PSG update - Metafight and Guardian Legend

So, I have finally updated my website 'PSG' with two 'design docs' I made a while ago. I bought Blaster Master (Metafight in Japan) when it was released here in Europe, and I did not regret it. Most of the time I do not like games for what they are, but for what they could be. Aside from the corny runaway frog story, Blaster Master had a fantastic potential. The sequels didn't quite follow up on the style of the original though, or tap into its pool of potential.

As for The Guardian Legend, I hadn't played it until just recently. I was in the midst of the Metafight project when tGL's charm got to me, and being easily distracted, I quickly wrapped up Metafight and began working on tGL. I spent about a week on it before getting distracted again.

One thing which is very important to me when I do these projects is to keep much of the design from the original game intact. This is not common in the world of remakes and sequels. In fact, I challenge you to think of a single sequel (or remake) which remained very faithful to its original, after having made a generational leap that is.

I like to think of designs as being entities in a multi-dimensional design space. What I enjoy about sprites and pencil thumbnails is that they are... fuzzy entities. They have not yet collapsed into a clearly defined singularity, like next-gen designs tend to do with all their HD and 2048^2 pixel texture maps. Older game sprites are more fuzzy, stretching out in all directions like gas nebulae and star clusters, and can thus more easily be made to overlap with the regions of design space that I prefer. The alignment and coherence of a group of designs is also important, and it's much harder to achieve if you're dealing with singularities rather than nebulae. Think of it like trying to draw a harmonious line between designs A1-B1-C1, while keeping parallel and not too close to A2-B2-C2.

Quake was great since it was, especially at lower resolutions and software render, very noisy, raw and gritty, and that brought homogeneity and alignment. You couldn't tell what the skin of the Shambler was. Is it hairy or just has white skin? In your mind it was awesome in any way. A next-gen Shambler, I fear, would be dumbed down, collapsed into something artificial, plastic normal map looking. Quake 1 was about noise and grit. It wasn't tidy, clean or softly fluffy. It crackled like an old vinyl record and it was that which gave it a soul.

Getting to the point... the design space I envision is really vast and multidimensional. Of course the number of semantically differentiable designs is much more limited, but I still feel that you have a lot of playroom as a designer, even within the nebula of an old sprite. I'm not sure why the sequel makers won't explore their home nebulae a bit more. At most you see a few vague nods in the direction of the original. Maybe it's because of a lack of respect of the original, or a lazy haphazard attitude towards design. I don't think it's a lack of skill, because like I said, staying within the confines of a nebula is not that hard and you still have a lot of playroom to do cool things like next-gen singularity designs or whatever.

Lets have a look at some Lynels I drew from Zelda 1. It's a tricky design and I struggled quite a bit with it. One problem I have is wanting to nudge things towards a bit more mature proportions. This means my redesigns (the blue dots, here trying to find an attack vector towards the perceived center of the nebula) can end up a bit towards the edge of the nebula (gray). I simplified the nebula to two dimensions, but it's really vastly multi dimensional. I kind of have a trend in my redesigns, preferences and alignments into certain dimensions, and I'm not exploring the much of the available space. I really wish I could get closer to the center with these designs. With so many dimensions maybe I can find a place where the space is warped or bent, allowing me to sneak in? Maybe the nebula stretches out in a dimension I was not aware of, thus giving me more leeway? Also, I cannot just pick any attack vector, I must stay in harmony with all the other enemy designs as well, such as the Moblin or Tektite.

Anyways, I'm not saying it's wrong to try new things. There are a lot of sequels which have ventured into new space and made a memorable home there. I just think it's odd that there's hardly any faithful generation leaping sequels. Why not pay respect to the original and tap into all the cultural history and nostalgia which you'll basically get for free?

StarCraft 2 could possibly qualify? Too early to tell. Someone suggested Mario 64, which atleast kept a lot of the bestiary intact from the earlier games. Realistic games (such Zombie or Racing games) does not count, as there's little to redesign.


Michael said...

HUGE fan. I check your PSG site and search your comments at least once a week waiting for new art. Seriously, made my day seeing it updated.

Metafight looks amazing. Incredible job man. I'd love to see your little Mind Flayer/Cthulu space traders from your MULE concepts show up in this universe.

How do the ships integrate with the gameplay? Would you explore different planets in these and then see the Tribes like base defense?

Also, what are you up to work-wise?

Lisi said...

woohoo you have a blog now?! I'm subscribing to it now yay!

Arne said...

Hmmm. What I enjoy about games and movies is the universe they take place in. The space ships I made for Metafight are just story fluff to make the universe seem more tangible and functional. I am integrating some of them though, such as the smaller drop ships and the larger lair ships. There's actually a lair ship seen in the ending of Metafight. Also, the gun ship I drew is hidden in the tile tables of Metafight, but it is not seen in the game.

Ahh. yes M.U.L.E., I gotta clean that project up... along with all the other older projects.

Right now I'm doing some work on Cortex Command... I might make a post about it later.

Robomaniac said...

just found your blog... as usual - impressive!!

also whant to ask - When you start making games instead of making huge amount of designs???
Cortex Command is good, but I want more... games with your design

Arne said...

It's expensive to make games, and it takes a lot of time. Although my game projects are pretty small and only need like a 3 to 5 person crew for a year or so, there's still a lot of money involved. We're probably talking 300-600k USD per year for salaries, machines, software, offices, administration, legal bits, etc. Investors want their money back with interest, and right now the kind of games I'd like to make aren't the type which (are perceived to) sell well in the mainstream market. To further complicate things many of my projects are based on existing games, which means I'd need to get the licences, which is usually expensive or impossible. I'm not really willing to surrender control over my designs either, something which usually happens in a publisher deal.

hObbE said...

Your thumbnail sprites ROCK (as always)!

I agree that newer games are often too defined, leaving less and less to the imagination of the player. I guess it is also hard for a game developer to NOT do something they have the power to do. I guess it is much up to indie developers to continue on that tradition :)

About Metafight I'm having some trouble of "getting" what the player actualy does in the game. Will you be playing as the MA-01/small trooper (as in Master Blaster). I feel that your Guardian Legends design is more to the point regarding the actual game play.

However they are both great game visions! Keep it up!

I'd just love to make a game using your space ship designs btw :)

Arne said...

Yeah, I kind of aborted the Metafight project when I got sidetracked with The Guardian Legend. The gameplay in my Metafight is more sandboxy, so I worked more on the universe description. Actually, that's what I tend to enjoy in most games and movies, experiencing the universe. The Star Wars was good at universe description, as the library of related games and toys show. People want the loose components of the universe because they were so well designed.

Dan said...

Wow, I loved your takes on the Zelda sprite. Just thought I'd stop by and let you know I'm reading... This is very cool stuff.

Alex said...

Great post - I'll be keeping an eye on your blog now. :)

I have had an inkling of this concept before, but never heard it articulated until now. I suppose that Understanding Comics touched on it a bit, but your evolution/design-oriented approach to thinking about it is very eye-opening. I think that my attraction to low-res pixel art and digital speedpaintings has something to do with this quality (I've done a bit of pixel art intended for calculator games, and I'm just starting to explore speedpainting). And I've always liked that simplified, toy-like style of character design that you display in this post, which I've also recently encountered here. I'm not sure what you would call it though (mini-style?).

Good luck exploring those nebulae more fully. This will be a good thought-tool to use for the next time I try to design characters. Thanks. :)

Nat said...

I loooove the Lynels! Also all your Star Control stuff is awesome. You need to do more of that stuff! RSS a must!