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May 31, 2005

Discussion: Classics You Love and Classics You... Appreciate

Metropolis The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Watching them, I felt that Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are two films that film buffs really should see, but in this case, my reactions were totally different. With the former, I found a lot to like; I was entranced by the spectacle, I was caught up in the story, I found myself really following what was going on in the emotions that the actors portrayed physically and with their expressions. With Caligari, however, I found myself cut off a bit -- partly because of some of the film-making techniques (especially the close-ups that illuminate only a circle in the center of the screen, Victorian portrait style), partially because of the pacing (which has the glacial pace also found in Lang's M), but largely because the characters seem mere caricatures¹ not enough to carry a whole film but only a short story. That said, the scenery is excellent, the set design is really wild and great and helped to set the tone in an incredible way.

While I was watching each of these, I was trying to think of games that I would recommend people play either to appreciate or to still enjoy. Having recently replayed through most of The Fool's Errand, I can agree with Tea Leaves' assessment -- this is a game that you can still really enjoy, that can still really grab you. That is, if you enjoy puzzles. I feel this way a bit about many of the old LucasArts' titles as well -- I think it's important for developers today to understand that part of our history, and with those games in particular it's not just eating your vegetables. In a lot of cases, the humor still holds up, even though the gameplay seems thin by today's standards.

One of the games that I think is hard to do more than simply appreciate in this day and age is actually Resident Evil, which I played in remake form on the Gamecube. Knowing as a I do how much people appreciate save anywhere these days, I nonetheless think it's worthwhile to know what you sacrifice when players can save anywhere -- and not only does RE have checkpoint saves, but it has resource-based checkpoint saves, meaning you can't even save at checkpoints as often as you'd like. What gives the game its sense of terror, though, is exactly created by lengthy play sessions, which is reinforced by the lack of the ability to save frequently. Playing the game, I set aside time to really experience it, and thus really enjoyed it, but I would have a hard time recommending that to people. It's an enjoyable experience, if you can spare the time; it's something you can appreciate as a game designer if you can put in that time.

After watching Metropolis and thinking a little bit about the games that are still lovable and those that are to be appreciated, I was reminded of a pair of EGM articles in which they focus-tested classics like the original Zelda or Pac-Man. Really funny reading; but they've clearly taken kids with a lot of exposure to games already².

So, what are the games out there you'd have a hard time recommending, except to gain an appreciation? MAME stuff? Maybe one of the games I've mentioned here? Let's hear 'em.

¹As I write that last bit, I realize that they should be caricatures, given the end of the film. Hrm. Maybe I'm judging it too harshly, but while watching it, I just didn't feel engaged. It actually feels like a much better film now that I reflect upon it, but I couldn't get that while I was actually in the midst of it.
²I sometimes wonder whether my own kids are missing out on something coming to gaming in our era of beautiful graphics. I started out with text adventures played over a 200 baud connection -- the modem was two foam cups into which the phone fitted. It unlocked my imagination and arguably made me a game developer. But all this is a subject for another post.

Posted by Brett Douville at May 31, 2005 10:29 PM


The thing that killed RE for me is the character relative controls. And the poor localization...but maybe they fixed that in the Gamecube remake.

2D Metroids - I recognize their historical significance, and I want to like them, but I just don't.

And I seem to have problem with space games. You own your own spaceship, you visit strange new worlds, sounds like fun. Sun Dog. Elite. Star Control 2. And yet none of these games work for me. Possibly a detail problem. As game space grows bigger, you lose detail and the only way to solve it is to cut way back on detail or engage in massive repetition. (Maybe Spore will solve this with creator built content. Or maybe all that creator built content will start to feel the same after a few hours.)

Posted by: Jamie at June 1, 2005 10:36 AM

It's true, the default control set totally sucks. However, I had a lot of good luck (thanks, Longo) with switching to one of the alternate configurations, which had a push-button walk and then left-and-right on the stick were character-relative turns. I guess I've played enough snake and Tron 2.0 to be able to work with that.

The localization... well, sorry. There are just as many dumb mistakes in the localization. That said, I completely didn't care. There just wasn't enough text for it to matter to me. There were a few humdingers that I laughed over with Nathan, but I soon got so caught up in the suspense that they completely faded away. Of course, it may have been better, but somehow I doubt it.

Yeah, I've never been huge into the 4X games, at least the space ones. There were friends at LEC who played a lot of what I think was called Empire (competitive turn-based 4X game). In some ways, the Civ games are fundamentally similar, and I thoroughly enjoy those.

Civ generally provides good management of lower-level systems, so that you can just let your advisors run a fair amount of stuff if you'd like. You can get into it with as much detail as you'd like. I don't know that the space games do this nearly as well, though it's been so long since I've played one that I could be totally off base on that.

Finally, with Spore, it seems like he's gone a different way entirely. You evolve through layers of gameplay, and you no longer have to micromanage the earlier layers -- they aren't even part of the game any more. (This is, of course, all supposition based on what I've read and seen on the net.)

It seems like what Wright is doing is to try and avoid the incredible costs of development and leverage his large fanbase to generate interesting stuff. That said, I think that once I get to the interplanetary stuff, I'll probably prefer to start over -- I like the idea of evolving ecosystems and trying to understand the rules that are going on there, and I'm less interested at the moment in the contact with other players' species, except to see what weird stuff others have come up with.

Posted by: Brett Douville at June 1, 2005 10:02 PM