Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
Writing for Platform Games
Andrew S. Walsh
5.1 Jump, Die, Repeat
The sewers stretched before him broken, potholed, decayed. It was a vast net-
work, at times towering five stories above a brick-lined floor that oozed with
New York's fetid effluent and seethed with giant, snapping crabs that awaited
his slightest mistake. With a twirl of his moustache, he turned to his brother.
They shared an unspoken bond, jump, die, repeat—they will make it to the
other side.
So could read the opening of Mario Bros. , one of the earliest, and certainly one
of the most famous, platform games (or platformer). First appearing in Donkey Kong
in 1981, the Mario brand has gone on to sell more than 200 million units world-
wide, with most of these sales being platformers. Such financial accomplishments
contributed to the platform genre representing around a third of the games market
in the 1980s. This success rested, in part, on the fact that platform games produced
some of the industry's most iconic characters—Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara
Croft, and the Prince of Persia to name but a few. Yet, despite being dominated by
world-renowned, franchise-building characters, most people do not associate plat-
formers with narrative, or with writers.
The failure to connect narrative with the platform genre seems yet stranger con-
sidering the fact that narrative appeared in the very first platform game, Donkey
Kong . Despite limited technology, this early game boasted a clear hero, impos-
ing villain, cutscenes, a beginning, middle, and end, and an objective. Things
didn't stop there, either. The genre continued to be a source of new narrative
models and technology from then until now. So forget perception. The uneven,
dangerous worlds of the platformer do contain great opportunities for story and
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