Created By: tachyonTrail on June 20, 2013 Last Edited By: tachyonTrail on July 9, 2013

Thematically Sinister Stage

A missing level design Supertrope for a stage with mostly matching hazards and scenery.

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No Launching Please!

A Thematically Sinister Stage is when the developer inserts themed stages into their game - such as a Gusty Glade stage or a Death Mountain stage - wherein the environmental hazards are quite persistent in attempting to get in on Everything Trying to Kill You, thus becoming an intrinsic part of the challenge of clearing the stage. These hazards are fairly uniformly thematically-appropriate to the setting of the stage, whatever it may be, because we wouldn't want something to be out of place, would we? So long as the stage itself is also one of the primary entities in the game trying to kill you (whether the stage is self-aware or not is irrelevant), it fits under this trope's umbrella.

General examples include most stages in Mega Man or another Platform Game, most fields in Zelda games and Role-Playing Games in general, and also in a Racing Game like F-Zero where the stage can be hazardous rather than merely performance-limiting. In fact, pretty much any game where classical elements are a thing tends to also contain many variants on the Thematically Sinister Stage. Games which incorporate the Sorting Algorithm Of Threatening Geography usually play it straight on every stage, or most of them at least. In really extreme cases, Finagle's Law is also applied, liberally.

Although it frequently does, this trope doesn't necessarily refer to the visual style of hazards; the Rule Of Escalating Threat may actually be the theme of said... sinisterness. Continue reading, this bears further explanation.

A level designer attempting to create a Thematically Sinister Stage by varying the difficulty throughout the stage may unintentionally produce a stage in which Schizophrenic Difficulty happens to be the theme the stage's design follows (causing players no end of frustration, and possibly inspiring them to call the resulting stage "poorly-designed"; or in the case of a last level, to call it a Disappointing Last Level). This can still be an example of playing the trope straight, but more frequently this would be considered an aversion, since it may cause the stage's difficulty to deviate from the expected threat level the design of the stage is otherwise patterned on. The few situations in which the trope is usually played straight because of Schizophrenic Difficulty follow:

These can all be deliberate aversions of this trope - and either way, it may seem like the reasoning that led to the stage's design is a simple case of the design team running out of new ideas, and just deciding to throw all their ideas at you - at the same time. However! If this sort of design is justified by the plot, it can paradoxically result in the design team having played the Thematically Sinister Stage straight. This tends to be the case, especially so, when the entire game takes place in an Eldritch Location or one in which All the Worlds Are a Stage, and frequently is in a situation where those stages are also a Collapsing Lair!

Direct aversions of this trope (partial or otherwise) may include: Environmental Anachronism Stew, or an Unexpected Gameplay Change in which the respective embodiment of anachronism, or the gameplay change, is represented by an out-of-place piece of scenery/obstacle from another stage with a different theme. The Marathon Level and The Maze are (by default) examples of playing it straight, though a certain sort of deliberate malfeasance can break this rule.
For other editors: Tropes or stages which are direct aversions of this trope would be useful to identify; post 'em if you've got 'em.

Example list (final will undoubtedly be huge, but try these on for size):
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • July 6, 2013
    DAN004
  • July 6, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ "expected" doesn't mean "no purpose". People expect a plot in a story, but plot is a trope (just it falls under Omnipresent Tropes).
  • July 6, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Isn't this just Malevolent Architecture?
  • July 6, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ No, because that's general. This is "if it's fire based, the hazards will be fire and heat related".
  • July 6, 2013
    DAN004
    So I guess this trope just catalogues a concept?
  • July 6, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Not sure what you mean by that. If you mean a lot of games would be listed, that just means this is a Seen It A Million Times trope.
  • July 6, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    It may be something seen a million times, but it's still a tool of the trade (or at least a fallback) in game design. So yeah, this may sound self-serving, but I'd agree it's tropeworthy based on that criteria. If that is a useful criterion for declaring a thing tropeworthy, anyway. And yeah I did suggest this to incorporate a bunch of level design tropes into one category, so I can't argue with that statement.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ That first sentence still assumes seeing it a lot is a strike against this being a trope. That has NEVER been what Seen It A Million Times means.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    I think I took your meaning to be that Seen It A Million Times makes it tropeworthy by definition?
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Yes it does (and sorry if the last comment came across as rude). It just means the example list and wicks is likely to get very long, but that's to be expected.
  • July 7, 2013
    Arivne
    I suspect some of the tropes related to themed areas already mention this. For example, Lethal Lava Land says "The puzzles and challenges in such an area generally revolve around navigating around flames and lava."

    If this trope is launched statements like that could be changed to Pot Hole to it.
  • July 7, 2013
    xanderiskander
    The title is a bit unclear IMO. How about Setting Themed Videogame Obstacles?
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    That implies that it's just the obstacles. This is a case of architecture and environmental obstacles showing up to the party wearing the same formal dress.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    Thematically Sinister Stage might be more appropriate, now that I think about it.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Did you make this ykttw? Or did the OP say it was Up For Grabs? If not, what you did was not considerate behavior.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    I personally made this ykttw. Thus why I've been the sponsor on it this entire time. As seen in the change history.

    By the way: I'd like to see if there is a trope or game that embodies an aversion of this. If others could help me find it, that'd be snazzy, since if I'm not mistaken passing the test of whether or not it can be averted would make it a useful trope for discussion's sake.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Oops. Mixed this up with this ykttw, as we are discussing things on both.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    No big deal, I've been jumping around between a few different ykttws today. Figure it'll help me get better acquainted with the formatting methods.
  • July 7, 2013
    DAN004
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    And we can have specific examples if there are really notable ways some games apply this trope.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    I forgot to say this earlier, everyone, but thanks for the contributions!

    Still looking for more of these, I'm sure I haven't found them all yet. May be obvious, but I think this trope could be classified as a missing Supertrope.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ I would say so.

    • In Metroid games, starting with Super Metroid, Samus cannot safely enter hot areas without the Varia suit. The heat just saps her health.
  • July 9, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    If anyone has any suggestions on how to further improve or add to this article, let me know. I'm still a noob when it comes to editing.
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