Videogames. They are a thing that exists. Some of them can even make you feel things. Sometimes you enjoy those things, and you remember them decades later when asked to put a list together. This is an introductory paragraph that may or may not be replacing a prior one that no longer makes sense out of context. Don’t worry about that. Worry about ME. Worry about my opinions. Never mind the fact that this doesn’t make sense and is wasting your time. Now read this list of my five most treasured moments in all of my history with Vidcon Robotechnology, and I hope it pleases our Dark Lord immensely. What Dark Lord am I talking about? it doesn’t matter anymore. The introductory paragraph is now long enough and the actual content may commence!
Castlevania is a game series that I feel one should be intimately familiar with if they have an interest in game design. I won’t go off on a rant here, since there have been entire books written that detail the concepts that the NES Castlevania games are built upon, and why they are important. However, I will give an example. After Castlevania SOTN’s Intro stage, where you play as Richter Belmont and utilize a control scheme that is similar to the classic Castlevania games to recreate the usual Dracula boss battle, you play what is essentially a cleverly hidden SECOND Intro stage as the main character. You are given incredibly powerful equipment, the stage starts quiet and dark, and after killing your first enemy the lights kick on and heroic music begins to play. I am a massive stickler for Intro stages in games, so allow me to dissect why this is an important thing, if for no other reason than self-righteous satisfaction.
Playing as Richter before being given control of Alucard is not just for setting up the plot or reminding players that SOTN is a sequel to Rondo of Blood. It also shows the player that Alucard feels and moves differently than a traditional Belmont, and then gives them an area to play around and get a feel for this (at the time of SOTN’s release, this now staple flow was never before used in a Castlevania game, love it or hate it). The initial quiet and dark gives the player a feeling of uncertainty, as they are given a large enemy to fight, and may not know how to approach it. Once they kill it with their stupidly overpowered weapon, and everything starts moving and making noise, the player begins to feel themselves. They are given this weaponry so that they can safely explore a small area and get used to the controls, and while doing this and feeling good about this, you will be leveling your character up naturally through experimentation. Having a set of powerful gear also allows the player to concentrate on learning how to move around the screen, without getting sidetracked with the menu (another fairly new concept for the Castlevania series).
Just when you are beginning to feel unstoppable, Death shows up at the end of the section and trolls the shit out of you by stealing all of your equipment. You have to progress, literally barehanded, taking crap equipment from the enemies that you punch to death. This shows you what you are capable of, and gives you a tangible goal: “I want to be that awesome again”.
Every time you find a new item or piece of equipment, you will want to experiment with it. This is the part where you learn about the menu. Everything is approached in small steps so as not to overwhelm the player. Also, the previous area allowed you to level up on more powerful enemies due to the better equipment that you had, which is a nice crutch, considering you have to build yourself up from scratch now. Later in the game you will revisit the initial area with decent gear, and all of the enemies that you ran through initially will pose a legitimate threat, showing you just how powerful that gear from the beginning of the game really was and giving you a nice reminder that you still want to get stronger.
Bioshock is a game that is linear by design, which is a rarity in an age where open-ended gameplay is a huge selling point for the videogame industry. From the very first moment of play, where the player is dropped into the ocean, surrounded by the flaming wreckage of a plane crash, they are guided along a very carefully selected path towards their goals. This is woven into the narrative so effectively, that one doesn’t even realize that they are playing through a series of tutorials.
Simple things like picking up a wrench to defend yourself against super powered junkies are handled by a man on a radio stating “Now would you kindly find something to defend yourself with?”. You progress through the game’s story, with this man guiding you, getting you to empathize with him through natural conversation, and it does a beautiful job of distracting you from the fact that a certain statement repeatedly pops up. You take it as nothing more than character dialogue, until you reach a point where you are told that you’ve been brainwashed, and set up to complete a task for somebody. “Would you kindly” is a trigger that makes the game’s protagonist do whatever task they are asked to without question, and as a player, you have been doing these tasks because they are the only way to progress through the game, politely following the story as you do so.
Bioshock’s main character is purposely left blank, so that the player naturally identifies themselves as being the ones in this role, and everything in the game is seen from a first person perspective to give the feeling that you are the one actually doing these things, as opposed to a digital avatar. By discovering this, you realize, both as a player and a protagonist, that your free will is nothing more than an illusion. It’s a mind blowing revelation when it’s not spoiled for you, but the game has been out for like six years now, seriously dude.
If you are a complete and total beginner to Fighting games, like I was when I was a small child, idolizing the teenagers at the SFII machine, you would jump around the screen like an asshole, mashing buttons and eating anti-airs for free. The concepts of footsies, hitboxes, and frames didn’t even exist to you. You would eventually get your hands on copy of the game for the Super Nintendo, and that is where you would spend your time learning, free of the hassle of a Jewish Mother yelling about wasting quarters. You had seen the Hadouken before, but now you had read about how to pull one off by reading a copy of GamePro that you traded a pack of Fleer X-Men cards for on the school bus. Countless hours would be spent in 2-Player mode, trying to throw projectiles at a stationary opponent and wrestling with the tight SNES D-Pad. Finally, you would pull one off. The doors to success were now open. Being comfortable with the motion allows you to learn other special moves, and adding those weapons to your arsenal makes you a little better. Soon you begin to learn when and why to use which attacks, and before you know it, you are a decent enough player to stop getting yelled at by your mother for throwing money away. You still don’t know what things like Tick Throwing and 2-in-1’s are, but that will come with time, just like the fireball did.
The quarter circle motion of the Street Fighter Hadouken is a building block of fighting game execution, which most other movements are built upon. Well, except for Mortal Kombat, really, but that’s barely a legitimate Fighting game. Don’t argue with me. Execution is an important part of playing Fighting games, and practicing the fireball is inadvertently your introduction to “getting in the lab” and honing your fighting game skills. When I got older and started playing on an Arcade Stick, I had to revisit this process, and it felt just as rewarding as it did when I was Eight years old.
So, you play through a decent amount of the Mansion, go out to the Guard House, and then make your way back to the Mansion with a shiny new Helmet Key that will allow you to explore the rest of it. In your journey you have only encountered a few mentally handicapped dogs and a ton of slow moving zombies. Your only real challenges came from a giant, phallic snake and a giant, toxic plant that were so obviously boss battles that you were well prepared for them. By this point in your journey, you feel as if you have a firm grasp on the mechanics of the game, and that you are on easy street. Suddenly you meet your first Hunter, via badly animated PS1 cutscene, in all of it’s glory. It runs across the entire courtyard, jumps over the elevator that you had to finagle batteries to use, and opens a fucking door! Going back to actual gameplay, you think this won’t be such an impressive encounter without the use of embarrassing CGI, take out your shotgun, and shoot the thing. Suddenly it springs up like Pre-Back Surgery Shawn Michaels, and fucking runs straight at you! You shoot it again, and again it hops up and continues it’s pursuit! this time it JUMPS ACROSS THE HALLWAY and swipes at you. Sometimes it swipes you from the floor, causing you to have to aim low or waste precious ammo. You finally kill the bastard, wonder what that shit was all about, reload, and open the door to the next room, only to discover that all of the zombies in the Mansion have been replaced by these guys, and that they sometimes attacked in groups. did I mention that they have an attack that can decapitate you and kill you in one hit? Suddenly things are shaken up, and you are back to being scared and cautious.
I couldn’t find proper YouTube footage for my final moment, so enjoy a clip from my current favorite Anime. Fuck professionalism. Yolo.
Much like Castlevania, Super Metroid is a game that should be studied extensively by design teams before being allowed to create a videogame. It might quite literally be the perfect game. Also much like Castlevania, I will not be explaining much of why I feel this way, since more qualified and eloquent people have already done so. What I WILL talk about, however, is that one really cool part where you end up back at the beginning of the game.
Upon acquiring the Speed Booster, you do a bunch of stuff, fuck around in some corridors, fight a boss, and then take an elevator back to the surface of the planet. Upon doing this and heading left, you end up back at Samus’ ship, where you started your adventure. When you first came to planet Zebes, you didn’t even have Missiles. It was dark, raining, and there was no music. You couldn’t do anything out here. Upon returning, however, the weather has cleared up, triumphant music has begun playing, and you are now armed with the Speed Booster. You begin to feel good about overcoming that asshole boss, and you now have the opportunity to recharge and save at your ship. A perfect loop is completed in an open ended game by finding a creative way to circumvent backtracking. That’s not the coolest part of this whole thing.
You had to use the Speed Booster to crash through the rocks that were blocking your path to get here (which also prevented you from going to the right and herded you towards your first upgrades at the very beginning of the game, another beautiful design choice). Because of this, coupled with the fact that you are now being given a gigantic and open area to play around with your fun and fancy new ability, you will begin experimenting. You have plenty of space to run back and forth for Shinesparks and Super Jumps, and plenty of space to explore. The Missile upgrades hidden in a newly accessible area and the aforementioned music almost feel like rewards for coming this far, and since the Shinespark uses up Energy, you are given your ship to refill your health as much as you’d like. You are essentially being taught how to use a new toy without any need for a tutorial or instructions to break up the flow of the game. It feels so natural that it took me nineteen years of maturing as a man to even realize that this had been cleverly done to me. Game design 101, ladies and gentlemen.
Although I probably should have mentioned it in the opening paragraph, these five moments are in no particular order, as numbering them would have diminished their value, like choosing a favorite child, and honestly isn’t there enough of that easily digestible list crap on the internet these days? Be sure to check out Frank’s contribution to this project as well, even though my list is infinitely better.