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11:59 AM on 06.06.2010

The Great Escape: The Greatest RPG in a childís mind

Iím a fairly young gamer. Iím 17 and turning 18 this week. When everyone goes on about their Atari 2600 and their NES, I remember my dadís broken NES (it only plays Super Mario Bros. 3; itís very bizarre) and the system of my childhood, the Nintendo 64. Most people grew up playing their favorite First Person Shooter, Duck Hunt, while I grew up with Golden Eye 64. Many remember fondly the first time they killed a goomba in Super Mario Bros. I remember the first time I got my wing cap in Super Mario 64. The game I played the most, and perhaps the game I used as escapism the most in my lifetime, came out when I was 8. Itís a not so little game called Paper Mario.

Paper Mario is escapism in the purest of forms for me. Every character is likable (even the villains), you play with strategy instead of skill, and you become the protagonist. Iíve heard many times that RPGs are lonely games for lonely people. In a sense, itís completely true. I remember my early elementary school years as being some of the least fond in my history. Although Iím going to start to sound like a Lifetime original movie, my best friend of elementary school was diagnosed with cancer when we were in fourth grade. I didnít exactly shut down; I tried to make a few new friends, but at the time, all everyone did was play sports. My friend and I were the only two boys at our school who hated sports when we were younger.

We werenít exactly gamers. We were Ocarina of Timers. We played through that game at least ten times in third grade. So when he spent the entire fourth year of elementary school in the hospital, I returned to video games. The game I happened to land on was Paper Mario. It was the greatest way to escape my life as a nine year old with essentially no friends. While I could have gone out to the playground and became friendlier with my cousin Nick, I stayed home and became friends with Lady Bow.

My girlfriend

While making friends in-game definitely was at least one reason I adored Paper Mario so much, the reason it, and all other RPGs I suppose, are great forms of escapism is because everything in the game revolves around the player. I could look around for a while and find that the game designer had hidden a star piece behind a bush just for me. When I played Paper Mario, I didnít have to care about everyone else. It was all about me. In retrospect, maybe thatís why I felt so lonely in fourth grade; not only did I not have my best friend for a year and a half, everyone I knew dedicated all of their attention to him. So when I played Paper Mario, I could finally have my fifteen minutes of fame. It wasnít about how my friend (letís call him Tony) Tony spent the weekend getting CAT scans. It was about the world that I got to live in. It was about how I could use Bombette on a certain not-so-inconspicuous crack in the wall and find a P-up D-down badge hidden.

I know that Paper Mario isnít the greatest RPG, but it has everything a child could want in one colorful, whimsical package. There are great characters who live only for the sake of making each other happy, you get to rescue the equivalent of Gods which makes you feel pretty damn important, you get to find objects that hide in almost obvious hiding spots, and it has easy puzzles that make you feel really smart when you solve them. Even now, almost ten years later, I can escape to Paper Mario. Itís my favorite RPG and is what got me through a very tough time.

In case you guys want some closure, my friend Tony is perfectly fine now. Let me rephrase that, heís perfectly healthy now. After he came back to school, the so-called cool kids became friends with him (out of sympathy? because their parents told them to?) and he became everything the two of us hated. We havenít had a conversation since sixth grade. I know I essentially killed every drip of pathos with this paragraph, but I thought it was important. Maybe thatís why I still love Paper Mario so much. It reminds me of a time when I was best friends with someone who I probably still want to be friends with. It lets me escape to a time I can never get back. Maybe I was feeling nostalgia when I was only eight.   read

9:20 PM on 05.17.2010

The 10 Greatest Video Games of All Time

I know that this may seem like an attention whore of a blog, but I always wonder what people think the best games are. I donít mean their favorites, I mean the best. My favorite movie is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The best movie, in my opinion, is Citizen Kane. Thereís a clear and present difference and I want to see how my list of the best games of all time matches up with yours, my lovely readerís.

10. A Link to the Past

Oh A Link to the Past. What can I say about you? When the original Legend of Zelda came out, it was a big deal that it had a giant open world. After the not-so-successful-yet-still-fantastic-sort-of-action-rpg-game The Legend of Zelda II, the series continued with A Link to the Past. To prove they meant business, not only did they give the player a gigantic open world to play around with; they gave the player two.

A Link to the Past took everything great about the original Legend of Zelda and simply made it all better. It had more complex and interesting dungeons. The heart pieces were well hidden. It was visually marvel for the SNESís capability and it truly cemented the Zelda formula you all love to hate.

9. Braid

I promised you that there is a difference between favorite and best. My putting Braid on this list definitely straddles the line between the two.

In its own right, Braid is everything you could hope for in a video game. It features a beautiful, painful story told quite naturally through a few paragraphs. It features some of the most beautiful art in a video game (from David Hellman [check out his webcomic A Lesson is Learned]). It features a soundtrack filled entirely with tasteful classical music that never seems to loop. It features a brilliantly addictive mechanic in which you hold down shift to reverse time. These five elements arenít what makes Braid the ninth greatest game of all time though. What makes John Blowís masterpiece the game that it is, is that all five of these elements have meaning to them.

If I were to compare Braid to a novel, it would most certainly be James Joyceís Ulysses. Itís a sprawling epic about a few people that has so many themes that it would take a literature professor to explain what they all are. Is Braid about the atomic bomb? (the phrase ďand now we are all sons of bitchesĒ appears in the game and in one level when you press down it drops a ring that slows down time) Is it simply about regret? (the climax would point towards this theme) Perhaps itís about how time ruins everything and all we want to do is go back. Or perhaps John Blow just wanted to make a fun game (haha...haÖ). Either way, itís impossible to say that Braid isnít a masterpiece and thatís what makes it more than just another indie game.

8. Tetris

Not much to say here aside from how beautiful a concept Tetris is. It seems so natural now: several shapes (each made of exactly four blocks) are used to form complete rows. You use the six blocks to make a complete row in order to get points. As we all know, forming a Tetris (four rows at once) gives you the most points. Add into the mix the genius of T-spins and youíve got yourself the eighth greatest game ever made. Who wouldíve thought that a simple, Russian, 1984 game would become one of the most played games to this day?

7. Bioshock

Time for me to defend myself again. Bioshock is a great example of how a game can add up to more than the sum of its parts. Bioshock features a great atmosphere that is created by many elements coming together flawlessly. Take into account the great lighting (not so dark that you canít see anything but just right enough for the game to have squinting at times), the unbelievably brilliant script, the subtle music and the perfectly nuanced voice acting and youíve got yourself one amazing world.

What puts Bioshock above and beyond System Shock 2 is that Bioshock features some of the greatest moments in videogame history. ďWould you kindlyĒ and ďa man chooses, a slave obeysĒ are already a part of popular culture. I bet everyone who played Bioshock remembers the first time they step foot on the bathysphere. ďIs a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?Ē Gives me chills every time.

Those memorable scenes are laced together with what may be the greatest way to tell a story in videogames. Audio-diaries are sheer brilliance. You find out as much of the story as you want to find out and you have to work to find them. Like a painting or a great symphony, Bioshockís story is made of hundreds of tiny strokes. Each one adding a little bit more until you look at it as a whole and see just how beautiful and perfect it is.

6. Half Life

For Half Life, I donít necessarily mean the first game. The series as a whole (including Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Counterstrike) are perfect examples of expanding the genre of the First Person Shooter. Even though I feel like everyone here is tired of seeing Half Life on every best games list and of hearing people describe whatís great about them, Iíll give it a shot. With Half Life, we saw how cutting out the cut-scenes can make a game flow perfectly. With Portal, we saw how platforming and puzzling works with using a gun instead of exploring and clicking *cough cough Myst*. With Half Life 2, we learned how make us feel the fear and solitude of Gordon Freeman without him even speaking.

There has never been a sequence in video game history that has made me feel more helpless than the early segments of Half Life 2: Episode 2 (no I havenít played Metal Gear Solid 4 yet so this famous hallway scene isnít in the running). Youíre in the tunnel system formed by a species of insects with larva and full grown species all around you. The larva can stick onto you and the only easy way to kill the grown species is to get them into the water. On top of this, there are creatures called barnacles who hang on the ceiling. Their tongues are hanging down like ropes. If you walk into them, you get pulled up. Unless you kill it before you reach the top, getting caught means certain death. To top all of this off, you only have the gravity gun and another gun with very little ammo. Most people donít concentrate on this section of the Half Life series but that only shows how great the series is as a whole. Itís made up entirely of sequences like this.

The Half Life series is an accomplishment in just about every way aside from one glaring flaw; many find the series to be a bit laborious. I personally have no idea what people are talking about yet I donít think it would be fair to ignore such comments.

5. Mario Series

Why yes, it is ridiculous to count the whole series as one game. However, with games like Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario World, itís hard to break them up. The five of them are among the most loved games in the history of videogames. What makes these games so great, you ask? The simplicity of the mechanics and the complexity of the levels. Take a look at any, literally any, level in Super Mario Galaxy and try not to marvel at how intricate, beautiful and charming it is. Take a look at the first fifteen seconds of Super Mario Bros. Those fifteen seconds are a work of genius. Without even noticing it, you learned what your enemies are, how to defeat them, what power-ups there are, how to get points and how your health system works. Name another game that teaches you everything you need to know about it in the first fifteen seconds (other than Pong).

Roger Ebert once said that Citizen Kane may be the best movie of all time, but Casablanca is certainly more loved. To me, the Mario series is similar to Casablanca; itís nearly perfect in every single way but is just short of being the greatest of all time.

4. Metal Gear Solid

DISCLAIMER: I HAVE NOT PLAYED ANY OF METAL GEAR SOLID 4. I thought that that sentence deserved all capitals. You probably disagree with me.

The greatest game of the Metal Gear Solid series would have to be Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I have never seen a game use cutscenes in the way that MGS 2 does. It tells a political parable that surpasses all stories in video games before it. What story-driven games come to mind when I ask you to name a game before 2001? Games with stories about small boys saving the world (many of them are fantastic) and stories about princesses being in other castles (those are equally as fantastic). When you look at a list of the greatest of anything, you have to look at it in two ways; how it was then and how it is now. Metal Gear Solid 2 hit the world like a lightning bolt. There was no game that featured such a vulnerable, flawed character like Solid Snake. People praise Uncharted for introducing a new type of protagonist. Rewind 10 years before Uncharted and you get 1998ís Metal Gear Solid featuring a character so intelligent that he can get into a building without alerting anyone yet so stupid that he doesnít realize that heís literally killing people when he walks up to them.

3. Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger is hands down the single most loved game in the history of the world. I have never (ever) heard anyone say anything remotely bad about this gem of a game. Chrono Trigger tells a great story about a small boy saving the world. Yes, I just said that MGS did a better job with the story, but Chrono Trigger isnít going for greatness in the same way that MGS is. MGS is this huge, gigantic game about serious issues and serious people. Chrono Trigger is a game about being fun. Along with having very subtle humor, the game introduces the most overused JRPG clichťs of all time. You time travel, you play as a small boy who unwillingly has to save the world, you meet new friends along the way yet still keep the old, everyone loves each other aside from the villain et cetera. However, one thing Iíve only seen in Chrono Trigger that Iím waiting to see somewhere else, is that you can go to the final boss at any time in the game. Wouldnít Final Fantasy X (whose plot is almost identical to Chrono Triggerís) be much more interesting if you could choose to fight Sin whenever you wanted to? Wouldnít it also make a lot more sense?

The greatness of Chrono Trigger also resides in the memorability of the characters. After playing for 15, 25, 50 hours, itís Frog, Ayla, Robo and a few others who you remember the most. Each character has their own advantages and each one can be used in the final fight. I played the game with Crono, Marle and Ayla as my main party while my friend used Magus, Robo and Lucca as his main three (I donít understand how that worked, but he worked it out). The characters are so complex and each can be used well to beat Chrono Trigger.

While Iím on the subject of Chrono Trigger by the way, I would like to point out how shocked I am that many people have not played Chrono Trigger before. As you can see above, I find the game to be nothing less than a masterpiece and whole-heartedly recommend the game.

2. The Ocarina of Time

I know. I put Mario Series as one game and gave the Zelda Series two games. Quite simply, Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past are so wonderful in their own separate ways that it would be a sin to lump them together.

Ocarina of Time is the second greatest game ever made for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, there is no other game with an appeal as broad as Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time is nothing less than perfection for a five year old and for an eighty year old. It features a story simple enough for a child to understand yet the game is so open and beautiful in every sense of the world that even the elderly could enjoy it. Secondly, I am yet to hear an original score as beautiful as that of Ocarina of Time. Thirdly, the level design is so varied and groundbreaking that itís impossible to imagine how the mind of Koizumi (who made Wind Waker and Super Mario Galaxy (!) also) could think of it. Torches serve as a weapon and a key in this game. Bombs are both as well.

One thing about Ocarina of Time that is often overlooked, is how the lock on system works. Try to think about a game before Ocarina of Time that features a lock on system. Give up yet? Thatís because there werenít any. Ocarina of Time invented the lock on system. Think about how big of an achievement that is and then continue on to read what number one isÖ

1. Shadow of the Colossus

Here it is. The greatest game of all time is Team Icoís six hour giant (no pun intended) Shadow of the Colossus. Shadow of the Colossus embodies everything great about games right now. Thereís an ambiguous story of a boy killing Colossi in order to save a woman. Is that his girlfriend? Is that his mother? My favorite theory is that he, Wanderer, killed the woman in a sacrifice and now regrets his decision. No matter which theory you choose, youíre in for one of the most beautifully simple games ever told.

As Rev. Anthony famously pointed out in his first c-blog, at one point, one of the colossi doesnít attack you. You, as Wanderer, have to initiate the fight. The colossus is just flying over a lake. Itís up to you to kill it. It means you no harm. Did this make you feel uncomfortable or did you just plow through the fight? Either way, itís your game, your story, your experience.

Did you go out into the world and try to get maximum health and grip? Or did you find it counterproductive to work so hard to get a power-up that you donít really need? Once again, itís your own experience.

Did you feel angry during the games finale? Did you feel disappointed? Did you feel regret for killing the colossi? Did you feel that it was worth the effort? Itís all up to you. No one else can make you feel a certain way.

What makes Shadow of the Colossus the greatest game ever and the perfect example of games as art is that it embodies everything great about games. It has a message that you personally must decide what it is. It has a journey that you must personally go through. This is a game that does what every game wishes it could do. It takes its messages and character struggles and reflects them back onto the gamer. Bioshock does this to a certain degree in its climax where you confront Mr. Ryan but it has never been done to the same magnitude as in Shadow of the Colossus.

Thanks for staying with me. That was a long blog post. I hope someone read the whole thing through. I totally understand getting TL;DR's for this one btw.   read

10:37 AM on 05.02.2010

Time is money

I was on a forum about Cave Story where everyone was talking about just how amazing a game it was. Someone asked the question (I'm paraphrasing) "If I liked Cave Story what else will I like?" The community responded with various indie games that had nothing to do with Cave Story including a favorite of mine, VVVVVV. Several gamers immediately shot down VVVVVV because it's a $15 game. Clearly, $15 for a three-four hour game is asking for too much. You want to know how we should all spend our money? On an $18 game called Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.

Since the worth of a game is clearly a function of it's length, we shouldn't ever buy a game other than Disgaea. This gem of a game contains around 150 hours (count 'em) of gameplay. That means that you pay twelve cents for ever hour of Disgaea you play. It's clear that VVVVVV and Braid are no where near as amazing as Disgaea because the former two games are only three hours and five hours long respectively! We simply can't have us wasting our money on short games like these.

Let me make a few ratios for you:

Runescape: 0 $/hr
Disgaea: .12 $/hr
Final Fantasy XIII: 1$/hr
Braid: 4 $/hr
God of War III: 4 (or 6.67) $/hr
VVVVVV: 5 $/hr

There's all this argument about what the Citizen Kane of gaming is. I know what it is, it's Runescape. With a ratio that is equal to 0 $/hr, it's nothing less than the greatest game ever made.

Okay, I'll drop the Jim-like sarcasm.

It really gets under my skin when I hear people (critics included) complaining that a game is a little too expensive for it's length. This quote from Michael Flacy of "Video Game Talk" sums it all up:

"Die-hard fanatics of platformers should download the demo of Braid and check it out before pulling the 1200 point trigger. The rest of the gaming population needs to wait for Microsoft to reduce the price or find some Marketplace points on sale before purchasing Braid."

Mr. Flacy gave this game a 4/5 because of the price. Perhaps many gamers (Mr. Flacy included) should be introduced to flash games or Maplestory. Both are free, and endless.

How many of you bought God of War III on release date? What if I told you that you could get God of War III for the price of only twenty dollars? Here's how; first get your hands on God of War II (or I it doesn't really matter), White-out, and a Sharpie. Then you get creative. Why is it that many people are willing to shell out $60 (or even up to $100) for a fifteen hour game you've already played twice but refuse to support a game we've never seen before (and will never see again) like Braid?

Think about if this thought process was the same for films. While that would explain why a lot of people thought Avatar was better than The Hurt Locker, it's one of the silliest things you'll think about today. By this logic, Dances with Wolves would be among the greatest films to win Best Picture. Let's apply this new theory of ours (that run time = level of greatness) and apply it to the classics: With a running time of only two hours, Citizen Kane can't be the best movie ever made. What's the Citizen Kane of movies, you ask? Many of you may think it's an epic like The Godfather but if you really think about it, the Citizen Kane of movies is Fassbinder's legendary 16 hour film Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Look how magnificent that picture is. It deserves a picture of that size and it would be a sin to give it anything but.

The majority of you haven't seen Berlin Alexanderplatz (or Citizen Kane, but that's another story). I watched it over the course of a week while Citizen Kane would only last me a measly two hours. If you haven't, then you're missing out on the greatest deal in the film industry. That's what makes it the greatest film of all time. And what makes Runescape the greatest game of all time...   read

7:56 PM on 04.12.2010

E for Effort: Metroid Prime

Last year, I was obsessed with Metacritic. Maybe I still am now (if you give me a game from the past year I can probably tell you what score it got.) I checked out the top ten games for GameCube and was surprised to see Metroid Prime at the top of the list. I was anticipating Wind Waker or even Twilight Princess to top the list but those games had to be content with a measly 96 score compared to Metroid Prime's hefty 97. I had heard of the game at the time (someone gave it to me as a gift so it was sitting in my basement collecting dust [as it should have]) and even remember playing a little bit of it. I did what I always do for games I know little about, I went to my best friend Dan.

Dan is an extremely hardcore gamer. He was responsible for introducing me to gaming and he's been one of my best friends since a very young age. Together we made a perfect team; he knew everything about video games and music while I knew everything about film and literature. When I had a question about Metroid Prime, I needed no more than to call my own personal video game expert. He told me that he had little experience with Metroid Prime but that the moments he played it were unbearably terrible. We decided that we would play it together. This was not unusual for us. We played Braid, Bioshock (100%) and a few other games together before this time. This is where the shit hit the fan.

To save myself the anger and frustration of trying to describe the two of us playing through Metroid Prime together, I'll fast-foward a week.

I'll start with the good: the graphics are fantastic (see above). Unfortunately, it came out eight years ago so the graphics don't compare to God of War III or Mass Effect 2. They were however, good for it's time.

You see those four (or is it five?) words "good for it's time"? Those words are the four most evil words in the gaming industry. So what if a game is good for it's time? If it aged horribly, it aged horribly. No excuses. Eternal Darkness was released in the same year as Metroid Prime and on the same console, but Eternal Darkness has aged much better. They both contain bleak environments yet one of them looks like genuinely frightening place while another one looks like it might have been impressive a few years ago.

It brings up a very important concept: is it really the graphics that makes a game look beautiful? Ten years from now, will God of War III be prettier than Okami? Will it even be prettier than Braid? The answer to that is no.

The reason for that is because it's not enough to make a technical masterpiece, it must be artistically motivated as well. That, in a nutshell, is why I didn't like Metroid Prime. The amount of backtracking, while it demonstrates great level design and nuance, is suicide inducing. The first-person platforming, while great in terms of pacing and originality, felt unnecessary. The sprawling map, while show showing great originality and a true understanding of game design, made me want to sleep.

All in all, the game is a technical marvel. If I become a game designer (which I hope I never do because we gamers are angry prople) I would be proud to say that I made Metroid Prime. The problem however, is that Metroid Prime simply isn't fun. If I were to choose a game that Metroid Prime perhaps most resembles, it would be the original Half Life. While Metroid Prime clearly used some of it's platforming aspects and the feeling of desperation from it (and deftly handles the two of them,) Half Life succeeds in something Metroid Prime doesn't; Half Life is fun.

While there are many games that succeed not because of gameplay, Metroid Prime isn't one of them. Passage succeeds in being a great game with essentially no fun. However, Metroid Prime isn't Passage. Metroid Prime never brought gamers to tears. Metroid Prime was never an extended metaphor for how people have relationships (or anything else for that matter.) Metroid Prime was intended to be a fun game. It saddens me that a game with such great potential and brainpower behind it turned out to be a textbook on how to make a boring game.

P.S. This is my first blog post. I'm pretty sure you can all tell =]   read

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