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Diplo
10-13-2014, 11:51 PM
Hey, everyone.

This sub-forum seems pretty quiet, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to make a thread. Of course, feel free to correct me if I'm in the wrong.

Anyway -- Brick By Brick (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/) is a site I started to walk through and talk about the stages and environments in Castlevania games, and Super Castlevania 4 is the first in line. The site was originally on blogspot, but I felt that tumblr would be a better platform, so. I'm a few stages away from finishing SCV4. Bloodlines might be next.

I will post updates as they come in this thread. For now, if you're interested, please give what's there a read, and share any thoughts you may have.

An Introduction to Brick By Brick (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/95964966156/an-introduction-to-brick-by-brick)
SCV4 - Study No. 0 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/96012917456/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-0)
Study No. 1 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/96106028321/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-1)
Study No. 1.5 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/96300957936/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-1-5)
Study No. 2 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/96480386431/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-2)
Study No. 3 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/96637768326/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-3)
Study No. 4 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/97067581326/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-4)
Study No. 5 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/97994820766/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-5)
Study No. 6 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/98588827226/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-6)
Study No. 7 (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/99583752486/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-7)

Serephine
10-18-2014, 07:29 AM
I like it. I read the post on the first stage and when I get some time to go through the rest I'll post more about it but I'm interested for sure.

BeeZee
10-18-2014, 01:09 PM
'Sup Diplo.

I started reading this the other night, and I'm really enjoying it so far. I like that you go into a lot of depth about things like music -- of course -- and atmosphere. It's something I don't see as much of in most game design analyses, and I like it.

Stage 5 has always been one of my favorites in CVIV. It's 100% true that it's a bland stage mechanically, but I love the atmosphere, and I especially love that empty bit towards the end. It tells a great story.

Diplo
10-19-2014, 07:39 PM
Thanks! I feel that Castlevania games should be given a well-rounded look when they're often so rich in their audio/visual resources.

I'd like to mention that I published an article on "Dracula's Castle" (http://www.vgmonline.net/castlevaniaanalysis/), a piece from Symphony of the Night's score. It's not game design, but it is an anatomical approach to looking at something-Castlevania in a way.

boyonion
10-20-2014, 02:09 PM
I definitely plan to read this when I get some time. I'm really looking forward to your upcoming bits on Bloodlines.

muteKi
10-20-2014, 05:31 PM
This is really interesting! I've always tended to write off CV4 as pretty dull, but this is giving me at least a little insight into why it's still valued as interesting

Mogri
10-21-2014, 12:00 PM
On the other hand, it's making me wonder why the game is so beloved. It seems like a strong contender for the least ambitious title in the series, even ignoring its mechanical shortcomings.

SCIV is a game that I played around the time that it came out and didn't give much thought to since. It follows on the heels of the incredible Dracula's Curse, and it seems lacking compared to its contemporaries, too. (Bloodlines may be a hot mess, but it takes the series in an interesting new direction with the setting and dual protagonists. It also has the soundtrack.)

Diplo
10-21-2014, 02:23 PM
It seems like a strong contender for the least ambitious title in the series, even ignoring its mechanical shortcomings.

Having that opinion would be a pretty big stretch, in my opinion, when games like Legends, Dracula X, Dawn of Sorrow, Harmony of Despair, etc exist. CV4's ambition is just unusual for the series -- its emphases put it closer to an aesthetic exploration of mood than a major refinement, revamp, or augmentation of mechanical or structural elements. We're used to categorizing "ambition" in spectacular or clear, quantitative ways, and CV4 doesn't do that. Naturally, this means that CV4 probably isn't going to do much for people who are unusually discerning about game design and don't have an interest in its atmospheric qualities.

I'm kinda curious why you're equating "beloved" with "ambitious," since there are many exceptions to that relationship in all media.

Mogri
10-21-2014, 03:05 PM
Having that opinion would be a pretty big stretch, in my opinion, when games like Legends, Dracula X, Dawn of Sorrow, Harmony of Despair, etc exist.

I haven't played Legends, but you might argue that a female lead was pretty ambitious at the time.

With Dracula X, yeah, you've got a point. I have a hard time considering it a separate game from Rondo, but I'm not sure that's exactly fair to either game.

Dawn of Sorrow... okay, sure. It reuses the cast of the last game wholesale and recycles much of the mechanics and premise as well. I'm sure it has something going for it besides touchscreen antics, but it's been too long since I last played it.

Harmony of Despair reused a lot, definitely, but it's a mistake to say that it's not an ambitious title. "Multiplayer crossover Castlevania" is a pretty cool idea (whether or not the execution lived up to that idea's potential).

And you're right that "well-loved" and "ambitious" don't necessarily correlate. I find, though, that with video games more than any other medium, fans are willing to love a game for what it tried to be over what it actually was. (Take, for a prime example, Final Fantasy Tactics.) At no point does SCIV feel like its reach is exceeding its grasp.

Naturally, this means that CV4 probably isn't going to do much for people who are unusually discerning about game design and don't have an interest in its atmospheric qualities.
You could just as easily say the same for Symphony, but SCIV doesn't even stack up to Symphony in the atmosphere department. SCIV has few environments that really stand out -- the library and treasury are easily the best, but a lot of the rest feels like retreads, even this early in the series.

If all this sounds overly harsh, just remember that a bad Castlevania is still a good game (with possible exception of Simon's Quest). :)

Diplo
10-21-2014, 04:51 PM
I dunno. Wasn't Igarashi's #1 motivation with Harmony of Despair making an "HD Castlevania"? Apparently that meant, uh, being able to zoom the camera in and out on a given stage. To me, the rest of the ambitions are nothing more than empty gestures. "Multiplayer" is a bunch of double-jumping, slick-footed character types thrown into a pot and functioning because they're coming from the same sort of game, or have been made to fit that mold (as is the case with 8-bit Simon). The game strikes me as a dumping ground for malformed, tacky novelties, and not an example of ambitiousness in a more imaginative, interesting, and respectable sense. I am still sympathetic to what was undoubtedly a terrible developmental environment for Igarashi and his team; they probably would have gotten ten times their official budget by making some Kickstarter funding page and having it be open to donations for five days.

CV4 is a remake of CV, so I think some similarities are to be expected, and it's never done in a way that I would interpret as dully literal. The castle entrance's columns and red drapes are there, sure, but so much is done to visually expand on the theme. I don't play through stage 3's cave and have the cavernous environs of CV3 haunting my mind. Etc.

I suppose this comes down to (perceived) concept and execution, which is not to say that varying qualitative attributes can't be found in either. It's contextual. Simon's Quest is surely more ambitious than CV4... but I'd rather not play Simon's Quest ever again. Alternately, I'll always choose Harmony of Dissonance over Dawn of Sorrow, even if Dawn of Sorrow is the more apparently well-made game. Also, frankly, I think a lot of people like CV4 because it's the first SNES Castlevania; "first" and "SNES" seem to often be very influential ingredients for people who were born in the 80s. I first played/emulated CV4 in the early 2000s, though.

Mogri
10-21-2014, 05:16 PM
Beats me. I never played Despair, either, but I have to imagine it would be a great time with some like-minded friends, even if the game is a hot mess.

I'm right there with you on Simon's Quest, but I also know a decent number of people who are big fans of the game on the basis of what it was trying to do. Harmony of Dissonance is in the running for my least favorite of the series, but I'll readily admit that's personal preference. (It'll never beat Castlevania: The Adventure for that title anyway.)

BeeZee
10-22-2014, 10:35 PM
I think CVIV is a really interesting game, even on a mechanical level. No other game in the series has ever been *about* the whip in the way that CVIV is. It lets you grapple or hang, you can use it as a shield, you can whip in any direction, and it covers a ridiculous amount of the screen. I think it's arguable that it was unbalanced, and this is probably why they never went down that road again; but it was absolutely ambitious.

Mogri
10-23-2014, 10:45 AM
I can get on board with that, but I'm not entirely convinced of how much of the whip's utility was intentional. Certainly, the ability to kill Medusa heads by hanging your whip limply in front of you can't be by design, and I doubt the designers realized the extent to which eight-way whipping combined with a smaller screen would render the subweapons obsolete.

BeeZee
10-23-2014, 11:02 AM
I don't think there's any way it's *not* by design. Using the whip as a shield is a core part of the game. I agree that it defangs both the subweapons and the need to defend yourself from projectiles by actively attacking them; this is why I think the game is unbalanced, but still ambitious. But damn if that whip isn't fun.

Diplo
10-23-2014, 01:41 PM
Arguing about ambition is tricky because it always involves intent, and when there are no authorial statements about that intent, well... Even so, I think it's completely possible that CV4's developers were aware of what the whip's new capabilities did but just didn't consider it to be problematic. It might be one of many instances (most prevalent during consoles' earliest years) where something is done to stress the advantages of new technology. A relevant comparison could be Super Mario World's cape. It undermines the level design so much, but it allows a new granularity of movement, and may have been included because Nintendo felt it was a matter of creative pride and a demonstration of what the SNES could do.

Egarwaen
10-23-2014, 02:57 PM
A relevant comparison could be Super Mario World's cape. It undermines the level design so much, but it allows a new granularity of movement, and may have been included because Nintendo felt it was a matter of creative pride and a demonstration of what the SNES could do.

I think it's fundamentally different from the cape. CVIV always has the whip; it might get less powerful, but you've always got it as an option.

SMW's cape is a power-up that you can lose - you need to get it and keep it in order to use it, and even then using it to really undermine level design requires some skill (?). But the slowed descent is a handy crutch that does let you bypass some challenges. MM3's Rush Jet is another example here - you need to acquire it, it has limited energy, but you can use it in bursts to overcome hard challenges.

Diplo
10-23-2014, 03:12 PM
I think it's fundamentally different from the cape.

I'm with you on those distinctions, although I do disagree (http://forums.selectbutton.net/viewtopic.php?t=43821) about how good you need to be at using the cape to undermine the level's hurdles. My comparison was only relating them on the level of mechanics that could be interpreted as the developers' way of showing off what they could now do ("Simon Belmont, returning with the Power of the SNES!!!"), and also ones that, in their allowance of new freedoms, remove a level of engagement that the previous games, with their comparative restrictions, had. It wasn't my intent to say that they were analogous in all ways.

Diplo
11-10-2014, 07:55 PM
Runthrough of stage 8, the cellar/prison is up! Finally. (http://doshmanziari.tumblr.com/post/102328213236/super-castlevania-iv-study-no-8)

muteKi, I was wondering why your name seemed so familiar. Turns out it's because I've been subscribed to your YT channel for a while but forgot. Realized this when looking up your FM arrangement of SCV4's cellar theme to link it in the article.

muteKi
11-10-2014, 08:33 PM
Hahahaha, dang! Nice to see old stuff of mine still making the rounds :P

This is actually probably my favorite level in the game, as by this point some of the lighter challenges had started to drag on (the ectoplasm in the later block of the entrance was annoying to hit but fairly easy to avoid, for example) and I thought the platforming challenges were the most interesting since the final block of stage 3 (as much as I enjoy stage 4, its platforming tends to be more simple, despite being unforgiving).

BeeZee
11-15-2014, 12:57 PM
Hahahaha, dang! Nice to see old stuff of mine still making the rounds :P


Hey, this is super cool. Didn't realize you did music! I really enjoyed the Cellar mix linked in the article.

Still enjoying the analyses. Stage 8 is usually the first stage I have trouble with when I play this game, but I love how the aesthetics make it abundantly clear that the added hostility is the entire point.

Diplo
02-26-2015, 01:48 PM
Finally, an update! Itís not for Castlevania (aiming for that next month), Iím somewhat sorry to say, but it is about level design!

I've published an essay on Gamasutra about the level design, encounter structure, and boss design of Dark Souls 2's first DLC installment, Crown of the Sunken King. Itís very long, and took while to write, so I appreciate any readership and sharing of the piece with others more than ever.

You can read it here! (http://gamasutra.com/blogs/ArioBarzan/20150226/233825/The_Lay_of_the_Land_A_Critical_Look_at_Dark_Souls_ 2s_DLC_Part_1.php)

BeeZee
02-26-2015, 05:31 PM
I read through it and commented. I wasn't sure whether to discuss it here or on Gamasutra, but I ultimately figured an article that lengthy deserved some in-depth comments right there on the page.

In general, I think you're a lot more critical of Dark Souls II than I am. I think the first game is better (and its world design is among my favorite in gaming), but I still really enjoyed the sequel -- up to midway through the DLC, where I started feeling like it had worn out its welcome.

You made another interesting point that I've been wanting to talk about for a while. It was only a passing thing in the article, but I think it's important to spend more time discussing. Ever since, I don't know, Metal gear Solid 2, I keep reading developers wax about how excited they are about advancements in AI. Now, enemies will chase you further than ever before! Now, they'll be more adept than ever at countering your every strategy! Now, the game can support fifty of them at once where before it could only support ten!

I get it, to a point: new technology is exciting and it's great that it enables new and different things. In instances like Scholar of the First Sin, though, I often feel like it's missing the more crucial point that "more numerous, more difficult enemies" aren't always a good thing. I think a lot of the core Dark Souls II is already verging on throwing too many enemies at the player at once, and "let's throw twice as many enemies at them" makes me feel like they're missing the point.

boyonion
05-14-2015, 09:14 PM
Got back into the Brick by Brick series lately because I've been puttering through CV4 over the past week.

Really looking forward to your thoughts on Chapter 9: the treasury. I find that up to this point it's one of the stronger areas in the game. Nifty aesthetic aside, it's got some solid jumping challenges and a couple of precarious enemy placements.

That is... until the vertical-climbing room. There are a few floors above which some skeletons are placed but don't pose a threat because (like so many times before) the upward whip trivializes them. I'm not sure why I found this instance particularly egregious. Maybe because I was able to cheap shot them before their full sprites were even in view. This really shouldn't happen in level 1 let alone level 9.

Diplo
07-27-2015, 02:28 PM
Brick By Brickís been quiet for a long time, thanks to my being involved with other projects, but here Ė finally Ė is a relevant update! I wrote about Castlevania: Symphony of the Nightís castle design, taking into account stuff like its gridded map and the subsequent titles that were modeled on it. A lot has been written about Symphony, but Iíve never seen anyone particularly focus on the qualities that I do in this article, so Iím hoping you find the material as exciting to read as I found it to write about and share!

You can read the article here (http://gamasutra.com/blogs/ArioBarzan/20150727/243308/).

Kishi
07-27-2015, 02:55 PM
Nice one. I've always thought that the castles post-Symphony suffered from an apparent fear of giving themselves any breathing room. The omnipresent room shapes get really old, too.

Falselogic
07-27-2015, 03:43 PM
Thanks for sharing Diplo. I enjoyed reading that.

Diplo
07-27-2015, 06:27 PM
Thanks for reading it!

Loki
07-27-2015, 07:26 PM
Yeah. Diplo I really like this. Sorry for not pipping up before but this is good writing.

muteKi
07-27-2015, 08:52 PM
Nice one. I've always thought that the castles post-Symphony suffered from an apparent fear of giving themselves any breathing room. The omnipresent room shapes get really old, too.

Yeah, as much as the combat mechanics in the newer games tend to feel more refined, everything has a "monster closet" feel that Symphony doesn't really have, mainly due to that atypical structure.

I think it's really telling that two of the more dynamic structures you point out -- the keep and clock tower -- came from a previous game. Rondo was really ahead of its time in a lot of ways.

Mogri
07-28-2015, 12:00 AM
It might just be that stage design became an afterthought in the post-IGA world. Take a look at Castlevanias I and III: both play with height in ways that the later games with their more mobile protagonists don't bother to. The virtue of the early games is in their limited and deliberate movesets. When the heroes started backdashing and double-jumping, tricky platforming turned from threat to annoyance, so the environments started becoming more streamlined.

I mean, what's the point of jumping from pendulum to pendulum if the penalty for failure is a minute of backtracking? The later games have their setpieces, too, but the form is often divorced from the function.