What Makes an ULTRA Game?

What are the determinant factors that trend on the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis?  

I believe there are two main factors.  Is the game entertaining?  Games are entertainment after all.  Does the game provide a good gameplay loop?  How does it handle design and difficulty curve?  Does it provide more artificial difficulty or natural difficulty?  How is the game feel?  Is it just fun to play?  Is it just…fun?

Games that have a greater focus on entertainment are things like DOOM, Dungeon Siege, Megaman 2, Star Fox 64, and Super Mario Bros.  The stories are not really a huuuge part of the game. The story is a platform for the action to take place.  There’s nothing wrong with a game that focuses just on the fun!  You don’t need to be a tea-sipping fancypants to know good games.

The other factor is whether or not it is inspirational.  Do they have good stories and characters?  Is the world built and designed well?  How well is the player’s emotion directed?  What innovations are there?  These are games like Final Fantasy VI, What Remains of Edith Finch, Baldur’s Gate, Genshin Impact’s character arc quests, and Psychonauts.  Characters don’t need to be super deep.  They can just be fun, have great synergies, or present the world in a way that makes you think about life.  Stories don’t need to be entirely plothole clean.  You gotta use your imagination too!  

I am a little biased because I tend to lean towards more story-telling, world-building, inspirational games.  That’s just who I am, but all gamers are different!  And that’s okay!  There’s also a third mini-factor that I also recognize: the history and context of the game.  What did the developers have to go through to make this?  What was development culture like?  How have they approached this game in the franchise as compared to the past?  What artifacts and history lie beyond the game?  Game history is important.  I love art history, and I think video game history is just as important.

Something that I’ve noticed as we get near the top of the ULTRA is that the games start to converge on both ideas of entertainment and inspiration.  The top ones are usually brilliant at being both.  These are things like Dishonored 2, Celeste, Bioshock, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft, and Hollow Knight.  

I think video games can be such an inspiration and entertaining thing at the same time.  I feel the same for films.  Artistic vision backed up with great cinematography makes amazing films.

I just wanted to let you have a little more insight into the way that video games are seen in my mind.  Although I’d like to believe I have a lot of insight on video games, as it has been a focus and study of my life, this list is definitely not going to be 100% solid for other people.  That’s why we like different games. 

What are some foci that represent what you like in a game?  
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time! 

– Elise

The Blessed State of Gaming

I feel like now of all times should be a time of being grateful for the games we play and for the communities the video gaming industry has allowed us to be in.  I’m talking about the communities that are welcoming and good.  The ones that help us feel safe and well when we are, in physicality, alone.

The state of gaming qualitatively is always fluctuating, but the people we love, the characters we’ve bonded with, and the adventures we’ve had are usually good ones.  And more so the shared experience we’ve had as gamers and as friends are pretty much always good. Most hobby communities have fallen under or have struggled, but during these times, video gamers can be strengthened.  We have more opportunities to uplift each other through video games.  This is the medium that we proclaim to be such a great purveyor of happiness to us.

Digital downloads and streaming systems have allowed us safety from the outside world during a tumultuous time.  I don’t think it is the norm, at least where I am, to play video games for long periods of time each day.  Conservatively, video games are an extra activity that males tend to do.  Usually a Call of Duty here or there.  Maybe some Grand Theft Auto.  From my local community they tend not to be gaming every day anyway.  

But any of you who would like to call yourselves gamers, and in almost all cases you are the judge of that, we have our sanctuary.  The video game industry and world has driven us to the point of such relative safety and I am extremely grateful for that.  Of course the industry has also brought along its own faults, but what industry has not done that?  In a strange way the growth of the industry is like a relationship that is tarnished and rebuilt over and over again by the developers and the audience.  I think at all points, both sides have contributed both positively and negatively to it.  

We’re still here though, and I would like to express my appreciation for the fact that we have survived this long as an industry and audience that we can ask a friend if they want to play some Borderlands, and that we can chat using programs like Discord.  The current disasters of the world, although of still great concern, do not touch our bubbles of comfort.  That is what makes this current state of gaming so great.  I would that we could all pitch in for the troubled state of the world, and also have a place of safety to return to when we are weary and are in need of recharging.

We DO have a place to return to that is unharmed, and that is a blessing to which I say,
“Thank you.”

I’ll see you soon.

– Elise

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.