Can you remember the exact moment you realized that gaming was going to be your main squeeze? That moment when some creative (crazy) person's fantastic dream, against a gauntlet of large checks, straight suits, lawyers, and impossible deadlines, unfolded in front of your eyes in a glory of pixels, and color? Maybe it was an intro, maybe it was an ending, maybe it was a puzzle that clicked so hard your brain reset, maybe it was one of your favorite characters being permanently taken from you- whatever it was it made a big dent, and anyone with even a passing interest in VGing has at least one fond memory of the time when their mind was blown. Here's my Top Ten Moments in Gaming:
10. Portal- Now you're thinking with portals.
So, this is it. After hours of grueling science, psychotic turrets, and a whitewash of sterilic, test tube death around every corner, you finally get to confront your lab coat masters, and take from them their dense, moist confection...
But... wait... Isn't that wall.. Can't I? Well to hell with this, time to blow this joint! My 10th favorite game moment comes shortly after your magnificent escape from the powers that be. As you hurry through the gritty industrial complex that lies behind the scenes, ducking pipes, and jumping crates, you attempt to run up a flight of stairs.... and then they collapse. Man wouldn't it be great if you had some kind of device that could warp space, and allow you to walk to an out of reach place like you were stepping from floor to carpet? Oh wait you totally have that!
This is one of my favorite moments, because it was so subtle. In one swift moment of "Wtf...? Oh!" the developers fully explained that you're still in their world. You haven't broken free of the game's logic, and in fact, need it more than ever. There were no tutorials, no witty quips, no nothing. It's blink, and you missed it. It's negligible. Some of you might not even remember it; But that's the point. It was so smooth, so sly, and in line with Valve's design I felt like Gabe Newell winked at every copy of portal that shipped out. To be able to communicate what needs to be done, with out any communication is one of the Hallmarks of great gaming, and I feel I would be remiss not to mention this moment of superior game design.
9. Mario 64- You've come to the right castle.
There's a reason why almost 20 years later we still can't let this game go. It represented so many things. The advent of 3D gaming, the cementing of platforming into the new era of gaming, the control, the scope, the music, everything was, and is a 10 on every level. If I simply said Mario 64, as a game, was my 9th best gaming moment, without any explanation, people would not only understand but wonder why I hadn't rated this higher!
So what's the specific moment I remember from this game? Well I'll have to not get carried away, because there's like six best moment before MY best moment. After Peach invites Mario to the castle (voice acting?! 1.), Lakitu sweeps the grounds (I get to explore ALL that?! 2.), mario jumps out of the pipe (Holy **** look how good he animates! 3.) looks around, takes his first steps (so many movements! So many animations! 4.) and heads into the castle (Bowser scared the crap out of me. I turned off my 64 in fright. 5.) When I manned up, and returned to my exploration, it took me about 5 minutes, between playing around, and not yet being familiar with the mechanics, to find the first door. I grabbed the knob, the door creaked open, annnnnddd!!!!
I was stumped for longer than I care to admit. Did I miss something? Maybe in the foyer? Out on the grounds? Basement? Hmmmmm... Maybe there's a switch back in the room. I checked all four walls, jumped around, goofed off, nothing seemed to be happening.... then, by complete chance, Mario's hat brushed up against the painting... Ripples?? (Realistic ripples no less. 6.) Surely you don't..... There was nothing else for it... I leaned back, got some room, and made a dash for the painting, leaping dead into the center of it. I knew for sure I was gonna just bounce back to the floor, buttttt
BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BOMB! LETSA GO!
I had done it. I had found the first stage, and it was glorious. It completely blew my mind back. There were so many different objectives, and the worlds were big, and well populated, and there were secrets, and puzzles, and prizes, but nothing compared to Mario disappearing into a painting and the screen fading out to white, with that cheery little jingle close behind. I don't know who thought that bit up, but I'm positive they weren't paid enough for it.
8. The Stanley Parable- They really do think of everything.
I would consider spoiling any part of The Stanley Parable one of the great gaming gaming sins (but that's another article.) But, suffice it to say this: You are a mindless drone, who one day, finds autonomy while under the eye of an omnipotent, disembodied will. Would you obey "him" like the ant you are, or rebel in anyway you could? Would you wait for an opportunity to free yourself of his watchful eye, or try to usurp his lofty position?
These are the questions you'll be inadvertently asking, and answering, yourself every time you perform an action. Now, it could be argued this isn't really a game. You don't do much but hold the "W" button, and see where that gets you. But the thing is, it can get you to some really far out places. Existential, fourth wall breaking, "are you talking to ME, not the character, but ME?" kind of places. But perhaps I've already said too much. So what's so impressive? Great writing, and a few different choices? Borderlands has that, and way more killing to boot!
But that's not what makes this a Great Gaming Moment. The awesomeness comes from making choices you thought were sure to break the game. Go ahead, get this game and try it. Just try and flummox it. As said by several people before, when you try and poke TSP, it pokes back. And that's what's so great, the fact that just when you think you've made it to some secret area, or tricked the game, an exasperated British voice chimes in.... you're still just a rat in a cage.
7. Shadow of the Colossus- Everyone out of the pool!
Yet another game with a dozen awesome moments before my own personal moment. Even between that last period, and the beginning of this sentence you've probably thought about what would be my topic du jour; The barren beauty of the world? The first time you see a Colossus? Seeing the Earth be moved by one massive attack? Jumping on to the wing of the 4th Colossus as it swoops in at you? All commendable, unforgettable, and as satisfying as Chicken Soup in December- but my most vivid memory is a chilling one.
I had just begun to contemplate what some of the later Colossi would look like- Raging dragons? Fierce Tarantulas? A Kraken? The usual fantasy tropes. What I got was much more effective. It started with a lake. As I jumped in, and the introductory "Thar be Colossi here" fmv played, I searched around, but I couldn't see a thing, and as we all know, you REALLLY can't miss a Colossus. It was right about the time I was thinking about maybe having a glitch when I looked down......
A dark mass, as long as two football fields, with eyes as large as Mini Coopers. Eyes that saw me as I saw it, and turned orange with fury. It crackled with electricity, bringing to mind lightning above the clouds. It was right below me.
I had to pause. It wasn't a jump scare, or anything. There was just a deep, heavy dread that hit me unexpectedly. I've never been terrified of a video game enemy. Nothing was gross enough, nothing gory enough, nothing twisted enough. Once they revealed themselves, I knew what I was dealing with. But this? It was too big, it was too deep. It's mouth would surely open to the size of a swimming pool. It was coming for me. This guy got right down into that primordial fear of swimming in the ocean, and feeling something touch your leg... but magnified 300 fold. This is a moment as massive as the beast itself. And don't get me started on a certain sand worm you face not much later!
6. Final Fantasy X- Never Can Say Good-Bye.
This will probably be one of my more disputed claims to gaming glory, but to me any time a game makes you feel an extreme emotion (other than, perhaps, rage) it deserves to be acknowledged for it's feat. It seems like it would be hard to not care for people, and events that you can directly control, but in a lot of games it seems like the opposite is true. You're just driving an avatar around a virtual world. No more thought needs to go into it than that. But what about when you're put in the middle of a world where dying young is assured? Where religion, and sports are the only things to keep your mind off looming doom? Where bigotry, zealotry, fear, despair, and struggle are every day? How attached would you be to the people who have something to fight for? Something to live, and hope for? What about love? Could a rose grow from such a morbid wasteland? The world of Spira is a pretttyy big bummer. If there weren't a great cast of characters to pilot through this surprisingly dark land, this game would have probably been much worse.
"But Sage!", you cry, "Auron was the only cool character, everyone else was annoying!!!!!1111shift+1." Well, here's the thing, in a different setting, a different light, you'd be right (This spot will henceforth be for all FFX-2 hate.) But it's because Tidus is an annoying, energetic man-child that Yuna can progress as a character. Her unquestioning beliefs are shaken steadily with each wide eyed question Tidus asks. Rikku isn't just a cheerleader, she's the target of racism, and is frequently a foil to Wakka's fanaticism with their theological debates. Slowly, and without realizing it, this game becomes about your party, and not the end boss they have to overcome. Which is why, I think this game is so polarizing. In almost every FF, there's some great evil, or darkness that must be vanquished at that is the primary driving force. But in FFX, you face antagonists from all sides, even the ones you used to fight for. It's a bit formless, and to some people who can't readjust their thought, the plot feels flat. But this isn't about the Final Fight, as it always has been, it's about what comes after. Which leads me to my gaming moment:
Tidus disappears, leaving Yuna. It's a heart wrenching scene. It's the culmination of doing the impossible, only to find all your hopes, and dreams are going to disappear anyway. Someones dream had to end, so yours could go on. Through all the fights, and character development, in all ends with Yuna giving a speech to the newly freed people of Spira, and as the highlights from the game flash in front of the screen, and cuts to black, Yuna asks us a favor that we've already granted "the people and the friends that we have lost, or the dreams that have faded... Never forget them." Credits.
I sat there for a minute, awe struck. It was like finally reaching the summit of the highest mountain, then looking around and saying "well... what do I do now?" I was a little lost, and amazingly, unprecedentedly, there was a lump in my throat that I had to swallow hard to get rid of. I was deeply touched by this game, and it's stuck with me all these years.
5. GTA III- Can... Can they say that?!
While no one moment is too stand out, especially when lined up next to it's later brethren, GTA III had one important contribution to gaming. Language. Sexually explicit, drug referencing, slang slinging, potty mouth. Why is this so important? Well... It's a matter of execution. Back in the day, if you wanted something a bit more adult, you didn't have a lot of choices. There was the Juvenile Duke Nukem, or Conker's Bad Fur Day, the gory but goofy Mortal Kombat, and a smish-smosh of lame "adult" games like Leisure Suit Larry. Everything boiled down to overly gory, overly crude, or overly sexualized, gimmicks despite (and in some cases in spite of) the setting, or gameplay of any given game. It was fun to sneak over to someone's house who had cool (if irresponsible) parents and giggle at all the raunch, but it was like comparing cartoon network, to adult swim. One is much more adult oriented, butttt it's all cartoony nonsense just the same.
Then this happened:
GTA was a Pesci flick come to consoles. The swearing was well delivered death threats, the gore was a realistic car, hitting a realistic person, at a realistic 80 mph, while real music bumped through the speakers. The sexuality was between adults who actually intended to have relations. There were drugs, and crime, and assassinations, all those seedy New York underground Mafioso stories rolled into one expansive, detailed game that you get to wreak havoc in. It's hard to overstate how massive this (relatively) mature approach to game design was. No fantastic far away lands, no coat of bright colors, and cartoon physics to hide behind and say "Noooo it's totally cool, this is just like Ren and Stimpy!" This was that movie your Mom and Dad had to go see without you. Which is probably why it was so controversial. This is definitely for adults, and despite Rockstars sense of humor, this definitely ain't no funny business.
Stay tuned for Part 2., and if you'd be so kind leave a comment with your thoughts, and gaming moments!