Where I’m coming from

I enjoyed writing up Wednesday’s post and thinking objectively about the subject of characters in game design. I still have a lot to say on that topic, and on the other aspects of storycraft, so I thought it would only be fair to share some games that I felt satisfied all the necessary requirements to make a really good game, and then some. Before I continue talking about characters, story, gameplay, and art design, you need to know where I’m coming from. Everyone does lists of Top 5, and while 5 is a very arbitrary number, I think it works for me too. If you want, I can always add a 6th later, and we can pretend that it’s a Pokemon team.

I want to preface this by noting how few old games are in the list. This is likely because of my continuous efforts to try to find and enjoy things that are new. I rarely go back and play old games now, but I did play a lot of the good ones when I was a child, so I don’t believe I am too biased. Anyways, let’s jump into this entirely self-serving list. If you don’t want to listen to me gush about a few really good games, you can skip today. I won’t be offended. Also, I never mail scorpions to people.

So, in no significant order – THE LIST

Half-Life 2 was released in 2004, the sequel to the 1998 Half-Life, a game that scared the crap out of me as a child. This series is an atmospheric apocalyptic FPS, with a heavy emphasis on visual storytelling and creative fight design. HL2 is all about taking the player on a trip to show them how badly things have gone, and does a good job of really creating a sense of wonder and dread in the player. I still say HL2 is the definitive single-player FPS, and delivers an experience that is unmatched in its polish. The characters are realistic and sensible, and smart characters are something that I am constantly campaigning for. I’ll need to talk about it at length at some point later, but for now, just know that it is an iconic game, and deserves all the praise it gets. It was and still is unique in its design, and people can still learn from it.

The world’s largest MMO. I myself have played it off and on for many years, and every time I go back, they’ve found a new way to keep my attention. I wouldn’t say the gameplay is particularly compelling on its own, but if you include the Multiplayer part of it, this game is king. Honestly, the only reason I keep playing it is because I’ve made so many friends on it and enjoy experiencing it with other people. It’s an enormous world with almost endless gameplay potential, and if you bother to learn it, a very rich backstory. Blizzard shakes it up with an expansion every couple years or so, adding in new characters and killing off old ones, and generally doing whatever it takes to stay on top of the market. I can respect the marketing and game design that goes into making a juggernaut like this, and it’s pretty amazing that it is able to smash competitors year after year. I don’t recommend trying it if you haven’t, but it’s an amazing case study in pure business acumen.

This is the oldest game on my list (been there since 1995 or so), and really, it is a trip into the stranger parts of game design. The whole thing plays out as a very cute and happy game about friendship on the surface, but still gets into incredibly deep and dark ideas, such as cults, police corruption, the bystander effect, kidnapping, self-sacrifice, avarice, murder, and so on. The combat is pretty simple, and a lot of people hate the brightly colored art and visuals, but I think it’s a really charming game that often goes into heartbreaking territory. Also, the music is amazing. If you’re going to play any game on this list for the first time, make it EarthBound. It is intensely unique, almost aggressively so, and I doubt you’ll find any game like it (besides the sequel, which is also good). To this day, there’s a couple parts that can coax an emotional response out of my cynical heart, because the characters are quirky and loveable. It’s definitely worth the time.

I’ll say it now, knowing the hatred I will garner for it: Fallout New Vegas is the best sandbox RPG in the last decade. I played FO3, I played Skyrim, I’ve played so many others, but this one is the best. New Vegas offers you incredible amounts of freedom, and a storyline that both makes sense and has several different choices for the player to make. You can kill anyone, loot anything, and generally just do whatever you want. It has a huge map, tons of quests, really good characters (especially the companions!), and lots of factions for you to help or wipe out. The setting is post-apocalyptic Western, which is both innovative and a lot of fun. It’s compelling, it’s made of freedom, and it’s enjoyable. Also, (and this is the best part), most of the bugs are fixed on the PC version! That was pretty much the only drawback to the game.

I’ve already spent enough time praising Bastion, back in my first real post. This game is what compelled me to start trying new things again, and to look for the good parts in all the games I try. I don’t need to write another 2000 words on it, I said almost everything I wanted to in that link, so go ahead and read that if you’re curious.

So that’s my list. I’ll probably go into depth on all of these games at a later point, but mostly I just wanted you to know what I considered to be good. Next week I’ll either continue fleshing out quality in games, or go back to my normal 3 games a week setup. We’ll see.


Posted on March 23, 2012, in Navel-Gazing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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