Spring Reading List 1

I asked the Ontological Geek staff to put togeth­er three games each as sort of a “required read­ing list.”  We split the list into three cat­e­gories:

The Bunker Game: The one game you would have to have in your post-apocalyptic fall­out bunker, the one game you could play between fight­ing off irra­di­at­ed hell-scorpions and scroung­ing for water.

The Classroom Game: A game which stands a decent chance at being the best, most won­der­ful game you’ve ever played — some­thing you’d pick for a class­room to show that Games are Neat.

The Current Game: This is the game you can’t get out of your head right now — a game you are play­ing a lit­tle too much of right now.

Here, in no par­tic­u­lar order, are our answers!

Aaron Gotzon

Bunker Game: Tetris

If I were strand­ed on Ancient Desert Pygmy Zombie Raging Dawn of the Monstery Post-Apocalyptic Island and could only man­age to take one videogame along with me, I could imag­ine no bet­ter dis­trac­tion from my days of double-tapping sci-fi clichés and mind­ing my step for all the unmend­ed plot holes than everyone’s favorite Soviet rem­e­dy for dystopia’s atten­dant men­tal dis­or­ders.  Besides, zom­bies are scared to double-plus un-undeath of com­mu­nism.

Now, grant­ed, Tetris is no paragon (don’t slap me) of immer­sive sto­ry­telling like Mass Effect, and I believe that any attempt to form a sen­si­ble back­sto­ry for its game­world would land you with some­thing even more dis­turb­ing than Fallout (top score, top score never changes).  Nevertheless, Tetris has been my go-to time­waster since I dis­cov­ered it buried in an old 386’s arche­o­log­i­cal dig of a hard drive.  During my ado­les­cent years, when I need­ed to wind down after a long day of star­ing at my crotch and scream­ing, I’d hone my line-busting, long-skinny-piece-craving skills while lis­ten­ing to the radio or some­times hold­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a near­by friend.  Over time, I became quite adept, not only at Tetris, but at doing other things while at the same time play­ing Tetris (an approach to pro­duc­tiv­i­ty I’ve dubbed multitetrising, because I’m clev).

Classroom Game: Chrono Trigger

  • A cre­ative, quirky, science-fiction tale set in an off­beat imag­in­ing of an alter­nate uni­verse which doesn’t take itself too seri­ous­ly, even as the stakes of the plot are dri­ven dread­ful­ly high.
  • Features a lov­able, unlike­ly ensem­ble, com­plete with cleverly-written, some­times silly, often adorable dia­logue.
  • A run­away hit by an all-star devel­op­ment team, pro­duced by a major com­pa­ny in devi­a­tion from their stan­dard for­mu­la, which was given a con­tro­ver­sial sequel and then large­ly ignored there­after, even as the fan­base con­tin­ues to grow and request future install­ments.

It’s offi­cial: Chrono Trigger is the Firefly of gam­ing, and frankly, it’s no won­der it still man­ages to excite peo­ple nine­teen years after its release.  Chrono Trigger is the type of game that sticks in your skull – with the kooky, fre­quent­ly off-modeling pre­sen­ta­tion of a Saturday morn­ing car­toon, and a story blend­ing the sage­ly philo­soph­i­cal mean­der­ing of Eastern folk­lore with the stark con­se­quen­tial­ism of an Asimov short story, Trigger packs in plen­ty of that “ten­sion” stuff we’ve geeked off about before.

I find myself return­ing for a playthrough every cou­ple years or so, and there’s a lot of stuff to redis­cov­er each time: decision-making and mul­ti­ple end­ings before they became after­noon milk and cookie-cutters, a twisty-turny cen­tral story arc that gets you think­ing with­out induc­ing a cere­bral hem­or­rhage (the lone sequel, Chrono Cross, is infa­mous for its impossible-to-follow through­line), and a core time-travel mechan­ic done right.  When the plot fails to com­pel, there’s always some decid­ed­ly whack-a-doo thing hap­pen­ing just out of the spot­light: zany facial expres­sions, a pletho­ra of lit­er­ary ana­logues and ref­er­ences to find, end­less sight gags involv­ing cats, and peo­ple get­ting drunk off of soda pop (Thanks, Ted Woolsey!).

It’s just fun.  So go check out my all-time favorite gameTime is on your side.

Current Game: League of Legends

Developer Riot Games claims that LoL (They did that on pur­pose.  Ugh.) is the most pop­u­lar videogame in the world right now, and if that’s a PR exag­ger­a­tion, it ain’t much of one.  League is the cur­rent flag­ship title of the teething “mul­ti­play­er online bat­tle arena” genre, which under­went a rather unlike­ly evo­lu­tion from a WarCraft III map (In case you didn’t know that, hi, wel­come to the Internet!).  It’s deep, strate­gi­cal­ly heavy, fast-paced, flashy, and for the cost-conscious gamers among us: free.  You can climb the com­pet­i­tive ranks a lit­tle bit faster with a well-placed cou­ple of bucks, but extra flashy col­ors con­sti­tute the only in-game con­tent hid­den behind a per­ma­nent pay­wall.

Phenomenon though it may be, I must con­fess mild annoy­ance with the League: first, there are only four maps on which to play, and fresh envi­ron­ments are rolled out ever so slow­ly, large­ly because the nature of the MOBA beast demands end­less hours of metic­u­lous, touchy number-tweaking in order to cre­ate bal­anced new play­spaces.  Secondly, a steep learn­ing curve com­bined with one of the most noto­ri­ous­ly pissy online com­mu­ni­ties can lead to some unsa­vory first bites.  Fortunately, Riot man­ages to keep things fresh by con­stant­ly patch­ing, tweak­ing, and intro­duc­ing new char­ac­ters (so many char­ac­ters!).  They’ve also taken an inno­v­a­tive Wikipedia-like approach to emer­gent online jus­tice, and put the play­ers to work smit­ing trolls and reward­ing one anoth­er with achieve­ments for pro-social behav­ior.  Still, that’s cold com­fort con­sid­er­ing they felt the need to recruit a psy­chol­o­gist and a neu­ro­sci­en­tist to serve on the board of a per­ma­nent Anti-Dumbass Patrol.

Still, such quib­bles haven’t been enough to keep me from drain­ing life force and sum­mon­ing storms of dread crows all over the Crystal Scar.  My user­name on there is “feezus,” if you’d care to join in some­time.  I, for one, promise to play nice.

Hannah DuVoix

Bunker Game: Ninja Gaiden Black

I’m tak­ing a stand for Ninja Gaiden Black, because nobody else will. I will not for a moment lie to you, inter­net. Ninja Gaiden for the XBOX is hard. The game is bru­tal. The game will make you cry. But at the same time, it can make you feel like a badass, not because you final­ly unlocked the level that made you stop suck­ing, but because you final­ly can play the game well. Ninja Gaiden push­es you, demands the absolute best of you, or tells you to take that weak sauce some­where else. By the end, you are great at Ninja Gaiden. And in the dis­tance, the drums of the chal­lenge modes begin to rum­ble.

Ninja Gaiden Black includes a mul­ti­tude of new chal­lenges, weapons, and con­tin­ued oppor­tu­ni­ties for you to use your Ninja Gaiden skills, which run the risk of atro­phy­ing with the job mar­ket the way it is. The chal­lenge is steep, the game unfor­giv­ing and at times delib­er­ate­ly try­ing to reduce you to tears, but in the end, nin­jit­su, like per­se­ver­ance, is its own reward.

Classroom Game: Hitman: Blood Money

The Hitman series has always made a sin­gu­lar bold promise: mul­ti­ple, inven­tive ways to mur­der peo­ple. This promise would nat­u­ral­ly lend itself to the sand­box genre, but while pre­vi­ous titles had flirt­ed with sandbox-iness, Blood Money was the first to take the premise home for some hot, steamy, mur­der simulator-on-sandbox action.

Hitman: Blood Money is like Minecraft, with corpses instead of blocks. The level of inven­tive­ness the game facil­i­tates can be pret­ty astound­ing, and the poten­tial for cre­ative ways to kill peo­ple is con­sid­er­able.  At high­er lev­els of play, exper­i­men­ta­tion is not only encour­aged, but essen­tial, and the cre­ative poten­tial stored with­in the game can leave the play­er feel­ing like a true pro­fes­sion­al.

Current Game: Fallout: New Vegas

I had a pro­fes­sor in high school who remarked offhand­ed­ly that he is more or less in con­stant dia­log with some philoso­pher whose name escapes me at the moment (in my defense, the remark was made seven or eight years ago). New Vegas is that kind of game for me. I might go so far as to name it the most impor­tant game I’ve ever played, but I value the chance to future-proof myself against the poten­tial next New Vegas. I have sung the prais­es of New Vegas before, as a tour de force of gam­ing lit­er­a­ture, so I won’t bela­bor the point much. The game is amaz­ing. And that, dear read­ers, never changes.

Tom Dawson

Bunker Game: The Godfather

I love this game. That isn’t a phrase I use all too often. “This game is awe­some”, sure, or “I’m enjoy­ing the tits off this one. Like, right off of it,” but very rarely is a game so damn good I fall head over heels. In 2006 EA released The Godfather, a com­pan­ion piece to the movie in which the play­er acts as Aldo Trappani, a behind-the-scenes Forrest Gump always pop­ping up at impor­tant moments — we accom­pa­ny Luca Brasi to his final meet­ing, then have to fight our way out once his aquat­ic rest­ing place has been arranged. We sneak into Woltz’s house to behead Khartoum. We carry out assas­si­na­tions while Michael is at the chris­ten­ing, and so on — but never show­ing up in the movie itself. In prac­tice the game is a GTA-like, a sprawl­ing open-world adven­ture replete with shootouts and car chas­es, side-missions and dis­trac­tions, but it’s one of the finest exam­ples of the genre. Vice City aside, The Godfather is actu­al­ly supe­ri­or to any­thing else in the GTA. Played prop­er­ly the game clocks in some­where close to 40 hours for the main sto­ry­line, though the Xbox ver­sion includes mul­ti­ple addi­tion­al chal­lenge modes. I’ve played it through at least four times.

Everything about the game is great. Dressing like a 40’s gang­ster, grad­u­al­ly steal­ing ter­ri­to­ry from the other Families by extort­ing shop­keep­ers and rack­et run­ners, fran­tic car chas­es and Mob Wars that only end up in death or bomb­ing cam­paigns. Did I men­tion that you can rob banks? Because I fuck­ing love rob­bing banks.  Presented with a whole world that expects me to dress like a pimp and carry a spruced-up shot­gun, I can lose myself for days at a time. It may not be artsy or ask any deep and mean­ing­ful ques­tions about the state of the soul (other than ‘who wants to see me set this guy on fire and throw him out of a win­dow?’), but The Godfather is more fun than a sev­er­al bar­rels of greased-up mon­keys. Restricted to only play­ing one video game again in my life, there’s no choice at all.

Classroom Game: Portal & Portal 2

I’m cheat­ing a lit­tle on this entry by count­ing two games as my clas­sic, but come on; Portal is only lit­tle. It needs a friend along for moral sup­port, and the way the two titles work togeth­er make them seem more like a sin­gle expe­ri­ence than two sep­a­rate titles. The sequel man­ages to recap­ture the atmos­phere of the orig­i­nal per­fect­ly, yet still include a vari­ety of new fea­tures and an expand­ed nar­ra­tive with­out any sen­sa­tion that one aspect has been tacked-on unnec­es­sar­i­ly. It’s always seemed odd to me that when the topic of games as art rears its head, sup­port­ers will invari­ably ref­er­ence titles like Braid or Journey as exam­ples of gam­ing tran­scend­ing the gen­er­al per­cep­tions of ‘shoot all the dudes’, and poor old Portal doesn’t get a men­tion despite the title’s over­whelm­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty. Perhaps every­one is just real­ly, real­ly tired of the cake meme.

Portal has inter­est­ing, amus­ing, mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. It has game­play which requires thought rather than mere per­sis­tence. The play­er is most­ly trapped with­in a tiny, self-contained world and starved of infor­ma­tion not per­tain­ing to the spe­cif­ic task at hand yet through the envi­ron­ment we are still able to piece togeth­er frag­ments of the wider uni­verse and the his­to­ry of Chell’s cap­tors. Even Cave Johnson’s lunatic rants, aside from being pants-wettingly hilar­i­ous, offer glimpses into the down­fall of the out­side world in amongst the cit­rus based threats. Unlike many of those fre­quent­ly tout­ed as tri­umphant exam­ples, the Portal games do not fea­ture the usual hall­marks and clues to broad­cast that yes, this game is art and you should appre­ci­ate it as such. No soft and ethe­re­al music, a dis­tinct lack of mean­ing­ful quo­ta­tions pre­sent­ed in bold white font against a black back­drop, total avoid­ance of weighty guilt in the back­sto­ry of an oth­er­wise cheer­ful char­ac­ter or deep emo­tion­al rev­e­la­tions about the play­ers them­selves. Characters change and grow and learn, some truly bleak moments are jux­ta­posed with moments of hilar­i­ty, and every play­er comes away with a smile on their face. The gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty doesn’t seem to speak of the Portal series as works of art in their own right, but we ought to.

Current Game: Gyromancer

2009’s Gyromancer is, to put it mild­ly, bloody strange. Building off the back of the Puzzle Quest series, Gyromancer is a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort from the unlike­ly bed­fel­lows of Square-Enix and PopCap, weav­ing tra­di­tion­al JRPG ele­ments like crap sto­ry­telling, level grind­ing and Pokemon-style mon­ster col­lec­tion around a turn-based puz­zle bat­tle sys­tem which makes absolute­ly no attempt to hide the fact that it’s Bejewelled Twist wear­ing a more con­fronta­tion­al hat. The game is extreme­ly min­i­mal­ist, with the non-combat sec­tions being a series of short maze-like lev­els through which a small model of our hero moves as if he were ani­mat­ed in the early days of South Park, con­tain­ing lit­tle more than three tiers of mon­ster (basic, inter­me­di­ate and boss) along­side chests which hide coins or items and new bat­tle mon­sters to col­lect. There real­ly isn’t a whole lot hap­pen­ing on the visu­al side – even dur­ing com­bat the mon­sters remain sta­t­ic, the only move­ment being the shift­ing of gems on the board and occa­sion­al­ly a creature’s “attack” rep­re­sent­ed by a beam of coloured light.

Despite or per­haps because of this scaled-back pre­sen­ta­tion, the game is huge­ly enjoy­able. The lack of com­bat ani­ma­tions leaves the play­er free to focus on the gems undis­tract­ed, and the small lin­ear nature of the maps make col­lect­ing all the secrets and mon­sters straight­for­ward. The sto­ry­line is endear­ing­ly rub­bish, as hero­ic mage Rivel Arday search­es a haunt­ed for­est for rebels and the lost prince of the realm – the ridicu­lous names, char­ac­ter designs and dia­logue will have vet­er­an JRPG play­ers smil­ing fond­ly – but is eas­i­ly ignored, being noth­ing more than a bare-bones attempt to pad out the brief peri­ods in which giant mon­sters aren’t chuck­ing lasers at one anoth­er. While the bat­tle sys­tem is easy to pick up at first, this sim­plic­i­ty gives way to greater lev­els of depth as the game con­tin­ues: cer­tain mon­sters have an affin­i­ty to cer­tain gem colours open­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of stimy­ing the oppo­nent by turn­ing their own affin­i­ty against them, so-called “idle twists” can be dis­as­trous in the lat­ter stages as the AI-controlled crea­tures become more dead­ly, and a vari­ety of spe­cial gem types such as stones or movement-locked gems will often require fran­tic strat­e­gy to over­come. In the grand old tra­di­tion of PopCap the game is only slight­ly less addic­tive than crack, and will keep play­ers hang­ing on for one more bat­tle long after they should have gone to bed. It cer­tain­ly isn’t the pret­ti­est game, and it isn’t going to win any screen­writ­ing awards, but I’ve been unable to stop myself from turn­ing back to re-play com­plet­ed lev­els and pick up every lit­tle thing.

Ben Milton

Bunker Game: Go

It’s been said that every­one should read the novel Don Quixote three times: in youth, adult­hood, and old age. It grows as the read­er grows, unfold­ing in rich­ness, sub­tle­ty, humor, and sub­lim­i­ty. It’s the sort of work that seems to encom­pass the whole of human expe­ri­ence, pro­vid­ing a bot­tom­less well to draw from. Are there any videogames that can say the same? I haven’t played any. Presuming I had anoth­er play­er to play with, I would prob­a­bly bring the boardgame Go.

Classroom Game: Dear Esther

The game that recent­ly stunned me, knocked me off my chair and got me think­ing about what games could be was Dear Esther. Dear Esther near­ly dis­re­gard­ed play­er agency alto­geth­er, but in doing so empha­sized a new kind of play­er expe­ri­ence, in which play­ers were guid­ed along an infi­nite loop, rem­i­nis­cent of Finnegan’s Wake, and prompt­ed to inte­ri­or, rather than exte­ri­or activ­i­ty.

The core of the game, rather than revolv­ing around play­er choice, con­sist­ed of play­ers com­ing to terms with the actions that they were entreat­ed to repeat over and over, as the game called them to “Come back” to the begin­ning. This recur­sion or cir­cu­lar­i­ty at the heart of Dear Esther is incred­i­ble fod­der for inter­pre­ta­tion. Personally, I can’t help but see the game as a phys­i­cal reen­act­ment of the Christ’s pas­sion, dark night, aban­don­ment and death, made man­i­fest in the cycli­cal suf­fer­ing of every indi­vid­ual life. The game man­ages to use the player’s per­for­mance to sym­bol­i­cal­ly merge the suf­fer­ing of each spe­cif­ic per­son to the cos­mic, uni­ver­sal suf­fer­ing of God made Man. In doing so, Dear Esther offers a remote but tan­gi­ble pre­mo­ni­tion of hope, with­out preach­ing or pon­tif­i­cat­ing. Never has gam­ing been so bold.

Current Game: Dishonored

At the moment, I’m in the mid­dle of Dishonored, and as a sneaky bas­tard of a play­er, I’m cer­tain­ly enjoy­ing it. Oddly enough, though, what I’m most impressed by is the world design, and the creator’s com­mit­ment to a uni­verse that feels tan­gi­ble, plau­si­ble, immer­sive, and orig­i­nal. It’s a rare thing when one could imme­di­ate­ly imag­ine a novel set with­in a game’s uni­verse.

My com­plaint with the game, weird­ly enough, is that it doesn’t seem to encour­age truly diverse playstyles with­in a sin­gle playthough. I haven’t fin­ished it yet, but I’m tak­ing the game at its word when it says that a more vio­lent playthrough will result in a dark­er end­ing. Since I usu­al­ly try for the “good” end­ings first, and I enjoy the sneak­ing, I’m attempt­ing a most­ly blood­less run. I’ve been find­ing that this is pret­ty bor­ing. Why doesn’t the game pro­mote three play styles: killing machine, silent assas­sin, and ghost, so that peo­ple who like to sneak while they kill can get their kicks?

Matt Schanuel

Bunker Game: Mass Effect 3

I’ve writ­ten about my rela­tion­ship with Mass Effect before. If I can’t take the entire series with me into my bunker, then the third is it. The series speaks to my won­der­ing and wan­der­ing self like no other has; if noth­ing else, I’d take it just to lis­ten to “Uncharted Worlds” on loop. That song is a gate­way to explo­ration for me – it makes me instant­ly curi­ous. It makes me want to be in space. It’s my favorite music in any video game, ever.

Mass Effect 3, as the finale to my favorite gam­ing tril­o­gy, was huge for me. It offered a reward­ing jour­ney along­side some of my best dig­i­tal friends. It felt like good sci-fi, address­ing issues of iden­ti­ty, race, and war via a rich vision of a com­pelling future. It pre­sent­ed ques­tions, but was­n’t afraid to with­hold answers, point­ing instead beyond its own scope. It suc­cess­ful­ly con­clud­ed an epic.

Mass Effect 3 also marks the first mul­ti­play­er expe­ri­ence I’ve got­ten real­ly involved with. I still don’t track patch notes, but I have strong opin­ions on the best way to play cer­tain char­ac­ters. It suc­cess­ful­ly mixes a fun, and eas­i­ly reset­table, class sys­tem, incred­i­ble weapon diver­si­ty, and breath­less survival-focused coop­er­a­tive game­play. It is, in short, per­fect for me, and I’m not con­vinced I’ll ever get tired of it.

Classroom Game: Journey

Journey is, above all else, ele­gant. What it offers is min­i­mal in tra­di­tion­al fea­tures, but deep­er in expe­ri­ence. One of Journey’s great­est accom­plish­ments is in real­iz­ing a dig­i­tal land­scape rich enough for reflec­tion. My rela­tion­ship with the spaces of Journey is alive; its deserts, caves and moun­tains are incred­i­bly real­ized, and they have a verisimil­i­tude that comes par­tial­ly from their vivid pres­ence, but also from the absence of explic­it goals and other “dis­trac­tions.” It becomes a med­i­ta­tive expe­ri­ence, then, that gives the play­er time to look inward. It is also a game in which explo­ration and sim­ple dis­cov­ery is the most com­pelling rea­son for play­ing.

Of course, Journey also leads me into com­pelling rela­tion­ships with strangers. Again, min­i­mal­ism serves the game, turn­ing the often-sour expe­ri­ence of inter­act­ing with a stranger over the Internet into an inef­fa­ble one. It allows the play­er to expe­ri­ence anoth­er play­er as an other being; it min­i­mizes the dif­fer­ence, and, I’ve found, opens the way for a sur­pris­ing sense of com­pan­ion­ship, even com­pas­sion. I’ve cared for my journey(wo)men more in Journey than I’ve ever mus­tered for a stranger in anoth­er game expe­ri­ence, and that’s incred­i­ble.

Current Game: Dark Souls

I’ve writ­ten about Dark Souls as well, but that arti­cle came at the begin­ning of my time with the game. Now that I’ve fin­ished it, I find myself with dozens of things to say about it; I’m try­ing to col­lect them all into a long-form project loose­ly strung about Campbell’s mono-myth, so that’s one rea­son why I con­tin­ue to return to the world.

But that’s hard­ly the only rea­son why. I think that Dark Souls is one of the most impor­tant games I’ve ever played for many, many rea­sons. I think it works very well as a myth. I think it recon­nects to a time in my child­hood when I did­n’t know how to play video games, before I was con­ver­sant in the lan­guage of gam­ing; Lordran requires a whole other level of accli­ma­tion, which is some­thing I haven’t had to do with a game in ages. I think that the fact that I just referred to the con­ti­nent that I inhab­it in Dark Souls as an actu­al place is telling. It says that I care about the world and it’s lore, which is a feat for any game, and it did so by mak­ing me own my dis­cov­er­ies and rev­e­la­tions. It says that it works extreme­ly well as a loca­tion. I have drawn maps of the dun­geons and asy­lums in Dark Souls – for my project, yes, but also for Dungeons and Dragons ses­sions, and because it’s fun.

Basically, I don’t think I’ve ever played anoth­er game that actu­al­ly made me love anoth­er cos­mol­o­gy and land before. But I’m very much in love with Lordran, and I rel­ish my time there.

Jim Ralph

Bunker Game: Discworld MUD

The Discworld MUD is a text-based online mul­ti­play­er game based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld nov­els. I’ve been play­ing Discworld pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly since 2004, with a char­ac­ter that has racked up about 150 days of age. Despite that, I remain very much in the lower-middle range of skills and have plen­ty of grow­ing to do.  I cer­tain­ly won’t be run­ning out of things to do while trapped in this post-apocalyptic bunker. I’m already involved in guild pol­i­tics and am edi­tor of one of the two in-game news­pa­pers, but there’s poten­tial to get into inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics as a Magistrate, run a shop, own a home, not to men­tion devel­op­ing my char­ac­ter or per­haps start­ing up a new one. If all else fails there are mil­lions of rooms to explore.

What real­ly sways it for me is that Discworld is huge­ly social. Being stuck in my sad lit­tle bunker will at least be alle­vi­at­ed by hap­pi­ly chat­ting away to the witty, strange, arro­gant and hilar­i­ous folk who make up its small but per­fect­ly formed com­mu­ni­ty. Long as the Internet con­nec­tion holds, out any­way…

Classroom Game: Metal Gear Solid

MGS changed games, MGS changed me. I’ll never for­get the ris­ing excite­ment with which I read pre­views, the demo that got me twitch­ing like an addict who needs a fix, build­ing to the explo­sion of joy I felt when the game was final­ly released. For me, MGS was the first game whose sto­ry­line, game­play and details all aligned into a sin­gu­lar, round­ed play­ing expe­ri­ence. Previously games seemed to have sketched out plots intend­ed to give a rea­son for game­play, or patchy game­play built as an excuse to tell a story through a game. MGS was one of those glo­ri­ous moments when every­thing comes togeth­er per­fect­ly.

It wasn’t per­fect, of course. But look­ing back on some of the great moments, the game’s open­ing sequence, the boss fights (spe­cial men­tion to Revolver Ocelot and Grey Fox), abseil­ing down the tower under heli­copter fire, the tor­ture scene, the final fist­fight with Liquid Snake atop a burn­ing Metal Gear, and many in between, I’m left breath­less. More than any other game before or since, MGS exud­ed excite­ment. It may not be the most arty of games, but it’s eas­i­ly the most cool.

Current Game: Far Cry 3

I’m play­ing through Far Cry 3 right now, and ought to be far enough in to have plen­ty to say, but to be quite hon­est I’m strug­gling to have much in the way of an opin­ion. It’s enjoy­able enough to play, I haven’t switched it off in frus­tra­tion as I did Far Cry 2, and it fea­tures the odd moments of breath-taking beau­ty, vio­lent hilar­i­ty and ner­vous ten­sion that make it very worth­while. What I sense myself doing while I play, though, is switch­ing off. This is clear­ly a game that’s meant to have a shock­ing and chal­leng­ing mes­sage, but I find myself play­ing some­what brain­less­ly. Switch on, relax, come to a few mis­sions later and have some din­ner. That’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a crit­i­cism — we all need some­thing a lit­tle light now and then.  But once I put Far Cry 3 down, I don’t see myself ever think­ing of it again.

Bill Coberly

Bunker Game: Twine

I’m going to cheat — Twine isn’t tech­ni­cal­ly a game so much as a mech­a­nism with which you can build games, a free and sim­ple pro­gram for the cre­ation of hyper­text fic­tion.  I’ve writ­ten a (very silly) game and a review in Twine, and have played sev­er­al games by other peo­ple, and am floored by the amount of poten­tial in it.  I’ve played very per­son­al games about try­ing to under­stand one’s sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, ridicu­lous games about flee­ing from BDSM can­ni­bals, and, best of all, howl­ing dogs.  If I can only take one thing with me into the bunker, a tool which allows me to cre­ate that sort of neat stuff is a pret­ty good choice.

Classroom Game: Planescape: Torment

First, the bad: Torment is clunky, even by Infinity Engine stan­dards.  The com­bat, while often option­al, is shal­low and repet­i­tive.  The Infinity Engine’s strict con­ver­sion of 2nd edi­tion AD&D was always kind of bizarre, but it real­ly isn’t great for Torment.  Sometimes, Torment feels more like a Baldur’s Gate mod than its own game.  When peo­ple tell me they can’t get into Torment, I under­stand whole­heart­ed­ly.

But none of that mat­ters, because Torment fea­tures some of the most inter­est­ing nar­ra­tives, char­ac­ters and ideas you’ll find in videogames and fantasy/science fic­tion lit­er­a­ture as a whole.  Awaking on a slab in the mor­tu­ary, cov­ered in scars, with­out a name or any mem­o­ries, you have to find out who you are, what’s chas­ing you, and why, exact­ly, you can’t seem to die.  All the while search­ing for an answer to the ques­tion: “What can change the nature of a man?”

I could gush for hours about Torment, so I’ll just rat­tle off a few of my favorite parts: Fall-From-Grace, the chaste suc­cubus who runs the Brothel for Slaking Intellectual Lusts; telling enough peo­ple that your name is Adahn that a per­son by that name actu­al­ly springs into exis­tence; every time you real­ize that some stranger actu­al­ly knows you very well, you just don’t remem­ber him; the truth behind Dak’kon’s holy Circle; Mark Morgan’s won­der­ful score; Morte, the talk­ing skull who is not half the comic relief he seems.  Torment is usu­al­ly super cheap on GOG or Steam — if you haven’t played it, I high­ly rec­om­mend it.  It (along with Final Fantasy Tactics and, of course, Baldur’s Gate) is one of the games that taught me that videogames could Mean Things.

Current Game: Civilization V

Civilization V is a deep, deep hole, and I am down in the bot­tom of it.  I spent last night as Haile Selassie, repelling Persian and Siamese invaders from my Ethiopian bor­ders, while also cul­ti­vat­ing rela­tion­ships with numer­ous city-states to gain their diplo­mat­ic favor.  I was beat­en by the Arabian Empire under the lead­er­ship of Harun al-Rashid, who con­struct­ed his space­ship eight turns before I would almost cer­tain­ly have won a diplo­mat­ic vic­to­ry after con­struct­ing the United Nations and win­ning a vote.  I lost after approx­i­mate­ly six hours of play, but don’t think of the time as wast­ed.  That should be a ring­ing enough endorse­ment there, I think.

Civ is a phe­nom­e­nal strat­e­gy game, and it also gives rise to sen­tences like “Montezuma has con­struct­ed the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Munich.”  It appeals to my desire for unusu­al jux­ta­po­si­tions — it’s like play­ing mashup fan­f­ic with the entire­ty of human his­to­ry.  I never real­ly stopped play­ing Civ IV, and now that I have V, well, I have to set timers to remem­ber to eat.

Incidentally, the Ontological Geek is play­ing a game of Civ V this Saturday, 2/2/13, if you’d care to join us.  Details are here.

One thought on “Spring Reading List

  • Jeremiah

    Chrono Trigger is the Firefly of gam­ing”

    I may have just found a new favorite quite

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