A challenge from World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros., an antepiece followed by its associated setpiece. It's difficult to jump up the stairs without falling into the pit. The first is a low-stakes version of the second, existing to warn you.
So you jump on these weird platforms and since there's really nothing in your way
you're kinda like "aw ok, I'm just gonna keep going right", and then you see: they're falling. So after learning about these falling platforms in a controlled
environment, you can have a really big challenge later that combines them with something else. So I'm glad I knew about their falling! And it wasn't... fuckin'... shoved down my throat by a robot!
Say a video game developer wants you to do some interesting, complex, impressive challenge. But they don't want to be too hard on you; they want to make the challenge as approachable as it can be without compromising its complexity. But what if it isn't enough to just streamline the challenge? What if lots of playtesters are still getting stuck on the cool setpiece? What can the game designer do to allow them to keep their cool thing, but not have to frustrate players? This is where an "antepiece" comes in handy.
An antepiece is a seemingly-innocuous task that precedes a great-big-difficult-challenge, and gives you subtle hints about how you should deal with the great-big-challenge that you're about to confront. It's present in the form of a challenge that is paired with a "version" of the same challenge that is in some way "easier". In architecture, a small room that acts as an entry point to a larger room is called an antechamber. An antepiece is an antechamber for a video game setpiece
. Crucially, all antepieces are VERY easy/nonthreatening, often things the player simply breezes past and may not give a second conscious thought to.
This is a form of Instructive Level Design
, allowing a game to maintain a state of "Show, Don't Tell
"; instead of the game explaining through text or voice how something will work, the player experiences the semi-new thing directly. Compare with Training Dummy
. Contrast with Recurring Boss
, where you have a boss or maybe a certain set of challenges that are related, with some kind of quantitative change (like health, or number of moves). The change from an antepiece to a setpiece is different to that though; it is a qualitative change rather than a quantitative change in difficulty - the antepiece won't have anything resembling the same challenge involved in the setpiece it is paired with.
developers, who use antepieces a lot, have things called "mechanic reminders", which are a subset of antepieces. An antepiece may tell you something quite new, while a mechanic reminder simply reminds.
Contrast Noob Bridge
, where a newcomer to a game is forced to figure out a recurring, trivial design element of a game on their own without any obvious hints or instruction.
- Portal has a few of these. Test chamber ten is a three section chamber. The second and third sections are about throwing yourself down a pit into a portal at the bottom and flying out of a wall. But the FIRST section of chamber ten is barely a puzzle at all; it's just a panel and a staircase. All the player has to do to keep moving is make a portal anywhere and go into it. But it introduces a structure that is going to be immediately built upon to get more thoughtful puzzles.
- In the developer commentary of Portal 2, they mention instructive level design about bombs. The final battle of the game requires creative use of taking the bombs the boss throws and portalling them back. However, the bombs show up one level before, ejected out of a pipe in a controlled repetitive fashion, so the player can get used to their trajectory.
- The Mega Man (Classic) games have their share of antepieces. Egoraptor describes a bunch of them in this video - an obvious example is the flicky platforms that turn whenever they hit a gap in their line. The first flicky platform is an antepiece - when it doesn't do any flicking at all, so being on it is trivial. It clear, when you see a nearby platform flick, that the flick is caused by a gap in the line.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- Pictured in this page is an area of Super Mario Bros. 1 that illustrates this trope in action: In this case, the challenge is "jump up a staircase and land on the top step. Maintain enough momentum control that you don't overjump and end up in the pit". That is what you MUST do to get past the staircase on the right. Getting past the one on the left is easier, because you're allowed to fall in the pit without dying. So the first staircase is not any kind of challenge in itself, it's simply a stern warning about what's about to come. A more detailed explanation can be found here.
- In Super Mario Bros. 2, the very first screens of the game establish right off the bat that the game mechanics are different from the original Mario game in three visual ways: First, you drop down from a high vertical height down and scroll through several screens, unlike the original game, which only had horizontal scrolling. Second, you find out immediately that you can't hurt enemies by jumping on them, and since a player will be familiar with the run button (which worked as the Fireball button in the previous game), they will likely find out right away that you can pick up an enemy when you're moving or running on them, and since a second enemy is nearby, the player may realize he can attack him by throwing the Shy Guy they're holding. Naturally, this new discovery may encourage the player to see if he can grab other objects, such as the nearest patch of grass, which gives you a throwable vegetable. And third, moving left to right on the screen will loop you around to the other side, immediately tipping off the player that the Ratchet Scrolling of the original game has been dropped, and alerts the player that the only way to exit the screen is by figuring out how to use the nearby door.
- Super Mario Land also has a few antepieces. In this image, you can see the third boss on the far right, who tries to crush you by throwing bouncing stones. On the far left, a positioned just before you will encounter him, you can see one of those bouncing stones. That anticipatory stone presents no real danger, because it only bounces beneath the question boxes, which you can jump onto. The purpose of the stone is to warn you about what is ahead and maybe give you the opportunity to practice dodging and jumping on them in an enclosed environment.
- Super Mario 64 uses antepieces as well.
- The Castle's "Secret Slide" (easily accessible from the lobby) is a very short and easy challenge, as the slide has barriers around most of it that keep you from accidentally falling off—the only "challenge" imposed on the player is a sharp turn and a brief part of the slide with no barriers midway through. Even then, the slide doesn't penalize you for losing by taking away a life—it just sets you back in the lobby. Later on, you encounter two more slide levels in Cool, Cool Mountain and Tall Tall Mountain, where the training wheels come off and you're forced to do slides over bottomless pits, with no safety barriers and plenty of sharp turns—one of them even has you do a penguin racing match! The first slide is also an indicator that there are many more secret stars hidden in the castle, including one hidden in itself—a second star appears if you beat it in less than 21 seconds, which is tricky for beginners, but far from unfeasible, and it allows you to practice before the aforementioned penguin race in Cool, Cool Mountain. And on top of all that, the slide has 80 total coins, and getting 50 nets you a one up on getting its stars, on top of a 1-up riding along the middle part of the course, encouraging the player to practice get used to the slides physics.
- The Tower of the Wing Cap and The Secret Aquarium likewise prep you for the task of practicing flying and swimming, two aspects of the game with fairly high learning curves, by placing you in obstacle and enemy free environments where you only goal is to acquire Red Coins, which you can replay at any time, and they don't penalize you for falling or drowning.
- In "Bob Omb Battlefield", even before King Bob Omb gives the idea that you have to pick up and throw him, players can discover that you can pick up and throw his minion Bob Ombs earlier, giving a hint on how to best him ahead of time.
- Whomp's Fortress has three of these; first, a series of moving walls (Bomps) that just push you off the first ledge of the levels main route and onto the nearby ground, which is a warmup for the moving platforms above a bottomless pit straight ahead. Just after that, you'll find a small bridge that collapses as soon as you run across it, positioned at a height that isn't particularly dangerous for Mario (and getting back up there to retry takes mere seconds). It's a low risk challenge on it's own that you can skip via a thin ledge nearby, but it preps you for a similar collapsing bridge in Big Boo's Haunt, which is even smaller, locked in a tricky camera angle, and on top of that, sends you straight into the basement if you fall off it, forcing you to backtrack all the way back upstairs. And finally, you encounter Whomps shortly before you fight King Whomp, which show his attack pattern, although they are much smaller and easier to dodge than him, and only take one hit to kill.
- Super Mario Galaxy 2 features a level that involves Yoshi spitting Bullet Bills at glass domes to break them. The concept is introduced with Bullet Bills firing in a slow, predictable pattern, and the glass dome being stationary. Later, the Bullet Bills are aimed, and Yoshi must spit out the Bullet Bills while on a moving platform. This leads up to fighting a boss using the same techniques, while in a hectic environment.
- Super Mario 3D World:
- The game has the Hisstocrat boss, which requires you to climb up his fellow snake monsters with the Cat Suit so you can jump from them onto his head. Before all this, there are stone pillars in non-boss levels that resemble the snake monsters and have arrows up their bellies that encourage you to climb up them, foreshadowing the boss fight.
- Bowser's Highway Showdown is littered with bombs shaped like soccer balls that you can kick to light them and make them explode, either to defeat enemies or break open certain brick walls. Initially, there are a couple just laying in the middle of the path to be kicked, but are seen later being shot out of cannons already lit and rolling toward you. This foreshadows the more complex dodging and kicking of the bombs required to take down Bowser himself.
- Mario Kart 7 features one in Rainbow Road: partway through the track, a glider launchpad leads directly into a large star ring that gives the racers a small speed boost. In the final third of the race, the track opens into an open gliding section where racers have to avoid floating asteroids and fly through a series of smaller, spread-out star rings to stay in flight.
- In an underground scene in World 3 of Braid, there is a puzzle about complex interactions between keys and doors, some of which are affected by your power, some of which aren't. There are two puzzle pieces: getting the first one can be done without thought or understanding, there are only two doors and one key. But solving the three-door-two-key puzzle that follows requires reflecting on the simpler situation. A picture can be seen here.
- VVVVVV has antepieces. Here is an easy example. The player moves from left to right through it. When they go through one of those lines, the direction of gravity is reversed. To get through the red room they can just hold right. the next room is much trickier but the player has a pattern in mind to help them.
- Half-Life 2:
- An early setpiece in Half Life 2: There are a bunch of barnacles on the ceiling with their tongues hanging down. There's an explosive barrel near you. If you pass the barrel to a tongue, the barrel will be pulled up to the ceiling, and you can shoot it, and it will explode near the barnacles, and they will all die in a satisfying way. BUT moving objects around and collaborating with a tongue is a pretty elaborate plan to be expected in an FPS...
So, just prior to entering this room, there's a part where you must elbow your way through a bunch of (nonexplosive) barrels. When you do this, one of them will fall down a slope and slide into a small, non-threatening group of barnacles where, in full view of the player, it will be picked up by a tongue. The player now knows barnacle tongues pick up barrels upon touching them. This is described in more detail, with pictures, half way through this article.
- Ravenholm contains two examples. One, at the beginning, is a doorway that has sawblades in the frame, which you have to remove with the gravity gun. As soon as you pick one off, a headcrab zombie shuffles directly into your field of view. It could not be more of a sitting duck - you are likely to discharge the sawblade accidentally, teaching you to use the sawblade as a weapon. This is backed up by the fact the first room you enter has the top half of a zombie on top of an impaled sawblade.
- The other example is a room containing a headcrab zombie trapped in a cage. You can fill this cage with gas and then cause sparks to appear - this introduces you to gas-expelling tanks and allows you to connect it to fire and sparks without the zombie, or the fire you create, presenting you with a threat.
- During the Quiet Drama Scene in Black Mesa East, Gordon is given the Gravity Gun and instructed in its use in a variety of methods of varying levels of subtlety. One that fits firmly in this category is the game of "fetch" with Dog. Dog's "ball" is actually a Rollermine, a type of enemy that recurs later and can only be manipulated with the Gravity Gun.
- Combine Snipers, a powerful but immobile enemy, are introduced by having Gordon sneak up on a sniper nest that's pointed the wrong way on a covered bridge — that is, it can only shoot on the far side of the bridge. This means the player can see the Laser Sight and learn the proper way of dealing with the sniper (grenades) without being exposed to any real harm.
- Anna Anthropy used antepieces in Mighty Jill Off. There is a particular one-screen challenge which contains three individual, challenging, movements. Each movement has previously been presented to the player in isolation. This gif shows the room and the three previous parts of the game. Anna describes the whole thing in this lecture.
- The first floor of Dungeon 8 of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages features a simple puzzle you must solve to open a tomb and descend to a lower level. One of the lower levels is a giant, sprawling maze where the puzzle is to eventually open a similar tomb to gain access to the final floor.
- There is a level in Flower which sets up some challenges that try to convince the player to move in a spiral for a later challenge. First you move in a circle around some haystacks, then in a area-filling wavy curve on a flowerbed.
- The puzzle game Music of the Spheres uses an antepiece towards the end of the game. The final puzzle of the game involves a strategy that will allows you to detect the movement of an off-screen enemy. The levels before that final puzzle are very similar in structure to it, except that you CAN see the place that will later be hidden from you. This allows you to get accustomed to the structure of the challenge before the challenging part is actually introduced. Other examples of antepieces can be seen at the bottom of this article◊.
- The mid-eighties puzzle game Pitman (aka 'Catrap') has very clear antepieces. In this image the left puzzle is the antepiece for the right one.
- Stage 5-8 of God Hand seems to be an interesting antepiece for the very difficult boss fight that is stage 5-9. The boss is an enormous entity compared with previous enemies, a ball-shaped thing that is very tall and wide, which is intimidating because your area of attack is really kinda small. You NEED some training, something to get you comfortable with the idea of an object so big that it requires several side-dodges to get away from. So they have you push a large metal ball the same size as the boss up a hill. You learn "hey, I don't have to be DIRECTLY in front of this thing to kick it!", for example.
Interesting note: God Hand is meant to be oh-so-very-very-harsh. But, as with Mega Man, the designers turn out to be quite considerate when you examine their work closely.
- Mystery Quest for the Nintendo Entertainment System has a simple pit for unwary players to fall into. This pit is harmless, but requires Wall Jumping skills to get out of. This prepares for a mandatory Wall Jump later on.
- The Floor is Jelly has no in-game tutorials, so first time players may have trouble getting used to the bouncy jelly physics of the game world. Four screens into the game, a jumping frog shows the player how to bounce high by timing their jumps.
- World of Warcraft:
- The game has many trash mob/mook encounters in its dungeons and raids that often, but not always, have a toned-down version of the next boss's "mechanics" or set of skills, introducing the group of players to some of the more crucial things to watch out for in the coming battle.
- In one wing of Naxxramas, there exist several gargoyle enemies that spit out poison, and if you take too long to kill them once they've hit a certain percentage, they'll turn to stone and regenerate all their health. Because these mechanics combine to create a difficult encounter for the unprepared, the first gargoyle you encounter doesn't do the poison spit attack, so that you learn about the health regen move in a less strenuous situation.
- In Faria, the only way to proceed from the first room in Gelve Tower is to move the stone statue, which demonstrates the importance of moving every stone statue in a tower. (There are three more statues in Gelve Tower after this one, which apparently doesn't count since a NPC says that the tower has three statues.)
- Dragon Age: Inquisition introduces the player to (optional) Hamiltonian path puzzles in the Temple of Mythal, which consist of stepping on each floor tile only once each, by requiring them to do a simplified version (where the tiles form a single ring, so the "puzzle" consists of just walking around the shrine once) in order to proceed with the mission.