Why I Love: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

(This is a post from the archive.  Originally posted on 2019, August 7.  I have edited the ranking to match the current ULTRA rank of 2020, May 15.)
From the very beginning, Morrowind gives you the sense of wonder and adventure.  The first notes of music coming into the menu is a soft drumming.  The melody that introduces you to the game is not played by a trumpet, a violin, or a piano.  It’s not a grand instrument.  It’s a harp.  After the intro, the music swells and becomes more and more grand.  The sense of a growing adventure is a constant feeling in The Elder Scrolls series, and I feel like Morrowind does it best out of the series.

This is a game that was introduced before worlds got really big.  I mean, there were a good amount of big worlds already, but not so prominent as today, where I feel like every game is getting ludicrously big.  Morrowind isn’t just a grand adventure, it feels like a grand adventure.

You start as a nobody without much of a past.  I don’t know, maybe you have amnesia like in a ton of other games.  You’re also treated like an outsider.  The interesting feeling about Morrowind is how learning about anyone in the game can be something of an exploration.  Your reputation with the different NPCs feel important.  They’re not just quest givers.  They have lives, and your adventure is changing things on the island of Morrowind.  You grow out of that outsider label, and you really feel that as you progress through the story.

Learning the lore of the island of Morrowind enhances your experience of your adventure and main quest on the island.  Remembering names, people, and places all came in handy for me and it helps me in knowing who to trust and who I shouldn’t trust.

There’s something grounded about the way The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Skyrim feel that Morrowind doesn’t have, and I mean that in a good way.  Oblivion and Skyrim are placed in a more traditional fantasy feeling.  Everything is so strange and new in Morrowind.  The creatures, characters, and enemies you fight all feel very new.  The traditional fantasy monsters are actually rather lacking.  Instead, you get all these weird creatures like scamps or grub-like kwama.  I know the other games have strange creatures (and scamps) as well, but, especially in Skyrim, much of the time you’re fighting dragons, spiders, trolls, and wild animals.  While that’s fun, I am never surprised to see something like that.  In Morrowind, everything is new and it drove me to find out what else was out there.

Unrelated to the sense of wonder, there are a couple of things that also helped my loving of Morrowind.  I really like the infinite progression system.  It doesn’t get wonky like Oblivion if you level a ton.  I also like the simplicity of the pause screen, where you can see the map, character attributes, and inventory all with one button.  No needing to navigate much really. 

Of course, the music by the marvelous Jeremy Soule is absolutely fantastic and helps with that amazing feeling of an adventure that just grows in scale.  

Few games can reach the intensity of exploration and learning lore that Morrowind did for me.  They exist though, and perhaps I’ll talk about them later.  And unfortunately yes, Morrowind’s graphics haven’t aged particularly well, but if you’re willing to let some imagination fill in those polygons, you’ll be fine.  This is just my experience, and I really don’t know how your experience will be like, but I feel like it’s important to sometimes feel unknown and let yourself be amazed by a new world and more importantly, enjoy it.

As of writing editing this (2020, May 15) on the ULTRA, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is rank 38. The ULTRA consists of all the alumni from the 12 games list. Thanks for reading this!  I hope you take the time to love games despite their faults.  

See you next time on ULTRA!

Why I Love: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest

What Does Music Feel Like to You?:

(This is an archived article from July 18, 2019. Some things are updated to reflect the current state of the ULTRA.) If you browse video game music, it’s sure to come up.  The music from one of the rather difficult levels in Donkey Kong Country 2, which I will say as DKC2 from here.  It will pop up.  The elements that I’ve spoken of from Donkey Kong Country 1 are in its sequel and they’re still absolutely fantastic.  The disparity between the two playable characters and what they can do is even greater, the bonus levels (and levels themselves) more organized, and the graphics even cleaner.  

But I’m not going to talk about any of those.  I’m just going to talk about music and how music defines what itself looks like.

If you’d like, do a little experiment with me.  Choose a game where you know the music well and you know the game well.  I don’t want to ruin a new game with this.  Then choose a song from another game and play that instead of the default background music.  Does it sound weird?  More importantly, does it change how you approach and feel the level?  You already know what the level is like, but changes everything.  I feel like that is what DKC2’s music does for the game and in a very good way too.

DKC2’s levels are vibrant, beautiful, and very well designed, but Rare, and even more specifically, David Wise the composer, pushes this by going outside what we can see.  It is clear what the level designers wanted us to feel and what the artists wanted us to play through.  

We’re going to use the very first level, Pirate Panic takes place on a pirate ship.  The enemies feel pirate-y.  The ship very much so as well.  However, what makes us feel most pirate-y is the music.  I’ve provided a link below for the music.  The beginning of the song does what a lot of good cinema does.  It has establishing ambiance.  You’ll see this in a lot of manga and anime films, especially in Studio Ghibli films.  The camera will cut to a plant dripping water, or to a couple of rocks.  Perhaps a busy street, but with the focal point being the environment, not anyone in particular.  David Wise does this in the first level with the creaking of the ship.  Then the music makes the pirate ship feel and look like the open sea.  It is upbeat and ready to sail, very much like the players as they set out on the first level.  The fairly high difficulty of the series hasn’t set in yet.  The rocking of the ship continues and is actually really loud in the song.  It makes the whole level feel like a living, breathing thing.  I mean, the level is literally rocking up and down, and the music further emphasizes not only the feel, but also the look.  

I’m really against spoilers.  I’m sorry that I’m going to talk about one.  I will separate the spoiler section with large dashes so it’s easily avoidable.  This takes place about 40% into the game.



In Bramble Blast, which features David Wise’s Stickerbrush Symphony, the emphasis is on the vastness of the brush.  It starts with a repeating set of notes and that set of notes is repeated throughout the song.  The repeating and overlapping melody notes puts emphasis on the repeating and ever expanding brush that we see all throughout the stage.  The whole stage even feels like you are wandering and almost aimless.  The level is a maze.  The repetition of notes and the reverberations of the melody take that visual and step it up in a way that cannot be done with only one of the senses.



It is this cohesion with music, visual, and level design that really brings DKC2 to the top of the series for me.  It is the biggest reason Why I Love Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest is ranked at number 17 on the ULTRA. The ULTRA consists of all the alumni from the 12 games list.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time on Game Praisers!

Why I Love: Medal of Honor: Frontline

The Theatrics of Battle:

Medal of Honor is one of the FPS franchises that dominated the early 2000s.  The first in the series came out in late 1999, but the sequels exploded in popularity and I remember playing LAN games with friends.  We’d make strange rules and battle using them.  We played a mode we made up in Allied Assault where we could only use sniper rifles without using their scopes and we had to reload after every shot.  We called it “Revolutionary War.”  It was good fun.

But that is not what this is going to be about.  That was just me rambling.  Medal of Honor moved to the PC in Allied Assault.  It continued on consoles in Underground and then Medal of Honor: Frontline. 

We’re going to talk about that one thing that you know that I know that you know that I’m going to talk about.  I’m going to talk about “Your Finest Hour” when the Normandy landings take place.

This is the first level in the game.  Medal of Honor’s first two games are also created by Steven Spielberg, the director of the fantastic World War II film Saving Private Ryan.  Frontline continues that trend of being like that film.  The long anticipation getting to the beach is very memorable.  All you see is that horizon and you know that it’s deadly.  After your boat gets hit and you walk up to the captain, the sound effects in this game blare off.  I mean, they really, really go off.  Bullets, bombs, airplanes, and the screaming of men flood your ears.  

I actually went back to listen to players playing the level.  I thought to myself, what makes this scene so intense?  Why does this feel so much more intense than say, most of Modern Warfare 2’s intense firefights?  The intensity of the moment would be completely different were it not for the thing that makes Medal of Honor and Call of Duty scenes so hectic: allies.

I don’t mean the allies you have in games like Mass Effect or Uncharted.  The thing that sets missions like the Normandy scene differently is that, especially in the beginning of the game, you’re not really set out to be a hero.  You’re a lieutenant, yes, but you can get killed just like any of those other NPCs who are screaming for their lives.  At least, that is the intended premise.  You don’t have a super ability or unusually convincing charisma.  You’re just another man with a gun. 

So, initially at least, when you first get off that boat, that onslaught of sound is frightening.  The outright destruction is shocking.  I mean, for the most part, this is not an experimental game, so the likeliness of you not being the main character is low.  We get that, but in the moment?  Hrm… all we see and hear is your allies under stress, in danger, and being slain.  Oh, and we’re just like them.

I think that kind of joint vulnerability makes games feel like those wars and I believe it is one of the reasons why World War games tend to feel intense.  In those games when your people were getting overwhelmed, there is no capital ship flying above from where we could call down the thunder.   We don’t have lightsaber skills or magic to fight back.  If we’re overwhelmed, that’s it.  If our allies are dying, that’s it.  

I understand how some gamers really want that “immersiveness” in video games, but I think there is also a certain amount of responsibility to let yourself be immersed as well.  If little things are not right or not fulfilled, we can let them ruin the game.  We also have the power to run them over with our imagination as well though.  This is not to say that the developer doesn’t have a responsibility to fulfil immersiveness.  So how did EA  deal with it?  If you look back at gameplay of Medal of Honor: Frontline, there actually aren’t that many men on the beach.   But how many men did it feel like were on the beach?  A lot of good game design is not about what is actually there, but what feels like is there, and Medal of Honor: Frontline’s first mission performs this very well.

The rest of the game is also very good fun, and we cannot forget about the great multiplayer.  The music by Michael Giacchino is some of the best in any video game.  Those songs combined with the events in the game can move you to tears.  Alas, a major bad thing about the game is the fact that it can be difficult to obtain.  You can get it for PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube if you still have those working.  A remaster is available on Playstation Network, which may be the easier option.

If you really like World War II FPS games, I can definitely recommend this treasure.  Right now it is number 128 on the Ultimate Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis, or ULTRA.  A reminder that the games that make it on the list were on my Current Top 12 Games list at one point before they graduated to the ULTRA, so most of the time they’ll be worth playing if you’re interested.  Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time on Game Praisers!

Why I Love: Star Fox

(This post is from an archived post from July 17, 2019.)
Why I Love is a series about my favorite games. These are just my personal opinions. I just would like to share why they are so enjoyable to me.

There is something endearing about Star Fox’s polygons.  There are little to no textures at all on any of the ships or buildings.  I think this ambiguity kind of left room for me to imagine the textures, and by textures I mean nightmares.  I don’t know why but those shapes gave me so many nightmares.  I think it leads back to the fact that the enemies in Star Fox get up in your face.  I mean, they seriously get obnoxiously close to the screen.  Some of them just… man, it’s so uncomfortable.  

Keep in mind that Star Fox is one of the earlier 3D, behind-the-ship shooting games.  I think there was a lot of experimentation going on.  With the little hardware available and the new SuperFX chip working itself to death, there really wasn’t that much space of what they could put in there, but they really created a variety of things using just shapes.  Portraying thrusters with glowing yellow, orange, and red, is a great example of the maximum they could put in, and yet the ambiguity brings it to life again.  Enemy ship designs are very strange, even for a sci-fi game.  It’s those unknowns that, when brought to the N64 and beyond, create designs for ships that probably wouldn’t have been done if it weren’t for the limitations of what Nintendo had then.

The claustrophobia the enemies bring when they close in on you and the screen makes you very, very uncomfortable.  I don’t know if they intended this, but I feel like it helps bring the natural idea of flying a ship with that discomfort.  When you’re flying an aircraft anything you touch could cause major damage, and so the willingness of enemies to be up in your face kind of reinforces that idea that “Oh my gosh that thing is- Ahhh!”  is the kind of feeling you want.  It’s a weird, and kind of misplaced, thing where because sometimes you’re not in first person, you get that same feeling of running into something without them actually running into Fox himself.  I’ve never leaned back in my chair so many times in a game.

I love Star Fox because it works with limitations.  It is when you do that with a game, or any creative product really, that it reaches new heights.  Working with limitations means being creative, being strange, trying new things, and working smart.  Nintendo does this all the time, and it is one of the reasons why I love Star Fox on the SNES.

As of writing this, on the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis, or ULTRA, Star Fox is number 106 (as of May 13, 2020) it is now number 128 due to additional games to the list).  The ULTRA consists of all the alumni from the Top 12 Games list.