Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

30 May, 2011

10 games that should be played
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:44 AM

Adam Martin wrote an blog post about The 10 Games You Should Have Played based on a talk he gave. He then emailed a few people and challenged us to come up with 10 games ourselves.

Sounds good to me, but let me mix this up a bit.

Adam suggested that we might include an optional subtitle, “…but probably haven’t.” I’ll give a list of 10 games, but let me make this more personal.

Five games I should play, but haven’t

I view myself as a compulsive game player. I feel a good game designer should have a wide variety of game playing experience, as that adds more information to his or her stores of knowledge. Solving a game design problem is easier if you have a lot of experience playing other games, especially games in other media and genres than you normally play. But, there are still games that I’ve not played that I really should, and you probably should, too.

Ultima Online
Yeah, I have to admit, this is one game I never got around to playing despite being an MMO designer. Part of it is that by the time I got into MMOs I didn’t have enough time to really dedicate to playing one that I wasn’t working on. I’ve studied enough writing and talked to enough hard-core fans that I get the basics, but I’m sure most people will argue it’s not the same as playing the game myself.

The other issue is that MMOs seem to be a product of their time, and trying to play one later isn’t quite the same. Plus, MMOs evolve and change. Playing WoW today is not like playing WoW during TBC or WoW during “vanilla”. So, perhaps the time I could have really dived into UO is passed.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure
I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of adventure games. I’m not alone in my disdain for some. The only adventure games I got into were the Quest for Glory series, which mixed in some RPG elements. I think I mostly found the gameplay to be rote in all the adventure game I tried, and often the puzzles seemed rather silly after you had figured out the “trick”.

That said, there are a few that do seem to be required playing by a lot of other people. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was mentioned on Adam’s list. This is likely to be a good one for me, since I’ve enjoyed these stories in non-game media. Although I’ve already been spoiled on the part where you have to do something or lose the game irrevocably later, which will save me a lot of creative swearing.

What’s funny is I’ve bought both Thief and Thief 2, but I never finished the first one. I’m the type of gamer who likes to play the first one before playing the second. The stealth-based gameplay is interesting, but the first game just didn’t catch my attention. This is definitely one game I should go back and play.

I like a lot of non-digital games, and feel a good designer should be familiar with games outside his or her medium. I’ve played a lot of card games, but there are still a lot I’d like to play. Bridge is one of those games I really should get around to playing sometime. But, I’ve never had the time or a good teacher to learn. It looks dauntingly complex, but it has a wide fan base.

Dogs in the Vineyard
I have shelves of RPG books, some of which I’ve actually played! But, there has been a wave of new “story games” where the game focuses less on statistics and damage dice than telling a story. The games tend to be one-off, with custom mechanics for each game that is tied to the theme of the game. Dogs in the Vineyard is one of these games where you play traveling moral guardians in a wild frontier setting. It’s a fascinating game to read about, but one I’ve never gotten to play with a group.

Angry Birds
A bonus game to list here. I don’t own a smart phone, so I haven’t played a lot of the game on iPhone, etc. Given the reception and attention Angry Birds has gotten, I should probably play it. Although, I’ve played Flash games with similar mechanics, one of which was supposedly a game that Angry Birds ripped off was heavily inspired by.

Five (types of) games aspiring game designers should play

Okay, so let’s turn this around and talk about what a newbie game designer should play. I’m not going to name specific games, but rather general games that you should be familiar with, particularly if you want to get into MMO development. I’ll give an example of each type that I’ve enjoyed, so I’ll technically meet the requirement. :)

A pre-EQ MMO
Obiviously I have my biases, but I a real game designer, especially one who wants to design MMOs, should play an MMO from before the current era. Hell, just take a look at the sheer breadth of games from earlier eras and see how all that variety got distilled down into dozens of DIKU MUD clones and hundreds of Korean games.

An old-school RPG
Yes, people had a lot of fun with the older games. Read through the exceptional CRPG Addict’s blog to see someone having fun with these game even today. I also played Might & Magic I an old-school RPG earlier this year and gained some new insight from it. (Note that you don’t have to be as obsessive compulsive as the CRPG addict is. A bit of cheating past the stupid parts is fine in my book.)

A paper RPG
Dungeons & Dragons is the old standby here, but I’d actually recommend one of the older White Wolf games like Vampire: The Masquerade or Werewolf: the Apocalpyse. These games made a huge splash and while they never dethroned D&D, they showed that you didn’t have to have a high fantasy setting to make a great game. The focus on storytelling instead of simulation made the games great. But, you’ll have to find some friends. You might also be interested in the anniversary edition of V:tM which includes most of the rules for the old system into one book. (I also wouldn’t mind if someone bought me a copy as a present. ;)

A European board game
These were all the rage some years ago: board games, usually from Germany, that had a specific feel to them. They had a theme, but this was usually secondary to some abstract form of gameplay. The Settlers of Catan is probably the best example here, a great game to play with some friends. Try the base game before worrying about expansions; some of the expansions seem a bit hit or miss to me. But, there are a number of these types of games that are a lot of fun. Optionally, you could try playing some modern American board games, but avoid the “old standbys” like Sorry and its ilk; the newer board games have a lot more depth.

A Wii title
Specifically one of the titles that uses the Wiimote to great effect. I’d recommend Wii Sports. Take a look at how Nintendo used the control in a really great way to introduce people to the game. I think the lack of current success for the Wii demonstrates a lot of the lack of many game designers’ creativity to really embrace the new control format. It’s easier (and likely more profitable) to make a cross-platform game that uses the unique controls as little as possible. This is less related to MMOs than the others, but still good for thinking as a real designer.

Your turn

As Adam wrote, this list is wrong and on the internet. So, it’s time for you to suggest some changes. What games do you think designers should play to become more well rounded? Preferrably something a bit more obscure than Halo or Minecraft. :)

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  1. For the Wii, I’d actually recommend Lost Winds. It’s an old-school jump’n'run, really, but uses wiimote gestures for most things, making this the game that makes the best use of this input device that I’ve played. It’s also pretty short, a downloadable, and not very expensive, so there are really no excuses ;)

    Comment by unwesen — 30 May, 2011 @ 1:25 AM

  2. Oo, should have mentioned Bridge when you were in London, since we had enough people. I LOVE Bridge and never can find people to play it. Learned when I was an undergrad and (uncool as this sounds) we used to sit up all night playing it. It really is a phenomenally good game.

    Comment by Spinks — 30 May, 2011 @ 1:40 AM

  3. And my suggestion is .. play a wargame. Maybe something like Warhammer, or a board game like Rift or Diplomacy. Or a computer based wargame. Needs to be something strategic with lots of pieces.

    Comment by Spinks — 30 May, 2011 @ 1:49 AM

  4. Brenda Brathwaite’s The Mechanic is the Message games
    The Longest Journey
    The Burning Wheel RPG

    Comment by Melmoth — 30 May, 2011 @ 3:02 AM

  5. Planescape: Torment, for the complex NPC interaction and the gigantic dialogue trees. Most people have heard of it but never played it.

    As per pnp RPG I would recommend checking out TORG. Afaik it was the only game to feature logarithmic stats which was a brilliant idea – unless you had thick players in which case it was a bit of a headache. But if you think about moving this onto a CRPG it would work easily and avoid having 20k hp and 7k stamina at lvl 85.

    Comment by Rodolfo — 30 May, 2011 @ 3:17 AM

  6. Great Lists Brian.

    I agree with you on all accounts, and luckily I have met all of the 5 of the required playing. My background is actually from the Pen and Paper RPG world…nothing like being underway in the Navy and playing a campaign more or less the whole time you are underway…spoils you for marathon sessions.

    We have also started an every other week board game night and Catan, Dominion, Bang! and Cosmic Encounter are staples along with one of my favorites Arkham Horror (nothing like Lovecraftian cooperative gaming.)

    I will have to look through the dark corners of my minds for a list of games that I would say everyone should experience at least once.

    Comment by John Harman — 30 May, 2011 @ 5:04 AM

  7. Thief is one of my absolute favourite games of all time. Possibly my favourite, although Ultima VII and Deus Ex push it close. For me it has a perfect blend of story+setting, gameplay, and simulation, although the story aspect is quite hit or miss for a lot of people. There are several valuable game design lessons that Thief demonstrates: how fuzziness and uncertainty in the AI changes the way a player has to act, how a game can encourage you to attempt to recover from failure instead of reloading, how audio can be an important part of a game rather than just polish, etc. I think a lot of players don’t like it because it’s hard to get used to the very different type of influence you have on the world compared to other first person games. Also, some people just hate games with zombies in. :)

    Comment by Ben Sizer — 30 May, 2011 @ 5:29 AM

  8. If you have Chrome installed you can get Angry Birds for free through the Chrome store or whatever they call their own app store.

    But yeah there’s nothing new there. Have played this kind of game on Flash long before the iWhatever phenomenon.

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 30 May, 2011 @ 6:07 AM

  9. Mah-Jong. JCR rules. You know how Frank Lantz talked about poker recently? Yeah, I sort of get the feeling he hasn’t had the opportunity to explore Mah-jong. What’s more, it’s the sort of game that teaches you very personal lessons about the pros and cons of complexity. Phenomenal.

    Comment by Wyatt — 30 May, 2011 @ 7:33 AM

  10. Great suggestions, all!

    Spinks wrote:
    Oo, should have mentioned Bridge when you were in London, since we had enough people.

    I guess that’s what my next visit to London is for. :)

    Rodolfo wrote:
    As per pnp RPG I would recommend checking out TORG.

    Ah, yeah, that’s a good one. The blending of genres worked fairly well, too, although most games I saw focused on just one realm since cross-genre stuff could get a bit, er, silly.

    One other type of game that should be considered as a requirement: A roguelike game. The depth of the game, the steep difficulty and permadeath options, and simple presentation are interesting to consider. Especially given how fanatical some people are about these types of games given how difficult they can be to get into.

    Comment by Psychochild — 30 May, 2011 @ 4:31 PM

  11. X-Com.

    Turn based tactics are good for any gamer diet. (Chase it with Final Fantasy Tactics (any of the three), Disgaea, Phantom Brave or even Arc the Lad, Twilight of the Spirits. Frozen Synapse has a neat new spin on tactics, too.)

    I’ll also second the wargame recommendation (though I side with Battletech over a WWII thing; personal taste) and at least digging into Warhammer or any of the other tabletop war games (WarMachine is solid). If nothing else, they are a lesson in streamlining UI and mechanics, and seeing what things get offloaded onto the computer when we do video games, and how that changes design.

    …oh, and Angry Birds? I finally tried it on my wife’s Android phone, and I couldn’t help but think “I played this one when Armor Games did it with catapults”. It has a few minor upgrades, and it’s good to look at the big splashes in the market, but I found it wholly underwhelming. Not bad, just… “I’ve done this, and it doesn’t do much for me”.

    Comment by Tesh — 30 May, 2011 @ 11:25 PM

  12. X-Com
    Fallout 2
    Football Manager 2005
    Civ 4
    Master of Orion 2
    System Shock 2
    Deus Ex

    Yes, it’s PC-centric and slanted towards certain types of games rather than more general approach, but it’s -my- list, dagnabbit.

    Comment by Julian — 31 May, 2011 @ 7:43 PM

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  14. I’d definitely include Turn-Based Strategy as a game type that a designer should experience. Strategic challenges require a different kind of design thinking than the short-term, local-effect tactical challenge game that is much more common. Best-of-class here IMO would be original Civilization and Master of Orion II, with Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri a very instructive runner-up.

    And I really wish some designer would lead the way toward making some new games like those from the much-missed Looking Glass. (Arkane tried, before their sale to Bethesda.) These games set a challenge within a physical space and invited the player to figure out his own way of solving it. Like Portal (only with a much larger story and cast), games such as System Shock and Thief and Deus Ex rewarded perceptiveness and problem-solving creativity. This allowance for player freedom makes such games hard to design well. But when crafted by smart and fair designers, this style of game can be incredibly satisfying. Almost uniquely, they hit that spot in the gamer’s brain that says, “Ooh, look how clever I am!”

    Speaking of Thief, I agree with its designers; the original in the series did have too many monsters. The sequel corrected that problem and added a compelling and memorable story; it pretty much defined what a “first-person sneaker” game should feel like.

    Beyond that, what simple pattern-recognition game types are there beyond falling-blocks and match-three?

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 2 June, 2011 @ 9:22 PM

  15. Bart, Puzzle Pirates has a nice suite of pattern-recognition games, including pathfinding (Blacksmithing, Rigging), shape construction (Carpentry, Shipwrighting) and some oddities (Foraging… sort of a match-four at heart).

    Comment by Tesh — 3 June, 2011 @ 12:25 PM

  16. For Designers

    Pirates! (on the Com64 with joystick like it’s supposed to by played)
    Civ I-II-II-IV (and notice how graphics are prettier but gameplay has not improved much)
    Alpha Centari (notice sameness still rocks and SELLS!)
    Diablo I-II (the textbook example of how to do a sequel right)
    Halo I (and only the first one – learn how to console program here)
    Starcraft I
    Might and Magic (pick an early one)
    Master of Orion (pick a version)
    World of Warcraft (and play it until you level to at least 30 – BEFORE writing any code on an MMO)

    And Finally – you must play “Cut the Rope” before being allowed to work on any games in my presence.

    Comment by Angry Gamer — 4 June, 2011 @ 8:27 PM

  17. Midwinter: as much for the blend of action and strategy.

    Victoria: I was going to say Europa Universalis II, and that is a good one too, but I think Victoria is more interesting because of what it attempted in the POP system. The Revolutions version is undoubtedly a better realised vision

    The Lord of the Rings (board game): co-operative play against a nasty set of rules. In many ways actually reminds me a little of some of the strategy discussions one has in an MMO for a difficult fight.

    Jenga: how simple can be fun

    Othello: how simple can be complex

    There’s 5 of my own suggestion :)

    Comment by stnylan — 6 June, 2011 @ 3:47 AM

  18. Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience.

    Comment by Chris — 8 June, 2011 @ 12:40 AM

  19. We’re starting to see the same games come up again and again in top 10 lists.

    After a ponder, I think I’d like to see the other side of things: What 10 games people think other people shouldn’t play. Preferably not failures that they wouldn’t play anyway.

    Comment by NordicNinja — 10 June, 2011 @ 10:13 AM

  20. It’s funny how old games are so personal. People can follow all the new games and move with the crowd but as time passes by opinions split more and more. It’s amazing how often you think an old games cool but when you go back to it it’s not.

    It’s great to see other people opinions on what should be played from games of yester-year but I don’t want to wreck good memories :)

    Comment by Colin — 13 June, 2011 @ 5:35 AM

  21. Great list,

    I play HoN (Heroes of Newerth) when I have spare time, just for fun. The graphics are awesome, and you can get some good ideas in terms of multiplayer gaming.

    Comment by New Games — 14 June, 2011 @ 12:55 AM

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