Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Having a good drawing hand (or ZBrush arm) is only half of being a visual artist. Having seen some portfolios, students, and paid artists, it happens quite a lot that people more or less master the technical challenges -drawing / modelling / crafting / whatever - but lack nifty ideas. 99 out of 100 artworks just don't give me a warm feeling. No electric sparkles, no emotions were triggered, no "Now that's a damn good idea!". It's just a canvas with paint, or a hump of sculpture. It's dead.

Now taste differs, plus I wouldn't call myself an art-expert. So maybe I'm often missing the point... then again as an artist you miss the point as well if only a handful likes your work. And maybe they only "like" it, as they're afraid of sounding like a dumb savage if they don't. Anyhow, ideas matter. Some people live outside the box and spew out ideas daily as if they suffer chronic brain diarrhea, others need a little push. Some inspiration.

I need a push once in a while. And probably everyone else does, more or less. Most ideas and inventions are a gathering of various sub-fragments you caught before. Music, quotes, animals, movie snippets, technical problems + solutions, architecture, dreams, food, the weather - it really could be anything. We consider copying each other’s ideas as stealing of intellectual property, but trust me, all artists do. Great movie makers like Steven Spielberg get triggered by other movies and books, and even the best drawers or writers have “writer-blocks”, and snack a bit by looking at others. Just as long existing pieces are shaped into something fresh and new, there is no need to shame.

As a programmer I'm more into the technical aspects of T22, but I still think out most of the scenery and story elements so far. Varying from how a room should look to how a monster should walk, or what kind of audio has to accompany a certain location. And since my creative skills are somewhat limited, I'll try to sniff interesting scents and colours as well. From books, movies, other games, internet, or just daily life when walking around. You don't become a good artist by locking up yourself in the attic with an easel. A musician needs an interesting story to tell, and those stories can only be obtained by real-life tm. And unfortunately it often takes the darker stories of real-life tm, such as broken love, loss and death, to tell something interesting.

Tower22 is a horror game, but (thank God) I don't have dark luggage from the past to unpack. Didn't grew up in war-torn areas, didn't get abducted by aliens, didn't see much blood flowing, and didn't have to fear anyone. Right... so how to make a scary game then? The pool-of-inspiration seems to be a bit dry...

This room doesn't make much sense. Neither does the rest of this post.

Well, apart from lacking such a vivid imagination to work out scenery in the smallest detail, that wasn't too much of a problem. Of course complete libraries and video stores can be filled with horror material. But honestly, most ideas don't come from there, or at least I've seen and played relative little horror movies/books/games (and found most of them predictable or straight annoying). The idea of using an old skyscraper for a horror setting came from a friend, which was instant-creative- fuel for me to work it out, and pour it into a playable horror-game format. This is where seemingly random ideas, knowledge and snapshots from documentaries or real-life experience comes in handy finally (after being stored useless in your brains for many years).

Old buildings are a natural source for scary settings, nothing new. But having stayed in a grey, monstrous concrete hotel in Prague once, having a Polish girlfriend, and remembering documentaries of worn Russian nuclear facilities, there was affinity with this subject. My friend on the other hand always had a passion for skyscrapers, so it was easy to fall in love with this idea. That's an important detail by the way; if you have doubts about an idea, it's probably just not a very good one in the first place… Although... looking at the music industry, many singles came out later after being rejected by their creators first.

Including Silent Hill fog. And... did you know that:
* It's one of the highest buildings in Prague?
* "Hotel Kupa" means something like "Hotel Shit" in Polish
* It wasn't all THAT bad, except from
- the cleaners shoving the peanuts from the previous visitors under beds instead of cleaning
- reception ladies not speaking English except on the last day when they needed extra money for some reason
- A bag of shit/pee/menstruation blood or whatever girl-crap felt down from a few stories higher
- dark brown water coming out of the shower suddenly on the last day
- the brochure showing a green grass fields in front of the hotel, while in reality there was a parking graveyard for rotten Lada's, and a brothel. Of course
* Apparently I wasn't the only one who found it inspiring: vimeo link (see 1:09 & 4:11)

Medieval on your ass
Maybe the overall tactic to make a scary game here, is not to look too much at the typical clichés of blood, guts, monsters, or other (cheap) shocks. Not that those are bad things on themselves, but it’s just not the path I’ve chosen for T22. The goal is to create an environment that feels uncomfortable. Although the hotel above wasn't too bad either, I wondered how people could live with big families in small, low quality apartments. All looking cheerless and the same. I find documentaries about people living in extreme situations intriguing. Living on the coldest places on earth, in North Korea, in the middle of nowhere, or in space - out of control. Feels like horror to me, yet they somehow did/do it.

That same kind of uncomfortable, awful feeling arises when I think about medieval times. And I’m not talking directly about the bloody battles of King Richard VI, but again on how life (presumably) Sucked with a capital S back then. When googling for inspiration, I sometimes go for medieval paintings. Probably the artists didn't do it on purpose, but some pictures are really nightmarish. Showing weird small people, living in weird out-of-perspective small wooden houses. Often in relation with public violence, or fear for the Old man in the Clouds.

Besides having actual horrors such as the Plague, witch burnings, or having some good old battles with the neighbours once in a while, people back then also must have had some serious horrors inside their heads as well. Not knowing much about the world and being afraid of pretty much everything. The Lord, the Devil, strict church rules, diseases, greedy landowners, hunger, cold... Now maybe people 500 years later are thinking the same about us, but I really can't imagine how life could have been a joy back then. The claustrophobic mind-sets are sometimes reflected in old paintings. In other words, perfect stuff for horror-game mood setters

Themes about life and dead, common back then. But more disturbing in old art, is that the makers probably actually believed in what they drew. Not saying that believing in God is scary persé, but... those angels are freak'n disturbing!

The skeletons or sick people here aren't the scary part. The whole building setup and perspectives are nightmarish. Who the hell makes such doors? Typical stuff for a kid's nightmare.

All in your head
While googling around, I stumbled over yet another type of very recognizable "discomfort": Child imaginations: Joshua Hoffine horror photos

Before diving further into the subject, I would like to whoop-ass commenters on that website that categorize the pictures as "pedophelic". Yes, I didn't even really noticed it, but now that you say it, there is a little girl in her underpants yes. I see my daughter almost every morning or evening like that. But, now who exactly is the pervert here? Me not noticing the half “naked“ girl, the author of the photographs that put this girl (his daughter btw) in underpants, or you watching carefully what little girls wear?... I thought so. Just as with some accusers of racism, the worst are often the ones who shout the loudest, the ones magnifying on uninteresting details like skin-color, or what that girl wears. What do you WANT to see?

If you're normal, you don't see a half-naked girl, but a vulnerable child who is death scared of her own imagination. And Dutch readers here can probably guess my opinion about our "Sinterklaas" (the real Santaclaus) with his infamous "Zwarte Pieten" (black Petes?). Yeah, I can imagine an outsider would consider this old Dutch/Belgium tradition as “awkward”, to say the least. But the thing is, we never thought about them as suppressed slaves or even as black people in general. Hell, a black person doesn’t like that anyway. They more look like mine workers with funny costumes, which make sense as they break in your house via the chimney to drop presents. Kids see them as cheerful, acrobatic, and funny. And so did I… Until some anti-racism “protectors” came crying about this party. A kid’s party.

Racism should be eliminated, no question, but these grown-up’s miss an essential point: the purity of our kids. They don’t see a black person, they see a cheerful, acrobatic, funny person. A friend. When looking at the entrance parade (Sint arrives by boat, not a silly flying sledge), you’ll see white, black, Asian, Christian, Muslim and Atheist kids all singing Sinterklaas songs as best as they can, hoping on candy and presents. Pete could just as well be purple or transparent, they don’t care. Silly grown-ups.

The Bogeyman
All-right, a somewhat weird intro for the remaining part of this post, but it sort of makes sense. The “kid’s nightmare” link pasted above depicts some typical fears you may recognize from your own youth. I wouldn't say the photographs are ultra scary or brilliant, but they caught me, set me thinking, and reminded of some youth “trauma’s”, and possibly the very core of why people like horror.

As kids are still pure, their conception and understanding of “good” and “bad” are still very undeveloped. As easy they can be misled by evil people offering candy (no offence Sint & Pete), they have strong instinctive fears to protect at the same time. Having a walk in a dark forest, seeing a dead animal on the street, watching a horror movie, or exploring your own imagination with scary bed-thoughts, are all ways to expand your mental territory. Step by step, you’ll do and dare more.

Didn't you always ran (and fell) of the stairs, rushing back to mom and dead, uh, dad? Kids don't like being alone. Especially not in dark corridors, gaps, closets or other spaces you can't properly inspect from a distance. Who knows what’s inside?! It's not because kids are still stupid, it's actually a very healthy primal instinct. Being in a group increase survival chances, and crouching into a dark cave already occupied by a sabre-toothed tiger would kill you. New unexplored stuff is scary by definition; you don't know if it's any good. Caution is required. Fortunately we do have some guiders. Bright colours, furry materials, pleasant odours, presence of relatives. A safe situation.

Then again the things you trust most, can become your worst enemy. Personally I found the dead(?) mother on bed the most disturbing picture in the link above. Everything is supposed to be good in that picture. Lights on, pink wallpaper, bed, together with your pretty mom, the softest and most loving creature there is. Mom universally equals safety... but cockroaches are coming out of her mouth, something very terrible is going on here.

I had dreams more than once where my mother would fall down the stairs and look at me with a broken neck, or her silhouette watching me a distance as she was about to murder me. Or dad being grey and mummified, not able to help me. Safety shattered. A natural fear.

Another one from the link. Dolls a movie cliché? I don't think so, I was afraid of lifeless puppets long before the movies taught me they were scary. Looking from my bed into a gloomy room, only lit by a small orange lamp... Being hidden under a blanket and only a meter tall, the room seems huge. The ceiling far out of reach, and the poor lighting hides the corners of the room. You should feel safe in your bed, just like mom told you before she gave you a goodnight kiss and closed the door. But despite the chilly silence, I felt some presence in the room. Was it the ticking clock, or the scary painting of a somewhat sad boy in his rainsuit, your aunt made? No, it came from the shelves, where the stuffed animals are placed on.

The black glass shiny eyes of that little dog... would he be watching me as well? Some Plushies felt safe, some were just, well, stuffed animals, but a few seemed to be alive. Now some kids would love the idea of living plushies but I found the idea freaking disturbing. Because it shouldn’t be possible.

And that might be the root reason why even some grown-up people (including me) still don't like dolls. I dig Teddies, Baby Born and Barbie. But those porcelain bastards or worn dolls that are older than you... they resemble a living human, yet they are very cold and lifeless. And at the same time, it's if they hide some old stories. I don’t trust them.

Hand behind you while watching the TV? That felt familiar too. Being a bit claustrophobic, I don't like gaps. Getting stuck, unable to move your limbs, not able to crawl back. Getting crushed in an earthquake, that might be even worse thought than drowning to me. But besides that, dark gaps can also hide dangers. Playing night-games in the woods quickly vaporized my fears of darkness, but I still remember some eerie half-awake-dreams of the “Punch & Judy show” slowly raising their rotten smiling wooden heads and rag bodies out of the narrow gaps between my bed and the walls, just behind my head. For the remaining years we lived in that house, I never watched at that gap behind my bed again. Always had my eyes pointed towards the door, the exit, where mom and dad are. But who knows what’s behind you…

Remember you thinking about the puppets living in the TV? These puppets look straight evil. And the black background makes a kid wonder what else is there...

Maybe the photo's on that website aren't super original or brilliant, but he did a good job placing himself into the mindset of a child (something some complainers should try as well). As you get older, you forget your old nightmares as you overcome fears. But having kids, it all comes back a bit. It's sort of funny and touching when Julia runs to our bed, 3:00 AM, wailing about witches or wolves. "It's just a bad dream honey", and we'll take her bed to her own bed and give a kiss. Problem solved. For us.

Just a dream or not, I shouldn't forget that when I was little, those dreams felt awfully real. And once scared, bad thoughts and dreams would keep returning that night. Fortunately our daughter doesn't have much problems with sleeping in general, but going to bed in the dark winters felt like punishment to me, having periods with quite a lot of nightmares. And now I'm trying to dig them up again, as building blocks for Tower22.

Which is hard actually. Thinking of clowns or monsters under your bed is easy, but it takes a kid’s perspective to make them come alive and scary. The type of fears and nightmares of a kid are very different from an adult. Kids dreams are more like cartoons, not making much sense, not following laws of logic and predictability yet. Adult dreams tend to get somewhat more realistic. At least I don't get chased by skeletons anymore, houses aren’t made of flying platforms anymore, and my the dreams of non-helping parents while drowning are gone now that I can swim. Or moreover, I just don't remember most dreams anyway. Having a pen + noteblock in reach helps though. Just a hint.

One last kiss from T22 before going to bed. Sleep well angels...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rust in vrede, vlucht MH17, MAS

Not that it's of any significance, but I would like to drop some emotions anyway;

To all fellow Dutch people, but also Malaysian, Belgium, English, Australian, Indonesian, German, Canadian, -and forgive me if I didn't complete the list with yet unknown nationalities- that got somehow involved with the plane crash yesterday: Nothing but best luck and all the strength in the world to process this terrible mess.

Words from some small blog here won't heal any wounds, and it might sound a bit selective since horrible things happen every day. Rockets here, hurricanes there, mass-slaughters, wars, lies, or just personal drama's... the list is endless. This world is far more grim than it should be. But one could not live a normal life if we had to pause and commemorate each of those events. But it suddenly comes very close, a flight from Amsterdam, at least 154 fellow-countrymen dead, footage showing children's passports, knowing they were probably happy and excited for vacation just a few hours before, being myself on that same airport less than a week ago. Unbelievable.

Maybe more uncomfortable, knowledge that we may never know the true cause. Nothing is certain yet, but it seems this wasn't just an "ordinary" accident. But murder. Putin fired the rocket, pro-Russian fired the rocket, Ukrainian fired the rocket, CIA fired the rocket. Who knows. Different media contradict, tinfoil-hat people go wild. I have little faith in "the truth", the only thing I know for sure, is that I don't know much. But fact is that killing these innocent people was absolutely unnecessary. So who-ever who did this; look in a mirror. Proud? That is not a human being you're looking at.

Again, condolences and compassion to those who are directly or indirectly hurt by this. And to the rest of the world; for God sake, learn some lessons for a change. You don’t fire goddamn rockets at children. Period. That goes for you Putin / separatists, for you Obama, for you Ukraine, and for you Israel & Hamas, for us Europe, also for you al-Assad, Kim-Jong-Un, Mugabe, and for you CIA, Blackwater, ISIS, Al Qaida, Boko Haram, Los Zetas, Tamil Tigers, IRA, ETA, FARC. Or whatever the devil your organisation is called. I’m not much of a believer, but this Bible quote (Matthew 7:12) is Gold:
“Wat gij niet wilt dat u geschiedt, doe dat ook een ander niet” /
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Amen to that. And Rest in Peace, fallen ones.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Post-mortem-review #3: Super Metroid

Another favourite. Well, and not just a favourite. I think quite a lot people will agree when stating this might be the best game ever made. But maybe also one of those games not everyone may have discovered. If a random TV program mentions game classics, Mario and Doom will automatically flash by. But did you ever hear about “Super Metroid”?

He ho Captain Jack
As often in life, the good stuff comes from unexpected corners. Winning lotteries, wife suddenly pregnant (oops), or borrowing Super Metroid while you didn’t really want to. SM3 (Super Nintendo) certainly wasn’t one of those games on my “must-have-list”. I remember seeing it in a magazine, and couldn’t imagine why SM3 scored 10 out of 10(!). The small pictures showed dark, very flattish, sci-fi / grotto corridors. Not the happy colours you would see in Super Mario, or the amazing semi 3D graphics Donkey Country came along with. Nope, the shots didn’t set a sparkle here, nor did I read the game review. So SM3 just passed unnoticed really.

Ok. So you're 11 years old, and you get a (rare) chance to spend your hard earned money on a game. Looking at the pictures at the box rear-sides, trying to make a decission... Exactly. Screw(attack) Metroid, let's get ape.

One of the coolest things about the (S)NES era, was that e-ve-ry-one had a Nintendo. Friends, friends of friends, classmates, neighbours, older kids two street blocks further, homeless junks, your aunt’s pet parrot. Everyone. So, a wide variety of games was available via the good old swap & lend system. You want to check Castlevania? Give me Double Dragon in return then. Back then, a lot more games were produced for the Nintendo platform (more developers on less platforms, shorter development cycles), so having them all would have been a very expensive hobby. But luckily, by swapping you got a chance to play them all anyway. And so it happened that Super Metroid 3 found its way to my SNES in the spring of 1995 (hey Macarena, aight), almost a year after its release. A classmate wanted to play one of my games for some weeks, and gave me SM3 in return. I wasn’t really interested in it, and threw it in a corner for some days or weeks before I finally gave it a shot.

On a warm afternoon, after school, on our dusty sweaty attic, I made the crucial mistake (or maybe not) to load one of the saved-games on the cartridge, where the player already arrived in the final stage of the game. What followed was an eerie world, thrilling music, spectacular events where this “Metroid” –a powerful flying jellyfish parasite looking thing- sucked the shit out of creatures, a final boss meeting that I didn’t dare to dream if, and an epic escape from an exploding planet. Holy shit. Seems I was misled by dark static pictures, and though I already knew the end now (like women always asking about how a movie ends 5 minutes after the start), I restarted the game and patiently played it.

Who the hell stole my Metroid?!
Yes, a bit of patience is what you need for a game like this. The climaxes are smartly spread and the game starts on a seemingly deserted rainy boring planet surface. Or well, not entirely true, the game actually has a short pre-sequence where you board a space-lab that was under attack. You, bounty hunter Samus Aran (a woman btw) with the arm-cannon, are looking for a Metroid specimen you captured earlier. But the lab crew is killed, and the specimen is gone, stolen by an old familiar badguy; a dinosaur-bird/dragon looking creature called “Ridley”. Just after a few minutes playing, you already find yourself in a short but tense boss-battle with this Ridley creature. Just a taste of the epic boss brawls that will come.

Not again.

Ridley escapes with the specimen, and Samus follows the monster to Zebes, a planet we visited earlier in the first NES Metroid games. A cool gimmick is that you can actually see the old deserted basis you destroyed years ago (on the NES). Just one of the many mood-setters that give this game its special, eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere (something the more recent Metroids couldn’t quite achieve to me). Zebes doesn’t show much life this time, but yet the Metroid has to be hidden here somewhere. Cameras are following your movements… you certainly aren’t alone here… After finding your first few items while descending under the planet surface, you’ll run into an ancient Choso statue that suddenly comes alive (and tries to murder you). In all of a sudden, the planet woke up, and is crawling with alien-bugs. The adventure really starts now.

Your mission: find back the Metroid specimen. How? Penetrate Zebes deeper and deeper with all available weapons and accessory. Eventually you’ll have to kill 4 big main bosses to open a secret passage to the final part of the world; a renewed station that houses your nemesis, Mother Brain. In the old game days, we were used to the concept of (random styled) “levels”. Go from the left to right, reach the flag / door / stairs / key / finish-line / castle / pipe / whatever, and proceed to the next level. But Metroid is made of one big map, divided into six (mainly underground) sub-worlds:
- Crateria: Zebes surfaces and grotto’s
- Brinstar: Underground jungle
- Norfair: Hot lava love in the planet core
- Wrecked spaceship: That’s what happens if the captain drinks
- Maridia: Underground swamp / underwater world
- Tourian: Renewed space pirate station, deeply hidden in the planet

Ah, good old 2D map-design. Not the size of the GTA V world, but you'll be amazed how long it takes to explore every corner.

Buy your grapple beams here
Like Zelda, Super Metroid is about exploration, and action. But the sword has been replaced by an arm-mounted charge cannon, the fairy-tail world with darker underground alien planet, and the magic inventory items with sci-fi gadgets attached to your suit. Link throws boomerangs, Samus fires rockets. She can jump extremely high, run with lighting speed, place bombs, survive extreme lava heat, or morph herself into a ball to roll through narrow passages.

But as usual, you’ll have to find all these suit-upgrades first, so you start weak and without all the mega powers. Most of the fun lays in finding these gadgets, varying from whole new moves to energy containers that increase your total health. Though absolute 2D-flat, the world is big, and there is a LOT of hidden treasure. Pretty much every room has at least one item to find. Although the more important upgrades that are required to proceed, are often hard to find. Unlike those pussy games these days, Metroid doesn’t help you at all. Of course there is a certain logical “routing” through the whole game, but if you missed items or took the wrong door, it may happen you’ll have to search the entire world to obtain the item needed to proceed. Hence it took me a few weeks(!) to find the “Screw Attack” ability. May sound frustrating, but it’s very rewarding at the same time to collect stuff. Because you’ll have to sweat for it.

Most of the items are placed on spots you can’t directly reach, because you don’t have the weapon or suit ability. Other items are hidden inside breakable blocks, or at the end of narrow tunnels that require you to morph into a ball. You’ll have to carefully scan the rooms and keep a watch on the map to find walk-arounds or breakable passages. A cool and helpful item, is the X-Ray scanner that reveals special blocks.

Unfortunately you couldn't scan yourself to reveal the bikini-girl within that suit... unless you were able to finish the whole game within 3 hours, but that is a privilige for Japanese/Korean kids with hyper responsiveness.

Scanning for graphics…
It all doesn’t sound or look too shiny, but remember this game comes from 1994. Rendering a X-Ray beam like this was a technical challenge. And moreover, the whole idea wasn’t implemented in 100 other games already, ready for grab & copy. Metroid pioneered with a lot of things. The graphics may look a bit simplistic / darkish / boring, but this is one of those games you’ll have to see in motion. The way how Samus runs and jumps is fluent, and special effects such as light beams from the scanner, exploding glass pipes, or the steaming, rumbling, collapsing, rotating grotto’s in an exploding planet weren’t seen in many games before.

But the real stars of the show, are the boss characters. A bit as in Zelda, the majority of enemies is just stinky bug cannon fodder. Not really interesting or hard to blast away. As you’ll find energy containers, Samus gets really tough so you won’t get killed easily by weak-ass lava dragons, flying flees, or armoured shell stuff. But the bosses on the other hand… Jesus Christ. In many games, I found boss-battles to be annoying. Hard, frustrating, stupid. You’re just happy when you get over with it, and can continue. Metroid on the other hand is one of those games that makes you look forward to the boss fights. They are pretty hard, but especially tense. Very tense..

Younger gamers that clicked the link may think “A flying green jelly-fish sucking a robot-chicken-dino (23:30)? That’s gay.”. But try to put it in the context. Most boss-battles those days were about jumping on top of a silly monster 4 times. Very common now, but new then, is the final Metroid boss battle having some sort of “cinematic” sequences. The battle has a whole comes in multiple stages, and has some unexpected (scripted) events. Bowser would get more red, faster or angrier when Mario jumped 2 times on his head, but not as dramatic as the Metroid battles. And where most games would show a list of Sixty Mishimo-Tiyaki-named developers, and a “Thank you for playing!”, right after defeating the boss. Metroid proceeds, letting you rush as fast as you can to the surface, as the whole damn planet is about to explode! The whole sequence makes sense. Like a movie.

Asides from the final battle, Metroid had more very quick and violent battles that made you squishing the snes joypad. Fast pace, dozens of rockets, aggressive music, violent monster cries, and characters bigger than your TV screen. The sheer sprite-size of the bosses on itself was very impressive compared to any other game already.

Size matters. But unfortunately also for the SNES capacities. Large characters like "Kraid" where technical showpieces.

What makes it so great
Big bad-guys, a chick in a suit with super upgrades, visual treatment with scanners and lasers. All nice. But you said “possibly the best game ever made”… that’s a dare statement. You’ll need more than a few power-ups and large boss sprites. As said, you’ll have to put things in the 1994 context. A lot of features weren’t made before (or at least not much or as good). But in case the “back in the days” argument sounds like a weak excuse, Metroid is still a fun game to play till this day. Some games just get old, but Metroid doesn’t. Dated graphics or not, you will get sucked into it by the claustrophobic atmosphere, and challenging exploration, and lengthy gameplay. There is so much to find, but often out of reach, making the urge and reward for finding suit-upgrades bigger than ever.

The real power is that all those elements have been glued together just perfectly right. One world flows into another smoothly, bosses come around the corner at the right times, and when you’re getting desperate, a new suit power-up will charge your motivation again. And always with the right tune on the background. The music in this game is excellent. It makes you feel lonely and lost in this Planet cave structure, especially when you don’t know how to return to the upper surface. The music also warns you when climaxes are coming, and goes berserk during boss battles.

Cooking isn’t only about choosing the right ingredients. It’s also about the right dosing, and preparing things in the right order. The Nintendo chefs knew exactly what they were doing, and created a super consistent, detailed and rich game.

Pictures can't really explain this game, so let's show Motherbrain versions instead, including a cartoon version (yes, there was a Metroid cartoon a long time ago).

Metroid Prime?
It took quite a long time before another title was released after the SNES release. Of course I was waiting for a N64 title, but it never came. It wasn’t until 2002 when they finally made a new Metroid game, for the Gamecube – Metroid Prime. Valve would be jealous on that 8 year gap. Anyhow, I was worried about Prime. Living up to extremely high expectations is always a bitch, but I just couldn’t figure how to properly port Metroid to 3D. It worked out (extremely well) for Zelda though. But… I think my concerns were partially valid.

Technically, two of the main gameplay elements in Metroid are agility & searching. Agility means running, rolling, jumping, grappling, avoiding, and so on. The suit gives you plenty of features, and some moves require some joystick training. But thanks to the proper controls AND the 2D Side View, you’ll be able to perform impossible manoeuvres at high speed. But how to do that in 3D? Super Mario 64 showed how, but with an important difference; the game is in third-person-view. Metroid Prime is in first-person. The big problem is that you can’t really see or sense your own body. You can’t exactly tell if your feet are on the ledge or past a floating platform. You can’t tell what is behind or asides you. Of course you can turn your head, but the analog sticks are pretty slow compared to a PC mouse. Whether you are playing a shooter or platform game, the pace (including enemy A.I.) has to slow down because you simply can’t monitor your surroundings quickly. The turbo manoeuvres and rapid violent boss battles were key elements in Super Metroid 3, but have been slowed down a lot in Prime.

Another problem with a FPS view, is that you can’t view your own awesome moves. Not really a problem in a shooter where all the focus is on the gun, always prominent in front of you. But in Metroid you make saltos, fly around, swing like Tarzan with your grapple-beam, roll around, et cetera. But you can’t see it. For the same reason, a fighting game like Double-Dragon wouldn’t work in First Person, because you would miss half of the fancy Jean Claude van Damme moves. Prime made a wise choice by zooming out the camera when morphing into a ball, but most of the time it feels you are controlling a heavy metal mech, rather than the super agile Samus Aran we remember from the 2D games.

Not only did the First Person limit my view, the fishbowl helmet effect actually made me a bit dizzy after an hour playing. Too much stuff going on, over was my uncomplicated 2D youth.

As for the searching component, they made it too easy, although slightly different than I expected. Earlier 3D games had quite bad graphics. You could immediately tell if an object was part of the static scene, or a dynamic thing. A destructible wall or movable crate would betray itself simply by looking a bit different. No shadow casted, pixelated shaky edges, another level of detail. A 3D detective like me could easily pick out suspicious objects, making the puzzles way too easy. Basically anything that falls out of place, is probably hiding an item or part of the solution to proceed. The 2D Metroid didn’t reveal anything. A destructible block would look exactly the same as any other, making the search a lot harder.

However, Prime didn’t do a bad job rendering things. And thinking about it, maybe this is the reason why they skipped the N64 platform and waited for somewhat more powerful hardware, doing justice to their game. Yet they screw up. By giving tons of other hints. Not per accident with glitchy graphics, but on purpose. The game always told you where to go, so getting lost or searching the wrong places for hours wouldn’t happen anymore. And your visors were a bit too powerful, revealing anything suspicious. To make a long story short; the puzzles were too obvious. Of course this kept the flow in the game, but I play Metroid for puzzling, not really for the shooting part. We had Doom, Halflife, Farcry and plenty of other games for that.

The pipe tube... Probably I wasn't the only one stuck for weeks before realizing you might be able to blow it up. At least Metroid Prime would give you a hint about "the structural integrity sucks", or something.

Prime isn’t a bad game at all, but it doesn’t come close to its SNES grandpa. Doing it all in 3D was a difficult (but inevitable) transition, but possibly they could have made it better by choosing a third person view, and chill out with the overdose of hints. We gamers aren’t stupid. Although… many games now don’t even allow you to think anymore. It’s a trend in game-design, unfortunately.

Maybe my main beef with all the Metroid Prime games (there were two on the Gamecube and at least one on the Wii that I know of), is the atmosphere. It’s certainly very different from most games, making it still an unique game. Very… exotic in an alien way. Strange creatures, bizarre planet fauna, LSD trips, twinkly music… This game tries to be beautiful, rather than dark and eerie. Except for a few locations maybe, but there is much more outdoor environment, and since you never get lost really “thanks” to the hints and advanced maps, you won’t get that desperate, claustrophobic feeling that made SM3 brilliant.

The somewhat recent "Metroid another M" (Wii) actually used a semi-2D style again. But judging from the pictures, I'd say this game focusses on triggering the blaster yet again, rather than exploring spooky underground mazes. Unfortunately. Then again, I was a bit wrong about SM3 as well, wasn't I? Pictures can be very deceiving...

Well, it proves that even golden formulas can fall apart quite easily when having some misplaced elements. Of course Prime had to pick a complete new path in order to follow what other (3D) games were doing. And don’t get me wrong, they were worth buying I think. But also the other 2D Metroid games for the handhelds never reached the brilliance of SM3. I doubt if there will ever be a true follow-up for this game. Times change, and just trying to make the exact same kind of 2D game isn’t the answer either. As with Zelda, it gets too predictable when using the same characters, puzzles and items again and again. That doesn’t count for new generations of gamers who never played Metroid or weren’t even born back then. But this old grandpa probably just has to be happy he didn’t make the dumb mistake to let SM3 go unnoticed. You can only fall in true love with a with a woman once or a few times in your life. And I found my true game-love in Super Metroid 19 years ago.

Oh, for those who never managed to finish the game within 3 hours, here she is.