Sunday, December 07, 2008

Required Playing

A recent conversation I had reminded me of something, which I share with you now.

Students of any artistic medium should are expected to study the more famous/important works within that medium. A graduate of a film school who had never heard of Citizen Kane, a graduate of an art school who couldn't recognize the work of Van Gogh, or a graduate of a creative writing program who never read Shakespeare would all be considered rather embarassing to their schools. So, it's up to the school to make sure their students get exposure to the great works of their field. So it should be with the study of video game design.

Let's assume for the purpose of this exercise that a teacher can find some way to gain access to any game, regardless of technical constraints. Let's also assume that there are no time constraints, and "how do I fit all of this in the core curriculum?" is someone else's problem.

The question: if you were to make a list of games that all students of game design should know about, what games would be on that list? This should mostly involve games that did at least one thing really well or poorly with respect to game design (not technology or art), i.e. those games that we should be able to learn something from. The games that, intentionally or not, made some contribution to the field of game design.

Here's my own list, so far:

Classic Non-digital: Chess, Go, and at least one card game featuring trick-taking and trump (Spades, Bridge, Whist, etc.)

Modern Non-digital: Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons (at least read the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide)

Arcade: at least one ball-and-paddle game (Pong, Breakout, Arkanoid), at least one LaserDisc game (Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, etc.), Pac Man, Gauntlet, Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter 2, at least one side-scrolling shooter (Gradius, R-Type, etc.), Tetris

PC: at least one Roguelike (Rogue, Nethack, Angband), Archon, any game from the Civilization series, Warcraft 2, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Star Control 2, Ultima IV

Console: Chrono Trigger, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, any game from the Pokemon series, any game from the Harvest Moon series, any cart-racing game (Mario Kart, etc.), any realistic racing game (Gran Turismo, etc.), at least one side-scrolling adventure game (Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, etc.), any tactical RPG (Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, etc.), any modern Western RPG (Knights of the Old Republic, Oblivion, etc.), any modern Eastern RPG (Final Fantasy, etc.), any modern 3D platformer (Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, etc.)

Feel free to post arguments against any from the above list, or any games not on the list that you'd add.


Anonymous said...

As far as I can see the list is lacking a FPS game, which seems odd. The first person perspective gives a very different experience and playing them multiplayer is not really comparable to anything on the list. Counter-Strike might be a fine example.

BTW do the categories have any special purpose. I.e. is playing Tetris on a arcade machine different than on a PC?

Nels Anderson said...

Some kind of stealth game would be a good addition as well, IMHO. Given that the core principle of so many games is confronting and defeating opponents, it's interesting to see the design implication of a game based around avoiding opponents instead.

If nothing else, play a simple level in Thief: Deadly Shadows to get the hang of things, and then play The Shalebridge Cradle level. I do not exaggerate when I say that level is perhaps the most atmospheric and horrifying level in any game ever. Everything from the music to the lighting to the level design works in perfect harmony. Kieron Gillen writes about better than I ever could, so give that a read if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree about Thief. It was the first game to effectively implement the first-person perspective (in my very humble opinion). "Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay" would be another example of the first-person perspective being used to increase immersion.

You seem to have left out MMORPG games entirely, which have invariably shaped the industry as it is. The Ultima series, Everquest, and World of Warcraft are perfect candidates, and even some old MUD games would work (but that might be directly stepping on the toes of D&D).

Anonymous said...

Without wanting to turn into a "you forgot my favorite game" thread, I will suggest:

1) At least one Infocom text adventure.

2) One gambling game. Poker, Blackjack, Craps, etc.

3) One 'narrativist' RPG or improv game. (Since D&D is strongly 'gamist').

4) One MUD or MMORPG

Unknown said...

This may be overly pedantic, but I think Tetris and Super Mario Bros belong in the Console category. I'd also replace Warcraft 2 with Starcraft, as it is arguably the pinnacle of polished RTS design.

To the PC list I'd add a point&click graphic adventure game. Either Myst, or one of the Lucasarts games.

Robert Yang said...

Ohh man. The Cradle is the greatest level ever... Though I'd argue that players have to play everything before the Cradle as well, not just one mission, for the full impact.

(What's the significance of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? though, exactly? The edutainment genre?)

And yes, FPS.

Bill said...

I'd agree with muad'dib about Starcraft over Warcraft II. Warcraft II was certainly a good game, but Starcraft has an extra level of complexity in the third playable race. Additionally, it was designed to be closely integrated with the multiplayer system, whereas the Warcraft II edition was just a perk feature. I can't speak eloquently on specific interactions from each game, as it has been quite some time since I played either for more than the campaign, but I'd definitely choose Starcraft.

Mauricio said...

Don´t forget "Out of This World", one of the first cinematic platform game to tell a story with cutscenes, even using no voice, just gestures. Amazing game made by one person.

And for a recent exemple, I think World of Goo is great also.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Can't say I ever heard of Star Control 2 (sub Masters of Orion 2?), and I don't see an RTS (I'd list Total Annihilation).

In the end, a lot of these games aren't as widely known as chess, Catan, etc. Where does one draw the line? Depends on how well they need to know about them. Know about well enough to know the gameplay (whether they actually played it or not), or just well enough to know what they are/why they're important?

Ian Schreiber said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments so far!

Anon: I agree, an FPS game is lacking from the list. Probably worth adding two, one PC and one console, to compare/contrast the control schemes.

And no, the categories were just there to make it clear that I'm not talking about, say, the board-game version of Tetris (which, sadly, exists).

Nels: You're also right that I should have included a stealth game (either the original Thief, which I think was the first to do it right, or one of the Metal Gear Solid games).

Jesse: Good call on MMO/MUD. Given the particularly "addictive" nature of such games, it would be rather ironic if a student ultimately failed out of a program because they did too much homework :)

WordsOnPlay: Now I'm feeling embarassed, leaving out text adventures. Ironically, I actually do introduce at least one gambling game in my intro design class, so I can't believe I forgot that.

Muad'dib: I see your point about Starcraft over Warcraft. The reason I chose Warcraft 2 was that it was the game that popularized the RTS genre. Which leaves the general question: is it better to study the first game that did something right, or the best game? Or both?

CampaignJunkie: The main significance of Carmen Sandiego is that it's an 'edutainment' game that's actually fun. The number of games that fit this description, I could count on one hand.

Mauricio: The one thing I remember about Out Of This World (and Flashback) was that they were some of the first games to use 3D polygonal cut scenes. I should go back and replay them to see if they were ahead of their time, or if they just got a lot of attention from their "superior" graphics -- I really don't remember.

Lewis: Star Control 2 was possibly one of the greatest CRPGs ever made, unfortunately exclusive to PC. Some fans did a remake called "The Urquan Masters" which you can download for free. Innovations included:
* Living world. Things would happen in real time, even if you were halfway across the galaxy at the time. In reality it was just a small number of scripted events, but the way it was presented it gave the illusion of an MMO-like world that was going on around you.
* Combat system was in real time, you can think of it as Spacewar with Cosmic Encounter-like special abilities for each alien race's ships.
* Contained a two-player game that was just the combat system. Most people played this with their friends and ignored the RPG element entirely :)
* No voice, but each alien race had its own custom font that effectively captured its personality.

Good question about whether students necessarily have to play some games, or just know of them. I'm tempted to say that one can't fully understand any game without having played it... or at least that for the purposes of games on this list, that should probably be the case.

ndef said...

Someone already mentioned Infocom text adventures - on that note, I'd also add at least one modern work of interactive fiction. Modern IF has taken great strides in dynamic and interactive storytelling, and is an important (if underappreciated) segment of cutting-edge game development, especially for anyone interested in narrative and story in games.

I'd recommend Photopia, The Baron, Galatea, Violet, or Floatpoint.

Anonymous said...

Populus, Lemmings, Portal, Space Invaders, Elite.

Some form of turn based tactical combat of which the Gollop brothers are past masters.

Some form of sports sim, perhaps contrasted with really early non-grpahical sports management such as Football Manager and maybe a future sport, like Speedball or Speedball 2.

An example of a Beat 'em Up: Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat/Tekken.

A tabletop wargame: Squad Leader; Star Fleet Battles; Warhammer/40K.

I vote one of the Half Life franchise for the solo FPS.


Anonymous said...

Ooh! Scrabble, Diplomacy and Cosmic Encounter.

Some species of family/parlour game: Monopoly; Trivial Pursuit; Madlibs; Boggle.


Anonymous said...

You've got me on a roll with this question :)

Sim City.

Programming game: Core Wars; also, there was a game where you had to iteratively design the AI of a tank, but I forget what it was called.

Maybe a flight/flight combat sim? Does that count as a game?


Anonymous said...

Oregon Trail for the edutainment genre.

I would add Goldeneye as an FPS, but really it's the difference between playing Counterstrike or some such onlnie, versus Goldeneye with three of your friends in a room.

Also missing is the sports simulation games, whether something out of the EA lineup (eg. Madden football) or the Euro Be-a-soccer-GM game.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Ian, given how many people play a non-electronic game once or even twice, or play a bit of a video game, and completely misconstrue the quality and other characteristics of the game, I don't use playing as a criterion for knowing "enough" about the game. I find that watching people play can tell me more than actually playing, when I play I get distracted by the necessities of competition (when it's a competitive game, of course). But it's very common for people (especially younger ones) to believe you can't understand a game until you play it (kind of like The Matrix, "you cannot truly know a man until you fight him" or something like that). I've just seen too many play and then clearly misunderstand.

Elliot said...

Half-Life or Half-Life 2 for how it popularized immersive, 100% player-controlled (i.e. cutscene-free) storytelling; and maybe even as a good example of a silent protagonist outside of an RPG or fantasy setting.

Metal Gear Solid for again a different approach to storytelling and characterization; for its part-stealth part-action gameplay; and especially for its fearlessness while breaking the 4th Wall in a very serious setting, without seeming ridiculous or tactless. (Actually, I think the entire MGS series would benefit any videogame designer.)

Katamari Damacy for being a modern, DVD-era game that is very simple and yet very successful (mechanically, financially, critically, popularly, you name it)

One 3D game in the Grand Theft Auto series for how it created (or at least modernized) the open-city sandbox game. Added points for teaching/discussing the history of GTA's influence on other games and what it means (I'm thinking about the flood of open-city crime game knockoffs, why they failed, and why it's a much less popular design model than a few years ago)

One game with heavy community-supported modding. The focus is much less on the game's inherent genre or structure, but rather how the game has been designed in a way that allows fans to continuously make new and fun additions to a "complete" product. Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights, Civilization IV, and probably many online FPSs are some examples.

And that's just a few! I can think of many more unique or worthwhile games with a little time. Whew.