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Core Stageset [Proof of Concept v2.1]

Cubelarooso

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The purpose of this project is to create the perfect set of starters; a collection of 5 stages so well-designed – both individually and collectively – that they could suffice as an entire stagelist, with no credible arguments for replacing any of them. It is intended to transcend simple starter lists one might throw together, to be a foundation the very balance of the game could be built upon, hence the term "Core." The inspiration and justification for the possibility of such a collection are Battlefield and Smashville. Please keep BF and SV in mind when judging how well the purpose has been fulfilled.

These stages are built with 5 ideals in mind; the first 3 apply to stage-design in general, and the final 2 are specific to the demands of a starter. In order of importance, a Core stage should be
  • Balanced: Matchup-skewing should be minimized. There should be no clear-cut “best” stage for a given situation, and selection should primarily depend on the players’ personal preferences. For any given pair of characters, it should be reasonable to assume that any of the Core might be struck to with no qualms. This affords everyone access to the greatest variety of content, makes stage-choice less predictable and illusory, and places greater emphasis on in-game performance.
  • Deep: Any short summary of a stage should be unreliable. A stage should have a multitude of interrelated elements, each of which encourages creative and thoughtful usage. They should also remain subtle and provide counterplay, so no single factor centralizes a stage in concept or practice. This makes for a satisfying experience for both players as well as spectators, which helps establish and maintain participant interest.
  • Unique: Stages should be distinct from one another. A stage’s particular combination of elements should meaningfully affect the way the game is played, opening and restricting different strategies and interactions. It should not completely redefine the fundamental rules of the game, but supply a new and enjoyable interpretation of them. This is one of the greatest strengths of the genre, and is the very purpose of having multiple stages.
  • Simple: A starter is bound to be players’ first and most frequent experiences with the game, so the impression it makes is important. Thus its relevant elements should be immediately apparent and devoid of surprises. After only a single game a newcomer should have a practical understanding of the stage and begin contemplating the applications possible and the implications for gameplay.
  • Basic: A starter will be the locale of players’ first meeting, usually with stakes on the line. Hence it should be composed of variations on the most common elements, so that the players may focus their attention on learning their competition. Excessive moving parts and special mechanics should be reserved for counterpicks, where the loser can leverage greater familiarity.
Note that these principles support each other, such that successfully implementing one of them entails attention to all of them.


The Individual Stages


Circle

On-stage: The platforms turn things into a chase. Players are never really backed into a corner, but they can always be cut off at the pass. Doing so requires predicting they’ll make the pass, though, and uses a riskier area of the stage. Neither player has particularly safe options when they’re on opposite sides, creating a tense standoff that could just as easily prolong itself as flip the lead.

Off-stage: The bottom platforms nearly reach the stage’s sides, so using them to mix up recovery is fairly easy, and they’re accessible directly from the ledge. On the flipside, they make recovering to the top platform (a feat not possible by everyone) a little more dangerous, and permit characters to edgeguard using moves they usually couldn’t survive.

Timing

On-stage: Movement is mostly one-dimensional, but the passing platform creates a vulnerable auxiliary lane that can be used to go around. It’s not always available, though, so players have to press the advantage while they can and play the waiting game when they must. The platform’s wide enough that there’s plenty of room to evade, but it moves passengers in a predictable pattern that inevitably leads to danger. It can create a scenario similar to walkoffs when it leaves the stage: one player camps at the side, hoping to get an easy Bthrow gimp. It’s not quite that bad, though, and (being elevated) aggressors have the option to come in with an aerial from any angle, or land out of range and pressure them to the brink.

Off-stage: Sometimes, you get nothing. But sometimes there’s a huge platform ready to edge-cancel your Up-B far away from edgehoggers. Of course, the edgeguarder could just chill above the recovery, where they can cover every option at once if they can shield-drop. It is also notable as the stage on which players can retreat from the ledge.

Special: Also there’s a balloon.

Spacing

On-stage: This stage has the same idea as Smashville, but instead of needing to wait for the right time to have a way to get past, they have to be at the right place. The platforms are short, low, and spread out on a long stage, so not only is that not usually an option, it’s not an incredibly flexible one when it is.

Off-stage: Again, the platforms are present but not perfect. They’re relatively far away from the edge, so getting there can be more dangerous than simply landing onstage, and they’re even less useful for the edgeguarder. While it’s best for some characters to not even bother with them, being able to edgecancel is sometimes worth it for most.

Special: PS2’s great layout has made it a staple starter, but its outrageous dimensions prevent me from grouping it with BF and SV. Its extremely wide size and low ceiling are pointless, actually detracting from the otherwise great design by relegating it to a gimmick, and from the game as a whole by preventing certain matchups from exploring its unique layout. The Core version is intended to fix that mistake: It’s still relatively wide with a low ceiling, but in a way that complements the rest of its elements. Hopefully it’s mild enough that it doesn’t keep anyone from choosing it. Some obstructive scenery has also removed from the underside.

Grid

On-stage: Brings the second dimension to the forefront by making practically the whole stage free range. Players can go anywhere, so there’s lots of juking and flanking, although some characters may have an easier time with certain paths than others. Most notably, some have difficulty keeping up when their opponent hops from one top platform to the other. The camper isn’t very threatening from those positions, though, and they offer nowhere to go but death if caught. If the characters have projectiles, cross-platform sniping becomes an option, and the battle can take on a naval guise.

Off-stage: Recoveries are gifted with three stories of options, leaving edgeguarders at a loss. The platforms go right up to the edge, so getting off is extra easy, and characters can get good utility out of high ledge-jumps. The one perk it renders to edgeguarders is in helping block high recoveries, and even reverse them into kills off the top.

Special: WarioWare has an astounding layout, but suffers the same problem as PS2. In fixing it, the top platforms have become farther from both each other and the blastzones, making them much safer. To preempt their use for camping (and for more WW flare) a twist has been added: After a while, the platforms relocate. It first occurs about a minute in, and is kinda underwhelming. But it steadily ramps up, becoming faster, more frequent, more drastic, and less conventional. There are a total of 15 forms (a couple being repeats) – each a take on the same kind of full-plane movement – but only 5 of them appear in the first half of the longest matches. This mirrors the way WW games become ever more hectic as one progresses, and it also forces player interaction as the clock closes on Time. The forms always come in the same order, and there’s a location-indicating countdown, so they shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, and can introduce interesting strategies in their own right.

Crossroads

On-stage: It’s all about center stage; everywhere else is dead ends. Of course, having an escape option is of limited value when it just leads off a cliff, so players should keep pushing as long as the other’s still kicking. There are three branches one might take; the horizontal ones we’re accustomed to, and an uncharted upward one. The latter gives vertical play a special role on this stage, as players try out a new kind of spacing. While being up top is not as obviously unfavorable as being at the edge, it does mean being closer to the ceiling, and most characters can’t do much from above. If one does feel helpless against the platforms, though, they periodically shrink, making a perfect opportunity to assault the tower.

Off-stage: Nearly non-existent. The lower platform is almost unreachable, and only certain characters can make it to the higher one. However, making it from the side to the top isn’t easy for edgeguarders, either.

Special: A wholly original layout. The eShop theme is just something I thought would be neat to do with Pictochat; I did my best to make it look how I imagine but it’s still rather ugly and incomplete, so since it’s not essential to the real idea, I’ve included a functionally-identical version that uses Norfair assets. Because the layout is so new, I’ve put extra effort into making it work out, and I’m excited to release it into the wild and see how that stands up. Center stage is always a good position, and adding platforms over it just makes it better; thus the lower platform is fairly high, so it blocks fewer approaches and is a bit slower to jump on. The top platform is supposed to be undesirable, but there are some matchups where top-platform-camping can be a pain, so I've implemented a lot to moderate that. The platforms are at such a height that most characters can hit the top with a full jump aerial, and the rest can no-impact land on the bottom. They’re also close enough together that characters can hit the top while standing on the bottom. The only exception to these rules is Jigglypuff (although Sing does work for the latter). The platforms being dynamic means platform cancelling works, and as I said they leave occupants exposed when they shrink. As an aside, their cycles take 8 minutes to realign, so every moment of a match is special. Anyways, I haven’t encountered any issues, and have found the unique interaction amazingly fun. This is my favorite of the Core, but let me know about your experiences.


The Collective Core
| Stage Width | Mid to Side | Stage to Side | Stage to Top | Min to Top | Stage to Bottom | Low Plat Height | Low Plat Size | High Plat Height | High Plat Size Battlefield | 136 | 218 | 150 | 204 | 150 | 125 | 27.2 | 37.6 | 54.4 | 37.6
Smashville | 140 | 223 | 153 | 199 | 170 | 120 | 28.9 | 47.7 | - | -
Pokémon Stadium M | 150 | 223 | 148 | 196 | 170 | 120 | 25.7 | 27.5 | - | -
D.I.Y. Studio | 130 | 217 | 152 | 200 | 151 | 115 | 24.8 | 43.3 | 48.9 | 21.7
eShop | 144 | 219 | 147 | 201 | 150 | 120 | 28.3 | 31.3 | 51.3 | 26.0
| Stage Width | Mid to Side | Stage to Side | Stage to Top | Min to Top | Stage to Bottom | Low Plat Height | Low Plat Size | High Plat Height | High Plat Size Median | 140.0 | 219.0 | 150.0 | 200.0 | 151.1 | 120.0 | 27.20 | 37.60 | 51.30 | 26.00
Mean | 140.0 | 220.0 | 150.0 | 200.0 | 158.2 | 120.0 | 26.98 | 37.47 | 51.55 | 28.42
Standard deviation | 6.81 | 2.53 | 2.28 | 2.61 | 9.86 | 3.16 | 1.545 | 7.445 | 2.233 | 6.726

Only somewhat arbitrary, the values are centered around the standards set by stages in PM and Melee (slightly rounded to look nicer), and divvied out in a way that compensates other properties. Less platform-space means wider stage, higher platforms means higher blastceiling, platforms closer to the edge means farther blastwalls, and less ledge-wall means lower blastfloor. BF and SV have been ever-so-slightly adjusted to accommodate the additions to their ranks.

The range of dimensions is purposely quite tight, since extreme stage size is such a shallow, noninteractive, highly unbalancing element. The differences are kept proportional to their competitive worth, so that they are notable (especially when comparing largest to smallest) without becoming over-centralizing. (Besides, the effects of close blastzones are still available through intelligent use of platforms, except that this allows the opponent a way to respond.) Instead, the focus in players’ minds should be on how the stages actually alter their strategies and movement. Thus a variety of platforms are available, not just in layout but also width and height.

The Core is composed in such a way to make use of the widest array of basic elements, all falling within expected bounds and centered around previously-established standards. Amount of platforms, how they move, their width, their height above the stage, the higher platforms’ height above the lower ones, the high platforms’ size relative the lower ones’, amount of stories, the platforms’ distance from each other and from the ledge, the length and slope of ledge-walls, and even starting positions are all taken into consideration.

The platform layouts are intended not just to average out to something average, but to cover the ambit of possibilities better than any alternative could, essentially making any other layout derivative. Lylat is covered by BF and PSM, Green Hill Zone by SV and PSM, Yoshi’s Island by SV and eS, Norfair by SV and DIY, etc. Every Core stage has some degree of Final Destination in it, and its polarizing nature precludes candidacy anyway. The only layout I can think of that is distinct enough to challenge the Core is the Y-shaped inverted-tri-plat, as seen in Delfino’s Secret and Rumble Falls; it overlaps most with DIY (even further when considering its forms, one of which is that very Y), but is far less unique and a bit more campy, so I went with WarioWare.



Please, try it out and give feedback. Tell me your experiences, how well and in what ways it succeeds and fails, what you like and dislike, or if you encounter any problems. This thread is to show that such a Core is both possible and desirable, so conversation is requested. Thanks.
 
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DMG

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The platforms are kind of hard to see with that faint yellow. That's about the only thing I would change
 

4tlas

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I think this makes for a wonderful thought experiment. I think the first four stages proposed can very easily be agreed on as good core stages. The layouts are simple, intuitive, unique, and most importantly, relevant to gameplay. The fifth one I am not as sure about. I think putting the 2 platforms on one side or having one on each side (still at different heights) would be more interesting. This creates a dynamic not only between center stage and the platform locations, but between the different sides of the stage as well. With symmetrical stages, the dynamic is always between center and edge. But an asymmetric stage would have 2 different dynamics, much like how the moving platform on Smashville makes the stage change to FD sometimes.

I also think you could make 7 core stages, if the only objective is to keep things simple but interesting. Other simple-but-interesting things you don't have much of other than asymmetry are platforms hanging off the stage (think Skyworld), low platforms as a ceiling (think Lylat), walled sides (hmmmmmm is that core?), and platforms moving in other ways (think YI or FoD, Norfair/Delfino/GHZ not so much).

As for whether this is something we should want or not, I would argue no. The game has all of this variety already; it is part of the game! I think it would be very unfortunate to throw away all of that for the sake of competition. But I like the concept and think we should try and get stages like this made since they are simple anyway. Then people can use them or not as they see fit.
 

Cubelarooso

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I changed the lines and backgrounds of the images. Hopefully they're easier to parse now.


@ 4tlas 4tlas

The idea is not to explore the limits of Smash's mechanics, just the limits within intentionally vanilla criteria. The Core should be like a roast chicken: a delicious and complete meal to itself, but generic enough to function as the centerpiece of any manner of larger dinner. It is expected to be supplemented with counterpicks, able to thus form stagelists satisfying any manner of philosophy, while itself remaining an indisputable component of any such list.

As an aside, I personally believe the most competitive direction (and, incidentally, the best complement to a Core) would be for the remainder to be a slew of very different, complex, experimental stages that do explore the limits of Smash's mechanics. Stuff ranging from Yoshi's Island to Halberd - like what I post in the Stage Discussion thread - that one would pick in order to exhibit superior skill and knowledge (AKA the purpose of competition), or simply because one enjoys it, and strike for the opposite reasons.

So, I love asymmetry in a stage, but you must remember that these are foremost designed as starters. We don't want to cause disputes over spawn position that necessitate implementing more arbitrary rules. It's not completely absent, though: Smashville is asymmetric, and DIY Studio becomes so after a while.

However, the two-offset-platforms layout has other flaws. It's quite conducive to camping; that was the issue with Norfair, after all. It also overlaps with the other stages more than eShop's layout does: It's in many ways a cross between Battlefield and Pokémon Stadium M, plus DIY goes through several versions of it.

For that matter, this all informs the reason for having 5 Core. It's the best number for striking, allows a lot of variety with minimal redundancy, and leaves more room for the rest of the stagelist to be filled with whatever.

But it does remind me that I have considered a transforming PSM (the forms being simple variations of its regular layout) as a way to even out the distribution of intricacy, and possibly to introduce some other simple, common elements (namely slopes and vertical movement). The hurdles are gaining the skills needed to even prototype it, and coming up with four forms that are unique enough for inclusion and thematically fitting, both without feeling forced, and which don't disrupt the stage's appeal.
 
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Cubelarooso

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Small update here.
I squashed Battlefield's main stage so that its edges are more distinct from Smashville's. Incidentally, this makes it more like Melee, although not nearly as brutal.
I've also been tried switching the heights of SV and PSM's platforms, to better respect their intended accessibility and safety. I'm not sure I like it, though, so I've included them as tests.
 
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