Ultimate Game Finale!

Finally, here we are, the conclusion to the, "Ultimate Game" series.  I've explained basically all of the components I (emphasis on "I") think make a great game and now I am to reveal my ultimate game and perhaps it is yours too.

My ultimate game is...(drum roll please)...Elmo's ABC's!! Yes, folks that is correct.  Have you played this game before?  It's quite awesome.  It almost feels as if Elmo himself is right next to you in your living room reciting the ABCs with you.  The artistic approach is quite amazing and how each letter looks is excellent.  Ok, obviously this is a joke.  Hopefully you saw that one.

The truth here is there is no ultimate game.  There are favorite games, which I'm sure most know or have a general idea of what mine are but if there was indeed a single ultimate game then I would probably still be playing it and never play another game.

This "Ultimate Game" series was made to hopefully help you (the player) understand and consider what to look for in a game and what you should expect to get out of it.  You paid (because stealing is bad) for the game and you should be able to play it, beat it and think to yourself how it could have been better and what you hope to expect in a sequel (if there is one). Doing so will hopefully expand your vast gaming knowledge until you become a guru in the arts of video gaming and you are able to strive for more and search for the best games out there in the vast jungles of Gamestops, EB Games and Wal-Marts and maybe just one day, the ultimate game will shine upon you on the shelf.

This could all be straight blasphemy too; do you already have an ultimate game?  Is there really a single best game out there?  Explain yourself!  It would be interesting to hear.

If you felt ripped off by my answer up there here's a list of my favorites but by no means the "ultimate game":

-Legend of Zelda (series)


-Super Mario RPG

-Fallout (series)

-Neverwinter Nights

-Mario Kart (series)

-Super Mario 64

-Donkey Kong Country 

-Half Life (series)

-Metal Gear Solid

-Mass Effect

-Call of Duty

-Rainbow Six

-Company of Heroes

-Chrono Trigger

-Goldeneye 64

There's probably more I'm missing but those ones popped out at me first.  There you have it folks.


Character Design and Interaction (Ultimate Game Part 6)

I was thinking about my ultimate game earlier and trying to figure out another topic for this series and I realized one factor that I left out that I've always loved about my ultimate game (detailed in next blog) were the great characters in the story.  You can't ever really become involved in a game if the characters aren't believable or interesting.  

Most of us can probably agree that has played Star Fox 64 that Slippy was a little on the annoying side and the game might have been slightly better if he wasn't included or had a different attitude.  In Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace who is the first character you think of?  I always think about Jar Jar Binks and how I found him very annoying in every scene he was in.  This didn't make me despise the movie or despise Star Fox for having Slippy but it was a minor set back.  

If character design is done right you begin to care about certain people you may meet or characters that travel with you throughout the game.  In the case of Star Fox again, I never really cared when Slippy was in trouble because that would just mean he would go back to the Great Fox for repairs and I wouldn't have to hear his jabbering for the remaining of the level but if it was Falco in trouble; everything was halted and the main objective was to help him out.

Character design and interaction is more important in Role-Playing Games though because if you're going to have someone follow your character around all game, they need to have good interaction with the player so it doesn't feel like a rock is following you. They need to have some sort of back story to keep you interested in them and for the player to want them with you in your adventure. Mass Effect did a great job at character design as well, for your other party members.  

Depending on who you took with you on a quest would sometimes dictate how the quest would play out.  Sometimes if you brought Wrex (a big burley bounty hunter alien) with you to go assasinate or make peace with someone Wrex would have special interactions with the target and might actually persuade you to shoot this guy instead of make amends.  Making good or evil decisons was a big factor in Mass Effect and sometimes it was influenced by your party members and how you interacted with them.  Star Wars: Knights of the did this well too; making light side or dark side decisions.  When you turned out to be really dark side oriented you even turned against some of your former party members which made the game really interesting and different. What other game gives you the decision to kill your own party members!?  

More on the design aspect of things. If you have this large breathing world with different species living amongst each other it should be believable to the setting of the game.  If the setting is back in the Jurrassic Period it wouldn't be very believable to see robots walking around unless it was part of the game (sounds like an interesting idea for a game to me).  The real point is it's nice to have some slight sense of how each character interacts with the world.  When it's dark you may see animals or characters go to sleep and when it's the morning they'll come out and greet the morning air.  You witness one towns member trading with a certain guy everyday in another town so you should be able to get some insight as to the relationship between these trading towns and the people to immerse yourself deeper in the game.

Character design and interaction is just as important as any other part because a game would be pretty boring if it was just you (the player) running around alone, everyone said the same dialogue and acted similar to the last guy you talked to.


Let's Play it Again. Replay Value (Ultimate Game Part 5)

Replay value is a very important factor in creating and playing a video game.  You don't want your players to just play it once and throw it in the used games pile never to be played again. Games should be able to be played many times and at least have something new each time.  

A lot of games being recently released are having more and more replay value to their games aside from just multiplayer.  Achievements within the game always make the perfectionists (like myself) work hard at the game to get every achievement and unlockable.  In my opinion though, having a game with multiple endings always has the best replay value.  Anybody remember Chrono Trigger? If I remember right it had about 8 different endings you could get. Different endings are always the most rewarding  to learn more about the story and see what the result is if you did something different earlier in game. Getting an unlockable for beating the game on a harder difficulty is not only a good idea but a great challenge for gamers which includes some well earned bragging rights.  

Some games have a good guy/ bad guy ending which is ok for having different endings but it can probably be assumed how it's going to end.  If you played as the good guy and everyone is saved in the land and replay it to play a bad guy you could probably assume not everyone is going to be saved.  

Multiplayer is a great addition to games to add replay value but isn't necessarily always needed.  It's even better when unlockables from the single player can be used in the multiplayer mode like Rainbow Six Vegas 2 did.  In case you don't want to play online you can play through single player and earn achievements as well as new gear for your character.  It was well planned out and should be considered in other future games.  


Gameplay (Ultimate Game Part 4)

I don't know what happened with that previous post but it got shortened down.  Here's the real blog post.

The other blog posts about the Ultimate Game have all been small details that enhance the game but the main idea that makes or breaks the game is the gameplay itself.  You can have the coolest sounding game and the coolest sword peripheral but if all you have to do is swing it back and forth to make it through the entire game, it's going to get bland fast.  Many action games have fallen into the bland category with intricate combos you can pull on your enemies and flip around and look cool but in the end you can just click "A" three times for the basic punch-punch-kick combo and beat every opponent you come across.  Other games become one sided because of a special move or powers your character can do like slowing down time, super powers or super health, ultimately ending in boring gameplay after the second level.  If done right these player enhancements can be done right.

Crysis gives the players enhanced abilities like super strength, cloak and speed.  The game has set limits on each of these powers so the player can't exploit it and use them entirely through the game.  The Matrix or Max Payne set limits on slowing down time which brought some balance to the game so the player wasn’t so overpowered and kept the game challenging.

Some games have been known to try and sell a game on licensing for a superhero and make it look totally awesome but if all you are really doing is flying through rings in the air as Superman no one is really going to feel as cool as him (Superman 64).  In most Spiderman games, swinging around may be really fun but when it gets down and dirty fighting enemies it becomes very clunky almost as if the developers focused most of their attention on the freedom of swinging around.

Gameplay brings everything together to hopefully make the best game you've ever played.  It's important to keep the level of difficulty maintained, keep limits on player powers and keep the player engrossed in the story and combat so it's not just press “A” the entire way through to win.


Staying in the Lines; Art Direction (Ultimate Game Part 3)

Art direction is not only appealing to the player to see when they check out the game, it is also a nice change from the usual "realistic" graphics. 

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker shocked and awed players when they saw the game take a cel-shaded approach rather than a realistic approach that teased us all when the game was first rumored. Some fans were offended by the choice of cel-shading but once they experienced the game most were blown away because it seemed to fit so well in the game. You can see the wind wisp by as you sail the open sea watching the ocean waves curl around your boat, it was simply amazing, not to mention an amazing game.

Okami was another that had an excellent and new art style. The game seemed like it was straight from an ancient water coloring book. Vibrant colors surround the wolf protagonist as he runs by lush green meadows, soft pink flowers and as you draw with your paintbrush colors burst out at you initiating attacks, create gusts of wind, draw bombs and other various tasks. It’s truly a beautiful game and definitely brought something new to the gaming world.

Don't get me wrong, realistic games are also nice. How far the gaming world has come in graphics from the 8-bit Mario is astounding and should be displayed. In Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess the game went for the realistic approach but still had some effects from Wind Waker; how the smoke plumed and a hint of cel-shading was displayed when Link was in the dark world as a wolf.

Art direction is important in a game to keep things new just as innovation. I'd like to see more games that switch different art styles during gameplay to keep new levels/worlds new and interesting.


Keeping it New with Innovation (Ultimate Game Part 2)

If you've grown up playing video games for about 10 years at least you've probably played 50 WWII games, 30 Sim-type games, 25 Pokemon games, 23 Mega Man games and 34 Mario games. I enjoy storming the beaches of or playing every sport known to man with Mario and friends, as much as the next guy, but after awhile it gets bland and you need something new.

Innovations, keeping things fresh in the game is one of the most important factors in making a game. You can make the coolest WWII game ever with sweet graphics and explosion effects but it's been done before and chances are some people won't even check it out if the game brings nothing new to the large WWII franchise of games. You can make Mario Badminton but if it's like Mario Tennis it's not going to attract many players.

Nintendo has  always strived to be innovative in their games from the motion control Wii to the touch screen of the Nintendo DS and sure enough Nintendo dominates the sales charts by bringing something new to the table and not just extra buttons on a controller. Nintendo was the first to add the Rumble Pack and now rumble features are built into every controller because it adds that much more depth and innovation to the game.  

Innovation is important to keep the interest of the players and isn't just another mindless shooter or adventure run-around game. Let's see something new in Barbie Horse Adventure 3, who knows, more than 1 person might play it.


Good sound=Good Game (Ultimate Game Part 1)

There are many different factors that make a great game and in part 1 of my mini series "The Ultimate Game" I'm going to discuss a very important factor: sound.

A sound change from moving your character from grass to cement to distant artillery blasts can make all the difference in a video game and largely immerse the player into the digital world. It's important to include these small but effective details in creating a great game. Walking down a busy street in broad daylight is going to sound different than walking down the same street at night and should be well represented in a game. When you ride to the Black Gate of Mordor on your horse to take down the evil of Middle Earth you should be able to hear all those horses riding with you and not just the ones on your side. Playing basketball on the streets of LA should definitely sound different than playing on a court. These small details can make you think you're really there in Mordor or on the b-ball court of LA and make the video game world much more believable.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadows of Chernobyl is a great example of a game that really knew how to immerse it's players into believing they are there at the nuclear test facility in . The game had such detail that when it rained in game and you went under a tree the rain actually quieted down like it would in real life. It was quite impressive and I've never seen that much detail put into a game before. Just having good rain sound effects is great but adding in how it affected the with the environment was most excellent.

So the small details of sound are great but so are the more obvious sounds that should be put in a game. Sounds like laser blasts from your X-wing as you fly down the trench of the Death Star or a Bass flopping around your boat you just reeled in Bass Master '08 style. I always have respect for the sound guys that go out and record the sound from first hand experience, obviously they aren't going to find an Xwing to fly but if they get that exact laser sound used in the Star Wars movies I guarentee the player will feel much more like they are in the Star Wars universe than if they used a laser sound from Tron.

Good sound is essential and good sound should be authentic as it can be. Games are getting better adding more sound and depth, no longer are the days of the generic "dungeon theme" of 8-10 notes played on an endless loop until you get back outside for the "over world theme".
We need good sound! Sound for The Ultimate Game!


Zombies. Zombies. Post-Apocolyptic World. More Zombies

It seems the best recipe for making games these days are to include zombies or have the setting of the game in a post-apocolyptic world or in some cases both!  I enjoy blasting mindless swarms of zombies as much as the next guy but I don't need ten different games to do it.  It seems a little overboard when a WWII game, Call of Duty World at War includes a zombie survival mode.  Nazi zombies...come on...really?  I believe all these games about zombies started when Left 4 Dead was getting popular and soaring on the sales charts so everyone joined on the bandwagon.  I suppose making a story for a zombie game is pretty easy.  Insert cliche story about some virus spreading and BOOM! let's get to shooting.  After blowing off limbs for a good hour or so the story never really matters anyway, throw some bosses in there then game over, or is it!?  There's always one zombie that lives at the end right?

My second point is all these games coming out that use a post-apocolyptic environment.  I suppose it's a good setting to think about because it could be our future one of these days but I'm sure there's better environments to think of.  What about a dense jungle where you hunt an alien with super weapons and all you have are your wits, M16 and later a bow with grenade arrows (any Predator fans out there?).

To my surprise when I played Fallout 3 in the biggest post-apocolyptic environment I've played in I found zombies there too!  Technically called "Ghouls" but they had the same backstory as typical zombies do.  I was too engrossed in the great gameplay of Fallout to realize this massive cliche but I suppose you can't have a nuked wasteland without zombies, it works better than the virus story right?

In all seriousness, mass quantities of zombie games give the video game generation some knowledge on how to survive a zombie outbreak.  We also learn how to survive after a nuclear war so there's more to these games than what we may think.  I find most to be very enjoyable even if there are a lot of them.  What do you all think?  Too many or too little zombie/post-apocolyptic games?  Does it really matter or do we just want to grab our pump shotguns and aim for the head?

8.4 > 8.2 Big Deal?

Trolling around on various video game review websites and reading video game magazine reviews I always find myself being annoyed by reviewers that use decimal points to review or +'s or -'s in letter grades or rating a game on a scale of 1-10.
My philosophy on rating games is to keep it on a small scale and have those letters or numbers make a big difference. If I'm rating a game I prefer a 1-5 scale rating system.
If I give a game a 1 I'm basically telling you it's the worst game out there and should not be played by anyone, not even for torture purposes.
If I give a game a 2 it might be a rent, or for only die hard fans if it's part of a series, had big flaws but still playable, etc.
This way a 3 is going to be smack in the middle and easily represent a mediocre game, a game where you may like it or hate it, you may rent or just buy, there may be minor flaws or minor bugs in the game.
A 4 rated game is a good game, probably a buy if you're looking for that genre of video game to add to your collection. There may be a few bugs here and there but nothing that will halt the flow of the game.
5 rated games are easily enough games that you should own with no questions asked. The developers obviously took the time to construct this masterpiece and isn't plagued with bugs. The story is something to be told for generations and we'll all droll over a rumor later on if a sequel is announced.
We're all entitled to our opinion and we all like to write our own reviews but I'll have my opinion on a rating scale as long I can until someone can tell me a how a 2 rated game is different from a 3 rated game on a 1-10 review scale. There has actually been some huge flame wars on some forums about a game getting an 8.3 and another similar game an 8.2 and of course the 8.3's are flaunting they got the better score but in reality what is the difference here? Did the reviewer not like the background color on the main menu for him to drop the score by 0.1? It gets a little ridiculous. The same goes for reviews that use letter ratings with symbols included. Is an "A-" game really different from an "A"? I think not. If you can really decipher a legitimate reason let me know because I find it pretty pointless.
Stick to simple and straight forward 1-5 scales or A-F scales with no + or - or decimal points. We all want to be able to look at a review and really know why a game got a 2 or a 3 and not have to decipher a simple .4 or .8.

The MMO Addiction (Barq's Rootbeer Optional)

I've heard the horror stories of people being addicted to MMORPGs where they wouldn't ever leave their computer and I've seen the the stereotype of the fat guy in a chair with a bag of cheetos and RC cola and I've lived up to just about all of that.
Ever since I dove into the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG Lord of the Rings Online I find it hard to stop playing. I've played other MMO's but just for small free trials for two weeks or so but never got too involved with them until I discovered an MMO within the Lord of the Rings universe which was very interesting and exciting for me.

Within the first two weeks of running around with my hobbit character I was instantly hooked. I soon realized some other games in my collection were getting neglected since I was so occupied with leveling up my character and questing around with friends. MMOs are so revolutionary how they are so interactive and open-ended, you can complete quests or just go exploring the world how/when you want to. The best way to describe this experience is to pretend you are playing an RPG like Final Fantasy but instead of your party members being controlled by you they are controlled by real people while you control your own character and you must all work and communicate together to take down enemies you come across or complete a simple "talk to this guy in the next town" quest. You can choose to be a solo adventurer if you want but it's always more enjoyable socializing and playing along with friends you know and help each other get through the game.

What's even more intriguing is how different each player can be so there is a large sense of uniqueness even amongst the other thousands of players. Within the specific classes your character can be (Archer, Thief, Guardian, Wizard, etc) there are also specifics within the class you can choose to follow, for instance, a fire damage based wizard or an ice damage based wizard.
The sense of freedom, the variety of gameplay styles, social interaction and being able to be unique are just some features that make MMOs their own genre of video game.

As I played more and more I began to fully understand why people become so engrossed in these MMORPGs; the same reason I was: to be the best. After slaying countless Orcs and Goblins and exploring the Misty Mountains I was ready to take on bigger foes, foes that would require more than just a couple of my friends, foes that are only encountered in raids and instances that can require up to 24 people at once working together to take down a boss. The most memorable being the Balrog which if you remember from the movie it wasn't like the game. A simple, "you shall not pass" and a broken bridge didn't stop this Balrog. It was intense, it was a highly coordinated fight and luckily we could fight him again and again in later days to reap the benefits of the loot he dropped.

MMOs are always releasing more and more content for the users and are always expanding the world. Since my time playing Lord of the Rings 5 new regions were added which equalled more quests to be had and more enemies of Middle Earth to be slain.
Though I love to laugh at depictions of these "MMO addicts" for being at their computer and chowing on cheetos all day and all night I can definitely connect with them because I've been there, still doing it and still enjoying it everyday.

Long nights of quests and listening to Gandalf's wisdom