30 Days: Favorite Protagonist

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

We’ve given the bad guys their day, let’s talk about our heroes.  For as much as I lauded the role of villains in video games, its the heroes that we adore and remember and sometimes want to be like.  And what a bevy to choose from – video games have given us some of our most iconic heroes through the years: LinkMarioSonicCommander Sheppard, Master Chief, Gordon Freeman, Samus Aran, Guybrush Threepwood, Mega Man… oh, the list goes on and on.  But as I said, the best protagonists have the best antagonists, so there can be no other answer than Tassadar, Executor of the Protoss.

It’s odd to me that I should choose Tassadar over so many of the other fine examples above.  It’s equally stunning, I’m sure, to my readers (all two of you) that Link isn’t the go-to choice here.  But the issue with the Zelda games is that Link is, for the most part, a shell for the player.  TFG answered “me” for this entry, and I think that’s a great answer – many RPGs will present to you the skills, the abilities, the tao of the character, but it’s up to you to decide the personality.  Even the excellently written & voice acted Commander Sheppard bears some resemblance to the player’s own view of morality, though Sheppard is probably a close second or third in this category.

Tassadar wins out for me because the player never shapes his outlook, never changes his destiny, and is ultimately driven by the executor towards Starcraft’s ending, setting a rich world for Brood Wars and Starcraft 2 where perhaps the finest example of nobility in the universe hangs ever-present as a backdrop to the dirty dealings of Terran, Protoss and Zerg alike.  Within a few playthroughs of the Brood War campaign, the constant “En Taro Tassadar” became to ring a little hollow to me – at first I thought I was just annoyed at the self-reference, but I realized that the Protoss were no more noble than their enemies and without Tassadar to serve as their conscience, they too would fall in line with the corrupt Terrans and insane Queen of Blades.

That’s another reason why I liked Tassadar as a protagonist over Jim Raynor.  Raynor’s a great character, a timeless archetype of tough guy/loner with the heartbreak turned enemy in Kerrigan.  However, I liked that Tassadar and Kerrigan never had a personal relationship, and that Tassadar’s triumph really had nothing to do with Kerrigan.  If anything, his act of sacrifice helped propel Kerrigan into her role as the “Queen of Blades” – but stopping Kerrigan wasn’t Tassadar’s role.  In relation to each other, Starcraft’s protagonist and antagonist were on disparate arcs, only coming within contact as diametrically opposed forces.

Starcraft would have had a terrible ending if Raynor was the one pulling the sacrifice move – trying to pull too many heartstrings at once.  Raynor’s broken heart is just another force in the world, not the focus.  The story of Starcraft, the war, the fight for control of the galaxy, these are concepts too big to be ruled by a guy like Raynor; his effect on the world is supplemental.  However, his heartbreak does cause ripples within the world they’ve built, and Tassadar’s sacrifice & Kerrigan’s ascension just add to his continued suffering, allowing him to effect the world without making the story about Jim Raynor.  That’s good story telling there, and probably Blizzard’s best writing.

30 Days: Favorite Antagonist

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

Oh we do love our bad guys.  The best bad guys make the best games, it’s really that simple.  While a good antagonist isn’t all you need to make a great game, a well-written villain can make a game memorable, tense, fill you with dread as you play, and then, relief and joy when you, along with your protagonist, throw down your enemy and smote his ruins on the mountaintop.

Sorry, I was getting a little dramatic there (not me!)  Let’s delve into what makes a, uh, good bad guy.

It’s a funny thing that so many games delve into the realm of good & evil.  Most bad guys are evil, but a handful of games have got it really right – the best bad guy isn’t an insane evildoer with no reason to cause a ruckus (see: Diablo, or Wart getting all up in Mario’s dreams – omg spoiler!) but rather has a drive that the gamer can identify with.  I would say that the best bad guys are NOT evil, per se, but pushed to their limits, or just opposed to the protagonist.  The antagonist is the reason for the game, after all – it’s why your protagonist has their panties all up in a bunch to go save the world, after all.

Or… is that true?  Sometimes the best antagonist is not the primary enemy, but rather the thorn in your side, the stinging pest with their own agenda that sometimes aligns with, and oft contends with your protagonist.  Sometimes that pest is incredibly powerful but you just can’t do anything about it at the moment, focusing on the greater challenge or direct threat.

Sometimes the best bad guy really is bat-shit insane.  But that great kind of insane that endears you as you just have to admire the perfection of it all, the pure beauty of their deadly plan, their grace in destruction, their plans within plans.

That’s quite the list, no?  Well I think there’s one antagonist that meets those requirements.  Her name is Sarah Kerrigan, The Queen of Blades.

Over at TFG’s site (who answered the same), I suggested that Saren Arterius, the primary antagonist of Mass Effect, was my favorite antagonist.  In Saren, you had somewhat of a sympathetic villain, a rogue agent that had touched the veil and made somewhat of a Faustian pact in order to save the galaxy.  Saren was pretty hardcore, a prototype that Commander Sheppard wouldn’t deviate too far from (especially the renegade version,) but with a coldness that was pretty brutal to behold.  Saren ended up being a pawn of the galaxial reset-button known as the Reapers, and after Mass Effect, a footnote in the series.  After giving it more thought, Kerrigan is the clear winner, and one of the all-time great video game bad guys.


30 Days: Favorite Sound Effect

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

(Note:  I changed this topic from favorite hand-held game, a topic which I do not have much write on as I haven’t played a lot of hand-held games.)

The level up sound for World Of Warcraft.  The ding of collecting coins in Mario Bros – the ding of collecting a ring in Sonic the Hedgehog.  The “DING” from Everquest.  Iconic sounds and sound effects have a massive effect in video games, they are our reward and notification of success, as much as they are the indication of failure, danger or mistakes.  It’s hard to pick just one – sound effects have become so integrated within video game culture.  Log into almost any MMO guild chat and you’ll see people clammering out, “DING!” when they level up, regardless of what game (and what sound it makes.)  That comes from this;

Perhaps no game did sound effects better than Starcraft.  The real-time (and sometimes more-than-often hyperactive) strategy game required those audio cues as you juggled several armies scattered across a map.  The setting for the game allowed for imaginative and flavorful warnings such as this one.  And while the unit selection easter eggs of Blizzard games weren’t vital to gameplay, they certainly were fun.  I still find myself wanting to find ways to slip “En taro Tassadar” into my everyday speech.

Some sounds were sounds of dread – the “horns of war” coming between turns in Civilization 4 followed by Shaka’s screaming face declaring war on you and everything you stand for is always an unpleasant experience.

It’s too hard, I can’t pick a favorite!  Wait… is that Johnny Cage’s music?



30 Days: Your Guilty Pleasure Game

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

My guilty pleasure game involves lots of destruction.  It involves very little challenge, just the patience needed to get to the point where I am gleefully annihilating enemies left and right.  It requires no thought, no grand strategy other than the basics; overwhelming force.  It has many different names, though;

At first it was Total Annihilation – I would find some defensible terrain, set up some automated turrets while building up tech and the resources needed to unleash the “Buzzsaw” – a repeating siege weapon that would literally pepper my enemies with cannon fire as I chortled towards building bigger weapons of mass destruction.

It became Starcraft, as I would set up choke points with siege tanks just to watch endless waves of Zerg and Protoss  AI melt against bunkers, towers and tanks.

It was Gauntlet, and Diablo II, it was Civilization IV on the Earth 18 map.

Hrm, maybe I should search for a new guilty pleasure game.

30 More Days: 10 Recommended Games

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

Let’s get old-school.  TFG provided no stipulations on time frame but given the word “past”, but I’d like to highlight 10 games that aren’t only significant in my gaming past, but also games that you could go out and play right now and actually enjoy.

This is a tricky thing, of course.  Graphically speaking, for instance, older games often feel dated in a way that can detract from the experience. Let’s discuss one of these right now: Myst.  Myst is an amazing game, really more of an “Event” within the gaming world.  Personally, though, I always felt its thrill came from the incredible leap forward that game took graphically, drawing you into the world like no other game had done. Now, I tend to judge it a bit harshly, turned off by the too-clean lines and too-shiny reflections.  You’re going to read later though that I am going to break this very rule which goes to show: I really have no fucking clue what I am talking about.

Also not on this list; MMOs.  There is without a doubt that EverQuest was one of the most significant games in that genre’s history, and (for better or worse) a part of my own gaming past, but let’s be honest here; all MMOs are more or less the same game with new features added on and old features further refined and improved.  Thus, the best MMOs are going to be the most recent ones, and I don’t think you gain any real appreciation for them by playing the older, less graphically engaging, and less user friendly games.  I’m not a fan of telling someone to slog through endless hours of EverQuest just you can enjoy The Secret World for what it is not.

So let’s get to the list:

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) -Yes, the graphics are a bit dated, but being in the middle of a replay now (as shown yesterday), they still hold up.  What holds up even better is the story (still great after all of these years!) the voice acting, the play itself (even if you have to look up some of the old D&D 3rd edition rules) and of course the lightsabers.  KotOR really set the bar for Bioware and one only needs to look to this game to really appreciate their amazing run in the last decade.

Age of Empires II (1999) – Microsoft has always carved out a tiny niche for video games, but Age of Empires and its even better sequel might have been their greatest effort, and a step out of their then usual place of flight simulators.  Still it offers a very simple yet richly detailed tech tree, solid graphics that hold up even today, and a fun, repeatable game play.  The original is one of the games that introduced me to PC gaming, but the sequel was always better.

Total Annihilation (1997) – We’ve got a little genre group here with this and its bookends, but TA stood out on its own as a dark horse game with unlimited potential.  Starcraft & AoE were a bit more polished, a bit more thought through, but TA brought amazing graphics, beautiful explosions, coordinated chaos on the battlefield and a true feeling of unleashing the title’s fervor.

Starcraft: Brood War (1998) – The gold medal and pinnacle of all real-time strategy games.  Much like AoEII, the original was a fine game, but Brood War added on to it without upsetting the nearly perfect balance of the game.  So much so, it’s hard to even imagine StarCraft without Brood War.

Civilization III (2001) – Yes, Civ 4 is better.  Yes, there are ways to cheese the ever loving hell out of it.  But much like KotOR raised the bar for Bioware, Civ 3 raised the bar for Firaxis.  The only issue about going back to this version?  Much like going back to 4 after playing 5, you might not be used to rule changes!

Gauntlet (1985) – Despite my love for the remakes, the original is still the best.  Even better? Finding a way to play it on your PC where you don’t have to put in $5 in quarters just to play.

The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) – Sierra might have paved the way, but LucasArts nailed the adventure genre with the absolutely hilarious Monkey Island series.  The graphics here might be quite dated, though.  But I had to include it.

SimCity 3000 (1999) – For me, the most beloved of the franchise.  SC3K brought fantastic graphic and game-play improvements but even on today’s computers can run a bit slow and sluggish when it comes to re-drawing buildings.  There are some problems with the model as well, freeways are ugly and unsightly, non-standard zones don’t always get developed, and there was no scenario editor like there was in SC2K, but still, by far my favorite SimCity.

Dragon Warrior (1986) – Going way back here, but of all the early RPGs I ever played, Dragon Warrior was easily my favorite.  The graphics still hold up even today, despite the 8-bit platform, thanks to a very simple and colorful art style.  Being able to play it might require a bit of inventiveness if you don’t have your old NES, though.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005) – The youngest entry on my list, Shadow is a truly remarkable and breathtaking game.  I do fear that it may ultimately suffer the same fate that I decreed upon Myst, and perhaps that makes me a bit of hypocrite.  The difference for me here is the art style.  Myst broke a lot of barriers in graphic presentations, showing off not only what video games could do, but what computers could do: I would be shocked to hear that few animators my age or younger do not list Myst as an influence on their craft.  SotC simply took an amazing simplistic concept artistically and executed it beautifully.  For that, I’ve included it on this list over Myst.

And that, as they say, gentle reader is that.  30 days of video games (with a bit of a break for the holiday in between, yes) and 30 posts.  What’s next?  Probably nothing to do with video games, I think I am gamed out!