Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Games of the Generation

Tomb Raider

As it is the end of the year, many Best Of  lists will be popping up all over the place. I'm not big on doing this for movies or music, but I will do it for video games, and we are in a special time for it. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have both been released, and a new generation of hardware and software begins. On that note, let's do a Game of the Generation list to signal the end of the old, and start of the new.

When someone asks to define a generation, they are looking for a singular event that paves the way for the years to come. The "defining moment" is a placeholder for an idea that is bigger than itself. There are plenty of games, in loads of genres, that have affected gaming in various ways.

When I look at the generation, I don't look for perfection. What I want to see is an idea that pushes the medium forward in some way. It must create a discussion, it must change things around it. There are countless games I will be omitting, because the task would be herculean.

Here are a few games that have defined this generation.

Angry Birds

Angry Birds. The industry may have three big titans in the market, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, but a smartphone explosion put all of them at risk. Cellphones and tablets fundamentally changed the way we interact with the internet, and how we communicate. We always have one nearby, with a free wi-fi coffee shop or public library away. Millions of people are exposed to simple, but addictive entertainment. And it's cheap. People, who the stereotypical view of "gamer" doesn't represent, play games constantly. This is their introduction, or if they're lucky, only want into gaming.

This doesn't touch on the point of indie developers. A team made up of one or two people can become successful with the right idea, now that a new marketplace has appeared. IOS and Android have opened up gaming, to creators and consumers alike. Smartphones and tablets addressed a serious need in the industry and reception has gone well. Consumers can directly interact with developers, and developers can respond to those needs quickly; no more company red tape. One look at the crowdsourcing from new developers on Kickstarter or Indiegogo is proof that this development is not slowing down any time soon. If radically changing the status quo doesn't define a generation, I don't know what does.


Bioshock. The Bioshock series can be seen as a mainstream and safe choice. It is, however, it doesn't hurt its legacy one bit. The entire experience, from the opening, to the story, to the gameplay mechanics, to the commentary, Bioshock has it all. It pushes a well-done traditional story, in an enticing locale, Rapture. Combat encounters can be played based on how the player wishes to approach them. A customization system is in place, so that the player can pick the gameplay style that best fits them. The, "Would You Kindly," just tops it all off.

An interactive subversion on quest objectives that brings in the morality of the player, by making the protagonist and the player, a Manchurian candidate. The discussion of why players follow on-screen prompts may be over now, but it was a big deal this generation. Other developers have expanded the idea in other ways and in other tones, such as parody. Bioshock may be the safest of all these choices.


It's hard to choose a singular title for Telltale Games, as they have done so much this generation. The Walking Dead is popular, zombies are in demand, so The Walking Dead game will be the symbol. Telltale Games is keeping adventure games alive today, which is no small feat. In a time populated with companies rushing to everything that is new, it is encouraging to see that not only is a company still making classic games, they are growing it.

The Walking Dead is an adventure game, but it doesn't play like Space Quest or Maniac Mansion. The mechanics have evolved. Most will call The Walking Dead's gameplay as Quick Time Events in a derogatory fashion, but they're the ones who can't see the forest for the trees. The way Telltale Games has incorporated quick time events into decision making, helps personalize the journey for the player. By adding the timer, players must quickly assess the situation, and pick the option they think is correct. This allows for personalized playthroughs, where multiple players can have varying experiences.

The feature of having mobility, or levels, or physics, or even graphics, can't be what defines a game. There is more to it than that, and it's high-time we started talking about it. The continued survival of the adventure game genre this generation rests on Telltale Games' shoulders.

Minecraft screen shot

Minecraft. A blog post on this topic alone, would reach over a thousand words, easily. It's also one of the most recent developments in the industry. Minecraft can be a Game of the Generation by the sheer amount of content it creates on a daily basis.  The mechanics in place mean the only thing holding this game back, is the individual players' imagination. Anything can be built, a rich world can be explored, and multiple settings allow several ways to experience the game.

Saint's Row: The Third

Grand Theft Auto V, Saint's Row IV, Red Dead Redemption, Sleeping Dogs, Just Cause 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, any of these games would be fine choices for open-world games. It's impossible to deny the hold on what open-world games have on the industry. While these types  of games have existed for years, it has been this generation where the industry has seen an explosion in the game type.

The small list I included doesn't cover half the amount of titles out there, and they all offer something different. Grand Theft Auto V has one of the biggest worlds with multiple game modes. Saint's Row IV is like playing with all cheat codes on, all the time. Red Dead Redemption takes on the western setting, as well as creating the precedent for GTA V. Sleeping Dogs was saved by Square-Enix, and is a good thing too, because it plays fantastic. Just Cause 2 is gigantic and can be played for months. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is on a level all it's own, and can be seen as the placeholder for the entire series; which they are all superb. Open-world games are maturing in a gameplay-sense from what they were in the Playstation 2 days.


Spec Ops: The Line may be one of the few examples in gaming that approaches on being literary. It is easy to see why Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was such an inspiration. Spec Ops: The Line explores so many complex ideas, and the commentary is so powerful, it leaves a feeling like no other game in this entire generation. If by any chance you are interested in what this game tackles, you, the reader, please don't look it up, but play the game instead.

The campaign is short, short by even short campaign standards, but it  packs in more than a two-hundred hour epic. It is also something that must be experienced. Anyone can read the Spark Notes on classic literature, or Wikipedia the synopsis of classic movies; it's easy. Those books and movies are only so good because people experienced them.  There is no genuine joy taken in saying you've read Arabian Nights, but there is joy in reading and have read Arabian Nights.

Spec Ops: The Line is at odds with other half-baked ideas in the industry, such as the hate for popular third and first-person-shooters. Spec Ops can even been seen as a victim of that thought, as it sold poorly upon release. Spec Ops: The Line should discussed without the eye-rolling of, "Not another military shooter." and similar hogwash. A game with the greatest example of art this generation, is also the one played by the least amount of people; at least for this list.