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Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
Bottomless Pits are the Pits
By Oracle of Wuffing
Ever since at least Super Mario Bros.- which, I fully recognize as NOT being the first video game platformer- video game man has always had trouble overcoming one obstacle: It didn't matter if you were "Super" or even "Fire", or even if you played Sonic and were carrying rings on you, or heck, even if you had invincibility stars, which are SUPPOSED to be the be-all, end-all of sidescrolling power-ups, you will still fall to a simple, instantaneous death at the bottom of a bottomless pit.

Now, I'm pretty sure that the logic behind including bottomless pits in platform games was incredibly sound at the moment. You have a jump button, you're supposed to use it, and logically, the best thing to jump for is to escape your untimely demise. Of course, there were usually coins, rings, gems, and whatnot floating above the pit, at conveniently jump-high-heights. So, really, even if there wasn't a pit, chances are, you were going to jump anyway. Even if there wasn't an incentive, there was usually a wall, a rock, an enemy, or SOMETHING which would require you to jump on or over. And even if there wasn't a reason to jump, you'd still probably jump anyways just to hear the sound of the character jump. Classic.

However, let's take a moment to think of the mechanics of a bottomless pit. Simply put, it's a gap in the lowermost floor of a platform game's level where if the main character falls into, the main character will die, quite usually unconditionally. From a programming aspect, there's two ways to achieve this effect: You can program the main character to die if his Y position is less than or greater than (depending on whether the cup is half empty or half full) a certain point on screen, or you can plop an invisible object beneath the level that will kill the protagonist on contact. Bottomless pits, for the most part, are stationary. I suppose you could say that there are moving bottomless pits, such as when there is a gap beneath moving platforms, but then you could say that the stage is moving over the bottomless pit. Matrix!

The fact that bottomless pits behave that way is what makes them frusterating. Upon being killed by a void of nothingness, there are only two sources to shoulder the blame: The hardware ("I jumped!" "My joystick must be busted!") or the video game player. And, since the video game player is faultless in his or her own arrogance, the blame usually falls on the hardware. This, effectively, turns the video game player's best friend against him or her. You know, for all the incredibly stupid things video game villains do- the ax behind King Koopa's bridge, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman building the one weak point of his final creation out of glass, nearly every RPG enemy ever hiding a key to a deeper part of their dungeon in an easily accessible room elsewhere in the dungeon- bottomless pits are quite a bright idea. They really are the ultimate frustration trap, and they're quite usually many times larger than the normal enemy minions.

Which gives our Segways a segue for the point I'm really trying to get here.

Bottomless pits have little place in a "three-dimensional" world.

People like their "3-D" games so much, mainly because "d00d its liek reel omg". Somewhere in the transition from 32 to 64 bit processors, realism became more fun. Actually, I believe that this is keeping trends with other forms of entertainment, such as the shifts to realism observed in painting, movies, and rap music. Undoubtedly, there will eventually be an era where I will be complaining that our video games are too unrealistic:
See, this green ball represents the enemy. You can't touch him, but if he rolls to the left, that gives you a 1-up. you are actually this character that looks like a dollar sign, but he detests money and fart jokes. You actually can't control him, because controlling him would give you the illusion of a limitation. Instead, you can control this yellow star, which can't do anything more but build web sites. If you build more than two web sites, though, the universe will invert colours and you can start playing saxophones with this blue cylinder guy here. However, if you don't play saxophones, you will save the princess. But you don't actually save the princess, because that will give you a feeling of closure. Instead, you can drink this endless bottle of water which symbolizes the rushing flow of freedom that the citizens will have once they execute their freed princess. Of course, the citizens are represented by the ceiling, which in turn doesn't exist because it would limit how far you can look up. Instead of having a ceiling, you can mold this object to anything that you want it to be. However, that would be breaking the fourth wall, so we decided to mold it for you...
However, I'd like to discuss the "Here and now" aspect, preferably the "Now" part. Frankly, 3-D bottomless pits are outclassed. There is now a force that will follow our character, no matter how fast it runs, no matter how high it jumps, no matter how many cutscenes it enters, that will annoy us from the game's start to the game's end. That force is the camera. Unlike the bottomless pit, it constantly moves, and in most cases, the player is responsible the most for moving the camera to his or her advantage. Unlike blaming a death by a bottomless pit, the only two sources we can blame a death by a camera angle on are the player, and the game programmers. Again, I will remind you that video game players are flawless.

What this means, is that every time we die because of a camera-related problem, we end up blaming that death on the game programmers because of their stupid, stupid, stupid camera system. Think about it. Just about every video game programmer has been blamed for at least one death. And this number is most definately not just one, but one followed by many zeroes. And, what with how today works and all, some of those programmers are getting blamed for killing the actual player, and not the playing character.

Yes, bottomless pits are annoying. Yes, bad camera angles are annoying. That's no reason you need to combine the two. Each one of them is supposed to be the perfect ultimate destruction for the video game player. In the ideal would, there would be only one ultimate destruction in a game. Give us a power-up that negates bottomless pits entirely, or eliminate them completely. Every time "they" throw a bottomless pit at us, they're saying, "OHH DEAR! I dun no how two maek this gmae mroe thertaning, so ill' jus throw in n instakill tarp an hoep ur to dum too jump ova it!1" We are NOT falling into these instant kill death traps because we're too stupid to jump over them. We are NOT getting killed by menial cronies because we don't know how to attack them. We are dying because we can't see them. In two dimensional platformers, the margin of error is based on whether or not the player can push a button in time. In "three-dimensional" platformers, the margin of error falls on being able to adjust the camera so you know that you know you need to hit a button in time, and then hitting that button.

That is quite obvious, isn't it?

But despite this blatant problem, I can't help but see that bottomless pits are becoming much more common across video games. Now, I know that when you convert a shape from the second dimension to the third dimension, it doesn't take up three times the area as the original line (first dimension), but actually takes up the area cubed, meaning that there are supposed to be many, many more bottomless pits on a three-dimensional plane than a two-dimensional plane. But if we use that logic, there are no bottomless pits on a one-dimensional plane, and zero squared or cubed is still zero. Hm... That means that in a non-dimensional environment, there is exactly one bottomless pit... Which makes no sense 'cause there kind of needs at least two dimensions to visibly create a bottomless pit, but that's okay because my whole point here is that that logic is screwy. I believe I've made that point clear, or fog?y, as the case may be.

When a camera angle is rigged up to encourage the character to fall into a bottomless pit, the video game programmers are delaying, or even removing, the "Jump" aspect from a bottomless pit. Because of the problems with camera angles- which are natural and practically insurmountable unless you want something installed directly into your brain (mwa ha ha ha!)- we don't need to be reminded by bottomless pits that video game programmers think that video game players have slight flaws. We do know how to jump over bottomless pits, and we usually do jump over them. We no longer need to be instantly, randomly, and maliciously killed because we didn't hit the "A" button in time. That job is inherently taken up by the camera and the natural game environment.

Video game programmers "switched" to "three-dimensional" gameplay because of two reasons: One, the ability to make more realistic environments, and two, the ability to have a whole new dimension to create new gameplay in. (And, a distant three, because anything with "3-D" on it tends to sell.) Bottomless pits are by no means realistic, and they are not new- they have been present in games for over 20 years now. By including bottomless pits, programmers are preventing their original two goals from being achieved, and getting screamed at for killing their video game characters. The only thing achieved in three-dimensional bottomless pits is a vast, wide expanse of nothingness that constitutes the "floor" for a section of a level.

Oh, look! A penny!

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