When people find out I am a game designer, the inevitable question will come up: What is your favorite game?
I always pop my eyebrow and ask: What’s your favorite leaf on that tree? Or something similarly snarky that requires them to choose a single item from a huge mass of similar items. It is easy to have a favorite color. There are about 10 basic ones, and you can easily experience them all and they all have a distinct difference from one another. There are over 100 games released every week. And that’s just the ones with publishers! Not to mention all the indie games.
But as a Game Designer, it is my job to play lots of different games and “find the fun.” Once I find the fun I can then figure out why some people find it fun and how to make a game that appeals to those play styles. So I am left with a list of games I love and a list I hate. I am not saying these are the best games ever made (though many of them are considered such by others), but rather these are the games that are ones I look back on and see true genius and a great deal of fun. To simplify matters, I am placing them in order of my discovery.
Kings Quest – To be fair, this should be Kings Quest 2. But it is an excellent series, so lets include them all. My earliest memory is watching my brother play this game on our computer. Late one night I was jolted from my sleep and informed, “I made it through the third door.” I leapt from bed, so go see what was going to happen. My mother, coming home late from work, was quite furious at us for being out of bed. But when my brother quietly stated that he made it through the third door, she joined us at the computer for a bit of late night game completion. Roberta Williams was the designer on this game and I often site her as an influence in my gaming career.
Zork – Zork is a text adventure from the days of green screens and floppy discs. I played Zork endlessly for most of my early years. Not only did it inspire my imagination at an Underground Empire, but I learned a great deal of vocabulary and reading from this game. I actually had an argument with a teacher over xyzzy being a word. I can also recall her shocked face when I called her overly verbose. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
Myst – Myst is the game everyone loves to hate. I love Myst. It was the first game I ever beat on my own. At this point I thought, I can play games too, not just my brother. I loved it. The environments, the puzzles, the sheer story that exuded from the setting. I also encountered the books and read those. This crossover of books and games was the first step to my fascination with the meta-game.
Legend of Dragoon – LoD was a Final Fantasy like game on the Playstation. I was never into Final Fantasy, so this game filled that void. I saw the potential in timing based gameplay, learned the best way to “kill” a character in an RPG, and learned that bosses who are wildly overpowered feel like cheaters. I have also beaten this game from beginning to end about 6 times. That includes the insanely difficult side bosses.
Suikoden – Suikoden is a turn based RPG with large scale rock paper scissor battles, with a dash of collecting thrown in. You can have a party of 6 various characters and must recruit 107 characters to your cause. An inspired game, with a heart wrenching story, and this game consumed a great deal of my time. Including going back and replaying the entire thing to save those two idiot characters. You know who I am talking about.
Morrowind – Morrowind is the third Elder Scrolls game and is a perfect example of an RPG fantasy world done well. I purchased Morrowind just after getting a new computer. Then proceeded to play it approximately 4-6 hours a day, more on weekends, for the next 6 months. Also I never beat this game. I literally got completely derailed with stealing *everything* that wasn’t nailed down. I do mean everything. I robbed the rich, the poor, the merchants, the monsters… if I could pick it up, it got picked up and re-located to my “house”, which was really just an empty building I could drop stuff in.
Knights of the Old Republic – Not only was KotoR the latest in a series of excellent RPGs from Bioware, but it was also Star Wars. Annoying female characters aside, I enjoyed the world, the Pazzak and dear God, HK-47… The *best* character of all time. But this game truly made this list because of the writing. I actually cried at one point because a bunch of polygons told me he loved me. Absurd I know, but wow, did it make for a good game.
Symphony of the Night – I never played Castlevania until this game. I have played this game enough to possibly make up for it. Alucard was not only beautiful, but the animation was glorious. The different forms and the sheer genius of just flipping the castle! So awesome. I have been told Super Metroid is essentially the same game, but the theme here is so much more compelling.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – For years this was the only game I had on the N64. I love all Zelda games, but this one holds a special place in my heart for two reasons. 1. It was the first one I beat on my own. 2. I didn’t have a rumble pack. The lesson learned fromSuikoden about beating a game at 100% was instilled far enough. I wanted to get all 100 skull spiders, but I didn’t have the pack. What I did have was awalkthrough guide borrowed from a friend that showed screenshots for those last two locations. Commence bombing like mad in those areas to find the last two spiders. Note to game designers – random bombing is *not* fun.
Eternal Darkness – Eternal Darkness did so many things well. The game intentionally messed with the player, was scary and creepy, and managed to reuse environments in entirely interesting ways. The sanity meter was an excellent addition and I have to say they got me. If you tried to save when you had low sanity, you had a chance to see a message that said “Deleting all saved games.” Ileapt across a coffee table and started ripping everything out of the front of my GameCube. Well played Silicone Knights, well played. The player took on the role of 8-10 different characters, and rehashed the same 4-5 locations, to great effect. You truly felt like you were a part of a struggle for the ages.
World of Warcraft – How can I write about my best loved games and not mention WoW? If I told you what my /played was, you would likely think me quite insane. WoW takes all the best things from RPGs, character classes, lots of skills, epic fights, mad loot and combines that with achievements, collecting, crafting, and socializing. I find that playing WoW is an awful lot like being in a well known club. I go to the coffee shop and I get extra caramel because the guy making my latte plays WoW. I start a new job and nose out the WoWers and next thing I know we are running dungeons over lunch. Millions of people play WoW, and I am one of those. The truly great thing is it gives me a common experience with people I encounter.
Bioshock – Bioshock should more rightly be called System Shock 3. But it is also the first FPS I have ever enjoyed. The designers worked diligently to allow the player to play the game the way they want to play. I set up traps for Big Daddies and take them out easily.
Valkyria Chronicles – I stop playing WoW for 4 days to take the time to beat this unique and yet completely familiar Strategy game. The art style was glorious and the game play was enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the third person view they used for the combat. It was a wonderful way to add a new look to a strategy game.
Plants vs. Zombies – Tower defense with a hint of whimsy and a dash of hilarity. Popcap is good at making easy games that play great and this one is no exception.
Persona 4 – Mix JRPG, with some Pokemon, and a bit of dating sim and you get Persona 4. Which is a terrible explanation. Just go buy it and play it. It’s a terribly unique game.