30 Days Coda: Favorite Game

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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It will come as no surprise, as I’ve probably mentioned it about 36,834 times already on this site; my favorite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  Hardly a controversial choice, as Ocarina is often listed highly or at the top of a number of ‘greatest of’ lists, and remains the all-time highest-reviewed game on Metacritic.  We’re not just going for the popular route here, though – Ocarina remains a top of list of great games for me as the pinnacle of what a good role-playing game can be.

Wait, did I just say “role-playing game?”  But, Josh, you might say, silly boy, Zelda isn’t an RPG?  Okay maybe so.  But in its defined genre of “action-adventure”, Ocarina (as many of the other Zelda games) tells a story with far more panache than any Final Fantasy could ever.  More importantly, Ocarina did it with a sparing amount of cut-scenes and almost no high-end graphics effects (saving the best effects for the final battles) but with amazing ‘camera’ work – lingering, haunting shots of the protagonist and his allies, framing shots of Zelda, Link & Ganon with a mastery more suited for cinema than video games.   Nowhere in the game was this better illustrated when Link leaves his home for the first time;

In that receding 8-second shot of Saria, you see everything Link is sacrificing to become the Hero of Time – a life others have lived before him and the life-long friendship of Saria.  You know that Saria will play a more important part of the story, but just like Link, the player has no idea what his sacrifice will truly cost.   Other decisions are equally amazing in their execution – no music plays during that entire scene (outside of the chimes that accompany Link’s acquisition of another item) – just the background noise of the forest, a tranquil chorus of bird calls.  The silence is heavy, eerie, even, as Link takes two hesitant backward steps into his destiny.  It’s made even more stark by the inanely cheerful background music for Hyrule Fields and when Kaepora is on-screen.

The story-telling elements are just one piece of the masterpiece wrought by Miyamoto and his team, but they are ever-present.  Link’s first confrontation with Ganon is another excellent use of camera work and lighting, as is the slow-pan reverence paid to the first time the player (and Link) sets eyes on the Master Sword;

Or the beautifully framed image of our three principals, beginning what would become a generations-long battle for the soul of Hyrule;

(look at the :49 mark.)

Also, I never knew that you could hang off the ledge like that – huh, learn something every day.  Which is a great segue into the other outstanding element of OOT – the gameplay.  Ocarina is, after all, an action-adventure and is really not an RPG.  While the acquisition of loot has always been a hallmark of the Zelda games, each piece of new gear Link gets is just another means to unlock his next objective.  In that sense, Zelda games are more puzzle games than RPG, and Ocarina, again, leads its siblings in that regard; the 3D environment was fully utilized, beautifully so in the dungeons (except for the Water Temple, assholes.)  Solving a dungeon no longer required knowing exactly where to drop a bomb (though there was plenty of that – especially in the Goron temple,) but figuring out how to get back to the same room but in a different location, and most often, a different height.

The 3D environment added amazing elements to the combat as well – consider the Queen Gohma fight (a truly creepy use of camera effects, by the way) or the Forest Temple boss fight, where the subtle difference in height between the mounted shade of Ganon and Link made a simple concept of whack-a-mole a bit more tricky in execution.

Lastly, the story itself of OOT is as endearing to me as any.  There’s really not a lot to it that’s original, really, it’s a coming-of-age story, but with a really cunning twist; the protagonist AND the damsel are both having to come into their own powers.  The setup is flawless – the young-Link part of the game has a child-like innocence about it and a simple quest, but during the course of this quest, Link unwittingly damages his home severely; not only by allowing Ganon access to the Triforce, but in his interactions, Link (and through him, Zelda) create a lot of disorder in the lives of their countrymen.  Mari… I mean Talon & Walug… I mean Ingo’s toss up leaves Talon’s business in disarray and Malon’s heart as collateral damage.  Ruto too gets her heart broken, not to mention her entire species almost gets wiped out.  While “Bad Things Happening to Good People” is a time-honored tradition in story-telling of vilifying the antagonist, OOT does a great job of laying a lot of the blame at the real root cause – young Princess Zelda, who acts out of impulse in her early career, instead of the Wisdom that she later earns.  Link too is shown as having to own up to his childhood mistakes, earning over (and then some) the Triforce of Courage.

Ocarina was a watershed moment in video gaming, there’s little doubt of that.  Nintendo has often scored big victories with its two flagship franchises, but they truly hit everything right when it came to Ocarina.  From beginning to end, the story of the first Link will always hold a special place in my memories, and in my heart;

I think someone just started cutting an onion around me…


30 Days: Game You’d Thought You’d Hate

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

There are a lot of valid answers here: EverQuest is definitely an option, though it falls into the “love to hate” category a bit too much.  And the reasons I did love it had little to do with the game itself.  Total Annihilation is another one that I could talk about: initially it seemed like a low-budget knock-off RTS game and then like it was burdened with too many options.  However, I’m going to break with the PC for a bit and talk about Twisted Metal 2 for the PlayStation.

Twisted Metal is an interesting series; they’re ‘fighting games’ with cars.  Or better described, the games are a demolition derby with guns & rockets.  The art and concept aren’t exactly high-brow (the logo for TM2 features a clown with flaming hair, for Christ’s sake;) but the gameplay was addictive – low learning curve and nearly instant rewards of blowing your buddy(ies) to hell and back with an array of various explosive gadgets.  At the time, I was living in a fraternity house (don’t ask) and as a bunch of drunk college kids are wont to do, we spent an inordinate amount of time playing various games.  Tekken and Soul Calibur were other perennial favorites of ours as well; but Twisted Metal just filled the savage need to blow the ever-loving shit out of ice cream trucks.

It’s probably not a game I would go back and play now, but for a time, it was an amazing way to burn some late (or early) hours.

30 Days: Favorite Game Designer

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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There really is only one answer here; Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo.  His contributions to gaming are legion, including some of the most critically acclaimed and universally beloved games.  Super Mario BrosThe Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong 3…  along with those respective franchises, the Star Fox franchise, hell, even Wii Fit1goddamned animated fit board aside.  He simply is the Greatest of All Time.

That being said, there are plenty of great designers that belong in the pantheon alongside Miyamoto: Sid Meier, Will Wright and Richard Garriott are among many others.  But leading that pantheon is by far, Miyamoto.

30 Days: Favorite Gaming Moment

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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I made reference to this an earlier post, but where that post was about the addiction and trauma in my life, this is going to be the uplifting side of the coin.

It is April, 2000.  For a few months now, I’ve been living back in the Bay Area, rebuilding my life, and spending a lot of time on the PvP forums, chatting with other fans of the comic, enjoying a golden age of sorts of gaming times & humor.  A few of us had started gaming together in random games, and one member in particular and I became friends and took the step to meet each other at the Metreon – then an “urban entertainment center” owned by Sony, now, a shopping mall in downtown San Francisco.

“I have something to tell you,” she said, before we left our computers to go meet in the real world.  “I have a boyfriend.  He asked me to tell you that.”  I don’t know if she remembers that line.

I laughed then, and I still laugh today.  It’s been 14 years since the erstwhile Token Female Gamer1Update 2016: TFG has hung up her writing spurs to focus on Twitch streaming.  You can find her as “The Jungle Queen.” entered my life, but she’s been one of my best friends, and meeting her has led to some of the best moments of my life, both gaming-wise and not.  Meeting TFG led to a conversation about EverQuest, which led to the idea of us starting a guild.  We took to the forums, gathered our friends, and in that April, formed The Fourth Wall.

4W, as we began to refer to ourselves, was more than just a guild.  It grew into a gaming family, a group of people that still manage to keep in touch, though the guild has drifted apart after so many years.  4W had more than its share of drama, but even through the tough times, the bonds of friendship held.  It was truly a joy to explore Norrath with the members of Fourth Wall.

The names are seared in my mind, and will be for all time.  Tolsia & Gaedan, the ill-fated lovers, were the bards that TFG & I played.  Dalakar & Kirilith.  Dedpool, my in-game brother.  Arshraam. Einkaran. Kindira.  Sagus, Hopshaus, Wazabi, Matzah, Vastistas the fallen, Holt, Xaaz, Naanaan, Kharlyn, Chrosite, Tiiomon, Xaffythe, Talonus, Mantrius, Khraelin, Ruann, Vaugerant, Anolis, Detesu, Felessan and Barlypop.  Many would join later; Fuurfuut would become one of the best guild leaders I have ever seen when I stepped down. Xilasrn was a brand new player that we took under our wing during a GM event – he joined the following day and has been one of the best gaming friends I’ve had. Eenae, Xaos, Elissa, Mikal, Satiya, Spicer.  Jete, my dear, dear friend.  Kerussk, who has been a constant in my gaming life.  The air is thick with the memories surrounding those names.

Some of the more specific memories, though…

  • When TFG & I were just wee bard-lings, we met Dalakar on top of “Orc Hill”, a popular place to gain experience for players in Kelethin.  We managed to die many, many times during the course of the night.
  • TFG, myself and a few others stumbled onto a dark elf camp while running to Mistmoore. With TFG’s bard down, our high-level bard friend Isabo ported in with her friends and wow’d us with their uber lootz.
  • Fourth Wall decided that the best way to spend our time one day was to strip out of all of our armor and ‘raid’ Crushbone, a low-level dungeon. The “Naked Crushbone Raid” lives on forever in 4W lore.
  • The Halfling Brawl.  We created a buttload of level 1 halfling warriors, turned in our PvP books and had an epic free-for-all in Misty Thicket.
  • Running into a zone and /yell’ing “HUZZAAAAAAAAAH” and having half the zone yell it right back.
  • The love song of Deddy & Isabella.  While running across Anatolia (this was a major undertaking, ports were not always available back then), Dedpool & Isabella fell in love while Dalakar & I, playing our bards serenaded them in-character.  Their wedding was one of the first big 4W events.  Gaedan punched the priest.
  • Elissa winning the “Pinwheel of Doom” during a GM event that was being “camped” by members of one of the elite guild.  “This is my BOOMSTICK!” became instant 4W lore when said uber player complained on the server forums.

Oh, the memories.  I can never thank 4W enough.

30 Days: Best Voice Acting

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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It’s not a game.  It’s Jennifer Hale.  The erstwhile Commander Shepard, Bastila Shan, Leah ad infinitum (or so it seems) – there really is no other actor that matches her range and body of work.  There have been so many notable roles that Hale has voiced that you could get as many responses as people you ask for who their favorite character of hers is.  For me, however, it was her voice acting in Mass Effect as Commander Shepard that made, for me at least, “FemShep” canon. Though I can’t deny that the model for the default male version of Shepard (Mark Vanderloo) is… um… easy on the eyes.

Though I do have to add an honorable mention, the iconic voice work of Mark Hamill, whose take on the Joker is pantheon-level stuff.

30 Days: To Be Played

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

I don’t have a lot of time today for a proper entry, so we’ll just do this visually:


Tomb Raider (2013): The retcon of Lara Croft’s adventures. I’m a little concerned regarding the opening act, having heard that there is some problematic story telling. I’ve also heard that it’s been blown out of proportion due to some ill informed comments. Also, see: internet.


The gloriously odd Binding of Issac (2011), which is still sitting in my Steam library begging to be played. I just need to find the right fucked up headspace to do so, as evidenced by the above image.


Portal (2007) and Portal 2 (2011) have been on my list for a long, long time, but I keep getting distracted due to lack of RPG stats. Silly, silly boy.




30 Days: Turn-based or Real-time

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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Well, this is a topic.  It’s keeping in theme at the very least from the previous entry, which kept in theme from the entry previous that, so we’ve got ourselves a nice little chain here, don’t we?

Turn based or real-time strategy games… this should be  tough one to decide as I have favorites on both sides of the question here.  On one hand, we have the indomitable Civilization series in all its turn-based glory, along with other favorites such as Final Fantasy Tactics. However, on the other side live some of the most beloved games – Starcraft, Age of Empires and the Paradox series of strategy games (Europa Universalis, Victoria, Crusader Kings, etc.)  This is a stacked battle, without a doubt…

… but why choose?  I say both!

30 Days: Surprising Sequel

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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(Note: this was previously slated to be “Favorite art or graphics style”, however, I feel like I had already covered that in the previous 30 days series.  So riffing off the previous entry, I changed this entry’s topic to be ‘a sequel that exceeded expectations.’  Enjoy!)

This is a harder choice than it seems.  So many sequels generate a lot of hype – and reasonably so.  The whole idea of a sequel is to essentially capitalize on previous success, and most importantly, to grow on that success.  Merely selling the same number of copies of a sequel is a loss, so publishers will attempt to expand their product’s base by aggressively marketing sequels, usually appealing to what made the previous game so successful.  This makes the previous entry such a loaded field: history is full of failed and disappointing sequels, and those that were successful usually release in an orgy of hype designed to increase initial sales.

Perhaps time has dulled my perception of things, but I don’t recall a huge marketing blitz, nor do I really recall any massive hype for the game.  I do, however, remember leaning back after my first game in Age of Empires II and thinking, “This is what this game should be.”

A little background – I’ve made reference to my time at Ernest & Allen, a small web design startup in San Luis Obispo that was my professional home for several years.  As befitting the age, ours was an office that worked hard and played harder, and the original Age of Empires was a surprising entry into our gaming library.  Many a late night was spent as we battled over randomly generated patches of land, all dreading the “nuh nuh naaaah” of Monks that would convert and wreak havoc upon our armies.

Age of Empires II offered a lot of promise and it delivered – AoE II is a pantheon-level RTS game, coming along in a “golden age” of sorts of real-time strategy games.  The addition of better villager controls (inactive villager button, y’all!), the strategic component of castles, unique units and the new victory types (especially the Wonder victory where you could turtle up and try to out build your competition) all made for a incredibly rich and replayable game (one that’s still played and supported on Steam.)

Hrm, I might need to reinstall my Conquerors disks…

30 Days: Disappointing Sequel

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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There’s really no debate about this one.

Caveats aside – the recent expansion and revamp of the loot system has made Diablo III a much better game than it was on release.  However, the highly anticipated sequel to the beloved (and often imitated) Diablo II, was, without question, one of the most disappointing video games of all time, let alone sequel.  The matter has been discussed ad nauseum – the questionable choice to make the best loot come from the in-game auction house (with real money option, I mean, really Blizzard?), the god-awful story line (seriously, they fucking killed Deckard Cain, what the fuck,) and the initial inescapable cutscenes and dialog options which made replaying act 3 akin to wanting to gouge your fucking eyes and ears out (okay you beat that last ‘unbeatable’ lieutenant of mine, but wait until you see the next one, muahahaha for the 50th time.)

But the truly unforgivable, the real salt in the wound, was the forced online gameplay, coupled with the wide release that resulted in Error 37 (and it’s younger cousin, Error 3003,) the dreaded “you just paid $60 for a game where you hit connect 3,467 times before rage quitting” error that greeted, well, just about everyone.  Again, Error 37 has become quite the meme, so there’s not much else to discuss.  The game was a trainwreck on release.

It has got better.  It’s actually closer to what it should have been on release with the expansion, the new loot system, and improved performance.  But its release will go down in infamy.



30 Days: Best Story

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
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I kid, I kid.  Diablo’s video game porno – set the scene, get some plot lines laid down and start with the um, action.  The most frequent complaint about Diablo III?  Too much story, of course.  It reads like a bad soap opera, which, I think, if you tried to lay down too much plot in a porno, you’d probably get the same result.

Let’s diverge from porno, shall we?

Er, or not.  But, thumbs in alternate erogenous areas aside, my selection for best story is Dragon Age 2.  And this is probably not the first choice for many – a lot of people found fault with the second installment of the “New Shit“, mostly due to the overly repetitive adventure areas, though.  That aside, I really enjoyed the story of Dragon Age 2; it was not an epic tale like Dragon Age: Origins – we can’t all be Grey Wardens, after all – but the life of times of the Champion of Kirkwall made for an amusing “choose your own adventure” story.  I would have liked some alternate endings, but you can’t have it all, I guess.