Sunday, 27 November 2016

Fan based game customization (1)

Needless to say I am quite an old Osu player - it's my ninth year in the game already. But being stuck in online games does not imply that I am a pure PC console player. In fact I am a big fan of nintendo, or more precisely a big fan of their traditional game series - Mario, Pokemon, Fire Emblem,...their simple but rich art design [at least, in the old days] fits my taste of partial minimalism, and numerically they each represent a possibility of pushing things to extreme.

...what? You say Pokemon RGB has retarded difficulty that BW players would laugh at, and super mario bros. has repetitive design with obsolete control? Well, newcomers to the gaming world must accept that as a fact or phenomenon when you look into the past. Information is pretty much isolated that you won't have access to various walkthroughs, and it is certainly uneasy to figure all out by yourself [walkthroughs worth real money in the past!]. It is often criticised that the Elite four focused on a single element that is easy to battle against [especially Lance, with his team of dragonite fearing coldness very much], but remember the concept of elemental relation is not widely accepted except for a few games [final fantasy and some more, if any], So discovering those becomes an inherited part of the game -- and it's not obvious either due to the rarity of dragon based pokemon. [Some of those relations makes physical sense actually, like the water-fire-grass cycle, but does dragon type pokemon even make sense in the physical world?] And for Mario...bare in mind that completing a game without save is a different story. You were required to complete all 7 worlds just with 3 lives, so your chance is really limited. It is not like the modern ones [since SMW3] that has finite lives but actually allows you to die infinitely [just press 'continue'] -- you lose your points if you die too many times, but not your actual progress. It is not hard to imagine one losing a number of times in a same stage, so completing the whole game could really be a real challenge. At this point the design and control already do not matter because you're already stuck in the game and you want to perform better and faster ---

But that is not what I wanted to talk today. Let us go back to two classic Mario designs - Super Mario Bros. 3 [NES-GBA] and Super Mario World [SNES-GBA]. Despite the fact that they are both in the hall of all-time greatest games, one common feature between the two is that there are a lot of remakes based on the design of these two games, especially the later due to the fact that SNES cartridge can be easily broken. Kaizo who created some trollish superbly hard level has he name named after these kinds of levels - the Kaizo Mario World / Kaizo stage...that soon develops into kind of a standard on what is a well designed stage and what is a trolling stage. Such community contributes a solid part of the retro-gaming, and of course, a solid fanbase of the Mario series. Perhaps inspired by the requests from these gamers, or Nintendo simply ran out of ideas to make new super Mario games, they decided to publish the Super Mario Maker [honestly speaking, Nintendo performed poorly on that year of E3 and SMM is probably the only highlight of it...]. Since then the Mario community inflates quickly and producing stages we have never seen - not only that we have normal stages of difficulty ranging from introductory level to levels with hundreds of moves that requires a extremely narrow time frame typically two or three frames [I am not sure if frame-perfect moves are common though...I am not really a TV console player :/], with different gimmick levels - automated levels, music levels, puzzle levels and a lot more.

That reminds me another game I loved a lot - Osu!. Without doubt that it originates from Osu! the NDS game [or whatever it is called in US], but the modern standard comes from the PC Osu! community [oh hey m980 you should return to make some 'authentic maps', but people nowdays hate them and I don't like them either...] through the process of modding and ranking. The question is, with the heavy involvement and in particular evaluation from the player community, what will a game look like, from both the player end and the official end? The answer is rather simple for Osu! because it is not likely that we will see another commercial Osu! game, and other games that Osu! took reference from are mainly arcade games whose decided to keep with their own theory with the gradual trend of increasing difficulty, which proved to be a success strategy.

But Mario itself, as a commercial game is completely different. Nintendo is not making profit from the Mario Maker platform, and even if they do it does not imply that there is no need to produce any successor. Continuation is essential for this gaming brand as well as for the consoles, or simply Nintendo. What is the impact of Mario Maker to different kind of gamers, and what is the future of Mario? This would be something this article would like to talk about.

We restrict our game customization to the designation of stages as a standard part of the game that simulates the main [the official] part of the game. So plain simulation game [e.g. RollerCoaster Tycoon] does not count. We also require customized 'stages' to be fully playable as intended by the developers in a single player mode [if we also limit ourselves to basically single player games], so pokemon does not count as well -- one may argue that after completing all the post-champion elements players may start to build up a strongest team as for a challenge for themselves, but you can't really fight against your built team and that's probably not an intended part of the game other than the fact that you are allowed to wander around freely in a RPG world.

It is not easy to find games that allow customization in the early years due to the memory restriction [you can't even save your main progress], and the lack of Internet support also make customized stages much less valuable. Therefore these kind of games naturally comes from the PC consoles, typically those flash minigames due to their short main storyline [if there is one]. A typical example is the Super Stacker 2 [I can recall so many interesting stages that I made a few years ago...], or some tower defense that allows customization. We have to be very careful on the definition of game customization when it comes to tower defense because you advances in the game by customizing your objects as well. This is not what we call game customization. When you act as a defender in the game customization refers to customizing the waves including the HP/types of the monsters incoming. And for games featuring the designation of the waves that goes through a TD-like region then customization refers to the alteration of the combination of those defensive objects.

The problem of these minigames is that the surrounding community is too small to trigger anything interesting out of it. Flash games are typically hosted on an integrated site, either just for pure gaming that generates no internal community, or sites that combines forum and gaming structure like Kongregate or Newgrounds in the good old days. [Well, flash games integrated with Discuz! forums have nothing to do with game customization because the aim of those games is quantitative and thus creativity is useless there.] It's still extremely hard to find a big enough community dedicated to a single game that themed with customization. Popular games on Kongregate have their own chat room and assuming that to be players available at the moment it's hard to find games that contain more than 100 players online, or 1000 players active on the message board for at least once...

How about non-flash PC games? I am sorry I can't recall a lot of them honestly :\

So we gave a vague definition on what we want to discuss -- Osu! remains to be one of the best analogy that I can comfortably talk about. In the next entry we shall compare the two as well as a genre of games that does not really fit into the above definition but holds a number of similarities to what we are looking for.

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