5. Half Life 2 (PC).
The Source Engine drew me to this game first. Like many other gamers I salivated over the physically deformable crates, the gravity gun action, the explanation of linking the physics, shader materials, and vox all together into creating a special material class that 3D objects could now possess. Okay, maybe I was the only one that salivated over the last one. I was even willing to get a new graphics card just for this game. The other big draw for this game was the storytelling. I never played Half-Life 1, but that’s because I never had a powerful enough computer to run it, but I had seen and even “played through” the Black Mesa monorail intro a couple of times to know that what I was getting in for would be epic. I like how Valve handled storytelling in HL2. You’re the main character of the movie, the characters talk to you, there are no cutscenes, you’re in the center of the action, and if you didn’t witness something happening nearby, then tough shit. Hearing that Valve had to delay Half-Life 2 because some moron thought the best way to expedite Valve releasing the game was to hack their server and steal the code to prove once and for all that Valve wasn’t finished and holding out, was heart breaking. The game itself was a slight let down in that the environments weren’t fully destructible and the AI acted like idiots always standing in your way. I suppose you could say they revered Gordon Freeman so much that they would be his meat shield. The shooting in the game was solid, and the super gravity gun, fun as hell. I wished you could play with it outside of the Citadel level. Half Life 2 Deathmatch was also a nice multiplayer addition â€“ being able to kill someone by throwing a toilet into their head. Priceless.
Aside from that, at USC, I worked very briefly for the Annenberg School of Communications whilst I was helping Jenova finish Cloud, and Annenberg wanted to use the Source Engine to make a mod of a World’s Fair set in Russia to showcase various elements of Russian history. There really wasn’t much of a game behind their idea, nor did they need to use the Source Engine to built it, but they did. I eventually had to relinquish the job because being dragged between school, Cloud, and Annenberg was stressful. I opted for the job where I wasn’t getting paid jack-shit: finishing Cloud development. Ultimately, that was the right choice, and I don’t regret that. As for the Annenberg project, well…I think it got somewhere but I never followed up on it.
4. Katamari Damashii/We Love Katamari (PS2).
Dad gets drunk. Dad busts up the cosmos. Now it’s up to you, the pint-sized Prince, to rebuild the stars out of garbage. Bing Gordon lovingly calls this the “Garbage Game.” It’s derogatory, but true; it is a game where you roll a ton of garbage into a ball and hurl in into space after all. What’s awesome about that: You can’t do that in real life. We just have to settle for global warming and dumping our shit in third world countries. Political views aside, it’s a unique, simple, wacky, and funny game. I first saw this game in blurry videos on Gamespy and knew right away that this was my new Tetris. I played the Japanese version because the Interactive Media department had a copy for their Japanese PS2. When it was announced for a US release, I was there. We even found a way to get the original soundtrack. I would play levels over and over just to perfect my strategy of rolling the largest katamaris in the least amount of time. I still think this game would make for interesting speed runs, and maybe there are but I’ve never looked for them. Video game hipsters like to think of this as an indie film in the gaming world. I also loved how people could never pronounce this game correctly. Bing Gordon tried on several occasions (when I met him at USC), and another guy I knew called this something along the lines of “Calamari Domicile.” Genius. The sequel is more of the same as far as I’m concerned. The story is absurd and awesome, and We Love Katamari has my favorite level: the one where you roll up everything in the world (the elephant one).
Oh yeah, the photograph above. It was taken at the Game Developer’s Conference 2005. I attended a talk on the making of Katamari Damashii and got to meet Keita Takahashi. That photograph was taken by Brandon Sheffield of Insert Credit, and Vince Diamante told me that it gained some Internet notoriety by being on Joystiq. Want to see more of Game Developer’s Conference 2005, because you’re so damn retro, here’s some photos on my Flickr account. Oh, something funny…if you do an image search on Google, you’ll see this picture right up there at the top. How fucking hilarious is that shit?
3. Dr. Mario (NES).
I’m like a robot at this game. When I first bought this game, I didn’t know how the hell to play it. I don’t even remember why I bought it, but after watching the computer demo how to properly play the game, I was hooked. I also had the Gameboy version to play against friends. Killing germs became my thing, and every time I hooked the NES back up, this was the first game to go in. The Dr. Mario cartridge didn’t always work though, and it required hours of blowing into the circuitry and even “defibbing” (i.e. banging the shit out of) my Nintendo to accept the game. Hours and hours of summertime fun. I always wanted the game for SNES because it was a graphical upgrade, but never bought it. Who needs good graphics when you have robot-zen inducing gameplay?
2. Tetris DS (NES, NDS).
It’s a toss up between Dr. Mario and Tetris. Really it is. I loved these games equally, but one must prevail, and in the end, I choose Tetris. Without Tetris, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into Dr. Mario. Tetris, as they say, is the gateway drug, and Nintendo makes the best Tetris games. Back in 1989, my family was going to relocate to Santa Barbara for a month, because my dad was jumpstarting a computer shop there. Of course, being nine, I had to bring my Nintendo. I wasn’t going to spend a month without it. It was packed and we lugged it with us to the airport and only there did I discover my grave mistake: I didn’t pack a single game. If not for that mistake, I wouldn’t have gotten Tetris. To make up for it, we went to a computer store and bought it as soon as we got to Santa Barbara, and it was on. I learned the ins-and-outs of Tetris, and later with my Gameboy and now my DS, I “pwnz0r” people left and right. I haven’t met someone who can match me yet, but I would love to play it against Utada Hikaru. How is she a cool pop star? Out of 30 Tetris battles, she kicked 26 people’s asses. When was the last time Britney Spears did that or anything intelligible other than show her crotch?
On another side note, over the weekend there was a documentary on Tetris, called Tetris: From Russia with Love on the Science Channel. It discussed Alexey Pajitnov’s creation of the masterpiece back in the good ole USSR, and then the various companies that were vying for the rights to it. It’s a fairly sordid history between Andromeda Software, Maxwell, and a guy named Henk Rogers who worked to secure the rights of Tetris for Nintendo. What’s interesting about how Nintendo got the rights is that the Russian computer government agency, ELORG, found a way to make Andromeda Software walk away from the table with only the PC rights by focusing the negotiations from rights to the game to the harsh penalties they owed the government for not upholding their side of the contract. Nintendo swept in and got both the handheld and console rights with Henk. How did Henk get the rights? He befriended Alexey, the chatted about game design, and Alexey felt that he was the better man to do business with. Nintendo was able to issue a cease-and-desist to Atari Tengen’s version making them the exclusive owners of Tetris for the NES and Gameboy. Talk about a coup d’etat. And yes, in all my geekiness, I found that quite riveting.
One more to go. It’ll come online tomorrow after the season finale of 24.