platform games

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Matt Chat 10: Lemmings!

Hi, guys! I managed to complete my tenth episode of Matt Chat last night: Matt Chat 10: Lemmings. DMA Design's Lemmings, published in 1991 by Psygnosis, is one of the best and most original games ever developed for the Commodore Amiga platform, and it was widely ported. Together with its sequels, the game earned millions upon millions of dollars in profits, and is still being remade and repackaged for modern consoles. Yet, for all this, it hasn't achieved the fame it deserves!

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Platform Games

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.

Keeping Things in Perspective: First Person Shooters Vs. Platform Games

Author: David Torre
Editing: Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton
Online Layout: David Torre
Screenshots of Games: David Torre

Perhaps the single most popular type of game in the history of PC gaming is the First Person Shooter (FPS). A First Person Shooter is a game that takes place from a first person perspective, essentially putting the player in the shoes of the character. The player rarely sees the character being played; the player sees exactly as his or her character sees. Universally known for an emphasis on multiplayer network combat, First Person Shooters were some of the first types of games to be played on the Internet. Most people will acknowledge that Id Software’s Doom (1993) started the First Person Shooter craze, others point to Id’s Wolfenstein 3D (1992). For me, there were two games released around the same time that practically guaranteed the domination of First Person Shooters: 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem 3D and Id’s Quake, both released in 1996. It was during this time that the mouselook control scheme was invented, which would soon become the standard control scheme for just about every PC game. Eventually First Person Shooters would dominate PC gaming. New games like Half Life (Valve, 1998), Quake 2 (Id Software, 1997), and Unreal (Epic, 1998) continued to push the graphical envelope, and, being the most popular games around, were often used as benchmarks for the latest three-dimensional (3D) graphics cards. Adventure games and other genres would soon sink into obscurity, while others like Real Time Strategy (RTS) games and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) would eventually provide some competition for First Person Shooters, but overall, FPS games took over.

Now, enter 2004. First Person Shooters are still some of the most popular PC games. Out of Amazon.com’s top ten best-selling PC games, four (a majority) are First Person Shooters. There have been some variations on the popular FPS formula (as accentuated by the success of Doom and Quake), such as having vehicles in games like Starsiege Tribes (Dynamix, 1998) and Battlefield 1942 (Digital Illusions, 2002), and games that attempt to simulate World War II combat like Medal of Honor (DreamWorks Interactive, 1999), Call of Duty (Infinity Ward, 2003), and Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Gray Matter Studios, 2001). Further, two heavily hyped FPS games are expected to release this year: Id Software’s Doom 3, and Valve’s Half Life 2.

Four different perspectives used in Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In a rotating third person perspective focused on Link's right side, Link swings his sword at a giant spider. In a third person perspective with the camera focused behind Link, Link sprints through Kokiri Forest. In third person perspective with the camera focused on the front of Link, Link plays his Ocarina. Finally, in first person perspective, Link aims his slingshot at a smaller spider.
Various perspectives from
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Many gamers like me have expressed their discontent about the current state of PC Gaming and the dominance of the First Person Shooter. Many of us have switched to consoles to get our gaming fix. This is because unlike PC games, one would be hard pressed to find a single genre that dominates console games. In addition, many console games tend to take place from a variety of perspectives, the most successful games utilizing multiple perspectives as needed. This can be best typified by Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) for the Nintendo 64. In this game, the player navigates dungeons with the camera behind the character, fences with enemies in a rotating perspective, plays a musical instrument with the camera looking at the front of the character and occasionally switches to first person perspective to look around or aim a precision weapon such as the slingshot.

When I share my sentiment concerning First Person Shooters with most hardcore PC gamers, I am met with a variety of analogies. The most prominent analogy is that having a lot of First Person Shooters today is no different than when we had a lot of two-dimensional (2D) platform games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By platform game, I define it as a game in which the player controls a character that moves from one obstacle to the next, usually by running or jumping.

I don't find it to be the case that the FPS dominance of today is anything like the 2D platform craze of yesterday. In fact, I find a fundamental flaw with all First Person Shooters that I feel constrains the gameplay to an overly simplistic process of repeatedly dodging and shooting.

One of the primary flaws of the first person perspective can be illustrated by using the classic platform fighting game, Technos’ Double Dragon (1988) for the NES, as an example. In Double Dragon, the character gained more and more abilities as the player progressed (a hair-pull kick, a spinning kick, and an uppercut). Naturally, most of the fun of the game was being able to see a variety of these attacks being performed. However, in a first person perspective, this same game concept is difficult to accomplish. It would be disorienting (and perhaps nauseating) if the player's viewpoint spun around while performing a spinning kick. Instead of changing the game's perspective and allowing some interesting attacks, most FPS game programmers don't even bother, limiting one’s movement only to the simplest running and shooting. In fact, most FPS shooters that do include melee combat do so in the form of a one-two punch, the Double Dragon equivalent of hitting the B button twice. Imagine if Double Dragon was programmed like this, limiting one’s moves only to the most basic attacks. Sure, the game had a variety of weapons, but without the repertoire of attacks, I'd imagine the game would be pretty dull.

Side scrolling perspective from Megaman X2 where X is on a futuristic motorcycle flying off a ramp
Megaman X2 (SNES)
Side scrolling perspective from Super Metroid; Samus is running extremely fast, breaking through a wall
Super Metroid (SNES)
Side Scrolling perspective from Contra 3 showing Mad Dog hanging from a rail over a pit of fire while firing the heat-seeking missile launcher
Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES)
Side scrolling perspective from Bionic Commando where the player is using his bionic arm to swing from a lamppost away from an enemy
Bionic Commando (NES)
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Early Commodore 64 Platformers: Jumpman, Spelunker, Ultimate Wizard, and Pharaoh’s Curse

Author and Screenshots: Matthew D. Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Buck Feris
Notes: All screenshots were taken directly from a Commodore 64 emulator

Platform games are those in which gameplay consists of jumping, climbing, (and, too often) falling from platforms that hover mysteriously between the player’s avatar and the goal. Probably the most popular platform games are either Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981) or one of Nintendo's near-ubiquitous Mario Bros. games. These are, of course, legendary games and worthy of considerable study, but I would like to focus my attention on four lesser-known platform games that were widely available for the Commodore 64 (C-64) computer: Epyx’s Jumpman (1983), Synapse Software’s Pharaoh’s Curse (1983), Broderbund’s Spelunker (1984), and Electronic Arts’ Ultimate Wizard (1986)1. All of these games offer unique features that dramatically affect the gameplay. In the last issue of Armchair Arcade, I discussed Nintendo's Metroid and Rainbow Arts' Turrican and how these games differed in terms of complexity. In this article, I will be revisiting that theme, but this time showing how increased complexity does not always allow for a more involving and replayable game.

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Turrican vs. Metroid: A Complexity Issue

Author and Screenshots: Matthew D. Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout and Additional Screenshots: Buck Feris
Notes: All screenshots were taken directly from the referenced emulators.

Title screen of Metroid taken from the FCE Ultra NES Emulator.After reading literally tons of videogame theory and thinking a lot about videogames (and games) in general, I have come to a few realizations about why I enjoy certain games a lot more than others. This realization sprang from hours of thinking about supposedly similar games and wondering, what is that quality about X that makes it better than Y?

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Intellivision vs. ColecoVision Parts I and II: BurgerTime and Gambling

Author and Photography Credit: Bill Loguidice
Editing: Christina Loguidice
Online Layout: Buck Feris
Notes: Portions of this article's text were previously produced by the author for and appeared in various incarnations of his personal Website. All photographs were taken directly of the actual products in the author's private collection. In the instances of screen shots, these are photos from the specific game running on the actual hardware, displayed on a television.
Special Thanks: Matt Barton

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