Ever since I first was introduced to the idea of a randomizer (it was this video), I’ve been rather overzealous with the notion to randomize…most games, especially games I love, particularly the new ones. I was thrilled to find that randos exist for all of the fondly remembered Zelda games (still looking for a Spirit Tracks rando…), and that the Metriod and Castlevania series had also gotten the love they deserve. Suddenly, a whole world was open to me, and I’ve been frolicking gaily in these shuffling Elysian Fields ever since.
There’s no stopping a creative mind, though (believe me: I’ve tried), so I wind up asking myself whenever I start a new game, “Could this potentially be randomized?” I can usually contrive some way to do it, though I say contrive very purposefully. I recognize that Ratchet & Clank (2002) doesn’t already have a randomizer mod because it probably wouldn’t work as smoothly as my mind can imagine it working, but when the time came for me to gather four Shell Stones in order to open the Earth Vellumental’s sanctuary in Paper Mario: The Origami King, I became suspicious. Then, when one was sold by a vendor and one was a reward for fishing, my suspicions were confirmed: the game’s structure is remarkably similar to Ocarina of Time’s.
Over the course of your adventure (keeping spoilers to a minimum), Mario and Olivia, his partner and navigational character, gain items and abilities which are required to open different doors or remove certain obstacles—including a slew of keys. However, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has a very similar set of character upgrades and items and, yes, even keys, and I don’t think an item randomizer would work nicely for TTYD like I think it would for TOK (in terms of affecting progression). Primarily, this is because TTYD locks you into chapters like the Agatha Christie train mystery, the jungle island shipwreck, or the wrestling federation chapter (although on reflection you may be able to access Rogueport during The Great Gonzales’ rise to glory), but there’s even more to it than that.
The Origami King sees Mario collecting literally hundreds of toads, some one at a time, some en masse, and many have additional rewards beyond simply incrementing your “percent of toads found in this area” counter. Some give advice, others give coins or a consumable item, but there’s a third category of useful toad: those who unlock things in the overworld. Sure, there are shopkeepers and mini game operators, but the real rewards are the toads who open entire areas of the game. For instance, there is a toad who’s impossible to miss right when you get off the cable car to Autumn Mountain who happens to be Sea Captain Toad, whose ship you can use to explore The Great Sea, where the Purple Streamer’s end is hiding (Mario’s goal is to eradicate the five streamers). Thus, I propose shuffling together the “Useful Items” (what this game calls key items), Bibliofolds, Max Up Hearts, Collectible Treasures (CT’s), rescuable toads, and the contents of every ? Block in the game (I believe this encompasses every chest it makes sense to include).
I believe this would work because CT’s and toads both come out of ? Blocks at various times, and the game is able to keep track of which toads are rescued across multiple loading zones. Additionally, several Useful Items are treated like physics objects in the world (the shriveled soul seed and red shell stone, for instance), and animations for physics objects popping out of ? Blocks already exist—including toads. Partners/followers could simply all be waiting in their respective areas, perhaps even after the point in the run where their story would be complete.
Speaking of, part of my desire for a randomizer for TOK is the classic quality of life change: removing most of the dialogue. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a funnier game than I’ve played in a while, and the writing even manages to remind me of TTYD, which remains the gold standard for the series. However, it’s like a sandwich with too much bread and not enough filling: there’s so much more dialogue than there needs to be in many instances. For this mod, I propose we ultimately pare basically every exchange down to a number of text slides between zero and three, as there is some quality humor to be had. Perhaps the level of dialogue removal could be an option in the rando generator down the line, but all the dialogue should be removed for starters. I don’t want to have to watch Olivia rediscover the world every time I start a seed.
With this system of randomization, starting the game in the tree where Mario lands in the Whispering Woods would give seven checks before helping Ol’ Grandsappy and eighteen more checks before even entering Toad Town for the first time. It would track for the player to be required to deal with the red streamer before being able to take the cable car to Overlook Mountain, but it seems to me that if we rescue the cable car operating toad, we should be able to jump directly to Autumn Mountain from Toad Town (for the purposes of the randomizer). It also seems quite likely that Sea Captain Toad and Khap’taan Teeowed will pop up relatively early in many seeds, as each opens up a large number of checks.
Sadly, I don’t know the first thing about computer programming of any order, let alone dismantling a game on a Switch cartridge. I’d be very excited to do design, testing, and abstract problem-solving work, but my backgrounds in writing, travel, and performance limit my ability to do much in the way of work behind the curtain, so to speak. Thus, this is an abstract exercise, one which I’m hoping helps me understand what makes a good randomizer. If you like the sound of this, and have more technical know-how than I do, I’d love to hear from you!