Friday, April 12, 2013

Mega Man I: Guts Man Breakdown and Analysis

Guts Man's Stage: Breakdown

Part 1: Regression



    Visually Guts Man's stage is an improvement over Bomb Man's; the orange foreground and blue background contrast nicely and there is a clear logic to the graphics: we are at some kind of mountain work-site, probably a mine or quarry, as indicated by the zoned-off entrances into the mountain in the background and the railway-like bridge in the latter part of this area.
    In Bomb Man's stage we saw a fairly lengthy stage that made up for its relative lack of unique or interesting elements with solid design and pacing. Guts Man's stage is almost precisely the opposite, and the problems begin very early on, as we will see.


  1. Once more we see here a very simple tutorial section, where the player is forced to prove his knowledge of the game's basic mechanics in order to proceed. Mets (Hard Hats) dot the stairway-like structure, marking their first appearance in the Mega Man universe, and almost their only appearance in this game.
  2. And here the problems begin. Those who have watched Egoraptor's Sequelitis episode on the Mega Man series will recognize these platforms. I am puzzled that Egoraptor used these as an example of how good the Mega Man games are at teaching, however, because there are far better examples to be found, even in the first game. As he pointed out, the player does get to see the relationship between the moving platforms and the background before moving to the second one. While this is true, and the idea of using a background element to inform the player's understanding of the behavior of a hazard was an innovative trick the series would go on to use many more times, the section still creates some major problems. Consider:
    • The platform timing is maintained regardless of player progress through the stage, meaning that a player might encounter the track before encountering the platform. Because the track is solid in appearance, it would be easy to mistake it for a platform itself, leading to a death by confusion, which is frustrating.
    • The player's first encounter with the obstacle is over an instant-death pit trap, forcing the player to learn its properties during a High Pressure Challenge, something a game should never do, as we saw in Section 9 of Bomb Man's stage.
    • Though the general relationship between the platforms and the track are fairly obvious from the start, the precise relationship may not be - specifically, that the track interacts with the circular protrusion on the left end of the platform, and not the center of it.
  3. Here the player encounters three Bladers in a flat area before crossing a series of platforms; this section poses no major challenges and serves as something of a breather before the next section.
  4. Just before and on this rail section the player must get through a series of Forced Encounter Challenges against Picket Men. The last one, in which the Picket Man is placed on the two-tile platform just before the spikes, is the hardest.
EDIT: I have been remiss. I was so caught up in criticizing the moving platforms that I forgot to point out that they do, in fact, represent a new kind of challenge: the Cue Response Challenge, in which the player must respond to visual or auditory cues in order to succeed. In this case, the cues are present in the background track object, and are telegraphed by the layout of the tracks. We will see more of these in later games, and in fact they form a large part of the challenge in many of the later Robot Master encounters.
Video Demonstration

I chose to forego the commentary in previous
videos; the action here basically speaks for itself.

Part 2: A Drop



    This short vertical section has the player moving downward, and provides a rudimentary Path Choice; in this case, because of the speed with which the player falls, the inability to move back up, and the presence of hazards in the form of spikes that are difficult or impossible to avoid depending on the player's choice, it is an undesirable Blind Path Choice. The player is merely tricked if he happens to fall onto spikes the first time, and memorization is required to pass the challenge. This kind of design was fairly common in games at the time of Mega Man's release, but it would not be used in later games in the series; Blind Path Choices will reappear from time to time, but only in the context of optional rewards, and never punishments.

  1. The player will likely instinctively attempt to land on one of the platforms here. It is probably that the developers understood this through playtesting and intended it to make the choice more intentional on the player's part; nevertheless the placement of the 'wrong choice' in the slot nearest to the area where the player enters from the room above is notable.
  2. It is very difficult to collect the Big Life Energy on the top right without using the Magnet Beam from Elec Man's stage; when falling at terminal velocity, the player's movement is too fast to enter the small area successfully. The same goes for the 1-up in the third screen. A player who falls in from the path on the left and attempts to collect the Small Life Energies on the platform to the left of the spikes is likely to be knocked into them by the Bladers that soon appear from that side of the screen; another mean trick on the developers' part which is likely to frustrate less experienced players.
  3. The spikes on the bottom here cannot be successfully avoided if the player has fallen from the beginning while hugging the right wall. Even with the warning time the screen-by-screen scrolling provides, the player will be falling too quickly to get out of the way.

Video Demonstration

Part 3: One More Encounter



    The last area of Guts Man's stage is a short run over broken terrain with a single Forced Encounter Challenge against a Big Eye, a large hopping enemy resembling the Flea which causes 10(!) points of damage if it hits the player, making it a very poor Loss-Option Choice unless the player has avoided taking damage throughout the stage so far, especially since the player's higher ground gives him an advantage in the fight.


    No breakdown needed. That's literally it. I don't know if the developers were out of ideas or if the limited space on the Mega Man cartridge prevented them from doing anything else with the stage, but one way or another the end is quite sudden and jarring; it feels like the stage is cut off half-way through.

Video Demonstration

Note on Bosses

    From now on, I am going to leave the bosses out of the stage descriptions and analyses. Though the boss encounters are a major feature - arguably the key feature - of the Mega Man formula, I think a better way of dealing with them will be to do a post covering all six of them at once, with descriptions and comparisons of behavior and difficulty, than to do them at the end of stage descriptions where they don't really fit in well with the prior material.

Guts Man's Stage: Analysis

Stage Divisions

This time I didn't use my numbered breakdown divisions; the vertical section, 5, is really just one section
despite involving two screen transitions. We'll be seeing more such sections as this blog goes on.
Challenge Diagram

    Right away we see a major problem: the challenge levels are all over the place. Gone is the gradual ramp-up in challenge, paced by areas of slightly lower challenge that made Bomb Man's stage feel so smooth and well-rounded; Guts Man's stage moves from the base tutorial straight into a very difficult challenge, then proceeds to zig-zag between decreasing challenges spaced with essentially dead space before cutting off in a jarring fashion before the player has even had a chance to understand the stage's features. The sole feature for which the stage is remembered is also the feature for which it is largely hated: the moving platforms placed directly at the beginning. But it gets worse.

Hazard Population

    The hazard population is also in stark contrast to Bomb Man's stage; whereas (with a couple of exceptions) in that stage the player encountered threats in a process of introduction and integration, here they are mostly just placed one after another, with each challenge appearing once and then disappearing. The moving platforms we will see exactly once more before the end of the game, in the very last stage; Metalls and Picket Men will never appear again. Nothing is explored, nothing is integrated, nothing is really learned or gained.

    This is why Guts Man's stage comes off as a series of disconnected, one-off tricks. It is not the worst stage in the game (I think there are two worse, personally, and I'll point them out as we reach them), but it's pretty bad, and I doubt the series would have lasted as long as it did if the developers had not evidently learned from their failures and successes. Stages as badly designed as this will become much rarer as we progress through the Mega Man series.

    Incidentally, I realize now that the two features I chose to chart, and therefore to quantify, have very easy names: Pacing and Integration. Pacing is self-explanatory; it refers to the player's sense of progression, and since challenge plays a large role in that it becomes very clear in the Challenge Progression diagram. Integration refers to the level to which challenges are repeated, enhanced, and mixed with each other in order to give the player a sense that he is not just moving through a series of obstacles but actually learning and applying skills, and therefore gaining and exercising mastery over the game. Both Pacing and Integration are easily quantifiable measures of how 'good' a stage design is, and therefore will prove very useful tools in my quest. I will be adding both to my design lexicon. Of course, they are not the only measures, and not all of the elements that make a design good or bad are quantifiable; things like aesthetics and compatibility with the game's core mechanics also come into play and are not as easy to give a simple number.

Thanks for reading,
The Undesigner

PS: You didn't think we actually captured all that footage without a few deaths, did you? Here are some instructive examples of this stage's meanness. Enjoy.

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