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9:23 PM on 08.30.2009

Metroid and graph paper, part 3

Part one
Part two

I solve the mysteries of the game engine this time.

My Playthrough, part 4:

I was investigating Kraidís Hideout again, when I noticed that sometimes the enemies you need to freeze with the Ice Beam to climb certain areas donít show up. Iíd leave the climbing area for another room, then turn around and jump up to the spot to start climbing and the enemies still wouldnít show up. I looked at the enemies as I entered the room, and started thinking. It turns out, if you move through the vertical scrolling areas too quickly or without killing all the enemies on the way, the enemies that you freeze for stair steps wonít be put on the screen. Some kind of technical limitation, I guess. Whatever it is, itís the reason I assumed I couldnít climb the rightmost shaft of Brinstar. This game sucks because itís technically flawed.

Harder than it looks.

So I headed over there, and was careful to kill all the enemies on the way up, and sure enough thereís a new enemy, the exact one I need to reach the next door. It wasnít as easy as that, either, as these enemies move in a wave pattern, and only reaches the height you need every other period. I got knocked around a bunch trying to set these platforms up. You can only freeze an enemy once and it has to completely thaw before you can freeze it again. Also, Samus canít shoot down. I started at about 200 energy, and made it to the door with 21 energy left.

Thereís an Energy Tank behind that door. Thereís also a path from the other sideÖ I could have collected that Energy Tank after I got Bombs, I just didnít think to shoot up from the end of the corridor coming from the left after I got the Missile upgrade 10 hours ago. Good to know for a timed run, I guess. This game sucks, but now itís because it makes me feel like an idiot.

Red = horizontal room, blue = vertical room, thin lines = possible hidden area

I think I see a hint in the map. Every time the screen transitions through a door, the scrolling direction switches between horizontal and vertical. Single screen rooms connected to horizontal rooms scroll vertically (if you canít break the ceiling or roof, the room still scrolls vertically, but is only one screen tall). There are only a couple of single screen horizontally scrolling rooms. There are a couple doors that are exceptions to the rule, though.

Hey look, it's Metroid with an automap!

Vertical rooms donít have hidden exits on the walls, only on the floors and ceilings. Horizontal rooms donít have hidden exits on the floors and ceilings, and walls with no doors are to be inspected thoroughly. Knowing this, the path to the Ice Beam would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Looking at the empty spaces and the rules of how the rooms work, I think I might be able to make some real headway now.

This is a good place to stop; Iím not looking forward to backtracking over most of the map. On the other hand, once I have the map and know where everything is, a timed run would be a lot of fun, and my opinion of this game may swing back to a positive one. If anyone reading this is to take away one thing from these posts, itís that the Internet is a terrific resource and only idiots and sadists discover previously known information on their own.

After death 14, day 10: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, Ice Beam, 150 Missiles, 3 Energy Tanks, Kraid down.

My Playthrough, part 5:

I started investigating the feelers I marked on the map. The first one that panned out was in Kraidís Hideout. It led to a Fake Kraid, and further past him was Kraidís lair. I didnít get any upgrades but I discovered that you donít need the Ice Beam to get to Kraid. Iím not yet sure if this will help in my timed run, but itís good to have options. I died a few more times after that checking all the other walls and headed back to Brinstar.

In Brinstar, one of the first places I checked out was where I found the Long Beam. I realized that every room with a Chozo statue holding an upgrade scrolls horizontally, so the colored map is slightly inaccurate, and there are a few more doors that are an exception to the scrolling rule. Still, that map was the only lead I had and I thought it would still lead me somewhere.

I found a ceiling to shoot out at the top of Brinstar. I need the High Jump Boots to reach the room above it. There was nothing else I could find so I headed to Norfair.

On the right end of Norfair, near the Ice Beam, I found out that there was a fake lava pool with a destructible floor that doesnít actually lead anywhere. Thatís all that I found. Yet again, Iím suck. I know the elevator to Ridleyís Hideout has to be above Ridleyís Hideout, which has to be Norfair. There are a couple spots in Kraidís Hideout where itís conceivable the elevator could be there, but I checked those too. Now we see how long Iím willing to run around and randomly drop bombs before I resort to a walkthrough.

For the hell of it I tried Nintendoís automated tip line, the Power Line at (425) 885-7529, but the voice at the end said they were having technical difficulties. Afterwards I filled my energy back up and headed back to Norfair. I blew a hole in the floor of the room on the far right, I have no idea how I missed it on my first pass. Now Iím being very careful, and I pretty much know which spots in the floors and ceilings to check. The path led to the High Jump Boots and the Screw Attack. The Screw Attack isnít quite as awesome as it is in the other games, as you fall out of it before you land, but itís still pretty cheap.


I kept pressing into Norfair, and the tile set changed a couple times. The one that looked like a bunch of eyeballs made it seem like I was getting somewhere interesting. I found another Energy Tank and the Wave Beam (which overwrites the Ice Beam). I also found out that there are some spots in this area where you get stuck and die if you fall in, even with the High Jump Boots. I fell in more than once.

I took the chance on my new lives to check out the one door at the top of Brinstar and get the energy tank from Kraidís lair. On the way I noticed how much more powerful I had become in such a short period. I could shoot through walls, I could shoot things shorter than me, my shots were more powerful, I could climb faster, and I could jump into enemies to kill them. I was hoping it was the Varia Suit at the top of Brinstar, and it was. Now all thatís left is Ridley, then Mother Brain.

Thinking of the timed run, I regret going to get the Varia Suit before visiting Ridley. Iíd like to know how difficult he is without it. It might save me some time to grab the Varia Suit last, since itís so far away. It seems the best route right now would be to grab everything on the way to Ridley, then double back and get the Varia Suit on the way to Kraid. Another issue for the timed run is the Wave Beam. You lose the Ice Beam, so if you need to travel through Norfair again you have to go pick up the extra Ice Beam there. Also, the Ice Beam is needed to kill Metroids so it may not be worth picking up the Wave Beam at all.

After death 23, day 16: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, Ice Beam or Wave Beam, High Jump Boots, Screw Attack, 165 Missiles, 5 Energy Tanks, Kraid down.

If you want to see a higher res image of the map so far, it's in the gallery.   read

4:45 AM on 08.24.2009

Metroid and graph paper, part 2

Continuation of this post.

This entry is part 2 of my "Metroid and graph paper" posts, and below is part 3 of the narration of my playthrough, continued from part 1 of the post series. Got it?

My Playthrough, part 3:

Armed with the knowledge that the Ice Beam is under a hallway in Brinstar, I went over there and started bombing. Thereís a pit with nothing under one, and the Ice Beam under the other. Itís glorious! Now I can see the rest of the game that has eluded me all this time. I set about to all the locations on the map that need the Ice Beam to progress further. I discovered the shaft on the right end of Brinstar requires the High Jump Boots to move up it, so I headed to Norfair.

Missiles, Missiles, and more Missiles.

At the right side of Norfair are 5 Missile upgrades and a duplicate Ice Beam. This is going to be a high priority area in a timed playthough if I need Missile capacity. I finish exploring Norfair and find 2 more Missile upgrades. I canít help but feel Iím missing something here. Iíll probably be back later. Back to Kraidís Hideout. I was assuming Iíd have found more Energy Tanks or the Varia Suit to deal with that area.

My new path led here.

Itís a very bad idea to go to Kraidís Hideout before getting the Ice Beam. The respawing enemies make it very difficult to deal with the other ones on the screen, but if you freeze them you can take all the time you want. Now itís not a big deal to keep my energy reserves up, I can farm the bigger enemies and get the larger energy pickups. So I know itís Brinstar -> Norfair -> Kraidís Hideout. I swept through the area I now had access to, and at the bottom I found something promising. Is it time to fight Kraid?


WowÖ the first time I entered the room Kraidís attacks knock me into the little pit on the right. My energy slowly drained to zero as I tried and freeze the claws he fires to use as a bridge. I couldnít get out, I donít think you can jump that high, or maybe I was panicked. While I was down there I discovered an Energy Tank, but I couldnít figure out how to pick it up. I dusted myself off, spent a couple minutes filling my tanks and ammo back up, and tried again.


Kraid fires spikes to damage you and absorb your attacks, but if you freeze them in midair he loses his protection and you get to blast him. I emerged victorious, and was rewarded with +75 Missile capacity. I only had 19 energy afterwards, I need to get better at fighting him for timed runs. I should also figure out exactly how many Missiles I need so I know which capacity upgrades I can skip. My meter read 119 Missiles left, and my new capacity was 150, so 7 upgrades will do it if I donít miss.

Two screens up and one right of Kraid's lair is a one-way door I haven't been through.

I didnít have the energy to figure out how to get that Energy Tank, so Iíd have to come back later. I wound up getting killed on the way out, another cheap Hopper positioning on the other side of a door. Iíve explored all the dead ends again and didnít get any new abilities. And thereís still a one-way door that I havenít found the other side of. Is there a way to get up that shaft on the right end of Brinstar, or is there a power up at the Kraid statue?

Before and after.

The Kraid statue could be raised, but it probably doesnít mean anything without killing Ridley. So I headed back to the right end of Brinstar to see if I missed the way up. It turned out I couldnít see anything new, and Iíve explored all the avenues I have open. Iím missing something, somewhere. The most promising lead is the one-way door back in Kraidís Hideout I still havenít been through. Iíll investigate that area later.

After death 13, day 10: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, Ice Beam, 150 Missiles, 2 Energy Tanks, Kraid down.

If you want to see a higher res image of the map so far, it's in the gallery. The playthrough is continued here.   read

8:50 AM on 08.23.2009

I suck at games: Metroid and graph paper

I was getting psyched for the Metroid Prime Trilogy, as I loved the first two games and havenít had a chance to play the third. New controls and widescreen for the first two, and a new (to me) third game? Awesome. It also got me thinking about how I have seen all the games in the series to completion, except for the newest and the original. Well, I only played through them; I never got the good endings. Usually Iíll get close to 100% items and nowhere near the required time. But I finish them, damn it.

Iíve attempted to play Metroid several times. Before I had the Internet, the time I had with the actual cartridge was short, and I had no graph paper. I was able to remember that the Morph Ball was left of the start, and there were Missiles and Bombs to the right somewhere, and elevators made the game hard, but that was about it. My memory is that of a housefly, and the backtracking to dead-ends I couldnít remember I already visited was extremely tedious and pointlessly backtracking in areas further than Brinstar drains your health fairly quickly. I know I came nowhere near finding the Ice Beam without using the password JUSTIN BAILEY. I love the Metroid games, but only the ones with automaps. I dunno how I cleared Metroid II back in the day; I guess the level design was more intuitive.

After I had the Internet, I had access to the game first through the original Prime, and secondly through Virtual Console. But it still had no automap, and I didnít see the point in downloading the map at all. Just like the other Metroids, knowing where everything is from the start would take all the exploration, and therefore most of the fun, out of the game. So again, I still didnít get further than a couple Missile upgrades and a fear of the deeper areas of the game.

Iíve always had the idea of dropping a screenshot map of the game into GIMP (poor manís Photoshop) and making a grid of black squares, each in their own layer, on top of the map. As I explore the map, I can remove the black square on the corresponding screen in GIMP. Itíd be an awesome automap, but setting it up seems like a lot of work. So I just decided to do it old-school, and went to the grocery store and bought some graph paper and colored pencils. I also figured Iíd make a blog post of me playing through the game, and uploading the map as I progress. Iíll go ahead and admit here that Iíll be checking a zoomed out version of a screenshot map occasionally, to make sure Iím not off by one in the corridor and shaft lengths.

I remember reading that the Famicom Disk System version of the game is superior to the NES version the West received. Thereís a real save function, like in The Legend of Zelda, and the FDS has an extra sound channel. So if Iím going to play Metroid it might as well be that version. Being a law abiding citizen, I went ahead and bought a Famicom and a copy of FDS Metroid off of eBay, which was prohibitively expensive, but Iím not going to jail for this. Then I ordered a Famicom disk copier, and read the Metroid image onto my computer. I then applied Alan Midasí English translation to the disk image, and copied it onto a special blank Famicom disk. After that, I modified the Famicom hardware to upscale the graphics to 4x the original resolution and apply smoothing to the pixels, and output to a window on my computer screen. Finally, I took apart the 1P controller, cut the plastic open, and wired in a turbo button. It took forever, and there are easier ways to do this, but I donít want the FBI knocking on my door.

Hereís the result. Itís still an NES game but it looks a lot better than the VC version. And the sound is better too. Unlike many NES games, the sound effects donít ďstep onĒ the instruments. The item collection medley and the title screen music are slightly different too. The game tracks your death/save count on the file screen, and the number of game days (1 day = 1 hour realtime) youíve played. All in all this is the best version of the game (considering only rereleases, not remakes), and is the version Nintendo would actually be justified selling for (maybe more than) $5 on the Virtual Console service. One interesting note is that the elevator shafts in this game are loading screens for the Famicom version, it takes about a minute to ride the elevators while the FDS loads that part of the map.

My Playthrough, part 1:

So go left, get Morph Ball, go right, and get everything else. Itís nice not to backtrack any more than necessary. I feel like I might actually finish this. I feel like I may even go for 100% items and 100% explored, and then copy the map and draw an optimal route to take to get the best ending. Iíve gone as far as I can in Brinstar without the Ice Beam and without killing Ridley and Kraid, so I headed to the elevator to Kraidís Hideout. I forgot how much that part of the map sucked. The enemies hit you for 20 damage each, and I only have 200 energy. I wasnít being careful enough, so Iíll have to be a bit more cautious when I come back later.

After death 1, day 1: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, 15 Missiles, 1 Energy Tank.

My Playthrough, part 2:

Next I headed to Norfair, since the Kraidís Hideout was traumatic. Death in this game is awful, you have to farm enemies for a good amount of time to fill up on energy. You need at least your original 100 energy filled, or youíll die pretty quick past Brinstar if you suck like me. Only two Missile upgrades in Norfair, I need the Ice Beam. Faced with dead ends, I headed back to Kraidís Hideout.

A Hopper in front of Samus, and a Geegas on the right flying up for the killing blow. Samus was dead as soon as she entered the door.

Entering any room here from the left door is extremely cheap on the gameís part. The Hoppers will knock you backwards for 20 damage before you get a chance to make any input, and if you enter through a Missile door youíll get knocked back into it. Worse, when that happens the Geegas keep moving and get to hit you for another 20 damage while the screen is transitioning. You lose 20% of your energy about half of the time you enter a missile door from the left! If you look closely you can see where I wrote ďFUCKĒ repeatedly where those rooms are. I kept getting murdered there so I decided heading left first was much healthier.

Key: Squiggle = Beam door, MIS = Missile door, ICE -> = Need Ice Beam to move in that direction

Without the Ice Beam, most of the paths were one way trips. If you go to the bottom of the shaft under the elevator, you have to make a small loop with no upgrades. Going left from the top of the shaft is a larger loop, but at least you get two Missile upgrades. I needed the Ice Beam to enter the door in the middle of the shaft under the elevator, so the only place left for me to explore were those two death trap Missile doors.

It's like an energy refill station in the later games, except it takes four minutes.

I went through the top one first, and I figured out in these rooms that pickups are poison, because the Geegas that come through the floor and kamikaze you donít respawn until you grab the pickup they drop. Thereís one Missile upgrade, followed by 15 completely pointless screens. Wow, what sick bastard put that in? Doesnít matter, this place isnít that bad, except you can lose 100 energy in 3 seconds, and you frequently have to farm the respawning enemies to get your health back up. That idea I had earlier about trying to speed through and get the best ending had about died at this point. Oh well, I had to be getting close to the Ice Beam.

Except I wasnít. Behind Missile door number two was 3 screens, ending in an Energy Tank. Mental note, this is the first place to head in this area on my next playthrough. Where is the Ice Beam? Iím stuckÖ

After death 8, day 5: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, 35 Missiles, 2 Energy Tanks.

Does this set off any red flags? Every time I tried to play this game, I've gotten the Bombs and wandered merrily past this hallway.

Well, playing Metroid without referencing a walkthrough has failed. I looked it up and determined that I should be bombing the bottom of every hallway (the 1 screen of tighter horizontal parallel lines between longer corridors on my map). One of those is the path to the Ice Beam. I have a feeling I would have dicked around in those 15 pointless screens in Kraidís Hideout for a long time before even thinking of going back to Brinstar, and Iím pretty sure I would have tried Norfair before that. This is the only Metroid game I couldnít figure out without some kind of outside assistance. Further, Iíve been exactly this far in the game several times before. I managed to ignore that hallway every time I played.

Do I suck at Metroid? Is this a failure on my part, or the level designerís? Should I have stuck it out, possibly for a couple of more hours of backtracking, revisiting dead ends until I finally discovered the bomb spot I needed? You could say I'm dumb for not calling the Nintendo Hint Line all that long ago and asking a counselor where the Ice Beam is. In my recent attempts I could have looked at a walkthrough sooner.

I'll give you two guesses where the bomb goes.

I know the game is over 20 years old at this point, and not all games of this age are the most player friendly. But all of the action adventure games Nintendo put out after Metroid were pretty intuitive. The Legend of Zelda, which was released six months before Metroid (in Japan), had the same ďflawĒ of having to bomb random areas. But that game had a map for the dungeons, and the important spots to bomb looked conspicuous. Zeldaís first quest is absolutely clearable without any outside references, even if you donít have the maps that came with the game (I didnít).

Further, on the ďI suck at gamesĒ theme, I have never seen the best ending at any of these games. Finishing these games in a timely manner is something that requires tons of practice, skill, and memorization. It requires much more than one playthrough. Itís the same with the Resident Evil series for me; I play through them once, get a horrible score, and donít have it in me to play through repeatedly to figure out the optimal path. Iím lucky to finish a game at all. I feel somewhat frustrated that I donít play these games more than once, but on the other hand that leaves time to play games that are completely new to me.

Iím considering pressing on and trying to finish the game, making my map and noting my experiences. Should I go ahead and continue documenting my playing experience in another post? Do I suck or would you have wandered past that hallway without a second thought? Have any of you gotten a ďbest endingĒ without using a walkthough, but through practice and determination? How would you rank that among your accomplishments in your gaming career?

If you want to see a higher res image of the map so far, it's in the gallery. The playthrough is continued here.   read

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