finely-tuned and nuanced it is. It is also worth mentioning how TLL is based almost entirely on the first SMB game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and how its design has been consistently engineered to be more difficult in a lot of ways, but more on this later.

The controls of the game appear to be quite minimal in comparison to more modern game designs. It uses mostly three buttons; the directional cross, the A button and the B button. The directional cross should be considered to be 4 buttons combined into one though, as it allows separate movement in four directions; up, down, left and right. Once this is taken into consideration SMB: TLL becomes more complex as it moves from a three button game to a six button game. Also take into account how these six buttons combine in different variations together.  

The actions that each button performs when pressed are as follows: the cross allows you to move forward, backward, up and down. The B button when held down allows faster movement when moving (acceleration), and the A button is the jumping or hopping function. On paper it sounds simple, but jumping and running in a virtual simulation is very different from real-world physics.

The player controls Mario from a distance, through the contraption of the game pad not through the physical body of the player. This distance and physical abstraction creates further abstractions in the play itself. The player has to learn a new language and many new skills. Controlling Mario is analogous to driving a unique kind of vehicle.

The goal is to reach the end of the long plateau of each landscape, but achieving this goal in a consistent and satisfying manner relies on a clear understanding of the many unspoken rules of the design through exploration and trial and error (one can understand the rules from the instruction booklet in an intellectual way, but it is another thing altogether to make the fingers and senses understand). It also relies on being able to drive Mario successfully, for indeed he is a vehicle and the player needs to pass the driving test.

In a typical level you have quite a flat, horizontal landscape littered with neat gaps in the ground. You also have floating horizontal and vertical structures as well as vertical and horizontal blocks that layer on top of the ground to create the architecture and furniture of the world.

On most levels there is an arrangement of creatures that populate the plain, but the most common ones are Goombas, Koopas (or little mushroom men and turtles) and Piranha plants. This is the typical arrangement between point A, the start, and point B, the exit. If you want you can ignore most of the creatures and run towards the exit, but most of the enjoyment of the game comes from the interaction with the roaming beasts and the exploration of the environment, and its quite difficult to avoid these aspects of the game anyway.

The play of the game is intimately bound up in this theatrical arrangement of moving objects and hidden paths, but interaction with the smaller creatures also hones Marios hopping and bopping skills for what is to come later on in the game as the difficulty gradually gets steeper and steeper. So play in this sense is about learning, growing and reaching Marios potential. Its also fun. Games are designed to be explored and played and with the case of SMB: TLL, the play is so rich that it tends to overwhelm the more utilitarian aspect of winning.



End of part 1. In the next part we will examine more about the mechanics and the gameplay in relation to the enemy design.


:-)

Super Masochist Bros.

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Well I finally did it! I beat Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels. I have been playing it for maybe about two weeks. I never thought that I would get past the third level (was it the third, or the second?) because that is where I always used to get stuck back in the day. It was a night-time 'grass' level and when you get about half way in there is a long gap that you cannot jump and a pipe floating in the air that is impossible to reach as well. Turns out there's an invisible block between the ground and the pipe that you need to punch into existence with your panic and desperation. Can you believe that? Not only that though but it's impossible to reach this block simply by jumping up. You need to run from the left of the screen to the right, while pressing B, to build up momentum and then jump straight up and then move the D-pad backwards curling mario around the brick; just latching him on. Then you can jump on the pipe and super jump to the plateau over on the right. If you have the patience to figure that out then frankly I think you have the potential to do the whole game! It gets worse from there on out though, so be warned. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Dark Souls wasn't enough! I needed something harder, urghhhh, to give me that kick.

 

Super Mario Bros. TLL image

 

I was pretty much done with video games as a hobby; I had unofficially retired (lol). I busted out the Super Nintendo and started playing SMB:TLL on the Super Mario Allstars cartridge as something to do. I thought I could use games as a type of meditation. I've been doing meditation and I thought I could incorporate my old hobby into that. Games work great for meditation by the way, because you need so much concentration for them. I often feel energised and refreshed after playing consciously without attachment. But I soon realized that video game could assist me in other way as well and could help me design traditional games without the use of the computer.

So I meditated more to understand SMB:TLL, not through much thinking about it, but just through focusing on it consciously. Often thinking while playing will get you killed, especially in that game. I've just finished an essay on the game, but it needs some serious editing. I look forward to putting it on the blog soon, by the end of the week hopefully. I hope that I have described what the game actually is and why it is compelling to play.

I say I've beaten TLL, but when you finish all 8 worlds the princess says "Thank you for saving me Mario, now try the harder challenge". The harder challenge?! Excuse me??? Was that not hard enough for you 'Princess Peach'? You slave driving masochist. This is just like The Hunger Games. So I beat the ninth world and now there seems to be a whole world set underwater (world 'A'); a nightmare fever dream of hammer bros, flying cheep cheeps, bloopers, koopa paratroopers and the whole kaboodle.

 

Anyway, that's it for now. I have moved on to meditate on Resident Evil 4, and I am also playing F-Zero and Pilotwings on the SNES. We'll see what comes of that...

I have been reading the book, 'Rules of Play' to help me in creating my own games. Let me tell you, it is difficult! Coming up with ideas, developing them, and playtesting. Sometimes there are no people around to help test it. Anyway, I carry on regardless. It is all helping me anyway to see life itself as a very intricate game with many opportunites for play.

 

:-)

Heya. :-)

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Hello!

 

Wow, it's been a long time since I've been here. What is up peoples? I wonder how many of you are still here...

When I left, although I didn't formally say goodbye, I felt that it was time to move on and I didn't intend to come back

but I always have the attitude of 'never say never', which is why I didn't say anything. Besides... I felt that even if I

was leaving that things would just carry on as usual anyway, so I wonder if I really left in the first place if all the same

things were going on? ;-)

 

I am glad that I left. It was a stressful period around that time, about 1 and a half years ago. Stressful in both my life

and in the gaming world, which really is just a part of my life. Regarding gaming, my passion for it was dwindling and

my interests were heading elsewhere. I also stopped trying to become a video game designer because I didn't want to

enter such an awful industry which would be catastrophic for little old me and the other things I wished to pursue. But

there was something else... something else left that was unexpressed in its full form.

 

Regarding my game habits today, I still don't play much. I don't see it as a problem or an anxiety. It's a blessing because

it has freed me. I needed to come back to get something though, once the wounds had healed. I still enjoy games and I

enjoy play. I have decided that reading about game design and studying it might help me to make real life interactive

games and situations. For fun, as a personal and spiritual pursuit. I have no intention of creating video or computer games.

I don't want to do that. I'm interested in creating social interaction.

 

I've been clearing out my video games. I took a load of them to charity shops. I kept some my favourites though. I kept

my Icos', my Ikarugas', my Donkey Kong Jungle Beats', my Bayonettas' and my Dark Souls'. I have become a retro gamer!

Long live the past! Yes, I really do enjoy playing those old games. They are as good as the new ones if not better in my

opinion. Sometimes I will play some new games but there aren't many that satisfy me now.

 

At the moment I am playing Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels on Super Nintendo. I just play it because it's fun and I

enjoy going back and mastering and further exploring old games that I didn't do much with back then. They also will

help me with understanding how to design games.

 

With this blog I hope to share my thoughts on games old and new, write critical analyses, and also share my game designs for

you to play. :-)

 

See you!

 

-Louis

dark souls and love

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i recently got dark souls, and while i am lost for words in how to describe such a game... (recently i seem to have lost the ability to write about the games i love, and what i like about them), i enjoyed it very much for the most part even if many of the areas and bosses felt like rehashes from demon's souls. it's only when i stopped playing it and began playing other games that i realized... "oh no! no other game is like dark souls at all!", and i wondered if i could move on. this tends to happen to me a lot, because when i love a game very much i can't seem to move on. it got me thinking that instead of getting my hopes up about games in the future (that i have no control over), i should play and master a small selection of games that i will eternally love simply because i love them and they are an expression of my identity.

here's my top 10 (in no particular order):

metroid zero mission

super metroid

bayonetta

vagrant story

noby noby boy

final fantasy tactics

demon's souls

dark souls

picross 3D

sin & punishment 2

these are the games that i am sure i will never tire of, because they express me. i should probably be devoted to those ones if i ever want to play a great game; i don't think i will be dissapointed. i may get bored of them now and again, and some may fall out of the list over the years with new ones replacing (or growing the list), but i will always insist on the elegance, playability, and beauty of these games over most other games (that's how it is to me anyway).

it's not a traditional top 10, but more... games that have both depth, variation, a core character to them that i love, and a lasting challenge buried away. for example, to me... no other games out there does exploration better than noby noby boy and dark souls. no other game can satisfy my shooting needs other than sin and punishment 2. no other game offers the foreboding atmosphere of super metroid. and believe me, i've searched and played a lot of games over the years. most of the 250 or so discs and carts, i do not touch.

what about your similar lists to this one? or maybe you don't have one. ;-)

Power facts

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When asked, most 'enthusiast gamers' say that they play games to escape. But when asked exactly what it is that they are escaping from, they often have a lot of difficulty in giving a coherent and comprehensive answer. I personally think that it is enjoyable to escape into game worlds. They offer a change of pace; they offer different rules, activities, and interactions. There is something comforting about it. There's a loving bond we share with the controller and the virtual space. However, I think that there is a higher purpose (For want of a better phrase) for video games than escapism. There needs to be, otherwise we'll all get lost and maybenever come back.

Something worried me recently. I was enjoying playing a game, but after a while I got tired or something and stopped playing. After I stopped though, I felt strange. I felt kind of weak...I felt weak without the game. It was a distant and subtle feeling; but it was there. Also what happend was that I felt I was still playing the game in my mind, even without the controller in my hand. All my mind could think of for maybe an hour or two afterwards, was getting back into the virtual world. I realized that each game is its own power source. We are our own source of energy and strength, but when we play games we sort of substitute that or divert that into the power/rule structure of the game. If we play games a lot, I think one of the major problems is if we just become vehicles for the games to play themselves. It got me thinking about persistant online worlds, and even social networks. I realized that a lot of us treat games as a seperate world, put aside for leisure. Yet a lot of people work exactly for leisure! So really, games have become a substitute for life for a lot of'enthusiast gamers'. There is something religious about it.

I think that it's very important to have fun. It's importantto be inspired by art to imagine new realities. And I think the strongest purpose for games is to challenge our limitations. They're put there for us to realize that we can create our own rules, our own identity, and we can learn a lot about life from playing. The power fantasies are really power facts, it's just that the game itself is an illusory, symbolic structure that communicates this message in a very HYPER way. I think it's important that we can come away from a game and feel a little bit liberated each time. And when we look at the realities that stare at us in life, we can be challenged to change that reality, and better our situation.

Games were never meant to be a substitution for life. They lay down rules, and tell us that we can change them, and that we can overcome any fear and eventually realize our potential.

When shooting isn't shooting

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child of eden

'Shooting in Child of Eden'

Just a little aesthetics blog today...a bit spontaneous.Not much, but just something to share. I haven't been playing many video games at all, but this just came to me so I will share it.

I've had this idea swimming around for a while about the nature of shooting in a virtual world. It's not really much like shooting a gun in life. I've never shot one off, but I imagine it is very powerful in a very physical way. They are also weapons used mainly for causing harm, pain, and ultimately to end life.

Weapons and guns in games act differently to those in life. Their function is transformed. Very rarely does one encounter a realistic simulation of killing. Even when all the games on the shelf look hyper-detailed, the representations do not tend to reflect an honest situation or event.

metroid zero mission

'Opening up a path in Metroid'

The image of a gun in a video game is used differently. Lots of action games are inspired by the gun, but few replicate the function of it. In a lot of games the gun is like a large hand reaching out and touching the world, trying to figure it out. It's hard for games to have complex and detailed interactions (This is why RPGs often have tons of menus), so the gun became a kind of short-hand for the veichles' experience of the presented reality. In boss fights,often there are stages where players use a gun to explore the enemy, and to figure out its weakness. Players discover the rich composition of the enemy. Somtimes this is really fun, for example...in a lot of Japanese games there are giant metal crabs, where you explore (Focus) with the light of the gun on the metal exterior and blast bits off. Then you get to the shell, and then underneath there's the meat. It's kind of like eating ina way. In other more environment-focused games, the gun functions as a search light for directing the players' focus, but also as an excavation tool to discover hidden objects or pathways. The hand is reaching out and feeling the world; exploring what it is. In some games, like rail shooters, it really feels like the gun is just a method of connecting to the world and experiencing it. Light floods out and touches objects and things.

gal gun

'Exploring Japanese school girls in Gal Gun'

So I think that notall games with guns feel destructive or violent. Destruction and violence is more of a niche treatment than you'dexpect, and can be quite subjective. I still think though that a lot of games are about the clearing awayof obstacles; they effectively clear away things in the mind, like a feather duster cleaning a closet full of cobwebs. You can observe this by the heightened sensations and mental clarity after playing a game that requires focus and dexterity (Like in a lot of shooters and action games). All those things troubling you, or whatever you were thinking about...gone (Albeit temporarily)!

I think though that shooting games are a powerful tool, and have specific effects on the mind. Its worth paying attention to how they affect consciousness.It's never black and white -everything affects us in subtle ways. "It's just supposed to be fun" can no longer pretend to carry the answers.

Play Ground is up

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new union is up. check it out. ;-)

come and at least check it out, and if you like the idea just join up. :-) no obligations.

it's a union about playing and players, instead of gamers and games. we will discuss games, but not just video games.

it's about creating a different culture to the ones you find on the internet (too much consumer culture).

x

union concept

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there's something that's been nagging me...

it's the culture of the 'gamer' and all of the connotations that come with it. it's nagged me for a while, and i've tried to do something about it through my writing, but i feel it often falls of deaf ears.

what do i mean by 'gamer'? well, the stereotypical image. so whatever comes to mind when you think of that word. what comes to my mind almost immediately are all the lame things such as general ignorance, over-indulgence of the medium, and petty elitism. it kind of bugs me.

so i think it's important to create a counter-culture. it's very difficult to create a new culture, but considering how much general apathy i see on internet gaming forums these days, it should in theory be rather straight-forward. or perhaps all the people complaining about FPS market saturation and about how 'games aren't as good as they used to be', are not being sincere and really don't have the capacity to change when faced with the opportunity..

regardless, i'd like to create a space free from all that nonsense.

i had a union before, and it wasn't terribly busy or active. but i feel that i have a clearer vision now.

part of the problem of starting new unions is the pressure to keep it going and for people to contribute regularly or to contribute something very specific. but i think that if you take away that pressure on members then they're more likely to want to do something of their own free will rather than because they're forced to. and if you make the union theme quite broad it can offer more options for involvement.

so if you would help me, i just want to make a small space; a union. no fanfare or build-up and no obligations. but certainly a place that has concrete principles. i might not even be there most of the time, but it doesn't matter as long as there exists a space that has principles and ideas. i'm not anti-capitalism or anti-consumer, but it would be better if players had the kind of space that doesn't begin with the market in mind, but with playing.

as gamespot seems to be becoming similar to IGN (now owned by gamestop), it creates a kind of rabid community of consumers that only desire the new thing and don't have the opportunity to talk about much else. game sites need to survive somehow, but i think that after a while a given community stagnates and doesn't have the capacity to change.

so all i wish to do is create that capacity, a space with better principles for game players. it's best if it's on this site for now, because that's the statement - the counter to the dominant culture.

---------------------------------------------------

principles of the new union

1. a focus on play and playing for its own sake, inclusive of video games but not limited to them.

2. a wish to bridge the gap between the game and life, leaving behind 'game as commodity' and enjoying the experience of playing and what it brings to you.

3. understanding that a game is a constructed, seperated reality with its own rules and its own time; and that gameplay is a relationship between the creator and the player.

----------------------------------------------------

the first principle means that you're not just limited to talking about video games. video games is just a sub-genre of games. it means you can talk about chess or drinking games or whatever. not just whatever new game is coming out.

also, the idea of playing is kind of an attitude inside the game and outside the game. playing is playing. we do it all the time, not just in virtual landscapes. so it's about begining from a broader point.

the second principle is realizing that we all have lives and it would be better to integrate more fully any long-time hobby or passion into that life, instead of it sticking out like some kind of sore thumb and being something of an awkward insecurity for people that they kind of feel embarassed about.

what i mean by 'game as commodity' is thinking about the material aspect of them as objects. obviously this is the goal of marketers, but it doesn't have to be the goal for players. you can free yourself up by taking play as the center rather than the game; the experience that blends with all other experiences in life.

the third principle is understanding the physical boundries between the virtual space and the rest of life. this gives people the ability to better corrospond between life and the many virtual realities.

~

at first it will just be a space; small and quiet. and it can grow in its own time, according to the members and their own personalities. but my idea is that over time, memebers will slowly add stuff/discussion/activities to it when they feel like it. and the great thing is, i don't even have to really be there.

:-)