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Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games


August 23, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 11 Next
 

13. Blast Corps

Rare's other first-wave N64 game got severely overshadowed by its ultra-popular sibling, which is simply a crying shame.

Developed by Rare.

Designed by Martin Wakeley. (Source: GameFAQs)

Length: Medium (winning) to Extremely Long (getting all Platinum medals)

Cool fact:

The game has an incredible variety of bonus levels, including several on other planets.

Watch for:

The 'Z' trick. On the original NTSC version of the game, if you try getting out of a vehicle several times in a spot where your exit is blocked by a destroyable building, the building will fall apart and you will emerge. Since the object of the game is to destroy buildings, and some of them are very hard to tear down with the vehicle supplied, this programming oversight makes some levels much easier to complete. It's fixed in other versions of the game.

Blast Corps is a completely unique game, released during the PlayStation/N64 era. That enough identifies it as something special. The main idea behind the game is to destroy buildings, through whatever means are available, and throughout the game there is tremendous variety in how to do it. Each vehicle tears 'em down in a different way, from driving straight through through to spinning out to shooting missiles to crushing it beneath mechanized feet.

The game, unfortunately, both looks and plays like a first-generation 3D game. There are invisible walls everywhere, there's little in the way of enemies in most levels, most of the time the player is completely invulnerable and the challenge is all in the timer, and the game seems to be so filled with the raw excitement of being in three dimensions that it tries to rest on those laurels.

Yet, for this game, it helps. The game is about style and figuring out the control quirks. Especially concerning the game's favorite, and player's least favorite, vehicle: the Backlash. It's a dump truck with a reinforced bed that is its only means of demolition. It doesn't have a button that launches it at enemies; it has to rush at buildings and purposely spin out to smack into them with the force to knock them down. It is a magnificently unlikely wrecking vehicle, but there is definitely a touch to handling it successfully.

Blast Corps is a game entirely about acquiring that touch. That of the Backlash, and of all the other vehicles too. That, combined with the sensitivity N64's analogue stick, gives the game a kind of tactile feel that few games even attempt to create.

How hard is it?

Players who receive the excruciatingly difficult Gold ranks in every level were dismayed, to say the least, to be told "NOW GO FOR PLATINUM!" Some platinum medals are so difficult to obtain that it took several years before someone got them all (the FAQs on the game are instructive), and for some utilizing glitches remains the only reasonable means of earning them.

Design lesson:

Few games these days have what I'm going to call "super goals." Like Monkey Ball and Wetrix, they are special rewards for the dedicated player. Some players these days consider a game only completed once everything has been unlocked; these games stand in direct opposition to that by offering rewards less than one player in ten thousand will see. It's worth noting that, for all these games, the mega goal is a complete secret: there is nothing in the game's UI to hint it's there until the player either achieves it or has a reasonable chance to. That way, it is a nice surprise for players who become surpassingly good, or at the very least, know how to read FAQs. (That's how come I know of the above things, by the way.)

Wikipedia's page on Blast Corps.

GameFAQs page on the game.

Speed Demos Archive's page on the game.

Screenshots scavenged from Danny Cowan's Bastards of 32-Bit column on the game on GameSetWatch.

14. The Legend of Zelda (particularly the second quest)

The template for much of what followed.

Developed by Nintendo R&D 4

Directed by "Miyahon", i.e. Shigeru Miyamoto.

Length: Short (if you know what you're doing) or Very Long (if you don't)

Cool fact:

The game's second quest almost ranks up with Lynx Battlezone as far as great secrets go. How cool is it that the game essentially contains its own sequel? To play the second quest from the start, by the way, use the name ZELDA when registering your name.

Watch for:

The game over music. In a series that calls back to earlier games as much as the Legend of Zelda games, can you believe that memorable tune has only been referred to in one later game?

It is the case with video game genres that, often, it is difficult to determine exactly which game is the first. In the case of the action adventure game, a fairly convincing case could be made for Adventure, for the Atari 2600, which is old enough that it is hard to come up with a conceivable predecessor. But it is easy to point to the game that caused the genre to take off.

The Legend of Zelda is a game that flourishes beneath the weight of all the handicaps it's been given. As a one-megabit game, its ROM space is 128 kilobytes, twice the memory in my old Commodore 64. Nintendo makes use of some compression tricks also seen in Super Mario Bros. to squeeze its 128-screen overworld, and even larger cumulative underworld, into that space. It is not hard to see that dungeon rooms are duplicated many times over, and surface screens are cunningly arranged into vertical strips of tiles, allowing entire rooms to be defined by just a handful of bytes.

The original Legend of Zelda is a game that has fallen out of favor in some circles, with many people claiming it's too primitive, too simplistic, or too abstract. Hogwash; what they really hate about it is that it's hard, dating from an age when video games were supposed to be tests of skill, and thus difficult. Even now, it's probably the hardest game in the series. In the long catalog of video game bastards, Zelda's Darknuts and Wizzrobes both rank quite high, beating out many more-famous jerks like the medusa heads from Castlevania.

Another thing that "modern" gamers dislike is how there aren't clues for finding most of its secrets. The ever-popular bombable walls in this game aren't marked in any way, and the Blue Candle players have for most of the game, used for burning similarly-unmarked trees, can only be used once per screen. Finding secret passages is a massive exercise in trial by error, and just when you get used to that, you start encountering old men who penalize you by forcing you to pay them for finding their hidden room! Yet it remains just on the good side of the awesome/obnoxious line, for The Legend of Zelda is positively riddled with secret passages. Something like half its overworld screens contain a secret room! It is possible to complete the first quest without finding un-clued secrets, but you'll be missing out on hundreds of rupees and three whole Heart Containers.

At the end players defeat Ganon, slash the ineffectual flames holding Zelda captive, and earn their well-deserved credits... and then get treated to one of the most stone-cold awesome ending bonuses of all time, the second quest, a much harder, remixed version of the game with entirely new dungeons and whole new kinds of secrets. It also contains the most horrible trap in the entire series: dungeon rooms where the old man holds you up for either fifty rupees or a heart container. No later Zelda game has the temerity to shrink your life bar if you don't have enough cash, thank God.

How hard is it?

The first quest is fair; for the second, the gloves came off. This one proves that deep down, Shigeru Miyamoto is not the kindly Japanese toymaker he appears to be. Most of the second quest's dungeons must be found by laboriously searching every screen of the overworld. Level 7 is found by burning in the single most difficult-to-burn tree in the game! And if a player gets far into Level 4 or 6 without enough cash on hand, he stands a good chance of losing Heart Containers unless he goes for the reset button.

Design lesson:

Really good games always feel like they're too short. Including an extra game like this was a nice move on the developers' part. Players who were struggling at the end of the first quest can treat the second quest as a bonus to play around with, while players who thought the first was too easy are free to consider the second quest the "real game." That's an excellent piece of social engineering, when you think about it.

Wikipedia page on The Legend of Zelda.

StrategyWiki's page on the game.

GameFAQs page on the game.

 


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