Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Story in Combat: FFVI

I've been playing ffvi recently and the story of the game is compelling in many ways, but what strikes me the most is its use of mechanical storytelling during boss fights.

Video game boss fights are sort of like pop quizzes to test your progress. They are the place where you make sure your player knows the proper mechanics, and offer them a particularly gruelling test of their skills. They are also big, set-piece moments for your story and it makes sense to use them to convey narrative. However, what FFVI does is a little more involved.

Your average game will preface a boss battle with a cutscene. You’ll get the story behind the boss, and then fight the boss, and then maybe get a bit more story afterwards as your character(s) recover from the battle. FFVI keeps the story going throughout, often using in-battle graphics to convey a pseudo-cutscene moment before rendered cutscenes were practical in games. There are many moments where you’ll be in the middle of a fight, and suddenly espers will fly across the field of battle to begin wreaking havoc, and the camera might cut to the world map for a moment to show the chaos. This is a bit ham-fisted, but the game also takes several more subtle tones. The Ghost Train fight is perhaps the most iconic in the game, it’s the one I see referenced most frequently out of context for the game. Sometimes it’s for humor based on Sabin’s suplex ability, but a fondness for the fight must exist for a humorous meme to be born.

The fondness stems from this fight being such an emotional moment in the story. The whole forest sequence is a protracted metaphor for Cyan’s emotional recovery from losing his family. We leave the camp where Kefka is committing war crimes, and we descend into darkness, isolated from the world around us. The environment is completely new and unique, far darker than we’ve seen before. The background even changes and we see one of the most distinctive uses of parallax in the entire game. The pathways are winding, and it’s easy to get lost and appear back where you started. The game designers went out of their way to make this segment feel different from the rest of the game so far. In the midst of it all you find the ghost train. The train that carries the souls of the dead onward into the next life. You fight against the inevitability of death, but even once you defeat the boss, the train continues onward. In the end you see your family one last time before they board the train and begin their next journey.

A memorable moment to say the least.

The use of unique level design mechanics (teleporting back to the start if you take the wrong path), unique visual elements (the parallaxing background), and the boss that doesn’t actually die after losing to you in a fight are all excellent bits of mechanical storytelling that help make this sequence stand out in a game filled with stand-out moments.

This got me thinking: do we see this sort of storytelling in other games? Ocarina’s forest temple comes to mind as a similar narrative moment, fighting the literal spectre of gannondorf while Link is wrestling with the loss of childhood, and the destruction real gannondorf has wrought.

But what else? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Unexpected Narrative pt4: Tying It Together

Let’s recap.

In the first article in this series, I discussed the idea of distinguishing games based on narrative. I used the example of Metroid and Mario to showcase how two mechanically similar games can be distinct because of their narrative and tone, even if they aren’t story games.

In the second article in the series, I discussed the idea that even narrative games are sandboxes. Every game is built around a set of systems that can be played with, and narrative games simply incentivize us to follow the actions of one person as they play within that sandbox.

In the third article I outlined an approach to writing based around four narrative throughlines that define a story arc for not only the player character, but all of their surroundings as well.

In the third article I wrote a sort of pseudo-story as an example. This story centered around a cliche-ridden game about a dragon-punching protagonist being pitted against a great evil that has stolen the princess of a local kingdom. This story focused, primarily, on the kingdom and its reaction to the political problems of losing a primary member of the monarchy. The kingdom looks around itself for enemies, attacking all the nearby monsters, but comes to discover that the culprit was within its own borders, and only through introspection could it be defeated. I’d like to take this story and move forward with it, developing it using the other methods I was describing in the previous articles.

First off I would like to define the four throughlines of the story:

1. The world - A  prominent kingdom has lost its princess. The power vacuum that creates causes a civil war to break out, weakening the kingdom. The ruling class redirects the attention outwards and creates a war between themselves and the nearby monster clans to give people a way to blow off steam. In the end, it is revealed that corruption within the kingdom was the true cause of the civil war and the lost princess. The kingdom must repair these problems, as well as those caused by declaring war on the nearby monsters.

2. The surroundings - The kingdom is a happy place that has lost its princess. As time goes forward, a civil war breaks out, and much of the city is ruined as a result of the violence. The city declines quickly throughout the events of the main narrative, showing signs of abuse and violence. Outside the city is much the same, as another war is declared and the landscape is ravaged to prepare for the coming hostilities. Monster attacks increase as tensions rise, and fewer and fewer travellers are seen in the wilds. When the war begins, peaceful meadows are replaced with siege weapons and military tents. This remains much the same even at the end of the narrative, as peace talks must begin and apologies be made before the armies can disperse.

3. The protagonist - The kingdom has lost its leadership, and our hero must rescue her. They rush into battle, planning to punch every enemy they find until the princess is returned safely. This idea quickly falls apart when it becomes apparent that there are simply too many things to punch. The hero becomes injured and is forced to return to the city. While there they discover that there is talk of corruption within the city causing the problems, rather than the monsters outside the city. The hero investigates and finds a secret group of traitors hidden beneath the city, planning its demise. The hero invades this secret group and punches them into submission, finding the princess was their captor, and returning her to her throne. The hero is rewarded and goes on to live happily ever after, the end.

4. The mind - Our hero is a very straight-forward sort. When the princess disappears, they go after her, fists raised, because this is the method by which our hero has solved all of life’s problems. For the first time, however, they are met with an adversary they cannot beat with violence. They become injured and are forced to look inward, questioning the very foundation upon which their life was built. Is violence not always the answer? As they are examining their actions, they hear rumors of corruption. Another enemy to beat into submission, and a welcome reprieve from all of this thinking, our hero rushes forward. They see this secret group causing so much strife, and attack that group. Once again, violence has solved their problems, but maybe that doesn’t have to be the only way. The kingdom was nearly destroyed without a single violent act, a kidnapping did far more damage than any siege engine. Our hero must now contemplate their tendencies and figure out who they really are.

So there is our story. A bit cliche and a bit simple, but good enough to build.

So what is our sandbox? What are the toys that the player is playing with? Well, we need basic movement mechanics, and a combat system for sure. We need to be able to talk with NPCs in some way, or to be able to punch them. Characters in this world need to be able to use siege towers and defend castles, so we’ll need some ability to operate machinery (because why program an NPC that can interact with something and not allow the player to do the same? (yes, I know there are a thousand answers to that question)). It would be better if we could climb ladders and shoot projectiles as well. We need large numbers of intelligent monsters around the countryside, but we don’t necessarily have to have them all in one place at one time, so long as there are large packs that can stop our hero from progressing. Mostly, we need basic melee fighting mechanics. Non-player characters will use weapons such as swords and arrows, but our hero needs to be able to fight with their fists.

Let’s get more specific now, and dive into how to tell this story. As we’ve seen in my comparison to Metroid, just because a game is focused around a story doesn’t mean that we have to convey that story through traditional means.

"And then a giant metroid drained all of her energy!"

So where do we need words in this game? Well, we can show the princess being abducted. We can show the kingdom falling apart, but it would greatly help if we could hear the outrage in the streets, so I think it’d be worth it to have text or voice to setup the civil war. We don’t need to stop for this, but you should get snippets as you go about your questing. We can convey a war without words, so long as we hear officers issuing commands. We’ll likely need some words to convey the player’s injury and being sent back to the city. We’ll start to see more and more words after this point, as our game shifts from being focused around violence and begins to focus more on political intrigue. Throughout this, however, we don’t want to stop our main character. They are not the type to participate in heavy discussions, or go around investigating in a traditional manner. Our hero wants to punch things, so their actions should always be about going from one place to another, and the voice/text should simply be a part of the background as they travel from place to place, perhaps with a bit of text at the beginning and end of their trips to establish purpose. Think Half Life 2, where the player is rarely forced to stop moving for the sake of story.

And from this point, we move into more standard techniques for figuring out storytelling in games, so I'll leave you to apply your own skills moving forward. Hopefully this article has given you enough to think about and adapt to your own process. This isn’t a perfect method for constructing a story, and my own youth and inexperience may hinder my application of the technique, but hopefully this will help at least a few of you to organize and develop your stories more thoroughly.

Story, in this example, was our starting point. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things are much of the time. Perhaps you are working for a company that wants to make a new [insert franchise here] game that already has defined gameplay systems. Or maybe you’re working for a company that has no interest in telling stories with their games, but you want to sneak something in because you’re a rebel and down with the man, man! In one last article, I’m going to walk through this process again, but starting with a gameplay mechanic instead of a story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Unexpected Narrative pt 3: Through Lines

A through line is a theme that connects story elements together. Most games center around saving a princess from evil (even if that princess comes in the form of information in a briefcase, or an alien artifact), and defeating that evil defines every action within that game. In college, my teachers told us to form our stories around four through lines that each developed a different part of the story, and in this article, I'm going to discuss my approach to that process. To begin, let's define the throughlines:

The story of the world at large 
The story of the protagonist's surroundings
The story of the protagonist
The story of the protagonist's mind

Each of those deals with a particular aspect of the world, and each will inform the others. If a princess has been stolen by evil, how does the world respond? How does the hero respond? How does the hero feel about their response?

These themes are the beginnings of building a story, so let's walk through the process of developing them. The trick is to figure out how each through line will affect the others, and how they will all move forward together. The princess is stolen, and the kingdom responds by falling apart. A civil war breaks out as people rally behind new leadership. Our hero is caught in the conflict and must respond to being attacked, but how do they respond? Why does the kingdom fall apart in the first place, is there no proper line of succession? 

The benefit of writing four through lines at once is that you can look to one to figure out how another might progress. Who is our hero? Are they someone who looks brave on the surface, but who crumples in the face of danger? Are they the type who likes to punch a dragon in the face at any opportunity? Let's take the second option for this example. We have a kingdom that's falling apart for unknown reasons, and a hero who likes to punch dragons. Well, that type of hero will clearly rush head first into battle to save the missing princess, but how does the world respond to their actions? We need some conflict, and this is a game, so perhaps there are hordes of monsters between the hero and the princess. In order to save her, the hero must battle the monster hordes, but how do they feel about that? They are the type of person who punches dragons in the face, extremely courageous but probably none too bright, and there is a horde of monsters between them and their goal. One would assume that must be frustrating for them, yes?

If only our hero had some sort of rocket...

So there's our setup, but where does the story go? Through lines must carry a story forward, but how? Deciding on a main through line can help. The main through line will be the one that drives the overall story, and the others will exist to support that one. For example, maybe this is the story of the protagonist. The plot centers around the hero and the frustration they are facing as they cannot reach their goals. Unable to save the princess, due to the monster hordes, the hero flies into a rage and hurts the people around them. The story here would center around the personal growth of the protagonist and the changes happening within their mind. The world around them would reflect those changes and the other through lines would support the story of that personal conflict.

On the other hand, maybe this is the story of the world at large. The princess of a prominent kingdom was stolen, and that kingdom is crumbling. The power vacuum will cause others to try to fill the void, throwing the land into conflict. People split off into factions, each supporting a new leader they believe most suited for the job. The hero must choose a side and lend a hand in the conflicts. Our hero's actions will be dictated by the main through line, in this case the one centering around the political struggles of the kingdom. However, the other through lines must not stop. How does our hero feel about the civil war? In this example, our hero is the dragon punching type. They probably chose their side based on which was most likely to allow them to punch the villain in the face, but maybe they come to realize this decision is a poor one.  Maybe the events around them cause them to question themselves for the first time. Unsure of themselves, they retreat from the front lines and look inward to find an answer. No longer can they simply punch the dragon, they must now find a way to punch self doubt.

Throughout this, the focus remains on the main through line. If we're writing a story about a power vacuum and the civil war it causes, everything must support that idea.The hero's internal struggles could be a reflection of the kingdom's political struggles. The hero's loss of self confidence could reflect the population's loss of confidence in their government, which led to the civil war in the first place. As the hero loses confidence in themselves, the world around them becomes darker and more confusing. This could even be reflected in their physical surroundings in that they could start off in a world of lush green, and later have to travel through the dark, twisted passages of a dungeon. 

So for our example story, we have all the base elements, but we need to find a way to resolve them. The resolution will come from looking at each of the through lines in turn. Our hero must find their confidence, our kingdom must find its ruler, and our civil war must find a resolution. Perhaps the dungeon I mentioned could be hidden beneath one faction of the civil war. The kingdom was being sabotaged from within the entire time, just as our hero was being sabotaged by their own self doubt and blood lust. By seeking conflict outside of themselves, our hero finds themself in an unwinnable battle, but peace comes to them after looking inward. In the same way, the kingdom was being sabotaged by corruption and only by revealing that corruption can peace return. In this situation, the reason the kingdom didn't just follow a basic chain of command and replace their leader is because they were being sabotaged by someone inside the system manipulating it to prevent stability, thus answering one of our earlier questions.

This is a cliche-filled example of this technique, but hopefully you can see the benefits of this approach to story development. By ensuring that each aspect of your story carries a through line, you make the writing process much easier and the results much better.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Unexpected Narrative Pt 2

In the previous article I wrote about Mario, Metroid, and Minecraft, discussing their use of narrative. I stated that Minecraft tells its story by setting up a sandbox filled with toys and allowing the player to interact until a narrative emerges. I then compared Metroid to that, saying that Metroid creates its story by doing the same thing in reverse. I would like to take this article to expand on that second point.

Minecraft is a sandbox game. You have a set of toys and you interact with them. Each toy works in a consistent manner, so if you use an axe on a tree, that tree will break apart and drop wood. The toys are neutral, as well, allowing any number of uses, meaning that your axe has an intended purpose, but can interact with objects outside of that purpose. If you want to dig a hole with your axe, you can, the axe just isn’t particularly good at that. Player actions are consistent, pressing the dig hole button digs a hole, even if you're not equipped with the proper tools. This allows players to build stories with their actions, because they are allowed to act in a variety of ways. Beyond that, these actions are all consistent between players of Minecraft, meaning that any story that unfolds can be told to, and understood by, any other Minecraft player.

This combination of elements is part of what allows players to act based on their personality. If an aggressive person plays Minecraft, the story that results from their action will likely involve lots of violence. They might chop down trees for no reason, and throw things at pigs or cows for the fun of it. If a timid person plays, they might build a fort that they slowly expand while hiding from the monsters that roam the countryside. Their actions, the choices they make, will convey their personality, and the sandbox gameplay will respond to that personality in kind.

A particularly aggressive personality type

Equipped with that knowledge, let’s go back to Metroid. How would Samus play Minecraft? Well, she’s a bounty hunter, so she would have a target. She would pursue that target relentlessly. She would build the tools she needs to find the target and then immediately move towards that target. She would attack enemies as they appeared, and not back down until her task was complete. This is Samus’s personality, and we could extrapolate further if we needed to do so.

Looks like Samus is already ahead of us! (Skin Here)

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that we let Samus play a game of Minecraft. Let’s then imagine that we recorded that game of Minecraft. Each time we played through that recording, the same events would occur at the same moments. Samus would always chop the same tree, and always dig the same holes, because recordings never change. So what if we wanted someone else to experience life from Samus’s perspective? Perhaps we could recreate that Minecraft run that we recorded. We could rebuild the world and place every element in the same position that they were in when Samus encountered them. Then our task would be to get the player to emulate Samus’s actions. We could use tricks of psychology, such as placing easy-to-dig-through sand where we want a player to dig, to incentivize others to recreate the actions that Samus took. We could litter the ground with desirable objects to make a player go one direction, and block a path with enemies to prevent them from going in another direction. These are all standard game design tools, and they’ve been explained by people far more qualified than myself. All I’m trying to convey is the idea that a linear, story-based game is a game about a player experiencing the world through the eyes of another person.

The characters in our games are not merely that. They are people with personalities, and they make choices based on circumstances. Those circumstances are built by the game designers, as are the choices available to the character. If a person has a plasma cannon, how will that person use that cannon? Would they only use that cannon in combat, or would they also use it to burn through walls or locks? What are the other toys in their sandbox? And how do they interact with those toys? Are those toys only useful in one particular circumstance? And if so, why are they still playing with them?

A linear game is merely a sandbox with a specific narrative. A linear narrative is merely a series of choices that have already been made in that sandbox. Samus chased Ridley to planet Zebes, and down into its depths where they fought until Samus was victorious. That is what happened, and the game, Super Metroid, exists to allow players to experience those events. Samus, and the world around her, would be interesting even if the story were completely different. The toys in her sandbox could be used even in another platformer game, such as Mario, or even in a survival game such as Minecraft. The world of Zebes would make sense even if we landed on a different part of the planet, and pursued a different enemy.

In part 3 of this article series, I'm going to talk about developing the world to reflect the narrative and the player character.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unexpected Narrative in Games: Part 1

People think of narrative design as something that Bioware needs, something you look for in a complex RPG. At best, you might get story in a FPS, in a token single player campaign created for the sake of reaching one more demographic.

Waiter, there's a narrative in my soup

Let me ask you: What's the difference between Metroid and Mario? Both are platformers with action-oriented abilities. You run, you jump, you shoot. Metroid has a more diverse set of shooting mechanics, and Mario has a more diverse set of jumping mechanics, but aside from that they're basically the same game from a pure mechanics standpoint. Mario Maker even has several metroidvania stages you can play, further illustrating the similarity between the two games. But what's my point here? This is an article about narrative, why am I talking about platformers?

Well my argument is that narrative and gameplay work in tandem (revolutionary, right?). No one would say that Mario and Metroid are near-identical games. Just looking at them you can tell the differences immediately, the two games are nothing alike! Yet when you break them down into pure gameplay mechanics, as in my above example, they play functionally very similar. So if it's not gameplay, what IS the difference? Well, hopefully by this point you can guess where I'm going; the difference lies in the narrative design. Mario is a game about reaching the end of a level with all the coins and in the fastest time. Metroid is a game about isolation and danger, about surviving in a hostile world using nothing but your own strength. By including strong narrative elements into the game, Metroid (specifically Super Metroid, from this point forward) sets itself far apart from the Mario franchise.

What you'll notice, however, is what Super Metroid doesn't have. It doesn't have cutscenes. It doesn't have story segments or protracted dialogue sequences. Super Metroid tells its story through the environment and through the actions of the player. This isn't the type of story that we identify as being a story, this story is more of a side effect of the gameplay.

There's an evil dragon stealing your Metroid. Need we say more?

Minecraft is another game that tells a compelling story without narrative sections. In Minecraft you dig for resources you need to build structures that allow you to survive, and thrive. If one day you're digging through a mine shaft and all of a sudden you dig through the floor beneath yourself and fall into a pit surrounded by lava and zombies, you might decide that this was a scary event and that it's worth telling your friends about. This is a narrative. Specifically, this is what's called an emergent narrative. It's a narrative that emerged as a direct result of your own actions. Minecraft excels at this type of narrative. By setting up a series of systems for players to use for their interactions with the world, the creators of Minecraft give us the tools we need to tell our own stories, even without the need to tell any story of their own. Minecraft is a sandbox, and we are kids playing with its toys. If something truly interesting happens as a result of those interactions, it's up to us to pass that story along to our friends, and the world at large.

Did someone say sandbox?

But what happens if we invert that flow, and use the emergent narrative to do the storytelling? Instead of simply allowing a player to move around in an infinite world and interact with their specific tools, what if we guided the player into a cave, and incentivized them to dig a hole in just the right spot so that they would fall into a pit surrounded by lava and zombies? There's no need for text here, there's no need for a cinematic sequence to explain the zombies, we just use game and level design tricks to put the player where we want, and let them experience the world for themselves.

This is exactly the type of storytelling that Metroid employs. We don't need to know who the space pirates are, they attack us on sight and we must defend ourselves. We don't need to know how Samus feels, the level and sound design already makes us feel alone. And Metroid isn't the only game to use this type of storytelling. Journey, Ico, Sword & Sworcery, and others tell their stories with very little text or cinematic sequences, largely relying on the player's actions to convey their story. These games use excellence in narrative design to convey stories through actions, relying on a language unique to video games in order to build a narrative more suited to the medium.

Narrative design is something that can, and should, be found in all sorts of unexpected ways throughout our gaming experiences. In this article series, I'm going to discuss the use of narrative in unexpected places in video games, and offer my thoughts on applying these techniques to your own games.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Romance in Games

Video games are about power fantasies. You are the legendary hero of all of time here to save the world from darkness, and all shall bow at your feet! Only problem is that this applies to your romantic partners, as well. Rather than being members of an active relationship, they become props that play recordings of encouragement to lavish praises upon you like a tape recorder made by your mom. This is not good story-telling.

She just loves you so much!

As the legendary hero of prophecy, you are the center of all attention and your servants must naturally throw themselves at your feet to win your affections. But why are you accepting their offerings? Shouldn't you, as a legend, be looking for the company of another legend? Shouldn't your standards be high enough that you will only accept the best of lovers? And I don't mean best by way of someone who has been genetically designed in a lab to be the best possible specimen of a human. If your personality is so strong, why would you accept someone who's personality is anything less?

But hey, this is what games are, right? Your player has to be able to win the affections of the person they choose because if you remove player autonomy, you're going to leave them frustrated and you'll get a 7 on your metacritic instead of the coveted 8!


I have an alternative suggestion. Try leaving more to the imagination. A relationship is a very simple human interaction. When two people spend time together, they are in a relationship. When they decide, together, that they want to treat this relationship as a romantic one, it is immediately that. It doesn't matter if they call each other boyfriend/girlfriend, it doesn't matter if they get married after 2 weeks or not at all ever. The only thing required to be in a romantic relationship is that two people spend time together with romantic intent. The internet is full of memes that give you relationship advice, and much of it says that real relationships are mundane. You do your regular daily things with another person now, and you go about your life much as before, only now there's a person who hangs around in the same spaces. So why are games any different?

True beauty

You are the legendary hero of prophecy. The person who you fall in love with is going to be the person who helps you achieve your goals. It doesn't matter if they speak your praises to everyone who passes you by, what matters is that they are there for you at every turn. Zelda may get captured far too often, but any time she gets a chance, she's giving you weapons and items to help with your quest. Unless, of course, she's becoming a ninja and working in the background to keep you safe.

My favorite example is Fallout 4. I decided that I liked Piper, while I was playing the game. I liked her personality and the morals she showed by reacting to my actions. I found myself agreeing with her likes and dislikes. I decided to get to know her better, so I kept inviting her to adventure with me. Eventually, she asked for my advice about her sister. Over time, we did several quests together. Most of the time, she would do my quests, as I was trying to save the entire wasteland from a threat of hidden robots (I am the chosen one, after all), and that left her fascinated. In fact, she was reporting on this issue before we met, so it makes sense that we would travel together. Every once in a while, however, she would ask for my help. Naturally, I would give her that help in whatever way I could. When I decided I wanted a relationship, I simply waited for opportunities to present themselves and started flirting with her. She responded positively and we got together. Once we were together, we simply traveled the wastes together. If I asked her, she would say she was happy with our arrangement. That's it. That's our relationship. And it's incredible!

The face of good writing

So what's the secret sauce here? Well I would say it lies in the setup. First off, I got to know who Piper was by her reactions to my choices. If I shot at some random innocent, she would get upset. If I picked a lock, she would be impressed. If I stole evidence to prove someone's guilt, she would love it, but if I stole food from someone's home she would hate it. That tells me pretty much everything I need to know about her, and that's just what's plugged into the mechanics of the game. Secondly, we did quests TOGETHER. She accompanied me on my mission for her own reasons, but she also asked me to help with her interests. Honestly, I would've liked it if she had more, smaller quests for us to do together to get to know each other more. That back-and-forth is what builds a relationship in real life, and is an easy analog to plug into a game. The third, and most important, ingredient in this mixture is the lack of writing. You'll notice that what I've mentioned so far has not been the writing, but the actions. Games are about doing things. I don't need Piper to tell me she loves what I'm doing in some protracted dialogue scene, I just need to see her react when I pick open a safe. Her actions and my actions tell me everything I need. What dialogue is there is well-written, but the important part is that there's not much of it.

Games are about action. Actions speak louder than words. Let them.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Kirby's Momentum

As part of my design research for a personal game project, I recently played through Link to the Past and came up with analyses of The Enemies and The Combat. Today I'm going to continue my research with a different Nintendo series. Kirby!

Now, with Link to the Past, I was looking for how combat worked very specifically, so I harvested very specific information. With Kirby, what I'm looking for is game feel and general mechanics behind the powers Kirby inhales. This will be a more holistic look at those powers, and won't involve any counting of seconds or damage or any other specific numerical values. Let's get going!

I played through Kirby's Adventure, Kirby's Super Star, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, Kirby Triple Deluxe, and a bit of Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland for this article. I also briefly touched on Dream Land 1 and 2, as well as a few other titles in the series just for comparison.

I noticed one particular theme throughout the Kirby games. Every power, every ability, every level, every enemy. They're all designed to prove one thing: Kirby is an unstoppable force.

Every ability that Kirby gets affects Kirby's momentum. Everything is about punching through enemies and progressing forward. Even the abilities that stop you in your tracks are still designed to move you forward. Hi Jump gives you great upward momentum, Rock gives you great downward, and nearly everything else moves you Horizontally. Each ability in the game affects the way kirby moves in some way, and your preferred method of movement very likely defines your favorite power. Do you like feeling unstoppable? Maybe you like Wheel. Do you like to maintain control? Maybe you like Umbrella. Even the purely offensive powers tend to allow Kirby to move forward at great speed, or to clear the way without slowing you down too much. In fact, one of the common things we see in the series is that abilities get combined, and they do so in order to augment Kirby's forward momentum. Fireball and Fire are two very common combinations, allowing Fire Kirby to breathe fire while on the ground, to clear a path, or to jump into the air and rocket forward as a fireball. Or Spark and Plasma, allowing Spark Kirby to fire a blast forward, clearing out distant opponents, instead of only generating a static field (double meaning intended).

We also see this use of unstoppable momentum in the way Kirby interacts without powers. Simply moving into an enemy will destroy that enemy. Falling will break blocks, and even flight gives you a puff of air that can destroy things in front of you, so you don't have to stop moving to deal with obstacles.

Even the punishments in Kirby are based on slowing or stopping you. Blocks are the primary environment objects, blocking your path until you destroy them. Spikes and lava make you navigate carefully, slowing you down. Or the most notable of all comes in the form of the series' only punishment powerup: Sleep.

Sleep completely robs you of your momentum, effectively putting you in the corner to think about what you've done. Sleep isn't a difficult power to avoid, but for the careless, it is a severe annoyance due to its complete removal of the movement that the entire series is based around.

What's interesting, to me, is the series' use of super powers. Things like Crash, Mike, Cook, etc. are all clearly the most powerful powerups in the core series. They wipe the screen of all enemies, utterly destroying everything in your path, but they add nothing to the player's momentum. They clear the path, and allow you to move unrestricted for a time, but they never quite capture that feeling of movement. Perhaps that's why they take a back seat to the series' true super powerup, the Invincibility Candy.

The Invincibility Candy gives Kirby the thing that Kirby players want most: the power of being unstoppable. You run forward, destroying everything you touch without so much as slowing down. Combine that with your powers, and you just blast through swaths of enemies without a second thought.

These mechanics wouldn't work as well in a Zelda game, for instance, because Link's movements are about fighting his opponents. Link wants to combat his opponents. Kirby doesn't have to combat anything, Kirby is an unstoppable monster of chaos and death!

This image comes from a series of 8-bit fatality drawings.
I can't find the artist to give credit. Sorry to whoever made this hilarious illustration!