Trying to understand how games work

Monthly Archives: January 2014

What can I say? I’ve had a lot of games to choose from that I almost struggled to fit them into a top ten list. DmC: Devil May Cry, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Guacamelee, Gunpoint, The Stanley Parable, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Bravely Default, are all brilliant games that came out this year, and they aren’t in the list of the ten best below. I’m choosing not to number them, as I consider all of the games in this list worth checking out.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (360/PS3/PC)


A ridiculous character action game that just goes a long way in making you feel powerful. Not just through it’s use of scale, but the game’s lack of a far-reaching dodge move means that you have to stay up close to fight, and block the attacks yourself. It just makes you feel that much more proud of winning.

Persona 4 Arena (360/PS3)


Forget Divekick, I found that game’s over-abundance of in-jokes and characters with all kinds of differing moves betrayed it’s premise of simplicity. As a fighting game novice, this I felt did a better job of helping me get more into fighting games. Also it contains more story in the Persona universe, and while that story is inelegantly told through long visual novel-style cutscenes, it still is a great ride.

Cart Life (PC)


It sounds boring, a game where you run a newspaper or coffee stand. But really it’s great, it managed to make me stress and worry over it’s characters, and purely through it’s use of game mechanics.

Papers Please (PC)


Similarly to Cart Life, I was emotionally invested in the characters, but not as strongly. That said it’s still a great game, and at times can feel more “fun” than Cart Life.

Gone Home (PC)


This and a few other in the list have really proved that games don’t have to be about crazy escapist fantasy to be brilliant. In this you play someone returning to their family’s home after a long absence. You find the house empty and search it to find out what happened in the lives of the family. It’s as grounded as game stories come, but it’s still incredibly compelling.

Grand Theft Auto V (360/PS3)


I just liked driving around the big open world this game had. Sure the game’s story is a bit of fun (though a bit flawed), but I found more joy in grabbing a car or motorcycle and creating my own mayhem. Though I suppose that’s like any other Grand Theft Auto game.

Depression Quest (PC)


Most blockbuster games would be focused on escapism, being the bad-ass, this small browser-based game made me think about myself and others. While it has a simple choice based interface, I made those choices based on my own views, and felt I really came to understand myself a little better.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)


This was certainly a big surprise for me, especially after Skyward Sword being such a terribly controlling, badly paced game. At least with this one it feels like it controls perfectly, with the sword seemingly swinging one-to-one with as fast as you can press the B button. They’ve made it a much leaner adventure, and with the polish that you should expect from a Nintendo game it absolutely shines.

Rayman Legends (VITA/360/PS3/PC/WII U)


It feels as though people at Ubisoft got into a room and asked each other “What else can we do with a platformer?” While it feels easier that the previous game Rayman Origins, it really makes up for it in sheer joy and variety. It also contains the entirety of Rayman Origins as unlockable levels, so it does offer better value.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)


I’ve never gotten into turn-based strategy games before. The only games of Civilization I’ve won are because I cheated, and I found one of the first few levels in Final Fantasy Tactics much too overwhelming. I picked up this game assured that it would be great for newcomers to the genre, and it really is great. It’s integration of character relationships is just fantastic too.

Traditional is what you could call most Dragon Quest games. There’s not a lot that changes between the games, only small things, the mechanics change a tiny bit, the stories differ. That said they are fun, and in a way like comfort food, the kind of thing you want to stay consistant each time you have it. The music is consistantly good too.

This track was not in the original version of the game, this one was. In my personal opinion Koichi Sugiyama, composer of the Dragon Quest games, is better suited to working with an orchestra. Yet in all initial releases of Dragon Quest games are put out with music sounding like it comes from someone’s keyboard. The music is still nice, since it’s still all the same good songs, but it doesn’t sound as good as it could be.

That’s why I applaud the localization team that worked on this game for switching the keyboard-tunes for a fully orchastrated soundtrack that just lends this big fantasy RPG an epic feel. An orchestra can just do that, make something feel just bigger. I don’t think films like Star Wars would have the same impact if it was filled with cheesy pop music. Orchestras can feel like a powerful thing in music, and if used effectively can be brilliant.

Now to turn to a personal favourite franchise, and also a franchise in which I think the music does a very good job of setting the tone. The music calls to mind Vangelis, composer of Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire and more. You could argue that electronic music is just effective short-hand to say “it’s science fiction”, however I think that’s selling this music a bit short.

To quote Douglas Adams “Space is big. Really big.” In Mass Effect, that big space is there to be explored. Humans are newcomers in the game’s galactic society filled with all sorts of aliens, they still have a lot to learn, a lot to discover. Of course there’s danger out there too, and you’ve got to save the galaxy from it, because it’s a videogame.

And I think with just this piece of music, it already plants that idea in your head. Why not re-read that last paragraph while playing the music to see if it fits? Why not read it aloud with a dramatic voice-over? Why not close your eyes and think of space while the music’s on? Maybe that’s getting a little too into it but you can see what I mean right?

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