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Old July 21, 2012, 08:44   #1
Derakon
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Super Metroid

I'm guessing we all have our other games that we quietly obsess over. For me it's Super Metroid, an SNES game with a pedigree almost as old as Angband (1994 vs. 1990). If you're not familiar with the Metroid formula, you get plunked down in the middle of a planet (space station, etc.) with no abilities beyond basic run&gun, and have to explore, find powerups, fight bosses, and eventually blow the entire thing up.

It's a powerful concept, largely because of the strong level design -- the game subtly guides you by placing down barriers that you need special abilities to navigate, which abilities you later find thus unlocking new areas to explore. For example, you might fall down a long vertical shaft which has various flying enemies in it. Later you find the Ice Beam, which lets you freeze and stand on enemies. So you remember that shaft and climb back up it, and it leads to a new weapon which can be used to open a new type of door. That door opens up a route to an item that lets you swing from certain blocks, so you remember where you last saw those blocks, and so on...of course, each of these items is subtly taught to you by requiring you to navigate a simple obstacle course using the item. For example, the exit from the Ice Beam room requires you to freeze enemies so you can jump over the top of some water.

One of the really genius bits about this though is the way you can break it. The developers of the original game put in a few special techniques you can perform that get you added mobility -- in particular, you can jump off of walls to gain extra height, though the technique is a bit tricky. This completely blows open the "intended" sequence of the game -- that vertical shaft? You can just climb right on out of it. It requires some tricky jumps, but you can do it. And the game design is incredibly resilient even with all this; it is really hard to get yourself stuck even when you're in an area that you absolutely should not be in, with completely the wrong equipment. Out of the 14 key items and 86 health/ammo expansions in the game, you only theoretically need to pick up 6 key items and 8 health/ammo expansions (and three of the latter arguably count as key items since they give you the ability to fire the ammo in question). It's incredibly hard to survive with such minimalist gear but it's been done! By other people.

For awhile I spent some time trying to write my own implementation of the Metroid formula, married of course to the roguelike procedural-generation system. I never did finish Jetblade, though I got some interesting results out of the map generator, and every once in awhile I think about going back to it (Pyrel still has higher priority). Fortunately I'm not the only person still interested in that game, and some have more perseverance than I do; there's a thriving Super Metroid community and they make all kinds of mods to the game (by hacking SNES assembly code! Madness!). Of course there are limits to what you can easily change in this way, but there's still plenty of total-map-overhaul hacks.

Long story short, if you have an hour and a half to kill, I recorded a playthrough of my favorite hack, Super Metroid Eris. If you've any interest in the genre, I recommend trying to get your hands on the original game -- and if you enjoyed that, then start picking up some of the hacks. Metroid Construction will get you started.
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Old July 21, 2012, 15:55   #2
caruso
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A fun game indeed. The gameplay of Metroid (and Castlevania) has become so popular that it founded a sub-genre of its own: "Metroidvania". Some famous metroidvanias include Within a Deep Forrest, Knytt Stories, Akuji the Demon, La-Mulana, Cave Story and Gun Girl 2.

Have you tried MetroidRL by any chance? Metroid roguelike-style... ^^

Last edited by caruso; July 21, 2012 at 16:58.
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Old July 22, 2012, 00:12   #3
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Heartily agreed - Super Metroid is a gem, although Castlevania SOTN is my own favorite in the genre.

So far I've not encountered a roguelike which manages to recreate the same joy of simple exploration. Perhaps one of the benefits of the static content in typical Metroidvania games is that artists are better at creating a unique look and feel for newly discovered areas? A new music track is certainly welcome in any case.

I still listen to the Castlevania music on occasion.
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Old July 22, 2012, 04:54   #4
Derakon
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Symphony of the Night is a good game, but it's badly hurt by being trivially easy -- I've played through using no equipment whatsoever (beyond subweapons and consumables) and did not encounter serious difficulty until I tried to fight the bonus boss.

I haven't tried MetroidRL, caruso, so thanks for the suggestion! Sort of the mirror of what Jetblade wanted to be, it sounds like. That said, I fear that what RogerN said will hold true; roguelikes are all so abstract that I very rarely find myself admiring the scenery, so to speak. The reward for exploration in a roguelike has never been, for me, exploration in and of itself.

It's certainly true that level designers writing up a fixed game world have much more ability to make an interesting-to-explore world, compared to level designers who are making rules for procedurally-generated content. On the flipside, once you've seen the game world in the first game, you know exactly what to expect at every point, while the same does not hold true in the second case. The difficulty with the second case is that it's extremely hard to make procedurally-generated levels that have "exploratory depth"', I suppose you'd say.
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Old July 22, 2012, 12:57   #5
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Super Metroid is badass. Cave Story, which I played just a few years ago, is also incredibly badass.
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Old July 22, 2012, 13:02   #6
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Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow on the GBA is one of the best metroidvanias I have laid my claws on. I consider it better than SOTN.
I used to thoroughly like Cave Story, but after the third playthrough I realized that the game is dead for me.
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Old July 22, 2012, 15:21   #7
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If anyone here like this kind of game, I highly recommend you try La~Mulana. It's a Metroid like game that's arguably harder than any roguelike, but not in the usual way. You have to solve these mind-bending puzzles and riddles to progress to the key items, as opposed to the usual, reflex based challenge.

Plus, while the original game is free, the developers just recently released an updated version, with completely new graphics and music and everything.
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Old July 22, 2012, 19:37   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Narvius View Post
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow on the GBA is one of the best metroidvanias I have laid my claws on. I consider it better than SOTN.
I used to thoroughly like Cave Story, but after the third playthrough I realized that the game is dead for me.
I played the DS Castlevania that has the secondary-playthrough mode where you can continually swap between three characters who don't level up. In the "primary" mode, you play as one character who you can buff out the ears with new weapons etc. I really liked that one.
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Old July 22, 2012, 20:17   #9
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Unangband has the most explore-worthy, interesting and detailed dungeons I've ever encountered. You get a description for each room you enter and there are many different dungeon flavors. There are lots of little details and extras thrown about for detail. Also, there are usually only a small variety of monster types per level, usually grouped together by area, which makes the places make more sense than the usual grab-bag of monster types everywhere. FAangband has my favorite wilderness travel. There ought to be some sort of FA, Un marriage called Faungband with Un's dungeons and FA's fighting mechanics and overworld. That would be Australawesome.
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Old July 23, 2012, 17:24   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HallucinationMushroom View Post
Unangband has the most explore-worthy, interesting and detailed dungeons I've ever encountered. You get a description for each room you enter and there are many different dungeon flavors. There are lots of little details and extras thrown about for detail. Also, there are usually only a small variety of monster types per level, usually grouped together by area, which makes the places make more sense than the usual grab-bag of monster types everywhere. FAangband has my favorite wilderness travel. There ought to be some sort of FA, Un marriage called Faungband with Un's dungeons and FA's fighting mechanics and overworld. That would be Australawesome.
Indeed, it's so awesome it doesn't bear thinking about ;-)

@Derakon: thanks for the write-up - I wasn't quite sure whether one has to install a SNES emulator to play it? Surely there has been a PC port at some point? Or is it lacking something compared with the original?

Does anyone else have phases of obsession? I tend to play one game to the exclusion of almost all others, for months or years at a time. My gaming obsession history goes like this:

1979 - Jailbreak (neat horizontal space invaders on Commodore PET)
1980 - Temple of Apshai (on the Atari 2600 - my first roguelike)
1984 - Elite (BBC B and C64)
1989 - Moria (my first PC game)
1991 - Civ I
1992 - VGA Planets
1993 - MoO I
1994 - Frontier: Elite II
1995 - Master of Magic
2000 - Angband
2002 - Diablo 2
2008 - Crusader Kings
2009 - EU:Rome
2011 - Titan Quest
2012 - WoW

Yes, I did play Elite and MoM for about five years each. In fact Angband is the only real exception to this rule, as it vied with D2 for top spot throughout most of the noughties, and it's the only one I keep coming back to (the interesting observation being that I find an ASCII game far more ageless than even the best designed graphical games (like MoM or MoO I, which I can't really play any more).

(There were a couple of excursions into other genres - notably my late discovery of the Infinity Engine games in about 2004 - but nothing really toppled D2 until I discovered the mind-boggling depth of the Paradox games.)
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