Saturday, August 25, 2012

Video Games: Most played

I am going to post a series of posts related to video games. There is too much to write in just one post, so I have to break it into small pieces.

Today, it's going to be about the video games I played the most. I don't have the slightest idea which games I played how long exactly, so I have to estimate. Maybe you will be surprised...

Most played:

#5: Grand Prix Manager 2 (PC)

This game came out in the mid 90s and allows you to play 10 seasons of formula 1 in a row (why not more???), starting in 1996. There are also scenarios you can play that last for 3 seasons with a fixed goal to reach. But the most fun you get from just playing the 10 seasons mode.

The game includes all (but one) of the official drivers back then. You can hire different drivers for your team, negotiate with potential sponsors, develop technology or steal that technology from another team, build facilities, develop next year's car and compete in racing from the manager's point of view.

The game is not too complicated but complex enough to take me years to figure out some things. For example, test sessions with the car indeed have a very realistic effect, you must spend an enormous amount of money to turn a bad car into a good car.

Getting sponsors is most important and the only thing that will keep you racing. You must attract sponsors big enough to give you the money you need to pay your drivers and staff, but small enough to even be interested if your team is not among the best.

During the course of the game, even the design of the cars changes because of the new technology that's being developed year after year. It's strange looking back when it was actually 2006 (the year the game ends) and seeing how things are different. But that was one good formula one manager game.

#4 Goldeneye (Nintendo 64)

Goldeneye was banned in some countries (including Germany) for its violence. Nowadays you would laugh about that.
It was a revolutionary game for different reasons. It was one of the first games of the "first person shooter" genre, and it was a fun mulitplayer game, and probably the first good James Bond game (considering the last James Bond movie before this game is from 1989).

To me, what made this game worth playing so many hours and even years (over several decades) is the cheat code menu. It's not the normal kind of cheat that is secret and you need to enter it. No, the programmers put a cheat code menu into the game that consists of cheats you can unlock if you finish some of the levels within a time limit. Which is damn hard to manage sometimes.

The cheats include funny stuff like big heads, slow motion or paint ball mode, but also badass stuff like invincibility or the ability to access every weapon of the game. This was what made it so much fun. You could basically stop being James Bond and start becoming something else.

With the Cougar Magnum, you would pretend you were Dirty Harry. With the invincibility mode, you could be the Terminator (with a shotgun or automatic rifle, of course). With invisibility, you could fool the guards who had no idea where the danger was coming from. And with all weapons and infinite ammunition, you could play a "game" I like to call "mine standing" or "mine jumping" - placing explosives under a guard and letting them sky-rocket into the ceiling...what a pleasent view.

#3 Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)

I don't care that this is a Mario game. I have never been a Mario person. More a Sonic person. But regardless of who the main characters are (they might as well be Mickey Mouse and friends), this is a good game, but only a fantastic game in multiplayer mode. I am still playing this game nowadays with my brother. You might think: "Why doesn't this guy play newer versions of Mario Kart?". The answer is: They were never as good. And this is where we come to a vital part of video gaming. A game is not just good because of good graphics or because it has more features. This game was good because of simplicity and shortcuts that the programmers did not even intend to be shortcuts. Some of these shortcuts exploit glitches, others require a huge amount of skill and / or luck.
The game is fun because you never know what happens, but mostly the best player will win. I noticed that in newer versions of Mario Kart, there are no longer unintended shortcuts. And the worst thing: You don't know who is going to win at all. The new games are getting worse and worse. So much shit is flying and exploding across the track that, 30 seconds before the finish, the player in last position can still win the race. But that makes the newer games just luck-based and nothing is based on being just a little bit better. The challenge is gone.

#2 Fifa Soccer Manager (PC)

This football manager simulation starts in 1996. I played this game so many times, you have no idea. I even played this on the very night when Lady Diana died. And even this year, I played it again.

The game is open-ended. It means that, in theory, you can play on and on and on. There is just one glitch that ruins it at some point. There will be a point when all players (that used to end their careers and respawn as young players) will suddenly have their real age again...that means they will be 60, 70, sometimes 90 years old. Then all of them want to end their careers at the end of the season and all hell breaks lose. This can be in the year 2060, or in the year 2095, you can never know. What I do know is I played this game once until deep into the 2080s, so I would have been about a hundred years old if I was a real manager.

The game has an attractive menu design and allows you to buy players from a huge database. You can search for players by name or by abilities, position, country etc. Even the game's programmers exist as players.
Apart from that, you can change your stadium, get a loan from the bank, manage the training of the players, check their statistics, set the tactics, and eventually, watch the matches of your team.
The graphics engine of the matches is not so overwhelming, but certainly okay for the time.

I must admit I have never came across a better football manager game. And that is a testimony of weakness for the gaming industry. All the other games I have played since then either crashed at some point or were not good enough, or unnecessarily complicated to the point where it's no longer fun.

But Fifa Soccer Manager got it right. Sure, some things are missing from today's point of view. There is no youth section in the game, young players just pop up out of nowhere and can be in any team in the world, it's random. The graphics are outdated. It's no longer complex enough. You don't see player faces. And so on. But it's still enjoyable despite some flaws.

#1 The Pokemon series (various nintendo consoles)

Yes, I put the whole franchise here because I could not decide on one game. But if you want the truth: I am fairly certain that I played Pokemon games more hours than any other game in my whole life. That is a statement. When the Pokemon hype came to my country in 1999 (along with M2M, but that is another story although strongly connected to Pokemon), I was already 16 years old. But that didn't stop Pokemon from getting to me. It all started with the red and blue version.

What makes Pokemon so great? More than just one thing, I can assure you. It's not just an addictive game about little monsters that every kid liked. There is much more. The whole idea of it, the whole gameplay, is revolutionary. You are not just one guy jumping around and collecting coins, no. You are the hero of an adventure, at the same time a manager, a hunter, a pet owner, breeder, a challenger for a tournament, and more.

Pokemon are creatures you can catch and use in battles. They grow in levels, learn attacks, and they have elements they belong to. Apart from that, they very much represent animals.

The adventure part is you walking around discovering the area just like in many adventure role playing games. The hunting part of the game is the "gotta catch 'em all" idea. You are encouraged (but not forced) to catch all the Pokemon that exist, and some Pokemon only appear in a very specific place with only a 1 per cent chance of spawning (which can mean you must encounter 100 Pokemon on average to meet the desired Pokemon just once). To get some of them, you even have to trade them with Pokemon from a different Gameboy or even from a different edition (that's why there is always two editions coming out). Some Pokemon are legendary and only exist once per game. If you mess up, it's not coming back. And hell, there are even Pokemon that you can't catch at all unless you use a cheat device or go to some nintendo event in Japan. Can you imagine how many rumours and legends that spread? They added some mystery into the game.

The story mode lets you go from one town to the next where you challenge people and proceed through the game. Even that is enjoyable enough.

The most appealing part though, to me, is the "manager" part. Not only do you decide for yourself which of the hundreds of Pokemon are the best for you to get and use, strategically. There is also a deeper logic involved that, I am sure, more than 95 per cent of the people who played this game are not even aware of.

What I am talking about? It's the way the game is programmed. You can train your Pokemon not only by fighting against the next best enemy that crosses your path. You can max out the stats of your Pokemon by choosing wisely who to fight. You see, every Pokemon has hidden statistics. Some Pokemon that are very strong in the defence, for example, will cause your Pokemon to gain hidden defense points. Let's say your Pokemon also has, by nature, a strong tendency towards defence and it's defence value will grow more than the other values when it levels up. If you only fight Pokemon that give your Pokemon those hidden points, the value increase when levelling up will be even higher than when you fight randomly.

It gets better: You can, in some games, breed Pokemon. You can do more than just put a male and a female of one Pokemon species together. First of all, you can combine some Pokemon species that are compatible. Thus, you can even teach some Pokemon attacks that they would usually never learn. Apart from that, you can breed various eggs to see which Pokemon has the best statistics at the start (they all emerge at level 5, but with differences you may notice and seize for your advantage).

So you see, for a game that's targeted at small children whose first word is "Pikachu", that is a very complex game.

There is just one thing I don't like... it's the fact that they never made the perfect game out of it. They made great games, even fantastic games, especially the first game editions that came out. But with a franchise like Pokemon, you are in the position to make the perfect game. And the perfect game is nothing less but the game that you keep playing and never put away because it's boring. But I will talk about this in another post.

This concludes part 1 of my "Video Games" series. I will post more about games that have a special value to me, the perfect game, and games that totally disappointed. See you next time.


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