Monday, September 12, 2011

Metroid Marathon: The Little Things (MP1)

[Part of a series of posts in which I discuss my favourite videogame franchise: Metroid. Today, a look at the incidental details in Metroid Prime that are so easy to overlook, but enrich the experience when noticed.

If three big moments characterized Metroid Prime’s transition from 2D to 3D for me personally, then it is the little things that form the game’s unique personality, give it its atmosphere and constantly surprises almost wherever you turn. It’s the little things that, when combined as a whole, give Metroid Prime a level of detail that few other games can achieve, and when separated provide a subtle, if even unnoticed, addition to the game’s immersion.

Attention to detail isn’t new in videogames, however, the effort some developers put into their games to create an experience that is unlike any other often being the key contributing factor as to whether the overall product -- the end result of a carefully considered vision or idea -- is successful or not. Games like the Uncharted series, Grand Theft Auto IV and BioShock all take care to include the little details, minor additions that will cooperate and assist major ones in forming a particular point of view, understanding or atmosphere, each enhancing the overall experience rather than detracting from it.

A Sap Sac hanging on the side of a wall.

But Metroid Prime’s attention to detail is, I would argue, a lot more subtle than the aforementioned games -- and it’s worth pointing out that they’re all current generation games, too -- using existing features of the game’s world to enhance the immersion. Rain droplets fall onto Samus Aran’s visor if she looks up towards the sky, whilst other drops splash and bead on her infamous beam cannon. Flamethrowers in the Magmoor Caverns area of Tallon IV -- initially something to be avoided -- can be frozen once the Ice Beam has been acquired, progress beyond them now achievable with relative and quick ease. The electricity of Samus’ Wave Beam pulsates whilst the Ice Beam leaves a tiny, cold fog as she moves her beam cannon around. Juice from a Sap Sac drips once it has exploded, whilst acid from a mindless creature’s attack splashes on Samus’ visor upon impact. Fish gently swim amongst the water, quickly scurrying as Samus draws near; a reflection of Samus Aran’s eyes and face can be seen as a burst of light emanates from a nearby explosion; steam clogs up her visor and limits visibility for a brief period of time. When submerged underwater -- particularly before the acquisition of the Gravity Suit -- movements become slow and subdued, with a pleasing sense of weight and a floaty feel making for a nice contrast to the usually quick, agile movements enjoyed on land; the morph ball’s bomb jump ability also shares a similar feeling of weight and casual buoyancy, bobbing up slowly rather than bouncing immediately as on land. Continuing the underwater theme, it actually feels like you truly are submerged when traversing its many depths, the cold, blue and translucent water stretching out beautifully while the aforementioned movement and the game’s clever use of sound enhances the feeling and ensures its effectiveness. Few other games can achieve this submerged feeling -- BioShock 2 is one of the only other examples that comes to mind -- keeping the immersion high and the game’s unique attention to detail amazing.

Fish scurrying about as Samus approaches.

Enemies also receive this level of attention, with a variety of ways to kill them coming to mind. The environment plays a part, a carefully placed shot on a nearby Sap Sac instantly killing something upon its explosion, whilst an idle defense turret can explode on impact from a missile or be disabled by a few shots of the Wave Beam, collapsing it in confusion. The Space Pirates aren’t immune either, their weaves and dodges of one beam quickly turned around as you freeze them, their bodies crumbling to pieces upon another concussive shot. Even boss battles contain subtle ways in which to attack, allowing for strategies that might not be immediately obvious.

The little things may not be unique to Metroid Prime nor might they be instantly apparent, but they all combine to enhance the game overall and assist with immersion, leaving a tiny but acknowledging smile on the face of those who notice them, and indirectly improving the experience of those who don’t.


Gaming in Public said...

Nintendo has always been good about the small details in most of their games. I know your a big fan of Donkey Kong Country Returns and how the grass sways with the wind. I think the best things in life are the small details because sometimes we don't want to be caught up with the big picture.

Steven O'Dell said...

Gaming in Public -- Yep, Nintendo and attention to detail are synonymous with each other.

In fact, I think that if you look at all of the developers who are the most revered in this industry, you'll find that one trait they all share is their immaculate consideration of all the little things that are required to really enrich/enhance their respective games. I guess that's why they are the elites of the medium, and deservedly so, too.