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Room Platformers: Coining a Sub-genre

As a long-time user of GameMaker and socialite with other GameMaker developer, I've come to notice a very frequent type of Platformer that has gone unnamed for too long. Read to discover the cultural significance of these specific games.

Matthew Kordon, Blogger

March 17, 2017

5 Min Read

Today, I will attempt to coin a video game sub-genre: the "room platformer"

I am doing so because I find it weird that there isn't yet a term for such a common type of hobbyist-made game. A "room platformer" is a side-view (often 2D) platformer videogame in which the content is all, or almost all, within rooms (with ceilings, left and right walls, and floors). There may be holes in the floor, but almost always, these four solid boundaries form a perimeter rectangle. Many games of this sub-genre have content "levels" that are fully contained within the starting screen of that level, and do not require the screen to move, though a moving screen is possible. 

What is not considered a "room platformer"?

You might say Super Mario Bros. (1985) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) fit this category but that their four walls are simply invisible. That can be said about majority of platformers. Even though the four barrier walls are only a graphic or size difference, the psychological effect this difference had on the content designers for the sub-genre and parent genre are not to be understated. With Mario and Sonic, the objective is to go someplace through an open 2D world. There is a sense of exploration, and first-time players of each world/ zone would not immediately have a good idea of what lies ahead. In a level of a room platformer, the player almost always can see the entire level at the very start, and that knowledge changes how they plan to go through the area. Think of "platformers" as cornfield mazes, and "room platformers" as little paper-and-pencil mazes. They may both be mazes but they're so different that they should be treated differently when referred to by name.

Other characteristics of a "room platformer"

In the case of levels that are each contained fully inside the screen window, the borders of the screen window may act as the four boundaries. Most of these games have been made in the west as computer games. When such a game is played, the player can expect an emphasis on compact level design; making use of nearly every pixel inside the space, as opposed to realistic building architecture, assuming the setting is within a building for example. This design philosophy has good chemistry with puzzle-oriented platforming, in which each place is itself a puzzle to solve. At first glance, you might believe all "room platformers" are "puzzle platformers" but that isn't true, just as not all puzzle platformers are found within rooms.

Why should anyone use this new term; why continue reading this?

I estimate that one of every four video games made by a hobbyist is a room platformer, and I think I have enough experience around hobbyist videogame creators to guess that with confidence. This most likely affects you indirectly; many game developers who got their start around 2003 and onward have made a room platformer in their early days! Culture-wise and as a back drop, room platformers are of huge significance to the industry; most budding developers are told in school to make their first game be a room platformer. The reason for that is because of the simple nature of them, and because they are centered around player input, thus making them a great example of our culture's core idea of a videogame. Furthermore, freeware game development software (such as GameMaker 8 and older) was and is often structured in such a way that a new user to the program will naturally gravitate towards making their first platformer a room platformer, due to the lower programing literacy required. As such, room platformers are the laughing stalk in some corners of the video game world by seasoned developers and gamers alike, though that is not the case for breakout hits like Super Meat Boy and Battleblock Theater, or games that predated modern platformers.

What are some examples of "room platformers"?

Donkey Kong (an arcade games that fit the catagory, back before the NES existed. Fix-It Felix, which was a fictional game that appeared in a Disney movie, also counts)

Battleblock Theater (one of the most recent examples. It had one of the largest budgets of any game on this list)

Super Meat Boy (as well as the flash game version)

I Want to be the Guy (as well as I Want to be the Boshy)

Enough Plumbers (and its sequel, both are browser games)

Super Orange Land (both the first game I ever made and the first I ever finished)

Super Karoshi (as well as all other Karoshi games. It is well worth noting that the creators of this game went on to create GameMaker which itself has spawned hundreds of room platformers)

The Company of Myself (considered the best, free, puzzle browser-games)

One and One Story (another great, free, puzzle browser game)

Achievement Unlocked (and it's first sequel; played more than 4 million times)

Paper Mario World Gold (this one is a fan game and a good example of when the genre is looked down upon)

Closing Statement

I'm glad people now finally have a word they can use when talking about this specific sub-genre. I would love for someone to write an analysis piece on room platformers, because I think the nature of it is interesting and untapped. It is an important pivital context to hobbyist game development, especially as a once-universal game genre choice throughout the 2000s. My aspiration is that my coined-term becomes used more often, which I believe will only go more good than harm.

(If you like what I had to say, you should know that I run the Otyugra Games blog where I dicuss development on our games among other things. Check it out! Thanks for reading.)


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