Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why this is Great: Super Metroid (1994 Super Nintendo Entertainment System)

Yes I am updating this site no one follows again.  That one kid in New Hampshire and those two sherpas in Nepal who were actually looking for sites on Zebu care are probably the only ones who've been here so far.

This is "Why this is Great".  A section of the site where I break down why something is well..  more than good.

Now you may have heard about "Them new fangled games on video tape" the kids are all into these days and like many people from my generation, I spent my youth as far away from sports as possible surrounded in the glow of my old standard definition Panasonic screen, engrossed in digital worlds.  Forget how hard you could hit a ball off of a tee, I wanted to know how to exploit critical hit glitches in Final Fantasy IV.  It was the way of the nerd back then.

So I could give you the whole history lecture about every single game I've played but that's not why I'm here.  I'm here to gush about one of the great games of all time, and my pick for my all-time favorite game..

Home Improvement on SNES.

A real game changer.

  Yes indeed.  One of the most grandiose games every to hit the small screen, it tells a powerhouse story about the schisms between genders, what it means to be human and brings up the fascinating hypothetical of a world where people and dinosaurs coexist.

Tim Taylor executes a dinosaur with a point blank shot to the head, making us question the ethics of a forced extinction.

  Okay enough joking.  I do enough of that.  Time for me to get to the point I was planning to make before I felt the need to get cute.  Super Metroid is the game I meant to talk about.  I thought of several ways I could go through why this game is considered a masterpiece and I decided against using any of my personal history or nostalgia as you can go on any message board and see fanboy gushing.

  Video games are a medium that is meant to great a sense of a immersion.  This game is renown for it's immersion so I'm going to focus on three key senses.  Seeing, hearing and feeling.  Hearing and seeing are easy to explain but feeling will be a bit more esoteric so please bear with me.

Sense #1:  Seeing

From the ambient glow of the background walls to the richly textured sprites of the monsters, you feel like you're on an alien world.

  Graphics are the most superficial aspect of a video game.  More often than not it's looked at as the major factor of whether or not the world is "convincing".  It's difficult trying to plug a game that is twenty years old as being "good graphics" by today's standards but I'm going to go into a bit of my philosophy regarding graphics as a tool in game design.

  Many people I feel have programmed themselves to view the quality of graphics as "how close it is to resembling real life".  I feel this is a very simplistic approach to a tool that can be used to achieve far more than it usually does.  A bit part of graphics to me is creative art direction and execution with the tools available.

  As far as I can remember, marketers have advertised their systems as offering the "most real" graphics and while I'm the first to say games like Grand Theft Auto V look amazing, games are less and less willing to step out of this comfort zone and create something surreal and imaginative.  This is largely due to market uncertainty.  You take a risk and fail you have a lot more to lose with budgets as high as they are.

  Now I believe more cartoonish games with huge budgets can in fact be successful.  Movies like Frozen, Up and Toy Story are wildly popular with children and adults alike because good stories and animation should be seen as universal appeals.  So where am I going with all this?

  Super Metroid is a game that worked with what the system had and created a truly beautiful game.  It should be looked at for what it is not what people think "It should be" based on modern perceptions of how games "have" to look in order to be relevant.  I doesn't need blood spewing from the monsters, it doesn't need cut scenes and a big booming Hollywood score.  I would actually argue these would be detriments if this game were ever remade.

  Games try so hard to be movies now and while I'm all for those types of approaches to presentation in some games, I feel that Super Metroid is a game that uses it's visuals for the perfect show-don't tell approach.  More games need to adapt this mentality and allow the game to speak for itself.

Sense 2:  Hearing

From the eerie music, to the churning of water to the powerful sonic screams of Samus running.
  This is a game that has perfected the "Know when to be quiet and know when to be loud" approach to sound design.  The music goes from jazzy to upbeat to hauntingly silent at just the right time to bring a sense of tension that was rare at the time.

  It's not a game of sensory overload.  It's not there to show some fireworks and make the audience say "Ooh" and "Aah.".  It works with the Super Nintendo's versatile sound chip to create something truly special to many people.

  I think the reason the sound works so well in this game is how it's infused perfectly with the games pacing. Since this game is all about exploration the emotional impact is largely based on first impressions. Discovering a new area feels rewarding when the audio tells you "This place is very imposing" or "This place feels dead but with an lingering presence".  Good music uses cues to tell the player information about where they are without a single line of exposition.  It's hard to pull off but this game does it.

  Equally impressive as the music is it's effective use of sound effects.  The digitized shrieks, roars and chirps of the beasts you encounter make them feel alive which, which admittedly is something newer games do much better.

  It's difficulty putting into words good sound design as hearing it is the key to understanding it.  Best thing I can do is suggest you play it yourself.

Sense 3: Feeling

Oh the wonderful horrors of Tourian

Mass Effect is still awesome.  Not dissing Mass Effect.

   Now this last one will be the most extensive and go into why, as a whole this game is treasured so much.  Gameplay, cultural impact and the like.  Why so many people, decades after it's release are still playing it and loving it.

  Super Metroid, is in many peoples opinion, the ultimate "replayable" game.  Your first time through it could take you as many as 12 hours to get through if you get lost easily and dink around trying to find everything you can.  Your second time, the game could be completed in three hours.

  Why is this important?  Well this is a game that condenses itself for easily appreciation.  Once you know where you're supposed to go and what you need to do by your knowledge of the game.  It's as long as you want to make it and once it's mastered it can be repeated in about an afternoon.

  What this has done is make Super Metroid the greatest speed run game of all time.  No other game has achieved a competitive scene like this in the field of speed runs.  What is a speed run you might ask?  Well it's a race to get through the game in record time.  The game keeps track of your completion time and this has spawned and endless ammount of competitive Super Metroid players.

  This is probably it's biggest contribution from a cultural standpoint.  Castlevania, Mario, Zelda.  They all received speed run communities but most say it was this game to inspire the idea of the player maximizing their efficiency to the be the absolute best.

  If Super Metroid was a big 20+ hour adventure epic like Final Fantasy VI (another amazing game) I don't feel it would continue to have this place in peoples hearts as "This ancient game I still play almost every year".  Amazing your fist time, digestible and easy to appreciate later on.

  Like reading a book you really want to focus on every word and appreciate the detail.  When you know everything you occasionally skim, love all the same but it goes by quicker.  That's this games secret.  That's why it is so beloved.

So I hope I've given at least my understanding of why this game is great and I hope to do it again with other titles.  But for now I have a fruit punch calling my name. ~

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