What’s Wrong With Sequelitis?

You knew it was coming, now here’s my full criticism of Sequelitis all in one place

Any thoughts about Egoraptor’s Sequelitis series?

I’ll start from this one, Castlevania 1 vs 2. “Clearly had a lot of thought put into it” Buzzphrase, mentioned it in another recent post. Doesn’t really mean anything useful. But again, small nitpick.

He starts out with a conversation on how expensive NES games were, the awkward stilted style of talking here almost made me miss the point, being that there also wasn’t much memory, and they made games hard as “an easy out” also, because teams weren’t very big back then and budgets were small. It’s more appropriate to say that they inherited their design style from arcade games, which were like half an hour long from beginning to end, but you lose them a lot too. Not to mention that slower and easier RPG things were on PC at the time, and a number of those made their way to the NES as well.

These next few sentences all introduce ideas they don’t really back up and are packed so tightly together, it’s a bit easy to take them at face value.

He said that most games were hard in cheap ways, but I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, or even if the example shown is supposed to be cheap.

“Employed a lot of misdirection to create a difficulty level that was out of this world”, vague, doesn’t seem like misdirection was the design intent at all. There’s nothing explicitly tricking you or trolling you.

“The idea was most kids just kinda plow through a game” Source? You just made out games to be really hard in that era, how can kids just plow through them back then if they’re supposed to be so hard?

“Planned everything around the path you would take if you just ran right through,” possibly true, might be a good rule-of-thumb design inspiration. Would like it if he had more examples and backed this point up.

“Require you to stop and think for a second” To me it seemed more like focus rather than stop. It’s always asking you to make decisions, both through action and inaction, by placing enemies that will imminently fuck your shit up if you don’t do the right thing at the right time. Like the flea men who will jump at you, but you usually get a shot to catch them before they get close, but it’s a short window.

“be careful and mind your surroundings, take in the level design and find an effective way to beat it” vague, but these sentences are tightly packed and send you thinking in a few different directions, so at face value it can appear insightful, when what game doesn’t really require this?

“Your whip had like this delay on it.” I object to using the word delay, because it sounds similar to input delay, which is not at all what’s going on. It has a startup, meaning you can only repeat the whip attack so fast, and you gotta keep track of what’s ahead of you before it comes into range, because too close and it’ll hit you before you can defend.

The whip having a delay didn’t add “a huge level of depth to strategizing your attack” it added a tiny level of differentiation in the way you timed your attack, which is entirely appropriate, but nothing to go crazy about. It didn’t take “a second” to fire off, more like 10-13 frames. Instead of saying it made “plowing through enemies more of a non-option”, he could have said that you have to time your whip otherwise enemies will get through during the time before it can be swung again (which is rare, but true in a few cases).

Then he says “it’s like a metaphor for an actual scary situation. You wouldn’t just rush in like nothing mattered throwing your fucking life away, you would stop nervously and assess the situation before slowly and carefully approaching danger.” This is the first example of what I like to call, “bad film theory” in his sequelitis videos, where he assumes what the audience feels, or tries to attach an emotion of some kind to a game design decision when honestly he could just say it, why it works, and let it lie. He also does this in his megaman video with the reaction of the player to the charge beam and trying to piece together what the player is supposedly thinking.

He mentions game feel. This video (and game grumps) got so popular I heard a lot of people mock Egoraptor going like, “this game has bad game feel,” thinking that Egoraptor seriously invented the term. I think it’s a dumb term too, and kinaesthetics is way better on multiple levels (which is the one thing I suppose we can thank Campster for, even if I don’t use it now because I hate Errant Signal), but seriously, Egoraptor didn’t invent it. Game Feel is a great book, you should all go read it.

If Egoraptor actually read the book, then he could tell you that Castlevania 2 had better polish effects, which is what the death flame and sound effects are. Polish effects aren’t game feel itself, the book referring to the absence of polish effects as “pure game feel”, but without them there is a certain amount of responsiveness that seems missing. Here he’s presenting the conclusion up front, then the details of each conclusion, like saying they made it feel better to wail on multi-hit enemies, then explain how there’s hitfreeze on them where they change colors (which is related to spatial simulation/realtime control). Or of course starting the section saying “It just FELT better” rather than list the changes first, then say these things contributed to a better feel. The way he’s presenting it makes it hard to tell whether they actually changed anything.

Then he goes into more bad film theory about day/night. Come on. Just say that it was an alright idea to push a horror vibe by having a day/night cycle so you’d have that tension about it turning night.

Pointing out that you needed to farm is alright. He could have unpacked how it’s meant to elongate a game and make you feel like you’re achieving something instead of joking.

Pointing out how you need to grind to advance versus just letting you advance is a fair observation.

Saying it’s the source of all the game’s shortcomings is a powerful point, which he immediately derails into an explanation of the healing mechanics.

He says Simon’s Quest dumbed down the difficulty substantially, then explains how you need to find chicken in CV1, and go to churches in town in CV2. Nonsequitor. Also the analogy is dumb and he shouldn’t have stuck on it for so long.

It’s fair to point out how you respawn exactly where you die without any hearts, it certainly does make the areas easier to clear, but take longer to farm hearts. This isn’t really connected to the point about churches at all. A more concise point would be that this structure incentivizes grinding close to town because there’s the least risk of dying to a monster and losing all your hearts there. It creates a structure of essentially being at full health heading out of town and slowing getting whittled down outside of it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in of itself (Metroid sort of does it with save rooms), and he doesn’t really explain why this is a bad thing, though I just came up with a reason myself.

Next he talks about the palette and I’ll agree that Simon’s Quest isn’t the best use of color, but the orange blocks in Castlevania look extremely tacky. I wish the comparison had involved Castlevania 3 here, but somehow despite all the shit Arin advocates about Castlevania 1, he hasn’t played Dracula’s Curse, which is way better in my opinion, the distilled essence of the original. And CV3 has some amazing fucking backgrounds and palette choices overall. CV1 was nothing impressive for the NES, and despite the crap palettes CV2 has a fair amount of detail.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw this video, it was before I had any significant thoughts on game design, and the statement on enemy placement really opened my mind up to the topic. Way back then I thought, “Wow, this dude knows something about game design” and thought the same thing about extra credits who I now hate.

He gives the barebones introduction here, saying that you can plan for people coming from a single angle and set the enemies up to deal with that, which is true. But doesn’t really follow it up with how they did that. Castlevania 1 and 3 are master classes in level design, but he barely scratches the surface of it, more mentioning some surface level points and leaving the rest up to us. There’s more bad film theory with “Nobody’s gonna backtrack through THIS.”
http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/02/finding-the-fun-medusa-heads-in-castlevania/ (don’t ask me why Hamish Todd decided to put this exclusively on Kotaku)

On the bosses, “You felt like the stages were building up to something, you felt like you were accomplishing something” More bad film theory in my opinion. Come on, don’t tell the viewer what they felt like. This is a Pacing issue. Bosses are each like the climax of their various act. Basic pacing goes, you build up tension, have a climax, then cool it off for a bit, but have it be more tense than it was before the climax, so you’re always building upwards until the story as a whole reaches a climax, and cools off. In video games it’s similar, except you have the biggest climax at the end, not the middle, because similar pacing trends work on human psychology for games, but if the difficulty falls off then you’ve lost your audience’s attention.

300px-challenge_vs_skill-svg

Sure I’ll give him that there’s a lot of poorly written text and you aren’t really told what to do, why not?

lol at him calling it, “Simon’s Quest Redacted” when he’s showing clearly on the screen, “Simon’s Quest Redaction”

Avatar strength is kind of a dumb term, but it works well enough to get the point across. What he could have described here is that the avatar levels up to beat enemies and level arrangements that don’t get any harder to avoid damage in, the character just does more damage against enemies that have more health, so they end up taking the same number of hits to beat, and you can wipe out low-level enemies in a flash and occasionally feel bullied out of areas by stronger enemies until you’re at the level they are. It’s like an arms race.

Then he describes the Axe Armor/Medusa Head combo, which is a great combination, in absolutely no detail at all. “And every extra hit you took had serious implications and consequences for you as a player!” This doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t Smash Bros. Having 8 health and 3 health doesn’t change what happens when you get hit, it doesn’t change what options are open to you. Come on. Filler sentence.

He’s actually right that newer Castlevanias have similar issues to Simon’s Quest, Symphony of the Night had garbage level design, though I’d contest that Order of Ecclesia had the best of both worlds. Not to mention that modern Castlevania has a really good level curve so you don’t actually need to grind.

That and he’s a fraud for not playing Castlevania 3. A FRAAAAAAUUUUD

lol at the beginning of this. The inherent rules of game design STILL don’t exist, and the books are a sham.

Honestly, I love the basic point made in this video, that holy fuck we’re tired to shit of patronizing tutorials already. The idea of Conveyance was seriously appealing to me way back when I started and when I originally tried to figure out, “Okay, what are the principles of good game design?” Conveyance was on my list. Then Game Grumps happened, and it was like, “EVERYTHING YOU WORKED FOR WAS A LIE” He proceeded to ignore tutorial messages all over the place, skip through them so fast even the viewers couldn’t see, and complain when he didn’t know what to do. He’d not know what to do even in games that practiced teaching without explicit tutorial prompts, and forget things he acknowledged. You want to say that you’re an adult who doesn’t need to be told what to do because you can figure it out for yourself, then you demonstrate that you have no actual idea how to figure anything out for yourself. It’s just pathetic.

But yeah, it introduced to me the idea of having a piece of level design introduce its gimmick in a no-risk environment first before putting it in a risky environment (which like a billion people have covered since and practically every level design analysis EVER goes over and NOTHING ELSE). Far as I remember, nobody in the internet gaming discussion covered that before Egoraptor, so that’s pretty alright.

I feel like the introduction to megaman X is a bit exaggerated for teaching you. It would probably be more apt to say that they give you a safe space to try out the controls, and then relatively non-threatening enemies that are easy to bypass, including one that you can only get past by shooting it, ensuring that you cannot continue the game unless you know how to shoot. To be honest, I feel this principle is a little overblown, because imagine the first level was chopped in half and they started you from half way through. You’d still encounter these types of obstacles and be forced to learn how to bypass them to progress. It’s way more important to note how the enemies are designed to only be bypassed by one specific method without complicating things as they’re going on, rather than that oh, you’ve shown a player a thing, now they know it, because honestly, you could substitute an inelegantly presented thing and it would still be true, it would just be worse than the narrowed focus of tutorialized elements. Like really, some enemies have sweet spots, wouldn’t you get taught that by literally any other enemy that has sweet spots? Is that a thing that is actually being taught here, or needs to be taught? It feels more like he’s saying that because it exists here, it’s taught here, like this was a specifically crafted part of the learning process rather than them just sticking an enemy with sweet spots at this point arbitrarily. It’s like being so dedicated to trying to say that everything is a carefully crafted tutorial experience that you miss that there isn’t any clever affordance-type teaching bit being done, they’re literally just leaving the thing in front of you to figure out for yourself.

When the Miiverse post below went up, I bet Egoraptor felt really bad. Though hey, fair point with the walls. You’re set up to slide down them if you move towards them, and you can probably find out there’s a walljump from there.

picture2015101504_09_58

I forgot about the Dr Jekyll Mr Hyde example. Fair case example I guess.

The charge shot thing is subtle, but it’s still information delivered in an unskippable cutscene, it’s just subtle information in an unskippable cutscene. Come on. This is somewhat obtuse. It would only be more obtuse if charging weren’t such a simple concept.

I think the whole talk on theming and wanting to be as powerful as Zero is more bad film theory. As well as the supposed-to-lose boss battle that lets be honest, nobody actually likes. On repeat playthroughs you try to lose that type of thing as fast as possible, which usually means doing nothing.

The note about slopes and the dash ability is good.

Then he makes a bunch of observations of neat touches they made to the game. They’re neat. The infinitely spawning enemy that drops health/ammo is practically a megaman trope at this point (though Metroid did it first)

I haven’t played Castlevania 4, I downloaded the rom recently though. I’ll say what I can though. (He’s still a fraud for not playing Castlevania 3 though.)

Most of what I hear about this game is praise for the 8-way whip, because hey that’s kinda cool, and that the better whip makes a lot of the careful level design not matter as much because you don’t need to carefully line up your jumping and whipping. You can just whip enemies from a safe position, which is lame.

The point about the items is poignant, the items in CV1 filled niches that the whip couldn’t. They had more range, they could stun enemies, they could hit below and above Simon. -5 points for mispronouncing “meta”

Then he goes into a bunch of examples how the faster 8-way whip invalidates the items, and they’re all basically correct far as I can tell, so I’m not gonna bother summing them up. I even noticed one where the bone pillars can just be whipped diagonally up stairs which totally invalidates them.

His examples with using the whip in other ways are all kind of shallow, one dimensional skill tests that don’t really have a risk/reward element like most other elements of combat have.

The basic lesson to learn is that to make a deep game, you gotta prevent elements from overshadowing each other, everything needs its own niche. Sometimes the addition of additional complexity reduces the amount of depth. Too bad he couldn’t sum this up.

This one is short.

This one is disappointing because it’s a point I personally agree with, but presented in a disappointing way.

Don’t like him dismissing critics.

The point about Zelda having a different core than the common perception of what a zelda game is was something I was thinking at the time, but I don’t think he really solidly followed that point through, not as solidly as Tevis Thompson did (even if literally all his other writing is crap).

His first big criticism is that you’re in an open world, and expected to do specific tasks in a specific order. Shrug. I guess it’s a legit criticism. I dunno. I feel like he could have examined the enemy types and placements here more, because they differ significantly between the two games. Zelda 1 is Lethal. Link to the Past, not really.

On 2d to 3d, it’s more like trying to change a side scrolling game to a top down game (or vice versa, a la Zelda II: Adventure of Link). I had a thought recently when writing that 3d zelda game design and realized that you could probably make a 2d topdown game with combat that functions like a 3d action game, like dark souls or whatever, by having the screen rotate with the right stick, center in on the character and move around as the character does, slowly adjusting to follow them from their back if they change direction, and camera locking onto enemies.

Then he complains about hitting bats in 3d, which I guess is fair and not really covered by my previous paragraph. One of the neat touches Demon’s Souls (and sequels) did for enemies higher or lower than you is they actually have the character’s attacks rotate up or down in correspondence to the camera angle.

I don’t understand how he said Z-targeting made combat complicated. I don’t know whose asshole he pulled that out of. “No more simple point and swing stuff here folks” instead the game will point for you, and you press swing, so what’s even the point? He says it again that it makes combat complex, but all the features he lists are things you could entirely do without lock-on. Lock-on at best acts as a modifier for actions, so you can press forward + action or side + action or get different actions in lock-on and out of it, but you could entirely have jumping attacks, dodging, stabbing, sweeping, and rolling without lockon. The sidehops are the only thing that gets tricky. He reiterates how it’s so deep, but he has nothing backing that up.

Saying it segregates exploratory gameplay and combat gameplay is kinda stupid and kinda on point. Moving in polar coordinates with an enemy as the origin sucks for exploring, but you can put up and drop Z-target at any time, so many people alternate between combat and exploring. See speedruns, if they can ignore it, they will. More pressing is that Z-target makes dodging and attacking a more one-dimensional affair, and limit movement as a point of strategy in combat.

His next major point is that for a lot of enemies, you gotta wait. Given the footage he presented, yeah sure. Some dude in the comments was like, “All Oot is is just waiting and attacking? Yeah, guess what. . . .THAT’S WHAT COMBAT IS. Combat is looking for an opening on your opponent and taking advantage of it before he does the same to you” Yeah, that’s an element of combat in other games, trying not to commit because you might get punished for attacking at the wrong time, but having the enemies take up a stance where you cannot harm them, giving the player no way to bypass this stance, and basically just making it waiting for that one telegraphed moment where you slash your sword. That’s dumb. That’s filler. Just because something superficially includes the same element that he’s criticizing doesn’t mean it’s the same. In the case of other games where waiting is a thing you do, you have the option to not wait, at your own peril. You don’t have this option at all in Zelda, you can mash the damn buttons practically on a ton of them and they stop blocking and you hit them.

The Iron Knuckle Arin pointed out is basically enemy design 101 when Link isn’t dealing touches of death. You have enemies attack, threatening the player, but also making themselves vulnerable in the process. And the player isn’t locked out of attacking them, but they choose not to because they’re afraid of making themselves vulnerable. Ideally when the player attacks enemies they’re slow enough that actually become vulnerable, but hey, can’t get everything in a zelda game.

Also totally sounds like he’s asking for Zelda to be dark souls here. Vaati pointed it out in the comments.

Yeah, can’t push blocks while Z-targetting. Nor shoot targets. I question whether these are puzzles too. The majority of Zelda puzzles aren’t even actual puzzles, they’re more busywork that gets repeated every damn game.

The rant about the death pucks is silly, especially when on game grumps he got hit by ones in plain sight. you can’t just say something like that is bad design. Also it has no connection to his point about puzzles which he didn’t really complete. His complaining about bats and death pucks killing you seems to speak more to incompetence than their actual badness of design. In ocarina, you see that shit, and it’s your responsibility to remember where it is offscreen. Double lol at how he literally suggests the death puck when he’s complaining about the platforms that are really easy to jump across.

The observation about skyward sword showing the bomb’s arc is fair, though you can learn it in the 3d games. The arc of it is a lot harder to track in 2d for Link to the Past in my opinion though, and some precise throws are required in the speedrun.

The point about the treasure chests is ENTIRELY bad film theory. My more basic complaint is user experience. The cutscene is long and unskippable. On that note, I totally agree that there are way too many mini-cutscenes and other animations that take too damn long in OoT. They didn’t need to do that shit, just his explanation isn’t doing any justice here. This could be called bad user experience much more easily.

And it’s accurate that the boss patterns are generally really telegraphed and basic. They have no element of risk versus reward. You don’t need to get close to something that might hurt you by merely moving into you or shooting you. You don’t need to expose yourself to danger in order to hurt it. You don’t deal varying amounts of damage by taking bigger or smaller risks. You just need to use the item that makes it capable of being hurt and wail on it in the vulnerable period. It’s like a western boss fight in a japanese game. Where the fuck is Gleeok when you need him?

The talk about the story is more bad film theory. “The player’s innate sense of wonder!” Kill me. He goes on to say that when it’s an order from the game that it’s a chore rather than something player’s innately find fun or whatever. Come on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an order or not. What matters is that tons of the tasks you’re required to do in Ocarina involve trivialities that take up your time. What matters is you have to sit through all these people talking to you in a way you can’t really skip, or doing expository cutscenes you can’t really skip.

Tell me, if you were given an order like Annihilator is in this comic, would you not be at least a little hyped? (presuming they didn’t fuck it up in some way with bad UX.)
http://www.alessonislearned.com/index.php?comic=42

Yeah it makes sense to say that Zelda has focused a lot on the specific items and design elements that it has developed over time, becoming a more limiting formula as it goes.

Stating that when Nintendo made a sequel they cared more about the things found than the mystery itself is grade A vague bullshit.

Most of the Skyward Sword criticisms are in the right direction, but totally miss the mark on specifics. He doesn’t make any specific points at all.

He could have summed up the wall thing in Link Between Worlds better, like how it’s flexible, rather than “feels natural as jumping” which is stupid. The point about the multiple use items is great.

Yeah the next Zelda game is gonna suck.

So in conclusion, the guy isn’t all bad, he just sucks at backing up a lot of his points, and in my opinion, he actually spurred a lot of the game analysis we see now. I don’t know if I’d be here if I didn’t have that push forwards, but who really knows? I agree with most of his conclusions about the games in question, but he did a laughable job supporting most of his points and relied really heavily on telling the viewer how stuff made them feel.

He’s kind of just a disappointment, and I don’t find his jokes funny.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s