Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Genius of the Barrel Roll

It's no surprise that Afterburner Climax features a barrel roll. Sega has lived its entire life in Nintendo's shadow, and even though Afterburner easily predates Starfox, everyone that looks at a plane-based rail shooter is going to suggest that the player hit Z or R twice.

Like any younger brother with a minority complex, Sega tries to do all the same things as Nintendo, but faster and cooler and more awesome. With Afterburner Climax's buttery smooth gameplay and killer graphics, Sega was halfway there-- but how would they possibly improve upon the one-liner that burned Arwings into our entire generation's subconscious?

Let me count the ways:

1. Vantage Point

The player camera rolls along with the player, spinning the entire world upside down for a moment. This is initially extremely disorienting for the player and really works to drive the point home that barrel rolls are a big deal. No one is going to just be chaining roll after roll together idly to stay invulnerable like in Starfox-- barrel rolls are a maneuver to be respected.

This also takes advantage of the extraordinary visuals in the game.

1. Control

Instead of a dedicated roll control, Afterburner Climax uses a strange way to trigger the barrel roll: while fully banked in one direction, roll in the other. This creates a much more analog feel to the flight control, giving new players something interesting to learn rather than another button to memorize.

The first time a player plays this game, he will accidentally trigger a barrel roll. Marrying the control of the aiming with the control of defensive maneuvers in such a way is genius, as the player will learn to carefully decide between offensively and defensively moving the plane.

2. Longevity

With new players, there is no need to teach them an additional control for defense. They'll accidentally trigger the control and then freak out in delight when the world around them spins in a circle. Totally awesome!

As they get better at the game, they will begin to notice that their ability to aim is restricted in some way because certain stick motions will induce an uncontrollable roll. They will begin to nto push the control stick to the outer extreme, introducing a layer of gentle finesse so rare in a blazing fast game like this.

Eventually, the most awesome players will start going after medals like killing X number of enemy aircraft while rolling, creating a new metagame of high risk, high reward gameplay reserved only for masters of the game.

Do a barrel roll! (Press Z or R twice!)