Primed and ready to fire. Preview

Primed and ready to fire.

It’s common knowledge that Nintendo fans are more vocal than Sony or Microsoft

supporters. Maybe it’s due to eating all those mushrooms over the years.

I witnessed this firsthand at last week’s E3 show. The Nintendo booth area

was swarming with talkative fans cheering excitedly at every mascot nuance.

While I was waiting in line to play Metroid Prime, though, I discovered

that the vocal guy next to me was actually behind the very game. Hey, if I made

a game, I’d love to go around incognito and see what people thought of my work,

too.

It turns out I was standing with David “Zoid” Kirsch of Retro Studios, Senior

Gameplay Programmer, who in the past worked with Id on several of the Quake

games before moving on to join the Metroid Prime team. Through a combination

of happenstance and slick journalistic know-how, I was able to talk to him about

his game and have a few questions and concerns filled in.

Zoid

is responsible for the data streaming that takes place when you travel from

one section of the world to the next. The design goal of Metroid Prime

was to perpetuate the feel of a massive, endless world. By properly streaming

the content of the next area while the door locks open, the game appears to

flow seamlessly. It’s a trick that we’ve seen in some third-person adventures,

but never really in a first-person shooter.

Speaking of which, the big question most people have about Metroid Prime

is: Why a first-person shooter? Nintendo and Zoid’s answer is that they

set out to do something wholly different from the original Metroid. Nintendo

understands that this is a popular franchise, but they want to move it in a

new direction while still remaining loyal to the original elements. And in many

ways, they have actually achieved that goal.

The E3 demo was essentially the introduction of the game. It begins with Samus’

spaceship landing on an unnamed world, and ends with Samus escaping from the

impending explosion of yet another planet. Tsk, tsk. Always blowing up planets.

Zoid is also responsible for the Queen Parasite boss at the end of the E3

demo. “Madam Ugliness” is encased in a giant cylindrical shield. Attacks can

only be made through lapses in her shield, and Samus can dash around to avoid

the energy pulses she sends back. Samus also has the ability to scan objects

for added information and weak points. While she scans and downloads data, Samus

is left momentarily vulnerable.

Though the game is played from a first-person perspective, it really isn’t

a full-on console FPS. Movement and aiming are asynchronous; your viewpoint

is fixed and if you want to look up or down, you have to use the aim button.

The aim button will switch the movement control into a viewpoint control. In

order to get around having to pause and aim, there’s a lock-on ability to target

and gun down your nearest opponent. Think of playing Zelda in first person,

but instead of a sword, you shoot.

A third-person perspective is utilized when Samus uses her morph ball. There

is a fantastic metal whirring sound effect while Samus rolls about and the physics

of the ball arouse memories of Marble Madness. Now that we know Samus

can ball, I’m still wondering whether she will still have her trusty screw attack.

Hehe.

What I find most appealing so far is the visual presentation of the game.

The colors have a vibrancy that recreate the world of the classic Super Metroid

in three dimensions. The first-person perspective lets you play through Samus’

own eyes, with the smoky glass of her helmet displaying all the information

she’ll need on her adventures, from health to data-scanning readouts. It’s a

smart interface.

Though the E3 demo certainly impressed, I have yet to see wide open stretches

of huge space filled with enemies, so I haven’t really felt what it will be

like to taking on throngs of parasitic baddies. Sadly, there will be no multiplayer,

though I suppose that’s also in concert with the older Metroid games.

Hopefully that will mean a long, engaging single-player experience.

While we all have concerns about the switch from classic side-scrolling action

to first-person shooting, Metroid Prime still looks to capture the magic

of its forbears while giving the series a fresh new look. The blending of old

and new is set for release this holiday season.