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Embedded and Emergent Narrative in Super Mario Galaxy

Posted: February 20, 2013 by lusarzewicz in Uncategorized

As far as embedded narrative goes, Super Mario Galaxy is extremely weak. There is no spoken dialogue throughout the entire game, there is no development of the main protagonist Mario, and there are zero side-characters. Even Luigi has yet to make an appearance as far as I have played. All interactions between Mario and other characters is illustrated through dialogue boxes accompanied by funny sounds. Ultimately, Super Mario Galaxy does not have a deep or intriguing story, but neither does any Mario game to date. The setup always remains the same: Princess Peach is captured by Bowser and Mario must find ‘power stars’ that help in some fashion get closer to Princess Peach. The means by which Bowser captures Peach and the means by which Mario has to rescue her slightly change. For example, in Super Mario Galaxy Mario has to collect ‘power stars’ to give energy to an observatory that can take him to Bowser. In Super Mario 64 Mario has to collect ‘power stars’ that controlled Princess Peach’s castle, after getting a certain number of ‘power stars’ Mario earns access to a new part of the castle. In the end, however, every Mario game always ends with Mario saving Peach.

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Emergent narrative in Super Mario Galaxy has slightly more wiggle room if only for the fact that unlike embedded narrative, emergent narrative is actually present in the game. Since the game is largely linear, emergent narrative involves the player choosing how to maneuver Mario through an environment. While the player really only has one option for how to traverse a level, no attempt through a level will result in an exact replication of the previous attempt. Every level has a multitude of moving parts such as enemies, moving platforms, and changing gravity that cause the player to think on their feet each playthrough.

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In a sense, Super Mario Galaxy takes the exact opposite approach of L.A. Noire. Whereas L.A. Noire focuses almost completely on narrative and suffers from a lack of engaging game play mechanics to engage the player with the games narrative, Super Mario Galaxy focuses almost completely on game play and suffers from a lack of meaningful story to engage the player with the games game play. During my play of Super Mario Galaxy this week I found myself becoming disengaged with the mechanics that had hooked me during my previous two play sessions. Eventually I realized that I was becoming bored of the game because the goal, obtaining a star at the end of each level, was becoming repetitive. Unlocking a new galaxy was no longer enough of an incentive to keep me intrigued. Additionally, while the game play had more variance than many other games that I have enjoyed playing more than Super Mario Galaxy, without any sort of narrative reward for my accomplishments the game play started to feel more like a grind than a fresh experience with each new level I unlocked. For these reasons, more time with Super Mario Galaxy is not something I would refuse but neither is it something I am particularly looking forward to as I am with other games.

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Constituative Rules in Super Mario Galaxy

Posted: February 10, 2013 by lusarzewicz in Uncategorized

Super Mario Galaxy is a game with an extremely simple rule set when compared to most of today’s games. The operational rules (explicitly stated rules) in the game ultimately boil down to four options. Mario can move with the analog stick, jump by pressing the A button, shake the Wii-Mote to spin and attack enemies, and stop on things by pressing the Z button. It is in the games constitutive rules (options not explicitly stated) where the games enjoyment really comes out. Often times in games the constitutive rules are not stated because they are so obvious that a player does not need to be told that they shouldn’t commit these actions. For example, jumping off of the side of a cliff is a constitutive rule that, in most games, will get you killed. The unique setting of Super Mario Galaxy allows the developers to play with the conventional constitutive rules of platform games. Jumping off of the side of the level in Mario galaxy may not lead to an automatic death, it may in fact lead to a secret area that has an abundance of coins to restore your life.

A very interesting aspect of Super Mario Galaxy that I ran into in my second hour of game play was the introduction of costumes that change Mario’s ability, and therefore change the rules of the game. On my trip to a Bee infested planet, I picked up a Bee suit that changes the functionality of the A button. Instead of Mario having the ability to jump, Mario now had the ability to float for a period of around 30 seconds and stick to surfaces made of honey. However, if Mario is touched by any water he returns to normal Mario without any suit. This Bee suit changed both the Operational and Constitutive rules of the game. The levels where Mario uses the bee suit are designed in a completely different style than the typical Mario planet. The level that would have previously been unbeatable with Mario’s original abilities now became completely maneuverable. Falling is no longer the major threat to Mario, it is getting hit by water.

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Where Super Mario Galaxy really shines is balance of periodic and chaotic emergent systems to create a perfectly complex game. Super Mario Galaxies controls are simple, its levels are not. The games levels are varied, they involve fighting bosses, maneuvering through ‘star bites’ than can propel Mario through zero-gravity areas, maneuvering planets, and taking control of gigantic Pirate Ships that are traveling through space. None of these areas play out exactly the same way. The player is constantly being introduced to new ways to use the controls that you are extremely familiar with. The planets strike such a perfect balance of complexity that the game has never been so easy I had become bored with the game but it is also never so difficult that I had the urge to become unsportsmanlike, a cheater, or a spoil-sport. I have never had the urge to look at a guide for collectibles  I have never had the urge to enter a cheat code to make Mario invincible. The little details of Super Mario Galaxy, such as the varied enemy types, look of the individual planets, and interesting hub world is where the game separates its quality from other platform games. 

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Super Mario Galaxy: An Unconventional Platform Game

Posted: February 8, 2013 by lusarzewicz in Uncategorized

Super Mario Galaxy takes the game play of a conventional 3D platform game and turns the formula on its head. As with all Super Mario games, the initial set up begins with Bowser, Mario’s nemesis, capturing Princess Peach. Bowser takes Peach deep into space where Mario cannot find her. It is up to Mario to save her. In Super Mario Galaxy, Mario has to maneuver through various areas to find stars that allow him to travel to further galaxies.

As with most platform games, Mario follows a very linear path. However, the unique nature of Super Mario Galaxy stems from the fact that during game play, Mario travels from one small isolated planet to another. This decision gave the developers an opportunity to create a new game play experiences within each planet. Contained in each large level, in which the end goal is to obtain a star, the player travels through multiple smaller levels, or planets. On each planet there is an objective that the players needs to accomplish to unlock a portal that will transport them to the next planet. Some examples of a planet objective are collective five pieces scattered across the planet to create the portal to the next planet, or defeating a mini-boss. Additionally, the type of platform game play is unique to that specific planet. Mario could travel to a planet that allows him to walk in a complete circle around the planet, a 2D planet that uses original Super Mario Brothers platform game play, and a planet that changes gravity when Mario enters different zones represented by colors. These are just a few examples of the extremely varied and creative types of platform game play in Super Mario Galaxy.

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Super Mario Galaxy also utilizes features exclusive to the Nintendo Wii controler. To attack Mario has a spin move that stuns enemies for a short period of time. This spin move is not activated by the user pressing a button on the controller, the user has to physically shake the Wii-mote. The user can also use the Wii controler to aim at on-screen objects and drag them towards Mario. Various physical interactions with the game are littered throughout the game and enhance Super Mario Galaxy beyond just a typical platform game. As a result of these physical interactions integrated into the game, I would consider the game to fall under both Mode 2: Functional Interactivity; or Utilitarian Participation with a Text and Mode 3: Explicitly Interactivity; or Participation with Designed Choices and Procedures in a Text of Zimmerman’s Model of interactivity.

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Another aspect of Super Mario Galaxy that I find intriguing is the lack of frequent death. In most platform games it is very common for the player to fall to their death if the user makes an error in their game play. Since Super Mario Galaxy uses gravity to allow the player to explore underneath each planet, falling to death is very uncommon during game play. Instead, the game uses more puzzle oriented challenges that are somewhat uncommon in typical platform games.