Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
The Youtube channel Animist did a stop-motion recreation of the famous Kirby victory dance a couple of years ago. (Well, one version of it, there’s many.) Most of the 9 1/2-minute video depicts the making of, including showing off the toys that were used, so if you just want to get to the finished version use this link. Here it is in full:
While we’re on the subject, did you know that Jekyll & Hyde has a secret ending? Both endings are shown here (4 minutes):
The “bad” ending is the normal one, and shorter, but is arguably a happier conclusion to the story. To get it, all you have to do is get to the end of Stage 6 with Jekyll. That’s all.
To get the other ending, get to Stage 6 with Jekyll, then turn into Hyde and get to the end of his version of the stage. Usually, if Hyde gets as far into his level as Jekyll has gotten into his, he’s struck by lightning and dies. But in this level he’ll be allowed to reach the end of his version of the level for some reason, where there’s a boss! Beat it, and when you return to Jekyll’s world the enemies will be gone, and he’ll be free to finish the level without harassment. However, ending events will be different….
Looks like we’re on another Youtube binge, ayup ayup. This time it’s another hopeful video constructor asking us to consider the oddity of the score system in the original Mega Man (a.k.a. Rockman).
When you post as many Youtube videos as I do, it’s easy to form opinions about their style. That of “TheRetroDude,” as he styles himself, is interesting, it’s still hyper-edited in the way that so many Youtubers loathsomely adopt, but it’s not nearly as distracting as those. He keeps the volume down, as well as the number of swoopy objects tearing around the screen like a toddler newly introduced to Toblerone.
He has good points about how extraneous the game’s scoring system is too, although his misgivings could be laid against many other games. In Super Mario Bros, score is mostly a spacer before toppled turtles start giving extra lives. I think that score isn’t a bad addition to a game as long as it’s implemented thoughtfully, yet for too long it hasn’t been. Even in the NES days it was included to give players a short term goal to aim for, when they didn’t really need it.
What would a good scoring system look like, one that rewarded skill? Well–
Losing a life would reset score to that at the last passed checkpoint, eliminating point pressing from lives.
Extra lives at game end would be worth a bonus each.
Game timers are worth a small, yet substantial, award at level end, to prioritize fast play over slow.
Awards should be given for score, most typically extra lives, but others are possible too.
Replaying levels, and other means of “minting points,” earning arbitrary scores, should be ruthlessly eliminated. If the player can replay levels indefinitely then think about if your game really needs a score, and if it does, don’t allow players to earn more points from replaying them without costing them the points from that last pass.
Two games that come to mind that do scores well are:
ZANAC on the NES, being a scrolling shooter without checkpointing score is generally fair, although it is possible to warp backwards does break the no-replay rule, and
Star Fox 64, which only adds a level’s score to the player’s total at its end. SF64 is a game obviously designed around score attacks.
Where was I? Oh! Here is that video about Mega Man’s scoring system.
PacStrats on Youtube has a video that gives three patterns that will take a casual player all the way to the kill screen at level 256.
I say casual because this doesn’t attempt to produce a “perfect” game, of 3,333,360 points. This is because it doesn’t attempt to eat all four ghosts on every Energizer while that is possible. It actually ignores the ghosts when they’re vulnerable. There are patterns for that on PacStrats too, but you’re not going to be able to do it by memorizing just three patterns. You can really push your personal limits, and that of your free time, trying to get better at video games, and most of us have a point where we have to say that’s enough, and then go and read a book/buy groceries/have sex/something else. The three patterns in the video below are a nice middle ground.
It isn’t easy to devise a Pac-Man patterns, and it’s much harder to come up with a small number of patterns that cover all the levels. Patterns work because the movement of the ghosts is completely deterministic, depending on how Pac-Man moves. If you can move Pac-Man with frame-perfect accuracy, then the ghosts will oblige you by always responding in the same ways. The frame-perfect requirement is eased up a lot by the nature of Pac-Man’s motion. So long as you don’t reverse directions or delay, Pac-Man can only change direction at intersections. So long as you have the joystick, or whatever ludicrous controller setup you’re using, pressed in the direction you want to go next three frames ahead of the turn, your gluttinous circle’s progress will be on track for that pattern.
So, if you try to perform a pattern and it doesn’t work, what went wrong? Most commonly it’s because you hesitated at some point, failing to make a turn at least three frames in advance. Sometimes that’ll be okay, but two of the ghosts, Pink (Speedy/Pinky) and Blue (Bashful/Inky) use the direction that Pac-Man is facing in their AI calculations, and that can change much more rapidly compared to his location in the maze. Even being a single frame off in your timing can produce a situation where Pac-Man will be facing a direction that will cause them to take a different path at a choice. Also, some of the motion of the ghosts is determined by the amount of time that’s elapsed in the current level, and if Pac-Man’s in a subtly wrong position then it can be disastrous later on.
The periods over which the patterns are good are the first four levels (Cherry to second Orange), levels 5 through 20 (first Apple through to 8th Key) and from 21 onward (9th Key to the kill screen). The actions of the ghosts are not the same throughout the run of each pattern. The second pattern, in particular, works over so many levels mostly because its creator, through trial and error, happened upon a pattern that’s good for so much of the game. Because the travels of the ghosts will be different on different levels, it’s important not to get spooked because they are moving differently than they did on previous levels. So long as you move Pac-Man through the patterns assuredly, without delay, and at least three frames in advance, then he’ll clear the boards in succession for as long as you care to keep going, until level 256, where Pac-Man’s All-You-Can-Eat buffet closes its doors.
Unfortunately, PacStrats has made their pattern video non-embedable, so if you want to see these patterns in action you’ll have to click through to the video’s Youtube page.
This is the beginning of a series of reviews of sublime games. The sublime is, as described on Wikipedia, the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation. That’s a lot to live up to for a videogaem!
I’m using that term to describe games that feel like they stretch out your brain just by playing them. Usually this doesn’t mean by difficulty, although Stephen’s Sausage Roll has plenty of that, but by there being some special aspect of it. I think what I mean by that will become more evident as this series continues, but Stephen’s Sausage Roll is rather foundational. Both Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness) and Arvi Teikari (Baba Is You) have claimed it as inspirational. Sublime things tend to inspire people a lot.
It’s easy to miss the quality of Stephen’s Sausage Roll if you play it casually, because it’s not a game that really lends itself to casual play. SSR doesn’t ease you into its puzzles, right from the very start the game demands thorough knowledge of the consequences of its movement scheme, knowledge that can only come from failing at its puzzles many times. Stephen’s movement is reminiscent of the porter from Sokoban, but he’s got this dang fork sticking out of him, and every movement must take it into account. Steven can only move forward and backward without turning to the side, which rotates the fork around him.
Understanding how to move that fork around is essential to shoving around the sausages in each level. To solve a level, all of its two-tile-long sausages must be moved over grills exactly once in four locations: once on each tile of one side, and once on each tile of the other. Leaving a sausage on a space doesn’t overcook it, but you can’t move it so a cooked spot touches a grill again. One move for each sausage on each tile of each side! Burning a sausage, or dumping one in the water, immediately fails the level.
This playthrough of one early level demonstrates how it works:
This description is not all of Stephen’s Sausage Roll’s tricks, not by a metric mile, but it’ll stump most players for a good while. It starts out hard and gets harder.
There are no tutorials, not even instructions other than an early sign that tells to use the arrow keys to move, Z to Undo, and R to Restart a puzzle. (These hotkeys have become a bit traditional, and work in other games.) You can’t even read the sign until you realize you have to swing your fork around and walk alongside it. Stephen does have other moves, I have come to learn from reading pages about the game, but it’s impossible to activate them in early levels.
When I read writing about puzzle games, the writer often talks about how smart the game made them feel, sometimes in a paragraph that also mentions dopamine hits, like they were Skinner boxes that give players treats. I dislike game criticism that tries to reduce them to pop neurochemistry. Besides, these days dopamine is not in short supply. It’s available on every Steam corner, plus you could get it just as well from food, an interesting novel, a movie, or pornography for that matter. Difficult puzzle games make you work for it, and where is the fun in that?
The fact is, puzzle games are not interesting for being a dopamine administration mechanism. They are about improvement, about learning to overcome challenges on your own. Once you learn how to do Sokoban puzzles they lose their appeal, because solving puzzles isn’t as much fun as learning to solve them.
Stephen’s Sausage Roll does not make the player feel smart. It makes them feel perfectly stupid at first, but by the end of it they may feel smart. They may, because by completing it they may have become a little smarter. The improving aspects of playing video games is not often mentioned these days, but it is one of the main reasons that I enjoy them. Thinking through a difficult puzzle can help one learn to think a little better, and because of that these sausages are no mere empty calories.
But the difficulty, and the novel take on Sokoban rules, aren’t the only reasons I’m writing about this in a series about sublime games. Each of the game’s little puzzles is a small portion of a larger world. When you enter a level, most of the world sinks beneath the sea, leaving you with a tiny portion of it remaining. When you properly cook all of that level’s sausages, the world returns, but pink walls, where the sausages were, will be gone, allowing you progress. This means the very terrain of the overworld is made of the puzzles you’re solving, which is an unexpected elegance in a game about cooking sausages. And mirroring that fact, there is a deeper meaning to the sausages you’re cooking and eliminating from the world, one that is revealed slowly, as you solve each excruciating puzzle.
SSR is a game that makes a mockery of the very concept of review scores, as most sublime games do. The graphics are purposely done in a PS1 style, intentionally ugly by current standards, and the sounds are simple steps, swishes, and the occasional “ugh” that may have come from the game or the player. And it’s gameplay, while great, shows that play can be about subtracting, taking away all extraneous elements, rather than adding unnecessary new things. In what world does taking away things add points to a review score?
Stephen’s Sausage Roll is not an extremely popular game. While it inspired big hits like The Witness and Baba Is You, and is rated Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam, it hasn’t sold as well. But it hangs on, quietly enlightening new generations of players and designers. It may inspire you too, if you were to let it.
We linked the blog Nerdly Pleasures back on Sunday when we used their image of R.O.B.’s gyro setup. The post it came from though is deep enough that I figured it’s worth its own spotlight!
The lengthy and detailed post came from 2015, and in addition to positioning R.O.B. in time and Nintendo’s history, also provides some technical information, such as the sequence of flashes that games use to communicate with the robot toy to make it perform various actions.
Nerdly Pleasures seems like a fine blog, and it’s still going with a post on King’s Quest IV that went up on the 17th, and I look forward to pointing out more of their work in the future.
It has now been over seven months since the end of Blaseball, that shining star of lockdown that burned brightly but ended suddenly. Stories will be told of its brief reign, and memories zealously hoarded. I’m amazed that no one else has definitively moved in to take its place with their own take on splorts, it seems to be an opportunity waiting to be filled, but until such time as it happens, the concept, along with the game itself, continues to Rest in Violence.
The planets orbiting Blaseball’s many suns continue to orbit, their surfaces unwarmed but still hosting faint signs of life. The Blaseball Wiki remains online, explaining the absurdly twisty intricacies of a game that no longer exists, and The Society for Internet Blaseball Research still hosts statistics and information related to that dearly missed pastime.
One of those planets is Blaseball Blexplained, a Youtube series that doggedly and diligently presented season recaps of Blaseball’s many crazy seasons. Since Blaseball’s ending, they’ve slowly continued their recaps, and have now finally finished their last Expansion Era summary, of the Hellmouth Sunbeams. It is around 16 minutes long. It present the final recantation of the nearly un-understandable events that marked the final seasons as did all the others, throwing out references to Black Holes, Feedback and Fax Machines, counting on you to know what the hell all those things mean. You do, don’t you? ‘Course you do.
So, one last broadcast from Blaseball Explained, favorite fake sport summary channel, now broadcasting exclusively to the Hall of Flame.
Farewell, Blaseball. In your memory, I proclaim: hail Namerifeht.
P.S. The Society for Internet Blaseball Research (SIBR) has a page of information on how the fates of Blaseball, early on, intersected with that of the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985, and of a mysterious face named by fans Salmon Steve. Here is that page.