Category: Metagame Monday

Metagame Monday: Which Would Make a Better Novel?

In the latest edition of Metagame Monday, I ask: Which would make a better novel, WarCraft II or The Oregon Trail?

 

WarCraft II

This seems like an obvious choice, and maybe even an unfair one. With a fictional universe full of blockbuster games and rich narrative not only from those games but also cinematics and extended fiction from novels and comics, WarCraft is unquestionably one of the richest worlds in video gaming history.

As a matter of fact, it was that rich narrative that paved the way for the graphical MMO phenomenon that World of WarCraft didn’t create (I believe that honour belongs to Meridian 59), but definitely made mainstream. Blizzard’s memorable depictions of the Human and Orc forces in Tides of Darkness and later The Frozen Throne as well as the epic tale of their struggle for control of a world that both sides needed for survival have heavy roots in classic fantasy tropes, but they were presented with a narrative quality and deft modern touch (such as the in-game unit commentary) that were new to PC games.

In this case, there are also a wide selection of WarCraft novels and they are actually solid fantasy stories even without the gaming experience around it. The ones I have read do a good job of explaining the world and characters to readers who may not be familiar with the games, and are exciting stories on their own.

 

The Oregon Trail

At times, the best narrative experiences are the ones where the gamer is only presented with a loose story framework and left to their own devices and imagination to create their own story. The Oregon Trail is one such game, where the very basic premise of traveling from point A to B with your family against a bevy of challenges such as broken wagons, hunger, thieves and FIRE!!! as well as a terrifying final journey along a rock studded river is open ended enough and dynamically different between each play through to foster a unique narrative interpretation for each sequence of events.

The Oregon Trail is essentially timeless, as its core experience lends itself to different interpretations based not only on version of the game (original or remake), but also where the gamer is in their own life. I still have vivid memories of struggling with the various challenges as a kid playing on a monochrome Mac in my grade school computer lab, but I also replayed the game recently on my iPhone with all of the bells and whistles of a modern remake. While my strategy has changed (I no longer insist on starting as a banker and then hunting incessantly), what stayed the same was my desire to personify and live vicariously through my virtual family of settlers on each attempt to reach our new home.

 

Conclusion

I have to give this one to WarCraft II, as that game laid the foundation for all future generations of computer and video games that succeeded it. As much as I enjoy the free form narrative that my experiences with The Oregon Trail has been comprised of, the winner should be the game that has the best defined story within the explicit game experience.

That’s it for this week, which game would you rather read as a novel?

Metagame Monday: Which has Made More Players Cry?

In this edition of Metagame Monday, I debate: Which has made more players cry, Portal or Counter-Strike?

 

Portal

We all know that the cake is a lie! This horrible affront to all that is right and decent with the world is a legend that has spread throughout the world, as the humor and heartfelt emotion from Portal has engaged both hardcore and casual gamers around the world with its wit and charm. The game blends punchy jokes, subtle humor and introspective thoughts into a memorable narrative around some mind pending levels of puzzle action and the unique dual portal system of transportation…or propulsion…or deflection…or much more.

The title of the game refers to the core game mechanic, but what makes Portal transcend gaming and into our popular culture is the hilarious, tear inducing humor that Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek infused into all parts of game (except the ones that called for moments of introspection. There’s so much to see and experience, with layers that reveal themselves upon repeat exposure: Portal has been given any accolades and descriptions, but one that I have never heard but thoroughly attribute to the game is density. The game progresses in a seemingly linear fashion, but the eventually fiendishly difficult puzzles threaten to snap your mind before another hilarious one-liner or unbelievable physics reaction and the resulting kinetic chaos kept bringing me to tears of laughter. From my frantic attempts to discuss this game with friends that inevitably break down into inappropriately loud laughter, I am quite confident that many fellow gamers have experienced the same euphoria.

The sequel and inevitable games afterwards that will carry on the legacy of GLaDOS, Chell and the rest of this universe will undoubtedly be filled with other great moments of gameplay and dialogue, but everyone reading this article will remember the first time they discovered that the cake was, indeed, a lie.

 

Counter-Strike

By its strictest interpretation, The Metagame didn’t specify why a game has made more players cry. With that in mind, there is no doubt that the brutal difficulty in both gameplay mechanics and ferocity of competition in Counter-Strike has left many gamers weeping in frustration and anger as they get picked off a mere second away from defusing or planting a bomb, at the end of a particularly tense standoff or right after getting lured into shooting a wall tag of an enemy combatant and ambushed from behind.

For those that have not played it, Counter-Strike is truly the chess of first person shooters. Every side, weapon, gear and play style combination has strengths and weaknesses that require many hours of frustration and practice to achieve even minimal proficiency at, and an exponentially growing commitment to refine and improve when reaching the upper echelons of combat (or at least the top of the scoreboard). With apex predators wielding undoubtedly sinewy wrists toughened by thousands of hours of rounds expertly wielding weapons that have become extensions of their will while prowling maps they have long since committed even the smallest details to memory, Counter-Strike veterans are the kind of gamer that strike fear into the heart of lesser men and women until they are brought to tears at their inability to win.

A few months ago, I checked out the latest iteration Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and was swiftly relegated to the bottom of the scoreboard with demoralizing scores such as 2-19 and 1-11. Sighing deeply, I logged off and never returned before the waterworks game: Counter-Strike has never made it dusty in the room during my years with the game, and I would be damned if I let it start now.

 

Conclusion

Counter-Strike is known and much respected, but Portal is on another level: the terrible deceit of GLaDOS and the absence of a culinary confection has permeated pop culture, and we are all the better for it. I recently attended a wonderful performance of Video Games Live that featured Tommy Tallarico, Laura Intravia and a packed house of Toronto’s finest in Massey Hall cheerfully singing along to Jonathan Coulton’s iconic song (I must have been only 2 or 3 rows behind the videographer), and no amount of bomb planting or defusing is ever going to top the tears of laughter that Portal has brought to me and millions of others who just wanted a slice of tasty, tasty cake.

That’s it for this week, which one do you think has made more gamers cry (or conversely, brought you to tears)?

Metagame Monday: Which is a Better Guide to Life?

In the 3rd edition of Metagame Monday, I ask: Which is a better guide to life: Donkey Kong or ICO?

 

Donkey Kong

Looking back now, the impact of DOOM was enormous even in a pre-Internet, pre-24 hour news cycle world of gaming. This was an era when you had to rely on qualitative methods of evaluation to track the anticipation for a game: the buzz at school, the discussions with friends and the magazine cover stories were the best indicators of a game’s interest level. By those measures, DOOM was one of the most anticipated games ever released. Every day at grade school was filled with eagerly anticipating gamers clutching a copy of Computer Gaming World or other publications at the time, and the release of the game coincided with a significant and lasting bout of absenteeism and missing assignments at school upon its release.

Who could blame them? After proving that they understood first person shooters with Wolfenstein 3D, the team at id Software released DOOM to incredible hype with a dazzling array of interesting weapons, dozens of engaging levels and a mature atmosphere that had rarely been seen in gaming at that time. The multiplayer only made the addiction worse and the buzz even greater as workplaces and home networks alike ground down to a halt. The idea that millions of gamers were hopping online to play against their friends was revolutionary at the time, and created the foundation of the multiplayer experiences that are common today.

As a slight twist on a point from the original Metagame Monday, any game that redefines a genre should be credited as a pioneer. The first person shooter had never seen the likes of DOOM’s mature rated violence and mayhem (even in its pixellated form), complexity (3 colours of key cards + platforming puzzles +hazardous environments) and degree of difficulty that led to a very high volume of replay value. The latter is a sticking point for me, as I still cannot pass the game at a higher difficulty on the Xbox Live version.

Last but certainly not least, mods! Any settling down of the interest level in DOOM after its release date as newer games were released was mitigated by the constant stream of mods that came out. From character mods such as adding goofy looking versions of Barney the Dinosaur to punishing twists such as all Cyberdemon levels, the DOOM mod community constantly created new buzz for the game with each fan created iteration of the game they released.

 

ICO

When I think of the introduction of sophisticated platform gaming, I think of Prince of Persia. Released by Jordan Mechner in 1989, the game was the first to add complexity to your character itself when moving up, around and under a variety of obstacles to reach the end of every level. What really distinguished Prince of Persia was its sense of pacing. The game could not be played with the frenetic, headlong rush from beginning to end that other platformers such as the original Super Mario Brothers supported (and encouraged with bonus points). The Prince demanded patience as the gamer decided the best approach for each puzzle with a combination of spatial analysis and understanding of the geometry of the world that he inhabited.

I think the game was adapted gradually, rather than suddenly. While Prince of Persia was an unqualified hit, it did not have the same linear progression that Wolfenstein 3D to DOOM had in building buzz. Mechner’s original title Karateka was a different game in a different genre, and the buzz that Prince of Persia generated was based on the potential of a then unfamiliar genre, rather than the evolution of an existing and tremendously popular genre.

 

Conclusion

Neither DOOM nor Prince of Persia had a huge, sweeping narrative that was a central point of the story. This comes down to how each game played, how long it was played for and how we remember it in the present day.

By any of those measures, DOOM created a bigger buzz than Prince of Persia. DOOM was an easy to pick up, hard to master experience that was hugely anticipated and launched to incredible buzz, that stayed for years to come as its community of hardcore fans continued to add and modify it. Many of them are still around, and I would argue is DOOM is still thought of as the defining game of its genre. Prince of Persia also made a significant impact that lasted well after its release, but its style of gameplay was not embraced as rabidly upon release and has not translated as broadly to current day games. Aside from titles with either franchise or developmental roots in connection such as the newer Prince of Persia titles or the Assassin’s Creed series, mobility and maneuvering based platforming is not a well known game style. Prince of Persia is definitely still known and respected, but its buzz was never as great or lasted as long.
That’s it for this week, which game do you believe created a bigger buzz?