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What Made Those Old, 2D Platformers So Great?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the simple-yet-entertaining dept.

Classic Games (Games) 249

TheManagement writes "Many current developers of web games seem to have a fondness for 2D platformers. However, their desire to capture what made Sonic and Mario games so great is rarely achieved. In an attempt to breach that gap, Significant Bits takes a look at three common design principles that made those classic titles so enjoyable. 'To start off, the interface needs to be quick and responsive. Input should have an immediate effect on the character in order to foster a sense of full control. Granularity and different control techniques, i.e., pressing, tapping and holding, are also important as they provide a level of precision to the movement. ... Now, as far as the environments themselves, it's not a coincidence that they're often filled with all sorts of slides, bridges, trampolines, ladders, etc. In a way, they're simply playgrounds for the player, both literally and figuratively. They're catered to the moveset, and they enhance the flow of the game.'"

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249 comments

The fact that you were younger and less jaded then (5, Insightful)

LittleJedi (1197983) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075683)

The fact that you were younger and less jaded then.

Re:The fact that you were younger and less jaded t (5, Funny)

James Skarzinskas (518966) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076387)

For me, it's the total difference in attitude. Back then, I was a kid with no disposable income to spare. Your parents rented you some games from the video store for the weekend and you played the hell out of them. Very seldom did you get the exact games of your choice, so you learned to just deal with what you got. It didn't matter of they were clunky or poorly designed, or if the music was no better than 8-bit blips composed by someone totally tone-deaf who figured the NES's "noise" channel was a substitute for any instrumentation; you were on a holy mission to beat the game(s) within the rental period. Eventually, you even acquired a taste for some of the crappier ones that would later manifest as nostalgia. You'd give anything, any genre a chance. The information just wasn't available the way it is today. If Nintendo Power said it was awesome, you prayed to the greater gaming deities that it would show up in the ma and pa store that had a game rental shelf. If some kid on the playground said "Sega does what Nintendon't", you bashed his head in with a rock. It's just how it was.

Now I just find myself cherry-picking for the AAA titles, going for the well-reviewed games, or even following the PR hype train. Games with glitches like "all enemies inevitably randomly lose the will to live and walk into a wall before arbitrarily phasing out of existence" no longer have the chance to penetrate the market, or our nerd hearts.

Re:The fact that you were younger and less jaded t (2, Funny)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076821)

If some kid on the playground said "Sega does what Nintendon't", you bashed his head in with a rock. It's just how it was.

Y'know, I'll admit to my fair share of 16-bit zealotry back in The Day(tm), as well as my then and current rampant dirty hippy Nintendo fanboyism, but that line makes me glad I didn't grow up in your playground.

Re:The fact that you were younger and less jaded t (3, Insightful)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077007)

I disagree, the 2d platformers (at least the post-SMB ones) tend to hold up very well even now. They're probably the genre with the least real evolution, you can play SMB1 without feeling it's missing much from the later games in the genre. Sure, that by itself could mean the genre as a whole is outdated but at least to me the games are still a lot of fun (at least the good ones).

One word. (5, Insightful)

boarder8925 (714555) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075691)

What Made Those Old, 2D Platformers So Great?

One word: nostalgia.

Re:One word. (5, Insightful)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075737)

One word: nostalgia.

That, plus the fact that you didn't need to memorize 150 different keyboard commands to play one of those old games. Most of the newer games became too much like work for me to ever really enjoy them.

Re:One word. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075799)

That, plus the fact that you didn't need to memorize 150 different keyboard commands to play one of those old games. Most of the newer games became too much like work for me to ever really enjoy them.

Clearly, you've never played Nethack...

Re:One word. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075847)

nethack is horribly overrated

Re:One word. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076297)

You're just bitter that you never got past level three.

Re:One word. (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075895)

One word: nostalgia.

I played Mario World the other day and to my surprise I found it somewhat "complicated" (You have little Mario, Cape Mario, Spinning Mario, etc.). Once upon a time I could play it to 96 stars in my sleep but today Nostalgia was the only thing that kept me playing (had to get to an old favorite level).

Donkey Kong Land OTOH is still great fun though, more so than New Super Mario so perhaps I just hate plumbers, IOW 2D platformers are not dead to me - even if that's the nostalgia talking :-)

Re:One word. (3, Informative)

boarder8925 (714555) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076003)

I'm not saying that there's a lack or nonexistence of good or great 2D platformers, I'm simply saying that the greatness of 2D platformers in general has been greatly hyped and overestimated.

Re:One word. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076053)

So, just like any game genre then? That doesn't really say much.

Re:One word. (4, Insightful)

boarder8925 (714555) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076115)

Old games in general, really. We mainly remember the good games from Ye Olden Days and forget the plethora of shitty ones that were available as well--and as we wade through the current muck we look back to the golden oldies and bemoan the current state of things. Of course this doesn't apply only to video games, but also movies, music, etc. We remember the good and throw out most of the bad.

Re:One word. (4, Interesting)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076197)

Of course this doesn't apply only to video games, but also movies, music, etc. We remember the good and throw out most of the bad.

I've never felt that new music is worse than old music. Old music is stuff I've heard so many times that I no longer get that feeling when you hear a good tune for the first time, so new music will always be better than old music :-)

Re:One word. (4, Insightful)

Aminion (896851) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076131)

Nostalgia, indeed. I would, however, like to suggest that by lacking in the graphics department, old games were more immersive because you had to use your own imagination more and not rely on the developers' extended imagination. It's basically one of the main points that Scott Mccloud emphasizes in Understanding Comics [wikipedia.org] and I think the idea translated well to computer games. On the other hand, modern games usually have superior audio and graphics design, and more sophisticated storytelling, all key elements of great games.

Re:One word. (3, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076915)

On the other hand, modern games usually have superior audio and graphics design, and more sophisticated storytelling, all key elements of great games.

I beg to differ. They can add to a game, but they don't make one. Just contrast Civilization and Spore. Not to mention D&D.

The thing you're talking about is Photoshop or Movie Maker, not a game.

Re:One word. (5, Insightful)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077483)

The devs back then had to spend a lot of time on the level layouts. When you can't rely on gfx or sfx to make your game a success, you have to spend a lot of time ensuring every aspect of the game is high quality.

That means reasonably good graphics/sound effects(even if "bleeps and bloops" are the best possible), good level design, difficulty level which ramps up over time, etc.

Far too many modern games have poor level design, or difficulty fluctuates randomly, or the input scheme is awful. It can be quite irritating.

Re:One word. (4, Insightful)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076155)

What Made Those Old, 2D Platformers So Great?

One word: nostalgia.

What about limited alternatives?

When the first video game was made, it was the best video game in the world. When there were a dozen titles, more than 80% of games were in the top ten.

Today, we've all seen a gajillion games in our lifetime, so anything new that comes out has some serious competition to even be considered "okay".

"You cannot simultaneously prevent ... (-1, Offtopic)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076513)

and prepare for war." -- Albert Einstein

Which is belied by the fact that we and the Soviets never incinerated the world in nuclear armageddon.

Re:One word. (1)

IntlHarvester (11985) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076975)

> What about limited alternatives?

OK, that might apply to SMB and a few other games, but by the 16-bit era there were hundreds of 2D platformers and most of them were shitty.

Re:One word. (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077075)

Well, 2D platformers are still coming out and they're still good (obviously not all, Sturgeon's Law applies as usual) despite not having evolved much since the old days. Some do suffer a bit from the desire to make games where you always progress but still play for a long time (often manifesting itself in the form of random collectibles) but overall the genre is still viable. They're no longer the big blockbuster titles since they tend to get made on smaller budgets for the DS but that's just a shift in the news focus, not in the actual games.

Re:One word. (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077343)

I'll second that. Back in the day (TM) for me the choice was Asteroids, Pac-Man, or a pinball machine at the local pizza shop. I once got 3 hours of Asteroids play out of a quarter. If your family was lucky enough to have a computer at all, it was usually an Atari 800 or a C64. You might even have a printer and a cassette tape deck for storing programs. Most of the machine existed in ROM cartridges though. All the computer magazines published code for games and utilities, that you could type in and tweak.

Re:One word. (2, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076693)

Survivorship Bias: We tend to only remember the good ones.

That all said, the signal-to-noise ratio does seem to have decreased in recent years, with most successful titles being part of already-established franchises.

(Offtopic: I haven't played a good RPG in ages. Any suggestions? Doesn't matter how old (or new) it is.)

Re:One word. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28077223)

(Offtopic: I haven't played a good RPG in ages. Any suggestions? Doesn't matter how old (or new) it is.)

  • Fallout 3 - Shooter/RPG. Brilliant across the board.
  • Mass Effect - Shooter/RPG. Excellent story, interesting dialog system, great graphics and music.
  • Hinterland [tiltedmill.com] - RPG/sim-city hybrid. Quick and fun, but no story.
  • Echelon: Book 1 [playgreenhouse.com] - Haven't played this one yes, but it's been highly recommended to me.

Re:One word. (5, Insightful)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076701)

Not quite. I'd say two words: Shigeru Miyamoto.

Go download a NES emulator and a collection of ROMs. Play through a representative sample of 2D platformers of the late eighties and early nineties. My God, most of them suck so very, very hard. How did anybody ever enjoy this utter rubbish?

Now play Super Mario Bros. 3.

There, you see the difference? Exactly. This isn't nostalgia taking games that were never very good and inflating them to become unwarranted classics. This is time acting as a filter. All those awful games have sunk into richly deserved obscurity. So when somebody publishes a 2D platformer today, we don't compare it against the whole genre: we compare it against Mario at his absolute best. We're going to see some kid's band he's formed with his mates, and we listen critically, and flame them for not being anywhere near as good as the Beatles.

A small number of truly great games, that's what we remember. We've forgotten the crap.

Not nostalgia, but the limits of the dopamine high (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077447)

nostalgia

No. For one, as my sibling has noted, that couldn't be it at the time. As a poster further down has eloquently noted, "button Fail! button button Succed! ENDORPHINS!!!"

I hold that over the last twenty years, computer games haven't been getting more fun to play. They've gotten better looking, better sounding and more imersive (it's cool how the B button on the wiimote feels kinda' like a trigger...).

But I think there's a limit to how far you can push the endorphin high. (Isn't it dopamine?)

If that's correct, I predict that over the next twenty years, computer games will not become substantially more fun to play. (yes, that's vague. I don't study media science, so do not sue me.)

Another poster has claimed it was the lack of alternatives. I think there's a bit of truth to that: I think people will be unhappy when they get a good deal if they know they could have gotten a better deal. So once newer, better alternatives to our current games come up, we will (broadly speaking) want the better games rather than the perfectly fine but not-quite-as-good games. This desire may not be strong enough to overpower nostalgia, though.

Re:One word. (1)

Haoie (1277294) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077579)

Not easy to build that into a modern game, is it?

Unless you, mmm, literally wear 3D rose tinted glasses?

Nostalgia (2, Informative)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075719)

That horrible wasting-mind disease known as nostalgia. On average, the same percentage of platformers were good as, for example, the percentage of first-person shooters that are good. The thing is, people still play the good platformers-- like Mario 3 or Sonic 2, and as a result, they completely forget about the thousands of crappy platformers out there.

If you want a more even perspective, take a look at Something Awful's ROM pit: http://www.somethingawful.com/d/rom-pit/ [somethingawful.com] They review the bad platformers you've forgotten.

Now, can we please stop seeing topics like this based entirely on nostalgia?

Re:Nostalgia (4, Funny)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075817)

Now, can we please stop seeing topics like this based entirely on nostalgia?

But if they stop posting topics like this, in a few years we'll start reminiscing about them. "Remember those old topics based entirely on nostalgia? Weren't those great? I miss those days..."

Re:Nostalgia (4, Funny)

mickwd (196449) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075843)

Now, can we please stop seeing topics like this based entirely on nostalgia?

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Re:Nostalgia (2, Insightful)

Dusthead Jr. (937949) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075915)

One of the things that kill me about people who say stuff like "games where better back in the day" is that they only talk about all the good (and popular) games. They seem to filter out or forget all off the crappy ones. They will talk about how games were more unique back then, never mind all of the Mario clones, the countless shoot-em-up, and beat-em-ups, and the RPGs. Don't forget the movie tie ins and the other licensed crap that was invented back the. These are not some new recent ideas. There are folks out there that make a living on dissing old games like the Angry Videogame Nerd and Seanbaby. I'm just saying for every criticism about new games you can come up with can easily be applied to a game from 20 years ago. History has reruns.

Re:Nostalgia (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075971)

Then you get jerkwads who want to argue that if you like anything that wasn't created yesterday it's "nostalgia" and it couldn't possibly have been good ever at all and can't currently good for sure. Heaven knows that that Beethoven guy was just a major hack and the only reason why people like him is due to nostalgia. Same goes for that Poe guy and that Rembrant guy. Damn hacks, all of them.

Re:Nostalgia (1)

Dusthead Jr. (937949) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076159)

If Billboard existed back then and Beethoven always number one, who was number two, or ten? Every one brings up Beethoven as the pinnacle of classic music but no one talks about the all of the mediocre and awful one as if the never existed. As if there was never a bad piece of classical music written back then. There are those who simple wish to point out the crappy ones, they existed along with the good ones.

Re:Nostalgia (0)

chromatic (9471) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077495)

Every one brings up Beethoven as the pinnacle of classic music but no one talks about the all of the mediocre and awful one as if the never existed.

People still listen to Liszt, though. Yuck.

Re:Nostalgia (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076079)

Yep, another good source is always the Angry Nintendo Nerd [screwattack.com]. The Moonwalker video is pretty good and of cousre there's plenty more in the archive somewhere.

Re:Nostalgia (2, Funny)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076807)

I think I saw that video. The nerd complained that the moonwalk move is useless - which is incorrect. In the last stage you can use it to walk on conveyors without losing speed.

Re:Nostalgia (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076631)

Horrible ROMs is where opinion gets interesting. Everyone likes Mario 3 well enough; but only certain people can tolerate Clash at Demonhead. I rate it as one of the best NES games ever, along with Solar Jetman which had huge seamless gamefields and very challenging physics. Too challenging and weird, which is probably why it failed, but there's still nothing like it. It's sort of like a single-player story mode for xpilot [wikipedia.org].

Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (4, Insightful)

VMaN (164134) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075745)

What I absolutely hate the most about any modern 3d game is that even a relatively beefy machine, I get a noticeable LAG on the input, even if framerates are good, unless i set graphics options to low/low/low etc .

It makes my games unplayable, and I lose interest because it prevents any kind of immersion.

Re:Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075897)

get rid of your wireless mouse/keyboard.

Re:Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075999)

Try disabling triple buffering or disable vsync. A lot of mouse lag can be caused by these two things.

Re:Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076093)

Immersion is the wrong goal if you want to have a good gameplay experience.

Re:Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (3, Insightful)

KlausBreuer (105581) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076133)

While I do agree with you, it has certain advantages: when I buy this game for real cheap in two years, my PC is powerful enough to set it to max/max/max.
Then I have a nice game with good graphics for a low price.

What, you think I'd buy a brand-new game? Full of bugs? Idiotic copy protections? Ridiculously high prices? Needing much more CPU/GPU power than my high-end PC offers?
You must be joking.

Re:Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (2, Insightful)

Razalhague (1497249) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077441)

...and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why developers go bankrupt even if they make good games.

Blame the benchmarkers (1)

Mprx (82435) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076329)

When people measure game performance they usually only measure framerate. Nobody measures control latency, so this encourages design choices that trade responsiveness for framerate. Things like alternative frame rendering in multi-GPU setups instead of split frame rendering, and triple or higher n-buffering. Even if it's not a conscious choice, people get away with lazy high latency design because by nobody mentions it in reviews, so by the time the buyer finds out it will be too late. In complicated engines with many layers of abstraction it's very easily to accidentally increase latency:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1942/programming_responsiveness.php?print=1 [gamasutra.com]

Latency is just as important as framerate for feeling of immersion.

Re:Noticeable lag, even if framerates are OK (2, Interesting)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076493)

It's in a similar vein, but another thing I find really annoying is when games draw their own cursor instead of using a hardware accelerated cursor. It instantly makes me not want to play the game ever, as the mouse is incredibly choppy in comparison, no matter how fast your system is.

For example, yesterday I had a hankering to play Heroes of Might and Magic 3, which is a game that was released in 1999 and required a Pentium 133 to run. While it's still as fun as it always was, the cursor is still choppy, even on a modern system. I'm pretty sure the entire game runs at a fixed 30 FPS or so, including the mouse. In this case, it's not as annoying, because it's entirely turn based, but it'd be a much better game with a proper mouse cursor.

New games are still making this mistake and it baffles me how it doesn't infuriate the developers enough to fix it.

I certainly design with (input) snappiness in mind, if you have a peek at Game! [wittyrpg.com] you'll notice that everything is very fast. Pages are small and load fast, AJAX is sprinkled about heavily to improve response time (though only where it makes sense), etc. It's not difficult to do really, you just have to keep it in mind.

There was nothing better at the time... (1, Insightful)

Karganeth (1017580) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075749)

Those games were terrible compared to today's standards. Extremely dull. However, people seem to rate games according to how good they were for their time, rather than how good they are now. That's why the "best games of all time" lists should really be renamed "best games of their time".

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075869)

Really?

I bought new super mario bros to my nintendo DS.

It had, in large, the same game mecanics and controls as the old super mario games. Some graphical improvements but similuar in that respect as well.

I think it was absolutely great and it's one of few games I played in its entierly in the last few years. I don't think it's nostalgia, it had great game mecanics. There are new games with great game mecanics as well for that matter.

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075963)

My first gaming console was a PS2 and I love the hell out of some Super Mario World. Those games aren't terrible by any standard, except maybe technological. A great game, like any other work of art, will withstand any test that time can bring.

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076091)

PS2? You're a kid, your opinion doesn't count and you have no idea what gaming was like in the real old days.

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076149)

Um, Super Mario Bros. 3, Sonic, Super Metroid, etc. are still good today, and still better than 95% of the games today. Or look at games like Mega Man 9, a recent game that has sold very well. A lot of people think that 2D platformer games are still quite good. I guess you didn't bother to read the summary, let alone the article?

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28077073)

I don't know about that. I found that Megaman 9 was a pretty good game, was 8 bit, and was released just last year.

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (2, Insightful)

pizzach (1011925) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077253)

Those games were terrible compared to today's standards. Extremely dull. However, people seem to rate games according to how good they were for their time, rather than how good they are now. That's why the "best games of all time" lists should really be renamed "best games of their time".

Some of my first games were on an Atari. None of those games endeared to me. I have a number of NES and SNES games that I will never forget. Explain.

I think people with that kind of opinion are generally pigeon holing games in that they have to be a specific thing.

Re:There was nothing better at the time... (1)

Tr3vin (1220548) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077427)

We have standards today? Do you mean more realistic T&A, or something actually related to games? Most "hardcore" gamers I know have absolutely no standards.

The delusion of the 3D silver bullet (2, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075755)

2D is a superior approach for such games because they allow you to see everything in your vicinity, makes moving simple, and so on. It's just the better approach for such games.

That's the problem with the novelty effect of 3D, it had us under the delusion that 2D was a thing of the past and that everything had to be 3D, as much as possible, as if it was something you couldn't get too much of.

It surely has a name, but that's just a common thing when a novel technology/technique/approach appears to believe that it can replace entirely anything else. Which means I believe soon enough when the novelty of 3D graphics will have died for good then we'll see ourselves definitely sticking to 2D for certain types of games. Just because sometimes it's better (see Sonic on Genesis vs Sonic in 3D)

2D vs. 3D platforming - why not both? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075911)

This AC mostly agrees with the parent.

However, I think Mirror's Edge has shown that 3D platforming can work, too. It adhered to the same design principles while being 3D, and the platforming felt very solid.

As for the controls, they were relatively simple, input had an immediate effect, timing was important, and controls could be combined into sequences for more complex stunts (e.g. wallrun + turn 90 + jump + turn 180 + jump from opposing wall to quickly reach that roof during the New Eden chapter). The environment was pretty much designed to provide a sense of flow with the available moveset, after the player has practiced a bit.

Too bad the story and the tacked-on combat system sucked. I had great fun with the platforming parts.

  -AC

Re:2D vs. 3D platforming - why not both? (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075973)

I've never played Mirror's Edge, but I guess that 3D platforming can indeed be well done, what's important is to choose the approach that fits best the idea of the game, rather than trying to force full 3D onto something just for the sake of it.

Re:2D vs. 3D platforming - why not both? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076221)

I've never played Mirror's Edge, but I guess that 3D platforming can indeed be well done, what's important is to choose the approach that fits best the idea of the game, rather than trying to force full 3D onto something just for the sake of it.

Exactly. That's why I said I mostly agree :)

To get an idea of Mirror's Edge, see for example this video [youtube.com] (high quality recommended). (The "that roof" I mentioned is at 4:11 in the video. Start at 3:59 to see the whole sequence leading up to it.)

  -AC

Re:2D vs. 3D platforming - why not both? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076509)

Mirror's Edge is far less accessible than many old platformers -- particularly the less twitch-oriented ones (think Commander Keen, not Sonic).

My mother used to love 2D platformers. She wouldn't be able to stand more than three seconds of Mirror's Edge. The motion sickness would put her off before she even had a chance to discover that the controls required the reflexes of someone half her age to do anything.

Re:2D vs. 3D platforming - why not both? (2, Interesting)

Homburg (213427) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076599)

Did we really need to wait for Mirror's Edge to find out that 3D platforming can work? I figure Mario 64 and Tomb Raider established that pretty well in 1996.

Re:2D vs. 3D platforming - why not both? (1)

grahamd0 (1129971) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077263)

However, I think Mirror's Edge has shown that 3D platforming can work, too.

Really? I played the demo and came to exactly the opposite conclusion.

Nothing, except (-1, Troll)

Leptok (1096623) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075775)

That all the people old enough to play them as kids are now part of the gaming media establishment.

Lifestyle investment (1, Insightful)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075777)

Older video games did not require much sacrifice to play. Because your social life was not significantly affected, playing them was less of a lifestyle decision than it is with today's video games, which require more serious consideration. I don't remember anyone worrying that their roommate might be addicted to Pac-Man.

Especially the Atari 2600 version. Man that sucked.

Re:Lifestyle investment (4, Informative)

ouimetch (1433125) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076181)

Because your social life was not significantly affected, playing them was less of a lifestyle decision than it is with today's video games, which require more serious consideration. I don't remember anyone worrying that their roommate might be addicted to Pac-Man.

These guys [newline.com] beg to differ.

The same thing that makes any game good (3, Insightful)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075825)

*button *button Fail

*button *button Succeed ENDORPHINS *button *button Fail

*button *button Succeed ENDORPHINS *button *button Succeed ++ENDORPHINS *button *button Fail ANGER

Continue ad infinitum

The trick is to space out the fails such that you don't give up to quickly, but not so far apart that you don't break the flow every now and then. The other trick is to have enough wiggle in your gameplay such that success can be defined many ways, not just winning.

Oh no, carp came in when I flooded the plump helmet field, there are skeletal elephants blocking the caravan, and someone has an odd mood for jello? I'm screwed! *massive endorphin rush* [dwarffortresswiki.net].

Extreme Nostalgia... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075863)

I could waste eons on Asteroids and Tetris, and hold lengthy arguments with the young whippersnappers about how "back in my day...."

Face it, whatever's from your childhood is gold, no matter how weak it may look compared to today, it still wont' lose that lusture in your mind.

They weren't great (1)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075867)

They weren't great, most of them. Anyone who grew up in the 80's and 90's videogame era, knows that at least 90% of those old 2d platformers... were truly, brokenly awful.

Fortunately, those are rarely remembered - the reason why we consider them 'so great', is because it's only the good ones that get remembered and replayed, years later, with any fondness.

Re:They weren't great (4, Insightful)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076229)

Warning: This may turn into a "Get off my lawn!" post.

They weren't great, most of them. Anyone who grew up in the 80's and 90's videogame era, knows that at least 90% of those old 2d platformers... were truly, brokenly awful.

I grew up in the 80's and 90's and I don't remember a lot of platformers being awful, but I do remember a lot of them being extremely difficult. TMNT and Battletoads for the NES are two examples that come to mind. I don't know how many times I had to replay the underwater stage in Turtles before I got fast enough to beat it, or how many times I had to replay the racing stage in Battletoads before I didn't get creamed by an obstacle. Awful games for me were the ones that had confusing controls or puzzles that just did NOT want to be solved, but really there weren't a lot of those that I can recall. For the most part games had a good (read "simple") set of controls, straight-forward goals and were at least somewhat forgiving of mistakes (You died? Guess what, you have two more mans!)

I honestly think that games back then had better gameplay for the most part. They were less complicated and more focused on just having fun. Games today are all about shiny glitz and how many polygons are being handled at once. Games were also a lot cheaper back then, and there was a lot less marketing and hype involved, so even if a game wasn't all that great it's not like you were out $50-60 and crestfallen because it didn't live up to your hopes.

Complexity of input instead of gameplay (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#28075871)

Without 3D, and often without mouse, you got people doing advanced A-B-B-A-Select-Start-A whatever combos to play the game. Now it's a lot more focus on being in the right position to fire their gun or do the jump and kick. Yes, 2D games are great and fun in many ways - but they're also quite limited. Don't get me wrong, I loved the old isometric games, but I also love the freeform 3D capability of rotating the view, zooming the view to watch exactly what you want from the angle you wnat. Very often the flat 2D battles would involve exactly one tactic, moving in the same way around the screen each time. In 3D you might still have much of the same but it's always more different, more varied. I think a good eaxmple would be old Super Mario vs Super Mario Galaxy - essentially the same game in 2D and 3D. I much prefer the 3D version. Same with King's Bounty: The Legend which I think is a much underrated - the freeform 3D makes it so much better than old HOMM games. Sorry, but the only time I think 2D is that great is when I put on my big old nostalgia glasses.

pixel perfect synched scrolling (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075883)

One of the thing that made these 2D scroller feel so great was the perfect scrolling synched with the "VBL" (Vertical Blank Line). There were many amazing 2D scrollers, for example, on the Amiga. The screen could refresh at either 50 or 60 Hz depending on your location (europe and US, for example, had monitor with different default refresh rate).

This is not at all "nostalgia": it's not something I'm making up. It is not an opinion, it is a *fact*. You cannot argue with a fact.

A game run on a system that refresh the screen 60 times per second, where the game's background move by 1 pixel (or 2 [1,2, 3, 4 used to work fine]) at every refresh at a very special "smooth" feeling that has *never* been matched.

It wasn't just Sonic's great control, the cool game elements, the great "simplification" that 2D brings: it was also a very special visual "feeling" due to having the game's logic intrinsically tied to the hardware it was run on.

Years after my "Amiga 2D scrollers time", I was playing competitive Counter-Strike, using "low-poly" mods to enhance the framerate of my (sucky) PC. I reached 99 fps but 3D games will never *ever* reach the smoothness that a good 2D scroller tied to the hardware had.

The young generation shall never understand this. I'm probably very bad at explaining it. It's something you need to see to understand what the "old grandpa's" are "nostalgic" about.

Just like demo from "the scene", way before it was called "the scene" had amazing effects that newer demo simply cannot match.

Sure, you have 3D effects using 100 millions polys/sec running at 800 fps (just half-joking) but the "smoothness" of the good old 2D Amiga demos has never been matched.

Food for thoughts.

Re:pixel perfect synched scrolling (2, Informative)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076049)

3D games can also have perfect sync (and many of them do, especially on consoles...)

Re:pixel perfect synched scrolling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076751)

That is true. I still remember when I first got Tekken for my Playstation and being in awe at how smooth everything moved. It may very well have been the first console game to run at 60fps.

Now compare that to something like Street Fighter II. Street Fighter II had a nicely scrolling playfield and some cool parallax effect on the floor, which looked incredible when it came out, but set next to Tekken it starts looking pretty choppy.

There's still new 2D games that are good (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075941)

Braid, World of Goo, N+, etc.

The article talks about 2D games like they were things of the past and no good ones existed today...

Good enough at the right time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28075969)

Because they were the firsts of their kind to be good enough.

Mario and Sonic are not great for me, because i was born too late. But they are good enough to be remembered as the best games of their kind.

It wasn't just the designers! (2, Interesting)

Celeste R (1002377) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076005)

I can think of a good list of reasons why 2D platform games were (and to an extent, still are) great.

Firstly, I'd say replayability. The best-looking game of the time was just another game once you finished it. Most games of the time opted for difficulty settings, which provided a sense of replayability without significant design challenges (adding more monsters is easy). I myself became burnt out on those, because they got repetitive and nothing was new beyond a plot twist at the end; I enjoy the lengthy, involving games.

Secondly, I'd say that the designers of the time cared about the human factor. Yes, they paid attention to precision control, which is something I miss these days. They made doing that instantaneous joystick yoga both fun and challenging! They also made it easy to understand the game mechanics. The KISS principle does work!

Thirdly, I'd say that the designers of the time enjoyed level creation. It was how you created the game to maximize the enjoyment and involvement of the player that mattered. Yes, better graphics matter, but when it comes at the expense of bettering that involvement, it becomes increasingly less excellent.

Fourthly, Gameplay designers (call them level designers, or UI designers, or whatever) should go back to using their little kids to test them on. I sincerely doubt that Pac-man was made by a jaded, mind-in-the-rut designer, just as I doubt that the Sid Meyer franchises (which I thoroughly enjoyed) was an exercise in doing the next "good enough" thing.

Fifthly, it wasn't the designers who disappointed us, it was us who disappointed the designers in accepting the stupid titles out there as "okay". Once it was lucrative to just manufacture the next good enough thing, the truly unique titles almost vanished. Perhaps we shrugged off those oldies in the name of "growing up", but isn't gaming about enjoying the kid in all of us?

The old designers created things that stood out. Perhaps the fact that there wasn't that much out there helped. Aside from that, though, they created things that you could put your mind to, and as a player become engaged in that world. Even if it wasn't quite as unique as the next title, it was still enjoyable. How many us have played Solitaire? It wasn't at all unique, but it was engaging and easy to sneak between tasks.

No limits (5, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076075)

One of the things that make 2-D platformers stand out today is that you don't feel limited. When you played Super Mario World you don't think about the limitations of the SNES, there are no load times, rarely any lag, etc. Most 2-D platformers were abstract, you didn't think "Oh, Mario's mustache isn't moving realistically", you concentrated on the game. When you got to the SNES/Genesis era, it seemed like any limitation was banished forever for 2-D games, you got bright multi-colored visuals, music that was quite catchy, you had no load times (unlike CD based consoles), and with expansion chips such as the Super-FX the games really got more impressive as the system went on. When games started moving into 3-D and realistic 3-D, things started to get more realistic. They moved out of the abstract. You noticed that Mario was really blocky, round visuals were rendered as squarish, etc. They felt limited. While in a 2-D game you had total freedom within the course till the end, early 3-D games had to constrain you. Even though you could see hills as far as the eye could see, whenever you ran after them you were hit by an invisible wall. The hardware also felt limited, with the rise of CD/DVD based games you introduced loading times, this took you away from being totally immersed for 5 seconds and somewhat ruined the effect you were in another world.

Today things are starting to get better, 3-D seems less limiting then before, yet with the rise of HD TVs, faster CPUs, etc. I doubt that we can really get seemingly unlimited 3-D games until close to the next revolution, be it true 3-D, VR, or something different. The rise of flash memory, faster drives and HDs in game consoles have cut down on load times too. But still 3-D doesn't seem as limitless as 2-D platforming was.

We didn't know any better/nostalgia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076177)

I always wonder how much of it was back then the newness of the concept, and now the nostalgia of the era. I've sat down an played older classic platformers, and with the rare exception of a few undoubtable great classics like Mario, Zelda, etc... most of the games I spent endless hours on as a kid now seem repetitive and so simple.

Wicked Timing, plus learnability (1)

tempest69 (572798) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076201)

Ok I'll admit many 2d games blew.
But the good 2d games had some good points..
no odd lag, because it was dedicated. Crisp use of the monitor.

in Donkey-kong knowing when to acsend a ladder is critical.
in Battlezone (3d but extra-old).. using the blocks right was a monster.
in Super Mario.. knowing that you will land on ground was a trick.
oh.. and death was usually one mistake away..

"Pac-Man Fever" was only a song, not a medical diagnosis.

Now theyre not world of warcraft... but imagine WOW with oldschool latency.
----of course the quarter-usage might bankrupt people.

Storm

Button presses per minute (3, Insightful)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076241)

I find many modern 3D games have a low "button-press-per-minute" count. Whilst older games always had something going on almost every second, recent titles just get the player to sprawl around for hours. Give me an older title such Bank Panic [klov.com] or Smash TV [wikipedia.org] (both arcade) over a modern 3D shooter any day.

For the games which aren't like that, then they're just too easy I find as well. I've recently bought great playing games such as World of Goo [worldofgoo.com] and Zombies Vs Plants [popcap.com], and although they are great fun while they last, it's over all too quickly - more proof that games today are geared towards the masses for 'throwaway' purchase like a McDonalds. It's pretty sad.

Things were different... (1)

Jekkaman (1263892) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076277)

IMHO most 2D games (not only platformers) were great because deveopers focused more in the gamming factor ( Fun + Gameplay ) instead of the graphics. In some part development was easier to the difference between most computers in those days were more about space and not raw performance. Things changed a LOT in game development. Mario , Contra , Sonic ... Those were the days...

Game Over (2, Insightful)

Haxx (314221) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076287)

On the old games, they actually ended when you made 3 critical errors. The whole idea was to get better each time you played to get further into the game and possibly beat it.

Today all games are about experience gaining and gold hording. Play lousy for 6 months, get to level 90 so you can kill the creatures with one click. Oh, and the game only ends when you stop paying your monthly bill.

Shenanigans (5, Informative)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076331)

So a good number of people have stated nostalgia, and out of those the majority have said that 2d platformers were mostly or all bad. Yet I've not seen any examples of how or why.

I call bullshit.

Platformers have continued to achieve success, and while they're far less common than they used to be, many of them have received rave reviews, and deservedly:

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night(1997)
Contra: Shattered Soldier(2002)
Neo Contra(2004)
Psychonauts(2005)
Bionic Commando Rearmed(2008)
Mega Man 9(2008)

And there's many more that I haven't listed. I think what made those games great back in the day is what makes them great now - simple to interact with, but challenging enemies and environments. Great soundtracks, great graphics, great fun.

Re:Shenanigans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28076899)

5 of your 6 games are based on/remakes of successful NES platformers... Mega man 9 is identical to the old platformers for that matter.

I personally found all those games amazing fun, but they still contain a nostalgia factor, Mega man 9 in particular.

Re:Shenanigans (0)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076903)

So a good number of people have stated nostalgia, and out of those the majority have said that 2d platformers were mostly or all bad. Yet I've not seen any examples of how or why.

Sorry, there isn't a Atari or NES version of IGN where I can just go back and look up all the reviews. You'll just have to take my word for it: the vast majority of 2D platformers, back when that genre was dominant, sucked.

You're listing a small selection of titles that are known to not-suck, and then saying because they don't suck people who say the majority of them *did* suck are wrong. But you're suffering from the same nostalgia as everybody else: the reason Castlevania, Contra, Bionic Commando, and Mega Man have all had recent sequels is because those games *didn't suck*.

Re:Shenanigans (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077563)

I've weeded through a long list of games to make a rather large collection of MAME ROM's. And while yes, many did suck there were quite a few that were great. I think the arena of suckage began in the early 90's where the proliferation exploded.

I think your analysis is on the right track, I did list known good games, but to illustrate how in the present, with far less platformers being released, the quality has gone up. It's not only the games from the 80's that have modern classics, but many new platformers(which I didn't list to try and stick with mostly the scrolling style) like the Banjo series, Ratchet and Clank, Viewtiful Joe, et cetera. And the mere fact that the prequels were good does not mean the sequels would be good either - The new Contras and Marios released in the 2000's could have sucked, but they did not. They've been received well because they were excellent games, and I stick by my assertion that there hasn't been any examples of shitty platformers listed yet:

Re:Shenanigans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28077357)

Each gen of games have the 'must play' or 'i am buying a console right now for it'.

Many of the rest of the games are total crap. For ever 1 'that is a rocking title' there are 20 that you want to run over with a car then light on fire.

Now give it a few years and the 'must play' stick out as the best. So the lens of time shows those as what the others must have looked like. Its not true. Many are crap. It seams as if people only remember the good ones and forget the junk. Which is a good thing. Those crap titles deserve to be forgotten.

There were well over 1500 titles for the NES and PS1 and PS2 each. Yet out of those there is maybe 200-300 games that are awesome. The rest SUCK.

2D games were a roundation (1)

Rastl (955935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076473)

The 2D games some of us remember were our foundation and our base comparison for today's games. Yes, there is a certain sense of nostalgia in our remembrances but overall the play style of the games was suited to the evolution of games.

I remember playing my first FPS and while I was blown away by being immersed in the game it was also difficult to remember the variety of commands needed to play the game. I was used to a very limited set of options or infinite options (text based RPG). Having to remember key combinations was frustrating until I got used to it.

I got out of playing computer and console games years ago. I was lucky enough to completely skip the MMORPG thing and instead spend my time making and doing things away from the computer. But yes, I also remember many games fondly and still play my favorites on my Atari 2600 console from time to time. They're still fun and that's all that matters to me.

Now get of my intarwebz you young whipppersnappers.

They weren't great. (5, Insightful)

log0n (18224) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076581)

There just wasn't anything better at the time. My generation.. it's all about how great Quake/Doom/Duke Nukem and how nothing lives up to the gameplay they offered. The more immediate generations will proclaim how nothing before Halo was any good and very little after has come close.

20 years from now we'll have the same thing.

(personally, I think the games we have now are the best (playing/looking/story(not everything of course)/etc) we've ever had)

Re:They weren't great. (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076961)

Is that why most of the FPS players I know are awaiting the next big game, having stopped playing the other current games due to boredom and lack of challenge? Dunno about you, but my clan has barely played anything over the last few months for the same reasons. We're not top tier players either, and those of us who are still playing are either playing older games like CS:S and Quakelive or trudging through modern ones like COD4/5 until the next big game. There are some exceptions, but out of those it tends to be new games based on old tech like Killing Floor. I've seen many new games get good reviews yet often a common criticism is that they don't have enough single player content, challenge, nor replayability, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a big part of what makes these older games great.

I will concede, however, that there is way too much "get off my lawn" going on, and there certainly will be people saying the same tired phrases in ten years. It's human nature and it won't be surprising when it happens. It's not that there aren't good new games, but a myriad of reasons that bring us to these situations. COD is pretty darn good, but it does have it's drawbacks, and when the next big game comes we'll be moving on like most. Time will tell what games are really great.

Re:They weren't great. (2, Insightful)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077351)

There just wasn't anything better at the time.

On my Wii, I have Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (a made-for-the-Wii first-person shooter) and the shareware versions of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake.

Sure, MP3:C has some neato cutscenes and the environment has more polygons. But all three ID shooters are quite viable competitors to MP3:C, because they're great fun (and I really suck at Wolfenstein...).

Now, it should be said that MP3:C have few and quite easy monsters. In a sense it feels more like a first person action adventure than a shooter (but maybe I should play at the Veteran difficulty level?), whereas the ID games have lots of moving stuff that should be shot at (with progressively more powerful weapons), and that's about it.

(I'm slightly disappointed by MP3:C because I expected it to be something it's not: a frag fest. It's quite good, and it isn't worse for being what it is rather than what I expected, just a step sideways. There's my bias).

It's not just that there wasn't anything better at the time. It's that they are actually quite good games. Modern games look nicer, sound nicer, and some even have a story ;) but I hold that games, through time, haven't actually become more fun to play.

Re:They weren't great. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28077425)

Rubbish.

Platformers were the AAA games of their time, and had huge investment into them, both monetarily and artistically.

They were good because they had to be. There is no way a company would invest the same into a 2d game nowadays, so you do not get new games of the same high standard in this genre.

Speed (1)

RiotXIX (230569) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076675)

The speed of sonic, or mario jumping / ducking bullets or onto moving platforms - you could test your hand-eye skills without getting a headache. They should make a spectacularly good looking 3d platformer. I remember playing sonic 3d recently and returned it after an hour. It didn't take as much skill / speed I felt.

Also, dare I say it - the graphics are capable of looking better? They can look hand drawn animation, not like bulky blocks put together. Although this distinction is fading now.

Button presses per minute has somethign to do with it.

NOT Nostalgia, but fewer over titles. (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076867)

I think that production costs make it impossible to make many games. Fewer games means less diversity. Less diversity means less chance that a game will get made that I really like.

I remember the wide variety of games that were out there when I was in my twenties. Now, there is so much sameness. Duke Nukem, Call of Duty, Doom, . .. they're all fundamentally the same.

Open source holds super-great potential, I think. A good project leader can develop a good object-oriented skeleton and developers can fill in the rest. Too bad that's not happening with wargames!

RTFA anyone? (3, Insightful)

Froobly (206960) | more than 4 years ago | (#28076879)

Maybe people here should actually read the article before commenting on it. The article isn't just your average list of top ten games from the '80s, or "boy, games sure suck right now" rant. The author actually lays out some decent guidelines for what makes a good sidescroller, given the benefit of experience.

So many of the posts seem to be parrotting the "nostalgia" line, while refusing to acknowledge that some of those games were just plain *good*. Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 are good games, and the existence of Pac Land doesn't make them any less good. The article does a pretty good job of explaining why.

A few more reasons (1)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077409)

Well, first there's the time filter previously mentioned on /. - how many members of the general public can remember a playwright other than Shakespeare?

Second, the game designer has a better grasp of how the player will approach things due to a smaller number of states the player can be in - for example, just about everyone who plays Cave Story for the first time will die on the fourth spike.

Third, situational awareness. If something hits you, you know what it is, and if you die you know exactly the reason why. I believe Valve commented on this during the Sniper update.

without reading TFA, I'll tell you. (-1, Troll)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 4 years ago | (#28077475)

What made them great, was they were the pinnacle of gaming technology at the time.

They aren't the pinnacle anymore.

Let them go in peace. nintendorks!

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