A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Discussion: When is a game completed?

A recent project of mine has been to list all of the games that I’ve played in my lifetime. No, not board games or card games, but computer and video games. When I started this project a few days ago, I began by listing the name of the game, the platform I played it on, and whether or not I finished the game or left it incomplete. Later I added the genre of the game in another column. Earlier today, I was asked if I had a count of how many of the games I had listed had actually been completed and also, what constituted a completed game? There are some games that just never have a solid ending (city-building games like SimCity or online games like World of Warcraft) and other games that have more fluid endings (like Civilization). When do I declare a game finished?

For the purposes of city-building games (SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, Afterlife, Caesar, etc.) I declare the game to be “finished” when I have finally hit upon a self-sufficient city design and I’m happy with it. In the first three SimCity games I managed to achieve that. Self-sufficient is defined for my purposes as, well, I could technically walk away from the keyboard for a few minutes and not worry that the city will blow up in my absence. It’s got a positive revenue, I’ve built up my planned design, and there’s not much more improving I can do… yeah.

For the purposes of games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion, and similar strategy games with no tangible storyline, they are “finished” when I have completed a beginning to end playthrough once. That’s all it takes. When it comes to these games though, sometimes it takes several days. It could also be on the easiest difficulty, like in my case, I happen to enjoy playing Civilization IV on the easiest setting, but occasionally I crank up the difficulty a step or two. I never leave a game like this alone after beating it once.

For the purposes of online games (Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, etc.) I say they are “finished” when I have taken at least one character to the maximum level available in the game. Therefore, Star Trek Online and Star Wars Galaxies are classified as finished whereas Dungeons & Dragons Online and World of Warcraft isn’t. Further, there’s nothing to say I can’t keep playing a game once I’ve classified it as “finished” on my list, it’s just a barometer for how far I’ve taken a particular game (especially MMOs). This is regardless of the storyline in the game.

Other games are definitely done if I feel I played the hell out of them like I did Super Smash Bros. Melee or Super Mario Kart. Or if I finished the storyline like in Final Fantasy VIII or IX (I remember finally finishing those in the same weekend after not playing them for 6-8 months or something like that… VIII on a Saturday and IX on a Sunday, bam, done). The Sims? Right, I labeled that one as finished because I got one Sim all the way up to the Chief of Police in my game once upon a time (way back in fall 2002) and since then that file has vanished into the ether between electrons. I do distinctly remember such a thing happening, which is why I classified it as “finished”.

Mind, this is my personal measurement of completion. I have a friend who believes that Diablo II: Lord of Destruction will not be truly beaten until he’s beaten it on the hardest difficulty setting. I called it a win when I got through Nightmare. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Now, a fair portion of my list is classified as incomplete. This could refer to any number of reasons:

1) I didn’t like the game after trying it

2) I didn’t own the game and played it at a friends house

3) I no longer own the game

4) I can’t remember ever finishing it

5) Any permutation of the above

Oh, also, I’ve played some games on multiple platforms. Chrono Trigger hasn’t changed much (if at all) from its SNES roots to the Playstation port to the current DS version, so I marked that I’d finished the game (which I have, several times over) but that the platform is DS. Maybe later I’ll expand the platform box to allow for all the versions I’ve played of a single game, but I’ve only marked it once. For the record, I haven’t beaten Chrono Trigger on the DS yet, but I beat the Playstation version and I beat the SNES version on ZSNES (emulation) several times.

For Lunar, I played and beat it on SEGA CD at a friend’s house a long time ago, I got it for the Playstation and beat it (and subsequently lost my copy or loaned it to someone), and according to my GameSpot listing I have a copy of Lunar Legend somewhere (which I recall beating, but I can’t find it anywhere) and now I have the Lunar Harmony version for the PSP. The differences between Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete were incredible (harp to ocarina anyone?) so I counted them separately on my list. The differences between Lunar: SSSC and Lunar Legend were less so, but there was a drastic graphical change, so I marked that one too as a separate game. Lastly, there was also a huge change between the GBA Lunar Legend and the PSP Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, so that one was counted separately too. So… on my list of games played in my life, I’ve counted Chrono Trigger once (even though I’ve played it on four different platforms) and Lunar four times (because of the differences between the remakes). If any of that made any sense, I owe you a cookie or something.

I have this bad habit of playing a game almost all the way to the end, realizing that I missed something WAYYYYY back near the beginning, starting again and then getting a decent way in and stopping playing for about 6 months to a year. With Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XII, I eventually went back and beat them, but with games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Legend of Dragoon, and Harbinger, I might never go back because they’re too old or something equally silly. I haven’t touched Legend of Dragoon in so long and I remember being so close to the ending, but because I don’t remember how to play, if I do pick it up again I’ll have to start a new game. Also, some games tempt me to pick them up again. I’ve been having this urge to play Chrono Cross again and, lately, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

I included some expansions as separate entries. In the case of Starcraft, Brood War was practically its own game. Likewise with the expansions to Wing Commander 2, and a few other games. Sometimes the contributions of an expansion weren’t ever significant enough to me, so I didn’t count it (Empire Earth, Age of Empires II, and a few others).

Oh, here’s my key for the genres of the games. This is mostly just for my own purposes, but I’d like to get the key put down somewhere.

AADV – Action Adventure (includes combination games that display elements of both Action and Adventure games) 22

ACT – Action (includes scrolling shooters, light gun games, third-person shooters and any sports games) (yes sports because I don’t really play any so they don’t get their own category) 49

ADV – Adventure (includes graphical adventures, text adventures, point-and-click games) 64

ARPG – Action Role-Playing Game (for hack-and-slash games) (any Diablo game or clone thereof and games similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance) 28

EDU – Educational (mostly games I played as a kid) (Super Solvers Midnight Rescue! got a humorous response out of a friend last night) 6

FGT – Fighting (Mortal Kombat and similar games) 16

FPS – First-Person Shooter (Duh.) 19

FSIM – Flight Simulation (I played a lot of these growing up) 29

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online (These too) 30

PLT – Platform (games where you jump from platform to platform) (I’m not especially good at these, but I haven’t quite learned my lessons yet) 20

PUZ – Puzzle (Yup.) 13

RACE – Racing (I’ve played a couple) 7

RPG – Role-Playing Game (My first real experience here can be summed up in one word: Starflight) 82

RTS – Real-Time Strategy (Remember when you didn’t know what this was? I do.) 30

SIM – Simulation (includes any city building simulation) 29

TBS – Turn-Based Strategy (this includes computer board games like Star Wars Monopoly) 47

TDS – Tower Defense Strategy (Addictive little games) 2

If there’s a combination of things, like in X-COM Apocalypse where you can pick real-time or turn-based, I’ve labeled it as TB/RTS or similarly for the other categories as needed to accurately define it for myself. For those, the breakdown goes like this: ACT/FPS 1, ACT/PLT 2, ACT/SIM 1, ADV/PLT 1, ADV/RPG 2, PLT/PUZ 2, PLT/SIM 1, PUZ/RPG 1, RTS/RPG 1, TB/RTS 3. 15

Mostly, this is to get things straight in my head. As of this writing, the list contains 508 separate entries detailing my experiences with PC (288), MAC (2), SEGA CD (2), Dreamcast (2), NES (8), SNES (7), ZSNES (22), GameCube (13), Wii (26), SEGA (4), SEGA Game Gear (2), Commodore 64 (1), Arcades (6), XBox (5), XBox 360 (22), Playstation (14), Playstation 2 (26), PSP (15), GameBoy Advance (17), DS (22), Atari 2600 (2) and the Nintendo 64 (2). This list includes 261 “finished” and 247 “incomplete” games. Mind, these aren’t hard and fast necessarily as I focus on my memories and remember which games were on one of the three desktops or three laptops I’ve owned in my life or if they were on the “not-long-for-our-home” Commodore 64. In fact, as I write this, I think I only ever played Might and Magic II on the C64. Guess I’ll change that later… PC -1, C64 +1.

I checked the math on each of my three metrics, they all add up to 508. Anyways, maybe sometime soon I’ll figure out a way to share this list. In the meantime, I need to get to bed.

Until next time, every game is an experience that you can count on!

– Elorfin

P.S. Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. – Aldous Huxley

P.P.S. Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. – T.S. Eliot


Discussion: Video Game Remakes and Re-releases

I was listening to some video game music on YouTube this morning and I happened to glance down at the comments. There were a couple of people saying how awesome it would be if there was to be a remake of the game to which the music belonged. A few commented that any remake would not be as faithful as we would hope. Mind, that’s just my interpretation of YouTube comments… they’re typically not so verbose or well worded (not to mention improper spelling and grammar).

I’ve been around almost as long as the video game industry. I’ve been playing games for most of my life. Some of the games I grew up on have built up a rather impressive catalog (Civilization just hit its fifth iteration, X-COM is seeing a reboot as a first person shooter without the hyphen, Sim City spawned the incredibly successful Sims series, etc). For the purposes of this discussion, sequels aren’t remakes or reboots, they’re just the logical (sometimes illogical) evolution of a game.

There has been a clamor for remakes and re-releases these days by my generation. We want to see our old games brought back to the fore and given the attention they deserve now in this age of the internet where we can discuss them openly instead of getting a bunch of blank stares from gamers half our age. I’ll get into the age issue later, but for now, let’s take a look at some remakes and re-releases.

In my opinion (and since this is my little site, everything here is my opinion), one of the best remakes/ports has to be the continuing of Lunar: The Silver Star since 1992. I wrote about it earlier here, so I won’t go into too much detail. The original game came out in 1992 on Sega CD (well, the Japanese version; the North American version was 1993), the first remake was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Sega Saturn in 1996-7, and later released on the Playstation in 1998-9. Further, there was a Game Boy Advance remake in 2002 called Lunar Legend and lastly the Playstation Portable remake in 2009-10 named Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Each of these remakes showed improvements in the graphics and/or voice acting (especially in the PSP release) and introduced new or different gameplay elements (or in one case, changing the main character’s hobby from playing a harp to playing an ocarina and rewriting the game to reflect that).

In the case of other games (this whole paragraph is now off the top of my head), I own a copy of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS which is a graphical update from the original. I’m not sure about the gameplay or anything else (except to reflect the touch screen and dual screen nature of the console, which I consider an assumed update). Also, there was a release of Final Fantasy I and II for the PSP, Final Fantasy VI for the GBA, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI on the Playstation, Chrono Trigger for the Playstation (that added animated cutscenes) and later the Nintendo DS (that has additional gameplay). Even more modern games like Disgaea has been rereleased on the PSP and the DS with appropriate gameplay adjustments and the whole Ace Attorney series originally came out on the GBA and was re-released on the DS. Final Fantasy Tactics got an amazing revisit when it was remade for the PSP 10 years after its original Playstation release and it added cell-shaded cutscenes, voice acting, a rewrite of the script to eliminate some of the mistranslated speech, and multiplayer gameplay.

Also, there has been a resurgence of re-releases courtesy of digital download services like Steam and Impulse. I’ve got full access to X-COM UFO Defense on Steam (which experienced a re-release or two) and Master of Orion II on Impulse. These are both mid-1990’s games that I spent a lot of time playing (and if you look at my Steam profile for X-COM, I still do). With access to old games, I’ve noticed something about myself… I’m BETTER at them now than I used to be. Not just through repetition of gameplay (because I stopped playing them when Windows decided to not let me run them ordinarily), but through the fact that I’m a much more experienced gamer today. I was playing Master of Orion II recently and discovered that the easy difficulty setting was too easy, which was odd because it used to be fine for me. I cranked up the difficulty to average and it was STILL too easy. I think I’m going to kick it up to hard next and see what happens.

For someone like me who grew up with these older games, a remake is a mixed bag. Part of the experience of these older games was dealing with the copy protection and the low resolution, DOS command lines and the early generations of sound cards that could only generate 8-bit music (eventually better). However, I would love to see my old games revisited and updated… better graphics, better music, glitches fixed, gameplay streamlined, but I don’t want any significant changes. Often when there’s a remake, the fear is that the developer will change the fundamental aspects of the game. This is partly unfounded as I’ve never seen a remake that drastically changed the way the game played, but I have seen sequels that are nothing like the original (Master of Orion 3 was a disaster).

This leads me to my perspective: I want to see faithful remakes of the games I grew up playing. I want to see graphical, musical, effects upgrades across the board, but I want the gameplay to essentially remain the same. Sure, some of the fan-made projects for X-COM has made playing the game more interesting and convenient (like a map randomizer to mix things up a bit or a mechanism for the game to remember what equipment was on which team members). I feel that these re-releases on Steam and Impulse could be the beginning of something incredible if companies would tackle such things. Admittedly, most companies are more interested in making new or derivative games instead of revisiting older ones for overhauls. Plus, in the case of some games like X-COM Interceptor, the source code has apparently vanished and any fixes or remakes are just not in the cards. Honestly, remakes/re-releases of games like Lunar, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger are thrilling for me and I jump on them when I can. I love having a portable copy of Chrono Trigger and Lunar and Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d love to see a PSP version of X-COM UFO Defense one day, but seeing as they’ve already started pulling away from the UMD hardware (from what I’ve noticed), I doubt I’m going to get my wish.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. There’s something in it that makes us look upon the things we treasured way back when through our rose colored lenses and value the old over the new. Remakes are a kind of compromise and even today, remakes are often derided as worse than the original. A prime example of this is a forum thread I was reading last night regarding Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP. In it, some posters commented that it was easier than the original, that it was somehow less than the original. This kind of thinking is dangerous for those of us who would love to see our old favorites revisited in the future. I wonder if these people ever considered that because they played the original, they were somehow better at later versions of the same game. I’ve played Lunar in nearly every iteration and to me, it’s the same game every time. Of course, I don’t have the luxury of being able to play the original Sega CD version next to the newer PSP version. This issue occurs with movies too (anyone notice the whole “I hate the new Star Wars trilogy” thing mostly coming from those people who grew up with the original?). The older we get and the more advanced we become with regards to education and technology, the more critical and demanding we become of our forms of entertainment. Why can’t it be like the good old days? Because those days are long gone, but if you open your mind just a bit, you might find that your favorite story has inspired a slew of others just like it… Master of Orion was the original game that inspired the coining of the term 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) with regards to video game genres and has since inspired games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations and many more. Wolfenstein 3D inspired every first person shooter we have today, from Unreal Tournament to Medal of Honor. It’s good to go back to the beginning to see where it all started and awesome if you experienced it as it happened, but take a look outside every now and again and try something new. I promise, you won’t be disappointed (unless you want to be, in which case, that’s your problem).

I suppose my new point is this: don’t rely on the remakes and re-releases, but if they do come along, vote with your money and let the companies know that their effort in revisiting their older games is a welcome diversion. In the mean time, let developers pay tribute to older games by making new ones and vote with your money on those too. Feel free to compare the old and the new, but understand that if that old game were made today, it would be completely different due to the reduced limitations on technology. Apparently Silent Hill was much scarier back when there was a ton of fog (which was implemented since the hardware was limited in what it could show) and now today you can see all the way to the horizon and things aren’t so scary any more. Be understanding.

Until next time, keep on playing the classics you love and give the descendants a chance to become new classics!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones.” from Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

P.P.S. Yes, I want a remake/re-release of Terranigma. I think out of the three Quintet/Enix titles (Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma) the last one is the best and deserves a DS release at the very least.


Going on a Holiday

I’ll be out of town for the next week. Apologies for not writing much this month, but I’ve been busy playing games instead of writing about them.

I’m bringing along the old PSP with Final Fantasy Tactics, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, and D&D Tactics. I’m also taking my laptop with Civ IV and Mass Effect 2 (and a few others).

I’m actually enjoying the replay of Mass Effect 2. There’s something about the atmosphere of the sequel that makes it superior to the original where I don’t doze off while playing. I’m serious, I’ve caught myself nodding off during replays of Knights of the Old Republic (1 and 2), Mass Effect, and Neverwinter Nights. Bioware makes an amazing story, but I have a hard time stomaching replays of their games. Well, then again, most Final Fantasy games are once-throughs for me (except VI, but I’ve caught myself nodding off once or twice replaying that one).

Anyways, don’t burn the house down while I’m gone and be sure to feed the fishes. Wait… where’d those fish come from?

Until next time, keep awake!

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 4: Context

In part four of my little series here, I’m going to touch on the thing that really brings us to games: context. It’s the purpose behind the game, the message, the point, the topic, the issues at hand. It’s a major piece in why people play games (especially me).

When I pick up a game, a lot of things go through my mind. What’s it about? What’s the style of play? What’s it look like? Will this be fun? Wait, let’s go back to that first question: What’s it about? Yeah, pretty much every time I look at a game or book or movie or what-have-you, the primary question is something along the lines of “what’s the point of this?” and “what’s it about?”

Why (in part) does a Star Wars game sell so well? Because it’s about Star Wars. Well, maybe that’s a superficial explanation of it, but it serves pretty well. Let’s try a different approach with some of the games I’ve talked about here recently.

X-COM: What’s it about? It’s about defending Earth from invading aliens. The primary goal is to beat the aliens so that they leave us alone. A secondary goal is to justify your continued funding by the governments of the world so you can achieve the primary goal.

Civilization: What’s it about? It’s about building a civilization up from nothing to a world power. The primary goal is to be the best civilization with a secondary goal of achieving milestones (like researching technologies and constructing wonders of the world) before any other civilization does.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony: What’s it about? It’s about the coming of age of Alex and his discoveries of the world as he attempts to become the next Dragonmaster (you could argue that it’s about Luna, but I’d have to explain why and it’s a massive spoiler, however old the game may be). The primary goal is to win the game with secondary goals being to achieve certain points in the storyline that progress it in chunks.

Take a look at games like Solitaire and Bejeweled and similar browser/casual games and you’ll note that they’re all about just winning the game. There’s never a point where you miss the fact that you’re just playing a game. A truly great game contributes to a sense of immersion via their context. Sure, powerful music, acts of heroism, and a sense of making progress contribute to having a good time, but without a context behind them, it’s just a game as opposed to an EXPERIENCE.

The difference between a game like Solitaire and a game like Mass Effect is really the experience. Solitaire is all about the cards and beating your last high score (I swear I’ll never beat a 735), but Mass Effect is all about taking charge of a bad situation, figuring out what’s going on, stepping up and dealing with it. Is it a game? Yeah. Does it feel like a game when you’re playing it? Sometimes. Would you rather play Solitaire or feel like you made a difference in the futuristic world of Mass Effect? I’d say yes. Swap out the latter game if you say no (for those of you who don’t like Mass Effect for whatever reasons) until you say yes.

To conclude this bit on context, I offer this: I believe the reason the context of a game is so important is because we need to feel like we’re spending our time wisely. Games are an investment in a wide world of entertainment. We are bombarded with a wide variety of choices and I know that I need to feel like I’m doing the right thing by picking one form of entertainment over another (even when none of the answers are more right than any other). Personally, I hate how much time I’ve spent on Solitaire and other context-less games, especially when I have so many games WITH context around.

Ask yourself if you feel like you’re spending your entertainment time wisely during the next game you play. I do it pretty frequently. I believe I might write more on this with something of a breakdown on what gives games context next time.

Until next time, keep on… um… contextualizing? *laughs*

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 3: Progress

A quick aside before I start this piece: I’ve recently read that a new X-COM game is in the works by 2K Games (the people who made Bioshock). Well, it’s actually called XCOM (no hyphen) and it’s going to be a first-person shooter, so obviously the fans of the original were and are a bit steamed that they’re not getting a dedicated remake of the original. I’m hoping for something cool, but I’m worried I won’t be able to play it due to the motion sickness I tend to get from first-person shooter style games. You can check out their minimal site promoting the game here and the article I read regarding this is here.

Now, the thing that keeps me coming back to games on top of great music and heroism: a sense of progress.

Most games, if not all, give the player a sense that they’re making progress somehow. In a first-person shooter, your progress is typically measured by the number of levels or zones you’ve completed (or the fact that every area behind you is devoid of enemies) and sometimes by the development of a story. In a role-playing game, your progress is typically measured by the progression of the story, but also by the levels/skills/equipment gained by your character or party. In puzzle games, the puzzles get harder to complete. The list goes on. Without this sense of moving towards something, I know that I get very frustrated. Personally I find certain games to be very pointless, but allow me to explain this particular perspective.

When I perceive a game as “pointless” or “a waste of time”, I’m typically referring to the lack of a story or some sort of measurable progress. Solitaire is a great example of an entry into the  “pointless” category. Likewise with a lot of casual/browser games like Bejeweled and so forth. Yeah, I supposed the game sometimes gets more difficult in a fashion or deeper in some way, but how does Bejeweled compare to say Mass Effect or Bioshock or Wing Commander? Well, partly, it doesn’t, but as an expenditure of time, I’d rather spend my time experiencing the full story of Mass Effect as opposed to wasting hours trying to beat my top score of 735 in Solitaire (yeah, I can’t seem to do it). I’m not saying I DON’T waste time playing Solitaire (it keeps me busy while I chat online or watch streaming television programs), but I’d rather spend my time in a more productive fashion (if playing a game can be called “productive”).

Making progress is an everyday thing that kind of occurred to me earlier today while pondering what else I could talk about in this segment. I mean, I measure the progress of reading a book by how much is left to read and how much I’ve already read. I measure the progress of eating food by how much food is left to eat and how full I feel. I measure the progress on this article by seeing if I feel like I’ve said all I want to say at that time (I reserve the right to bounce around and add and edit). So it’s only natural that a very obvious sense of progress is applied to our forms of entertainment.

I really do believe in the “to each their own” perspective with video games (among other things). By that, I mean that everyone has a different preference for gameplay and in styles of progress it’s no different. I prefer having a clearly defined personal progression (levels, experience, skills, so on) and I look forward to character development and storyline progression. I have friends that don’t care so much for the story as for the number of kills they can rack up before it’s time to quit. I have other friends that appreciate the leveling mechanic, but could take it or leave it because they just want to have a good time. However you play it, every game needs some sort of satisfying progression mechanic to make the player feel like he’s doing well or accomplishing something with his time (and money). I know that earlier today I felt great satisfaction reaching level 8 in D&D Online on my new favorite character and that I’m doing pretty well fending off the alien invaders in X-COM Apocalypse when I played on Saturday by how I’ve been aggressively intercepting UFOs before they have a chance to drop their troops in the city. We all want to be successful and an obvious marker of that is a sense of progress.

Of course, you get the occasional spanner in the works there. By that, I’m referring to Wing Commander. The creators put a winning story and a losing story into the game. If you lose a mission, it’s not the end of the world, but you’re put on a slightly different path for a bit. If you lose more than one mission, well, you’ll probably see some cutscenes I’ve never seen except as movie files on the net. This is a type of progress and some people intentionally fail these missions to see the movies for themselves. It’s something they implemented in all five of the primary Wing Commander games (don’t recall if they did it for the expansions, but they probably did). The issue with this winning track/losing track thing is that the game takes a lot of extra development and most developers would rather spend time on ONE story rather than on WINNING STORY vs. LOSING STORY. More’s the pity because that adds a level of complexity to the progression mechanic. In the end though, I can easily say that I get way more satisfaction stopping all the bioweapons in Locanda and being able to save Flint’s home than being forced to protect the evacuation of the system. For more on this story, I’d recommend looking up Wing Commander III: The Heart of the Tiger. I also recommend visiting the game guides for the Wing Commander series because you can actually see the differences in the missions when you win versus lose. Oh, and for more Wing Commander goodness, I recommend my browser homepage.

A great game that displays all three of the components I’ve discussed thus far (Music, Heroism, Progress) is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In this game you have the epic Star Wars music to back you up, you have incredible moments of heroism and places where you can be that guy or gal who saves the day, and several markers of progress in the levels of your characters, the number of locations you have left to clear out (or the number of places you have cleared), and the story where you can go light side or dark side. It’s a great example of a quality experience, at least according to my own metric that I’m building here. There are other games that have more varied reasons within my current structure (Final Fantasy Tactics, Unreal Tournament, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, etc) but I’m not going to go through all of them right now. Besides, I think I might have another couple of things to add to my What makes a great game? series.

Until next time, keep moving forward (even if it’s the losing track)!

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 2: Heroes

So, we’ve discussed a bit on music and today I found myself asking the question: “Why do I play games?” This can extend into why I watch certain television programs or movies or read certain books, but I’ll hold it to games for now. In part, I think I play games to be the hero or at least be a party to something heroic.

This day and age we’re surrounded by “everyday heroes” in our police, firefighters, military, etc. These are all well and good and generally awesome, but I have to ask, are there any classic heroes any more? By classic, I refer to the knight in shining armor stereotype (yes, I know it never really existed, but stay with me on this). How about the Jedi Knight, the superhero (or team of superheroes), the wandering samurai, the battle-hardened special forces team that saves the Earth from certain destruction time and again? These examples all come from the classic heroes of old like Hercules and so forth. So, I suppose the stories have been updated, but why do I want to experience the story of a hero?

It’s possible that living the story of a hero through an interactive and immersive experience allows me to feel like I’m a hero too. That my life is more than just sitting in front of the computer or console. Games allow us to experience fantastic events vicariously. By assuming the role of the hero, we become invested. It’s more or less what I call the “one more turn” syndrome (updated to be the “five more minutes” syndrome).

Heroism gives us hope somehow. I’m not entirely sure about the why’s and wherefore’s but that’s my experience. When I’m witnessing the actions of a hero (either AS the hero in a game or reading about it or watching it in a movie or show) I have a feeling that everything will work out for the better. That somehow, the hero will pull through. In a way, the hero is the safe emotional investment (depending on the hero’s creator, Damn You David Willis!). You can frequently rely on the hero to be there tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The hero usually grows, overcomes great adversity, and triumphs over an ultimate enemy of sorts. All the while, I remain enraptured. I want to do that. I want to be there.

Let’s look at some of the games I like:

  • X-COM UFO Defense – team of unnamed heroes (well, generic names, but no one stands apart from the others)
  • Final Fantasy VI – team of heroes, each with a special ability that makes them valuable
  • Lunar: Silver Star Harmony – again, a team of heroes, but the story revolves around Alex becoming more and more of a hero as the game progresses
  • Mass Effect – you’re Shepard, the actual shepherd of your flock of teammates and what you says goes where your personal motives and play-style dictate the direction of the game
  • Wing Commander – you are the hero, the pilot that saves your carrier time and again and over time the crew rewards you with trust and a compelling storyline and a reason to continue to protect that beloved carrier
  • The Monkey Island Series – Guybrush is something of an unlikely hero, but when he first arrived, he knew exactly what he wanted: to be a mighty pirate; he got it and THAT is what being a hero is all about
  • Dungeons & Dragons – a place to build up from nothing; going into a hero, D&D is a reflection of work ethic, attention span, and a firm grasp of the rules (aka, the world you work in)

Lastly, I’ll touch on Star Wars. Star Wars as a universe of movies, books, and games, encompasses a wide variety of heroes. You have the vanilla hero (Luke Skywalker) that starts as a nobody, but rises to to occasion and to great heights of heroism. You have the rogue-type hero (Han Solo) that starts out as a mischief-maker and winds up proving himself in the face of real danger and becoming a better person because of it. You have the headstrong princess (Leia, of course), who stays strong the whole time but appears to learn that strength must be tempered with patience and mercy, and of course, the occasional sleight of hand that she picks up from the rogue. Hell, there are degrees of reluctant heroes and anti-heroes and on and on.

I believe games speak to that inner being that so desperately wants to be the hero. No matter how wonderful or terrible your life is, a game can speak to you and bring you to a world where YOU are the hero, YOU are the center of the story, YOU make things happen and YOU are the most important person in the room. For those of us who go through life ignored or trampled, a game can give us the self-esteem and inspiration to push forward in our daily life or give us enough satisfaction with life that we don’t need to push so hard to get what we want on a daily basis. All by letting us play pretend for just a little while.

I’m not sure if this stayed on point the whole time, but essentially, I love to be the hero. I love to ride to the rescue, I love to prove that being prepared solves a ton of problems, I love to vanquish monsters and champion causes. Games let me be the knight in shining armor, the Shepard in N7 armor, and the Jedi in knight’s robes.

To tie this in with the music from Part 1, when the music lends itself to the moment where you show your heroism, where the music starts that crescendo, the trumpets sound,  and you defeat that dragon or Reaper or Sith… well, it’s no wonder I keep going back.

Until next time, keep playing the hero, and maybe it’ll stick!

– Elorfin

P.S. Yes, I know the stories of heroes are tales where the characters and events most likely did not exist. There are no actual fire-breathing dragons in the world and metaphorical dragons, however real and problematic, don’t really measure up to the mythological dragon we fantasize of defeating. Still, when I try to answer the classic question that schools ask schoolchildren (what do you want to be when you grow up?), I hate to say that astronaut, firefighter, or policeman doesn’t cut it any more! *laughs*

P.P.S. On a more psychological note, playing the hero in a game is quite possibly a way of addressing the feeling of unsuccessfulness in some aspect of life. By feeling satisfied in entertainment, one achieves some sort of parity between that and regular life. The more one plays the game and strives to save the day in a fictional setting, the more the player might need something similar in the real world. Just a theory. I know I play games in part as escapism, but also because they’re just plain enjoyable and I love a good soundtrack and a good story and… well, I’ll touch on it more in later posts!


What makes a great game? – Part 1: Music

Hi everyone! This is part one of my 435 part series, Better Know a… wait… wrong! This is the first part of some kind of series that will be however many parts I feel it will be until I’ve nailed down my perspective a bit.

I want to tackle what makes games great for me (specifically) and to touch on what makes them great for everyone else (generally). Obviously, my perspective is limited to what I like and that’s what this little project is all about so, well, deal with it. For context, I’ve provided links to some of the references I make.

Anyways, I was watching some clips on YouTube that contained some orchestrated video game music and I was wondering why I want to see my game music presented in such a fashion and why I enjoy it when it hits the big music halls. I think I might have an answer to that: I want my favorite moments to be presented in a format that is obviously and without question HIGH CLASS. Orchestrated music is always high class to me. The performers take it very seriously and the audience treats whatever they perform as a serious thing. This probably stems from the classical pieces they typically play which are by definition today culturally serious and historically important. Orchestrated music is the highest form of presentation that any music can achieve to be (my opinion, so nyah). The pure music just washing over you, letting it fill the room and flow in and around you, yeah, the orchestra is the best medium for this.

When I experience an event and it has music associated, I find it easier to recall said event. Music is a very powerful device that conveys emotion and thought and when associated with events that are powerful and poignant on their own, well, it’s a complete presentation.

In my past, I’ve played a great number of games. The games that I feel have incredible soundtracks weren’t the games I started on: Sim City, Civilization, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Starflight, Star Fleet, Empire, or any of a dozen other games. The earliest memory of a game with a fantastic soundtrack that still impacts me today comes from (well, there’s two) Final Fantasy VI (it was III back then) and Chrono Trigger, both on the Super Nintendo. When playing those games, I immediately feel the joy inherent in living through something that I experienced positively back then. When listening to the soundtracks, I remember every event that happened. When I want to relive the games without playing them, I listen to the music.

Off the top of my head, if I listen to the Phantom Forest track from Final Fantasy VI, I remember finding my way to the Ghost Train that carries the deceased away from our world to the next and Cyan watching his wife and son leave. If I listen to the Bombing Mission track from Final Fantasy VII, I remember riding on the train at the beginning of the game, wondering who the hell this spiky haired guy was and further wondering what this mission had in store for me (and what in the world was I getting into?). When listening to Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, I see in my mind the mountain opening before Frog as he wields the Masamune and vows to defeat Magus. Music in video games is a powerful device…

…but it’s not restricted to video games. In Star Wars, when I hear the Binary Sunset track, I can envision a young Luke Skywalker standing and watching the suns of Tatoo I and Tatoo II set, wondering where his future is going. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Concerning Hobbits piece makes me think of the Hobbits going about their business in preparation of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. So, when I want to experience a movie without watching the movie, I listen to the soundtrack.

It’s also not just memories of scenes. It’s the emotional connections that those scenes have for me. When hearing the Battle with Magus Theme from Chrono Trigger, I remember fighting him and feeling like the fight could go either way at any time as I struggled to keep my trio alive through the onslaught of spells Magus frequently dropped. When hearing the piece from Final Fantasy XIII called Blinded by Light, I feel excitement regarding the battle that MUST be going on right now. Every time I hear Chrono Cross’ Scars of Time (aka Time Scar), I remember the investment I made in that game and all the incredible experiences that went along with it as well as the successful strategies and terrible defeats I suffered while playing. For the record, the final boss fight in Chronopolis was a real pain. *shakes fist* Curse you, Miguel!

Growing up, PC games typically didn’t have great soundtracks. X-COM had a decent one that kept me excited or scared depending on what was going on. Wing Commander III was one of my earliest quality PC soundtrack experiences that sticks in my head. I didn’t experience the awesomeness that was The Secret of Monkey Island until later on (but chronologically, that’s years before WCIII), but that soundtrack is awesome and the theme for the game is nearly iconic for adventure games. So, yeah, they were there, but decent PC soundtracks didn’t come along until later (with Warcraft II and such and yes, I acknowledge that my game timeline might be a little off).

I suppose part of my want to hear orchestrated soundtracks of my games stems from a desire to hear my passions and pastimes validated in a public forum where a large number of people voluntarily pay to experience what I once experienced on a much more emotionally invested level. I want people to look at this music and wonder where such notes came from and then to seek out the original source with the curiosity borne of a desire to experience the emotions that the music provokes. When I hear music, it takes me places that I’ve been before. When I hear the Imperial March, I was there with Vader as he condemned the Rebellion. When I hear Forth Eorlingas, I was there as the Rohirrim rode to the rescue. When I hear Clash on the Big Bridge, I was there to fight Gilgamesh! Um, for that last one, yes in Final Fantasy V and later again in Final Fantasy XII when Gilgamesh is an optional hunt (they remixed the original song for the latter one).

I want to go there. I want to be there. Music is my vehicle that takes me where I want to go and helps me feel the emotions tied to those places and doing those things. For the record, Lost Odyssey has an awesome soundtrack, but it’s very sad (especially A Sign of Hope and Parting Forever). The thing is… well, orchestrated music speaks to me WAYYYYY more than the regular stuff we hear on the radio. Songs with words touch me, but not like A Sign of Hope does. The Indiana Jones theme speaks more of adventure to me than any song with lyrics that was in [insert recent action movie here].

A moving and powerful soundtrack is a must for a good game. The longer I play games, the more I find that I love a good soundtrack. When Final Fantasy XIII was still on its way out here in the U.S., I pre-ordered the soundtrack for myself. It’s awesome and the more I play the game, the more the soundtrack gains relevance and power with me. If the music is good, I suppose I’m more tolerant of the shortcomings of the game.

A great piece sends a tingle up my spine. It makes me go “wow” and compels me to listen to it all the way through. It makes me feel like I’m in the presence of something important or powerful or incredible or whatever. When I hear Frog’s Theme (look above for the link) performed amazingly well, it literally sends chills down my spine. THAT is powerful music. I have a theory that it’s the trumpets and/or the entire brass section, but I’m also a fan of the strings… so yeah, I think I’ll just claim it’s the orchestral nature and leave it at that.

Oh, the clips that spawned this link-heavy presentation of mine were of a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross medley done this past September in Germany. Here’s part one and here’s part two.

Until next time, let the music move you!

– Elorfin

P.S. Because I played the PC version of FFVII, I must admit that I heard/saw the intro far more than the rest of the game while I tried different sound card settings. Eventually I got it right, after experiencing the same intro cutscene at least six times.

P.P.S. A quick timeline of the release dates of the discussed objects in this particular post (this doesn’t mean I saw Star Wars in 1977 since I wasn’t born until several years later):

  • Star Wars – 1977
  • Star Wars Imperial March – 1980
  • Indiana Jones – 1981
  • Star Fleet I: The War Begins – 1985 (DOS)
  • Starflight – 1986 (DOS)
  • Empire: Wargame of the Century – 1987 (DOS)
  • F-19 Stealth Fighter – 1988 (DOS)
  • Sim City – 1989 (DOS)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island – 1990 (DOS)
  • Civilization – 1991 (DOS)
  • Final Fantasy V – 1992 (Japan Only)
  • Final Fantasy VI – 1994 (SNES)
  • Wing Commander III – 1994 (PC)
  • Chrono Trigger – 1995 (SNES)
  • Warcraft II – 1995 (PC)
  • Final Fantasy VII – 1998 (PC)
  • Chrono Cross – 2000 (US Release)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002
  • Final Fantasy XII – 2006 (US Release)
  • Lost Odyssey – 2008 (US Release)
  • Final Fantasy XIII – 2010 (XBOX 360)

P.P.P.S. I forgot to mention Lunar! Gah! I fail!