The last several years of gaming have taught us that there are quite a few ways to make a gaming announcement.
For instance, you can bring out a bunch of awkward presenters who sound like they’ve only seen a video game as a word atop an earnings report, you can hire a bunch of celebrities to shamefully shill your product, you can insert enough cheap jokes and crowd pop attempts to make pro wrestling blush, and of course you can overspend on the presentation to compensate for your drastic under planning on the actual execution.
In unveiling their new console today, Microsoft pulled out all of these, and more. Of course, we should have anticipated this as soon as we heard the name of that console, the Xbox One, which displays as much creativity as any of those mentioned techniques.
Putting aside the fact that Microsoft is comfortable naming their console of the future after a term used when people are specifying the original Xbox in conversation, the actual hour long unveiling that would follow was a jumble of ideas that probably didn’t leave the punch in the gut impression that Microsoft had intended.
Now granted, there were a few moments of inspiration during the presentation, but most of them were centered around the initial demonstration of the Xbox One’s voice operated multimedia capabilities which, even though it was more of an extended demo of the new Kinect, was exactly the kind of thing that you expect from the next generation of gaming system.
From there though, things moved downhill. While aspects like the console’s bland looks, terrible, terrible name, and dull presentation style are ultimately trivial, what isn’t is the general impression that Microsoft is more interested in creating a multi-media device than they are a gaming system. This is evident in the lack of sufficient game announcements, dearth of in-game footage, choice to treat EA annual games like a big deal, and larger emphasis on getting RGIII and Steven Spielberg to cut promos over providing gamers with details like a price point (on Live and the console) or a solid release date.
Then again, the point is that the Xbox One doesn’t appear to be a gaming console as we’ve known it. While that could be a good thing in doses, and it’s obviously financially beneficial for Microsoft to focus on a multimedia device, if you’re a real gamer you’re probably still left shivering from that hour long cold shoulder.
Of course, realistically it is still too early to draw long term conclusions on the Xbox One, but the fact remains you only get one first impression, and the Xbox One’s first impression was not that of a confident gaming system. You could argue that Microsoft is saving all of that “game stuff” for E3, but as mentioned, that is a bloated and archaic institution, whereas this was the moment that Microsoft was supposed to have all to themselves.
It’s quite possible that what we’ve just seen is the inevitable future of the business of video games. If it really is all about figures and market shares though, then Microsoft will do well to take notice of the rise in Sony’s stock shortly following the Xbox One announcement not as an apparition, but as a clear message of the dangers, and benefits, of first impressions and that this is a true make or break system for the Redmond institution that shows they cannot afford to rest on their laurels, and come out with many more major whiffs, as they did today.
There are many games out there that are punishingly difficult, and gamer’s will admit bowing down to without shame. But for every “Dark Souls,” “Ninja Gaiden,” and “Ghosts and Goblins” out there, there is another type of game that is equally challenging, but one that fewer people will admit to being beaten by.
They are games that beat us not with waves of impossible enemies, or random death traps, but instead with complex rules, hours of learning, and serious brainpower requirements. They aren’t games that challenge our reactions, but rather our intellect. Regardless, they provide equally grueling experiences that only the most elite of gamers will ever see the end of (if there even is one).
These are some of the most complicated games of all time.
There are a lot of simulation games out there that cover every topic from Earth to ant colonies. However, as difficult as some of those can be, few are as challenging as “Tropico,” which places you in the role of a dictator over a small island.
What separates “Tropico” from other sim titles is the sheer number of things you have to oversee. There’s a surprising amount of aspects required to rule over a helpless populous, and almost every action in one field can cause horrific and unfixable problems in another, making it almost impossible to keep all the political, social, and economical needs in balance
To be fair, on the easier difficulties, “Tropico” is not much more grating than “SimCity.” Bump that difficulty up to one of the more realistic modes though, and you get a game that’ll have your virtual dictator reaching for his emergency revolver when the peasants come rioting, around the same time you do.
Of all the 4X strategy games that require you to build a world (or universe) expanding empire from virtually nothing, few, if any, have ever dared to be as daunting as “Pax Imperia.”
Latin for imperial peace, “Pax Imperia” charges the player with building the largest empire the universe has ever known. While there may be similar games out there, “Pax” gets the nod due to it coming out at a time (1992) when this concept was foreign to games, and as such “Pax” throws an infinite amount of options at the player, without giving them much of a frame of reference as to how to use even the most crucial elements.
“Pax Imperia” is one of those games you can spend years perfecting your craft at before mastering it. Like many punishing games though, the amount of effort you put into it, is equal to the enjoyment you get out of it.
Rainbow Six: Rouge Spear
You may not associate action games with complexity and, if you’ve only been playing them for the last few years, it’s probably not the word that springs to mind when describing the “Rainbow Six” series either.
However, 1999’s “Rouge Spear” shatters both of those perceptions with its punishing form of strategic team based special operations. Every mission requires you to craft the perfect plan, which can then fall apart in an instant if you don’t flawlessly execute it (and even then, you’ve got little hope). Oh, and the few moments of action are often one shot for a kill (which applies to you and the enemies…but mostly you.)
As frustrating as “Rouge Spear” can be, I actually miss the wait and see approach it took to the shooter genre. If you’ve never played the series’ original games before, give this one a shot if you want to experience a thinking man’s action game.
It’s easy to forget that before “World of Warcraft,” MMO games were among the most daunting and complex of all gaming genres. Of those games, the crown jewel may be “EVE Online.”
“EVE” would be complicated enough on its own as most of the gameplay revolves around navigating a series of really detailed menus and performing hundreds of hours of mundane tasks, but the game’s hardcore players have turned the title into a whole different animal. Trying to jump into “EVE” as a newbie will thrust you into a universe of politics, economics, and caste systems that are as challenging to learn and overcome as any in the real world
“EVE” is not for everyone, and anybody sane will most likely give up on it before even the 20 hour mark. Press on though, and you may find every other game to be to suddenly be too simple.
A theme with the other games on this list is that they eventually reward you for all of your efforts with a one of a kind experience. This is not the case with “Dwarf Fortress.”
Oh sure, somewhere beneath its text based graphics, 90% based on menus gameplay, and learning curve so steep that a publisher of technical manuals created a 238 page illustrated guide that just shows how to get started, is probably a game that provides moments unlike any other, but good luck ever sticking with it long enough to even find the surface to scratch.
“Dwarf Fortress” may be a game about constructing the ultimate stronghold for your gang of dwarves, but its real purpose is to crush souls and make Mensa members feel inadequate. The real kicker? It’s main mode is essentially unwinnable.
If you haven’t been following it, “Among the Sleep” is a unique upcoming indie project that looks to take horror away from its recent “action game with some jump moments” state, and back to the realm of true terror by placing you in the shoes of the most unlikely horror hero of all.
That’s right. In “Among the Sleep” you play through the eyes of a baby as he is awoken during a dark and stormy night and sets off in search of his parents, with nothing but his teddy bear as company. Without giving too much away, it turns out this is no normal night, and in fact some serious terror is lurking all throughout the house.
So how is it? Pants wettingly terrifying, since you ask.
Even in its clearly rough early state, the game does a great job of making you feel truly helpless, and of showing the world through a baby’s eyes (for example, writing is just scribble and jumbled letters). Scares can come in the form of normal things like lightning strikes, bizarre noises, and darkened hallways, but as the demo progresses, you’ll start seeing some truly freaky stuff that would horrify anyone.
There’s almost sure to be a moment during this demo when you’ll find yourself ducking under a table out of fright until everything is okay, just like a baby would. It’s an effect accomplished through some truly incredible atmospheric design, and while it remains to be seen if “Among the Sleep” has the gameplay legs to be worth an entire adventure, the demo is a must play for anyone with the courage, and is sure to put “Among the Sleep” on a lot more gamer’s radars.
To view the extent of this problem, try typing “best Superman game” into Google. Soon you’ll be met with the equivalent of a shrug, as the only results are people asking if there ever has been a good Superman game. Specify that search to read “top 10 best Superman games,” and the most relevant result is the “top 10 worst Superman games.”
That’s right. The Superman problem is so great that it even breaks Google.
While it’s impossible to attribute the problem to any single issue, the biggest one has to be Superman himself. Simply put, Superman is too powerful, and doesn’t make an effective video game character because there are only so many things that can cause him harm, or scenarios where he is in actual danger. So unless you’re going to equip every thug with kryptonite gloves (which you shouldn’t because it’s a terrible idea), there is a very limited rouge gallery that can even contain the god-man. On the other hand, the entire reason you want to play Superman is to use those very powers that makes him an issue in the first place.
That last part got me thinking. Maybe the solution to the Superman problem lies somewhere in the fact that so many Superman games have been 3D action titles. While that would seem the most likely home for the man of steel, it’s beginning to look like a truly great Superman game will not emerge until a developer is willing to chart some unconventional territory.
Specifically, that territory may be an adventure game, and that developer Telltale Games.
Ok, so it’s not the first thing you think of when you think Superman, but that’s the point. It’s something outside of the Superman comfort zone, that has turned into the rut the character’s games are in. For instance it would be interesting to see “Walking Dead’s” choice system make a return, and force gamers to actually grapple with the decisions that come with essentially being God on Earth, rather than just wail on baddies level after level. Hell, Clark Kent could even be made useable, courtesy of some journalistic investigation sequences
Best of all, they wouldn’t even have to trim down on the few highlights that do exist in Superman games. You could still have flying, you’d still have the epic feel of playing as Superman, and the powers issue is addressed as you would still be able to use all of Superman’s abilities, but with the emphasis now on plot and progression, there would be no need to trim them down, as the developers could instead have greater control over the action sequences where you get to use them.
It’s not the only Superman idea out there, and it’s certainly not one that is guaranteed to work, however it is an example of how the Superman problem doesn’t have to be one without resolution, and that there are still ideas for the series that haven’t been explored which could potentially turn the games from running joke, into a franchise that is as anticipated as the next “Batman” game.
As a rule I try not to get excited about movies based on video games for reasons that should be painfully (very painfully) obvious.
But for those of you that may not know, John Carpenter is one of the greatest horror film directors of all time, and during a streak in the late 70′s and into the 80′s directed some truly immortal movies, including the greatest sci-fi horror flick ever made, “The Thing.”
So when that man says he’s interested in making a video game into a movie, you pay attention. When that move is an adaptation of “Dead Space,” you have permission to shed your cynicism towards the whole idea.
Even in that spirit though, it’s hard to not start imagining that Carpenter would in fact knock this out of the park. “Dead Space” the game is an elaborate haunted house type horror story, with some psychologically intense elements and an incredibly interesting plot that doesn’t interrupt the scares. Carpenter made his name directing films like that, and, when you consider the fact this is a case of a big name director who is genuinely excited about adapting a video game, it’s easy to forget that Carpenter hasn’t done a truly noteworthy film in about 20 years, and to start considering the possibility that this could just work in a big way.
Plus, are you going to tell me you’re not going to give the man who directed “The Thing” the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making one more truly great film?
Like the rest of you I’ve been following every morsel of information that has come from the many previews of that “GTA:V” demo, and like many of you, I’ve started to form my own impressions based on what has been shown so far.
While my overall impression is that I really need to start scheduling some serious free time come September, more specifically I’ve noticed at least five things from all of those previews that really excite me…and at least one that does not.
Five things I’m Excited For…
The Fun is Back
“GTA:IV” had a lot of things going for it, but one aspect that irked me the longer I played is how much Rockstar veered from the wild, anything goes, comically deranged world of previous “Grand Theft Auto” games and instead aimed for something more grounded, and serious.
“GTA:V” looks to be a glorious return to those old ways, but also has clearly retained an aspect or two from its immediate predecessor. So while the trailers show things like deranged rednecks highjacking helicopters in flannel, cars chasing planes while pulling off insane maneuvers, and the glorious return of miniguns, it also takes a moment to reflect on the serious motivations that drive each of the three main characters, and to show that Rockstar is crafting a world every bit as jaw dropping as “GTA: IV’s” Liberty City.
In other words, it’s looks the way “GTA” should. A wildly fun game that’s not afraid to get serious.
“GTA’s” combat has been steadily improving over the years, but it still feels clunky for a game where there is a lot of it. It’s good to know that Rockstar looks to be making a concentrated effort to provide full coverage to the series Achilles heel, especially in a game that is already adding ambition to the system thanks to the three man system.
Which actually segues nicely to…
The Three Man Band
The subject of who will be the next main character in “Grand Theft Auto” is always a hot one, as it usually sets the tone for the rest of the game.
When Rockstar first announced that there would be three main characters who can all be controlled at any time, it was hard not to think of it as gimmicky, and a bit of a reach. The more that’s revealed about it though, the easier it is to see that this is indeed the most exciting change to come to the series, possibly ever.
From unique but intersecting plot lines, to the ability for characters to “do their own thing” while not being under control, to the amazing way that combat and heist scenarios make use of every character individually, this sounds like the first “Grand Theft Auto” in a while that is going to have people re-thinking how they play the series.
In a misstep so big I still question if it was an error by the designers, money in “GTA:IV” was more or less useless. It didn’t take long to acquire enough dough to keep you rolling in suits and guns for the rest of your days, and even though money was always brought up as a plot point (more on that later) you always ended up with too much of it, and nothing to do about it.
Rockstar must have been aware of this, as they have confirmed that “GTA:V” will require you to have a constant cash flow in order to purchase all of the clothing, vehicles, and (most importantly) properties the title has to offer.
That means that no longer will you be able to buy a $3000 suit you already own just because the store is closer than your closet, and I for one am excited to start earning with purpose again.
A Driven Story
If I sound like I’m hating on “GTA:IV” here, it’s because I am. While by no means a bad game, it is by far the most overrated game of this console generation, and a big part of that is due to a meandering story that dragged on and on without any real focus, or compelling reasons to keep pushing ahead besides the satisfaction of beating it.
“GTA: V” seems to be resolving this by focusing the majority of its story on a series of high profile heists. The mission highlight of “GTA:IV” is, of course, the brilliant bank job in three leaf clover, and it’s clear that Rockstar thought so too, as this time many missions will revolve around prepping for, or executing, heists as part of your three man crew.
It’s not a guarantee for a greater plot, but it sounds a lot more promising than working for a series of cardboard cutout thugs with vague notions of revenge and some superfluous cash being your only driving force.
…And the One I’m Not
You Can’t Shoot the Paparazzi
See during the IGN rundown of the demo it was brought up that there is a side mission where you escort a spoiled starlet and try to escape the paparazzi. When the questions was brought up if you could just kill them instead of escaping them, the answer was a surprising “no” as that causes you to fail.
I understand that Rockstar is aiming for a much more cinematic experience than before, but I’m really bummed out that in something so minor as a simple side mission, the game will limit your options for the benefits of that goal.
Games like “The Walking Dead” show that choice can be a huge benefit to storytelling, while titles like “Saint’s Row The Third” exemplify how creating a truly open world lends so much more to sandbox games. I just hope that in a game that promises to be the series biggest and boldest yet, there aren’t a series of similar limits that keep it from reaching that lofty height.
Chris Rock once said on monogamy that a man is “basically as faithful as his options.” In other words, if they have the ability to cheat, they are much more likely.
The same can easily be said when it comes to videogames and piracy. Everyone knows how much of a problem piracy is, yet many still succumb to the allure. After all, it’s easy, it’s free, and you don’t even have to see the victims if you don’t look hard.
However, the victims are very real, and the numbers to support it are staggering. Take for instance the recently released indie game “Game Dev Tycoon,” where you are tasked with running a video game development studio. It’s been announced by the game’s developer that figures seem to show that of the roughly 3300 copies of the game being played so far, a whopping 93.6% are pirated copies. Naturally for a small studio like Greenheart Games, or anyone really, those are crippling.
While cases like this are all too common, this one does have a silver, and very humorous, lining.
The problem becomes so great, that sooner or later you eventually will lose your studio as you usually can’t profit enough to get ahead, making those copies of “Game Dev Tycoon” essentially unwinnable.
While that’s humorous enough as is, the best part of this story has to be the befuddled reactions from the users of these pirated copies, as they just can’t understand why this is happening in their game, and are pleading with other players for a way to resolve the issue. One even remarks that the whole thing is “not fair,” while another asks is DRM can fix the problem.
While the irony there is seemingly only lost on the people affected, the real irony is that the people who pirated the game about running a video game development studio seem to have gotten the most realistic version of that process. Gaming needs an indie scene to challenge the perceptions of the industry and test the waters of what works and what is accepted at large. Piracy kills that creative market, and unfortunately a viable solution on a massive scale has not been presented yet, and quite possibly never will.
Still though, it’s nice to know that pending financial and creative doom hasn’t deterred the better spirits of at least one developer, and it’s hard to not applaud them in their efforts to make a small, but very clear, stand against the matter the best way they know how.
I hate that idea. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Hate it. I hate every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting implication of it. It hate the sensibility that thinks anyone will like it. I hate the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
While still not the official Microsoft statement, the recent, and soon to be infamous, tweets of Microsoft creative director Adam Orth on the subject seem to imply that if Microsoft isn’t already committed to the idea of making a console that requires an internet connection, they’ve certainly considered it.
Specifically he summed up the notion of a console that requires an internet connection with three simple words.
“Deal with it.”
Used as a rebuttal to every befuddled complaint thrown his way, Adam Orth would like it very much if we never dare question the motivations or intentions of Microsoft again. Because of these outlandish and insulting comments, Microsoft is now the ones who have to “deal with it,” as they scramble to make sure everyone knows that the views of Adam Orth “Do not reflect the customer centric views we take to our products.”
If you haven’t done so already, please take a moment to laugh at that statement. You can either laugh at the implication that the creative director of Microsoft’s views somehow do not reflect the company he works for, or have a chuckle at the fact that the problem isn’t his viewpoints necessarily, but rather that he couldn’t say them in a more PR friendly manner.
Whatever you do though, don’t take this situation seriously. I do not mean to expect these rumors to turn out to be false (they most likely aren’t), but rather do not join the legions who will suddenly give credence to the notion of an online required console as a possible evolution of the medium, or attempt to play the devil’s advocate on the subject by attempting to analyze the notion as an inevitability.
For supporting this idea, Microsoft is simply wrong. They were wrong when they released consoles that died more frequently than a light bulb, and they are wrong again in creating a new system that once again suggests that purchasing a console and owning a game does not guarantee your ability to use either.
There is no logical argument that exists to support a DRM system in the current state the technology exists in, for anyone not on the corporate take. While there are an abundance of logical arguments against the system, none should be used to entertain this particular notion. Instead, if you are opposed to this idea, please just laugh uncontrollably at it anytime a Microsoft representative brings up the idea publically, in order to pay the same respect to them, that they do to you by supporting DRM.
If the next generation Xbox is online only, it should also come with a statement that all owners must sign, have notarized, and officially submit to a court of law. That statement will read:
“We hereby wave our right to ever complain through any available medium regarding any technical issues that may arise preventing us from using our systems. We have weighed our options to choose rationality and common sense against blind allegiance, and have chosen to deal with it.”
As Halloween draws near, here are the final 10 greatest horror games of all time, any of which would be more than worthy for a Halloween night marathon.
10. Alien vs Predator 2 – A couple funny things about this game being on this list. One, its actually more of a sci-fi shooter than a full on horror game. Two, there are three main stories to play through and two of them (that have you playing as the alien and the predator) are entertaining, but far from scary. What gets it on the list is the 5-8 hour colonial marine campaign. If the best aspect of horror games is how they make you feel like you’re not ready for what’s next, then this may be the best example of it.
Around every corner waits a new threat, and the tension of awaiting it is only outmatched by the fright itself. It may be a sci-fi game but it’s also one of the best examples of the “haunted house” effect I can think of. You would think that the heavy arsenal at your disposal would help, but it only leads you into a false sense of security. The “Alien vs Predator” movies may have been abominations, but if you never played this game, I can’t begin to adequately describe the terror you are denying yourself.
9. Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth – An almost impossibly underrated title, where as most horror games take elements of the works of H.P. Lovecraft for their scares, this is a direct adaptation of several of those titles. What I love about the game is how much it feels like a love letter to the genre, as so many elements present in the game are horror conventions that are effectively implemented so that they sure to give any fright fan an impossible to shake ear to ear grin. Well, until it’s replaced with a look of cold fear that is. As much as “Call of Cthulu” is a fun experience, it is an even greater trip through pure terror. The monsters design is superb, the ammo is appropriately sparse, the sound is a highlight reel of bumps in the night, and the game features some of the best set piece moments you’ll see in the genre.
Particular mention here must go to the escape scene in the town of Innsmouth, where your early investigations lead you to conclude that everyone in the town is incredibly indifferent, and even hostile. That instinct would turn out to be dead on as the entire populace starts chasing you with the intention to kill. It’s a flawless escape sequence that puts you into the game like few other titles can even hope to do, and is a perfect example of the brilliance of this title.
8. Dead Space – Picking up “Dead Space” originally for a quick play through, I didn’t understand the hype. After all, at the time it was being heralded as the savior of the survival horror genre and one of the most terrifying games ever made to boot. My mistake was only playing the game for a short burst though.
“Dead Space” is a game that begs you, even dares you, to immerse yourself in it. Turn off the lights, shut down the phone, crank up the volume, and see how far you can make it before the sheer terror overwhelms you. The brilliance of “Dead Space” is in the collection of all the little things it does well, like removing a lot of the traditional HUD elements on the screen and subtly putting them on your characters back, or how almost all of your weapons are mining tools re-purposed for your current slaughter needs. There’s also the bolder elements like the horrific creature design, and the emptiness of the space station setting making you feel like you are truly fighting your way out of hell and into the unknown. I was gravely mistaken for thinking “Dead Space” was anything less than one of the greatest horror games of all time, and I now recognize it as perhaps the prime example of effective atmosphere in gaming.
7. Left 4 Dead 2 – The greatest zombie game ever made? Well…not quite but it is certainly the most entertaining. Valve struck horror gold when they devised the idea of allowing 4 players to fight their way through the zombie apocalypse in the original “Left 4 Dead.” With the sequel, they perfected the experience by incorporating more enemies, more characters, better levels, and more modes.
The entire game works because of its intense level design which is open enough to make you feel like you’re not boxed in, but still linear enough to make the choke point moments work. Even better is the community aspect, as “Left 4 Dead” perfectly allows you to live out those conversations you have with your friends about what you all would do in a zombie apocalypse. That’s not to say the game is entirely about fun, as the scares are plentiful and often come in the form of the sheer overwhelming numbers you face, and the special zombies that complicate your survival intentions with their unique abilities (especially the Witches, which are essentially the nuclear weapons of the zombie horde). “Left 4 Dead 2″ is a simple idea executed to absolute perfection.
6. System Shock 2 – Remember earlier when I mentioned that “Dead Space” is perhaps the prime example of atmosphere in gaming? Well, that’s because there are a couple of other contenders on this list, with “System Shock 2″ being chief among them. The theme of the game is isolation, as you are sent to investigate the sudden stoppage of the world’s most advanced ship. One it becomes clear that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong on board, your only companion is a surviving analyst who guides you to her location, and your only goal is to survive and hope that by reaching her you can regain a sense of perspective about what is going on around you. In your path is a host of mechanical and organic enemies as well as a very real sense of hopelessness that threatens your progress more than any in-game element.
“System Shock” is the spiritual pre-cursor to “Bioshock” and many of its elements were highly influential on the “Deus Ex” series. While that gives you an idea of how revolutionary it was at the time, I’m happy to say I can do no real justice to the game’s atmosphere. You are truly alone in this world. While it’s a world filled with incredible amounts of backstory and political intrigue if you go looking for it, that doesn’t make it feel any less unwelcoming. Capped off by one of the greatest plot twists in video game history, “System Shock 2″ is one of the few great entrants of the horror genre in the games are art debate.
Of all of the concepts in video game history, only one seems to have the unique attribute of being both completely irrelevant, and strangely everlasting.
It’s the concept of high scores.
Long ago (I would say even into the Super Nintendo era) the need and use for high scores in video games as a dominate means of measuring achievement feel to the wayside. In its place came the greater ideas of narrative, exploration, and eventually direct competition, creativity and, of course, unique individual game achievements. In other words, pretty much everything but a rolling tally of numbers is used to judge gamers, and games, by skill and merit.
And yet, even as gaming spreads more and more into the public conscious, the idea of a high score and video games still goes hand and hand. To this day, you still hear movies and other mediums throw out the line “I beat my high score!” or something similar when the story calls for a gaming reference. In a way it’s no surprise. The idea of one set of numbers being greater than another is used in so many other fields to declare a winner that its natural for that same feature to be the defining characteristic of victory for gaming as well in the eyes of many.
Of course, with the explosion of mobile gaming, the idea of a high score is becoming slightly less barbaric than it once was. Those simple app games are re-exploring the concept and, thanks to the global communication devices they often run off of, are also bringing back the idea of the classic arcade concept of communal high score competition. Just like an arcade, there are of course those gamers that shine above all others, and whose names remain such fixtures on the tops of leaderboards that you would think they were programmed there. Also, much like an arcade, every now and then a small group of those superior scorers will engage in a back and forth over the top spots that creates one of the competitive concepts that you see in just about every other field with regularity except for gaming. Genuine, individual player vs individual player rivalry.
Right now on the leaderboards of “Super Hexagon,” this rare moment is occurring. Even better, it’s not two civilians that are engaging, but two heavyweight players. In one corner is Terry Cavanagh. Terry has the unique “Super Hexagon” advantage of not only having programmed “Super Hexagon”, but creating the damn thing in the first place. The game’s challenge of moving a small triangle through a pulsating and vibrant tunnel of constant death is his doing. Actually, allow me a quick sidebar here before we move any further. If you’ve never played it, “Super Hexagon” can be sadistic. Think, “Dark Souls” without the thrill of accomplishment, because there rarely is accomplishment to be found within its impossible confines.
Yet this common idea doesn’t hold for Cavanagh who constantly finds himself atop the leaderboard. He isn’t doing it through any programming advantages either. The man is just that good and, even more important, is obsessed with remaining the best player in the world. He constantly checks in to see if anyone is eyeing the throne, and smites all those who would seek to replace him.
It’s a madness that has worked so far and, were it not for Jason Killingsworth, Mr. Cavanagh may be a man without rival.
“I have near-crippling levels of perfectionism,” Killingsworth says, and a penchant for exquisite challenges. “Most games these days feel like cow-tipping — the only requirement to succeed is to possess at least one working arm,” he says. “I want to spend my gaming hours breaking crazy-eyed, bucking stallions.”
Yet, like all great champions, he is still gracious in defeat as he is quick to praise Killingsworth for accomplishing what few, if any more, ever will. He does this for the same reason he is so adamant about maintaining his spot on the leaderboard. Because he just wants to promote the game he is so proud of.
That, is the biggest reason this one of my favorite gaming stories of the year. Someday someone is going to have to invent a better phrase for it, but until then this is simply old school gaming at its purest. It brings back such glorious concepts of arcade spirit and high score competitions, that aren’t marred by things like cheap tactics, glitch exploitation, or the dreaded pre-pubescent bewildering smack talk that plagues so many other competitive games either. No, somehow in an industry that is becoming more and more obsessed with corporate ideas, lies a high profile back and forth between a game creator who just wants everyone to love his game as much as he does, and a hardcore gamer who welcomes challenges that take no prisoners.
In other competitive fields they refer to events such as this as being for “the love of the game”, or representing “the integrity of the sport”. Video games don’t really have a similar phrase, but the beauty of it is they don’t need one. Because in a simpler time, we just called this gaming. In a more complex age, that’s thankfully all this still is.