Matt Chat 12: Metroid

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Hi, guys, this week Matt Chat is about Metroid, one of the best games ever for the NES and probably my favorite game for the platform. I doubt there are many gamers who haven't heard of this game, but if it's been awhile you might be surprised by how modern and playable it remains so many years after its debut. As of 2:14 a.m., the video still isn't done processing, but I thought I'd go ahead and announce it anyway. If the HD or HQ settings aren't showing up for you or the image looks muddy, just wait a few hours and try again.

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Matt Barton
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Thanks so much for your kind

Thanks so much for your kind words, Midipixel. I'm glad to see that you're willing to step up to the plate and post a comment!

After all, we work very hard to bring you good content. All we ask in return is feedback! :)

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LarryLaffer (not verified)
A few things. One is that

A few things. One is that the theme music goes on too long, has been mentioned. I almost stopped the watching at that point. You still have much to learn.

Two is that it does not matter what game you cover, but the style you use. The edit looks o.k. but you might find a friend who is comfortable in front of a camera, better at video. The commentery is o.k.

Here is a good one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMREImsJmuo

That is good stuff laugh every time I see this.

Chris Kennedy
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My thoughts

Hey Matt -

I am really late on my comments for this one. I really enjoyed Metroid, and I was happy to see that you did a review on it. I generally gain more from your videos that cover games I have not played, but I am definitely interested in sharing my thoughts on Metroid.

The one thing that really struck me about Metroid was its atmosphere. You're talking about creating an atmosphere inside of an 8-bit game. This is obviously a significantly different task from creating atmosphere using today's home videogame hardware. I certainly recall enjoying the atmosphere of Metroid when I originally played it, but I appreciate the game's atmosphere even more nowadays as I take the game's hardware era into consideration. The palette, the creatures, the lack of any text or dialog (save the beginning and ending), and most definitely the music certainly added to the feel of the game.

I like Super Metroid, but I am probably one of the few that actually likes the fact that the original Metroid did not have a map. I was - of all things - disappointed (!) when I saw that Super Metroid had a map. Of course, I later felt that the map was certainly needed due to the fact that Super Metroid's world was so much larger than the original's. But Metroid was just about the right size to simply remember where you are going - at least for me.

The setting was not too complex to move through. There was certainly some morph ball and bomb work to do in order to progress through the game, but Samus can generally move rather quickly through the corridors. This timing aspect of the game is important. If your character has to spend a lot of time to work inside of a small area, your memory is not going to easily retain the look of the areas you have already moved through. The pacing, at least for me, was just right to help me remember where I had been without needing to use graph paper and make a map.

I am glad you let the opening theme run through its entirety (save a few early notes during the segue into it). That theme was good at creating a bit of "spooky beauty" if you will. The music of the first area - Brinstar - is highly memorable. I would have to say my favorite music is the ending theme. The ending theme on the NES was incredible, and I enjoyed beating the game multiple times just to listen to it. Years later, I picked up the famicom disk version. This version's ending theme is even better due to the FDS's extra music channel. This was sometimes hit or miss with games, but Metroid's ending theme sounded really good. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldiDYvGvHzo

Thanks, Matt.

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Matt Barton
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Popularity Contest
CkRtech wrote:

I am really late on my comments for this one. I really enjoyed Metroid, and I was happy to see that you did a review on it. I generally gain more from your videos that cover games I have not played, but I am definitely interested in sharing my thoughts on Metroid.

No problem, CkRtech! Better late than never! Plus, I really like reading your comments, which are always insightful and intelligent.

My most popular videos of the past 5 days:
1. Metroid
2. Adventure
3. Dungeon Master
4. Civ
5. Monkey Island

30 days:
1. Oregon Trail
2. Lemmings
3. Civ
4. Metroid
5. Monkey Island

Of the past 3 months:
1. Elite
2. DM
3. Pool of Radiance
4. Monkey Island
5. Defender of the Crown

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Rowdy Rob
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Trashing Metroid
CkRtech wrote:

The one thing that really struck me about Metroid was its atmosphere. You're talking about creating an atmosphere inside of an 8-bit game. This is obviously a significantly different task from creating atmosphere using today's home videogame hardware. I certainly recall enjoying the atmosphere of Metroid when I originally played it, but I appreciate the game's atmosphere even more nowadays as I take the game's hardware era into consideration. The palette, the creatures, the lack of any text or dialog (save the beginning and ending), and most definitely the music certainly added to the feel of the game.

Interesting. I had a very different take on Metroid, which is why I never got into it. Usually, if it's a popular arcade-style game, I'll like it, but Metroid never gelled with me. I obviously didn't give it a chance, but I found it to have VERY LITTLE atmosphere. You're dropped into a rather spartan cavern(?) with featureless aliens/robots roaming around shooting aimlessly. You jump, spin, shoot, and whatever, but you're not really sure what you're supposed to be doing or where you're supposed to go. It was a definite break from the linearity of other platformers, and perhaps that's why I wasn't intrigued.

The music was interesting, but perhaps the NES sound chip wasn't up to the grandeur that the music was trying to inspire. It sounded like typical "cutesy" NES music to my tin ears. The C-64 (and to a lesser extent, the Atari 8-bits) were musical powerhouses, but all NES tunes that I recall had that distinctive NES sound to them, with cutesey blips and tones.

I don't mean to knock the music maestros that created the memorable tunes for classic NES games, but the overall impression I got of Metroid was: nondescript graphics, typical NES soundtrack, and aimless, puzzly gameplay. Obviously, I had it all wrong, considering the classic status this game has achieved (as evidenced by this episode of Matt Chat), but even attempting to play Metroid recently, I still can't get into it.

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Matt Barton
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Super Metroid
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I don't mean to knock the music maestros that created the memorable tunes for classic NES games, but the overall impression I got of Metroid was: nondescript graphics, typical NES soundtrack, and aimless, puzzly gameplay. Obviously, I had it all wrong, considering the classic status this game has achieved (as evidenced by this episode of Matt Chat), but even attempting to play Metroid recently, I still can't get into it.

I probably should have mentioned in the review that you might want to start with Super Metroid instead. That's what I did--played Super M. first and then got into the earlier game out of curiosity. In any case, I think every gamer should give Super Metroid a try at some point--it's just too good of a game not to experience at least once.

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Chris Kennedy
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More on Metroid

Hey Rob -

Rowdy Rob wrote:

I obviously didn't give it a chance, but I found it to have VERY LITTLE atmosphere. You're dropped into a rather spartan cavern(?) with featureless aliens/robots roaming around shooting aimlessly. You jump, spin, shoot, and whatever, but you're not really sure what you're supposed to be doing or where you're supposed to go. It was a definite break from the linearity of other platformers, and perhaps that's why I wasn't intrigued.

One thing I really like about 2D games is how they oftentimes have the ability absorb you into their world more than a 3D game because it is up to your imagination to fill in the gaps of what you cannot see. When my mind gets involved in actually creating part of the setting, I get absorbed in the same way I would while reading a book and creating a picture of what I am reading in my head. This parallel of imagining a setting (book - to - videogame) was especially true for me while playing Sierra/Lucasarts adventure games.

Metroid's simplistic graphics with the solid black background actually helped create an atmosphere for me. I thought the game did a great job creating the feeling of your character truly being alone. This aspect is naturally true for many other platformers, but the music, emptiness, and lack of graphics actually created atmosphere of sorts for me that contributed to this feeling of being alone.

That isn't meant to sound as deep as it appears, but perhaps it illustrates my explanation of my own feelings just a little bit better. Not that the explanation would cause a change in your own feelings - I just wanted to add a little following your response.

Quote:

The music was interesting, but perhaps the NES sound chip wasn't up to the grandeur that the music was trying to inspire. It sounded like typical "cutesy" NES music to my tin ears.

I was impressed with the music of quite a few games in the NES library considering how truly limited that chip really was. I actually listen to straight-up NES tunes while at work sometimes - no joke. Although I have to admit I find myself wishing I could hear some of them on a much more modern synth or live orchestra.

I'll tell you one advantage about the NES sound chip's simplicity - themes. Sometimes composers of chip tunes will lean more towards the abstract if they are given more instruments or sound effects to work with when creating videogame music. I am not really a fan of that. I don't want background music. I want actual themes. The limitation of the NES forced most of the composers to focus on simple themes for the music. Perhaps they couldn't do anything grandiose with it, but that was perfectly fine. Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Mega Man, Double Dragon, Contra - ports of arcade games retained a lot of their simplified themes when played on the NES.

For me, it isn't about what the chip can do. It is simply how the composers use it. I prefer the simple, memorable themes over stretching the limits and exercising the abilities of the sound chip.

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Matt Barton
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Rise & Fall
CkRtech wrote:

For me, it isn't about what the chip can do. It is simply how the composers use it. I prefer the simple, memorable themes over stretching the limits and exercising the abilities of the sound chip.

I couldn't agree more. I even wrote an article on this topic way back for AA: The Rise and Fall of Game Audio.

There's a quotation there from a chip tune maestro that confirms what you're saying:

Quote:

The great thing about chiptunes is that they are a challenge for the authors. Sid-tunes can play only three channels. When creating an original composition, the low number of channels forces you to make frequent changes in song structure, inventing melodies, improving the “instruments.” If not, the tune will not arrest attention.

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Rowdy Rob
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Game music
CkRtech wrote:

That isn't meant to sound as deep as it appears, but perhaps it illustrates my explanation of my own feelings just a little bit better. Not that the explanation would cause a change in your own feelings - I just wanted to add a little following your response.

Your thoughts are quite valid and well-presented. And it probably represents the MAJORITY of gamer-enthusiast thought. MY opinion is the one that is probably "wrong," but Metroid somehow didn't do it for me, even though I usually appreciate everything you said about this game.

CkRtech wrote:

I was impressed with the music of quite a few games in the NES library considering how truly limited that chip really was. I actually listen to straight-up NES tunes while at work sometimes - no joke.

LOL, I think we all have our game-music mix tapes/CD's. Heck, I even had music mix tapes back in my Atari 8-bit days. Needless to say, driving around playing "M.U.L.E." or "Preppie!" music on my car stereo didn't help me score with the ladies. :-)

CkRtech wrote:

Although I have to admit I find myself wishing I could hear some of them on a much more modern synth or live orchestra.

By the way, there is a site (or two) that caters to remixes of old videogame music. Here's a good one:

http://www.ocremix.org/

Specifically, the "Metroid" remix page on that site, some of the tunes being orchestral:

http://www.ocremix.org/song/452

CkRtech wrote:

For me, it isn't about what the chip can do. It is simply how the composers use it. I prefer the simple, memorable themes over stretching the limits and exercising the abilities of the sound chip.

The NES sound chip was well-suited for the kid-friendly games that populated that system, and had many good cheerful soundtracks for those games. "Super Mario 2" had a great, suitable soundtrack that is possibly my favorite for that system, and even did things with the sound chip that I didn't know it could do. But when the games wanted to get "nasty" with the soundtrack, there isn't much that I recall in the dark, somber, and menacing genre that seemed to work for me. It all sounded "cute."

Keep in mind that I loved game music, and even wrote some music on the Atari 8-bit and Amiga platforms. I posted a couple of my Amiga "mods" on Aminet way back when, but they aren't there now. Maybe they sucked that bad.

(On the other hand, my 3D-rendered artwork is still on Aminet, and I got lots of fan mail for it back in the day. But that's a whole other subject.)

The C-64... what more needs to be said. I came into "SID" fandom late, but they did amazing things with that chip. In fact, most of the better SIDs were easily comparable (if not better) than many of the Amiga's chip tunes.

And one of my favorite Amiga game soundtracks was the "Turrican II" soundtrack, which pushed the "Paula" chip to 8 voices, and the tunes were extremely well done, and most of the tunes were on my "Amiga" mix tape!

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