Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mega Man I: Cut Man's Stage Analysis

Cut Man's Stage: Analysis

Stage Divisions

    As you can see, for this stage I tweaked the arrangement from my previous breakdown. I included the first screen of each gauntlet in the section to which it is a lead-up, despite the lack of a clear division via scrolling. This will help clean up my difficulty curve and hazard population analyses.

Difficulty Chart

    What to say about this? If Cut Man's stage feels somewhat dull and listless, I suspect this is at least part of why. The stage has no very high or low points; it maintains a more or less static (and not very high) level of challenge throughout, so any character it has must come from something else - a special enemy or hazard, a unique bit of platforming, something.

    Unfortunately, there is no 'something' that does that, as we are about to see:

Hazard Population

    This is informative, but not in quite the way it appears at first. First, note the similarity to Guts Man's stage's hazard chart. As in that, the player mostly encounters different hazards sequentially, with little or no integration, and there are not many hazards. However, there are some key differences that need to be taken into account:
  1. In Guts Man's stage, the Sections were far shorter, and the hazards in each had virtually no development within their Section as well as no integration into later ones; here, on the other hand, Sections 2 and 4 provide a process (however flawed) of escalation and development, making the stage feel less about tricks. Additionally, similarities in the way different hazards are presented (again, Sections 2 and 4 are both vertical OROC series') make it feel more integrated than it really is. In this way, Cut Man's stage is an improvement over Guts Man's.
  2. On the other hand, because the length of Cut Man's stage (which is closer to, or even greater than, that of Bomb Man's stage) is much larger than Guts Man's stage, and yet contains barely any more hazard types, it feels very monotonous and repetitive. In this way, Cut Man's stage falls short of Bomb Man's.
Post-Mortem Analysis

    Cut Man's stage overreached itself, and I suspect it had more to do with the limitations (of time and system resources) the developers faced than inexperience on their part. It shows signs of smart design, with clear attempts to introduce and escalate challenges focused around enemies and terrain; unfortunately, the inability to: 1) do this effectively with all of them and 2) integrate them to create something even more challenging prevented them from realizing their full goals. Octopus Batteries were a poor choice for enemy design (actually, many of the enemies in this game were such, and I will discuss this issue somewhat later), and while Section 4, for instance, might have been better if, say, the developers had started blending Beaks and Octopus Batteries, it is likely that they were constrained by the NES hardware, which could only handle so many sprites at a time. Even the third screen in Section 4 displays lag with only five Octopus Batteries.

    Where I am not as inclined to forgive the developers is in the waste of the stage's unique hazard: the Super Cutters. Since they appear only in this stage and could have provided the developers with myriad options to create distinctive and fun Forced Pace and High Pressure Challenges, I cannot fathom why they instead chose to focus on a series of fairly dull OROCs with enemies the player would get to encounter under more interesting circumstances in plenty of other areas in the game.

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