Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DFB - Donkey Kong ’94 – Primate Totem #3 (Final)

In addition to my World of Goo craze this past weekend, I also managed to finish up Donkey Kong. This surprised me, as it took me nearly a month to beat the game when I was a child. Chalk it up to the stupidity of youth, but that's one of the few disappointments I took away when replaying the title.

So anyway, I sat down for about...three hours and blew through the forest, ship, jungle, desert, airplane, iceberg, rocky-valley, and tower. I did learn a few invaluable things though. For example, Pauline is a major league ditz & DK Jr. is an exemplary example of a BeBe kid. The game brought up some new questions, but I thought I'd lock them away rather than dragging this DFB series out (I have Thief and Chrono Trigger to finish as well). I took a few of the older concepts it presented and gussied them up for conversation so...let's go at it.

Gamer's Sentience

This doesn't necessarily mean bad, I'm just pointing out the degree of how it separates the player's action from the game proper as an interesting incident. When the "game's problem" presents itself, sometimes the player is more concerned with the black and white issue rather than what they're supposed to be doing (i.e. looking behind the veil of context). An example would be being seeing a key and a conveyor belt. Does one see the key and the belt? or A & B immediately equaling C? Nintendo's design method is pretty much structured at it's best when the player can see both, therefore effectively dangling a carrot right in front of a them. For me however, sometimes the context gets twisted and I end up playing myself more than anything. There's a level in the desert where this culminated in me being stuck on a level for half an hour because I was looking at a switch's action in a strict sequence rather than the context itself. The second I stepped back and looked at the switch for what it was (context and all) I unwittingly solved the puzzle without even meaning to. When I was actually trying however, I ended up overcompensating and couching things in very simple equations. Of course that's my fault (no shit!), but it does make me wonder how the developer's design mindset teeters around this very notion.

Plenty of times, you'll see me specifically whining my ass off about wanting to be in the dark. I don't want to automatically see behind the veil to the mechanics working around, but after one has played so many games, it's actually a biological instinct. The things we take for granted...imagine someone that doesn't know how to jump over the first hole in a Super Mario Bros. It's very unlikely no doubt, but it is quite possible...even today. A studio like Nintendo has trained an entire generation of gamers through their fundamental design principles. Even now, with sophisticated technology...we see the occasional experimentation with such things, but how far does (or can) it deviate from those principles? The industry doesn't like risks from what I've seen, yet it's still almost a mandatory requirement if games are going to keep growing (sLs metaphor: think about a teenager trying to have sex amongst the surrounding variables). This makes me wonder about a lot of things concerning this industry because if we're all a part of this big subculture, will it really "naturally" evolve on it's own? Sometimes all of us often hurt the big picture rather than our intended desires to honor the industry. What I crave these days is for "total darkness' to fall over me while I'm immersed in whatever game I'm playing. I wish i didn't know certain things sometimes, but is that a futile desire or can games still grow farther beyond my line of sight? Perhaps it's just a mixture of both...balance is usually the answer to these things (the universe is anticlimactic...)

Fundamental Dynamism & Hindrance

Another thing Nintendo has on it's little unofficial design manifesto is what I call "fundamental dynamism". Their games specifically take any number of basic principles and turn them into soundly structured game mechanics for the player to deal with. Mario can jump, Kirby "sucks", Samus shoots. Mario is certainly the best example, but the other two hold up as well. An example is the indirect benefit of Samus' arm-blaster, it presents a fundamental joy when one acquires any new weapon or add-on (which is also even more prominent in the Mega Man games). Donkey Kong showcased this not only with Mario's maneuvers but how he is able to withstand and deal with hindrances that create the dynamism within a level. For example, the airship is typically composed of levels that have Mario blowing either way while he makes his way through it. This simple introduction turns a seemingly simple level into a painstakingly enjoyable one in which people have to test their "actual skill".


Sometimes I wonder how aware designers are of the cannon that they're aiming. Of course the effect was diminished now, but little things like the dramatic tone of the Tower's music gave the entire game an epic feel towards the ending. I've seen two valid arguments for context in games already (here's one of them) and I'm intrigued to see where they will go next. I'm reusing a crazy metaphor here, but what the hell. I think a lot of "hardcore" (yes, I know that's a horrible word now) gamers want a sniper shot concerning game design and they're desires aren't misplaced but their intentions are flawed because they're going to get something that's not what they really wanted in the first place. I personally think the most that gamers will ever get in this age is a cannon being aimed at a building by children. I sincerely hope I'm way off there, but only time will tell. That's not a slight against developers but rather a reverence for the times we're in currently. Neither the technology or the designers themselves are collectively mature enough to handle all of the pieces that go into the game, so we get a wide ranged "shot" that creates context for people in all sorts of ways. That's the beauty of certain it not?

If the "shot" is too concentrated or potent, a very small portion of people will buy it and it will be a failure in terms of sales no matter how good it is. Of course the room will present itself for those games as time passes, but it's going to take a while...a long while. People think they're above playing "perceived poor" games, but they really aren't (half the time they're just hiding behind a rationalization for economic purposes). The context for games is something developers should be very conscious of and I'm curious as to how many do. I hear all the whining about an artist's intent and the idiotic games as art debate comes to mind again (in my favor mind you). Emotional response to an "artists" intent is reflected in games as well. Give me someone who absolutely loathes my favorite game and I'll show you absolute proof of that fact. Nintendo and Donkey Kong '94 are of the typical Mario games that don't present an overwhelming degree of context for the player to latch on to, but they give gamers just enough to tool the experience for themselves, be it through Mario's animations, music synchronization, or "quality level design". The entire thing just furthers a "game's voice" for itself because the player is playing more than just a game, they've already immediately shot past that line that became antiquated a long time ago:

"It's just a game!"