Playing Games in Depth
I currently have two games on my plate: Metal Slug and Rayman Origins. A friend of mine and I are in a high score competition with each other over Metal Slug, and my girlfriend and I are plowing through 100% completing Rayman. In both situations, we are playing the games to their limit, discovering everything the developers had in mind, their subtle nuances, etc. When playing a game this deeply, it’s interesting how your view of the game can change.
On it surface, Metal Slug is a very simple run and gun. You would be excused in thinking the only thing about it that really stands out are its gorgeous graphics. But when you start playing for high score, interesting details you otherwise would have missed begin to emerge…
- Shooting a soldier is worth 100 points, knifing them is 300, and running them over with your tank a mere 10.
- Rescuing 10 hostages on a stage nets a 100,000 point bonus, which is very significant.
- There are never 10 hostages out in the open on a stage, the remaining handful are always hidden
- There is no time bonus for finishing a stage, just don’t let the timer run out (else you lose a life)
These four points alone show something about Metal Slug you might not have expected: taking your time is ideal. Try to knife as many soldiers as possible, shoot them out of desperate if they are getting away. When in the tank, you want to carefully avoid running the over and instead prefer to shoot them. There are many areas in levels where soldiers will continue to spawn a lot. Taking your time means the overall number of enemies you encounter increases, increasing your score.
When fighting a boss, you can grenade them relentlessly for a much quicker kill. But this will net you fewer points than just using your gun. You get 10 points per attack on a boss, and using grenades means far fewer attacks.
The 8th, 9th and 10th prisoner in levels are often well hidden. I’ve decided to not cheat by watching run throughs on Youtube. So far I’ve only found all of them on levels 1 and 2.
The second half of level 4 involves many tanks dropping down from cliffs above you, then many turrets bombarding you. Your instinct is to blast through quickly, as it’s pretty hectic. But taking your time and killing each individual tank and turret is not only easier, it nets you many more points.
In the end, playing Metal Slug for score means playing it much slower than you’d expect. A surprising conclusion.
Metal Slug Weapon intricacies
The weapons in Metal Slug are more than just a cool change of pace. Each weapon has well designed pros and cons. Flameshot is excellent when dealing with hords of soldiers, but terrible against heavy artillery. The rocket launcher is the exact opposite. The shotgun is by far the best weapon in the whole game, and thus is only handed out sparingly. In all places the shotgun is given to you, it’s in your best interest to hold onto it as long as possible. This means knifing soldiers instead of shooting them to conserve ammo, and skipping future weapon drops.
Metal Slug Design Failures
I feel Metal Slug has a flaw or two when playing for high score. On level two there is an item that is sometimes worth 5,000 points, and other times 50,000. As far as I can tell, this is purely random. If you get it for 5,000 points, you were just screwed out of about 4% of your entire run’s score! There’s no point in continuing, just start over.
On level 3 the hidden prisoners don’t always appear. There is a chance of getting between 0 to 2 hidden prisoners in each of the hidden locations. If you can’t get 10 prisoners, you lose a 100,000 bonus, roughly 10% of your entire score. Why so cruel, Metal Slug?
Certain things in Metal Slug are worth 10 points (like running over a soldier, the turd bonus item, etc). The designers probably felt 10 fit well into their point scale, but it ruins a convention in high score games. Whenever you continue, your score goes up by one. This allows people competing with each other to easily see how many continues the other player used to get their score. In Metal Slug you can continue to your heart’s content and this method of determining continues will only suggest you at most continued 9 times.
Metal Slug Conclusion
In the end I feel the designers did a decent job of adding depth to Metal Slug through high score pursuits. They could have done better, for sure, but in the end the game becomes much more interesting, deep and different when played in this way. It’s almost like playing a whole new game.
Rayman Origins, in contrast…
I love Rayman Origins. I think it’s one of the best platformers I’ve played in many many years, just a phenomenal game. But I find it interesting that 100% completing the game is a bit flat, and even boring.
In order to 100% complete a level in Rayman Origins, you need to:
* Collect 350+ lums
* Find all the hidden prisoners
* Play the level again in time trial mode and beat the gold medal time
On paper this sounds great. We typically collected about 280-300 lums on our first play through of any given level, so getting up to 350 does require you to more carefully comb the level. But I’ve almost never found getting those additional lums to be interesting, or open a new level of play in the game. Instead I’d even say quite the opposite. On many levels, getting that many lums is really just a chore.
I don’t enjoy the time trial mode at all. At least, so far (maybe some later levels will be better?) It feels tacked on in a quick attempt to squeeze out some more replay value. Rayman’s levels, for the most part, are not designed for speed runs.
As for finding all the hidden prisoners. Well, this was never difficult. We always found all of them on our first play through. It would have been nice if in some later levels there was some interesting tricks needed to reveal the secret locations.
In the end, as much as I love this game, I find 100%ing it just work, and not all that interesting.
I was surprised what my conclusion was on these two games. A seemingly shallow arcade game from 1996 has surprising depth, and a phenomenal game from last year is surprisingly flat when taken to the extreme.
As for my own game, I’m very interested in taking a page from Metal Slug here and hopefully avoiding the Rayman pitfalls. Making a game that is suddenly interesting and challenging in all new ways when taken to the next level is not easy at all. I’ll definitely be exploring ideas on how to do this in this blog as I progress.