Monday, September 26, 2011

Super Meat Boy 64 World 1-1: The Fine Gradient Between Apathy and HOLY CRAP THIS IS AMAZING!

A friend of mine, Rykuta, convinced me to join his "Blockland" server to help him create a platforming "challenge" (the "Blockland" community's word for "obstacle course" (GAH, TOO MANY QUOTATION MARKS)) themed around the indie game "Super Meat Boy." I begrudgingly accepted, with knowledge that previous designs of this type were often uninteresting, exploitative, and beyond tedious. Oh, and they were also notorious for being unanimously unfinished. These doubts, as well as my long sustained jadedness towards "Blockland" in general, guaranteed that when I was asked to build 1-1 I did not take the task seriously. I started by creating a small, rectangular area with cliffs on all sides holding the player within; the least inspired creation one can spit forth for a video game. It was insulting. The lack of ambition was palpable, almost embarrassingly so. Well, embarrassing if I had honestly cared or had put honest effort into such.

But here, something interesting started to happen. I had set a precedent; every level that was to be designed from here on out was to be bound by the expectations and the reality set in place by 1-1. Structures in "Blockland" are literally made out of Lego bricks. This meant that for large environments, the types that a platformer would require, one would have to use an excessive amount of bricks to create a single level. This is one of the main reasons why builds of this type had in the past been quickly abandoned. However, one of the later updates to "Blockland" included large, cube blocks that allowed for the creation of elaborate, enormous, and rather square landscapes. These creations were able to be swiftly composed without the interference of tedium and had initially served basic aesthetic purposes. In the past I had used these special blocks before to experiment with a first person shooter concept that blended the ideas of Half-Life 2 and Metroid Prime, crafting a large, detailed mountain environment. Out of sheer laziness, I decided to use these cubes to create my boxy "vision" for 1-1, making platforms and gaps that the player would have to maneuver around using their jumping ability. Pure platforming, yet very elementary.

And so, after the addition of a spawn, a goal (player's rescue Meat Boy's girlfriend Bandage Girl at the end of each level), and some decorative trees, I ended up with this.

Boring; but effective. I played through the level, jumping from rock to rock, and beat it within seconds. The jumping mechanic worked surprisingly well for being operated from the first person perspective. This is when things started to snap in my mind.

Rykuta and I were using a public server, so several players started to join. Of course, their use was to test our creations. Soon, with the introduction of live, dynamic playtesting and the rediscovery of the vast potential of "Blockland," my attitude began to shift towards manic enthusiasm as the possibilities in superb platforming level design began to emerge.

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