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Top 10 Games with Managing Games Editor, Mike Worby

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Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree. 

About Mike: 

I’ve been a gamer since some parental figure, or other, put an NES controller in my hand around the age of 5, (and man, what a mistake that was!) I graduated to my true love, the SNES, after that, and I haven’t looked back since. Below, you’ll find 10 of my most treasured experiences among the hundreds of games I’ve played throughout my life. I hope you like them as much as I do!

Bloodborne

Bloodborne
I’ve always been an easy sell for horror, and Gothic horror, in particular, is right up my alley. Drawing heavily from the cosmic terror and shapeless monstrosities of HP Lovecraft, Bloodborne suits those interests to a tee. Also, as anyone who knows me will undoubtedly tell you, I almost never shut up about Dark SoulsBloodborne is basically the perfect storm for someone like me in that regard.

It’s as engaging as it is horrifying, as challenging as it is frustrating, and as rewarding as it is obtuse. There are very few games that I would willingly endure 6 hours of the same boss fight for, but this is one of them.

Dripping with atmosphere, and endlessly esoteric, Bloodborne is the kind of game you could play through a dozen times over and still have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the plot department, and there’s something very ingratiating about that to me, because it makes me want to know what it all means.

Bloodborne is such a brilliant game, and such an engrossing experience, that it hurt me to put it down for good after the release of The Old Hunters DLC, and the brutal fight for that platinum trophy. Honestly, masochist that I am, I’m still hoping for a Bloodborne 2 to come along and kick my ass all over again.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night


As mentioned above, you have to really shit the bed to not sell me on a Gothic horror game, and while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night utterly shits the bed, to glorious effect, in its voice acting, the rest of the game is so astutely designed that even the silly dialogue and laughable delivery, that occasionally creeps through the addictive gameplay, has become fun and memorable via simple proxy and association.

Jabs and jibes aside, SOTN is the Castlevania game that every single entry in the series (before and since) has desperately wished that it was. The game just feels so damn good that there is no question as to which “vania” people are talking about when they bandy about the term “metroidvania”.

I mean, come on, let’s get real for just a second: this game lets you turn into a fucking bat to fly over obstacles, or a cloud of mist to pass through obstructions. In fact, the game is almost broken it gives you so much power by the end. However, having earned every inch of your progress through Dracula’s (two!) castles, you don’t even blink when you reach your 18th power-up or so. By then, the game has its fangs so bloody deep in your neck that you wouldn’t see a flaw in all the world, even if its a stupid gargoyle talking to you in a silly voice!

Come along you goofy bastard, let’s find another switch for you to press, shall we!?

Chrono Cross

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Look, I know what everyone is thinking, and ya know, it’s pretty odd to me that this game is on here instead of Chrono Trigger too. Chrono Trigger was my first RPG and, for all intents and purposes, it should absolutely be on this list. Yet, for some reason, Chrono Cross edges it out for me, just barely.

Is it the incomprehensibly complicated inter-dimensional plot line? The all-over-the-map music that you can’t help but notice in almost every moment of the game? Maybe it’s the fact that your party consists of something like 4o different, interchangeable members, or the realization that the battle system is unlike anything before it, or since.

Whatever it is, Chrono Cross just happens to have that certain something that makes it an unforgettable experience from start to finish. On paper, this sequel is sort of like the 2017 Twin Peaks revival that’s baffling the world even today. It has very little of what we wanted from a sequel to Chrono Trigger, and yet remains totally infatuating on its own terms. There are very few games that could put me on a team with a fluffy talking dog and a cut-throat murderer without breaking my sense of immersion, but then, Chrono Cross isn’t like any other game out there. It’s uncompromisingly its own thing, and I kind of love it for that.

Dark Souls


If I had to unequivocally choose only a single game from this list to be my all-time, untouchable favorite, it would have to be Dark Souls. No game has ever caused me to have that obsessive itch to just keep playing, to just earn one more inch forward, to just level up one more time, to just keep fighting a little while longer, like Dark Souls has.

Though I’ve always been generally fine with trophies and achievements, it wasn’t until Dark Souls came along that I grabbed my first Platinum. While I’ve never been against DLC on its own merits, it wasn’t until Dark Souls that I was motivated to scoop up my first expansion. Don’t get me wrong, I played, and loved, Demon’s Souls, but Dark Souls made it look like a prototype by comparison. This game was the real deal, and it was unlike anything I had ever played in my life when I first picked it up in October of 2011.

Maybe this sounds like crazy talk, but the game still holds a sort of magical reverence for me. Looking at how the gaming landscape has changed since its release though, I can’t help but think I’m far from the only one. This year alone has seen half a dozen “Souls-alikes” emerge into the ether in various forms, and in some ways, Dark Souls has succeeded from the very fact that a term like Souls-alike exists.

Totally uncompromising, brutally difficult, intensely atmospheric, and a true beast of a different shade, Dark Souls is easily the game that has had the most varying, awe-inspiring, and unceasing of effects on me, and how I see this hobby/obsession of mine. There’s nothing quite like it, even in its own series, and for that, it is owed a massive degree of tribute.

Final Fantasy VIII


Of all the entries on this list, this one might be the most shocking. I know Final Fantasy VIII isn’t up everyone’s alley — hell, some folks outright despise it — but, there’s always been something truly special about this game for me.

I remember in 8th grade, when I first saw the opening cut scene for this game. I wasn’t even a fan of RPGs at the time, but something about the operatic, cinematic prelude that set Final Fantasy VIII into motion really struck a chord with me. When I finally got a PlayStation of my own a couple of years later (I was an N64 kid, you see) it was one of the first games I played through, and man, did it make an impression.

I’ve since gone on to play through every numbered Final Fantasy game in the entire series (outside of the online efforts), and FFVIII still resonates with me more than any other entry. Like Chrono Cross, mentioned above, I tend to admire the fact that it was so different from its contemporaries, even if the system it introduced wasn’t exactly perfect.

I still get chills when I play this game nearly 20 years later, and it’s no surprise when I look back on it now. It taught me about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness in a way that managed to connect to my teenage mind, and yet, still resonates with me to this day.

Gone Home

gonehome.0
Even today, there’s still a large portion of gamers that scoff and chortle when they hear the term “walking simulator.” With that in mind, Gone Home is the answer to the questions and criticisms that always seem to assail the walking simulator and its ilk.

Aside from being a trailblazer for the genre, what Gone Home nails so well is the eerie sense of being in a home that doesn’t belong to you. Despite the fact that the protagonist, Samantha, has come home from a year abroad, it’s not her home she’s come home to, and the game puts you in the exact same situation as her. It’s a marvel of storytelling and game design, and one of the things that makes Gone Home so memorable.

I think why this game really hits me so hard in the end, though, is because it’s just such an utterly human story. The organic way that the tale of Samantha’s family unfolds makes it feel vital but the delivery is never ham-fisted or overzealous in its message.

Seriously, if anyone ever gives me that whole song and dance about games never telling worthwhile stories, this is the first example I go to. Gone Home is an utter treat of a game, and a one-of-a-kind experience. There’s no bad guys, no weapons, and no master plans, just a simple coming-of-age story in all of its raw, unadulterated power.

If that sounds even remotely interesting to you, then I urge you to play this game. You won’t be disappointed.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Image credit: Billy B Saltzman

Though I’m sure I played good, and even great games, before I picked up The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time, this was the first time I can ever remember falling in love with a game.

Embarrassingly, I was so enamored with LTTP that I actually had my mom take pictures of the Agahnim boss fight on my second or third time through it. Of course, the pictures came out like shit, but hey, it was the thought that counted right?

In any case, Link to the Past was not my first Zelda game, and it was far from my last, but all these years later, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s still the best. I’m sure I’ve played through the game at least 30 times by now, probably a pile more than that to be honest, and it still never loses its luster. The pacing is perfect, the difficulty curve is right on the money, and the design is just so succinct that you never feel bored or antsy for even a second when you play it, even 25 years later.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the absolute definition of a timeless game, and is the only entry standing in the way when Breath of the Wild comes calling for the moniker of “Best Zelda Game.”

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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Looking back at Metal Gear Solid as a series, there are so many memorable moments in every single game that it’s very hard to pick just one as a series favorite. With that in mind, I doubt most fans would choose this one, and I have no doubt this pick could earn me a pile of shit. Either way, however, I have to be honest and say that I feel Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the best game in this titanic achievement of a series.

So what makes me put The Phantom Pain over games like Snake Eater or Guns of the Patriots? Well, first and foremost, its the succinct level of idiosyncratic perfection that Kojima put into this game. I mean, just stop and register for a second that this is an unfinished game. And bloody look at it! Jesus Christ, the level of detail and the thousands of hours of effort that must have gone into it, is staggering.

That’s just on the surface though. Underneath the insanely adept design of the game is something I can’t quite put my finger on. Lord knows there are some ridiculous moments in this game but for some reason, this morally murky tale of justice and vengeance has hammered itself into my psyche in a way that I just can’t let go of. To this day, I still find myself sometimes sitting at my computer watching the trailer, set to New Order’s “Elysium” and just soaking it up, or listening to Mike Oldfield’s “Nuclear” and thinking about the 120 hours I spent utterly obsessed with this game.

Metal Gear Solid V may not be a perfect game, and it may have a dirty history behind it, but man, every time I think of going back to it, I worry for the stability of my day-to-day life. Will the kids get fed? Will the dog get walked? Who’s to say with a game this special.

Resident Evil 4


Resident Evil 
seems to have this odd history of reinventing itself every decade, once with Resident Evil 4, and again, more recently, with Resident Evil 7. The difference between the two, however, lies in the way that Resident Evil 4 didn’t just reinvent a franchise, it basically reinvented the action game in one fell swoop.

Now, never mind for a moment that Resident Evil was never meant to be an action franchise, because the way RE4 mixes up action with its more well-established horror elements, is essentially the chocolate and peanut butter of gaming.

I can actually remember re-watching the trailer again and again in anticipation of this game (on Gametrailers… because there was no such thing as YouTube in 2004) and yet it still delivered on the lofty expectations I had built up for it.

Today, franchises like Gears of War and Uncharted still owe a huge debt to Resident Evil 4. To boot, the game is still a blast to play, campy dialogue and all, even 12 years later.

In a sea of amazing survival horror titles, this is still the first one I’d pick up and play in a heartbeat, Mordor cave trolls and all, and that’s saying something in a world where Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia exist.

Super Metroid

Image credit: alchemistdefined.wirebotaxu.com

It’s a pretty weird thing when your fiancèe, who is not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, can easily recognize a game from 1994, anytime you happen to be playing it. This is the case with a game like Super Metroid.

If The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was my first love in gaming, then Super Metroid was the first time I ever cheated on it. This game was truly something else for 9 year old Mike, back when he rented it from the local video store. I mean, who could imagine a game that would give you X-ray vision or super speed as a controllable power-up? Hell, by the time you’re done with Super Metroid, even gravity has become an after thought for you.

Very few games succeed at empowering players the way that Super Metroid did, and, as much as credit must be given to the aforementioned Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the emergence of the “metroidvania” genre, it was only adopting what Super Metroid had already done, and adapting it to a different setting.

Super Metroid is one of the most important trail-blazers in gaming history. and, more than that, it’s an unforgettable gaming experience that still holds up over 20 years later, and after over 50 playthroughs. Trust me on that. I’m not a speedrunner by any stretch of the imagination, and I can still crush this game in less than an hour and forty minutes these days.

This is the game that made my childhood, and the game that broke my childhood (anyone who has seen the ending will understand what I mean by that.) Super Metroid is a triumph of rule-breaking game development, wordless storytelling, and the idea of growth and understanding in a hostile world. It was my favorite game for a lot of years, and, in some ways, it always will be my favorite.


Cutting games from this list was like deciding which of my children would eat tonight. Some I removed so there wouldn’t be any franchise repeats, while others were simply edged out by the competition. Either way, you’ll find 10 more of my absolute favorites below.

10 Honorable Mentions: Bioshock Infinite, Chrono Trigger, Half-Life 2, Kingdom Hearts 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metroid Prime, Mass Effect 2, Rayman Legends, Super Mario Galaxy, Xenoblade Chronicles.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Izsak “Khane” Barnette

    July 23, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Final Fantasy VIII was one of my favorite games in the series. I had a lot of fun with the Draw system, despite how broken it was. The story was confusing, even by the series’ standards, but it was a really good game.

    • Mike Worby

      July 24, 2017 at 1:47 am

      I love it, broken Junction system and all. FFVIII is crazy as hell, but that’s part of what I love about it. *Selphie singing about trains*

      • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

        July 24, 2017 at 10:01 am

        Yeah, I remember that. Disc One was pretty normal until the very end. The rest of the game just got crazier, lol.

  2. Ricky D

    July 25, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I’m really surprised to see the last Metal Gear Solid on this list. This makes me want to finally finish the game.

    • Mike Worby

      July 26, 2017 at 11:42 pm

      I’m a huge proponent of it, obviously. John and I often debate its merits, or lack there of, on Random Encounters. I feel objectively that it’s the best game in the series, and I have a lot of love for it, wacky ass plot beats and all.

      • John Cal McCormick

        August 1, 2017 at 4:54 am

        The more I think about it the worse it is. I don’t even know how you could say it’s objectively the best game in the series. Objectively, there’s a lot of bad things you can say about it, but very little good. Objectively, there’s a tonne of copy-pasted content, for example. And objectively, the game blatantly isn’t finished. Objectively, there’s hardly any bosses, the characters bare little resemblance to who they were in previous entries, the story doesn’t make sense, most characters have no discernible story arcs, it fundamentally fails to do the one job it was billed as doing in bridging the gap between the Big Boss and Solid Snake games, and objectively, it was reviewed under conditions specifically designed to boost Metacritic scores that is widely derided within the industry as a nefarious practise.

        Subjectively, you can ignore all that and think it’s great because the gameplay is rad. Or subjectively, maybe you can ignore the dubious aspects of the plot or how the characters are portrayed for whatever reason. But objectively, factually, other than in raw moment to moment gameplay, it’s hard to make a case for Metal Gear Solid V doing anything better than any of the other games in the series.

        • Mike Worby

          August 1, 2017 at 8:54 am

          Haters gonna hate :p

    • John Cal McCormick

      August 1, 2017 at 4:41 am

      Don’t bother.

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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different

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Death Stranding Slow Connectivity

Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found? 

About Death Stranding…

It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity. 

Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer. 

Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another. 

On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.

Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.

Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right? 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy. 

Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes. 

In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves. 

This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.

As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together. 

Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time. 

The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

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From Escape to Inspiration: How Video Games Promote Creativity

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Video Games

Escape

The stresses of everyday life are often enough to put heavy strain on even the sharpest and most durable of minds. No one is immune to the pressures of work, school, or even the personal struggles that weigh down on everyone. Now more than ever, with advancements in technology and the increased prominence of fantastical immersion, video games have become more of an escape for people of all ages.

No longer are video games considered the medium for children looking to “waste time.” Rather, these virtual worlds have transformed into an integral part of how a grand portion of the globe’s population interacts with each other. Moreover, video games offer a much-needed respite from one’s struggles, drawing people into a fictitious realm in which they journey with a hero on their adventures in a compelling fable, or compete with other players worldwide.

Whatever one’s reasons for playing, video games are an outlet through which gamers alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and a myriad of other emotions, giving rise to joy and relaxation alongside a sense of accomplishment. This escape provides users with an opportunity to not only temporarily get away from whatever troubles them, but also inspires them and promotes creativity.

Inspiration

The old ways of acquiring inspiration (books, role models, school, friends and colleagues, etc.) are still tried and true. However, just as humans have evolved over millennia, so, too, have the means of stimulus and influence. Alongside these traditional sources of encouragement comes video games—visual, interactive stories and competitions that stimulate one’s mind and get hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing.

From betrayal to romance, the most traditional storytelling tropes have been plucked from novels and cinema to create these immersive, interactive worlds. Video games offer lessons in commitment, dedication, persistence, and so much more. Repeatedly, fans see their favorite heroes get knocked down, and then those same fans take control of those heroes and take them through the journey of picking themselves back up.

Assassin’s Creed II has players take control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, even after they witness half the character’s family murdered before their very eyes. They join Ezio on his journey to avenge his family and develop into someone who refuses to give up, who uses ingenuity to learn and expand his own horizons to accomplish his goals—a tale of hope for anyone struggling to bounce back after trauma and tragedy.

Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, the advancement of video games in terms of how much they have evolved over the years is enough to inspire any aspiring video game developer. Taking one look at the beautiful worlds companies like Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix, 343 Industries, and so many more create does wonders to convincing a plethora of gamers to learn how to code or write a compelling story.

Despite previous misconceptions that video games only give people a space in which to waste time, this hobby (or often profession, if one considers the earnings of the top eSports competitors) has shifted opinions to a more curious perspective. It’s difficult to ignore something so popular that promotes so much creativity.

Creativity

Initially, video games were a mere medium of entertainment. Simple games like Pong did little to foster the mental acuity of their users. However, since the 1980s, video games have surpassed their meager, albeit fun, precursors. Solving puzzles, exploring vast geographies, and overcoming challenging obstacles are just some of the facets of modern video games that force players to think a little deeper about the game’s objectives.

Sometimes, the direct path isn’t the answer, and video games teach players how to come up with alternative solutions to their problems. For example, titles like 2018’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance or 2001’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic give gamers the ability to choose how to complete certain missions, forcing them to deal with different consequences depending on the choices they make. Not all problems are easy, and video games can help equip players with the tools they will need to think about multiple possible solutions to a challenge.

Beyond ruminating about alternative solutions, the creativity avid gamers develop through video games will help them in other ways, such as their ability to think critically about certain concepts and form their own perspectives on complicated situations. Is the Dragonborn character gamers control in Skyrim defined only as the Dragonborn, or does that character bring more to the table than being a slayer who can communicate with mighty, scaly, winged lizards?

Video games keep fans’ minds churning with ideas for their own stories, whether those tales are reflections of their own lives or the inspiration for elements of their own literary or cinematic endeavors. Fans often draw courage from the heroes in their favorite titles, looking to them to help them out of a rut or learn how to deal with their own troubles. 

Whether learning how to use a little more diplomacy to negotiate through a bad situation or finding the gumption to learn martial arts to stay in shape or for self-defense, much of gamers’ motivation can be traced back to the inspiration they garnered from the heroes they see in all forms of media, and video games are no exception.

Evolution

Just as humans have to crawl before they walk, video games had to start small and gain traction before the world was ready to advance them to their current state. No longer are these virtual, interactive worlds a backdrop that people use to merely pass the time. Rather, they are the catalyst for courage, inspiration, creativity, and entertainment.

While video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong, they have still only progressed to a state of adolescence. Technology is advancing at a more rapid rate than ever before, and companies are no longer limiting themselves in terms of what they can achieve with one of the fastest-growing, financially prosperous, emotionally charged industries the world has ever seen. 

Dylan Warman

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