Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Platform Games

Matt Barton's picture

GamaSutra has just publicly released an updated edition of a massive (if somewhat roughly edited) feature called A Detailed Cross-Examination of Yesterday and Today's Best-Selling Platform Games by Daniel Boutros. It's a labor of love of almost Bill Loguidice proportions, and if you're at all interested classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 and later platformers, you should definitely check it out. He not only describes the top platform games, but introduces a helpful terminology to help analyze and compare them.

Dan doesn't go into early platformers like Jumpman and Ultimate Wizard (for that, go here) or even Pitfall for the Atari 2600, sticking mostly to the all-time best-sellers for consoles that weren't pack-ins. His article addresses issues with visuals, controllers, reward elements, and challenges.

The target audience for the article seems to be developers. Dan discusses the challenges developers face when designing platform games, noting the critical role of power-ups and strange considerations like the size of the avatar's head compared to its body. Dan claims that the reason he wrote the piece was that he "was annoyed with games become easier and easier, meaning players like me who wanted challenge were getting fed up." According to Dan, "Part of the joy of a game is discovering your abilities, your limits and being able to master them within an engaging environment, yet the current mass-design philosophy replaces these joyful moments of playful discovery into a ‘Simon says’-style of grammar-school-obedience and restriction."

I suppose it is true that an overweening tutorial or spoon-feeding first level can ruin a game for some people. We don't necessarily want to know exactly how we "ought" to play. I'm sure no one really enjoyed those silly bubbles in Super Mario World that interrupted gameplay to tell you about what something did. Woudln't it have been more fun just to let the player discover this stuff?