Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gated Learning in 'Rayman Origins'

My latest PopMatters article is now live: Gated Learning in Rayman Origins.

One of my biggest complaints about Super Mario Brothers Wii was how absolutely unfriendly the game was in multiplayer. I also wrote about flawed multiplayer in Donkey Kong Country. I get that some people really enjoy painfully difficult platforming and feel that newcomers either pick up the pace or get out of the way. As I see it, a good multiplayer experience makes room for players with various skill levels without making them feel absolutely useless.

If you play wither others from the very beginning, the gated learning system Rayman Origins implements can handle a lot of the multiplayer hangups of difficult platformers. While the skilled player could risk life and limb pursuing hard to reach lums (Rayman's version of coins), the second - or third, or fourth - player can traverse the map per usual. These secondary players may also feel valuable when the skilled player, trying to grab some hard to reach lum, falls to their death and has to be popped by the less skilled and inherently more cautious player. The large lum that temporarily increases the value of smaller lums can also comfort secondary players who can pick up any overlooked lums the skilled players miss.

The gated learning system is a remarkable and transparent learning tool. When Origins becomes truly difficult, it still may not be enough to maintain the commitment and interest of players unfamiliar with the genre. I hear three and four players can also get excessive, with the ability to attack other players becoming immensely frustrating. Since many of the multiplayer conundrums facing platformers are arguably behavior based, it would be interesting to see developers teach good multiplayer behavior with the same finesse they teach mechanics. This can be said regarding most multiplayer experiences for that matter. I have a feeling actual high school teachers might have a great deal to teach the games industry about wrangling players and fostering cooperative learning environments.


  1. Well with Rayman you don't have to worry about lives. Still even though it was easier to play single player the enjoyment of playing with friends can't be beat. I just feel like there are very few local co-op experiences anymore for gamers to enjoy.Yes you usually get one person in the room who is the dick slapping the others around but you come to grips with it. In the end you all end up driven to finish and it was a lot better executed than Donkey Kong or Mario was on Wii.

  2. You are absolutely right. The life system they use goes a long way in making an excellent co-op experience. Also, the speed at which the bubbles move around the screen seems much faster than SMB Wii, which means even the friends that die get back in the action relatively quickly. The consideration they put into Rayman's multiplayer is commendable.

  3. Eh, I'm not convinced that making the co-op more accessible necessarily makes it better. My brother and I payed a significant chunk of it together. Not to be a "that guy," but we're both pretty good at platformers, so the lack of deaths and the dense checkpointing system took a bit of the excitement out of the game. Without the pressure of lives, things got pretty relaxed.

    Additionally, I thought the way they introduced new moves was unimaginative. New abilities (punching, floating, etc.) get unlocked arbitrarily. At least games like Metroid offer narrative reasons for gameplay contrivances. Furthermore, in games like Mario, all the mechanics are unlocked from the get-go. The challenge is learning to use these dynamics, which the game teaches through gradual challenge increases. It's a bit more like playing a sport: the ability to run is innate and "unlocked" pretty much since birth. Learning how to apply that base skill to something like football is done through applying this innate skill and developing extensions on fundamental mechanics. You just don't "unlock" a fully developed skill.

    All that being said, I still think Rayman Origins is pretty awesome!