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Top 10 Games with Staff Writer, George Cheese

I firmly believe that people’s favorite games are those they play in their teenage and early adult years, and, well, that’s where I’m at now.

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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.

Before we get really into this list, I think its worth mentioning that my list seems a lot more recent than some of the other Top 10 lists published on the site. I firmly believe that people’s favorite games are those they play in their teenage and early adult years, and, well, that’s where I’m at now. Come back to me in a year, hell, three months and the whole thing might be different. Certainly, my sights are firmly locked on both Dragon Ball FighterZ and Monster Hunter World in a couple of weeks…

I’d say most of the games I’ve chosen are modern classics, but please don’t be offended that I’ve left out your favorite Nintendo game from the ’90s or earlier. I simply might not have gotten around to playing it yet, and besides, it might not hold up–oh, I hear the lynch mobs coming down the road already. Those pitchforks are SHARP. I’d better get on with the list.

10) Journey

journey

Are games art? This question once haunted me for some time. Journey helped me to clarify the answer: profoundly, yes. Some of them, anyway.

Journey is a beautiful adventure game developed by thatgamecompany. Entirely wordless, the story is told simply through level progression and a moody, orchestral soundtrack. You are the Traveler, and you must walk from a dusty orange desert to the peak of a great mountain in the distance. As you approach the mountain, you begin to find relics from a bygone civilization, which display artworks that hint at the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of that ancient world.

Other Travelers join and leave you as you progress through the world; interacting with other players is a joy, as you help each other and communicate musically. Forget ‘your mum’ jokes; this game demonstrates the beautiful side of anonymous human interaction.
Not all games are art, but I believe that Journey certainly is, as well as all of my choices below. The entire game can be completed in one sitting, around two and a half hours, and I’d highly recommend showing it to friends who might not understand what this interactive medium is truly capable of.

9) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This might be a controversial statement, but I’ve never loved the Legend of Zelda games. I like the art and design elements, enjoy the music, appreciate the archetypal fantasy story, but I’ve always found the actual game progression to be a little bit of a chore. I’d never find myself craving to beat the latest dungeon; rather, I’d want to force my way through them so I could continue to enjoy the elements I really like about the series. The only Legend of Zelda game I ever found myself going back to was The Wind Waker, simply because its art and graphical style is, to this day, compelling and unique.

That is, until I first played Breath of the Wild back in September.

I found myself almost immediately enamored with the title. This was the Zelda game I’d been wanting for years; a beautiful, vast open world experience, with vibrant characters and a rich story. The world of Hyrule feels really alive for the first time, with mechanics and minute visual details intersecting to fully immerse Link in the fantasy world. The combat and exploration have never once felt stale, and I’ve never felt like any part of the experience has been a slog.

I’ve not yet finished Breath of the Wild, which might make it a questionable choice for my top ten list. My reason for not finishing it is because I want to savor every minute of the game, and I am honestly intimidated by my active backlog. Once I clear a few games that I’ve previously started, I’m going back to Breath–and I feel like I’m gonna be staying in Hyrule for some time.

8) The Last of Us

the-last-of-us-screen-14-13mar14-ps3

When I first beat The Last of Us in 2013, I’d have probably said it was my favorite game of all time. This was just before I (somewhat begrudgingly, at first) played through Dark Souls and its sequel, which made me re-evaluate what I really wanted from the video games I played. Having more recently played The Last of Us Remastered, however, I still find myself enamored with the game.

The standout feature of The Last of Us is its humanistic narrative. It features a story, and visual look, that many of us have already seen in literature and cinema, with works such as McCarthy’s The Road and Cuarón’s Children of Men, but its strength of character and specific placement in the interactive medium allows it to transcend its influences and forebears. The burgeoning surrogate relationship between Joel and Ellie, and how their pasts define their present, is great to experience. The violence depicted in the game is morally ambiguous and deliberately uncomfortable.

In more recent years, some internet critics, professional and amateur alike, have derided the game as riding on its story and visuals, but I find the gameplay extremely satisfying and well-designed. Every encounter, with the fungal Infected or hostile survivors, is tense and visceral. Sneaking around in an attempt to conserve health and ammunition is nerve-wracking. Ammo is never abundant, and I felt a building sense of panic with every missed shot.

I can understand criticisms of The Last of Us. It is plausible that the game’s story would be equally as enjoyable in a television show, or movie, or comic series. However, I believe there is a place for games that blend a well-written cinematic narrative and taut, polished gameplay such as that seen in The Last of Us.

7) Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of Colossus Ending

Games these days often suffer from an overabundance of things to do. This is most prominent in contemporary open world titles, especially those designed by Ubisoft. While they’re often plenty of fun, many of the Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry titles would be improved by having a tighter mechanical and design focus.

Shadow of the Colossus suffers from none of those problems. Despite being designed around a large hub world, Shadow is incredibly minimalist, in every regard. The story is simple; you play as Wander, a warrior who travels to a forbidden land in hopes of slaying all of the Colossi bound there. This will resurrect his dead wife–or so he believes.

Team Ico’s design philosophy, as well as that used by Journey’s developers thatgamecompany, is one of design by subtraction. You can click here to view a great video essay here on how that philosophy applies to Ico. With Shadow of the Colossus, some small cutscenes and traversing the hub world are all that punctuate the gaps between giant boss fights. Those boss fights are exhilarating and challenging David versus Goliath scenarios, if David had to slay sixteen Goliaths that serve as both intimidating enemies and environmental puzzles.

Shadow of the Colossus was one of the first console games that I ever played to completion, and I’m hugely looking forward to playing through it at least one more time with the upcoming, beautified PlayStation 4 release.

6) Pokemon HeartGold Version

Pokemon Random Encounters

For most of my childhood, if you asked me what my favorite game of all time was, I’d have probably told you Pokemon Gold and Silver (although I might have lied and told you Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to seem cool). I don’t think I really need to tell you what Pokemon is. This Game Boy Color game was one of the first I’d ever owned and completed, and certainly the first I’d ever completed multiple times, over both cartridges. I’d never played the first generation Pokemon games, and didn’t really enjoy the 4Kids anime on the telly (was more of a Digimon kinda guy). Despite this, I was known as a Pokemon fanboy thanks to my love of those second generation games. This was probably around 2002.

Fast forward about eight years, and I’m playing and replaying Pokemon Gold all over again, only, this time, its even better than before. The top down pixel graphics are a genuine delight to look at, especially the battle critter following my player character. The game feels way more polished and balanced. There seems to be new content that I don’t remember experiencing in my pre-teens–

Oh, right, I’m playing the incredible DS remake, Pokemon HeartGold.

HeartGold was an improvement on the original second generation Pokemon games in pretty much every conceivable way. It didn’t have to change much; it simply modernized the graphics, music and balancing, added some neat, inoffensive features such as the first member of your party following you around, and included some additional content such as third and fourth generation Pokemon and extra side stories.

I suppose, technically, this spot should go to the original, but I believe that HeartGold improved upon its basis in every possible way. If, today, someone were to order me to play either Gold or HeartGold, I’d choose the latter. In fact, if someone put a gun to my head and told me to play any game on my 3DS, I’d probably dust off my old cartridge.

I can always make time for another Nuzlocke run.

5) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3

There are two giant open world, narratively-focused role-playing games in this Top 10 list, and both are similar in their scope and brilliant writing. It was particularly hard to rank these two, as, during the process of curating this list, I decided that both deserved a spot in spite of my rule of “no similar games”. The setting and gameplay are different enough to justify the inclusion of both The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout: New Vegas, ranked below, even if the reasons I like both are the same.

The Witcher 3 was the first big RPG where I realized that you could both anchor the story to a solid, characterized protagonist, and also allow them to make morally ambiguous choices that are not tonally dissonant from that central character. Witcher 3 is, to me, the best parts of Skyrim, Mass Effect and a Telltale game merged into one, where your choices affect not only the story progression and possible endings but also, occasionally, the world state itself, with butterfly effects that ripple out through other quests.

The Witcher’s setting is a great world to explore, a fantasy world that still feels realistic and plausible. Most monsters are nuances more than epic foes, and for most characters, surviving from one day to the next is the only hero’s journey required. Geralt of Rivia is no exception. He might be a bad-ass magic-mutant, but he needs to earn a living, after all. Don’t let that fool you, though; this game’s main plot DOES have stakes. I just forgot about them most of the time, as I was too busy trying to get rich through monster hunting and mercenary work.

4) Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is probably my favorite sandbox open world title. I say “probably”, because it is highly possible that Breath of the Wild might topple its position about sixty hours of gameplay into the future. It might also be beaten out by its upcoming sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2.

Redemption takes the classic Rockstar GTA open world formula–interactable and abusable NPCs, kooky story characters, a map that expands every narrative act, myriad fun side activities–and applies it to a spaghetti western setting. Fast cars become stallions (cue traditional joke comment about Grand Theft Equine). Gangsters become outlaws.

Rockstar’s classic game design stylings translate perfectly into the setting, but the icing on the cake is a meaningful, character-driven storyline that isn’t just zany and nihlistic (which one could accuse of GTA V’s story). John Marston is a character whose narrative arc matters, and many of the side characters feel more realistic than most in the Grand Theft Auto games. My heart was torn out by the story’s dramatic conclusion, and the epilogue side-story felt both satisfying and deliberately empty; the game didn’t end and the world continues. Nothing was undone, and I had to live with that.

3) Fallout: New Vegas

I love Fallout: New Vegas for almost exactly the same reasons that I love The Witcher 3. The choices your create-a-character make ripple out through the storyline, often drastically altering how later events will play out. While some of the changes are less grandiose and world-altering than those of Witcher 3, the apocalyptic and general wackiness of the setting are what pushed this game into the top spot, in terms of big open-world role-playing games.

The setup: you are the Courier, a traveler tasked with delivering a seemingly insignificant item known as the Platinum Chip to the elusive benefactor of the New Vegas Strip, Mr. House. Unfortunately, you’re ambushed by the scheming Benny and his conspirators on the outskirts of the post-apocalyptic Mojave. He puts a bullet through your brain… which is the perfect excuse for any personality you wish to inflict on the Mojave.

The huge variety of factions you can interact and work for, combined with a dazzling array of well written characters and a fresh, colorful take on the post-nuclear apocalypse setting, are the main reasons to play the game. The gun-play itself is pretty fun, although nothing special by 2018 standards. And, if after reading this and playing the game, if you fall in love with New Vegas; don’t bother with Fallout 3 or 4. Play Fallout 2, or The Witcher 3, or New Vegas again, and again, and again.

2) NieR: Automata

My top two choices were the hardest to decide the exact placement of. In the end, I simply based these two on the amount of hours I’d pumped into them at the time of writing this list.

I adore NieR: Automata. In many ways, it is a game concerned with similar things to The Last of Us; fantastic characters, a riveting narrative, ambiguous motivations and violent acts. What really pushed Automata this far up the list was its focus on consciousness and what it really means to be human, and the question of how to derive meaning from a world devoid of purpose. I wrote up my thoughts on Automata some months ago, so rather than rambling here for far too long, you should go read that.

Of course, the game’s themes and story are enhanced by satisfying PlatinumGames combat and a stellar, Game Awards-winning soundtrack. The game’s art direction and character designs are also top notch.

Basically, if you haven’t played NieR: Automata, go do so now. If you have, maybe you should do so again. I know that I’m going to, once this backlog’s cleared up a bit…

1) Bloodborne

bloodborne-moon-presence-boss-fightAhhh, good hunter. You’ve made it this far. I’m proud of you.

This entry is, spiritually, a stand in for most of the FromSoftware Soulsborne games. I didn’t want to include both Dark Souls and Bloodborne in my top 10, and it was really hard to choose between the two. In the end, the Lovecraftian aesthetic, faster combat, and general polish of Bloodborne won out over its spiritual predecessor, but both games are excellent, and Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 3 are great, too (author’s note: at the time of writing this sentence, Dark Souls Remastered was recently announced. Day one purchase on my Nintendo Switch? Abso-bloody-lutely).

These iconic action role-playing games are both revered and infamous in the gaming world. They are often lauded and derided in equal measure for their perceived inaccessibility, and a return to a classic, retro style of game progression (ie. difficulty barriers). I do not believe that the Souls games are incredibly unfair or even that difficult (ignoring certain elements of Dark Souls 2 and its current-gen remaster). Instead, what they do is teach you the rules of the game through trial and error. Many games want to make the player feel powerful; the Souls games want you to earn that power.

Bloodborne takes the gold for both my top 10 games of all time and for my favorite action game because, boy oh boy, I really earned that feeling of power. Giant mutated beasts stalk the streets of Yharnam, a Gothic city plagued by an alien blood curse, to heavily simplify things. You are, supposedly, one of the last lines of defense against the snarling hordes; a hunter. You fight tooth-and-nail through a decaying city, sinister academies and, ultimately, nightmarish dreamscapes as you uncover the eldritch secrets of Yharnam and the universe.

People talk about the difficulty of this type of game, but you have to want to keep playing the game in the first place; if something is hard, but also bad, there’s no reason to stay. Fortunately, Bloodborne does everything right; the game feels great, looks great, sounds great. Exploring the winding, interconnected level design is a reward in-and-of itself.

There’s plenty of feature pieces about Bloodborne on Goomba Stomp and I agree with pretty much all of them about what makes this game legitimately epic. If you’re like me, when you overcome those final bosses, you’ll want to dive right back in and aim for one of the other endings.

Thank you for reading this list, and I hope you appreciate my taste!

Go on, good hunter…

Honorable Mentions: Dark Souls, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Thumper, resident evil vii, Animal Crossing, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Kingdom Hearts, Hotline Miami, XCOM: Enemy Unknown

George slumbers darkly in the wastelands of rural Wiltshire, England. He can often be found writing, gaming or catching up on classic television. He aims to be an author by profession, although if that doesn't pan out you might be able to find him on Mars. You can argue with him on Twitter: @georgecheesee

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    January 15, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    We seem to have almost the same taste. Minus Pokemon and one game that I haven’t yet played, I love the list.

    • George Cheesee

      January 16, 2018 at 3:01 am

      Thanks Ricky! 🙂 Pokemon was a tough call; while it doesn’t necessarily have similar qualities to everything else in the list above, its probably the series I’d spent the most time with over the course of my teenage years, and whenever I do play HeartGold I have a blast.

  2. Izsak “Khane” Barnette

    January 17, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Glad to see a Nintendo game made your list, George. I hope it wasn’t as hard for you to pick ten games as it was for me, haha.

    • George Cheesee

      January 18, 2018 at 6:32 am

      I was actually surprised at how few Nintendo games hit my top 10! I think its because, growing up, I always used Sony or Microsoft consoles as my primary gaming outlet.

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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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