I give myself an aneurysm thinking about 3d platforming

Ugh, okay. Here we go. I actually joined the forum to make this thread, but was still trying to figure out how to explain this. I was going to wait for this to marinate longer in my brain before posting about this, but Tim made a comment about “for anyone who wants to make a 3d platformer, you have your work cut out for you” and now I have to talk about my neuroticism about making a 3d platformer, and what exactly IS a 3d platformer. I had to think a lot about this because I made one recently (plug, you can download it here. It's free! (real free, not the sign-up for a sketchy site and have your data stolen kind))

I've thought about this problem for a long looong time. As a kid I played Mario 64 and had a good time, but I always wondered to myself “why isn't this more like older Marios?” We all understand as adults that Mario 64 invented collectathons as a solution to translating point a -> point b gameplay into 3d. Let's break this sort of thing down a bit more:

A 2d platformer's core gameplay is that you're running and jumping over obstacles and enemies. How does this work in 3d? Simple, you just do that in 3d! ... Except not really. Now you've made a bunch of floating platforms in the sky, and you've essentially created a 2d level with a superfluous extra dimension that doesn't really affect the level design. Mario 3d World/Land got dinged for this a lot when they came out. Crash is even worse for that sort of thing. Don't get me wrong, I really like this style of gameplay (I liked it enough to design my levels like that, after all). The thing is you're not really creating a real 3d gameworld.

Mario 64 solves this problem by giving you a big space to explore, and objectives that require you to run and jump around and play with obstacles. It makes you collect stuff as a means of creating a “point b” to get to. The thing is that now you've introduced a way to completely avoid the core gameplay of the game. As good as Mario 64 is, you can cheese your way through a lot of those stars, completely skipping any level design that the developers did. So why not railroad players into designated level design challenges that they can't walk around? Oh no, you've now created a 2d game in 3d. You're not _really_ taking advantage of that extra dimension.

Around this point, you might say that there are plenty of games that have this railroad philosophy. “How come Call Of Duty gets to be a 3d game? How come Devil May Cry gets to be a 3d game?” The reason is that those games centre mostly around your interaction with enemies. You're killing enemies that all move around in a 3d space. You're constantly worrying what's above you, beside you, in front of you, and behind. Those things move around and interact with the space in a very 3d way. A linear 3d platformer tends to centre around what's coming next.

I actually drove myself pretty crazy trying to think about what a non-collectathon truly 3d platformer level would look like. Most platformers have endless pits to kill the player when they go out of bounds. Translating this to 3d starts to get really weird because there's a whole lot more out of bounds area in your levels. You end up with these stupid floating platform levels. How do you introduce a meaningful use of 3d that doesn't completely throw away any semblance of level design? I ended up compromising on this section. I did indeed use floating platform areas, and tried to give some incentive to move in more directions than forward. I tried to have obstacles that would attack you in 3d which would force you to avoid them in 3d. In a superficial way, I tried to avoid too many points where you walk in one direction for too long, maybe add a few split paths. At least I could give the illusion that the levels had dimension to them. I also tried to contextualize my floating platform areas. Islands in water is the most obvious and natural choice. A desert with quicksand, a mountain – that kind of stuff. Of course this is all very situational and there's just no way to do a good “rolling hills” type level in 3d. Mario Galaxy manages to sidestep the problem by making worlds spherical. It hugely succeeds in making true 3d spaces that have meaningful platforming in 3d... unfortunately you can't exactly make every game about spherical worlds.

The next major issue was how to design the hub worlds. This is more of a secondary problem because I could have just done an overworld map. But no. I wanted _worlds_. How do you exit out of the hub into a level while still making the levels feel like part of the same world? I don't really like how 3d platformers have “portals” from their hub world to levels. It feels unnatural, like you're going into some dream world out of the real world. The best games to do this are the ones that contextualize their levels as fake. Paintings in Mario 64 are literal fake worlds. Psychonauts also does this with most of the platforming take place inside of people's imagination. Banjo Kazooie does it with much less success. For a game that's so obsessed with context and world building, it immediately ruins all of that when a treasure chest teleports you to a beach for some reason. Spyro has literal warp portals which is even worse. Jack and Daxter manages to do a great job in creating a convincing world, but it comes at the expense of setting the whole game on a series of islands. Jack 2 tries to go beyond that by setting the game in an open world city, which works pretty well except now the levels and the hub don't feel as clearly separated and the genre starts to shift to adventure and shooting and all kinds of other stuff. That's fine, but I'm trying to figure out a pure 3d platformer. My solution to this problem was basically portals. I don't like either! I tried to contextualize the portals as something like Mario Galaxy's launch stars in that they're flinging you to another place. It doesn't really come across, but I at least feel like I designed a series hub worlds that feel connected.

At the end of the day I don't think I succeeded in designing a game that truly translates platforming into a 3d space. Honestly? I'm not sure it's possible either! Maybe that seems arrogant coming from me, but in thinking about all the ways the 3d platforming problem has been “solved”, I realized that these questions weren't so neurotic, and have probably BEEN thought about by a lot of people much smarter than me... And every time, the answer was to sidestep the problem in some way. This really bothered me for a while, but in the end I committed to a design philosophy where sure, it wasn't SUPER meaningfully in 3d, but I tried to make a lot of reasons for the player to consider everything around them, instead of simply what's in the direction of the goal. With every little bit of level design, I'd ask myself “is this 3d?”, which when you really get to the heart of it – is a question you should be asking yourself every second of every day **with increasing urgency.**

I honestly haven't even got all my thoughts on this out, but this is the most I could think of at this time. I hope it doesn't seem too insane, but I'm sure plenty of other people have designed themselves into an impossible corner. I continue to make little tweaks to my game, so I hope you play it and have a good time (or not). It's okay. There's a lot of stuff I'd have done differently. I think I could have made the jump better if I did it today, for one (also a problem: 3d jumps).

I wonder if part of the problem is how 3D platformers have moved away from the kind of contexualizing and place/atmosphere that 2D games had to pursue due to their tech limitations. So discrete stages embedded in a larger world by things like say world maps, backgrounds suggesting huge spaces (city skylines, sunsets, mountain ranges) provided a strong sense of place around mundane running and jumping etc. But I think maybe with 3D spaces, the tendency became to enclose everything in spaces that might be big in video game scale, but seem small and rote compared to for example the redwood forest - density of the cityscape in El Viento’s first level. So at least for me, the stages in banjo or in Mario Odyssey have the same scale as solid black background bubble bobble stages: just geometry and tasks needed to progress.

I think that 3D Games are a lot more glued to ground then in 2D, death stranding uses a lot more of 3d possibility then rayman 2 but you don‘t really do any platforming in it.

This topic is difficult because you don’t really jump in real world.

After combining these 2 points i think the closest game we ever got is Mirrors Edge, but still it is level based and not one world.

that first chunk of sekiro (from when you get the grapple up to the end of the castle) has a really interesting almost-platformy level layout. plus, you have all those platformer actions like wallkicks and stuff. there‘s so many routes you can take between the main bottleneck points, like you can get to the chained ogre without fighting anyone and hardly even getting aggro’d.

it's like those mirror's edge DLC challenge levels, which i thought were excellent translations of 2D platformer "courses", and much more fun than the main game.

maybe the Skate series could be a decent example of 3D platformer

great post, had never really thought about 3d platforming being 2d with 3d window dressing, if i have properly understood you, and doubly interesting coming from someone who has actually grappled with this stuff before.

i sorta came to a similar conclusion about the OoT zelda template, where 3d is used very superficially; you are more or less moving from point A to point B, in a straight line, but with the option to walk an S-shaped curve to get there. in combat enemies almost never attack you at the same time, and Z-targeting always keeps the enemy directly in front of you, with the camera rotating the background constantly to give an illusion of 3d.

but the other thing i'd say, with the caveat that i've never tried to design a game before (stop reading now), is that i often feel like i hear designers setting conceptual limitations for themselves that feel arbitrary. reading old IC and action button reviews, i really resonated with the idea that modern games lacked purity of purpose, or logically coherent design docs: too many verbs in a game, games adding mechanics without fully exploring existing ones, etc. and then a lot of these pure games actually got made and i ended up not liking them very much. like conceptually celeste has to be pretty close to the "[game-rope](http://www.actionbutton.net/?p=426)" tim imagines in his super mario bros 3. essay, but i played through maybe a third of it and that was enough for me. all of which is to say that your game looks so cool and i really appreciate all the thought that went into it, but i will probably end up liking it mostly because the music kicks ass and the animation is funny

I agree with you that giving the player a clear goal to reach tends to linearize platformers in a way it doesn‘t other genres, but I wonder if this is why 3D platformers specifically have focused less on the act of reaching the goal than on everything around that conceit. Yuji Naka’s games (Sonic, Billy Hatcher, even NiGHTS) provide the clearest example, as they tend to play around with the physicality of moving through a space in general, but that‘s far from the only way one can approach this problem. Even limiting ourselves to Sonic, we have cinematic (for lack of a better word) set-pieces and the lead character’s charisma accentuating that physicality. It's very easy to imagine a platformer in which those become the central focus.

@“tapevulture”#p71076 thanks about the game. I sort of get where you‘re coming from with the design. I always figure it’s like, you start out with a really pure design, and then you make concessions as needed. I feel like if you don't have any central idea then it turns into a big ubisoft style content barf

not to necro my own post but lol that sonic frontiers gameplay really makes me double down on everything I wrote


not to necro my own post

can we put it on The Insert Credit Manifesto that "necro-ing" posts is not only acceptable but ENCOURAGED behavior around here?