Thoughts inspired by Tom Happ’s interview

Above is a recent interview with Tom Happ by the Bloodstained Community Broadcast peeps. Bloodstained is a game due to come out hopefully sooner than later, that could be called a Metroidvania, along with  Tom Happ’s Axiom Verge. Castlevania: SoTN is also made by the same guy as the forthcoming Bloodstained and he prefers the term “Igavania”. In a way, I can see an “Igavania” as a subgenre of Metroidvanias, (using my previous definition). Using your family name in the genre though is a bit “funny”, if you ask me. Anyway, I’m already digressing. It was an interesting conversation and was my first time listening to Tom Happ. I wrote down some points that I’d like to share some thoughts on, for my coffee blogging time this lovely Sunday morning.

Happ mentioned that Zelda was pretty much in the same genre of Metroidvanias and I totally agree. Its about getting power-ups and being able to open up new areas to explore and progress further in the game. The player’s camera perspective in Zelda is different than Metroid, yes, and Happ mentioned the difference that Zelda games have dungeons and Metroid didn’t. These are minor differences, at least in terms of fundamental game mechanics. I want to coin the phrase “Zeltroidvania”, but when I think of the three original games, Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania, its the first two that are really the base game mechanic. Castlevania is more akin with the base mechanics of Super Mario Bros. and other platformers. The early Castlevania games were not open-world and you couldn’t go backwards, you just pushed forward like Super Mario Bros. They were still cool and unique games, obviously, just different.

To continue, the base mechanic of Metroidvanias could be best described as “Zeltroid” and adding Zelda in really makes it clear that Dark Souls really is in this genre. I was hoping Happ would come out and say it. I also like the fact that Happ said that the Metroidvania game design is just a good solid game design , which is why its not going anywhere.  Like I said previously, Metroidvanias will outlive  your grandchildren. 😉 Its such a fundamental foundation that its almost invisible for those who didn’t grow up with its “purer” predecessors, such as the original Metroid or Zelda games.

Another thing I found interesting is that he created a Metroid clone in grad school called Orn. Many writers admit to copying their favorite writers word-for-word early in their careers, and I wonder how much thought he has given to the significance of creating the clone and how it paved the way to the success of Axiom Verge.

Orn for Game Boy Advanced

I did notice that Orn had some 3D elements to the character player and the enemies. They talked about 2.5D graphics in the interview, its look and Happ gave some reasons why a developer might choose to go in this direction as opposed to 2D. Personally, I do not like the 2.5D look which is what I’m somewhat disappointed with in Bloodstained. The aesthetics of a game are ridiculously important to me, for some reason, and I just never liked 2.5D. I’m also not a big fan of the flash game art style. It looks so airbrushed and “puppety”. Still, what do I know? I’ve not made a game, Bloodstained is not my game, and I don’t have a (sub)genre with my name on it. My aesthetic qualms to the side, I’m sure Bloodstained is going to be great.

Speaking of Orn though and early days of game making, when I was in elementary school, I had so missed playing the NES during the day, I would create paper ‘Metroidvanias’ during recess that my friend Ryan would play. In turn he would make his for me to play. We would make them as elaborate as we could. Sometimes we would make secret languages and wrap them in layers of tape and such. Really though, they were a cross between a paper maze, Metroid and Super Mario Bros. The Mario part is because we would put mushrooms and such in there because mushrooms were cool and they made you big, like in the movie! The Metroid part was the open-world exploration aspect, and the maze aspect was there, well, because we had to figure out how to put it on paper and play it. Now that I think about it, the labyrinthine aspect of these games might also be a part of the core mechanic of MV’s as well.

Our paper “Mazetroids” were much less elaborate than the above maze, but had all sorts of power ups, keys, locked doors etc. We just threw the finished games away because the only way to play them was to draw all over them, while the creator would watch on and guide (check for accidental cheating/mistakes in design). Also, FYI,  the easiest way to beat paper mazes is to start at the end and go to the start. Good advice from Mom.

Another thing I’d like to touch on was that the interviewer fellow said as a kid he was intimidated by Metroid. In a way I have to agree because the game was scary as a kid, Metroids literally frightened me, and the lesson of it for me was facing my fears. Also there weren’t any maps, HUD’s or anything. I guess it turned out that I had a knack for memorizing large labyrinthine structures and I was able to beat the game at quite a young age, like 7 or 8. I also loved the “dungeons” in the original Kid Icarus for this as well. They were pretty maze-like. I could easily put Kid Icarus as one of the early Metroidvania genre games.

I loved being trapped in those dungeons with that weird hypnotic song piping through the TV. It was so engrossing. Although Zelda due to its top-down perspective, and now 3D games, have a bit more ability to create denser, snaking dungeons and maps, old-school 2D side-scrollers games often make up for it in large elaborate and unforgiving worlds and dungeons. Anyway, if I were to make my own little clone, it would not have any of the “hand-holding” that was introduced in Super Metroid (e.g. maps, HUD’s and such). (It would also be harder for me to code, and I don’t need harder yet) The game would probably be rather unpopular. haha, like eggplant wizards.

 And they say Dark Souls is “Hard”… probably because whining about game difficulty wasn’t invented yet

Needing a business manager though, that’s real (as my friend says). I have never had an interest in business stuff, but if I ever did make a game, I know now that I need someone who knows this industry on my side. That’s something definitely to think about… gotta have something marketable, at least, for a person like Dan to take notice. I wonder how many amazing games never got green-lit because of lack of marketing and business know-how.

The last thing I want to mention is I am thrilled to hear he is an Orbital fan. I remember when I walked into a music store one evening as a teen and heard Orbital playing. I don’t know what I came in to buy that day, but it was their “In-sides” album that I heard playing on the speakers in the store. It was just made with such great quality that I just knew I needed it. I immediately went to the counter and asked them what it was. I remember they seemed taken aback,  I thought they weren’t even going to tell me what it was.  I ended up getting it obviously and it was a double-disc album of pure awesomeness! Apparently my version was the early release and has some unique songs that the later version never had.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I’ll have to leave it here. Great interview! Very inspiring!

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