We kicked off another Special Topics In Gameology series this week. The theme this time around is “bodies,” and John Teti gave us our first entry with a look at how the jumps of a few classic sprites add an unexpected amount of depth and life to their characters. In covering Mega Man, John mentioned the odd habit so many players had of jumping through the boss door so the super fighting robot would be frozen in mid-air as the screen transitioned to his enemy’s lair. It’s one of those strange tics that everyone seems to talk about (which made it especially odd when John mentioned having a hard time finding footage of the boss-door jump). NakedSnake tried to rationalize the phenomenon:
It’s funny. I jump into the boss room every time, and I’ve never really thought about it. It had never occurred to me that it’s something that everybody does, but as I think about it now, of course they do. It just feels natural. It reflects an eagerness for battle the same way that football players hit each other on their helmets before the game. You’re literally leaping into the fray: “I’m pumped, I’m ready, let’s do this!” That said, after I’ve put in enough deaths at the hands of a boss and my technique is polished and I’m ready to end things, I usually stay on the ground. Because then it’s business time. And I walk toward battle with the well-earned calm of a samurai who refuses to touch his sword until the exact moment of impact.
Lucifer’s Peaches mentioned another similar habit (one that I’m definitely guilty of):
When I’m playing Super Mario Bros. 3 and I beat an airship and the wand is falling from up above, I jump to catch it every single time—trying to nab it at the very top of my jump arc. Do others do this as well?
Needlehacksaw did and remembered another very specific trick:
Here’s another one: There’s a level in Double Dragon II on the NES where you transition from the surface to a base under the sea via an elevator. You can see the characters during most of the ride, even though there are some objects in the foreground that sometimes hide them, thus giving the impression of some sort of parallax scrolling. If you hit the pause button at just the right second, everything but the heads of the twins is obscured by the foreground, thus giving the impression that their separated heads lie on a platform. It was a source of endless amusement, made all the sweeter because you basically only have one chance at it, and it’s actually a bit challenging. Of course, because it’s also a perfect co-op game, both players can pause and unpause the game, lending a little competition to the task too.
And as part of a discussion of sprite cuteness, HobbesMkii made the case for Kirby, the relative pacifist:
Kirby has the cutest base powers in all of gaming. Mega Man shoots stuff. Mario violently crushes his enemies to death. Donkey Kong throws people around. Link cuts people with a sword. Kirby has no natural weapons, and unlike Mario, does not possess enough normal substantial weight to send his foes flying into oblivion. If Kirby can’t reach a high or far objective, he decreases his mass and floats to it.
His go to attack is to inhale his foe and make his foe one with himself. Yoshi has a similar ability, but Yoshi expels the enemy and uses the resulting egg as a weapon. Kirby makes his enemy a part of himself, adapting his body to become rock, or fire, or spikes, or what have you. And Kirby’s most powerful attack—floating above his enemy and transforming into whatever ability he’s gained from his opponent—is also a substantial weakness in the Dream Land (not a “Mushroom Kingdom” or any other semi-real life analogue; Kirby travels by star power, not mundane walking) he lives in. There are too many ramps and sharp inclines leading to spikes, or deep water, or fire he can fall into and die.
Close-watcher mentioned a few memorable animations from Final Fantasy VI, namely Kefka’s laugh and the “finger wag.” This prompted a fun little list from GhaleonQ:
Top 5 sassy idle animations:
1. Finger wag, Final Fantasy VI
2. Foot tap, Sonic The Hedgehog
3. Playing a Neo Geo Pocket Color, Neo Geo Battle Coliseum
4. Back scratch, Sly Cooper 4: Thieves In Time
5. Head jump rope, Earthworm Jim
Meanwhile, jakeoti laid out an argument for why one classic NES sprite was terrible:
When I think of jumping sprites, my mind unfortunately goes to one that is not so good. Mega Man and the others’ successful conveyance helped me understand what exactly makes Link’s jumping in Zelda II so bad.
Zelda II made an odd shift from the original by making it, for the most part, a 2D platformer. This might not have been so bad, but Link jumps painfully and awkwardly. He’s sluggish and barely covers any horizontal ground. And his animation for doing so—well, there really is none. And that’s the problem. Like Simon Belmont, mentioned in John’s article, he goes into his ducking pose, but that is barely different from his regular pose. His legs fold up, but his upper body remains essentially the same. Not only does his motion feel stiff, it also looks stiff.
Even if he is moving, it’s barely conveyed. Later entries where Link gained jumping, usually via the Roc’s Feather, fixed the animation by making him perform a flip. Link’s Awakening made jumping feel fun, flipping above enemies and pits. Link’s sprite in the Game Boy games were all fantastic. Look at just how much joy he has holding up that sword in the upper left corner! So happy! And done with less color and space than Zelda II.
Elsewhere, CaseyO recalled trying to replicate the coding for animated sprites found in old computer magazines:
I remember trying to program some basic sprites and animation into my Commodore 64 as a little 12 year old. Some magazine I read religiously at the time would occasionally post long bits of code (a page or two, which might not sound like much, but try transcribing as a 12 year old with no typing skills) that would result in animated sprites, possibly even allowing you to control their simple movements on screen.
The rub was that if you got even a single digit out of place when replicating that code, the results wouldn’t come out looking like a just-one-pixel-off version of whatever you were trying to create, it came out looking like scrambled puke. And there was no way to narrow down where that one (or more) mistake was, I’d just have to type the whole thing out again, and 99 percent of the time, I’d still just get puke returned until I finally gave up. Good times.
This sent a handful of commenters down memory lane, with stories about specific magazines and the struggles to transpose those pages and pages of code. Here’s a sweet one from Duwease:
I had the Apple version of that magazine, and I remember getting some “free” games out of the issues by transcribing six to 10 pages of BASIC code, which sounds much easier because at least BASIC had the decency to generally give you a line number for errors (if they were fatal enough). This let them provide programs and other games. I think my dad entered one on Christmas Eve, so that when we woke up to the new Apple II on Christmas Day, it had a little snowman and played a Christmas song. I made Snake, of course, but I also remember some simple knockoffs of things like Space Invaders, Lunar Lander, and such that were practically state-of-the-art at the time! Sometimes they were transcribed incorrectly in the magazine itself, and you had to wait for the corrections in the next issue.
A little Googling informs me the magazine was Nibble, and all of the programs are still available. What a burst of nostalgia.
That does it for this week, folks. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!