Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Meet Socket Part 2

at 6:30 PM
In Part 1 of each Let's Meet, you'll find an introduction to a game's history and gameplay. In Part 2, you'll come away with something neat about the game.

It's been a week since I brought up Socket, the poor man's Sonic. Each world in Socket has three stages which progress from straightforward to labyrinthine. The maze stages are satisfying because they center around some navigational idea.

There are three main parts to a Socket maze: the direction you generally want to travel, a navigation mechanic, and the proper approach to that mechanic.

For instance, in the Stone Age's maze, the direction is downward, and the navigation mechanic is the one-way door. If you approach one of these doors from the side with the doorstop, you can go through. If you approach that door from the other side, it won't budge.

For most doors, the proper approach is pretty simple. It's a matter of asking yourself if you've been on the other side. If you have, don't go through the door, since you'll be looping back on yourself; otherwise, go ahead and take the door. It's a three step process:
  1. Can I go through this door?
  2. Have I been on the other side of this door yet?
  3. If not, go through the door. If so, go past the door.
However, because gameplay in Socket is typically pretty laid back, it's a step in thought that you might not normally take. When you're in the habit of just going forward until something stops you, you might not stop to think that you've already been on the other side of that door.

Let's take a look at a particular moment from this stage.

MS Paint is my image editor of choice.
Say you enter this part from just above point A. You won't be able to go through the door at point A, so you'll cross the lava pit to your left and hop downwards. If you keep going left, you'll hit a dead end, so your only option is to go right and cross the lower lava pit. From here you have two choices.

You're supposed to go through the door at point B. You've never seen it before, so you should take it. If you do go through, you'll end up finding the warp zone entrance at point C, which takes you forward through the stage.

If you decide to explore and go up, you'll find the door at point A again, only this time you can go through. If you aren't thinking, you might decide to wander through, only to end up where you started.

If you come into this part of the level from the opening on the left, you aren't given as much warning about looping back on yourself. If you wander upwards, you might end up looping back on yourself, since you haven't seen the door at point A yet. However, you shouldn't wander upwards, since the door at point B is available to you earlier. Remember the three step process; if you find a door that you haven't seen before, you should go through it--no buts about it.

It's worth noting that this segment enforces the stage's downward sense of direction. If you enter from above point A, you have to fall to reach point B. Also, at point B, the correct path is not upward.

These rules aren't immediately obvious. Instead, you come to learn them as you play the stage and as you find what takes you forward and what doesn't. However, the rules are simple, meaning they're easy to pick up when you give the stage a little time.

Personally, these "rules" aren't something I recognized until recently. Before, they had just been something I intuited. And while some mazes have similar rules, none of them share the exact same rule set. With each new maze, you explore and find a new way through.

The rules are also bent every now and then to allow for variation. For instance, near the opening of the stage, there are several one way doors open to you. If you take the very first one available to you, your trip through the stage is very short. The thing is, it's hidden beneath you, so you might not notice it. The rules are bent, since the stage doesn't force you to find that particular door, and there are other ways forward. But it does reward you if you find it. Since you followed the rules and took the first door possible, you clear the stage much faster.

That aspect also aids the stage's sense of downward direction; you come across the hidden door by going down as soon as possible. If you go right instead of down, you'll miss it.

Socket has one effective way of creating themed mazes, but it's hardly the only way of doing it. For instance, Zelda dungeons don't follow Socket rules. Part of what makes Socket interesting is that there are certain rules for interacting with objects—for instance, you want to go through some one-way doors but not others. In Zelda, on the other hand, there's generally only one way to interact with objects. You hookshot to the target, you blow up the crack, so on and so forth; you never want to refrain from hookshotting or bombing. Instead of following Socket rules, Zelda has its own ways of making mazes interesting.

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