Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 29, 2014

Focus on the ‘Core’ and not the ‘Rules’

There is a saying I like when it comes to game design: focus on the ‘core’ and not the ‘rules’. An example would be Heroes of the Storm in that Blizzard focusing on the ‘core’ which would be teamwork (MOBAs are team based games) and not ‘rules’ which would be ‘last hitting’, ‘items’, etc.

The most common reason for franchise fatigue, as opposed to outright franchise destruction (say Bomberman for the Xbox 360 or Metroid: Other M), is the focus on rules than the core. This is why NSMB is so heavily fatigued because Nintendo focused on ‘rules’ and not on the ‘core’.

What are the ‘rules’ Nintendo has adopted for NSMB games? It is that one must travel right to get the flagpole. But in Super Mario Brothers 3, there were many times I never traveled ‘right’ to get to the flag. In Super Mario Brothers 3, each place was like a part of the map. To get up to the clouds in World 5, you traveled up the tower. There was no flag at the tower. You climbed to the top and that was it. In the fortresses, you killed the mini-boss and that was it. The same occurred in Super Mario World with killing the Reznors. Also, it was never as simple as traveling to the right to get to the end of the stages. Many of the stages were mazes. Some required flying. Even in Super Mario Brothers 1, there were stages that looped over and over again depending on which pipe you went down or platform you hopped on. Doki Doki Panic also never had the ‘move left’ to get to ‘flagpole’. You moved in all sorts of directions in Doki Doki Panic.

Another rule is that this is an action game and everything must revolve around that. The music in NSMB is so terrible because it is designed toward the ‘rule’ and not the core. That damned athletic theme is not the pinnacle of Mario music. Hardly.

The above is the airship theme. It fits perfectly in the game because you are on an Airship, and it is big and nasty.

This is World 7 music. “It doesn’t match the rules of Mario. It is reggae themed. It needs more bip bop.” No. It is perfect. The music is catchy and makes you want to snap your fingers.

The most common rule Nintendo seems to be adopting is the rule that the game is 2d, therefore graphics and environments do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. The CORE of Super Mario Brothers is cutting edge graphics. Every Mario game introduced had cutting edge graphics. Super Mario Brothers, Doki Doki Panic, Super Mario Brothers 3, and Super Mario World made everyone say ‘Wow!” “We must go 3d in order to deliver good graphics.” No, you don’t. Nintendo is just lazy. Level design is important, but content design is just as important.

One reason why a new Mario game was so exciting was the new introductions to Mushroom Kingdom. Super Mario Brothers introduced us to Mushroom Kingdom. Doki Doki Panic introduced us to Subcon. Super Mario Brothers 3 fleshed out Mushroom Kingdom some more, showed us airships and mushroom houses. Super Mario World gave us Dinosaur Land and Yoshi. What has any of the NSMB games introduced us to?

Nothing.

Why the hell would anyone want to pay money for an escapist game that doesn’t add anything new? Nintendo doesn’t operate on the core of what Super Mario Brothers is, they just operate on some ‘rules’ that Miyamoto and others ‘believe’ is what people expect.

Nintendo games feel so lame because they seem designed around ‘rules’ instead of what the core of the game is. Let’s take Zelda for example. Zelda has its standard formula, but the formula is not Zelda. There was no ‘formula’ back in the day. Zelda 2 delivered on the core Zelda experience, it just didn’t follow the imagined ‘rules’. Link to the Past also didn’t follow the ‘rules’. Neither did Ocarina of Time. Since then, Nintendo keeps making Zelda according to ‘rules’ of some kind while missing the core completely.

One of the core elements of Zelda is that Link is a swordsman. You can’t remove his sword anymore than you can remove Mario’s hop.

Another core element of Zelda is ‘growing stronger’. This has been reinterpreted as a ‘rule for puzzles’. Since there were some brain teasers in the early Zelda games, Miyamoto or someone declared that ‘the rule of Zelda is puzzles’.  However, puzzles are not the core element of Zelda. Thoughtfulness, sure. But puzzles? Where in the world does Nintendo get this from?

Spirit Tracks could only occur by following ‘rules’ and omitting the ‘core’. Zelda is not about trains. Everyone knows this except Aonuma. Instead, Aonuma and Nintendo follow a ‘set of rules’ and made sure Spirit Tracks followed those rules.

I think the Wii U experience that Nintendo put together is another example of following the ‘rules’ of Iwata/Miyamoto’s corporate imagining and not delivering the core of what people want in a game console. If you look at the Wii U, it makes total sense from looking at Nintendo’s bizarre perspective of ‘rules for consoles’. Yet, it is totally not what people want. The core of a game console is that it is a box you buy to get to Mario (or another cool game).

The core of the game console is Lack of Bullshit. That is why we buy game consoles to connect to TVs and not computers. The people who buy game consoles do not want the bullshit. (I’m a PC gamer so I can handle the bullshit.)

Other Wii U ‘rules’ were ones like ‘releasing a year early means you get all the third party developers’ (Iwata is a huge believer in this. This is why Iwata thinks the N64 and Gamecube had low third party support. Since the Xbox 360 came out a year before Wii, he probably blames that too on why Wii had less game industry support).

I think all of Nintendo’s current woes are due to lack of critical thinking in the Board. They are following self-made ‘rules’ and neglecting the core.

PS- I’m reading your emails. I’ve been very busy, and will remain busy for the next few days.


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