Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mama Robotnik's Research - Metroid 1.5

Mama Robotnik is a real gem of a human being. Mama frequently hops on GAF and posts large, in-depth threads full of research on popular games that nobody has seen before, including everything from unused concept art to scrapped ideas for games. His threads are always a treat to read, full of well documented information and insightful speculation that really can't be found anywhere else. Today we'll take a look at Mama's research into "Metroid 1.5", a game that was planned by Retro Studios - creators of the Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns series - but was ultimately scrapped.

"I've found something very interesting on the website of Tony C. Giovanni - one of the Level Designers for Retro Studios during production of the Metroid Prime games."

Note that he gives the link to the document here, but it has since been removed.

"It's a proposal document for 'Metroid 1.5' (working title) a rejected Metroid game set to take place between Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. It seems Tony was tasked to write it up following some internal meetings at Retro, and is nearly 7000 words long. It's fascinating!
Metroid 1.5 Design Concept
Single player Mission Pitch (11.18.02)
A New section regarding co-op multi-player gaming
(An Update 11.26.02)
New Enemy types (Genetic Experiments) 12-03-02
New Melee attack for Samus 12-03-02
Power-up System (and its cruel trick) 12-03-02
Note that the document elaborates on a series of multiplayer modes (some of which sound incredibly silly) as well as a single-player campaign.
Back story: 
This adventure would take place immediately after Samus takes off from the surface of Talon IV. Upon exiting the planets surface, Samus decides to take a long rest in her Cryo chamber as her ship autopilots home. However, something goes wrong and Samus’s ship computer hones in on a distress signal. The distress signal is coming from a huge alien vessel (huge like the size of several Star Destroyers) that is drifting out in space. As Samus’s ship approaches the alien craft, a tractor beam activates and the Ship is pulled into one of the gigantic docking bays. As the ships doors close, the gigantic vessel folds and enters a parallel dimension, thus begins Samus’s new adventure… 
Upon awakening, the ship appears to be abandoned, there is no power except for auxiliary lights and telemetry from computers. It is up to Samus to unravel this mystery. The mystery being that the ship’s AI has gone mad and the ship is actually a war vessel that is on a collision course with a peaceful planet. It’s goal? The entire enslavement of the race of beings on said planet as well as natural resource stripping as its (the planets) destruction. So in essence, the ship AI has split into several different personalities, and is playing a deadly game with Samus. The Alien inhabitants of the ship are also in a state of suspended animation because as the ship travels through the parallel dimension, the alien inhabitants are being created and refined for warfare until the ship arrives at its destination and assaults the planet…However, the robotic and automated entities are not, these will be the primary enemies that Samus must deal with. In addition, Samus must also deal with the ships cunning AI, who will all the while be taunting her and trying to trick her at every opportunity.
The idea of a taunting, malicious AI sounds very reminiscent of SHODAN and GlaDOS (note that this proposal does far preceed Portal).
The Main reason Samus and possibly other Bounty Hunters are being pulled into this ship is to assimilate their best and most deadly abilities into the personality construct of not only the ships AI, but also into the actual Alien Inhabitants in order to further their quest for perfection. As the ship reaches its target, it will unfold into this dimension and begin its attack. This has what the ship and Alien race who created it has have been doing for past thousand or so years, going from planet to planet, assimilating the most violent parts of a culture and asserting it into its own being. 
The main goal for Samus is to disable the engines of the ship, destroy the AI, and eradicate all life forms on the ship. The catch is that even though Samus is all powerful from her previous item acquisition on Talon IV, she will be limited to use them in certain areas of the ship due to the containment matrix that the Rogue AI has set up all over the ship. This will force the player to handle situations differently than expected, and once the containment matrix is disabled, Samus will be free to use all of her abilities. Due to being in a parallel dimension, there are areas within the ship where floors may become ceiling due to gravity being reversed, Time may run backwards, (illustrated by creatures and machines moving in reverse, water moving up into a faucet) and other sorts of environmental weirdness, that Samus as well as other Bounty hunters will have to learn to adjust to in order to survive.
It seems they were going to take a very different route to the usual nerfing that Samus gets hit with.
World Layout: 
The ship will take up the same real estate as the ruins and mines combined. These are two of the largest levels in the previous game and I think that by combining the size of the two, we will have a healthy amount of game space to course though. In addition, we can further expand the 2.5D ball mode areas and expand the scanner game play. I guess this adventure would be more about solving puzzles (scan mode) and utilizing alternative methods of navigation (ball mode).
It seems to be very much expanding on the mechanics of Prime.
Example areas of the ship:
  • Hangar bays where Samus can actually go inside transport and fighter vessels.
  • Science bays where Samus could gather information about the Alien Race’s grotesque scientific experiments.
  • The super structure of the ship where ball mode would be utilized much more than the previous game.
  • The computer core where Samus would have to destroy the rogue AI.
  • Cryo Chamber hall, where Samus shuts down life support to the hostile alien race.
  • Industrial factory section, where all weapons of war are made, lots of conveyor belts and mechanical machinery would make for challenging navigational game play.
  • On the surface of the ship out in space, which could make for some interesting low gravity or spider ball game play.
  • Robot factory section, where Samus would have to sabotage the machinery that is responsible for the creation of all robotic entitles on the ship.
  • Robot control HQ; here Samus could control robots in various sections of the ship via remote monitor.
  • Communications array, which Samus has to destroy in order to stop the onslaught of other ships heading towards the planet. Perhaps she could divert the signal to the other ships so they collide into a near by sun, who knows.
  • Reactor Core, the final area of the game where Samus sets the ship to self-destruct by overloading the engines.
They certainly had a very specific idea of the gameworld. The objectives listed near each environment certainly echo Fusion and Corruption.
  • Mad AI, the central computer of the ship has gone crazy, it sees inviting Samus onto the ship as a game for its amusement. Will taunt and try to trip Samus up at every move. The Mad AI has for distinct personalities…The Child, The Killer, the Martyr, and the Fool… each one is deadly and utilizes different tactics and techniques.
AI Construct Personality Document 
The intent of this document is to illustrate the four distinct personalities of the AI construct and how it will affect game play. Personality types, and their unique traits will break down the list. In addition, the AI personality type “The Fool” has been replaced with “The Mother” due to the fact that “The Child” and “The Fool” were too similar. The AI and its four personalities would appear at certain intervals of the game in a form of a hologram that although appears to have depth from a forward view, but is actually paper thin, imagine a Sprite that is always facing you, but occasionally, you catch a glimpse of its side, and you’ll get the idea. Although the AI is Alien, it appears in human form and “speaks” using English in order for Samus to understand it.
The Killer:
  • Combat heavy game play style, larger number of enemy spawns than usual, less drops for killed creatures. Security systems (turrets, for example) would be more deadly than normal. The more players involved in the game, they heavier the amount of enemies 
  • Atmosphere of the environment when “The Killer” AI is in control would consist of strobing lights, red lights, and lots of fog. Camera function would distort at times or fish eye, causing the player to become disoriented, similar to Silent Hill and Eternal Darkness. In addition, there would be darkened areas of the ship that would play into the fear factor of the player, and force them to use their visor mode.
  • The Killer would taunt the player with a voice similar in tone and inflection to Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, and “Alex” from A Clockwork Orange.
For all intents and purposes, “The Killer” is much more combat oriented than the 3 other personality types. The feeling the player should get from “The Killer” is that they are being stalked like prey. It has a serial killer mentality and will stop at nothing to end its victim’s life.
The Child:
  • Puzzle heavy game play style, more emphasis on puzzle solving and scanning, and less combat. Since “The Child” is Playing, it will occasionally react by reactivating security systems, re-locking doors, and trapping the player where necessary, all in the name of (deadly) fun. Possible “Simon Says” like sequences, for example.
  • Atmosphere of the environment when “The Child” AI Construct is in control would consist of softer and warmer light values. (Similar to night-lights?) Not too many shadowed places due to the fact that children for the most part, are scared of the dark. Another way we could describe the lighting, would be carnival like, sort of a “Dark Disneyland.”
  • “The Child” would communicate with the player in a child’s voice as well as communicate in rhymes and songs. The voice of this AI construct would be similar in tone and inflection to Damien from the Omen, and the kid from that movie, the 6th sense. Interestingly enough, “The Child” becomes scared when the player enters a dark room or area heavily cast in shadow.
“The Child” AI construct is the exact opposite of the “The Killer”. Its focus is puzzle based and relies less on using physical enemies to stop the player. At times, perhaps “The Child” AI construct could be used as a hint system to guide the player when they become lost. Although the “The Child” AI construct thinks its playing and having fun, its puzzles and games are still deadly. Imagine a crazed child swinging around an Axe, it’s having fun, but doesn’t realize he/she could really hurt someone.
The Mother:
  • “The Mother” is the “core” as well as the helper AI. Out of all four personality types, this one is the most friendly of the bunch. “The Mother” AI could be used as a crucial Plot device which gives Samus and other bounty Hunters technological upgrades when completing a puzzle. Game play wise, “The Mother” is a helper, while the action going on around the players is a combination of The Child and The Killer, 50% combat, and 50% puzzle.
  • Atmosphere of the environment when “The Mother” AI Construct is in control is womb-like, orange and yellow lights fill the area and a heartbeat can be heard in the background. 
  • “The Mother” Knows something is wrong with either her or the ships computer, (it has become detached from it self) but feels overwhelmed and helpless. When the Bounty Hunters arrive, she senses that they could possibly right the situation.“The Mother” construct would communicate with the players in a soothing voice, ‘ala SAL (2010) and EVE (Command and Conquer)
“The Mother” AI, is used as the core and helper though out the game. It can be used for item acquisition, technological advancement, relay back story and offer clues and hints, almost like a redundant hint system but with personality. Another interesting factor regarding “The Mother” it will always pick a favored bounty hunter, much like a favored son or daughter. This could be randomized, so every time the game is started from the beginning, it chooses a bounty hunter at random.
The Martyr:
  • “The Martyr” is one of the boss battles in the game, and perhaps is the most deadly of all of the AI constructs due to the fact that “The Martyr’ has the burden of successfully completing its mission. (The mission could be ramming into a planet, if it was the brains for a gigantic spaceship, or self destructing if it were the main operations for the base, for example) Fighting this boss could go a few different ways. Destroy the main reactor/CPU? Shut down the system based on teamwork along the lines of mission impossible? Perhaps the AI manifests itself in physical form. There are a lot of options we can explore.
  • Atmosphere of the environment when “The Martyr” AI construct is in control would be one of decay and ruin. Sparks are flying off machines, tons of smoke, auxiliary lights being only light source, machines failing left and right, camera shakes and toppling geometry are the norm.
  • “The Martyr” has a personality that is a cross between the MCP from Tron, Shodan from System Shock 1 and 2, and Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. It fully believes in its mission and will stop at nothing to complete it. It also is righteous in its beliefs and has a tendency to scream at the top of its lungs, spewing out all sorts of nonsensical diatribes and riddles. 
“The Martyr” is the Head Honcho of the AI construct; this is what the AI eventually will eventually turn into, as opposed to its other forms. “The Martyr” also has master control over every aspect of the ship, its security system, and can use anything at its disposal to try and stop the player. 
Concept drawings: 
One of the ideas we had was to just render the face instead of the entire body. Clockwise from left: The Child, The Martyr, The Killer, and The Mother.
Again, “The Child” with a heavy Anime Influence.
More concepts of The Killer and The Child.
This concept for the games primary antagonist is really intriguing! It would certainly have given the villain an persistent, overlording presence throughout the game. The split personalities and the deranged nature of them could have made the game very creepy indeed.
Examples of Enemy types: 
Since the inhabitants of the ship are in Cryo sleep, the majority of enemies will be Robotic. Robotic allows us to rely on shaders as opposed to texture maps, they are all metal after all, they can be tougher that organic life forms, have more predictable AI patterns, and allow the artists to go crazy with the design. In addition, Robots will chunk better because they are metal. The biggest AI threat in the entire adventure however, is the Rogue AI that taunts Samus throughout the ship. Taunting by locking previously unlocked doors, filling a room with poison gas, activating security systems, and machinery in the factory/industrial levels.
  • Drones, simple security drones that patrol the halls, can call in for back up if a threat appears. Usually cloaked, Samus will have to utilize her X-ray visor to see them.
  • Workers, Tread based movement, slow and heavy industrial bots that can utilize different tools, Flame throwers, jack hammers, drills for work as well as to stop a potential threat.
  • Hunters, Bi-pedal assassin droids that can drop from ceilings, run up walls, and utilize an electro blade, imagine iG-88 hopped up on too much caffeine with a really angry disposition.
  • Guards, heavy brutish hover bots armed with cannons. Used primarily as sentry guards, very tough, requires thermal visors in order to hit the sweet spot and destroy them.
New Enemy Types: 
Several new Enemy types have be created in order to facilitate the idea of the genetic experiments the alien race are conducting:
  • Humetroid: Standing roughly 6 feet tall the Humetroid is a half metroid / half human entity that excels in stealth, sabotage, scouting, and long distance kills. It has a detachable metroid in its chest that can be dispersed in order to attack enemies from a distance and scout an area. Once the metroid is released, the Humetroid body cloaks and the player will have control of the metroid. Because of they symbiotic nature between the Metroid and the Humetroid body, if one is killed, the other will perish.
  • Because of its ability to absorb energy from other players and creatures, the Humetroid can also temporally gain an opponents ability.
A Humetroid 
  • Thrash-hunters: Standing 8 and 1/2 feet tall, this Alien is a mixture between a Space Pirate and another unknown Alien species. It uses no mechanical weapons but does use its sharp saber-like claws to rip though opponents with ease. It can walk along walls, crawl across ceilings and has a chameleon like ability to change its exoskeleton color and pattern to match up to its surrounding environment. It is ruthless and cunning, much like Giger’s Alien; it lives to kill, and kills to live.
    A Thrash-hunter
  • In addition to its saber-like claws the Thrash-hunter also has the ability to self-destruct when low on heath and when in clear and visible danger. The blast radius would kill anything within a 20-foot radius.
  • Shock Beast: Standing 10 feet tall, the shock beast is another Space Pirate / Alien Hybrid. It is similar to storm troopers in respect to its loyalty and stupidity. It is the standard shock trooper of the Alien fleet and carriers a high-powered pulse rifle and frag-grenades. In addition to mechanical weapons, it can also self-destruct when in danger or low on health. Again, the blast radius would kill anything within a 20-foot radius.
    A Shock Beast.
  • Due to a genetic flaw, the heart and lungs (on its backside) of the shock beast are exposed, making it an easy kill. Since the ship’s AI has noticed the design flaw, later versions have an armored carapace that must be destroyed in order to hit the vital areas, much like the Baby Sheegoth.
It looks like some of these concepts were used to influence the design of future enemies.
Game Hooks:
In order to keep the momentum of the game moving there are several things we can do:
  • Limit Samus’s abilities in certain areas and rooms of the ship, thereby forcing the player to deal with situation differently than expected.
  • Increase the amount of morphball areas so we can try new ideas and concepts that we can bring into Metroid 2. I think a lot of people thought that the morphball rooms were some of the most fun in the game, lets crank it up to 11.
  • The Mad AI, we can do all sorts of things to block progress. Lock doors, activate security systems, and fill rooms with deadly gasses or electrical fields…
  • Controlling robots, from the Robot control HQ, Samus would have the ability to remote control robots in order to create diversions, navigate a setup, and gain access to areas that are otherwise un attainable.
  • Mecha Samus, see below.
Sounds like fun, though more event-based than exploration.
Power-up System (and its cruel trick):
Some Ideas Regarding the power-up system; through out the ship there are stat-bot stations that were initially used by the robotic crew to programmatically “learn” new things for different tasks. Samus, or any other bounty hunter for that matter, can hack into the stat-bot and use it to gain new abilities. However, whenever a Bounty Hunter learns a new ability, the Bounty Hunters genetic information gets downloaded to the Ship’s AI, which in turn will send it to the grow tanks for the developing species.
In essence, once the player realizes that its own information is being used to create this species, the player may opt to not use the stat-bots, knowing that their own innate abilities will be used against them. In a way, it creates its own balancing act and allows dynamic interaction with the enemies and the game world, and also adds a bit of customization. Types of stats/skills could include;
  • Cloaking
  • Self Destruct Method
  • Wall walk
  • Ceiling hug
  • Camo-skin
  • Infrared vision
In addition, Bounty hunters innate abilities once downloaded, could be used by other bounty hunters. For Example, once Samus Genetic Information is learned, Aliens and Bounty Hunter alike could learn to Morph ball and bomb skill set. All this can boil down to perhaps having an end boss become an EVIL SAMUS. Much like fighting yourself in the old Sega Genesis Game, Budokan, and of course, Metroid Fusion…
That's quite a distinct twist, and a different take on the Dark Samus theme.
Co-op Multiplayer Component:
At a certain point of this adventure, Samus could have the opportunity to create an Android double of herself. In single player she can give it simple commands and it will fight along side her. Perhaps we can even have a side quest on the ship where you have to retrieve the necessary components in order to create Mecha-Samus. There has been something I have been thinking about for a while…What if we had the ability for any other player to control the co-op AI, at anytime? For example I start playing a game, and I have my Mecha double with me, Zaf comes over, and picks up the second controller, the screen would split in real time (see War of the monsters) and now Zaf can control the Mecha double for as long as he wishes. As soon as he puts the controller down and there is more than 10 seconds of no controller input, the screen would go back to full screen mode in real time. Sounds difficult to pull off, but maybe not.
Boss Battles:
I think this is one aspect where multiplayer would really shine…the difficulty of the boss would multiply depending on the number of players. In addition, the boss can now have several hot spots all over its body; it’s almost a Ghost Busters-like approach. Similar to Panzer Dragoon 2, the bosses have hot spots all over their body and are only affected by certain weapons at certain sides; this again would require teamwork. Once a boss is defeated, we can put that boss into the Un-lockable game modes, where a player can now control a boss and the other players try to defeat it. Of course the UI would be unique to the boss, and the player controlling the boss, would have all the bosses unique powers and abilities at his or her disposal
Now that's certainly unexpected, co-op in a Metroid game! It seems Retro had some very ambitious ideas for Metroid multiplayer, which seem to have been reduced significantly during Metroid Prime 2's development.
Ancient Chozo Robot Battle:

An arena Battle style game where you boost up into the chest plate of a gigantic ancient looking robot beast. Once inside the chest plate the robots become active. Once active you can beat the hell out of each other ‘till the cows come home. 
  • Up to human 4 players, no bots, simple brawler style combat, robots are heavy and slow 
  • Goal is to be last robot standing, once your bot gets destroyed, you self-destruct.
  • Single screen or split, depending on size of arena, although single screen would more than likely suffice. 
  • Damage is shown by chunks of metal flying off robot bodies and limbs dropping off 
  • No projectile weapons, just punches, arm flailing, and kicks.
Left analog: Forward, back, left, right
Right analog: arm flail clockwise or counterclockwise depending on which way you are rotating
A button: Punch

The document goes into far greater detail about proposed multiplayer modes, single-player full-game co-op, and many many more variants including deathmatch, 'Morphball Bumper Car Super Battle Gaiden', 'Extract the Criminal' and 'Protect the Celebrity' mode (honestly!)

Closing Comments:
So this is pretty much what I think we could crank out in a year, A Smaller Adventure with expanded mechanics and a few new ones thrown in. The beauty of spaceship design is that a lot of corridors and hub rooms can be reused over and over again, with minor variation; it also lends itself well to our room/door/hall layout. Plus, we can make the world denser by exploiting the super structure of the ship using morphball mechanics. Even though the idea of an AI gone mad has been used before in games as well as films, I feel that we could put a unique twist on it. And by allowing Samus to use only certain abilities in certain parts of the game, we can get a fair amount of replay value by offering the player different solutions to a single problem. This I feel would satisfy gamers who completed Prime and are hungry for something more with a few new mechanics and ideas thrown in.
With the addition of the co-op multi-player components I have noted in the previous paragraphs, I feel that we would still have a game that feels like Metroid, albeit the feeling of Isolation would no longer be there, at the expense of the multi-player experience. However, I think the by unlocking the additional multi-player modes, after the actual game is completed, it wont detract from the experience. Unlike Time Splitters 1 and 2, we can keep the player focused on the main portion or adventure of the game which is what Metroid is all about.

And there you have it. Metroid 1.5, the never-made Retro Metroid. On paper it certainly sounds different, but I'd really have liked to have played this. The single-player campaign with its mad AI and ancient warship, sounds like it could have had potential."

Thank you, Mama Robotnik, for alerting us to this intriguing concept for a game. It certainly sounds unlike any Metroid we've seen before, which would fall right in line with Retro's tendency to inject their creative flair into their games.

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