Best Games - Last Blade and Last Blade 2
There are many beautiful games. Some are beautiful to look at. Some sound beautiful. Some are beautiful standing still, and some are beautiful in motion. A few games play beautifully. A very small handful of games are beautiful from every angle, in every measurable aspect.
Don’t listen to me though, watch this.
You told me how to get the Night's Edge sword in Terraria as we walked to school this morning. I listened as you and your brother went over strategies for the later levels of Epoch 2.
I love you both. Have a happy birthday!
I've been watching a fair bit of E3 stuff this past week. During Sony’s swing at the stage, the image of a sheepish looking Tim Schafer provided one of the only moments of light, but legitimate comedy. The crowd was filled with game industry veterans and industry press. As is the custom at public events, the joke was explained by a grinning Adam Boyes. If I had to guess, I would say that there was a pretty large group in that crowd, and an even larger group at home that didn’t recognize Tim Schafer’s face and actually did need the joke explained.
As the audience of the game industry, it’s not really our fault. We shouldn’t really be expected to keep track of every developer, where they work, or what they have worked on before. Game development takes a team after all, and no single persons contribution should be considered more important than the rest. It’s an egalitarian wonderland where ideas flow like water. Putting one person out there to represent the group wouldn’t be fair to everyone else. Right? Right?
You know what else takes a huge crew of talented people? Movies. I’m thinking that most people could pick Steven Spielberg out of a crowd, and never once in his career did he work alone. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people work on his movies. But there you are, I just called them his movies. And so do you, when you go to watch them. When we say “his movies” it seems like we might be discounting the accomplishments of the other people who also worked on them. If you head over to Steven Spielberg’s IMDB page you will notice something. The names Michael Kahn, Janusz Kaminski, John Williams, and a chorus of others appear on almost every one of “his” movies. This team of people working together is what makes a “Steven Spielberg” film. Unless you are a real film nut, or work in the film industry, you probably don’t know or care about these other people, and you absolutely don’t know or care what company distributed these movies. But you do know who Steven Spielberg is, and even though he is never actually on screen in his movies, you know what he looks like. How many people would recognize Shigeru Miyamoto on the street? How many people even recognise his name? We all should, since he’s been making extremely successful games almost as long as Spielberg has been making movies.
Here’s the thing. People don’t personally identify with corporations. They don’t commit to memory groups of people. They remember single faces, individual names. If you see Paul McCartney, you don’t think, hey there’s the Beatles, you think, that’s that guy from the Beatles. You recognize the man, not the group. recognition of that person brings with it some expectations. If you see the name Spielberg or McCartney or Miyamoto you should be able to expect a certain level of quality in the entertainment they produce. That their teams produce. You are more likely to watch, listen to, play, and buy things with those names attached. You might not know who Michael Kahn is, but if you go to Spielberg movies, he benefits. He gets to make another one.
There have been very few game developers seen on the talk show circuit. I’ve seen Markus Persson, Cliff Bleszinski, and, yes, Tim Schafer being interviewed on late night talk shows. And they were great. Just the same as any other guest, they came out funny and effusive. They pitched a game that they had worked hard on. The game they were proud of. They pitched it as the recognizable, smiling face of a an entire team. Around E3 time, when games are getting pitched and promoted, we should be seeing game developers on talk shows enough that they become recognizable faces to the general, game buying, public. They should have seen and heard Amy Hennig every time a new uncharted game rolled out, grew to associate her face with quality writing, and been poised to follow her to the new Star Wars game she is working on. It’s recognition through repetition. If people know who she is and like her games, that team gets to make another one.
The game industry is an echo chamber. If you are in the club, you get to know the people in the club, you get the inside jokes and the secret handshakes. It’s insular and slightly defensive. An attitude that is inevitably self defeating. Maybe it’s a difficult thing to really grasp, but there are people who like playing games, who will go out to a store to buy games, and they just might be excited enough about them to get to know the people who make them. They just don’t want to have to learn the secret handshake. They really shouldn’t have to.
Best Games - Artillery
Artillery is one of the most basic physics equations given new form as a game. Artillery is one of the oldest computer games and new games based on the model of Artillery are released at a metronomic rate. Scorched Earth, Gunbound, Worms, Angry Birds. They are all descendants of Artillery.
The overhand, targeted, throw is a fundamentally human trait. With very little practice, the overwhelming majority of our species can pick up some junk they find on the ground, instantly calculate the weight and balance of the object, raise it above their head, and strike a target several meters away with force and accuracy. Computing parabolic flight, compensating for wind, and predicting the aerodynamic properties of projectile is built into us. Enjoying the activity of throwing things is inherent. Artillery is throwing things, abstracted into turn based strategy on a 2D plane.
Artillery also meets all of my criteria for both a game, and a computer game. It is a solvable, pattern based system where enough of the the calculable information is obscured, or random, that a balance of consideration and intuition is required. There is a specified purpose. That’s it really. That’s a game. Play it on a computer, or better yet, against a computer, and it’s a computer game.
Artillery itself, may not be the most memorable game ever, but the legacy of Artillery, the long and storied history of throwing stuff at other stuff video games, makes Artillery easily one of the best games.
I ask what they want for breakfast. They shuffle, bleary eyed, still asleep from the belly up. Eventually they arrive at the pantry, where they stare, bewildered, at the same row of breakfast cereals they see every day. When they finally do decide, I bustle around the kitchen filling bowls plates and cups, while they are magnetically drawn back to the couches to curl up in blankets and pillows. By this point, the questions have probably already started.
“So. In (insert game title here) (what is, how do you beat, how do you get) (boss, enemy, power up, mechanic)?”
The questions change depending on whatever game is currently being obsessed over, but the structure of the questions usually follow this pattern.
Occasionally, when we have talked about games too much in a given span of time I will intercept after the “So” to ask “Is this question about a game? Maybe we should talk about something else for a while.” For someone who has, and continues to talk about games for an overwhelming portion of my waking hours, it seems even I have some maximum limit.
Kids asking constant question on topics they are passionate about is not novel. As a child I was repeatedly threatened with the manufacture and employment of a rocket that would fire me into hyperspace if I didn’t stop asking so many questions. The questions were probably about star wars or robots.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t find this upsetting. I take full responsibility for the questions fired my way. I have both earned and cultivated them. Very little in my life gives me more joy, than talking with my children about topics that interest me. It’s all very selfish in an anthropological sort of way.
It’s not so much that they ask their mom, and me questions near constantly. It’s the content and subject of the questions I find interesting. They rarely ask anything about a show we have watched, a book we have read, or some other authored entertainment that we see. They recognise the surface meanings, and surprisingly often, some of the subtext of the story. They are familiar with the language of film, and the concepts of dramatic irony, not because we have gone out of our way to teach them these things, but because, like all of us, they are marinated in structured storytelling. Our culture, like most, eats, breathes, and bleeds storytelling. So they don’t ask me about stories, they only ask me about games.
I think it might be this. Games hinge on not knowing what will happen next. You need to use your own brain to determine an outcome. No one will author a solution for you, no one can script your course of action. Games require a random element. Another word to use would be mystery. Games offer mystery, secrets, puzzles, challenges.
Games and play are how we test our ability to predict the future. How we have, since probably before having the language to describe it, used what we know of a situation to peek past the mystery and come up with solutions. Games are how we learn to solve our problems, keep us safe, and overcome obstacles. Games are how we learn to survive.
As adults, we know that often we have to wander blindly into the unknown. There is no path planned out for us. No one else knows more about our current situation than we do. Sometimes, there are no guides. Children crave a guide. Someone to hold their hand while they attempt something they are unsure of. Someone to point out the danger spots, until they are brave enough to face them alone. They want to be assured that when they explore the unknown, you will be there to back them up.
Several times a day, from now until they decide that I’m a boring old man with nothing to offer them, I will happily field questions about fantasy worlds, secret caves, wizards, interplanetary travel, and diabolical puzzles. Here’s the thing that my kids don’t know about me. That part of me that used to risk being set adrift in hyperspace just so I could ask one more question, it has been asking all those same questions this entire time. It never stopped. I hope it never does. I hope that they don’t either.