Everyone knows that the more cycles you can put your game through the better the game will become. This is the case for probably all art, or maybe just everything in general. I can only assume that the more time you have to develop a plane and test it the saver and better the plane will be.
I wrote two other articles under the name "It's all about the little things." In which I looked at all the tiny elements that elevate a game to a higher level.
This time I decided to go in the other direction. But I didn't want to focus on the big picture, like the fact DKC recycles its bosses. Or that the difficultly curve is pretty off. I wanted to look at it on a detailed level, what if they had a little more time and more loops available to them. What would be the first things they (I) would/should address? How many tiny changes would I still make?
#1 Make them stop!
As you can see here, the Donkey and Diddy are always in walking animation, even when standing still. I really doubt this was the way they wanted it. In another gif in this article you can see the celebrate animation after completing a level. So its should definitely possible to give them an idle animation here.
#2 Where are my bananas going?
Bananas seem to go to the top left corner of the screen, not that the actual banana counter UI. Which is strange, because balloons do go to the exact spot of the UI balloon counter.
#3 They're not even the same species!
This enemy has the same death/hit sound as Diddy Kong, which isn't really a big deal but still. Maybe it could confuse the player a little bit if you play Diddy and you think you kill it but it kills you, or the other way around. I think you want your characters to be unique, in every possible way so i'm not sure if they ran out of time, out of memory or out of sound effects but I doubt they had a choice.
#4 Again and again
If you died as Donkey Kong, you start the level as Donkey Kong. Not entirely sure how I feel about this. Maybe it would make more sense if you start as the character you didn't die as? Like Diddy came to help or something. Or maybe it would be annoying to be forced to switch character. Or maybe it would be a good thing because you couldn't finish the level as Donkey and you might as Diddy. Or maybe, or maybe, or maybe the game is called Donkey Kong Country and I'm just making it more complicated. Maybe someone else can provide me a good argument for what's the best solution here...
#5 Spoilers! (not real ones though)
This one is a little strange. If you start this level, and die somewhere in your attempt to beat it you are transported to the other side of the level select map. I'm pretty sure you are meant to see the other side as a reward for completing the level.
#6 Auto pilot
This was obviously intended but I'm not sure if it was the right way to go. If you complete a level, the game automatically walks you to the next level. This is probably a plus if you are a little kiddo that wants to play so bad he just keeps pressing jump. But it’s a little less cool as going to the just unlocked level yourself. I think. Maybe it's also a little weird that the game controls the characters for you. Then again, maybe they had play test sessions and people kept accidentally restarting levels. Interesting to think about though.
Unfinished levels have an enemy (Krelimling?) icon. Finished level have an Donkey or Diddy icon. Cranky and friends have their own icons. So give bosses their own icons! I think it would create a little bit more build up before you start the level.
#8 Level names
As you can see in the same gif, the name of the level appears as soon as you leave the previous level. I would like it more if the name would appear as you arrive/stand on the level spot…
#9 Stop or resume?
My gifs don't have sound but… touching the STOP barrel plays a sound that is the same sound effect as the RESUME (from pause) sound effect. That’s just a little weird.
#10 Animal friends
This one stretches the boundaries a little bit but okay for it would probably be a lot of extra work. But as a kid I would care a lot for my digital animal friends. I would really want to see how he's doing bit in DKC they just kind off disappears. I understand you can't take him to the next level, because its not designed that way. But I thought it would be cool if the animal you leave the level with would do something. Maybe he runs back into the level (to get back in his box) when you leave, or maybe when on the map screen he runs back to Cranky's house, since he has animal boxes and I believe he talks about them as well.
#11 Reward curiosity
Going a little bit into game design here, but I think it would be good to reward curiosity without too much risk. In this case, I feel like there might be something down there, maybe if the camera would shift a tiny bit down if I hold down it would reveal it to me. Right now I need to Indiana Jones lion leap my way down on good faith. There are lots of secrets in DKC that lead you there with a banana trail, and lots that are completely hidden.
#12 Laputan machine
Lots of games do this, I think even my own... But enemies (especially bosses) feel a bit robotic to me if they keep walking or attacking after you went down for the count. I would love it if this guy would look at the camera/player (like he already does during gameplay) when you die. Especially because Donkey and Diddy also celebrate towards the camera/player if they win beat the boss.
Strange thing about the death UI in this gif, it kind of resets and comes back down from above. Probably because you wouldn't see the balloon POP! that clearly. I'm not sure how to fix this to be honest. I do know that I like the +1 balloon (from #15) more.
If you collect 3 of these, you get a bonus level in which you can get a few balloons (lives). The strange thing is, these are often at the end of levels, and once you collect 3 you are transported to the bonus level. When the bonus level is finished though, it transports you to the save point in the level (usually in the middle of the level)… It's really not something you would want. Especially if you had lots of trouble getting to where you were in the first place.
#14 Idle smidle
Although the idle animations in DKC are very cool, I think they start a little to quick after standing still. In gif 17 you can actually see how fast its triggered. Maybe it was done to make the Kong's a more impatient or more alive but I'm not really a fan of the animation being cut as soon as you start walking again. Normally this isn't a real problem for me, but in this game the idle animation happens so often during normal gameplay that I would prefer it to start a little bit later.
It's all about the little things:
I couldn't help myself to show some things I loved as well. So here is a bonus round.
And you're in the game! And that's all I have to say about that.
#15 Home sweet home
Being able to check the house wasn't super necessary, but it rewards curiosity and gives a nice amount of extra character to Donkey. I mean, he has a fish to take care of.
#16 See the skip
Some short cuts in this game are amazing. You get to see all the difficult parts you get to skip! Also it uses the games mechanics that you are familiar with and doesn't just teleport you. Beautiful solution if you ask me.
#17 Weather change
The way the end of level 1 becomes dark so the start of level 2 is at night. Again, not many games take their time to do an active weather change.
I loved this teaching moment where level designers push you to jump as far as you can, so you can learn about hidden items under the ground.
#19 Barrel brothers
If you already have Donkey and Diddy a Kong barrel can still come in handy, you can use it as a weapon like other barrels. You can actually also put the barrel back down without breaking it, and bring it along as an extra life. Which is pretty neat.
#20 start - ….K…….O….N…….G… - end
KONG letters don't only give you a balloon if you collect 4. They also show you how far in the level you are. This wouldn't be the case if it wasn't done in letters, or without some induction what the order is.
I love how this platform bounces a little when landing on it. The difference between a static platform and a bouncy one are actually immense in terms of game feel. In this game the characters seem to have some weight to them as a sound effect is played upon landing on ground as well. So it fits perfectly.
#22 No forced suicides
I believe a teacher once told me it's never a good thing if the player has to kill himself because he can't continue anymore. In this level, if the platform you have to use runs out of fuel (you need to fuel it) then the game forces a "death". It's a small element, and probably took some extra work to program it only to be used in this level but I think it pays off.
Another cool thing in this gif is how Diddy Kong can apparently throw his cap off the platform on accident. A great little variable that makes it feel more dynamic. Probably not intended by design, but kept for fun.
#23 Credit to the credits
The credit roll is one of the better ones in the business and really shows that there's creative possibilities in even the most static sequences. Go see for yourself if you don't know what I mean!
You could of course argue if all these changes would create a better game at all, and if people would notice. But I think we are all striving towards that strange thing called perfection. Whether people notice it or not, I want to know its as close to perfection as can be. Another interesting perspective is, how many details do you have to strip before a games grade or experience becomes worse? You grade or enjoy a game based on a feeling, but the feeling comes from all the tiny things combined into one.
If you have more ideas of what developers would change if they could, what you would change or if you disagree with my ramblings, please don't hesitate to comment.