This is a game called Crazy Climbers.
It came out in 1980.
And this is Space Panic, released the same year.
Heres a third game from 1981.
You know the name.
Notice the difference?
And games were never the same.
This is the first episode of Mechanically Speaking.
And this is an entire video about jumping in 2-D.
In any game, your core mechanic should feel good to the player when they use it.
So what makes jumping feel so good?
The answer is twofold: responsiveness, and fairness to the player.
Super Mario Bros. resurrected console gaming from the brink of nothing.
It was a high watermark for the industry.
So what made it better than what came before?
Take a look at Donkey Kong, 1983s Mario Bros and 1986s Castlevania.
There are only two kinds of jumps.
Straight up and down for when the character is standing still.
And a more traditional arch for when the character is moving.
Nothing else ever changes.
The velocity, trajectory and the amount of time spent in the air are always the same.
The player cant alter the jump in anyway.
The only input variable we can control is when we decide to press the button.
Super Mario invented a lot of neat game design tricks.
One of its cleverest hacks is how it lets the player control the length of the jump.
Heres how it works: Anytime the player presses the jump button, a timer starts.
That timer lasts 29 frames.
As long as that button is pressed and that timer hasnt run out, Mario ascends.
The closer the player gets to the 29 frame limit, Mario slows, and when the timer runs
out, he starts descending.
It feels like its pressure sensitive even though it isnt.
Tying jump power to pressure sensitivity comes as second nature and doesn't even need explaining
to the player.
But buttons didnt feature pressure sensitivity until Sonys Dualshock 2 controller for
So Nintendo needed to fake it.
The second reason why it was a genius move was that it vastly opened up the games
Before there was only one kind of jump, which meant there could only be so many kinds of
things to jump over.
Giving players more control over Mario meant the designers could challenge them with a
wider array of obstacles.
A wider array of obstacles meant a more compelling experience filled with a sense of discovery
that hadnt been possible until then.
Take a look at this room in Metroid.
You need to control Samuss jump height and direction mid air to clear it.
It requires active problem solving on the part of the player to progress.
Just five years earlier an area with this much variety and interesting challenge would
have been impossible to create.
Remember the timer?
The length of the timer varies based on another variable: running speed.
The slower youre moving, the faster the timer runs out, regardless of how long you
press the button.
You see this in most modern games, but its most noticeable in Donkey Kong Country Returns,
Super Meat Boy and Rayman Legends.
Super Mario Bros also increased responsiveness by allowing the player to control Mario in
In the first game it was slight, you could only slow Marios velocity, and you can
see the same thing here in Super Mario Bros 3.
The difference of course is that in Super Mario Bros. 3 there is a visual component
This didnt affect the gameplay at all, but it gave the player a far greater sense
Visual and audial responsiveness can be just as important as control responsiveness, sometimes
even more so.
This is Mega Man 2.
Released in 1988.
Compare it to Super Mario Bros 3 and you can see the midair control is a lot more responsive.
This isnt necessarily good or bad.
It does, however, lend itself to the twitchy run and gun gameplay the Mega Man series is
now known for.
The difference between Mega Man and Mario is important to point out because it illustrates
how this mechanic can affect a games overall tone and gameplay.
The way the jump responds to the players actions helps define what kind of game the
player is playing.
Released in 1986.
And Super Metroid.
Notice samuss floaty controls and the way the characters slow to respond in midair.
Almost like gravitys off.
Like were walking on the moon.
Its otherworldly, alien, and along with the soundtrack and smart visuals it helped
establish a tour de force atmosphere in a time where games rarely tried anything so
Making jumping feel good in a video game requires more than just responsive mechanics.
It also demands a commitment to being fair to the player.
We never want the game to feel cheap.
This is Pitfall.
Three years before Super Mario.
Notice how Pitfall Harry has more than enough room to clear that jump?
Thats because the challenge really isnt the jump.
Its timing it with the rolling logs.
Thats to say that the jumps arent the challenge.
Its the obstacles.
You can see this throughout the last 30 years of platformers.
From the Salty Sprint level in Runner 2.
To City Escape in Sonic Generations.
Scott Rogers called this space The Jump Zone.
Its the space between the earliest point where you can jump and still clear the gap
and the edge.
The idea is that we give players enough room in case they jump too early or need to evade
some obstacles mid air.
Good jump zones will be different for every game.
Not only do they need to take into account the maximum length of the jump, but they also
need to take into account how that jump responds to player input.
Challenge is difficult to balance in video games.
Make it too hard.
Make it too easy?
The key here is to make even the most challenging jumps easier in the subtlest of ways.
The player still needs to feel like he succeeded because of skill, but there are certain elements
that we can make more lenient without the player ever noticing.
Extra-punitive hitboxes are a game killer.
Most 2D jumping games draw their hitboxes to always favor the player.
Take 2009s Canabalt for example.
The runner is actually a 24x24 pixel character.
But the hitbox (the real size as far as the engine is concerned) is actually significantly
smaller at just 12x14.
And the hitbox isnt centered.
Its snapped to the bottom left corner.
This is all so Canabalts lightning fast gameplay doesn't overwhelm the player.
You can wait to the last second to jump over a box without stumbling.
And you can pretty much jump over any gap at the very last second.
The boxes have hitboxes too.
But theyre only two pixels.
That way if the player is jumping-- like at all-- theyll clear the obstacle.
This happens in almost every game that features jumping.
Take a look at these thorns in Dust: An Elysian Tale.
And enemy hitboxes in Mega Man X.
My favorite are these spikes in Sonic the Hedgehog that actually push Sonic off them.
In most cases enemies have two hitboxes.
One for negative effects-- like losing health-- and another for good effects-- like jumping
on their heads.
If a game still feels cheap, or if its just more challenging than youd like, theres
one more (big) handout we can slide to the player.
The ghost jump.
Give the player a small gap after leaving the ledge where he can still jump in midair.
This is most common in puzzle games that use platforming elements.
Games like Braid.
Or Metroidvania games.
Like Symphony of the Night.
But you can still see it some true platformers.
Like the recent Rayman Legends.
Now lets look a little closer at the structure of these jumps.
In most early platformers, jumping takes as many frames on the rise as it does on the
Something peculiar happens over time though.
In Super Mario Bros 3 the shortest jump you can make is 15 frames on the rise, 3 spent
at the apex, and then 15 frames on the descent.
Even on the both ends.
But Marios longest jump is 33 frames up, not a single frame spent at the apex, and
then 25 down.
Theyre not proportional
In almost every jumping game I tested, the lower you jump, the slower you fall.
The most obvious reason for this is so that players will have enough time to direct a
The longer a character takes to fall, the more can happen in that space of time.
More opportunities for interesting gameplay that otherwise wouldnt exist.
Take a look at Super Meat Boy.
It has one of the longest descents.
It takes Meat Boy 33 frames to descend from his highest apex.
And good portion of the challenge in Super Meat Boy is aiming his fall just right.
But theres a second reason Id look to Super Meat Boy for inspiration.
Everything Ive talked about here are really just dials.
Independent variables that can be turned up, or down, tweaked one way or another depending
on the game you want to produce.
When I set out to make this video, I hoped to find a common equation between the games.
There really isnt any.
Super Meat Boy was created on feel.
Or as Tommy Refenes himself put it Truth is, there are no formulasits just a
big huge hack.