Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Mario campsite

Welcome to my Super Mario-themed campsite. It’s so cute that villagers can slide down the flagpole!

Stitches is proud to wear a Super Mario shirt.

Maple looks fabulous as Princess Peach.

And I think the Wario hat goes perfectly on Hippeux!

Here I am hanging out with another Mario – or wait, is that gem?!

Can’t forget the cabin, which in my case is now an aquarium of underwater Mario fun!

 

Polygons and Pixels blogging in review for 2016

It was quite the slow year for Polygons and Pixels in 2016. I only published 4 articles total. This has been my slowest blog since I created it, but it’s still surprising.

Besides the homepage, the top articles include topics such as Castle Doombad, World of Goo for Android, “bob’s game,” Lifeline, and Papers, Please. I got more visits from the US by far, but following the US are Brazil, UK, Germany, and France. Thanks!

Here are the views by year:

  • 2012: 593 views, 91 visitors (blog started in June)
  • 2013: 6,858 views, 3,933 visitors
  • 2014: 7,891 views, 5,010 visitors
  • 2015: 4,029 views, 3,106 visitors
  • 2016: 2,251 views, 1,690 visitors

I didn’t do much serious gaming in 2016. I played a lot of Hearthstone, Overwatch, and some World of Warcraft: Legion. I tried Lifeline 2 and was disappointed. The only console game I played was BattleBlock Theater, which I finally beat. I also played a couple storylines of Hatoful Boyfriend after my friend, Tram, suggested it. I played a ton of Sailor Moon Drop, Dragon Mania Legends, and Pokemon Go. Super Mario Maker got a little playtime (and blog posts) as well. KOMRAD finally was released for iOS, and I played that. If you count party games, Jackbox got a lot of play. In December, I started playing Ingress at the suggestion of my friend Chuck. Finally, I downloaded Super Mario Run and tried to resist paying for the full game. I lasted two days.

Super Mario Maker: Peter’s 30th Birthday Bash

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

No celebration is complete without some Super Mario Maker! It was my birthday last month, and while I was spending the day with some of my closest friends, I wanted everybody to come together to make a level with me. Our creation was Peter’s 30th Birthday Bash! If you look closely in the screenshot above, you’ll see “Happy birthday Peter” spelled out in the level.

For those interested in playing it, you can find it using the ID BBD9-0000-01E1-1F90.

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

Anela kicked off the level with some springs, pits, and a number of enemies. She didn’t pull her punches either. Just when you think she might be nice, she has a trick up her sleeve.

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

Antonio worked on the next section, and his girlfriend Kaleigh contributed as well. His section contain projectiles, fire beams, thwomps, and more. The POW comes in handy though!

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

You can usually tell gem’s sections because they’re filled with coins. The areas void of coins in her section spelled out “happy birthday.” You have to take your time here or you could fall to your death.

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

Edward started his section by spelling my name. He also filled it with lakitus. You really need a star to get through this part (which we added when the level was too hard).

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

This section was also created by Edward. It seems like he likes enemies.

Super Mario Maker: Peter's 30th Birthday Bash

I ended the level with some Bowser, Jr. enemies and one Bowser.

It was a blast making the level with everybody. I love how you don’t have to be super into video games to enjoy Super Mario Maker. Check it out using the ID BBD9-0000-01E1-1F90.

Thank you to everybody who celebrated my birthday and made Peter’s 30th Birthday Bash with me!

Super Mario Maker Level: Sinister Den

Super Mario Maker Sinister Den

Instead of making levels with friends, I recently decided to try playing alone and designing my own level. This is Sinister Den! It’s really not so sinister, but I have realized I like lots of jumping and bouncing at the beginning of levels apparently. And don’t worry, this bouncy part is only one section.

Super Mario Maker Sinister Den

Be careful not to kill friends. Also, remember that coins can help guide you. There are no traps in the level. Trust the coins.

E3 Day 1, Nintendo’s day

It seemed like Nintendo announced new entries in most of their franchises. Many of them looked pretty great. Hopefully it’ll be enough to substantially increase their install base. I suppose I’ll talk about the games for which I’m least excited first. I didn’t put a ton of thought into the order besides wanting to end on high notes.

Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. is still coming out. It’s not one of my favorites, so I don’t have a lot to say. I’m sure I’ll play it and enjoy it, but Smash is usually a game I play a bunch for a day or two and then leave. Creating custom fighters with miis could be interesting.

amiibo

Nintendo has figures called amiibos that work like the Skylanders toys. I’m really not sold on this idea. Okay, they can into my game, but can’t I already bring things into games using, I don’t know, DLC, without having to store a bunch of figures? They mentioned that as an amiibo fights in Smash, it’ll get better, and I could then bring it a friend’s house. Again, I feel like you could just save this to an account. Now, I’m not against figurines. If they’re really cool, that’s great, but it seems needless.

Star Fox, Project Giant Robot, and Project Guard

A new Star Fox is being designed by Miyamoto. I was shocked that the Wii didn’t have a Star Fox or a Pilotwings, so I’m glad to see a new Star Fox coming to the Wii U. I’m not clear on how it controls, but it requires you to watch the TV, which displays what looks to be a familiar view for a Star Fox game, as well as the gamepad, which is used for aiming and shooting. I don’t know. That sounds terrible.

Miyamoto is also designing Project Giant Robot, which also uses the TV and gamepad. The TV gives you a larger view of what’s happening while the gamepad has a first-person perspective. You control a giant, slow-moving robot. The sticks control the arms while tilting the gamepad controls the robot’s balance. It was compared to sumo wrestling. I’m more open to this than the controls of Star Fox.

His third game is Project Guard in which players control security cameras defending a base. The TV displays feeds from all the security cameras while the gamepad shows a map. You use both to see enemies approaching your base and to plan your defense.

Zelda

Link’s going to do some running around on the Wii U in a new Zelda game soon that’s supposedly going to be much more open and focus on exploring. That’s good and bad. I liked going into side dungeons back in A Link to the Past to find better weapons to help. It was nice being able to obtain some at any time. On the other hand, sometimes if I spend too much time playing around in an open game without making progress, I feel demoralized. I’ve also been annoyed at the increasing long tutorials in Zelda games. I hope we get started quickly and that Link gets his sword within the first two minutes. It does look really beautiful! I’m not sold on it yet, but I do really love the Zelda universe.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

A new Kirby game is coming as the successor to Kirby’s Canvas Curse called Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. At first I thought it said “Course” and was excited in the hopes that it was a sequel to Kirby’s Dream Course. Come on, Nintendo! I didn’t play Kirby’s Canvas Curse, so I don’t know what to expect here. Also, there are plenty of other Kirby games I missed that I could play cheaper (or already own) – Dream Land 2, Dream Land 3, 64, The Amazing Mirror, Epic Yarn, Mass Attack, Return to Dream Land, and Triple Deluxe.

Yoshi’s Woolly World

Yoshi’s Woolly World looks like a combination of a Yoshi game with Kirby’s Epic Yarn. It looks like a lot of fun, but it also reminded me that I didn’t play Kirby’s Epic Yawn. And then I realized that there was a recent Yoshi game, Yoshi’s New Island, with which I wasn’t familiar at all!

Splatoon

Splatoon is an interesting third-person shooter that involves squids shooting ink. The goal is to cover the map with your color, and the ink they shoot has consequences in the game. You move faster through your own ink (and refill your ink), and you move slowly through the opposing squids’ ink. It looks like it could be fun.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Last night I was playing Super Mario 3D World, and as I played a toad level, I realized that they’re a lot of fun and wondered if Nintendo would ever release a game based on it. Apparently they would, and it’s going to be called Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. I can only imagine it’ll be fun because I love the puzzles in Super Mario 3D World.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Speaking of puzzle games, a new Mario vs. Donkey Kong game was announced for the Wii U. I played and loved the first two, but this announcement did make me realize that I missed the last three titles in this series.

Mario Maker

Mario Maker is the game that makes me giddy. Mario Maker is to Mario levels as Mario Paint is to pictures and music. As far as I could tell, there was no information released on sharing your levels. I really hope I can share them online with my friends. It looks like a blast.

Final thoughts

Before I jump back into Nintendo, I should also mention that a feature-length Sonic the Hedgehog movie was announced blending animation with live-action. I bet it’ll be terrible, and I’ll definitely enjoy watching it!

As for Nintendo, they had a very strong showing, but there’s still a problem. I’m not sure how many of these I’m going to purchase. I hope that they get strong sales, because I want Nintendo to succeed. When I have so many games that I own and haven’t finished, I shouldn’t be buying new games. Some of these games would be ones I’d be super excited to play except for the fact that they reminded me that I’ve already missed entries in their series I could play cheaper. I have Kirby’s Dream Collection and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, for example. There are also similar platformers I missed such as Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze (or non-Nintendo series such as Epic Mickey and its sequel).

I would have been interested in purchasing Star Fox if it wasn’t for that control scheme. It might not be so bad, but I’ll need to wait and see. Considering that Mario Kart is one of my favorite series and I’ve resisted buying Mario Kart 8 in an effort to save money and play what I own, I’m not sure I’ll be buying many of these.

Mario Maker looks amazing, and I’ll probably be picking that up. If Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is cheap enough, I could see getting that. (If it’s a retail release, I’ll likely pass.) That’s not  to say that I’m not interesting in the others. Many of them I’ll likely play in the future, either picking them up cheap, borrowing them from friends, or possibly just caving to my cravings. This is all really a reflection of where I am with gaming and not their announcements, I suppose. I don’t think Nintendo could have had a stronger showing honestly. It’s not enough to simply release good games, because there isn’t enough time to play every good game. They have to be better than whatever else one would do with that free time. Let’s hope these announcements help Nintendo!

Level hubs need to die

Level hub in Super Mario World for SNES.

Level hubs are bad. Well, they’re usually bad anyways. If there’s no compelling reason for one to exist, it shouldn’t exist. Level hubs are the worlds you explore to find the actual levels. In a level, you have fun, progress the story and game, are taught new mechanics, and are tested on those mechanics. In the hub, you look for a level. Why? Menus work better than explorable hubs.

The Mario series has an interesting history with hubs. At first, there was no level hub at all. Finishing one level sent you on your way to the next. Super Mario Bros. 3 let you pick your level from the hub. You didn’t really explore. You couldn’t jump. You weren’t really in control of Mario, but you could pick your next level. There were multiple paths of levels, and sometimes things could block your path. Because you’d need to see the paths between levels and try to get to (or away from) the enemies blocking you, the level hub was important. Super Mario World was similar; it had multiple paths you could take. Levels that had multiple exits that would lead to different levels were clearly marked on the map. The hub also organized the levels and provided context. Again, the map had a purpose. Importantly, these hubs were not difficult to navigate and didn’t add a significant amount of time between levels.

Super Mario 64 changed all that. Peach’s castle was the level hub, and in it you controlled Mario the same way you would in any level. Certain paintings in the castle allowed you to enter levels through them. In this way, the game rewarded (and required) exploration of the castle. Was this good? I loved Super Mario 64 when it came out, and I’m still quite fond of it. It’s hard to decide whether this was a bad decision. There are a few things that Nintendo did to keep the hub from being terrible. First, the game mechanics functioned the same way. If you enjoyed controlling Mario in a level, at least you could potentially get the same enjoyment out of the hub. I enjoyed controlling Mario and remember playing in the castle itself. Second, most levels weren’t hidden. You could clearly see where a level was based on the doors, and the doors were even marked, letting you know how many stars you needed to unlock it. Third, after obtaining a star, Mario would come back out of the painting, standing right in front of it. This is great because the majority of the time you need to go right back into the same painting for another star. Of course, that also emphasizes a problem. If I’m usually going to jump right back into the painting, why even take me out of it in the first place? I’m going to go ahead and declare the hub bad. My best guess is that at the time it was new and interesting to have an explorable hub world, and it made Mario’s adventure seem grand. We were still at a time where all video game urban legends weren’t immediately debunked by the Internet, which made the hub feel like a mysterious place worth exploring. We were also new to 3D platformers; the hub gave gamers a chance to get used to controlling Mario, and the developers must not have thought of making the courtyard a one-time introductory level. Hindsight is 20-20. The hub is bad.

Nintendo thought we still needed hubs in Super Mario Galaxy. It’s practically amazing how terrible the hub is in that game. Not only was it a waste of time when what you really wanted to do was get to a level, but it was also confusing and hard to navigate. Things got a lot better in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The level select screen is very close to that of Super Mario Bros. 3. It has multiple worlds consisting of different levels, this time called galaxies, and a star select screen after that like the one found in Super Mario 64 or the first Galaxy. However, it seemed Nintendo couldn’t shake the terrible idea all the way. Perhaps young gamers like a non-threatening place to play as Mario. I don’t really believe that to be a worthy reason, but I can only assume that Nintendo has some sort of logic, however flawed. Whatever the reason, there is still a spaceship that Mario uses. After beating a level, Mario once again appears on his ship. What is there to do on the ship? There are plenty of NPCs with whom to speak, but there is little incentive to do so. Yes, there are times where there’s a reward, but this could be awarded to the player in a better way (such as the mini-game at the end of levels in Super Mario Bros. 3). In actuality, every time I get back to Mario’s ship, I run forward for a second to jump onto the button that brings up the level select map. Why put me on the boring spaceship hub if what I want to do every time is get back to playing Mario? And no Nintendo, that’s not an invitation to put more crap on the spaceship next time. It’s a request that you list what we want to do in your game and take out everything that isn’t on that list. Putting me back on the ship just to make me jump on the button is pretty similar to putting me in front of a painting just to make me jump back into it.

Nintendo’s not the only offender. Sonic Adventure had an awful hub world that was incredibly time-consuming. Finding a level shouldn’t take a long time. Despite the bad hub, I did finish Sonic Adventure. I wasn’t as angry at hub worlds back then, and I had a lot more time on my hands. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to play it again. Luckily, it seemed Sega had learned. In Sonic Adventure 2 it was much easier to find levels, and in Sonic Heroes it did away with all hubs and went back to stages and acts. Fantastic! While Sonic Heroes was buggy, I greatly appreciated how they mapped out the game. There were a lot of faults with the Sonic series at that time, but Sega learned from their mistakes. And then there was Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). What were they thinking? The hub world was back in full force, and it was absolutely terrible. It was the first game I purchased for PS3, and it was a big mistake. I never have picked it back up again after my first day with it. Sonic Unleashed on 360 was a lot more fun, but still suffered from the bad hub world. Trying to figure out where the next level was got so bad that I gave up. While I haven’t yet, I plan on trying it on Wii because that version, or so I hear, doesn’t have the hub. (If any game developers are reading this, note that I’m giving up better graphics and achievements for playability.)

Blue mission marker in Grand Theft Auto III for Steam.

How about open-world games? Well, Grand Theft Auto does it very well, but it’s not really the same. Finding missions take place in a city that, for now, let’s call the hub. The missions take place in the exact same city. It’s seamless. Because the levels exist as part of the hub, I wouldn’t really call it a hub. There are fun things to do in the city, making it a part of the game proper. Of course, you can skip the city a bit and take a taxi to any mission on your map. And how do you pick your destination? With a menu. Infamous and Infamous 2’s cities are much like GTA’s. They contain levels, which make them like hubs, but they’re alive and fun. No More Heroes looks similar but is actually very different. There’s a city in which you can drive, but none of the actual game takes place in the city. This makes NMH’s city a hub, and a terrible one at that. Whether this was good design or not is debatable because Suda 51 has made the argument that this was a critique of open-world games. If he’s critiquing Grand Theft Auto though, then my previous statements about GTA would stand as my counter-argument.

Level select in Cut the Rope for iPhone.

Many iPhone games use a grid to represent levels. Level select screens have multiple pages, and each page has a grid of levels that each have three objectives or stars. Of course, far less than every game use this system, but I see a level select screen similar to this often enough to feel it’s work mentioning. This isn’t a hub, and this is close to what I’m advocating. However, you can’t deny that this looks very dry. In fact, I say we look once again at Nintendo. Quite often they get it exactly right. They don’t use multiple pages; they use multiple worlds, such as the different islands in Super Mario World. Instead of stars representing levels, arranged in a grid, Super Mario World featured dots set up to reflect the world they represented. You could maneuver through the hub quickly and effectively, yet it still conveyed the idea behind that set of levels. It looked fun, but most importantly, let you get back to the actual fun quickly.

There can be reasons to include a hub or world map, but it needs to be done properly. It should be unobtrusive and add to the game.

Thank you, Super Mario World, for getting it right.