Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (31 – 40)

40:  Missing:  Since January

This game was also known as In Memoriam outside of North America.  What was interesting about this game was that it was what is called an “alternate reality game”, where the game attempted to blur the line between the game and reality itself.  It mostly did this through things like websites that you could look up in your research, but the most interesting part was that on installing the game it would ask for a hook into your E-mail system and during the game at various times it would send E-mails to you giving you certain information.  The most memorable one for me was actually a three-way E-mail chain where one of the participants was “introduced” to the other and said that it was nice to meet them.  While it wasn’t going to fool me into thinking that it was reality, that reflected a pretty fair amount of attention to detail that made the game more immersive.

The subject matter was pretty dark, as the premise is that the police are releasing a CD of puzzles related to the disappearance of two people by a shadowy figure, with the references and puzzles being decidedly creepy and even a bit supernatural.  I seem to recall playing it at around the same time as I was watching “Murder in Small Town X”, and the similar atmospheres probably helped them feed off of each other. 

I came into it a bit late and some of the sites and the like had disappeared, but a FAQ helped me get around that.  Still, I never finished it and even though I bought the sequel I never played that one.  That being said, I remember this game quite a bit and often wish that I could find a game like it out there, or could actually play it and maybe finish it.

39:  Age of Wonders 2

For those who know me, there’s probably only one thing I need to say about this game:  it has Hot Seat multiplayer.  Yes, this is another game that I played against myself, looking more for the story than for the actual strategic competition.  Basically taking the standard fantasy races, the game involves some spells, some gods, some bonuses from gods, and some units and throws them all at each other in a fairly decent strategy game.  Balance, however, wasn’t necessarily its strong suit, as some abilities might have been overpowered at times (I can’t remember if the overpowered Death Knights were in this game or only in the previous one).  Still, the series overall provided me with a decent sandbox to play around in, and the fact that it came with a scenario builder only added to the fun.  I never did get around to playing the campaigns.

The first time around, this one was ranked ahead of the first one.  On reflection, I like the first one better because it was simpler and had less moving parts.  This one got a little bit complicated at times for what benefits the extra complexity gave you, which made it a bit more difficult to just jump into and play.

38:  Age of Wonders

So despite promising to say more about these games this time around … there’s not much more to say about this game than was covered in the previous segment.  This was for me the game that really got Age of Wonders in my head and now with the games being out on GOG I’ve pretty much picked them all up, even if I haven’t found the time to play them all yet, and I don’t have the very latest yet because it’s more of a sci-fi setting.  I liked the charm of the fantasy setting for this game and have some other games to play if I want sci-fi, so it will need to go on sale before I’ll even consider picking it up.  Still, the only reason I’m even considering that game is because of my love of the series, and that can all be traced back to the hours I spent playing this game against myself.

37:  Lord of the Rings:  The Third Age

There are other games set in the Lord of the Rings universe, and even board games set in that universe (War of the Ring is the one I’ve played the most) but this is the only game that I’ve ever really played and gotten into.  As proof, I have actually finished this game to the end.  In fact, I’ve finished it twice.  That puts it in the rarefied company of the Persona games, Shadow Hearts and KotOR/Sith Lords.

Part of the reason I liked it is that unlike many other fans of the novels/movies I love works that focus on other characters and try to fit them into the existing structure, which is also one of the reasons I love “I, Jedi”.  Shamus Young talks about them this way:

Throughout the game, there have been two plot threads: One is personal to Travis, where he lets a few of his skeletons out of his closet and gets to know them. The second is the plot where Travis is gathering up these mysterious magical gnib-nabs for the spooky little girl. The former is just tacked on – Travis is sort of working out his issues by running into his past by accident. The latter is a largish retcon where the writers are trying to add a new character and new events to the origin of Silent Hill.

The Half-Life games did this same thing prior to Half-Life 2. There were several expansion packs to the original Half-Life, but since the main story was self-contained the writers didn’t have room to add anything new for Gordon Freeman to do. So instead they grafted all these other characters onto the game. You play as a security guard, some scientist colleagues of Dr. Freeman, a soldier, the guy who delivered pizzas to Black Mesa, Dr. Freeman’s pool boy, etc. These add-on stories had to be written in such a way that their protagonists did things which ran concurrent with the events of original game. In short, nothing new could happen. We could only learn more about peripheral events. Pretty soon it gets pretty hard to justifiably cram in new characters who don’t conflict with any of the others.

This isn’t storytelling. It’s adding cruft to the plot.

But when done even remotely well, I really like them.  They can add things to the existing plot and cover up potential plot holes.  And in fact one of the things that I most admire about them is how they have to add drama and tension to the plot while not contradicting what happened originally, and ideally while adding explanations and details that can add to the original work.  So I’m pretty much always interested in works that try to do that, which is why I bought this one in the first place.

The worst part of it is the gameplay, mostly the fact that you have to use skills to advance them but your skill use is limited by skill points that you can only refresh at certain points in the game and particularly when you hit a save point.  I hate that sort of gameplay because you get torn between having to use your skills and wanting to save them for when you really need them.  It also let you swap characters in and out of your party during a fight and the ones that you didn’t use still got half XP, but ultimately if you focused on a couple of characters — and the lead Gondorian and the elf maiden were two that you probably wanted to focus on — the others ended up too far behind to matter, and the Rohan maiden starts too low in level to survive the fights making it really, really hard to level her up.  Still, I was saved by the fact that save points restore all HP and SP and so if I was worried about that tracking back to a save point was always an option.  As I said, I managed to finish it twice, so I was actually able to overcome the gameplay issues, which is more than I can say for some games with better gameplay.  And better stories too, for that matter.

36:  The Old Republic

I’ve started two Diaries on this around the characters I’ve built that I’ve never finished.  I’ve commented before that this game might spoil me for all other games.  And to that end, right now this is the only game that I have on my schedule and so may be the only game I play for the next few months.  It’s not my favourite MMO, but it’s the one that even when City of Heroes was up and running and when I had Dark Age of Camelot that I could play the easiest.  And that’s only gotten easier with the new changes where with Rest XP, the 25% Bonus XP and what they normally give I can generally only do the planet and story missions and get enough levels to get me through the game.

That’s really the big benefit of the game for me.  The class stories are different so each class is a new story, and with eight of them by the time I finish them all I’ve forgotten the details and so the stories seem fresh again.  By switching between the Republic and Empire with each character, the planet stories also seem fresh, or at least don’t seem stale.  The gameplay is nothing exciting, but is at least simple enough that it doesn’t annoy or frustrate me, and while the combat can get boring mostly due to its sheer frequency, it’s not enough to bore me out of the game.  It’s the MMO I’ve played the most, despite my liking at least two better.  And it’s the only MMO that I’m still playing.

35:  Icewind Dale

Of the Bioware Forgotten Realms games, this is the only one that I can unequivocally say that I like.  Icewind Dale 2 appeals to me sometimes because it has more classes and more varied ones so making characters is easier and more interesting, but I really dislike how it makes level 1 characters commandos able to assault enemy encampments.  Icewind Dale sets you up as adventurers who are meant to be the minor part of a larger expedition, there to help and gain some experience, who end up thrust into larger issues by virtue of being the ones lucky or destined enough to survive.  And while the story can be a bit thin at times, I’ve enjoyed it far more than any of the Baldur’s Gate games or even Neverwinter Nights.  It helps that it lets me create a party all of my own creation, since that’s something that I have a hard time resisting.

Still, I never finished it, getting bogged down in various places over the various times I’ve played it.  This, of course, isn’t exactly odd for me, as it’s only been over the past couple of years that at least nominally “finishing” a game has been a priority for me.  I’d sit down and try to finish it again sometime but I have way too many games to play right now and not enough time to play them.  Still, I do keep considering it now and then.

34:  Lost Dimension

This was a game that left me wanting more.  Still, I did manage to finish it, three times, which is a huge plus for me.  I liked the traitor mechanism, and liked that the missions were simple enough — and enough carried over on a New Game+ — that replaying it was fairly simple.  Being able to mix and match powers on different characters was also cool.  Bonding with someone and then having them reveal as a traitor was heart wrenching.  The story behind everything had its hiccups, but worked pretty well and probably better than the equally dimension hopping Nonary Games.  Ultimately, it was a bit of a mix between the Personas and a standard visual novel, and while it’s not a Persona game it all came together pretty well.  I’d certainly buy and play a sequel, which is more than I can say for some games.

It’s also a game that I used as an example of innovative companion usage, precisely because of the traitor mechanism.  In gameplay, it’s you investing development time in characters that might be traitors.  While you can get back that investment if you have to erase them, relying on them makes it more difficult to get the others to vote them out as traitors.  In story, having to convince the others to vote them out makes for a more democratized experience, and having to erase characters that you’ve bonded with allows for more emotional depth to relationships and to those scenes than you could get otherwise.  And it’s all on you.  You’re the one who ultimately has to decide who are traitors and who aren’t, and who you bond with and who you don’t.  Without that traitor mechanism and pushing the boundaries of co-operative parties, none of that happens.

33:  Dragon Age 2

When I first played this game, I didn’t care for it that much, other than finding the question mechanism addictive.  When I replayed it, I enjoyed it a lot more.  Part of that was because I was playing it to analyze it and so had to pay attention to it.  So no playing while watching or listening to TV, which meant that I had to immerse myself in what the game itself was doing and saying.  And the second was realizing that the game was a tragedy, which let me appreciate it for what it really was and not as just a sequel to Dragon Age:  Origins setting up for Dragon Age:  Inquisition.

Yes, you can’t really solve the problems of Kirkwall.  But things would certainly have been worse without you.  You keep things in check longer and even manage to save some people who would otherwise have died.  You are supposed to fail.  The Templar/Mage conflict will happen.  But while you don’t get to choose your career you can choose at least roughly what will happen to at least some important things.  And while the companions aren’t classic, they do react to you and as they’d expect, as even the ones who don’t want to side with the side you end up siding with can be convinced to do so either by loyalty to you or by arguments.  It’s not perfect, and it can be buggy — my PS3 version seems more stable than, say, Chuck Sonnenberg’s versions — but it’s better than I thought it was at first.

32:  The Sims

I do love life simulators, which is pretty much why I like the Social Link aspects of the Personas the most out of everything.  This was one of if not the first games that provided me with that experience (I think the first one was an actual dating sim), and is still probably the only one that I’ve actually gotten into.  I’ve played other Sims games, but none of them really captured my attention like this one did.

Of course, for me I wasn’t really playing it as a strategy game.  As is my wont, I was playing it as a way to generate stories and so kinda liked the free will elements combined with my being able to have control myself.  Sadly, I was never really able to play it long enough to build up any really memorable stories, but the little I did do were interesting enough.  I probably would have liked more control over the initial set-up — you know, with some sort of cheats perhaps to tweak things exactly they way I wanted them to be in the neighbourhood — especially since the progressions — especially on the career tracks — were long enough to be annoying and got in the way of building a good story.   Still, I remember it fondly and again this is a game that I consider playing again at various times.

31:  Infiltrator

You know, I don’t think games today can capture the simply multi-component gameplay that old games managed to do (see also:  Pirates!).  Each element here was simple yet logically related:  fly your helicopter to the site in a simple flight combat simulator, infiltrate the site using various tools, get what you need, and fly out.  It provides variety in terms of gameplay and tools while still being simple enough that you know what you’re doing at all points.  Today, many such games I think would want to make each component deep enough for those who would like it, leaving almost every potential customer confused and struggling in at least one of those components, or else would clearly favour one over the others leaving fans of that component bored.  Infiltrator does not pretend to be anything more than it is, and I loved it for it.

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