Super Mario 3D World’s 4 Step Level Design

Super Mario 3D World’s 4 Step Level Design

The 4 steps of level design in Super Mario's 3D World!

I want to talk about Super Mario 3D World, a game that is bursting at the seams with ideas. This is a game with conk doors and flip switch panels, double cherries and cannon boxes, switchboards, ant troopers, beat blocks, trapezes, grump lumps, foot lights, and piranha creepers. This game has innovation in abundance.

How does Nintendo manage to cram so many mechanics into the game without making it bloated or incomprehensible or stuffed with tutorials? You best ask this guy, Koichi Hayashida, who is co-director of 3D world and has, over the course of a few games, developed a level design philosophy that allows for rapid fire invention. Essentially, stages are four part, self-contained showcases for new ideas, where a mechanic can be successfully taught, developed, twisted, and then thrown away in about five minutes flat.

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Each level starts by introducing its concept in a safe environment. Cakewalk Flip has panels that switch from red to blue when you jump, and you’ll see that as soon as you hop up to this platform. The first batch of panels are hovering over a lower level, so if you fall, you don’t lose a life. The concept is then established further. In this section there is no safety net, and here you’ll have to deal with the flipping panels as you climb up the cliff face.

“What it means is that Nintendo has developed a handy reusable structure that allows for inventions to be taught, developed, twisted, and thrown away.”

Then comes the twist. Towards the end of each stage, the concept is turned on its head in some way, to either challenge your mastery or to make you think about it for a fresh perspective. In this case we have to deal with the flip panels while also dodging the blast radius of this bumper enemy, which we fought a little earlier in the stage. Finally, we get the conclusion. Each level gives you one last chance to show off your skills with a suitable flagpole sequence.

Hayashida has explained in an interview with Gamasutra, that he’s inspired by a narrative structure called Kishōtenketsu, which is used in four line Chinese poems and four panel Japanese comics. Each of these stories introduces a concept, develops it, hits you with a twist that changes things, then offers a conclusion. Similarly, each Mario level has a satisfying arc of introduction, development, twist, and conclusion. Optional collectibles, like green stars and stamps, offer even more twists and even tougher challenges. Nintendo can swap out the flagpole conclusion for a boss fight, like in Bowser’s Highway Showdown, which introduces and develops explosive footballs in preparation for a battle against Bowser. It can also reintroduce mechanics from earlier in the game at a moment’s notice, confident in the knowledge that if you’ve got all the way to The Bowser Express, for example, you’ll know about swinging spikes, conk doors, bullies, and ant troopers from your run-ins in previous stages.

It’s interesting to see how this design changed over time. You start to see it form in Super Mario Galaxy, where Hayashida was level design director. The game’s galaxies are more often a hodgepodge concoction of gimmicks, rather than a single concept which is seen through from introduction to conclusion. Take Gusty Garden Galaxy’s Bunnies in the Wind, which is initially about these floaty fluffs, but then it’s about beanstalks and it concludes with a footrace with a rabbit. Don’t get me wrong, this game is brilliant in its unpredictability and offers a very different feeling to 3D World. But it also means that mechanics aren’t always given the time to mature, and you’re not always given the chance to learn properly. The game can throw too many concepts at you at once, like in Flip Switch Galaxy. It relies on standard DT mechanics, like in Bubble Breeze Galaxy.

In Mario Galaxy 2, on which Hayashida was director, levels are more often about single concepts and that familiar narrative structure can start to be seen. Beat Block Galaxy introduces the levels concept in a safe way, develops it over the course of the stage, and offers a twist with a madcap silver star dash. In Super Mario 3D Land, Hayashida seems to enforce his philosophy much more rigorously. World 2-2 is all about snake panels, 2-4 is on reversible platforms, 3-4 is about falling blocks, and so on. By 3D World, the philosophy is in full force, and the ideas are also used at times in the spin-off Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. Concepts can be introduced, developed, and twisted, though it’s often a little less focused because the stages can be more open-ended.

This is not the first time that Mario games have taught you in an organic way. In the first Super Mario Brothers, Shigeru Miyamoto needed to find a way to let you know that mushrooms are good, whereas the mushroom-shaped Goombas are bad. When you unleash the first mushroom and watch it bounce off the pipe and start to close in on you, even if you try to hop over it, you’ll hit your head, get bounced into the mushroom and see that it’s not an enemy after all. It’s definitely not the first time that Mario has had throwaway ideas and one time snippets of fun. Way back in Super Mario Brothers 3, the Goomba’s Shoe power-up only appeared in a single level. After 5-3, it’s was never seen again.

What it means is that Nintendo has developed a handy reusable structure that allows for inventions to be taught, developed, twisted, and thrown away. It’s something that you can use too, you’ve just got to come up with some clever ideas and interesting twists. Good luck.

The Mechanics of Movement in Games

The Mechanics of Movement in Games

The Mechanics of Movement in Games is important!

The year is 1996, you’re playing Tomb Raider on PlayStation, and you need to jump between 2 platforms. What do you do? First you have to line up the jump by walking to the edge. Then you have to give yourself a run up. You then sprint to the edge of the platform and hold the jump button knowing that Lara will leap after exactly 2 more steps, then in mid air you have to hold a different button to reach out and grab the other platform. You must keep this button held as Lara Pulls herself up on the other side. That’s a stark difference to the way Lara moves in her more recent games. She now has a media acceleration and an ultra-responsive jump, so you don’t need to run up anymore. You can move her in mid air, so you don’t need to line up the jump. She automatically reaches out for platforms and grabs them, so you don’t need to press another button.

To some, the old way will seem clunky and frustrating. The more modern controls, which were brought in when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the series with Tomb Raider: Legend, a much more palatable and accessible. Of course there’s a lot of truth to that. Tomb Raider 1 operated on an unrealistic grid system. It was designed for a digital input, and it was the result of a developer’s first unrefined grasp at working in a 3D space.

I think we also lost something in the transition to the ultra-simple traversal controls we see in games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted. The old system demanded expertise. You became a master of the controls, like how you learn to subconsciously flick-trick in and out a very grind and manual in Tony Hawks. You had to act deliberately and with intention, like dare I say it, Dark Souls. In Tomb Raider leap across a giant chasm is almost as terrifying and rewarding as it would be in real life. Whereas that exact same jump in the decade later remake Tomb Raider: Anniversary is so bereft of challenge that you barely even register that it happened.

“The old system demanded expertise. You became a master of the controls…”

The slow decline of mechanical sophistication in Tomb Raider is traversal. From adding annoying automated movements like monkey bars, to removing the need to hold grab, to removing the need for a run up, looks even worse when you compare it to the way the Franchise’s Combat has evolved. We’ve gone from wildly firing at bats, to doing stealth kills, making head shots, taking cover, readying arrows, making and throwing bombs, destructing enemies, pulling down structures, and juggling different ammo types. These mechanics make Combat and Tomb Raider dynamic and interesting. You have to consider your options and figure out which strategy to use on which enemy. You can improve your abilities by through upgrades and just practice. You need dexterity and to remember complicated control schemes, and it’s rewarding when you successful kill a bunch of baddies. Traversal has become practically automated. Jump at the colored ledge, hold her direction, press jump, hold her direction. Surely we can do something more interesting than this.

Thankfully we can. A number of smaller games show us that movement can still be as deep and involving as like murdering a dude. Perhaps the most obvious example is first person parkour game, Mirror’s Edge. This game is all about movement, and you have so much control of the way protagonist Faith moves through the world. She has acceleration on her run so she can jump further after she has built up speed. She can tuck mid-jump to clear high fences and roll when she hits the ground to avoid fall damage. Her large repertoire of moves gives you more options when moving through a space. In this alley section you can run up the stairs like a damn chump or you can bounce off the wall, and climb her up here, and volt over this bar to get to the same place in far less time.

For the most part the Assassin’s Creed Games heavily automate movement. The most recent entry Syndicate, you don’t even need to climb up buildings anymore as Evie Frye essentially pinched Batman’s grappling hook from Arkham City.

I’d be remiss not to point out the grasp mechanic in Assassin’s Creed II. While in mid air, Ezio can reach an arm out mid-jump to snatch at nearby ledges and ropes to avoid a nasty drop, or to take an alternative route. Experienced players can use this to give themselves more control when exploring the city’s rooftops.

Ubisoft’s experimental game, Grow Home, has got this great climbing system where the two triggers are used to grab with your two robot hands, and you must do that carefully and rhythmically to climb up these massive plants. As you get higher and higher, and nervously wobble along these thin branches, it gets genuinely quite tense. Compare that to climbing this massive tower in Tomb Raider 2013, which you heroically scaled by holding up on the analogue stick. Lara might look terrified, but trust me you won’t be.

One of the reasons Grow Home works is because hero BUD is animated in real-time instead of using pre-canned animations. That’s the secret behind the mad flash game Gurk II, because this game is all about building momentum as you tense your muscles to lunge yourself towards the next handhold. The shirtless ginger climber must be able to bend and flex in all sorts of directions. The game also benefits from an absurd control scheme, where you have to hold various letters on the keyboard to clime. Developer Bennett Foddy told Wired that he intentionally made players “Grip the keyboard just like you would cling to the cliff”, and says his games tap into “A kind of neurological magic which makes you feel like you are the character, rather than just controlling a little guy on the screen.

You can go even further than that with the genuinely, quite brilliant, and utterly exhausting Rock ‘N Roll Climber for WiiWare, which has you gripping and releasing different buttons on the remote and Nunchuck, and then physically reaching out to scale a cliff. Once at the top you play some air guitar, obviously.

If you don’t want to go quite so literal in your climbing metaphor perhaps look to a different Ubisoft game, I Am Alive, where your character has a stamina meter that depletes when you climb up buildings. You expend more if you jump while climbing, and if you use up the whole meter you go into a tense last ditch scramble that leaves a lasting impact on your stamina bar. This like the grip meter in Shadow of the Colossus, makes you think more carefully about how you’ll approach climbing in the game.

What all these games do is prove that climbing can be challenging and a nuance. By asking you to consider things like momentum, inertia, and grip strength, they prove that traversal can actually be a mechanic that’s very bit as deep as combat. They also give you options. Where the route for a room in Rise of the Tomb Raider is often linear and prescribed, these games ask you whether you want to take the slow and easy route or the fast and dangerous one, and provide a tangible sense of reward when you pull off the tricky combination of moves, and perfectly-timed button presses that the hard road requires. Many of them use their controls to make you feel closer to the action on screen, and use real-time animation to capture the dynamic and analogue nature of scrambling up a wall.

If Lara Croft wants to trade in climb ring for killing, that’s her business. You do you, Lara, I’ll find my fun in the Challenge Tombs. For a second imagine the Tomb Raider Game with the physics of Mirror’s Edge, the tense grip meter of I Am Alive, and the hand over hand climbing of Grow Home, and just try and tell me that it doesn’t make you a little bit excited.

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Shovel Knight Is The Perfect Blend Of Old School Gaming Nostalgia

Shovel Knight Is The Perfect Blend Of Old School Gaming Nostalgia

Why Shovel Knight Is The Perfect Dose Of Old School Gaming Nostalgia

Some games are all about nostalgia. They remind us of the good old days, the days before microtransactions and military shooters and massive updates. Maybe we should thank or blame, depending on your experience, Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform where we give designers millions of dollars not to make new games but to make distinctly old ones, games like Bloodstained and Ukelele and Thimbleweed Park. I hope all of those developers have played this game, Shovel Knight. It was also a Kickstarter project generating some three hundred thousand dollars for its developer and perhaps more than any other game successfully tapped into this sentimentality for the past. I’m Mark Brown, this is Game Maker’s Toolkit, and here’s how Shovel Knight did it.

With his blue armor plating and the way he battles similarly shaped boss characters all with similar names, Shovel Knight is definitely reminiscent of Mega Man, but he doesn’t shoot lemons out of his arm. Instead, he’s got a short shovel swipe that brings back memories of Ninja Gaiden’s stubby sword. His downward plunge is reminiscent of DuckTales. Shovel Knight’s special moves are cribbed from Castlevania, most notably the throwing anchor that works exactly like Simon Belmont’s iconic ax. Levels are picked from a map, like in Super Mario Brothers 3, complete with these enemy encounters, and the towns, where you level up and talk to other characters, look like the ones in Zelda 2.

Instead of trying to copy a specific game from yesteryear, Shovel Knight borrows liberally from the entire NES catalog to make a game that reminiscent of 8-bit games in general. That’s smart, because when you’re trying to evoke the memories of one game or one series, you’re not only trying to compete with the actual game, but also people’s nostalgic memories of that game. That’s something else entirely. Old games look better, sound better, and feel better in our heads. We misremember the size of the worlds and the lengths of the quests. Our memory is rose-tinted. We remember the epic moments, but we forget about the grinding. We remember the thrill of beating a tricky level, but block out the one-hit kills that had us breaking controllers.

“Instead of trying to copy a specific game from yesteryear, Shovel Knight borrows liberally from the entire NES catalog to make a game that reminiscent of 8-bit games in general.”

Shovel Knight dodges most of that, because it isn’t tied to the expectations and baggage of a specific game, but it does have to contend with our cognitive bias of what retro games in general were like to play. To do this, it first takes everything that make those games so good: the strict focus on a single mechanic and imaginative level design that conjures up dozens of ways to explore that idea, the precision and consistency that comes from chunky characters and grid-like levels, the secrets and the bosses, the way these games taught you stuff through level design instead of tutorials, and the way they let you start playing in a matter of seconds.

But, it’s not afraid to throw away the stuff that sucked about those games. Most notably, the punitive death systems that were a hold over from arcade game design and a way to stop you finishing these games in an afternoon. You won’t find yourself running out of lives, or witnessing too many cheap hits, or re-spawning enemies. The game might knock you back when you get hit, which is what sent you to your death over and over again in Castlevania, but Shovel Knight quickly gives you air control to get back to safety. Oh, and you also don’t have to blow on a cartridge to stop the game from glitching out.

When fixing those issues from the past, Yacht Club borrows from modern games when it makes sense. The game’s got a system where you lose your money when you die, and you have to make your way back to where you failed to reclaim your loot, a system ripped straight out of Dark Tales. It makes sense. It gives your deaths meaning and introduces a layer of tension, without forcing you to replay entire levels or start from scratch. The checkpoints also let you pick your own difficulty which is a more modern way of thinking about challenge. If you break a checkpoint, you will get a big load of loot, but you won’t come back to that area when you die. A clever risk versus reward setup and proof that Shovel Knight isn’t just ripping off other games, but coming up with ideas of its own.

Here’s the one that’s going to get me in trouble with the commenters, but Shovel Knight is also more progressive than most NES games. Many 8-bit adventures were about saving your girlfriend or your sister or a princess from capture, and while Yacht Club does reference this, it flips it on its head by making Shield Knight strong and capable.

 

In essence, Shovel Knight is tricking you. It makes you think you’re playing an NES game without you fully realizing that you’re actually playing one without the limitations of that console. Nowhere is that more true than in the presentation of the game, because, hey, no NES game looked like this. The most obvious change is the switch to widescreen to fit modern TVs and hand-helds. It also has full parallax scrolling which is where the foreground and background layers move at different speeds to suggest depth. The NES only had one layer, so games like Shatterhand, Return of the Joker, and Sword Master used animated tiles and backgrounds with distinct horizontal lines to fake the effect.

Shovel Knight totally cheats by using multiple layers, like on a Super Nintendo. The game can also render loads of sprites on one horizontal line without flickering, there are more particles on screen than the NES could handle, the game’s got a higher color palette, and there are more colors per sprite and more palettes simultaneously on screen than were allowed by the hardware. The music is more faithful, but perhaps not to western ears. It mimics Konami’s powerful Famicom only via C6 sound chip gave the Japanese version of Dracula’s Curse three more sound channels to play with. Here’s how that compares to the US release.

Plus, Shovel Knight ignores the limitation that score sound effects cut through the music on the NES, as sounds and music had to share the same channels. This game cheats and plays both simultaneously. To most people, they won’t even notice these tricks. It looks and sounds faithful to the NES, because this is what retro games feel like in our memory. When you play a game like Mighty Gunvolt which is more slavishly faithful to the 8-bit aesthetic, looks a bit too plain.

Shovel Knight presents us with four principles for successful nostalgic design. It borrows from multiple sources. It takes the best bits of its source material, and isn’t afraid to modernize what didn’t work, and it presents the games with a familiar retro aesthetic, but with a rose-tinted filter. We can use this to see why other nostalgic releases did or did not work. Hyper Light Drifter borrows not just from a link the past but also Mega Man Zero, Miyazaki movies, and Diablo. It’s challenging and oblique like a good retro game, but has smooth analog controls and liberal checkpoints. While it has 16-bit pixel art, it has a unique color palette and more things on screen that any Super NES game would dare show.

Mighty Number 9, on the other hand, is just trying to be Mega Man. It takes everything from those games, not just the frantic boss battles and themed levels, but the frustrating deaths and limited lives. Its visual style is just, what is this? This isn’t anything. It was supposed to remind us of the best bits of Capcom’s Forgotten Hero, but ended up reminding us of all its worst traits, even the awful, awful, voice acting.

There is, of course, more to Shovel Knight than nostalgia. It’s built by ex-Way Forward developers who have years experience making 2D platformers. The level design is top-notch, and it’s charming and funny, without relying on memes or groan-worthy references. But above all, it’s a fantastic example of nostalgia done right.

Visit Mark at Game Maker’s ToolKit on YouTube to see more awesome videos like this!

Computer parts are approaching the size of an atom!

Computer parts are approaching the size of an atom!

Computer parts are approaching the size of an atom!

Quantum Computers Explained – Limits of Human Technology
For most of our history, human technology consisted of our brains, fire, and sharp sticks. While fire and sharp sticks became power plants and nuclear weapons, the biggest upgrade has happened to our brains. Since the 1960s, the power of our brain machines has kept growing exponentially, allowing computers to get smaller and more powerful at the same time, but this process is about to meet it’s physical limit. Computer parts are approaching the size of an atom. To understand why this is a problem, we have to clear up some basics.

A computer is made up of very simple components doing very simple things, representing data, the means of processing it, and control mechanisms. Computer chips contain modules, which contain logic gates, which contain transistors. A transistor is the simplest form of a data processor in computers, basically a switch that can either block or open the way for information coming through. This information is made up of bits, which can be set to either zero or one. Combinations of several bits are used to represent more complex information.

Transistors are combined to create logic gates, which still do very simple stuff. For example, an and gate sends an output of one if all of its inputs are one, and an output of zero otherwise. Combinations of logic gates finally form meaningful modules, say for adding two numbers. Once you can add, you can also multiply, and once you can multiply, you can basically do anything. Since all basic operations are literally simpler than first grade math, you can imagine a computer as a group of seven year olds answering really basic math questions. A large enough bunch of them could compute anything, from astrophysics to Zelda. However, with parts getting tinier and tinier, quantum physics are making things tricky.

“For most of our history, human technology consisted of our brains, fire, and sharp sticks.”
In a nutshell, a transistor is just an electric switch. Electricity is electrons moving from one place to another, so a switch is a passage that can block electrons from moving in one direction. Today, a typical scale for a transistor is fourteen nanometers, which is about eight times less than the HIV virus’ diameter and five hundred times smaller than a red blood cell’s. As transistors are shrinking to the size of only a few atoms, electrons may just transfer themselves to the other side of a blocked passage via a process called quantum tunneling.
In the quantum realm, physics works quite differently from the predictable ways we’re used to, and traditional computers just stop making sense. We are approaching a real physical barrier for our technological progress. To solve this problem, scientists are trying to use these unusual quantum properties to their advantage by building quantum computers.

In normal computers, bits are the smallest units of information. Quantum computers use qubits, which can also be set to one of two values. A qubit can be any two level quantum system, such as a spin in a magnetic field or a single photon. Zero and one are their systems possible states, like the photon’s horizontal or vertical polarization. In the quantum world, the qubit doesn’t have to be in just one of those. It can be in any proportions of both states at once. This is called superposition. But as soon as you test it’s value, say by sending the photon through a filter, it has to decide to be either vertically or horizontally polarized, so as long as it’s unobserved, the qubit is in a superposition of probabilities for zero and one, and you can’t predict which it will be, but the instant you measure it, it collapses into one of the definite states.

body-imgSuperposition is a game changer. Four classical bits can be in one of two to the power of four different configurations at a time. That’s sixteen possible combinations out of which you can use just one. Four qubits in superposition, however, can be in all of those sixteen combinations at once. This number grows exponentially with each extra cubit. Twenty of them can already store a million values in parallel.

A really weird and uninutitive property qubits can have is entanglement, a close connection that makes each of the qubits react to a change in the other’s state instantaneously, no matter how far they are apart. This means that when measuring just one entangled qubit, you can directly deduce properties of it’s partners without having to look.

Qubit manipulation is a mind bender as well. A normal logic gate gets a simple set of inputs and produces one definite output. A quantum gate manipulates an input of superpositions, rotates probabilities, and produces another superposition as it’s output, so a quantum computer sets up some qubits, applies quantum gate to entangle them and manipulate probabilities, then finally measures the outcome, collapsing superpositions to an actual sequence of zeros and ones. What this means is that you get the entire lot of calculations that are possible with your setup all done at the same time. Ultimately you can only measure one of the results, and it will only probably be the one you want, so you may have to double check and try again. But by cleverly exploiting superposition and entanglement, this can be exponentially more efficient than would ever be possible on a normal computer.

So while quantum computers will probably not replace our home computers, in some areas they are vastly superior. One of them is database searching. To find something in a database, a normal computer may have to test every single one of it’s entries. Quantum algorithms need only the square root of that time, which for large databases is a huge difference.

The most famous use of quantum computers is ruining IT security. Right now, you’re browsing, email, and banking data is being kept secure by an encryption system in which you give everyone a public key to encode messages only you can decode. The problem is that this public key can actually be used to calculate your secret private key. Luckily, doing the necessary math on any normal computer would literally take years of trial and error, but a quantum computer with exponential speed up could do it in a breeze.

Another really exciting new use is simulations. Simulations of the quantum world are very intense on resources, and even for bigger structures such as molecules, they often lack accuracy, so why not simulate quantum physics with actual quantum physics? Quantum simulations could provide new insights on proteins that might revolutionize medicine. Right now we don’t know if quantum computers will be just a very specialized tool or a big revolution for humanity. We have no idea where the limits of technology are, and there’s only one way to find out.

This video is supported by the Australian Academy of Science, which promotes and supports excellence in science. Learn more about this topic and others like it at Nova.org.au. It was a blast to work with them, so go check out their site. Our videos are also made possible by your support on Patreon.com. If you want to support us and become part of the Kurzgesagt Bird Army, check out our Patreon page.

Mario and Sonic were born enemies!

Mario and Sonic were born enemies!

Mario and sonic were born enemies!

Right out of the gate their personalities clash.
“Sonic has the image of a mischievous bad boy, while Mario is playful, and aloof.”
In the beginning gaming had a singular phase. This guy, no I mean this guy, sure he was a tad destructive and might not have liked animals but in general the world of games was a bright and harmonious place. Then this guy came along, and all hell broke loose. Why can’t I be like that nice boy Mario?

If you were alive in the 90’s you had to choose a side, a rift was forming between those who remained loyal to Mario and the no good traitors who jumped ship for that sneaky blue varney. No hard feelings, true, they were on competing consoles but why did these two adorable little mascots cause such a hostile and intense rivalry? I think in a way they were naturally born to dislike each other, and if you look at the designs of characters you’ll see why. Just as the 19th century expressionists use shape and line to evoke emotional responses, character designers today use the shape of a characters body to communicate the personality of a character to us. Mario is circular, he has a button nose, a pot belly, and his hands, feet, and head, are all round. Sonic’s design on the other hand is all jaggy triangles, he has spiky hair, pointy cat ears, ski goggle eyes, and torpedo shoes. As Scott Mcloud rights in understanding comics, a character who is drawn with gentle curves conveys a feeling of whimsy, youth, and innocence, that’s Mario. A character like Sonic who’s composed of saw tooth shapes and lines conveys the hostile and severe look of teen angst he says, which kind of explains why he was always giving us the, “I’m not amused look”, and tapping his foot. I’m waiting.

Right out of the gate the personalities clash. Sonic has the image of a mischievous bad boy, while Mario is playful, and aloof. The difference in shape doesn’t stop with them but carries over to their nemesis as well. For instance, about the only character who’s rounded in Sonic Screw is the bad guy, Dr. Robotnic. Mario is at odds with prickly things, his arch rival Bowser is spiky, and triangular in silhouette. Not to mention how the character designs of Sonics pals are suspiciously close to the Koopa kids, so as they say, there’s got to be a show down.

I hear you, aren’t I just being superficial? After all what people usually mean when they say they prefer Mario to Sonic or vice versa is that they like how those respective games feel. Sonic is fast, Mario is bouncy, as I explored in a previous episode. The thing is, the shape of the characters often times informs the way they move through their environment. Gotta go fast.

The game artist Chris Solarski calls this dynamic composition, and if you look closely at Mario and Sonics movements, you’ll see sonic_the_plumber_and_mario_the_hedgehog_by_kahcow50-d57goawhow it works. Mario’s main method of movement is of course the jump, as we’ve talked about before, Mario slows down and almost seems to float in midair for a second as he presses against gravity and reaches the peak of his jump. If you trace his motion as he leaps forward it forms this eloquent and graceful arch. His physics allow him to hop through a level, skipping over pitfalls, and green pipes, in a motion that’s gentle and rounded just like his huggable character design. Sonic, yeah he jumped too but it wasn’t nearly as satisfying. His forte was running really fast, but unlike Mario who could also move pretty fast as well Sonic’s footwork was used to dare you to run to fast. His physics have what’s known as rebound, when he collides with an enemy he stopped dead in his tracks, kicked backwards, and the player loses control. The levels constantly push Sonic ahead with pinball flippers and downhill ramps at a speed that is faster than what he can reach of his own volition. The result is that he’s always zipping forward but getting slung back when he crashes into a robot insect, or air and spring. It creates all these harsh and aggressive ricochets along the path, which would seem weird with a chubby plumber doing it but with a spiny angular misfit it just feels right. Mario moves fast but has own controlled or rounded pace.

Sonic on the other hand is almost at the mercy of the level, constantly being propelled forward in a way that complimented his sharp, aggressive lines. As you see from their character design to their friends, family, and enemies, right down to the mechanics that make the two of them the most memorable characters in games, Mario and Sonic couldn’t be more different. It’s no wonder they caused a whole generation to fuss and fight over which one was better. Even though we’ll never truly decide, the important takeaway from both of them is that we need characters with a diverse range of shapes and body types because it’s great for diverse types of game design, not just women and men with crazy physiques or even more homely looking characters, but spirals, and star shapes, rhomboids, and I don’t know, mandalas. I had to look it up too.

What do you think? Are there other examples where you feel character design influences game play? By the way, who does have the best body, Mario or Sonic? Yeah that’s right, I said it.

SCHOOL OF GAME DESIGN