Hey guys! For this post I wanted to get into something a bit more analytical. I thought it might be interesting to dig into some side scrolling games and do a competative analysis of their visual strategies. What are their common elements? What ways do they facilitate the player’s understanding of themselves in the playspace? What strategies do they use to aid in the game’s narrative? For this analysis I took a look at the following games; Broforce, Fez, Inside, Little Big Planet, Never Alone, Oddworld, Oxenfree, Rayman Legends, Salt and Sanctuary, and Super Meat Boy. I know that Oxenfree might be a little outside the normal side scrolling spectrum, yet there are a couple of elements I wanted to include. You shouldn’t have to worry about spoilers below, I’ll be including imagery from these different titles but won’t be discussing game narrative.
How do I understand the gameworld?
Generally in all side scrolling games, there are the same rules for differentiating the foreground from the background. It’s all about large areas of contrast, where the background has implied atmospheric perspective, simulated with less value contrasts or lighter hues. Games like Super Meat Boy, Broforce, and Oddworld use
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important for the foreground to not compete with the game character or interactable elements. Little Big Planet uses these same methods, but goes one step further to add a blurring depth of field effect to the background. By blurring the backdrop the foreground/background differentiation is more defined, it also helps add to the general theme of the game and the feeling of being a small character in a big world.
How do I understand where I am in the gameworld?
While looking through these games, I noticed some different strategies being used to help aid in the player’s comprehension of their character and placement within the game scene. First and foremost is the use of the camera. In many cases the camera remains fixed on the character as they jump and move through the environment. Games like Fez, Little Big Planet, and Salt and Sanctuary typically keep the character fixed at the center of the screen. In some other cases the camera is more fixed on the level and moves with the player when
Super Meat Boy makes use of a deep and dark red “smear” where you’ve bounced the avatar around, this gives the player a quick indication of where they’ve been. Doing so helps ground the player and also aids in quickly identifying where they are in the level. Super Meat boy runs off of the idea that players will attempt levels multiple times and so this mechanic facilitates a quick and easy visual que of the player’s history. As players attempt the same level, over and over, this gives sense of progression as layers of “blood” accumulate along the walls of the level.
What Visual strategies can I use to supplement the game’s narrative?
Inside makes clever use of perspective and drawing the user’s attention to important areas. In most cases our eyes are being drawn to something in the background that facilitates the game story. In other cases this same trick is used to grab the player’s attention to obstacles or something dangerous. In the reference, our eye is being drawn to a pack of dogs… that the player needs to understand is coming their way.
Thanks for reading! Hope this was an interesting segway from the typical posts. Looking ahead I may be looking into a post regarding a game I’m currently playing called “Orwell.” If you haven’t heard about it, I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot. Until next time!
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.