Best Games - Saints Row IV
Let’s get this straight right off the jump. Saints Row: The Third is the best game in the Saints Row series. Volition made two games that could be fairly summed up as Grand Theft Auto clones with toilet humor before reworking the 3rd into a self aware comedy that was as much parody as it was forward looking. Saints Row: The Third raised the bar for what an open world character driven game could be and stood out as a truly wonderful experience all it’s own.
Then they made Saints Row IV. It would be easy to see this followup game as derivative. After all it did use a lot of the same assets and gameplay loops. The mission structures and events in Saints Row: The Third that seemed fresh and interesting were rehashed with the thinnest layers of polish in the 4th game. All of your favorite old characters were back. But they were old, and they were back. Like from before. Previous.
Still Saints Row IV made it here into one of my Best Games posts.
With Saints Row IV, Volition chose fun. If there was a decision to make between difficulty and fun they chose fun. If they had to choose between realism and fun they chose fun. If there was an opportunity to prioritize fun over engaging with the systems already in the game, they chose fun.
This is a game world full of a variety of fun cars and planes you can steal and roam around in, but your character can run like the flash so that is usually more fun than driving. This is a game with an arsenal ten miles deep and you never need to use it because running up a building and jumping down with the force of a small nuke is more fun. The story is absolute nonsense that straddles the line between The Matrix and Independence Day and it wears all of its influences proudly on its sleeve, but it is fun.
If you look back to reviews of the game you will see a lot of folks taking a few points off the game for being too easy. And it is. Saints Row IV is an absolute cakewalk. Past the halfway point there will rarely be anything that pops up that challenges the player in the slightest. And it doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes fun is what matters. Sometimes you have to prioritize fun.
The characters and their antics are genuinely funny, if a certain level of side eyed lowbrow is something you find funny. The kind of irreverent that is smart enough to know where to land it’s punches and when to just be silly. The writing in Saints Row IV prioritizes fun.
Saints Row: The Third is a rare beast. An open world comedy action game that refuses to be snide or gritty. There is an upbeat optimism woven into the mayhem. Violence so bizarre and unrealistic that it lends the game a sort of helium filled buoyancy. It was and is a brilliant game.
Saints Row IV does that all again but removes any and all barriers to fun. Do what you want. Be what you want. Become an agent of chaos in this simulated world. Just don’t worry, the pins will be set back up for you to knock them down all over again and again and again. In any way you like.
You know, Fun.
Fun is why Saints Row IV is one of the best games
The first draft of the new story is complete and up over here. There will be revisions, but it's a story start to finish.
I was about nearing the end of this short story when I realized that the story isn't actually about what I though it was about. I think this is probably a pretty common occurrence. Scripts often go through many rewrites, adjusting and molding the story the entire time. Short stories are the same. I have been going back over it and cutting out a lot of cruft. It feels similar to sculpting. cept with words. and mud. always there is mud.
Anyway don't read it, because it's not done but it's over here if you don't follow directions well.
So we were sitting around watching cartoons, like ya do, and I started messing around painting on the ipad. I took a bunch of disjointed ideas and sort of mashed them together. The result was this green and yellow, off kilter, poor anatomy, unplanned sketch.
While I didn't think it was very successful it did make me wonder what a considered version of this same feeling might be. Something where I pay attention to perspective and composition. Where I think about tone and drama. The series that follows is where that process eventually led. enjoy.
Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. I realized partway through writing this story that something was off. something felt flat.
That isn't uncommon. Stories, like most things, are sort of bad until they aren't. Sometimes they even get good. This story wasn't going to reach the lofty heights of 'not bad' unless I went back in a reworked some stuff. So that's exactly what I did.
I'll keep chipping away at it.
Still working away over here. I got to the end of the story and I realized that I really needed some more... something. I'm working at adding that something in. Like always, this story is very much open on the table so I wouldn't suggest reading it unless you want to see how much it changes between now and when I finally call it done. So you probably shouldn't read it yet, but I won't stop you if you want to.
Some more work being done over here. I think this story is in need of some heavy editing and rewriting. I find it's telling and not showing and that distances the reader from the characters too much. It'll get there. Just needs some work.
Best Games - Dragon’s Lair
What if one of the best games is actually a very bad game. I mean that’s nonsense right? It can’t be both one of the best games and be bad right? It absolutely can if that game is Dragon’s Lair.
Dragon’s Lair was released into arcades in 1983 and it’s safe to say that no one had ever seen anything like it. Every other arcade game at the time featured screens filled with blocky pixelated graphics or sharp but simple vector graphics. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Mario Bros. were bright and colorful. They were accompanied by memorable bits of music and catchy sound effects. Not one of them looked and sounded like Dragon’s Lair. How could they. Dragon’s Lair was a fully voiced, orchestrated, and animated production created by Don Bluth’s studio. Former Disney animators had worked on this game. All of the movement and life that went into an animated feature film was on display in this stand up arcade machine. No video game had ever looked and sounded like Dragon’s Lair.
It was the most popular game of it’s time, and one of the most popular games of all time. There are three arcade games on permanent display in the Smithsonian and Dragon’s Lair is one of them. It also absolutely sucks.
The technological beating heart of the Dragon’s Lair arcade cabinet was a laserdisc video player. Laserdiscs weren’t a new technology in 1983. The format was created more than a decade earlier and enjoyed a limited commercial release during the late 1970’s. To oversimplify it, a Laserdisc is like a video record that is read with a laser rather than a physical needle. Because the video is stored on a disc, the laser can move to a new track very quickly and play back a video clip in a blink. Someone at some point noted this fact and wondered if it would be fast enough to react to a person’s inputs, like a video game.
It sort of almost works too.
When you play Dragon’s Lair it starts playing a video clip of a gangly looking knight walking across a drawbridge. You are told during the attract animation that this is Dirk the Daring and you are leading him in his quest through a wizard’s castle to save Princess Daphne from an evil dragon. Pretty standard fare.
In an instant, part of the drawbridge collapses and Dirk almost plunges into the monster infested water below. In that sliver of a moment you are able to select from one of five different inputs. Up, down, left, right, or sword. If you do nothing you will be pulled down by the monster. If you attempt to move in any direction you will be pulled down by the monster. If you use the sword and then push up on the joystick you will succeed and Dirk will move on to the next scene. There is no nuance, zero room for error. You enter the correct inputs within the time window available or you watch Dirk succumb to one of many grisly ends.
What you are really doing when you enter inputs into a Dragon’s Lair cabinet is selecting what video clip will play next. Most inputs are accompanied by a slight pause in the video while the Laserdisc player’s read head is seeking for the appropriate clip. Since the outcomes of each scene are predetermined and had been hand animated, painted, and transferred to that Laserdisc months earlier, all of the clips are laid out in such a way to minimize those seek times. It is hard to imagine that anyone was ever convinced that they were actually in control of Dirk’s movements. You were absolutely at the helm of the world’s quickest (at the time) fast forward and rewind buttons.
The animation on display is absolutely top quality, but as a game experience Dragon’s Lair is terrible. There is only a tenuous connection between what you are doing with the controls and what happens on screen. The game often requires inputs that would be impossible to decipher in a time window that borders on prescience. While some of the scenes provide flashing hints toward your next action the only real way through a lot of the scenes is by trial and error. When you break it down there really isn’t much ‘game’ to this game. No decisions to make, no puzzles to solve, no emergent behaviors to react to. Nothing gamelike at all. You tap out the predetermined inputs to watch a video.
Dragon’s Lair did something to video games. Something important. Dragon’s Lair was the push. Every game released through the rest of the 80s and 90s would be compared to Dragon’s Lair.
That game is great, but it doesn’t look like Dragon’s Lair.
That game is great, but it doesn’t sound like Dragon’s Lair.
That game is great, but the animation isn’t as good as Dragon’s Lair.
This was the game that set the impossible standard. A standard that even it didn’t live up to. The standard that would drive game creators to try to make a game that looked as good as Dragon’s Lair but actually played as well as you hoped it would when you stepped up to the cabinet.
We have hit that point now. Many times. Games with fluid, responsive animation that looks and plays beautifully. Fully voiced and orchestrated games that sound at least as good as their non-interactive film counterparts. Games with life and energy and dazzling visual effects. Games that make good on the promise that Dragon’s Lair offered.
So why is Dragon’s Lair one of the best games? It set the standard in presentation for decades and influenced countless creators. It was a bar to leap over, a record to break. Had it been a film or a saturday morning cartoon, game creators would have paid little to no attention to it. But it wasn’t. It was a game. And a challenge. People who create, enjoy nothing more than a challenge. From the moment that the first Dragon’s Lair cabinet was powered in an arcade it was inevitable that another game would eventually be made that would look as good or better and would play as well as you wished Dragon’s Lair did. It was a goal too tempting. A challenge too worth undertaking.
Dragon’s Lair is a terrible game, but it is absolutely one of the best games.
it continues here, but I think I'll switch it up an write something else next week, in addition to working on the story. Too many -it continues- posts in a row makes me feel antsy.
the story continues over here but as always, it's not done yet and there are some major edits that I will need to do, so read it at your own risk I suppose.