By Kieron Gillen on March 4th, 2009 at 11:04 am.
Barnett’s been on about this to me, and has taken it to the wider world in his regular-youtube-talkyisms. He’s been debating the idea of canon – as in games everyone should know about/play – with his peers. And this is causing him all sorts of issues, regarding the nature of those recommendations. And… oh, I’ll let him explain it:
To paraphrase for those who don’t want to watch video… well, his problem with creating a list was that it felt that it could become navel-gazing nonsense a bit too easily. Just obscure references for the sake of showing off – which, I suspect, he’s right, and mine certianly will be. To work his way around the conundrum, he’s made two lists. The first is 10 historicaly significant games. You don’t have to go off and play them, but you should know why they changed everything. Secondly, ten games you should be playing right now. As in, what’s neat and nifty and should be fucked around with this month and totally ripped off – in other words, while some are great, others really should just be experienced to think about. This is a list for designers, remember.
(For this listPaul’s implicitly taking the “If it didn’t actually shake people up, it didn’t change anything position. As in, the first RTS being Herzog Zwei is a lovely answer in a trivia quiz, but it doesn’t matter for something like this. It requires to be influential or popular or both. Herzog Zwei was none of them, so fails. Similarly, Doom over Wolfenstein – sure, Wolfenstein was a success. Doom was WORLD CHANGING.
He’s also taking series as a whole in some cases. Which is madness, frankly. Paul!)
And here’s his list of what he think is worth playing today…
World of Goo
Rock Band 2
Metal Gear Solid 4
Street Fighter IV
Gears of War 2
Grand Theft Auto IV
Left 4 Dead
Chrono trigger (On the DS)
Which he admits has a play-by date of… well, pretty much immediately. That’s the point. This is transistory. The former list is canon. The latter list is pop. Both are important.
And here’s mine. Off the top of my head.
Little Wars: Yeah, I’m already trying to cheat, but I’d argue this is anti-navel gazing. At no point did Mr Barnett say “videogame”, and re-integrating and re-examining into the bigger picture is important. Little Wars was the first set of wargame rules actually published. They were published by HG Wells. Perhaps in a real way, it’s the beginning of the modern games industry. Look at the full title: “Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books.” The implication being, adults can play this shit. And if more designers considered themselves explicitly in a line which starts with someone of HG Wells’ stature, it’ll probably be good for their self-image.
Dungeons & Dragons: I’d personally put aside the whole mechanic/setting/world-building stuff, as clearly influential as it was. What’s important about D&D is that it popularised the idea of a non-competitive game, where one participant wasn’t actually trying to win. Because if it wanted to win, it’d be able to win automatically. The DM and the computer/designer are fundamentally identical in a philosophical basis – they have all the power. They’re trying to do something else than just win – they’re trying to create a matrix of choices which entertain. This was new. And this is what most single-player (and a co-operative) videogames are structured around.
Doom: Yeah, Barnett’s right here. Supercharging the shareware model, and re-inventing the idea of people being able to just code and game and become hyper-rich relatively overnight.
Half-life: I’d disagree with Paul – it invented just as much as Goldeneye, just in different places. Its radical first-person-only-or-death approach was enormously influential. When I was in FEAR 2 presentations, and they were talking about how they decided that going FP-only was the brave new approach for them, it was one of the moments which made me dread playing a game that was fully 10 years behind the cutting edge of thought in the genre. People are *still* catching up with Half-life. It was quite the thing.
Desktop Tower Defence: I was at Develop last year, when the designer and developer of DTD told people how much money he made from doing this. You could see the entire room of work-jaded devs suddenly wonder whether they could make a crack at doing similar. If you want a counter-point
Singstar: I’d go for this over Guitar Hero, just to have a different choice than Paul’s. Seeing why Singstar worked so brilliantly in the UK market compared to previous games of the ilk is something that’s well worth considering. It remains the first social game that actually operated.
World of Warcraft: You don’t even need to like it. I’m tempted to make it a dual one – as “Play EQ and then play WoW” and work out why, despite being so similar games, one is so much more populist. Maybe EQ2 to make it fairer. Shame you can’t re-set it so it was the game they played on launch.
Robotron: Or ROBOMOTHERFUCKINGTRON! as it’s known around my way. To paraphrase Larkin, to some, it says nothing. To others, it leaves nothing to be said.
Planescape: Torment: It changed nothing. Even Chris Avellone in interviews seems to back away from the game, implying that it’s approach was deeply misjudged – even wrong. How can something this right be wrong?
Wii-Sports: You know, back when Edge were starting they used to talk about Killer-apps a lot. Something that sells systems, by force of its own existence. More than any other game in recent times, Wii Sports was one. That it was completely unlike a killer-app most trad-designers would ever think of says much.
Blush: Both for the game, the fact they did it in two months and they plan to do another five. Think about that model. It sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Tabula Rasa: You can’t. Which is a point really worth thinking about.
Bow Street Runner: I hadn’t played this flash-adventure online until recently, because I’m doing some work for the developer… but Christ! It’s the sort of thing which makes you rethink what these sort of flash-games can be, and what part they can play in the future of the medium. (The re-invention of the adventure for a new audience – here and on the Wii – is another trend worth playing around with).
Empire Total War: Some designers think less is more. Sometimes it is. What about when more is more?
Spelunky: Could this approach profit your game? It couldn’t hurt considering it…
Triangle Wizard: And another one.
Halo Wars: Entertaining console-take on the RTS, worth thinking about in terms of design and stuff but – really – the big thing for designers? Play it and realise that no matter how many critically-adored multimillion selling games you make, it may not make a shred of difference.
Dawn of War 2 A useful case-study of a developer responding to what they think are the signs of the time. Compare and contrast to the Company of Heroes. Compare and contrast the single to multiplayer – and can you think of a game whose SP and MP are as divorced from one another as they are here.
Far Cry 2: Perhaps you can file this next to DoW2. How much can a sequel alter from a prequel without alienating people? How did the really quite radical approach of Far Cry 2 actually work out? Do you like shooting Zebra?
Space Giraffe: Does the whole SFX-lead approach thing work? Or rather, does it actually matter. Play it on both FULL ON mode and more gentile one to see how that differs. And as a thought-game, what would you change about it?
And… that’ll do for now. If I start thinking too hard, I’ll be here all day. Lists break me, because I don’t really believe in them. They’re just a sampling, y’know?
And you know where this going now: what about you? What do you think should be the canon for designers? And what do you think they SHOULD play?