In 1987 Nintendo released Mega Man for their latest console at the time, the NES. Even though Mega Man (1987) was not popular among its initial release, gamers and critics alike praise the game for its non linear game play and innovation. Mega Man is a game in which the player takes control of a blue human-android hybrid named Mega Man. His main weapon is his mega buster (P) which throws projectiles horizontally, Mega Man collects more power ups as he progresses through the game. The goal of the game is to defeat Dr. Wily and prevent him from conquering and destroying the world. Dr. Wily has placed 6 of his strongest robots to protect him and each robot has a level dedicated to them.It is important to note that Mega Man gains a new power up after defeating one of the game’s bosses. Moreover, I am here to argue that Mega Man should be included in the MoMA. There is a big gap in the MoMA collection since there are no games from the fourth generation of video games included. Mega Man is a great candidate for a game from the fourth generation to be included into the MoMA for its proficiency in interactive design.
What is the criteria for a game to enter the MoMA?
MoMA received huge amounts of backlash from critics who consider video games to be a low brow form of art. Paola Antonelli, one of the directors of architecture and design from the MoMA, responded by especifically stating that video games are inducted into the MoMA not because they are art but for their success in interactive design. Antonelli described video games as “the purest form of interaction” (Tedtalks). Meaning that I will be evaluating Mega Man based on its overall design, rather than an art piece. To measure interactive design, Antonelli displayed four categories in which well designed games follow. These categories include: Aesthetics, space, time, and behavior. I will be evaluating the game based on these categories and give a critical analysis on why Mega Man (1987) should be inducted into the MoMA. I will talk about a few aspects of the game but my main focus will be on the overall level design.
There are always limitations which constraints the developers when designing video games. The developers at CapCom were no exception. Despite several limitations like limited memory, the developers still managed to make the game fun to look at.
According to Raymond Williams, “the adjective aesthetic, apart from its specialized uses in discussion of art and literature, is now in common use to refer to questions of visual appearance and effect” (Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, page. 25)
Through this definition of aesthetics, I will be looking at the visuals of the game. The characters’ and level design reminds me of Apple’s iPhone series, simplistic yet visually appealing. Before looking at the level designs I want to talk a little bit about Mega Man’s design. Mega Man’s design only uses 5 colors. 2 shades of blue for his custom, a pale yellow for his face, black for the outlines on his custom and facial expressions, and a pinch of white for his sclera.
There are several limitations that can be seen when analyzing Mega Man’s levels.To start, the whole game is very pixelate but, there is much detail in the game. I’ll use the beginning of the Cut Man stage as an example. In the beginning of the stage, the stairs have a dull burgundy background and bright white rungs that are light green at the bottom. The bright white color choice for the rungs seem as if they are glowing, this would not be possible without the dull burgundy contrast in the background. Despite having few colors to work, the developers still set up a futuristic atmosphere.
Another example I can think of is in background details of the The Bomb Man. The background of the level contains futuristic golden spheres being held in the sky by a tall spiral base.The game’s limitations come again with the coiled spiral base that is holding the golden sphere. Its pixels surrounding the object give the player a false perception that the sphere is constantly vibrating or shaking, giving the player a sense of discomfort.
The player can visually see and experience the game being pushed to its limitations. One of the limitations that comes to mind is in the Bomb Man stage. In this stage there are drones who scatter 6 projectiles into the stage at once. The game lags significantly since it begins being overwhelmed by the amount of work it has to process. This lag accidentally gives the player a personal feel of the game’s limitations. Comparable to an epic slow motion explosion from an action film. The player feels extra pressure and a sense of desperation to flee from these drones as soon as possible, so the game’s frame rate can run smoothly again.
The developers at Capcom made the element of space in this game sets the tone, as mentioned before the levels in this game are very open ended. When Mega Man is fighting casual enemies, there is a huge amount of space for Mega Man to maneuver for most of the game. This can be to the player’s advantage or disadvantage. On one hand Mega Man is free to roam around and avoid being attacked, on the other hand when Mega Man has to climb he has to cover a lot of space. Sometimes these climbs seem endless, giving the player a sense of desperation. Moreover, before reaching the boss room located at the end of each level, Mega Man goes through a long hall containing little to no enemies. This large amount of space gives the player a sense of suspense.Who can be behind this long empty hall? It surely must be someone important. Once the player reaches the boss, Mega Man is literally locked in a small boxy room, giving the player a claustrophobic feel especially since the player is trapped in a fight to the death against his enemy.
The open layout of the levels opens up possibilities for new experiences. Space is redefined in this game by giving Mega Man a hidden/ secret power up called the magnet beam (M). The magnet beam gives the player to shoot out platforms. This weapon works perfectly in a side scroller with an open environment.
According to Alexander Galloway, “Today games continue to be released with level editors and other mod tools included. Modifying games is almost as natural as playing them” (In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, page. 112)
The magnet beam reinvents the way space is perceived. Mega Man can climb platforms without any assistance and can avoid various obstacles using this power. I am willing to go as far as to say that the magnet beam is an early version of counter gaming. No platformer at the time, or many in general, give you a weapon which gave the player the power to modify a level. The player can make the platform as long as he wants by holding the A button for a certain amount of time. However, this power up is limited to keep the game challenging. Just like any weapon in the game, the platformer gun requires amo and the weapon is very difficult to use. The player must develop adequate muscle memory before learning how to use the gun to its full potential. The amo can run out very quickly too if the player doesn’t adequately know how to use the weapon.
Gravity plays a huge role in this game. Ascending in this game feels sluggish while descending feels like the complete opposite. Once Mega Man jumps off a platform, his body starts falling fast to the ground, thank god this does not affect the player’s health bar. The player can almost feel Mega Man falling down like lead to the ground. This element is seen in the room before the Bomb Man boss. Mega Man has the option of either climbing down the stairs to reach the lair, or fall fast through the stage. This passage is very long taking up 3 screens in the game, giving the illusion of a big space in the environment.
None of the levels in this game have a time limit, making the player more vulnerable to a constant state of flow. The developers made no time restraints so the player will not feel the passage of time. Just like in a casino, there are no clocks or timers so the player stays and does not acknowledge the existence of time. Most of the levels are designed to giving the illusion of day time so the player will stay tuned in. The sky is blue throughout most of the game, giving the player a sense of warmth. This illusion is taken away when fighting the boss battles. The player doesn’t know whether it is night or day and is trapped with his enemy in a battle to the death. However, when Mega Man fights Dr. Wily the background in the sky turns pitch black for the once and only time in the game, giving an illusion of night time, and letting the player know that he is about to finish the game.
Mega Man’s difficult in its level design adds to the sense of time in the game. Mega Man (1987) is a relatively short game, IF you know what you are doing. Newer players will feel the passage of time as long because they will have plenty of trouble completing any level they chose. The opposite is true for speed runners.When I first started playing Mega Man, the game took me a couple of weeks to complete because of its infamous hard difficulty. I am not even exaggerating, I died at least 50 times before reaching the Cut Man boss battle. Experience determines the perceived passage of time in this game.
The player and Mega Man are one, roaming through the game the player has to make some overly demanding accurate jumps. The player determines how high Mega Man jumps by how hard he presses the A button. The more the player plays, the more he is in sync with Mega Man, and the more manageable these jumps become. An example that comes to mind is in the Guts Man level. If you see the picture above, Mega Man must hop between platforms to get to the next rail. These jumps require precise timing and control of the character. To be completely honest this part of the game took me hours to get through. My precision of these jumps were completely off. And every time i managed to jump on another platform, the broken rails made me fall to my death. These jumps also add stress to the player’s mind. If the player is on his last life, he will lose his checkpoint and will have to redo the whole level again.
Mega Man teaches the player about patience and perseverance. Dying in Mega Man is very common especially in the beginning of the player’s journey through the game. The player’s patience is tested in many ways. In the beginning it seems impossible just to get through the mid way point of any stage in the game. One of the reasons for this is that Mega Man’s mega buster is limited to only shooting horizontally. The beam cannot shoot enemies below Mega Man’s waist, making him vulnerable. The player must accommodate by timing Mega Man’s jumps to aim and must shoot an enemy fast before they move. As the player perseveres through the game, the game rewards the player by giving him more powerful in turn making it easier to beat. The game teaches the player to persevere no matter how hard their goals are because after awhile it will be easier to deal with.
The more powers the player collects, the easier the game becomes, this is where behavior is really apparent. When I first started playing Mega Man I felt weak because every enemy was punking on me until my life depleted. However, after much perseverance I started beating the bosses at the end of each stage giving me more power ups changing my behavior towards the game. After I defeated Electric Man i recieved the thunder beam (E) and went bloodthirsty with it. I pressed the B button and the six enemies that were in front of me died instantaneously, giving me a rush through my body and excitement running through my head. This power up made me change my playing style from defensive to full blown offensive. The level design is taken to a new level when Mega Man has all his enemies’ powers in his possession. The player feels more empowered, sweeping through the levels that once gave him many troubles.
The game teaches the player how to strategize.
According to Raph Koster, “. . . games serve as very fundamental and powerful learning tools” (Theory of Fun for Game Design, page. 36).
The player is taught to use the right tools at the right time. The player might want to beat the Cut Man stage first, then fight Electric Man. Cut man’s powers can kill Electric Man in 3 hits, making the boss way easier to beat. The player may also want to beat the Bomb Man stage before proceeding to the Guts Man stage. Once I defeated Bomb Man i received the hyper Bomb (B) which annihilated Guts Man with a few presses of the B button. In the Dr. Wily stage the player must use the powers he has received from Wily’s robots to navigate through the stage. In Wily’s first fortress there is a cave where fire is blocking the passage. When I first saw this i didn’t know what to do, then I thought of using the ice slasher (I), which freezes objects and enemies in the game. I used this weapon and was able to freeze the fire. Once the fire is frozen, I used the frozen fire stick as a platform to get through the stage.
Mega Man (1987) is a classic which shows its proficiency in interactive design through its aesthetic, space, time, and behavior.. The developers worked adequately with the limitations presented when producing the game. The game’s tone is set through its use of space and is redefined with the inclusion of the magnet beam. Time is manipulated by the player’s skill level at the game. Mega Man interacts with its players’ emotions and teaches them value life skills. For these reason, Mega Man should be included in the MoMA collection of video games, also making it the first fourth generation game to enter the collection.
Raph Koster. (2004). Selections from A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Scottsdale: Paraglyph Press: pp. 48-111 (Chapters 4-6).
Alexander R. Galloway. (2006). “Countergaming.” In Gaming:Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: pp. 107-126.