Ryan Stefanelli - Principal Designer
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
One of the most meticulously designed, brilliantly innovative games of all time. People assumed it would be impossible to translate the 2D excellence of Zelda to a controversial 3D world, but Miyamoto pulled it off with ease. The simple addition of lock-on targeting changed the way developers approached 3D action. For a level designer, the dungeons in Ocarina of Time were a veritable textbook of good design and communication.
One of the questions I love to ask design candidates in interviews is "Which Zelda game is the best of all time?" Which I follow up with "Remember, there is no correct answer. Except Ocarina of Time, that's the correct answer."
We certainly wear our inspirations on our sleeves here at Vigil, and the Zelda influence is obvious. It's the reason we left the MMO space to pursue console development; we wanted to make our own epic adventure game, with a twist. This game is a big reason Vigil exists.
As a lifelong console gamer, I didn't play many PC games, and Half-Life was the first FPS game to grip me and never let go. Case in point: it wasn't until HL1 that I adopted a mouse-and-keyboard play style. The story and setting were so well presented that I found myself replaying it constantly despite the linearity just to experience it all again, often with cheats so I could use the fantastic weapons to blow up the scientists in the opening sequence in hilarious ways.
Some of my most memorable gaming moments are from Half-Life. The slow-burning train intro through Black Mesa to reach Sector C test labs; Chasing G-Man through the halls of Black Mesa; firing the test rocket onto the terrifying green tentacle monster; first spying Zen; turning G-Man down in the end… One of the best games ever and a landmark of shooter design.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
The MetroidVania genre is filled with classics, and this is the best of the bunch. As soon as I scratched the surface of this game's depth--the huge variety of weapons, armor, items, creatures, and spells--I was addicted. So addicted I spent hours using the gravity boots to launch onto the ceiling of every square inch of the world, trying to bump up my total map revealed percentage (I think I peaked at 207 percent).
The world was overwhelmingly detailed. There were little touches that I still remember, such as sitting in the confessional booth in the church, only to be abruptly stabbed with a spear by the ghostly priest who joined me. Almost every creature died in a different and dramatic way. The number of secrets to be found was nearly overwhelming.
It featured one of the greatest twists in gaming history--the upside-down castle, which you could only find after collecting obscure items and solving riddles. And in an era that largely predated the Internet, this was something most people found on their own, much to their shock and awe. Thinking you are done with a game only to discover it's less than half finished…brilliant. And it was all capped off by one of the greatest soundtracks of all time.
- Honorable Mentions:
- Tie Fighter
- Super Mario World
- Street Fighter III: Third Strike
- Phantasy Star 2
Marvin Donald - Game Director
World of Warcraft (Beta through 60)
Back in the primordial days of the MMO genre, there was an idea. While playing the MMOs before WOW, I fell in love with that idea. Sadly, MMO games of that time were rigid, unattractive, and unwelcoming for anyone but the most intrepid. Blizzard was the first to truly represent what I thought the MMO experience might feel like. All the amazing spontaneous moments in world PVP, all the groups/guilds/raids, and all the countless hours of research consumed me in a way that I doubt any other game will. WOW was an enormous experience that offered a level of polish that was so far and above its predecessors that it gave me a world-class experience. WOW redefined everything, and I enjoyed the experience as the genre evolved. Now, WOW is so successful that it seems cliche to give it praise. Regardless, I've got to give it up. I had some damn good times.
Demon's Souls,Dark Souls
No other current-gen game better represents "zero compromise." I don't see a product of focus testing or marketing here. I see a purely developer-driven experience that boldly says, "If you don't like it, we don't care." I grew up playing games that were hard. We (developers) may be at a point where accessibility has been overemphasized. Now we have a reminder that meaningful rewards and experiences should be earned. That said, simply making something hard isn't the answer. There has to be the glimmer of hope that you can make it through. I love the feeling I had the first time I killed a boss.
Doom II (LAN)
You may need to be my age to appreciate this. I'll never forget my first LAN party. I was in disbelief before it all started. "Is this really going to work?" "Are we really going to see each other running around?" "Holy crap, I can see you!" Kaboom! "Bwhahahahahahahahahah! I just blew you to pieces with my rocket launcher!" A buddy of mine's father was in the PC business. They were a Dell/Gateway-type operation. At their office they had a PC lab that was networked. One weekend, four of us set up Doom II and proceeded to blow each other's brains out. Nowadays it doesn't seem like much, but back in the mid '90s it was a ridiculously awesome new experience. I have never laughed and cursed so much in my life.
Matt Guzenda – Executive Producer
For me it reinvented the first-person genre. Up until Half-Life, most of the innovations for first-person shooters had been tech related. Half-Life really focused on immersing the player in the story experience. The intro still holds up today and sucks you into Black Mesa. Everyone talks about scripted moments in games now like in Call of Duty, but they all owe their roots to the scripted sequences in Half-Life. There were so many scripted pieces that really made you feel like you were in a Black Mesa as it was under siege. A lot of them were very subtle, as the game pioneered player-controlled cinematic moments (I still want to know why the G-Man set off that bomb).
The original space flight sim. I'm a huge sci-fi geek, so who doesn't want to own their own spaceship, wheeling and dealing through the galaxy? For me it was the original sandbox game in that there was no set structure and you were free to explore, trade, and make your way through the galaxy. Privateer and Tie Fighter were much more polished sci-fi flight shooters, but they owe their roots to Elite.
Having worked on a bunch of action adventure games and being told "everyone hates puzzles," I get a kick out of a game that is purely puzzle based. I still think the innovative storytelling was a pure fluke, but it has one of the most memorable catchphrases of all time (and I like cake). The sequel didn't have the innocence of the first game, although I can forgive it, as the humor was awesome (I'm signed on to fight the invasion of Mantis men).
Ben Cureton - Lead Combat Designer
While it's incredibly hard to list only three games, it's an additional challenge to separate my favorite games from games I both love and think are hugely influential to the industry. With that being said…
Dark Souls is absolutely on my list. Of course, I loved Demon's Souls, but the spiritual successor simply took it to the next level. Dark Souls is an uncompromising take on combat, exploration, and discovery--the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Not only did it refine the way we thought about cooperative and competitive play (started in Demon's Souls), but it set the bar for truly filling the player with a sense of accomplishment. Getting there was rough, but when you did it, you felt like you had lifted the world on your shoulders.
A (spiritual) sequel, yes, but it's what many would consider the Terminator 2 or Aliens of the series. I've played many games multiple times, but Dark Souls is the first game I played to completion, back-to-back, four or five times. After all that, I'm still ready to play it again when the Prepare to Die edition is out!
Shadow of the Colossus
To me, SOTC is an amazing look at what a "game" could actually be. Sure, there were gameplay mechanics, objectives, and even rewards, but it always felt more than the sum of its parts. Most importantly, it let me interpret the story my own way. Who was I saving? Was killing the Colossi actually bad? Was I being selfish? I even became attached to a virtual horse! There are many games out there with better traversal mechanics, or better riding mechanics, or shooting mechanics…but there are not many (if any) games that left a bigger impression on me than Shadow of the Colossus.
Devil May Cry 3
Devil May Cry 3 is a game, through and through. It's crazy, it's intense, it's funny, it's challenging, it's deep, and it's also ridiculous. As a fan of combat, I always loved hack-and-slash games, so when the original DMC came out, I was instantly hooked. Though there were a few missteps along the way (DMC2), DMC3 completely knocked it out of the park. It had free-form combat, amazing enemy and boss design, secrets, combos, exploration, and replayability, and perhaps most importantly, it had the best iteration of Dante--one of the most memorable heroes (or antiheroes) ever! DMC3 had the perfect blend of both style and substance, and although the genre has improved yet again (with Bayonetta), DMC3 still holds a special place in my heart.
- Honorable Mentions:
- Street Fighter (Series)
- Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- Super Mario World