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What Mario Kaizo Has Taught Me.
Recently on my YouTube channel I started a Let’s Play of the Super Mario Kaizo Hack. Now, I knew what I was getting myself into; frustration, rage, regret, and insanity. But I actually feel as though playing it has taught me something, not about difficulty in games back then and games now, or about this hardcores versus casuals thing which I despise with every fiber of my being, but about controls.
Think about it: the creator of the Kaizo hack didn’t just throw in enemies and obsticles willy nilly, they had to test the crap out of it, every jump you make and step you take has to be just right, every enemy and block are in just the right spot, and the only way to master the game is the mother of all learning experiences; trial and error. And it all comes down to the controls.
Looking back on other sidescrollers of Super Mario World’s era, a lot of those game had something in common with their levels. They were all designed around their controls and mechanics. Why do you think there are entire levels in the Donkey Kong Country games consisted of just vine swinging, blast barrels, and playing as Rambi the rhino, Rattle the snake and so on? Because those were the controls and mechanics of the games, so the levels were designed to make use of them.
In Blackthorn whenever you get a new item you are able to use it in a safe environment with an exit that could only be opened by successfully learning how to use it, in Oddworld: Abe’s odyssey every obstacle in your path has a specific way to deal with it using the abilities you have that were all tied to your controls. Whether it was running, jumping, sneaking, shooting, or using items, the best games were always designed around the controls.
In this era of 3D environments, motion control, and 10 buttons and two analog sticks, where most games don’t really have “levels” anymore, it makes sense that it should be about game play as a whole now and not just levels. But I feel like sometimes it’s all about the game’s content and setting first, with controls being an after thought. I feel that games should still be designed around controls, as game play is dependent on them; If your controls don’t allow you to jump then the game won’t involve jumping.
In Skyrim I can move, use left hand, use right hand, jump, interact, sneak, and sprint. It works for exploration sure, but the dungeons and caves are dull and boring because all there is in them are enemies and occasionally traps, combat is repetitive, and quests are generic. Why can’t the gameplay make more use of my controls? Instead of just going into the dungeon and killing a few guys, maybe have me crossing a narrow beam, or narrow ledges? Or even some platforming. Instead of stealth just being about light and sound, maybe give me the ability to hang from ledges or cling to walls and such? Maybe let me throw a pebble to draw enemies to the noise. How bout being able to put out torches on walls with my bow? Make it a skill perk.
Whenever a game is based around its game play, the design comes out as “OK, this is what you can do in the game and these are your buttons to do it.”. But when It’s about controls it comes out as “OK, this buttons does this, that button does that, so let’s make this part make use of this button and add this to the game for that button.”.
It’s simple logic really: whatever the game allows you to do that’s what the game play should be about.