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[Brainstorm] SAND

I think the first games I ever genuinely regretted missing by being too young for it was the Megaman series from 1987 onwards. I love Megaman, I do, and despite some flawed design and dodgy ideas, it was still fun and challenging enough to be something that I definitely wanted to play. I have since played through the first three games to completion, and I’ve partly played through and seen LPs on 4, 5 and 6. What made it interesting was the ability to freely choose the order that you fought the Robot Masters – everyone knows that by now, but the other thing I quite liked were the varied and interesting weapons that you got from beating Robot Masters. However, I was a creative kid, and instead of doing what most fans of Megaman do and designing my own fan-made Robot Masters like Glass Man, Class Man and Crushing Sense Of Depression Man, I decided to make a game similar to Megaman, but with a heavier focus on the actual weapons rather than the free selection. Hence: SAND.

The story of SAND, like the majority of platformers, was light. Essentially, in an Egyptian-themed desert town, you are an adventurer who falls in love with a girl. However, when you meet her outside of the town, a villain, Pterre, ruins the mood somewhat by dragging your arse down into an ancient tomb filled with guardians. Typical, am I right? I know I’ve had dates like that. This is the setup for the game, essentially, where your goal is to defeat each of the guardians, gain their power, and use their collective powers to defeat Pterre and escape to reunite with your loved one.

The idea is that you would grow in power as you move through each stage in SAND, defeating enemies, and, like Megaman games, defeating bosses would net you a new ability. The bosses as far as I recall were Guardian Ra, Gatekeeper Agusa, Acolyte Lilith, Riddler Zupel, Explorer Daren, Wanderer Oton and Pharaoh Riarch. Each of their stages were going to be designed to test an aspect of your abilities, though I never got as far as stage design; the few that I remember were Lilith’s stage, and since her design was based around cats and claws, her stage was about quick reflexes and jumping challenges, and Daren’s stage, which true to his explorer nature, planned to have a lot of misdirection and multiple routes to travel.

Once you mercilessly beat the shit out of one of these daft idiots, you get to take their power. Each one extended your gameplay in some way, and often they had extra effects. Agusa’s weapon was the Sarcophagus Shield, which created a shield that slowed movement, but rendered you impervious to damage for a short time, as opposed to what sarcophagi are actually used for, which is putting dead people inside. Lilith had the Cat Claws, which were not a ranged weapon, but an extremely powerful melee weapon that could combo, a lot like the Sword ability in Kirby games. Riddler Zupel’s weapon was the Sphinx Storm, which fired a piercing beam on the first hit, and could be remotely detonated on the second hit of the button.

Explorer Daren had the Twist Torch, which created fires that circled around you briefly – another melee weapon, but with more applications than the Cat Claws at slightly less damage. Wanderer Oton, as a mummy, gave you the Linen Loops, which flicked out linen in a piercing boomerang arrangement, which is good for general damage. Riarch had the Monarch’s Magnet, which was a beam that fired in the direction of the nearest enemy – good for directional hits or attacks from behind. Finally, Guardian Ra had the Skyward Sun, which fired a sun either directly up or down. In midair, when fired downwards, it also provides an extra jump, which can make a lot of the platforming challenges in the game easier.

So yes, the game was as Megaman as you can possibly be without being Megaman, really – it’s sat in his house, wearing his clothes, watching his TV, kissing his girlfriend and having his open-heart surgery. SAND was perhaps not the most creative of games, but what I wanted to change in my focus was the point of Megaman. Remember when I said the story was light about four paragraphs ago? That’s not quite the whole truth. The plan was to integrate gameplay and story together, and this kind of comes together at the boss fights. When you first defeat a boss, they don’t give you their power right away: first, Pterre arrives, and he beats you up using the power, then decides that it’s not worth it. What this short, insignificant cutscene would do is build up Pterre as a terrifying antagonist, something along the lines of “if he thinks this power is shit, what kind of ridiculous powers do he himself have?!” However, it also serves as a handy way of introducing what the weapon does. Megaman was fun because you got to experiment with each power, but it’s not always good to be vague about how the core abilities of the games work, so by getting beat up by the power, the player understands how to use it for themselves, without having it introduced in some dumb tutorial.

I decided that the best way to tell the story of SAND was through minimal text, so unlike Mighty No. 9 or something, where everyone is throwing up verbal dialogue onto you every alternate step, you get to just sit back, enjoy the music and carefully and calmly leap directly into a pit because you’re not very good at platformers. The stages would be the primary focus of SAND, with the boss fights a dramatic change of pace from the more sombre mood that the stages bring in. It’s just you, an artillery of magical Egyptian powers, and enemies about as brittle as a base-jumping vase. The cutscenes would be what tells the story – Pterre’s appearances, dealing the final blow on the guardians, slowly and surely moving through the stages.

SAND was going to be a game of very carefully crafting every aspect to show, not tell, which is difficult to do, but immensely rewarding when it works. I think that was one of the major strengths of Megaman, way back in the day. You knew the story was ‘beat Wily’, but that was all. The real, proper story was your adventures through each stage: how you approached them, what weapons you liked or disliked, the bosses that you had to use savestates and E-Tanks to get through. It was rare that you and a friend would have the same opinions on good or bad weapons, and you’d each have funny stories to tell about your playthrough of the game – though a lot of those stories might just be discussing how best to break each boss’s AI. That was… alarmingly easy to do with some of them, Bubble Doc being the most notorious for it.

Sorry, I’m getting distracted. The story in SAND gets even more complex – can you believe it? – by the end. You realise that your quest was all for naught after you’ve defeat Pterre and escape the tomb, because you discover that the girl actually engineered the situation on purpose, and Pterre was her father, who wanted to test your courage before he agreed to let you see his daughter. Having been tricked thoroughly by the pair of them, the player is given the option to give up on the girl, and I thought that was a really interesting place to take the story – have you ever played a game where the best ending is just leaving the girl because she’s a bit high-maintenance? If I was Mario, I’d fucking give up on Peach at this point. So many other nice girls that aren’t getting kidnapped every week – like Rosalina, she’s probably single. And she comes with her own free spaceship!

[Brainstorm] Ephids

Comment (1)

  1. MrWombleFarts

    “have you ever played a game where the best ending is just leaving the girl because she’s a bit high-maintenance?”

    Love it.

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