On Arty 2D Platformers

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The trouble with a lot of 2D platformers is that they tend to have very poor stories, Braid has one of the worst I've played in recent memory and displays it straight from the "How Not to Present a Story" manual whilst other games like Trine, which had a better story, still felt rather shallow. A games story should act as an all encompassing frame with the gameplay contained within, if the story is divorced from the gameplay it feels awkward and pointless because a game is just an interactive story telling medium.

I realise that 2D games appeal to newer developers because they're easier to make and allow for some creativity but even so, if there's no story there's no game and all these 2D platformers just seems to be a bit of a fad becasuse we've reached the point where the more savvy developers have realised that sacraficing gameplay for realism is idiotic in the extreme. So whilst many of the major developers are working on "realism" (Medal of Honors ultra realistic Afghanistan springs to mind) the ones with a clue are trying to make people realise that a game is something to play for fun rather than a series of pretty pictures to look at.

Cave Story represents another commonality in stories (technically spoiler but the game tells you anyway an hour in)

As for indie 2D platformers almost entirely made by one dude, as much as I love Cave Story, Iji's even better.

As a fellow ancient gamer, I can usually sympathize with what Yahtzee's getting at, but what I'm sympathizing with this time was that there apparently was no overreaching point to be made about arty 2D platformers. They're hit and miss just like any other games, just with a higher level of pretentiousness than usual.

I cannot say I have ever really enjoyed 2 d platformers...mostly because I am just not that good at timing things out. I never owned a nintendo.

Now a 2d flightsim....j/k

What about I Wanna Be the Guy, the story of a small child lost in a world where absolutely anything and everything can kill you?

Did he say platforming doesn't translate well to 3D movement? What about the team ICO games? Or Assassin's Creed?

summerof2010:
Did he say platforming doesn't translate well to 3D movement? What about the team ICO games? Or Assassin's Creed?

They're fundamentally different. 3D platforming and 2D platforming are entirely different genres... kinda like the difference between a FPS and a 2D shooter.

It takes great skill to make a 3D platformer out of an old one, mostly because you're making an entirely different kind of game. The Sonic games show how it's done badly (IE, shoehorning in too many features of the 2D games). The Mario ones show how it's done right (making a game that only shares themes).

That's essentially what I think Yahtzee's getting at.

EDIT: Better analogy up top.

awwww... thought we were gonna get some heavy platforming nostalgia at first, thinking of alone in the dark, flashback and the origional prince of persia.

I'm not denying that nolstalgia is a significant factor in the success of 2D games, but I personally just love them...not because I grew up with games like them, but because they offer an experience that can never be perfectly duplicated in 3D games.

Time Fcuk has you playing a little boy who's head increases in size due to a sentient tumour. Retro graphics, incredibly bleak and simplistic soundtrack. Ticks all the boxes.

/Recommendation

At a stretch, I'd say arty platformers are my favourite genre. Isn't that sad in today's world of multi-million triple-A projects?

The analogy for me in this "debate" if it can be called one is similar to music. Sometimes a great talent or a great song would get lost in the over production of a big studio. The best place to hear it is busker style on a street corner. Sometimes you hear one dude sing a little song and he's incredible. This is the great 2D platformer, and one of the few ways an obscure musician might get recognised and elevated to new heights.

But there are lots of buskers, and alot of them aren't that great. Of course give an ok busker's song the full production treatment of orchestra, sampling, marketing etc. and it can be ok and built for mainstream radio, but at it's core it's meh. This is the same as a lot of mainstream games.

Gameplay is just the technical proficiency of the musician. Yeah, I can tell they're a great guitarist, or they write great lyrics but frankly the style of the music just isn't my thing. Purely a taste issue no matter how good a musician they are. Sometimes the producer takes a great song and ruins it, like Mass Effect shoe-horning in Mako missions, then planet scanning? But I can ignore the crappy "drum-beat" because I like the chorus... as it were. Also it can be a crap song but production makes it digestible, "Hit me baby one more time" by Britney was pointed out to me by a DJ as a well produced song but in reality fairly crap. Next time I listened I understood exactly what he meant. Modern Warfare 2 fits this bill for me.

So nostalgia doesn't come in to it. It's like saying "Wow, remember when you could only hear music on cassette tapes and then it was only ever one person with guitar or piano?" That's just luddite thinking. It doesn't make it better. And people who claim it's more "pure" sound just like music snobs who want to appear cool by saying "Yeah, I only go for busker music, anything else is a sell-out to evil music corporations and is turning to the dark side.... if you like Girls Aloud your a plebian sheep" just before I head-butt them.

Sometimes I want to listen to Blind Lemon Slim, but I also want Jack Johnson, both simple singer-song writers well played. Doesn't mean I like ALL solo artists, and it can be new or old. I sometimes like ELO, huge production but also good music. And yeah, Girls Aloud are a horrendous marketing gimmick but sometimes I want big production which makes it all sound better.

Good gameplay is good gameplay, doesn't mean I have to "love" the game because they were clever. And I like good games regardless if it's a stripped back, low-production 2D platformer, or a multi-billion dollar project funded by NASA. And I hate bad games that feel like a cheap cash-in, no matter what the production.

And the whole "Lost innoccence" is just a archetypal theme in music, books, art, film, and games. It's a separate entity to 2D platformers. It's as reliable a go-to story type as the love interest of mario and princess peach (poor working class guy chasing the hottest girl they can find).

My personal problem with artsy 2D platformers is that they are largely based on jumping mechanics inherited from Mario (eg. jump on head to kill). Not owning a NES I've never mastered it as a kid - my favorite C64 platformers (like Rick Dangerous) all included "normal" straight shooting mechanics and put less emphasis on jumping. When I finally saw Mario for the first time I was like "meh, no shooting" and never played it past first stage. Now this bites me in the ass - even though I can logically figure out Braid puzzles, I find it hellishly difficult to execute the solution.

Therefore for me it would be great if someone made an artsy platformer using non-Mario mechanics. Or, even better, artsy shoot'em up in the "you fly up and shoot" style. Hmm... perhaps I'll try that one myself.

Scrumpmonkey:
I think the point with these mildly nostalgic 2d platformers is that bt stripping back a lot of the tech it allows the games purely to relay on graphical stlye. This is a very literal interpretation of "games as art" (and i find very misleading one) where the game is ruled by concept and actual physical look and these are the terms it attempts to use to connect with the player and make themselves seem 'meaningful'.

Personally i think most of them seep pretenciousness and would do better to build amazing and original mechancis intothem ala Braid rather than just relay on mood like Limbo. Personally i feel we need to move into an area where we are doing more than just stapling Dostoyevsky to Mario Bros and sitting back going "look at how artsy and clever we are".

I'm quoting this, if only because I hope it increases the chance that everyone will read this comment.

Two things:

Pretentious does not mean arty.

Does it seem like this article ends a paragraph or two early?

Personally, I liked Yahtzee's ZP review on Limbo. Pathetic little, ill-defined big-headed character, in a dark, scary (if your idea of scary is one in which everything is so blurred out you can't really make much out) world. Ooohhh! It's so arty and edgy! It must be great.

Sounds more like the dev team was strapped for cash. "Well, they just slashed the budget again. So, art team - you can use three colors: black, white, and grey, and we can't afford for you to really do any great art work, so make everything ill-defined, including the player character, and smudge the hell out of everything else; programmers, we can only afford three controls, left/right, jump, interact. Okay people, get busy"

i like the way you put "thirteen year olds stuck in the bodies of men.Or women."
haha

I still haven't beaten Cave Story, due to the fact that I got the Booster v2.0. That just makes that one level with the blood droplets even harder.

kaijyuu:

summerof2010:
Did he say platforming doesn't translate well to 3D movement? What about the team ICO games? Or Assassin's Creed?

They're fundamentally different. 3D platforming and 2D platforming are entirely different genres... kinda like the difference between a FPS and a 2D shooter.

It takes great skill to make a 3D platformer out of an old one, mostly because you're making an entirely different kind of game. The Sonic games show how it's done badly (IE, shoehorning in too many features of the 2D games). The Mario ones show how it's done right (making a game that only shares themes).

That's essentially what I think Yahtzee's getting at.

EDIT: Better analogy up top.

Which post? I don't see.

In that case I'd have mentioned Metroid Prime. The way he phrased it just sounded like he was saying basic platforming game mechanics like... jumping, I guess, don't work in 3D -- to which I responded incredulously. There have been plenty of games that feature platforming as a major part of gameplay, even if there really aren't enough "pure" platformers (which I was just talking about in another thread before reading this article), and they all work perfectly well.

In either case, I don't even feel like the point explains why indie devs like 2D platformers very well, which is what he was getting at, no? I guess if platforming didn't work well in 3D, it would explain why platforming bent devs chose 2D over 3D, but might they decide on a different genre? I think a more important point is that producing in 2D is cheaper and less time consuming. Also, while he did cite the typical fanboy love for the "retro" look, he failed to point out the obvious fact that acting like your game is "retro" is a perfect way to excuse all the cut corners and shoddy production values, and therefore be accepted in a wider market.

I'm not saying he missed the point entirely, I'm just disagreeing with him.

InterAirplay:

Scrumpmonkey:
I think the point with these mildly nostalgic 2d platformers is that bt stripping back a lot of the tech it allows the games purely to relay on graphical stlye. This is a very literal interpretation of "games as art" (and i find very misleading one) where the game is ruled by concept and actual physical look and these are the terms it attempts to use to connect with the player and make themselves seem 'meaningful'.

Personally i think most of them seep pretenciousness and would do better to build amazing and original mechancis intothem ala Braid rather than just relay on mood like Limbo. Personally i feel we need to move into an area where we are doing more than just stapling Dostoyevsky to Mario Bros and sitting back going "look at how artsy and clever we are".

I'm quoting this, if only because I hope it increases the chance that everyone will read this comment.

Im quoting this due to your awesome spirit of jazz Avatar :P

Why doesn't my weekly FSGTG column, yet again, mention any recents developements? These intermezzos are amusing, but I think its time to go back to more important things such as FSGTG.

summerof2010:

In either case, I don't even feel like the point explains why indie devs like 2D platformers very well, which is what he was getting at, no? I guess if platforming didn't work well in 3D, it would explain why platforming bent devs chose 2D over 3D, but might they decide on a different genre?

Since 3D and platformers do not mix well, mainstream developers have largely stopped making them. And if they do, then the 3D gameplay is very different from a 2D one. So the 2D bent devs choose platformers as the genre to avoid competition with the mainstream. Other genres have not changed that much during transition to 3D, or their 3D forms are generally considered superior - look for example at racing games - so indies in those genres have to somewhat compete with mainstream for visibility.

Denmarkian:
Another "childhood innocence lost" game that I can think of is Heart of Darkness, where you play a boy who is running through a world that is, quite literally, trying to kill him while he quests to save his dog (his only friend) from the darkness and its evil.

I was thinking about that game to when i saw the first review of Limbo... well not entirely true. Actually i was thinking something like "omg why this indie guys like so much mario games? and what the world did to deserve an emo gothic mario homage?." Then i remember that limbo is actually more like "Heart of the darkness" than mario.
Ps.: Sorry if my english is awful today but windows decided to update on my 3 pcs, update and crash. ARghhhhhh.

m64:

summerof2010:

In either case, I don't even feel like the point explains why indie devs like 2D platformers very well, which is what he was getting at, no? I guess if platforming didn't work well in 3D, it would explain why platforming bent devs chose 2D over 3D, but might they decide on a different genre?

Since 3D and platformers do not mix well, mainstream developers have largely stopped making them. And if they do, then the 3D gameplay is very different from a 2D one. So the 2D bent devs choose platformers as the genre to avoid competition with the mainstream. Other genres have not changed that much during transition to 3D, or their 3D forms are generally considered superior - look for example at racing games - so indies in those genres have to somewhat compete with mainstream for visibility.

That's a very good point. You're right that within genres the transition between dimensions (wow, that sounded cooler than it is) was much easier for shooters and racers, etc., than platformers, so it makes sense that people stopped making them in favor of the less dangerous genres. I can see why indie developers would then be all over that since it's such an untapped market.

However, I oppose the first thing you said, just as I opposed it when Yahtzee said (or I thought he said) it. Platforming works in 3D, even if it's different from it's 2D forefathers. I just wish there were more games like Prince of Persia around.

Have you tried Spelunky?

It's one of those retro games and it's very addictive.

summerof2010:

However, I oppose the first thing you said, just as I opposed it when Yahtzee said (or I thought he said) it. Platforming works in 3D, even if it's different from it's 2D forefathers. I just wish there were more games like Prince of Persia around.

Well, this was more of a "mental shortcut" then a firm opinion. Sure, platforming can work in 3D - for example early Tomb Raiders had very platformy fill, almost like Prince of Persia. Speaking of which - Sands of Time. My point is that 3D platformers are very different beasts from 2D ones, to the point of being a virtually separate genre.

As part of the Nintendo generation, it is only in hindsight that I even think about how many games on the NES were platformers. Holy hell in a handbag there was a glut of those damned things. I sucked at most of them back then, and still suck at them now, only now we have FPP to worry about when back then all we had for that was Contra, and even that was a limited experience.

The retro movement in online and arcade games is a curious thing to me. Those of us who grew up with them as they developed have gotten used to the change in the landscape, and it is sometimes nice to have a return to the "old-school" format (damn I guess that DOES make me old) with different twists on old favorites. Injecting an artsy style into these familiar themes does seem a little snobbish, as if putting a new visual style is going to fool anyone from the fact that your game is just a different take on the Castlevania style. You can repaint a Ford Pinto, put Euro headlights and an underglow kit and air-brush a unicorn on the side, but it's still the same game we grew up with, only the games don't explode in a rear-end crash... or did they?

I don't get down with the arcade games much, but I do play my share of flash games based around the same old formula. I sometimes appreciate the 8-bit look, not so much the old midi music that used to go with it. Thank crap for the option to shut off the music, and too bad we didn't have that in the old days. I'm sure there have been plenty of remakes on the various Gameboys and DS incarnations through time, and I know it would take entirely too much time to actually review them all for this article, but I can appreciate the modern look Yahtzee has taken on these games. Good as always.

Denmarkian:
Another "childhood innocence lost" game that I can think of is Heart of Darkness, where you play a boy who is running through a world that is, quite literally, trying to kill him while he quests to save his dog (his only friend) from the darkness and its evil.

I remember that game. I think the whole loss of innocence portrayal in that one is the fact that its a mostly trial and error game, and youll most certainly have a horrific death from time to time. So horrific that it makes you hope a ten year old boy doesnt have to go through something like that. I saw a vid on youtube that was a whole minute long of grotesque deaths from heart of darkness, that brought back alot of memories....of frustration.

Scrumpmonkey:

InterAirplay:

Scrumpmonkey:
I think the point with these mildly nostalgic 2d platformers is that bt stripping back a lot of the tech it allows the games purely to relay on graphical stlye. This is a very literal interpretation of "games as art" (and i find very misleading one) where the game is ruled by concept and actual physical look and these are the terms it attempts to use to connect with the player and make themselves seem 'meaningful'.

Personally i think most of them seep pretenciousness and would do better to build amazing and original mechancis intothem ala Braid rather than just relay on mood like Limbo. Personally i feel we need to move into an area where we are doing more than just stapling Dostoyevsky to Mario Bros and sitting back going "look at how artsy and clever we are".

I'm quoting this, if only because I hope it increases the chance that everyone will read this comment.

Im quoting this due to your awesome spirit of jazz Avatar :P

Yous is mine, boy! Sign right here, you signed your sole away! Yeaah, I own ya baby, every time you pick up an instrument I'll be there, inside ya, wearin' ya like a glove! Your sweet ass is mine, ow, chicka-chickaa- owwwhh-OWWWW, man ma hat's on fire, what's wrong wit you, you blind? why didn't you tell me?! That's a brand new hat.... spoiled my exit now. Outta do you a favour...

That ain't no door back there, s'a toilet...

summerof2010:
Did he say platforming doesn't translate well to 3D movement? What about the team ICO games? Or Assassin's Creed?

I never played ICO but, in Assassin's Creed the platforming works like this: hold a button, press forward and the game does the rest for you. I don't know if the automation counts as a good translation.

I know there're good 3D platforming games like Prince of Persia but, even then, some times the prospect doesn't help.

Mangue Surfer:

summerof2010:
Did he say platforming doesn't translate well to 3D movement? What about the team ICO games? Or Assassin's Creed?

I never played ICO but, in Assassin's Creed the platforming works like this: hold a button, press forward and the game does the rest for you. I don't know if the automation counts as a good translation.

I know there're good 3D platforming games like Prince of Persia but, even then, some times the prospect doesn't help.

I don't know, most 2D platformers are limited to 2 button controls. Jump and "interact." The latter may be interpreted many ways, from picking stuff up to talking to NPCs to operating a weapon, but I'd say it rarely contributes to the platforming itself except to "activate switch," with the occasional exception, like LBP's grab button (it's 2D enough! :P ). The simplicity of AC's control scheme doesn't disqualify it from being classified as a platformer. In fact, by the two button standard, it's very complex.

Also, I don't understand your last statement. What prospect doesn't help what?

m64:

summerof2010:

However, I oppose the first thing you said, just as I opposed it when Yahtzee said (or I thought he said) it. Platforming works in 3D, even if it's different from it's 2D forefathers. I just wish there were more games like Prince of Persia around.

Well, this was more of a "mental shortcut" then a firm opinion. Sure, platforming can work in 3D - for example early Tomb Raiders had very platformy fill, almost like Prince of Persia. Speaking of which - Sands of Time. My point is that 3D platformers are very different beasts from 2D ones, to the point of being a virtually separate genre.

Alright, I can accept that.

The article was good but it lacked a conclusion.

carpathic:
I cannot say I have ever really enjoyed 2 d platformers...mostly because I am just not that good at timing things out. I never owned a nintendo.

Now a 2d flightsim....j/k

Here you go.

I liked the article, Mr. Croshaw, but you should have taken a look at I Wanna Be the Guy!, sure it's not artsy, but it's fun!

I played about halfway through Cave Story. Pretty quickly, the depressing nature of it got to me, especially when a few glances at an online guide revealed that I probably wasn't going to get the good ending. The reasoning? For all things, DECIDING TO TALK TO A CERTAIN NPC AS YOU PASS HIM BY.
It came to the point when so many characters had been killed off, I decided that "saving the world" was a failed task, and so I left the game. Killing the cared-about characters is a good way of giving emotional drive, but when there's not many positives left, there's not much drive left.

I think "a battalion of gibbons going to war against the 80's synth-pop artists" would make a FANTASTIC music-video! Or at least an entertaining episode of Celebrity Death-match.

good stuff

bobby's world

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