Thursday, May 5, 2011

30 Day Videogame Challenges, Part 1

Hello, Andy Plays Games fans! (Yes. You're fans now. Even if you're not, just call yourself that. I need to feel special.) For the past 26 days I have been posting, over at Andy's Blog, a series of answers to 30 Day Challenges. Of those challenges was a Video Game Challenge. This is the first compilation, edited for the Andy Plays Games blog of which you are a fan (you are, you totally are).

This post will run long, as its a compilation of fifteen answers, and they originally took up one third of very long posts to begin with. So if you are so bored with long, long lists with a lot of paragraphs talking about things in close-to-minute detail, you might want to wait until I do my Andy's Blog "wrap-up," in which I will go down the list one by one and give non-paragraph answers. You'll get all the joy of learning about me (oh joy), without the pain of reading, oh the horror! ...yeah. Just a heads up. Anyway. Proceed in wonderment, fans! (I'm going to shovel that into you, I swear to god).

Video Game Challenge, Day 1
Very first video game.

Oh boy, this is a relic. The first video game I actually remember owning for my very own self is probably this N64, uh, "classic," Chameleon Twist 2. What is Chameleon Twist? Why does it have a sequel? It's a platformer, much in the vein of the insufferably popular Super Mario 64 mould, in which you play as a chameleon with a long, stretchy tongue, which he can use to swing around poles and stick onto walls. When you extend the tongue, you control its trajectory with the analogue stick, and when it touches a pole or platform, it pulls in. It was actually pretty nifty, but playing it again nowadays, you'll find it's incredibly stiff, and bafflingly easy. With only six levels and no plot, it defines the bright, kiddy-friendly platformer genre of the mid-90s. But hey, to a discernible young mind, it was pretty damn entertaining. I did, however, think it was the old PC platformer Bug for the longest while, so my opinion on it may be skewered somewhat...

Video Game Challenge, Day 2
Your favourite character.

There are a lot of characters I'd say are my favourite from video-games, ever. Gordon Freeman. Tommy Verceti. Super Meat Boy. Raz. Guybrush Threepwood. Super Mario. Pikachu. Commander Video. GLaDOS. Sam and Max. Frank West. Coach. Josef. Duke Nukem. So many great characters! Some are well-rounded, real people, with deep personalities. Some are vehicles for jokes, some are jokes. Some are merely player avatars that look awesome. Some are something else altogether. But you know what? I am going to defy conventions, and say that my favourite video game character of all time, is probably... Kirby.

Yes, Kirby, the pink little... thing. He's bright and chirpy, and painfully adorable. So what pushes him to my favourite? He. Can. Be. Anyone. I mean honestly! As long Nintendo doesn't retcon that he can suck up enemies and take on some of their abilities and traits (when not made of yarn, I mean), he basically represents every character ever made. He can be Solid Snake! Sonic! The entire cast of Team Fortress 2! Yes, Kirby is every character, only super cute! ...and goddamn it that's why he's my favourite. It's obvious... when you think about it.

Video Game Challenge, Day 3
A game that is underrated.

A game that (I feel) is underrated? There are a few. A lot of Tim Schafer games, in particularPsychonauts and Brutal Legend, haven't had much of looks-in (in Brutal Legend's case, being passed off as a bad game entirely, and it's not, I assure you - it's definitely quite entertaining), and hell, even the original Portal hasn't raised above cult status (though some would call that a good thing). In the end, I'd probably have to say VVVVVV. This game blew away all my expectations, and I was disappointed to see that it didn't get mentioned in any website's end-of-2010 wrap-ups. It's a lot like Portal, in both its ideologies and its structure. It's also painfully adorable, and nostalgic...! Yeah, I'd say VVVVVV. It was critically acclaimed, but as seen in the examples of Psychonauts, Beyond Good and Evil, and Penumbra, this assures nothing - VVVVVV is an underrated, often completely ignored indie gaming masterpiece and really needs more people to give it a play. That includes you. Go. Go play it now.

Video Game Challenge, Day 4
Your guilty pleasure game.

Umm... define "guilty pleasure game". A lot of those visual novel hentai-style point-and-click games are pretty goddamn guilty pleasures... do those count as guilty pleasure games? What about Call of Duty as a series? I really quite enjoy them, but they're transparent and poorly made. Are those guilty pleasures? Or, I really really love replaying the Half-Life games over and over, do they count as guilty pleasure games? Huh?

Oh, here we go. Wikipedia says, "a guilty pleasure is something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it". That... slightly narrows it down, I guess. Barely.

Hmm... guilty pleasure game. A game I feel guilty for enjoying, not for just playing? I'd have to say... Super Mario Galaxy 2. Goddamn I felt weird playing this game. I loved every inch of it, but there were so many conflicting emotions. "This is just the first game with Yoshi in it!" "This is a game designed for children!" "Nintendo are omnipotent dickholes!" "It's on the Wii!" ...but yes, if there's one game I've ever felt trepidations for enjoying, as apposed to owning or playing, it's Super Mario Galaxy 2. Man, I love it, but I really shouldn't be, in hindsight. Or in foresight, for that matter.

Video Game Challenge, Day 5

This question came in two parts technically. It asked me what game character I feel I'm most like, then in brackets, "wish you were most like." Now, I take that as two questions, challenge. So run with me here, and I'll answer the first half - the game character I feel I am most like - and then, separately, the second half - the game character I wish I was most like. Inspiring stuff.

Game character you feel you are most like.

Coach is a big fella. He's not very fit. He loves comfort food, like cheeseburgers and chocolate. He can barely run up a flight of stairs, and needs all the help of his friends to get from point A to point B. On his own, he is nothing. And yet, Coach is one of the biggest assets the Left 4 Dead 2survivors have against the zombie horde - quite literally. He respects his companions, and he helps where he can. He has a big heart to go with his big stomach - and sometimes, that's all you'll ever need to achieve the impossible. Sappy? Maybe. But I love Coach, he reminds me of all the good that's in me when my stature gets me down. Also, he's a damn good aim with the auto-shotty. It's sort of poetic, when you think about it. *sniff*

Game character you wish you were most like.

Defined by Steve Purcell as "pure id, the uncoordinated instinctual trends of the human psyche," Max (of Sam & Max fame) is a lot like Batman's The Joker, if he were a huggably adorable lagomorph. Max, by definition, has no inhibition, with a "pinball-like stream of consciousness," for which he uses the entire world as his vessel to project. To live a life of pure id, is something I'm sure everyone wishes at one point or another, myself included.

The fact of the matter is, Max is deranged and unhinged, maniacal and borderline psychotic - and as a result, is willing to participate in anything. Honestly, this guy is enthusiastic about pretty much whatever he is presented with... as long as it can hold his relatively short attention span. Max is a gritty, grim mirror into the depths human psychosis; but he doesn't seem to care about it, he just rolls with what he's been given. Never defeated, only momentarily confused - Max is everything we all wish we could be, but as long as we retain a conscience, quite likely never will be. It's sort of poetic, when you think about it. *sniff*

Video Game Challenge, Day 6
Most annoying character.

Borderlands is pretty acceptable fare. It's a singleplayer FPS with RPG-like elements, that can be a ton of fun with the right friends in co-op and is certainly entertaining in its own light. But, of course, there just had to be some sort of light comic relief thrown in to make it just that tiny bit more shit. Claptrap is (I assume) Gearbox's attempt to straddle that fine line between annoying-funny and annoying-irksome. Unfortunately, they lean a little too much to the "irksome" side.

Honestly, I can see how an endearing, charming little robot friend could perhaps be a nice touch, but everything this little tiresome bastard says just grates on my ears! And of course, they make you go on quests to revive the lil' stinker. If I revive him, he'll just keep talking! ...and obnoxiously dancing! I don't want that, Borderlands! Can't I just let the buzzard die?? Most bizarrely, is that Gearbox apparently got the idea that this character was actually popular; they released a whole DLC pack that focuses on an army of Claptraps. I'm having enough trouble coping with one of the fuckers dribbling into my ear like an entitled little unfunny twat, so if it's all the same to you, I won't be downloading your Claptrap-themed level pack. Nice try Gearbox, but this guy is so irritating that I want to kick him in his fucking teeth.

Video Game Challenge, Day 7
Favourite game couple.

Favourite game couple? There really aren't a whole lot of "couples" that I'd say really have a chemistry that stands out. Mario and Peach? Those two androgynous teenagers from Final Fantasy X? Master Chief and Cortana? Hmmm? And if there are "married" couples, they don't ever really seem that important, or even that memorable - they're just there. Super Meat Boy and Bandage girl have more chemistry than most video game boyfriend/girlfriends, and they barely have any character beyond "look helpless" and "get killed a lot".

I'm going to have to show my raging inner Valve fanboyism here and say that the father/daughter relationship between Alyx and Eli Vance is probably the most impactful game couple I know of. Half-Life 2 started it off, and Episode One had a touching scene in its intro in which Alyx assures Eli that she'll make it out alive. But it's the one-on-one conversation with Gordon Freeman and Eli in Half-Life 2: Episode Two about their "mutual fiend" that cements just how real the relationship between Eli and his daughter is. "Now he's putting words in her mouth," he sighs, after hearing his daughter say to him the words that started off the whole hellish nightmare. ...I won't spoil anything, but unforeseen consequences rear their ugly heads, and the most real human couple in videogames is finally cemented in one of the most memorable cliffhangers in gaming history.

Video Game Challenge, Day 8
Best soundtrack.

There are an awful lot of game soundtracks that are incredible. Portal, of course. The Grand Theft Auto series has always had an impressive track list, especially the Vice City incarnations. Michael Giachinno's Medal of Honour and Black soundtracks are astounding, and Hans Zimmer has recently started churning out intense, thematic tunes for the likes of Modern Warfare 2 andCrysis 2. And, of course, Harry Gregson-Williams continues to churn out fantastic score after fantastic score. But my personal favourite - at least, for now - is the mournful, atmospheric, and swelling Halo: Reach soundtrack. I am of course on the record of not being a massive fan ofReach itself, but the soundtrack is a work of art on its own merits and is definitely the best orchestral game soundtrack... that I can think of right now.

Of course, the classics 8- and 16-bit tunes are going to stick with me forever as well - probably one of the best albums of video-game tunes is Smashing: Live!, a live orchestral recording of the arrangements from Super Smash Bros. Melee. But the Halo: Reach soundtrack is my favourite game soundtrack so far, following on from Halo's iconic themes and ideas, and imbuing them with all the warmth and emotion of a military funeral. I love it, and it works to save the game from being entirely a waste of production time and money.

Video Game Challenge, Day 9
Saddest game scene.

Videogames have never made me "cry," per se. Some have bought me to the brink of tears - surprisingly, Gears of War 2 nearly did, with Dom finding out his wife had died, or Jackie in The Darkness unwillingly killing his girlfriend. But there is a scene, the final scene in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, that, far from making me cry, had my mouth hanging open in horror and shock. I won't tell you, for it's probably the biggest Half-Life 2 spoiler there is. But those who know what I'm talking about? You know why this is my answer.

Rest in peace, old friend. And mark my words: you will be avenged.

Video Game Challenge, Day 10
Best gameplay.

I think perhaps the game with best gameplay... either something exuberantly simple like Portal, with not a huge array of gameplay mechanics, yet refined to a point; or perhaps Super Mario Galaxy or something that has a refined yet mixed bag of fun, contrasting gameplay mechanics.

Yes, I'm going to go with Portal. It's use of one, simple mechanic, stretched out over a whole game in fantastic ways, is, in no short way of speaking, genius. As soon as you think you understand how the physics of the portals work, the game throws you another unique challenge that makes you think differently from before. It's brilliant, and it gives the gameplay a biting edge to match the wit and humour of the game's writing. So yeah, I really like Portal, a lot. And the gameplay amounts for a good 60% of this lot.

Video Game Challenge, Day 11
Gaming system of choice.

Why, I play primarily all my games on the personal computer, my dear chum! I've had to inject it with computational steroids to get it working even half-decently, but with with impressive stats (for 2010, anyway), and enough processing power to run Crysis smooth as silk, it's the hub of all my video game-related entertainment. ...and for those who must know the specs: Gigabyte 790XT DDR3 motherboard, AMD Phenom II X4 945 Processor running at 3.0GHz with 4 cores, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, Windows 7 64-bit, 2 x 1TB HDD, and a Radeon HD5770 Hawk. Windows rates it as a 5.9 out of 7. (Yes, that's arbitrary as hell, but just bear with me.)

However, I would be amiss not to mention (as I always do when these sort of "what's your system?" questions arise), that I do not exclusively game on any one system, and those who do are idiots of the highest order that are only going so far as to punish themselves and but an unnecessary lock on the scope of gaming which they may enjoy. Alright, that's it for me, I'm done here.

Video Game Challenge, Day 12
A game everyone should play.

I bet you think I'm going to say something like Portal, aren't you? You think I'm going to suggest everyone should play Half-Life 2 or something. Crysis. Psychonauts, maybe? Well, don't be so stupid, sir or ma'am; as much as there are the games I love, they certainly aren't the games I'd recommend to "everyone". No, of course not.

Audiosurf. Yes, Audiosurf. Why? Because everyone loves their own taste in music. Audiosurf is a game built around your own music collection, and though the gameplay itself - that is to say, a sort of Tetris-like block-matching game - is sort of simple, it's the experience of being able to "ride" your music that is the core substance found within Audiosurf. It's incredibly user-friendly, with several difficulty modes, and the enjoyability of the game really coming from what sort of mp3s you have on your computer. It's a game everyone can play, and it's a game every should play, because it really is just one hell of an accessible, enthralling experience. ...also everyone should play Portal. Okay I'll shut up now.

Video Game Challenge, Day 13
A game you've played more than 5 times.

I know a game I've played more than 5 times! An indie game that is rather fantastic called BIT.TRIP BEAT, on the PC. How do I know how many times I've played it? Because the game is made up of three, 15-minute levels. Not just levels that take around 15 minutes either, the game is tied to a strict limit (being music-based, you see), so the game takes 45 minutes to play through all the way. And I have played the game for a total of... 10 hours, says my Steam stats. I have of course played Portal more than 5 times, too, but... oh god I love Portal, but I've told myself to shut up about Portal. It is, you know, my favourite game of all time. Just a little bit.

Oh I just noticed that the request is somewhat vague. "Played 5 times," I took as "completed 5 times," though I guess it could mean literally "have played 5 times," in which case, god, I dunno, Crysis 2? Borderlands? Freakin' Pac-man, it could be any game. No. Go with my first interpretation. The other one is a bit silly.

Video Game Challenge, Day 14
Current (or most recent) gaming wallpaper.

Black Mesa's logo - decrepit, decayed, worn out. It's a very cool wallpaper. And Half-Life is still Valve's best single-player game. (Sorry, Portal 2 was great and all, but nothing will ever trump Half-Life in terms of sheer "wow, videogames can do this?" I love Half-Life, and all Half-Life iconography. Here's me waiting for Black Mesa Source to be finished already!!

Video Game Challenge, Day 15
Post a screenshot from the game you're playing right now.

Here's a screenshot from the amazing Portal 2. I tried to get single-PC co-op working splitscreen, and I achieved it thanks to the amazing people over at the Steam forums, who had an in-depth guide up in only a few short days. Here's a screenshot to document my efforts - split-screen working on PC using code left over from the Xbox 360 version of the game. It's certainly very cool to see the viewpoints of both participants at once without having to resort to the internet-play "picture in picture" mode.

Well, that's it for today. Tune in next week for the follow-up, or - if you're so inclined - the Andy's Blog wrap-up.

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