Friday, July 12, 2013

Analysis: Videogames and Tradition

Where do traditions come from? You do something once, and later on when you're in the same position or circumstance, you do it that way again, possibly because that's how you did it before. A third time you have even more precedent for doing it that way, until that's just the way you always do it. After awhile it's possible you don't even think about it anymore, and the various other choices you might have had at that set of circumstances don't even seem like choices anymore. Don't believe me? Then why do you always jump into the doors leading to the Robot Masters' rooms?

Admit it! Or maybe you slide. But you certainly don't just walk through.
I'm not talking about gameplay actions that have tangible benefits or rewards. I mean, everyone tries to land near the top of the flagpole at the end of a Super Mario Bros. level, even on stages where it's impossible to reach the highest point (and therefore receive a valuable 1-Up). Points and scoring may not be as prized as they used to be, but we still value seeing the highest number we can achieve pop up by that flagpole. No, I mean the sort of actions that have no real benefit but that we do anyway, like putting Sonic in his 'I'm about to fall off the edge!' pose while riding moving blocks in any of the Sonic the Hedgehog games.
I'm not the only one who does this, am I?
Maybe this one arose from boredom, originally. While you're riding one of these blocks across the lava in the Marble Zone, there isn't really anything else you can do. You're just along for the ride, until it's time to leap off onto a platform and proceed with the level. So why wouldn't you fill the time by creeping Sonic forward until his feet are on the very edge of the block and he begins to do his 'Losing my balance!' animation? As you can see from the shot above, now I even do this when there isn't much time to ride on the block at all! Tradition.

As we all get older (it's true! We're all getting older!), we have more time in which to develop traditions like this. I played Sonic the Hedgehog on Thanksgiving, a long, long time ago, and ever since I've tried to play through the Blue Blur's first adventure on Thanksgiving, every Thanksgiving. That's a lot of Green Hill, Marble, Spring Yard, Labyrinth, Star Light, Scrap Brain, and Final Zones. But it means that I've had a lot of time to solidify the way I play through this game, and it recently occurred to me that I might have some developed some traditions that are less than cosmetic.

Take this one, for example. I have thought (basically forever!) that in Marble Zone Act 3, you simply could not reach the passage on the left side of the screen in the following screenshot.

For fifteen years, at least, I've always wondered why those blocks over there existed.
One of the first rules of game design is that you don't place anything you don't need, so I should have realized that those blocks on the left had to serve some purpose. But after playing this level in this way for so long, I internalized the knowledge that this is just the way you go, and never questioned it. Until now, that is! Taking it slowly, I began to systematically explore the beginning of Marble Zone Act 3, and I discovered something silly.

How have I not seen this passage heading left in fifteen years?
Instead of running down one of the first slopes in the stage, like ya do, if you go slowly you see a passage that cuts to the left behind a rising and falling wall-platform. If you go through this entrance, there's a short passageway that eventually leads you to break those mystery blocks that confounded me for so long. It's not a particularly difficult stretch, but neither is the way I've taken for all these years. It's just different, and seems to exist for the slow and careful Sonic, rather than the speedy and impatient Sonic that I suspect most of us play. But I love that it exists, and I think it's hilarious that I've never found it before, despite playing Sonic the Hedgehog year after year. Tradition!

What sort of videogame traditions have you guys developed over time?

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