Gameological Q&A

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Play It Again

Which game-design tropes delight you every time they show up?

By The Gameological Society Staff • March 21, 2013

Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. It’s extremely similar to The A.V. Club’s AVQ&A feature. You might even say it’s exactly the same. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.

In our previous Q&A, we discussed the overused puzzles and quests that drive us batty. This time, we’re turning the tables by switching the question around: Which game design tropes do you enjoy the most?

Anthony John Agnello

I love having to save someone’s life and not knowing how to do it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I increasingly try to play games in a way that requires as little brute force as possible. It was really Deus Ex: Human Revolution that set me down that path. More often than not, however, that game asked you to simply not kill rather than to actually help someone. That could be thrilling all on its own. There was a scenario in the game’s Shanghai nightclub where you need to hack the club’s sign to expose a murderer. Since I didn’t have much stealth prowess at this point—but still didn’t want to start a fight—I had to trick the game a little, tranquilizing every guard and patron and then leaving to let things calm down a bit. It was a wonderful, natural moment of experimentation. Better, though, are the civilian rescues in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The game doesn’t even tell you that you can save these four or five civilians you come across. Figuring out how to swoop in and take out the guards without allowing the bystander to be harmed is hard. It requires more deft reflexes and thought than anything else in the game.

Steve Heisler

I’m going to echo my response to our last question and also crib a bit from something Anthony has written about. I enjoy when I’m given total silence to contemplate the solution. There is much fun to be had within my own brain, and lack of noise is permission to dive right in. I can’t get enough of Fez for its quietness. It’s a puzzle game that requires you to warp your brain and then toss it in a blender, and there are only a few meager points at which you are explicitly told how to rotate the screen or shown a simple path to victory. The rest is just cognitive shift after cognitive shift, taken at your own pace but delivered with such ferocity you’d think it was that douche who taught your SAT test prep class. Every time I reach a puzzle I have no idea how to solve, which is often, I find myself marveling for just a second and relishing the fact that I might never solve it. Then I try anyway.

Samantha Nelson

I love fights I can’t win. Whether it’s Luke’s failed duel with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back or the battle that kills Boromir and separates the heroes in The Fellowship Of The Ring, losses can make narratives more interesting. This is something that can come across as very heavy-handed when done poorly, but I love in World Of Warcraft: Wrath Of The Lich King when the titular villain shows up to deal with your dungeon party and you have to make a fighting retreat. The weird Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman builds an entire game around your hero repeatedly getting smacked down by a boss he can’t possibly defeat. Normally, when you lose a fight in a game it’s your fault for playing poorly, which is why I find it so refreshing to get beaten without having to feel bad.

Scott Jones

Samantha, no! I despise fights I can’t win. Instead, I’m with Anthony. What I love more than anything is helping fake people and doing something that is unambiguously good. While playing 2004’s Spider-Man 2, no matter how dramatic my current mission was, I could not resist the siren call of a citizen being mugged. I’d drop everything and swing my way over to them and stop the crime in progress, even though doing so didn’t result in much of any tangible in-game benefit. Not enough games let me exercise my obviously quite large and charitable heart.

John Teti
Riven

Riven

This question is tougher than the last one because once a specific design tendency shows up often enough to notice it, that tends to mean it’s also becoming tiresome. But I like when puzzles invite me to figure out a long-lost culture—at least when that culture has a real, fleshed-out ethos (as opposed to existing as a thin justification for a sliding-block puzzle or some such). I mentioned this in Wednesday’s edition of The Digest, because Year Walk’s imaginative trip through strange corners of Swedish folklore gave me the sense that I was communing with wisdom from another era. Myst and Riven are probably the hall-of-fame examples here. The clues scattered throughout their windswept isles probably did more to give me a sense of the D’ni civilization than I would have gotten if the creators had chosen to let me walk among them.

Matt Gerardi

I’m a sucker for any game that lets me make an escape. There’s nothing more suspenseful than sneaking behind enemy lines to perpetrate some dirty deeds. But all of that tension turns to thrill as you bust out of there with bad guys hot on your heels and bullets whizzing by your ears. Far Cry 3 was able to reproduce these satisfying dashes at a consistent clip. I’m thinking particularly of the bounty hunter missions in which you infiltrate a small group of pirates and assassinate their leader. These usually end with a scene similar to the opening scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I scramble down a lush hillside while poorly aimed gunfire tears up the jungle behind me. That or I dive off a cliff into a pool of water. Either way is fine by me.

Ryan Smith
The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask

The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Timed missions get a lot of flack, but I think they can be quite effective when used judiciously. There’s some optional timed-mission stuff in Gears Of War: Judgment, and it made me realize how atrocious the pacing of many shooters are these days. Since there’s a general lack of urgency in terms of moving toward your objective, you spend a lot of time peering down a scope, waiting for a villain to pop his face out from behind a desk 50 yards away. That was, in fact, my biggest problem with Mass Effect 3. Reapers are wiping out all life on Earth at the very beginning of the game. It doesn’t make sense that Commander Shepard spends so much time having heart-to-hearts with his ship’s artificial intelligence or awkwardly dancing at a nightclub. I would have loved if BioWare had tried to turn the thing into one long timed mission to save Earth along the lines of The Legend Of Zelda: Majoras Mask.

Drew Toal

I grew up in the suburbs of southern New Jersey. We had normal suburban stuff—a Burger King, a Dairy Queen, a Wawa (sort of a regional 7-Eleven). What we didn’t have, though, was a blacksmith. We needed bikes and Little League bats, not dirks and bastard swords. Perhaps owing to this childhood deprivation, I love games that allow me to blacksmith. I don’t care if the blacksmithing mechanism itself is the height of monotony. Fable 2 turns it into a sort of pendulum-timing game, where you have to strike at exactly the right point to make the item. In Skyrim, blacksmithing requires less skill, but I still spent most of my first 10 or so hours making weapons and armor. Then I sold them all at the general goods store across the way. It was a living—one I hope to revisit after my Dragonborning days are done.

Joe Keiser
Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines

Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines

I’m always elated when I discover I’m playing a game that clearly explains its rules and then lets you break them. This is a pretty broad design idea, but it works in most any implementation. The gothic horror role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines uses it to enrich its storytelling, by letting you flagrantly disregard quest instructions and (un?)live with the consequences, positive or negative. The trading-card game Magic: The Gathering has rule-breaking as the core tenet of its design. The game itself only has a few simple rules, but every pack of cards contains a stack of ways to bend or ignore them. This works because while games can be defined as a set of instructions, playing games involves negotiating those instructions and coming to a personal understanding of them. You know this if you’ve ever said “no tag-backs!” on a playground. When a game has this rule-breaking spirit built in, I feel more like I’m playing and less like I’m listening to some arbitrary taskmaster.

Cory Casciato

When it comes to my favorite mission styles, I tend to like it simple—real, real simple. Give me a good destroy everything and/or kill ’em all mission, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s not that I don’t like more subtle, innovative fare—stealth, puzzle solving, and all that stuff—it’s just that at least 70 percent of the time when I’m holding a controller, I’m looking to indulge my inner 12-year-old. That means I want to run around and make stuff blow up real good. That’s probably why Just Cause 2 is one of my favorites of all time. The whole thing is one open-ended “destroy everything” mission that rewards you for what comes naturally. See some oil tanks? Discover a military installation in the jungle? Hey, is that an airport you just flew over? Not only can you blow them all up, but you make progress by doing so! And the explosions look totally sweet as a nice bonus.

Derrick Sanskrit

I’m always happy to see some sort of dynamic credits sequence. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell: Conviction do the easy-but-effective thing of layering the opening credits on top of a tightly paced tutorial. All the Katamari games have bonus games in their end credits. These are inconsequential but charming acknowledgements that we are playing a game and not watching a movie. I’m sure it helps, though, that I am exactly the kind of graphics nerd who always stays through the credits at the movies. Many a first date have been quite upset over my refusal to leave the instant the lights turn on (though even I have to leave the room once the Assassin’s Creed crawl gets started).

Matt Kodner

I love when missions tell me to survive for 30 minutes. I tend to lose track of time easily, so having a giant countdown timer loom in the corner of the action is a perfect motivator for me to bring my A game. The survival episodes in StarCraft and Warcraft, ratchet up a special kind of tension that’s unlike the standard “kill ’em all” or “travel from A to B” missions. I take great pleasure in failing with seconds to go, forcing me to retrace my steps and tweak decisions to better face the impending doom. To a lesser extent, I poured hours into the “15-Minute Melee” in Super Smash Bros. I never did beat it, but I hold the many times I got down to the last five seconds near and dear to my heart.

Dan Whitehead

Here’s something I look for in pretty much every game I play: Does the game world work like the real world? Can I switch the lights off? Does that vending machine actually vend? More importantly, can I flush the toilets? Ever since Duke Nukem 3D, functioning plumbing has been my litmus test for a compelling game world. It’s meaningless, yes, but that actually gives such trivial actions meaning in a roundabout, counterintuitive way. Whatever action-packed task the game is asking me to perform takes on greater urgency when there’s even a faint hint that I’m in a tangible place where some of the normal rules apply. Somehow, the suggestion that I inhabit a world with light bulbs that work and butts that poop makes me more determined to save it.

Adam Volk

I love the idea of games within a game (which we’ve actually tackled before). I’m not just talking about grasscutting mini-games (although those aren’t without a certain charm). No, I’m talking about the kind of mindlessly diverting activities that suck you in despite their repetitive nature. Saints Row 3 for example, had Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, a demented game show in which you shoot costumed mascots with sniper rifles. I also spent way too much time punching Italian mercenaries in the underground Fight Club game found in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Some people might find these to be nothing more than filler, but I’m a sucker for games within a game, especially if the developers put a little TLC into creating them.

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  • Chum Joely

    Wow, some of these are pretty great. I totally agree with Dan Whitehead’s point about how allowing trivial open-world interactions can make the big plot points of the game feel bigger.

    So, let me take this opportunity to present my own favorite trope: Any kind of unexpected psychedelic or hallucinogenic moment, or anything where the reality of what you thought was the game world is put into question for just a second, is fun for me. It feels like a corny example, but one of the high points for me of the first Infamous was the early-ish mission where you have to fight your way through a tunnel, and suddenly you’re fighting 15-foot-tall gang members who disappear in a mist when you shoot them, as a vicious, disembodied female voice shouts in your ear.

    Anyhow, just the feeling that the simple game world is suddenly breaking out of its frame. Actually, Hotline Miami which I’m playing right this second has some of those moments too.

    • http://www.feitclub.com feitclub

      yeah, I don’t know how much of a “trope” it is but I love it when games deliberately fuck with the player. Eternal Darkness’ sanity meter is the go-to example, but Batman Arkham Asylum also did this tremendously well with the Scarecrow freakouts.

      • George_Liquor

        Dead Space Extraction handles this brilliantly. It’s a prequel that takes place just as the necromorph infection begins to spread through the colony. You start the game fighting through several recently zombified colonists only to learn (shortly before you’re put down) that it was you who was exposed to the disease, and you’ve been attacking your fellow colonists while hallucinating.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

          Was that that Wii exclusive or something?

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I remember reading in comments somewhere (maybe here?) a discussion about a potentially amazing assymetrical multiplayer Silent Hill game idea where you might see other players as monster and they might see you as monsters. The idea kind fo falls apart if you think about it too hard, but if someone could pull that conceit off, it would be really cool.

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          @twitter-259492037:disqus It was a Wii exclusive at first, then it was released on PSN and as a bonus with the PS3 version of Dead Space 2.

        • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

           @twitter-259492037:disqus Originally Wii exclusive, yes, but if you bought Dead Space 2 on PS3, they included a port with Move and controller support.

        • Nabokov_Cocktail

          whoa that sounds awesome!

      • SamPlays

        The Scarecrow hallucinations were great. The scene in the morgue was particularly memorable because it was disorienting in a good way (plus creepy as bejeesus!) but I think the sequence where Batman is running down a hallway that gradually morphs into an alleyway from his childhood was exceptionally well done – at least then I knew what was going on unlike in the morgue.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        I still chuckle at setting aside Arkham Asylum for a month due to Scarecrow’s game-affecting freakout, where I thought my Xbox was dying on me.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Hahaha, when that happened, I was this close to pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

      • JokersNuts

        A follow up to Eternal Darkness is needed right now please.  Kickstarter?  Anything?  How can we get them to make this

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

          You might want to Google Silicon Knights. I don’t think they will be doing much of anything again. It’s a shame, because they had some brilliant Gamecube era productions.

        • GaryX

          No it’s not. Silicon Knights isn’t in the position to make anything.

          In fact, they can only destroy stuff right now.

          Apparently, trying to force some kind of sequel to that is what broke the studio.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Am I the only one who was really underwhelmed by Eternal Darkness? The gimmicks were cool, and I was excited about them, but the actual game was pretty boring and clunky. Unless I was playing it wrong or something.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

      One of my favorite instances of this was the fantastic PS2 release of Star Ocean: Till The End of Time. In the very beginning, the combat tutorial takes place in what’s essentially a holodeck and ends when the protagonist’s friend shows up and chides him for playing games all the time, saying that he’ll end up a brainless musclehead if he keeps it up. Would that we had these problems.

      But the real gem is maybe 3/4 of the way through the game, when (SPOILER ALERT, for a game from 9 years ago) you discover that the entire universe you’ve been fighting to save is essentially an MMO and that your central cast consists of NPCs. Even though this isn’t an entirely novel idea (being a sort of marriage of The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell), there was something totally exhilarating about watching a bunch of AIs burst, embodied, out into the real world and fight to prove that they’re alive. 

      And that it happens so late in the game, having given you time to really bond with the characters before telling you they’re even less real than you thought they were, is just icing.

      • Citric

        I kind of hated that twist actually, since it retroactively screwed with the entire series and gave the feel of a bunch of developers getting back at their boss for a slight I didn’t know about.

        What I did like about that, however, is how characters kept finding doppelgangers throughout the game, it was a clever bit of foreshadowing to use technical limitations as a plot point.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

          I guess I can understand that frustration, though it has always felt to me like the Star Ocean games were about… taking a step back from the world you’re in to look at it from above. It’s a very meta sort of move, and I think it’s been there since the early SNES game (and even the Tales of Phantasia game that it kind of spun off from). In that context, it feels natural to then take a step back from the universe you’re in and looking at it from above, which is what that twist does.

          • Citric

            It’s all very meta and clever, but it felt pretty arbitrary and almost a desperate move to stop development from getting canceled since the world was nifty but the story was really going nowhere – which, again, is kind of clever, making the game about itself and the problems in the studio.

            But while the foundations for the twist were always there – especially in the weird crap like random-ass teleporters that drive most of the plots – I don’t think they pulled it off successfully, and since it kind of came out of nowhere it rendered most of the earlier story kind of pointless, since it what you did really didn’t matter since you’re just going to be pulled from the universe anyway.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

          I think you might be a little quick to dismiss the stuff you did earlier in the story as inconsequential. It’s that stuff that creates the need to protect the universe — it’s what makes you fight to get back when you’re pulled out of it.

          There’s a pretty common trope in modern Japanese storytelling where, by some combination of destiny and dedication, the hero is eventually able to overcome the fundamental rules of the game. (This trope forms the foundation of, say, The Matrix.) While there’s certainly room to disagree about the effectiveness of the execution, I thought it was a pretty compelling way to peel away one of the layers of abstraction that lie between the player and the game.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/VU62VPA3G4TGDJWWBGWXBIF4UI Greg Buck

        The Digital Devil Saga games (SPOILER ALERT) also had this same plot twist if memory serves.  I haven’t played the games in years but I remember the big reveal at the end of DDS 1 was that you’d spent your whole time fighting inside of a kind of battle simulation world invented to test your demonic side’s powers out, and harvest those powers for the real world’s army and soldiers to use, but your characters fight their way to the end and destroy the system from within, causing them to materialize as real people in the real world shortly after.  Digital Devil Saga 2 then starts from there, and has you battle through the “real world” to figure out who created the demons and why.

        Not only was this a cool plot twist but it provided a good explanation as to why you’d lose your powers from the first game when you started up the second one.  Not enough direct sequel games give a good explanation for this IMO – you mean to tell me that I can just run around and nuke every random battle, get auto-healed, and take zero damage by the end of Game 1, but in Game 2, I have to have my exact same character start from scratch with the basic fire spell only?

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy!

  • Jackbert

    I’m not sure if this is exactly a trope, but I like it when games have instant restarts. Super Hexagon, Rayman Jungle Run, Super Meat Boy, and Hotline Miami (Mac version came out yesterday, have played for 6 hours already, thanks @caspiancomic:disqus!) come to mind.

    I must like developing muscle memory, given the amount of sports and video games I play. But when there’s long loading times between deaths, I get frustrated. It’s not actually the act of dying that frustrates me, it’s the period of time where I can’t do anything, making me think of my death. So if I can get back into the action, get back to developing muscle memory as fast as possible, I enjoy the game a lot more.

    • Chum Joely

      I love all of those games but have never played Super Meat Boy (it’s true! sob).  Time to locate that on the gaming platform of my choice… I guess it’ll have to be PC.

    • caspiancomic

       Mac version is available now!? I’m there!

      • Raging Bear

        Ditto! Now if they’ll just get the damn Torchlight II mac version out, I’ll have most of the games I care about back from my bootcamp-having days.

        • Grimbus

          If i may ask – you’ve given up using Bootcamp?

          I’ve got it set up to use for some things and am grateful it’s available. But it is somehow a pain to reboot into windows just to play a game.

          I’m curious about your experience, though.

        • Raging Bear

          @Grimbus:disqus Oh, it’s not that I gave it up as such, just that I got a new imac and they (pretty clearly deliberately) make it impossible to migrate a bootcamp partition. I could have, if I still had the Windows disc and product key, but I installed it with my brother’s disc to which I don’t really have easy access, so I declined to bother replacing it. I considered giving Microsoft a dime for the first time in my life and just buying my own copy of Windows, until I actually priced it and died of a heart attack on the spot.

          It worked fine, for the most part, except for the grand MS tradition of occasionally crashing for no discernible reason whatsoever. It was a bit of a pain to restart just to play a game, so I generally only did so if I was planning on playing for a fairly long sitting.

      • duwease

         Nice of them to release a Mac version when there’s still so many bugs and broken achievements in the PC version :(

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          They are a small indie team, and I can totally get why they wanted to put out a mac version. The windows version works for *most* people, which is pretty good for their POV I guess. I had a memory leak problem when I played sometimes. I cant remember if they fixed it or not. It’s frustrating yeah, but I can’t really be mad at them.

    • DrFlimFlam

      The reason I put up with Rayman Origins’ treasure runs (beyond my son’s begging and the great music) was just that. You just restart over and over again until you don’t really have to pay attention to the details; your body knows what it’s doing by that point, and you just smile and enjoy the ride.

      Jungle Run I’m a bit less in love with, but I still like it.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Ditto!  I love games where I can hit the quickload key as soon as I know I’m ABOUT to die, and just get on with doing things the right way.  When they force you to watch the usual “screen turns red and camera slowly revolves around your corpse as Game Over or You’re Dead floats around for ten seconds” I see red for real.

      • http://twitter.com/suprjohan Johan Halin

        Oh god it’s the worst. The wait after dying in Duke Nukem Forever nearly made me punch my monitor in frustration. It was an absolutely awful game in most other ways too, but that was the most frustrating thing.

      • GaryX

        This was why I had no problem with Prince of Persia 2008.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        “Drake! Noooooooooooooooo!”

        • Nabokov_Cocktail

          Playing through Uncharted 3 now.  I will sometimes plunge to my death on purpose just to hear that. 

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           Or even worse, when the enemies laugh at you.

          It was fun to get such a serious death animation all the times I just accidentally sent Drake leaping off in the wrong direction to his death.

      • Chum Joely

        Oh man, Mass Effect 1 was the worst for that. When I was first figuring out the combat system, I frequently spent way more time waiting for the start of a battle to load than I did actually playing it before getting killed.

      • George_Liquor

        Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night is one of the worst offenders. It takes at least five minutes to get from the Game Over screen back into your last save point.

        • Melancholic_Rodeo_Clown

          Oh yes, I know I for one will go to my grave remembering the phrase “Let us go out this evening for pleasure. The night is still young.”

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I don’t know if this counts as a game design trope, but one aspect of level design that I always appreciate is verticality. Most modern AAA games are set in a 3D world, yet developers rarely take full advantage of the z-axis. (RPGs are especially notorious for this.)

    It’s part of the reason why I gravitate towards third-person 3D platformers, but I also greatly appreciate first-person games that employ verticality, such as Mirror’s Edge and Portal. It’s also part of the reason why the upcoming BioShock Infinite looks so appealing to me. The first two BioShock games were essentially corridor shooters, and they felt constrained as a result. This one looks to be a lot more open, and with the vertical level design and enemies approaching from above and below, the combat possibilities are potentially far more varied than in most shooters. I really hope Infinite delivers on that front.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I just bought my Infinite pre-order/Civ5 bundle today and I’m feeling pretty good about it.  Here’s to some mutated Grant Wood roller-coaster dystopia.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Did you get it from Green Man Gaming? They’ve thrown in XCOM as an extra bonus too now.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Damn, I did not know that.  How awesome.  I’m just terrible at that type of strategy, but I’ve heard nothing but good things, so I’m happy to give it a try.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

          Green Man is the fucking best. I’ve been buying stuff there more often than Steam of late.

      • GaryX

        I wish I had a good PC so I could preorder Infinite and get a free game. :(

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          I’m taking a bit of a gambit, honestly.  My PC is fairly up-to-date, but it’s no monster.  I was seriously considering getting it for PS3 just for the assurance it would work well, as well as the paleolithic reassurance of physical media.
             But I like playing games in my office and I like deals.
             We’ll see how it goes.  

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Also, multiplatform releases are usually the worst on PS3.

    • mobvok

      Agreed on this- definitely veering away from tropes here, but with the moon from Majora’s Mask and Dragon Roost Island/Tower of the Gods/Windfall Lighthouse from Wind Waker, they became reference points that tied the world together. I often just stopped and stared- that vertical presence is often key in establishing the real sense of a world and repelling the feeling that I’m just running around in a series of large empty boxes with a sky-textured ceiling and varying wallpaper (an endemic problem to N64/PS2 era games).

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         That was one of my favorite things about Twilight Princess: everything had such an impressive since of scale, and you could see landmarks from other areas off in the distance. Skyward sword unfortunately got rid of that.

    • PaganPoet

      Your post reminds me of St. Francis Folly from the original Tomb Raider. I remember in the commentary for Tomb Raider Anniversary, Toby Whats-His-Face mentioned that this level was specifically designed to take advantage of the z-axis. And you have to admit, if you played that game close to the time when it came out, that level was awe inspiring…and intimidated. I don’t know how many times my Lara plummeted to a gruesome death because I didn’t plan a jump correctly.

    • Gauephat

      I really wish a good space-set RTS would come out that allowed the player to utilize the Z-axis.  Sins of a Solar Empire allowed it in a very general sense, but I haven’t discovered another game that allows true freedom of mobility in all three dimensions.

      • Travis Stewart

        Homeworld allowed that. I don’t recall it being terribly useful, but it was there.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I loved that about Assassin’s Creed and The Saboteur. Manning an AA gun and just pounding the Nazis never felt so great.

      • djsubversive

        The Saboteur was just a fun game, full stop. Manning an AA gun, planting an explosive charge on a sniper tower, donkey-punching a Nazi officer – none of it gets old.

        • DrFlimFlam

           My favorite of the GTA subgenre.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           The moment that I figured out that you could actually man an AA gun and use it, instead of just blowing it up, propelled that game to an A+ for me. Going back to an earlier point, it’s always fun when stuff works like you want it to in games.

        • djsubversive

          @Professor_Cuntburglar:disqus haha. Well, the first experience you’re likely to have with those AA guns is during a mission where you’re told “blow those fuckin’ things up because Nazis.” I think I finally learned about actually manning them accidentally, too. I was running around, blowing shit up because it’s The Saboteur, and decided to try and get an outfit from the guy on top of the AA gun. It didn’t work very well, and suddenly I was Target Number One. I took care of the two guys on the platform, and saw a zeppelin overhead at about the same time I caught the “enter AA gun” prompt on-screen.

          Oh, what a glorious day! :)

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      Dishonored gets in to it a bit on some levels. Don’t remember if you’ve played that or not.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Yeah, Dishonored was also a game that took advantage of verticality, especially in the [SPOILERS] final lighthouse level, which was basically one huge climb. I wish that the lighthouse hadn’t been split into two separate levels, but current console limitations probably forced the developers’ hand there. Even so, once you near the top of the lighthouse and look down, the view is damn impressive.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          I had great fun shoving guards off the walkways and watching them fall to their deaths.  (And then reloading my save, as this was still my goodie two-shoes playthrough.  My next visit will be much more fun! – Oh, wait, never mind, I don’t get to go there as evil, do I?)

        • Open_Source_Idiom

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus 
          SPOILERS
          It’s exactly the same place, just a little more climatic. And climactic. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

      I’ve always wanted to play an open world game that was set in a futuristic metropolis of towering skyscrapers, full of jetpacks and flying cars and whatnot. I think that would be a great setting.

      I think I first thought of that when reading Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, which was set in the futuristic Millenium City, but you know what would also make an awesome setting for that kind of game? Neotopia, from Alan Moore’s Top Ten; it’s a city populated entirely by superheroes, and since it’s about the police department of that city, you’ve got the basis of what could be an awesome game right there. I don’t think it would ever happen, considering Moore’s track record with adaptations of his works, but if anybody wants to take inspiration from that idea for a game, I’ll let you have it for free.

      • Grimbus

        Actually pretty close to that – but in a way better – was Eidos / Mucky Foot’s game Urban Chaos.

        - For starters – what a great game. One of the few unsung classics that still isn’t getting sung.

        - Open world city (with missions you start by talking to someone), with loads and loads of buildings, including some extremely high skyscrapers, and you can get up onto the roof of almost all of them, but — you have to climb.
        Ladders, fire escapes. Jump off a van roof to get to the ladder on a billboard, jump off the billboard onto an otherwise inaccessible roof, from that roof onto the fire escape of the 10-story building adjacent, etc.

        Takes longer than a jetpack or super flight, and for that exact reason, actually feels HIGH when you get up there.

        Super rewarding.

        • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

          Sounds cool. There was a bit of that in Spider-Man 2 as well (although the climbing wasn’t very hard; just push up); I loved climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and diving off.

        • Grimbus

          It’s excellent. Rock Paper Shotgun are fans:

          http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/?p=51089#urbanchaos

        • jimmyconway9

           I had the a demo CD from a PC GAMER magazine that included a demo of this. I never could beat the little level, but it was hella fun. Almost needed a gamepad.

      • His_Space_Holiness

        Funnily enough, Top Ten actually has a scene in which a character is playing a handheld Top Ten video game and complaining about how hard it is.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Yes.

      This is one of my favorite things about the recent trend of “sandbox games where you can climb on stuff.” Whole new gameplay options and strategies are opened up.

      Compare that to the older GTA games, where you can pretty much explore the city at street level and that was it (unless you wanted to take the time to steal a helicopter and land it on a building).

  • Citric

    I find I like what I’ll call the pause the most. Areas with no threats, no enemies, just maybe a story sequence and a couple people to talk to, those empty areas often right before or after a big boss or an arduous section of the game. They give you a moment to collect your thoughts, prepare for what’s happening next and get your bearings. It’s great just because when something is the least bit challenging, it’s nice to have an in-game break so you don’t go insane.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I love these breaks too, not only because they allow for relaxation and good pacing, but also because they facilitate exploration. It can be hard to become absorbed in a world when you’re fighting off hordes of evil minions.

    • rvb1023

       The ladder in MGS3 is still one of my favorite moments from the game, especially after you have been climbing for a while the theme song starts to kick in because you are only about halfway there.

      I would probably say my favorite games are all similar to this, incredibly quiet, calm, almost introspective followed by intense bursts of gameplay and what is functionally payoff.

      • djsubversive

         still in a dreeeeam snaaaake eeaterrrr

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      It depends on the game with these for me. In something where I’m in constant fear for my life and one bad swing from death, like Dark Souls, they’re a god send.

      In Gears of War, where there’s an area where your team just walks really slow and talks to HQ on a headset it is like torture for me!

    • GaryX

      I loved the typewriter rooms in Resident Evil for this reason (the music always helped, too).

      • PaganPoet

        If we’re talking about the music of these areas, I have to mention the bottom floor of Tartarus in Persona 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcwP5_ODsFM

        Nothing quite says “You’re safe…for now” like that track.

      • FroggytheSmack

        There always a palpable release of tension when that door would shut behind me. And I knew I could just rest for a moment.

    • aklab

      The streetlights in Alan Wake were really good for that. 

  • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 TheBryanJZX90

    It’s completely overused, and incredibly cheesy even when done right, but I can’t get enough of those deus ex machina moments where your longtime rival/enemy drops in right when all hope is lost against an unstoppable foe with a “No one is going to defeat XXXX but ME!” and then you fight alongside each other against the greater evil. Pure schmaltz, but gets me every time.

  • George_Liquor

    I love a good, subtle forth wall smashing, especially when it pokes a little fun at the game’s conventions. GlaDOS calling Chell a “dangerous mute lunatic” in Portal 2 is one of my favorites, as is Fi interrupting your Skyward Sword game to inform you that your Wiimote’s batteries are about to die.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I’m a total sucker for fourth wall breakage. I’m having trouble thinking of examples at the moment, but i’m pretty sure this happens in Earthbound and the Mario RPGs. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

        Pretty much everything about Dungeons of Dredmor is this, and is wonderful.

        • FroggytheSmack

          That looks like my type of game & is only $5 on Steam. Totally worth it then?

          EDIT: Oh my God I finally managed to log in on Gameological! I am not merging with my AVC profile because who know what gate of hell that will open.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

          I picked it up in an early Humble Bundle, but yeah, it is definitely worth $5. There’s also a free expansion DLC on Steam, and one or two more that are a couple bucks apiece which I also got and which are also great. 

          I mean, the “Unarmed Combat” skill tree consists entirely of attacks that use your feet. And the tooltip for your dodge stat explains that it’s “How good you are at avoiding the consequences of your actions.” And honestly, any game that allows you to take “Communism” as one of your skill trees is pretty respectable (this is in one of the expansions, not the base game).

          They had me at “Hello.”

      • Raging Bear

        Earthbound does it in at least two ways that I remember: the bits (two of them, I think) when someone in a town offers your party hot drinks, and then it launches some scrolling text that’s part summary, part pep talk. I forget if it talks straight to the player about the journey, or if it talks in the second person about the journey and it could be taken as addressing Ness or addressing the player.

        The other is in the survey taker who randomly shows up at some point to ask for the name of the player, which you then forget about until it comes up in the final battle in a rather sweet way.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I really need to play Earthbound again. The Mr. Saturn guys were fantastic in that I guess they were essentially speaking in some weird Mr. Saturn accent, and the game conveys this by giving them a crazy font. I LOVE THAT SHIT.

        • PaganPoet

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus YOU WANT SELL THINGS AT ME? BOING!

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Metal Gear Solid 2 probably had my favorite 4th-wall breaker when *SPOILER* after you break into Metal Gear Ray, the Colonel starts yelling inane shit at you and telling you you’ve been playing video games to long and to take a break.  MGS2 was the most hyped thing under the sun when it came out so I had been playing it for something like 5 hours straight when he said that on the radio.  I asked myself, “does he know? Is he talking to me specifically!?!?”

      I found it it’s a scripted line and everybody gets it but for a brief while I thought I’d unlocked some secret MGS2 ‘you-played-a-long-time-in-one-sitting’ easter egg.

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

        Most of the 4th wall stuff in the MGS series is pretty great, just because of its sheer lunacy and inventiveness. What you mention, the GW AI pretending to be the Colonel and trying to talk Raiden our of his goal is fantastic. It gets pretty creepy in some parts.

        • Nabokov_Cocktail

          yes this.  No one ever mentions how weirdly creepy and unsettling it all gets.  It totally freaked me out when I got to that part.

      • GaryX

        God, I love the insanity of Metal Gear Solid 2. Just such an amazingly pure example of what can go right AND wrong when someone is given way too much freedom but also a ton of pressure to deliver a sequel.

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

        I flipped my shit in the original Metal Gear Solid when Psycho Mantis read my memory card and noted that I was a fan of Castlevania, Suikoden and Azure Dreams.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          Holy shit, someone else who played Azure Dreams.

          I don’t have anything else to contribute, but wow, I wasn’t even sure that game actually existed as I have never seen it mentioned by anyone online ever in any circumstance.

    • http://twitter.com/Bisyss Bisyss

      Skyward Sword has another example of this with Yerbal the Kikwi. The first time through, he talks about Farore’s Flame after you wake him up. If you’re playing through the NG+ though, he points out that you probably already know what he’s going to say and only goes through the exposition if you ask him to. “But remember– it’s a secret to everybody.”

      – POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR SS, BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY –
      While I’m talking about SS, Demise shows off another trope I’m weirdly fond of – enemies that respect (or at least don’t actively hate) the protagonist. I mean sure, he planned to kill Hylia and drag the known world into an everlasting darkness but it was nothing personal, y’know? Admittedly it came undone with the whole “A reincarnation of my hatred will plague your descendants forever and ever and ever, so ner ner n-ner ner”, but it cool while it lasted.

    • GaryX

      Also in Portal 2, when you’re told “Press X to Speak” and you just jumped. Perfect.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

      Commander Keen sitting down to read a book was an early favorite for me.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Funny Commander Keen IV Easter egg: if you go to the Pyramid of the Moons and stand immobile on one of the crescent shapes on the floor, instead of sitting down to read a book, Keen will turn his back to the player, pull down his pants, and moon him or her.

    • dthree

      There’s been some great humorous idle-animations from series like Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, Rayman, and Earthworm Jim. In Brutal Legend, the camera would swing around to create an epic heavy metal album cover photo.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

      Bubsy would basically do what Sonic does, but in an amazing moment, he then KNOCKS ON THE SCREEN and asks, “Is anybody home?” (Or is is “Is anybody out there?”) That shit killed me.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       I don’t know if this counts as fourth-wall smashing, but when I got to the “It’s a-me, Mario!” part of Assassins Creed 2, I died of laughter.

  • Fluka

    Mine is being allowed to choose to go through the entire game without killing a single person.  Stealth stuff like Dishonored and the Deus Exes, or games like Mirror’s Edge where I can just run right past the enemies – there’s nothing which piques my interest in a game more than not needing to draw a human being’s blood to proceed in the story.  There’s the moral aspect, of course, when you don’t have that cognitive dissonance between “hero” and “just killed about a hundred people.”  And you get the silly satisfaction of saying “I worked extra hard to be a good person!”  But there’s also a gameplay and design aspect: if I don’t have to kill, that usually means that the game is going to let me explore the environment, or try out some crazy plan to get through stuff alive.  It just feels a lot more interesting.

    Close corollary to this: games which let me run away from fights. Because I am a coward.  And so was my JC Denton.

    • Bakken Hood

      The pacifist thing reminded me…in the otherwise goddammed fantastic Leliana’s Song DLC for Dragon Age Origins, my first impression was soured by the opening quest objective (spoilers follow)– being a rogueish miscreant and roughing up troublesome nobles, creating havoc in the bazaar, generally being a Robin Hood-esque lovable ruffian– and then, lest I get bored with all the not-killing, here comes a squad of guards that I have to kill, I’m sure no one will notice them rotting in the street the next morning.  Killing hundreds of people didn’t make sense until the last couple chapters.  Non-lethal or stealth options would have made more sense there.

      Also, fuck you Eidos, because you’re lying and Jensen didn’t kill anybody and you owe me 100 GS points.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      This is similar, so I’ll piggy-back, but I enjoy games that have a robust, meaningful moral choice system that actually lets you be good. Which is why I chafe in games like GTAIV which have this wide open world but necessarily shoehorn you into a path of criminal violence, or Bioshock, where the “moral” choice was laughably meaningless.

      There’s a lot said about how consequence-free game environments encourage folks to try out reprehensible things, inducing catharsis by mowing down folks with a gun, getting a laugh by driving on the sidewalk and watching people scatter, etc. (To be clear, I don’t think this is bad – it’s amazing that games give us a way to so vividly explore and play with “negative” thoughts, feelings, and situations through simulation.)

      But not as much is said about how consequence-free play can give players the freedom to explore prosocial/altruistic choices, too. I personally find it liberating and exhilarating, for instance, to rescue a Fallout mutant from a fire and then give him half of my bottlecaps to build himself a new home to replace the one that burned down – knowing that it’s all a game and I’m not enduring any real-life bodily or financial risk. This is just as, if not more (for me), exciting as going on a virtual crime spree without having to face any real-life bodily or legal risk.

      • SamPlays

        I don’t think the GTA games are intended to have meaningful ethics – I mean, the title kinda says it all, right? It’s a great option if you like the whole sandbox concept but everything is pretty well geared towards criminal behavior. Games like Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption are better options if you’re looking for moral choices and consequences (i.e., what you do now might affect something later). 

        But getting to your main point, I will always opt for the pro-social choices unless it means I’m substantially fucking myself over. I might not give all of my bottlecaps to that Mutant but I’ll choose to protect him and not kill him for spare parts. Playing the “bad guy” when there’s a choice is a difficult thing for me to do. But I’m equally okay plowing through cops and robbers in games like GTAIV. “The game told me to do it!” Stanley Milgram would have loved it…

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I definitely understand that GTA deliberately channels you in a specific narrative direction, and that that is a valid artistic choice, but it’s still one that I found chafing, and kind of jarring in the context of the game’s open-world mechanics. Like, obviously, in a game called Grand Theft Auto, one should expect stealing cars to be a fundamental gameplay mechanic. 

          But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find it a little ridiculous and incongruous that in order to get from point A to point B for any mission, it was just taken as granted that my fresh-off-the-boat Nico would unceremoniously yank someone out of their car and use it to drive to the next area as his primary way of getting around.

        • SamPlays

          Post Script: During the Andale side mission in Fallout 3, the game rewards you with good karma if you kill the inbred cannibals AFTER determining they’re cannibals (who cares if they’re inbred). However, if you kill them BEFORE knowing this fact, the game gives you bad karma. Yet, regardless of your knowledge, killing the inbred cannibals is no doubt a good thing for other survivors in the Wasteland. The games knows it was a “good” thing to get rid of them, why should it care what I know? It would no doubt have been interesting for some players to dispatch the freakshow, get good karma and discover their secret (with a little exploration) after the fact.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          Yeah, I got tired of the GTA games because of both of those things…the “there is no good guy option” and the forced story.

          I picked up Sleeping Dogs a bit over a week ago via Steam sale ($10!!!) and love it.  The combat system is tons of fun, and I like being coerced into doing LESS damage even during Triad missions via the points system.

        • SamPlays

          If it helps, you just need to believe that yanking people out of running vehicles to catch a ride is how they did things in Nico’s home country. It was probably the polite thing to do considering the other option was probably genocide.

        • SamPlays

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus I played a demo for Sleeping Dogs a few months back and the combat system was a blast. It far exceeded my expectations.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus: I also appreciated that Police XP bar, because it challenged me to play the game in ways that I usually wouldn’t. Normally, in an open-world crime game, I just run over everything like a maniac, damn the consequences. But knowing that playing carefully could net me upgrades faster sobered me up a bit.

          One of the other great things about Sleeping Dogs is that it’s possible to play without injuring civilians at all. Sure, you can steal random cars, but you’re not expected to. You can always hail a cab, and later in the game, you can even get your personal valet to bring you your car.

        • stuartsaysstop

          @Merve2:disqus Only problem was the police upgrades severely paled in comparison to the triad. And I recall it being MUCH easier to get police XP, to the point where my reckless driving seemingly had no effect on the final outcome.

      • EmperorNortonI

        I tend to agree, except that it’s so rarely done in a good manner. 

        “Oh, you’re a nice heroic savior person who helps everyone out just because.  Isn’t it lucky that everyone rewards you for your good deeds?” 

        “Oh, you’re an evil bastard?  Well, here’s a few extra $ that you probably don’t need anyway, because by the midpoint in most games money is meaningless anyway.”

        Because seriously, how often are good deeds rewarded in the real world?  The rich and powerful get that way by being evil bastards, while a life of hard work, living by the rules, and helping your fellow man gets you an underwater mortgage and a pension plan that was liquidated after a corporate buyout.

        It’s HARD to be good in this world, not just in the present, but for all of history.  It doesn’t pay, and usually it doesn’t even earn you any respect.  That is the moral system I’d like to see in a game – a game that gives you the chance to do good, but only at great cost to yourself, to your public esteem, and to your forward progress.  A game that makes it far easier to move forward and level up by being a slaver than by freeing the slaves.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I definitely agree – and the games that do that well (I’d argue there are moments in the Fallout games that do exactly that) are the best at generating that sort of liberating feeling I was describing. Getting to vicariously do something truly selfless that has no payback, without having to pay the price, is just as strong a fantasy as getting to vicariously do something truly wicked, without having to pay the price.

          Overly binary moral systems that feel like you’re just ticking boxes to accumulate evil points are mechanically pretty silly, and usually even sillier in execution (which is why there’s a popular mod for the first KotoR to make the Sith choices “less petty” – its idea of moral choice was “Never mind the reward, in fact take all of my money!” vs. “Fuck you and your reward! I’m going to kill you and your grandmother and just take everything you have!”).

          I remember, shortly after playing KotoR, and trying to play Bioshock, I was so sick of those systems where you make rigid binary choices tied to a rigid system of moral judgments with the ultimate goal of unlocking a “good” or “bad” ending that I made a little game that expressly defied those mechanics, where the choices were three-way rather than binary, not attached to any moral judgment, you were encouraged to mix your choices rather than commit to a single branch, and where the endings were inevitable and largely similar to encourage you to focus on the path you took through the game and how far you could get in the time you had, rather than achieving a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ending.

          The Experimental Gameplay Project’s theme that month was ‘Repeat’, so the central conceit is that you repeat the same level over and over, but that the gameplay changes based on the paths you choose (loosely based on the triads of ‘power/courage/wisdom’ from video game history,  or its analogue from Western religion, ‘father/son/holy ghost,’ or analogous philosophical concepts of ‘aggression/compassion/reflection’).

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

          I discuss this elsewhere in the thread, but there are numerous games that are easier if you play them as evil. “Black and White”, for example, lets you sacrrifice your followers in order to increase your mana.

    • SamPlays

      Stealth is my favorite trope/cliche in video games but only a handful have done it well for me. I was a big fan of the MGS series – storytelling aside – because stealth required a bit of skill. The games often allowed you to completely avoid conflicts but you had to work a little bit to accomplish that goal. Games like MGS, Hitman and even Splinter Cell often try to have it both ways where you can be stealthy or you can play it as an action title. DX:HR stands out for me because the environments, upgrade system and rewards seemed heavily weighted in favor of those who like to crawl through duct systems and peek around corners. It was designed specifically for stealth players. I’ve heard lots of good (and some not so good) things about Dishonored so I’m looking forward to it.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Dishonored’s stealth is pretty good.  I especially like their system of enemy observation, where if you commit violence from a distance, they usually don’t immediately know where you are (screw you, Skyrim!).

        Speaking of the good vs. evil option above, I finished my first playthrough as 90% good (killing only when absolutely necessary) and am now replaying as 90% pure evil (killing anyone I can in a mission, including civilians).  Even as “evil” I can’t help saving the occasional hostage.  Stupid brain.

        • SamPlays

          I’ve heard the game requires a fair bit of patience. But that was actually what I enjoyed most about the early MGS and Hitman games – monitoring enemy movements on your little radar map and planning ahead. Do you find it strange to play “evil” in games? It gives me moments of cognitive dissonance. I once stole form someone in Fallout 3 and felt genuinely guilty about it. If anything, having a choice, for me, reinforces the good behavior. But, as I mentioned above, if there’s no choice, I’ll roll with the punches (literally, if necessary).

        • Aurora Boreanaz

           @SamPlays:disqus  – Yeah, I definitely have cognitive dissonance performing evil acts in games.  If given the choice I pretty much have to play through the whole thing as a good guy first before I allow myself to play evil.  I end up hating games that make me commit evil acts without a choice (looking at you, God of War) that don’t have some sort of tongue-in-cheek aspect to them.

          If I’m doing something evil that is still somehow justified, on the other hand, I can handle it.  Sleeping Dogs, for example…(vague spoilers) when someone kills an ally in cold blood, I have no problem cutting a swath through their gang to get my revenge.

          I suspect my IRL alignment would be lawful neutral.

        • EmperorNortonI

           I was a bit of a bastard in Fallout 3.  I cackled with glee as rabid ghouls devoured the rich bastards in Tenpenny Towers, and the first time I found the slaver camp, I took great pleasure in killing every single one of them, without having a single conversation.

        • djsubversive

           @EmperorNortonI:disqus that’s not bastardish. slavers deserve horrible violent death because they’re slavers, and Tenpenny Towers is populated exclusively by assholes, no matter where Roy Phillips is living.

          I think the best choice is actually to convince the assholes to let the ghouls move in. Everything seems all well and good until one day, you show up, and the humans are just… gone. Talk to Roy and he’s all “oh, yeah, those guys were assholes so we got rid of them.” Right on, jerk.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Chrono Cross will let you run away from ANYTHING. You have to come back to proceed, but hey, it lets you bolt if it starts going pear-shaped on you.

    • stakkalee

      My favorite mission from DE:HR was the SPOILERS helicopter crash with Malik.  It combined a “timed” mission with a variety of moral choices (Am I doing this non-violently?  Should I try to save Malik?)  It was frustrating as hell, because I wanted to get the Pacifist achievement but I also didn’t want to let this NPC die when I’d become emotionally invested in her story.  I must have restarted the mission 2 dozen times before I managed to accomplish it successfully, but it was one of the most fulfilling moments in the game.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        That mission cost me the pacifist badge.  Possibly not. In retrospect I might have accidentally blowed a few people up with a destructing robot early in the game.
           But it cost me my deliberate pursuit of the pacifist badge.
           I tried so many damn times until I realized I was ruining my enjoyment of the game by getting hung up on that one section.
           So I made a justification narrative in my head that while my Jenson preferred not to kill, and had the leisure to do so when skulking about on his own, but would do so if a friend’s life was on the line.
           It was an absurd bit of mental gymnastics.

        • stakkalee

          Oh sure, by the time the 23rd restart rolled around I was thinking “What the fuck am I doing?  I’ve been at this for over an hour!”  But by that time I’d already progressed pretty far in the game and passed up what would have been some very satisfying kills, so once it seemed like I’d completed the mission using my own definitions of success then I continued on – I didn’t know until the end of the game whether I actually did it without any casualties.  But your moral justifications weren’t absurd – I think even the most nonviolent among us would choose saving the life of a friend even if it meant violating a moral code of conduct.  It’s just another reason why a good video game can have more emotional impact than a good movie – since we-as-the-player are the protagonist we have to supply our own narrative motivations, and you did it in a way that makes “your” Adam Jensen emotionally comprehensible to you.

        • Fluka

          Same.  I’d already lost the pacifist badge in the tutorial (gosh darn it), but had been playing no-kill on principle since then…until that fight.  I had a very similar little narrative in my brain, with the narrative that Adam Jensen’s stealth augs finally allowed him to be the force of good he wanted to be, rather than the killer he had often been forced to be as a cop or security guard.  But he’d still choose a friend’s life (Malik’s or, in the case of the boss fights, Megan’s) in a heartbeat.  DE:HR may not have massive branching dialogue trees or a character customizer, but the gameplay options really do give you a satisfying way of making the character yours.  (Same with the first game, too.)

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

        Man, I replayed that sequence so many times until I both saved Malik and didn’t kill anyone. It was worth the satisfaction though.

      • Grimbus

        Slightly better buffering between spoiler warning and spoiler itself, we humbly request.

    • indy2003

      I have to admit that I’m always pleased with a game which lets me run away from a fight, too. Yes, because I’m a coward, but also because those countless soldiers are probably just ordinary family guys following orders! Okay, it’s actually just the first reason. I was playing Crysis 2 a while back and found myself trapped in the midst of a particularly challenging battle – tried several different methods of approaching it and died each time. Finally, I just cloaked, moved forward, let my suit recharge, cloaked again and kept moving until I reached the next checkpoint. Winning!

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Most games with a significant morality component tend to portray violence and evil as the “easy” choice. Killing an enemy is easier than sneaking by them. Killing a perp in “Narc” was easier than busting them. Sacrificing followers in “Black and White” is a quick way to boost the mana. In the long run, however, the rewards are greater if you take the “good” path. You get more points in “Narc” for a bust than for a kill. Heroes with good karma tend to get better endings. The message of the game is that “Doing the right thing is hard, but ultimately more rewarding.”

      I don’t find that morality works that way in real life. I find it very difficult, in fact, to be the bad guy. I appreciate games that share this view, games that treat the “good” option as the default path rather than some unrealistic ideal. 

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I think that sentiment in part stems from most games’ unsubtle idea of what constitutes evil. I mean, in day to day life, it’s WAY easier to indulge in casual evil than it is to do the right thing – it’s easier to buy cheap electronics, clothes, etc. made through exploitative labor than it is to either abstain from those goods or pay more for something ethically sourced. It’s easier to remain silent or turn a blind eye when someone makes a  sexist or racist remark, or abuses power/privilege in some other way (especially if that person has power over you) because you don’t want to “cause trouble.” It’s easier to ignore a plea for help because you’ve got enough on your own plate, etc. etc.

        Yes, killing someone is monumentally difficult for non-sociopaths (this is why organizations that train people to kill do so through rather extreme, somewhat dehumanizing, training regimens). But outside of the game world, “kill someone” is not an ‘evil’ choice most people even have the option of making. More common ‘evil’ (or unethical) choices (“pick those pants up on sale at Wal Mart,” “avoid eye contact with the beggar”) present themselves daily, and we often choose them without much thought.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      I feel like the older I get, the more I wish non-lethal options were available in every game. I mean, when you get to the end of something only after murdering a small nation’s worth of people… are you really a hero?

      I agree though that games that give you the option, and do it well, often offer more interesting paths and exploration of the game environment. 

      I played through Dishonored no-kills the first time and it was tons of fun. Playing through a second time for kill-based achievements became dull rather quickly because everything was so straightforward and didn’t require any thinking.

    • KB

      I loved this in the Tomb Raider 2 Monastery level.  Attacking the monks just gets you killed overwelmingly fast and once you attack one monk all the rest of the monks will attack you on sight even in other sections of the Monastery.  Being peaceful with the monks lets you do your business in the Monastery with no resistence from he monks and if you’re peaceful the monks will defend you with their lives if necessary when other villains attack you.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.   

  • dmikester

    I completely agree with John’s “figure out a lost culture” choice, and think that Riven is the best and most pure example.  I’ll broaden it and say that I love any game with a very hidden, well thought out secret area or optional but utterly compelling bit of story, something that suggests that there’s much more to the world or scenario than you would ever have imagined.
    Final Fantasy XII is maybe the most dramatic example of this that I can think of off the top of my head, where there are these vast secret and totally optional dungeons with terrifying, unique monsters.  They also often feel like they were never meant for humans to explore, and they feel hostile, alien, and utterly thrilling as a result.  A number of the Elder Scrolls games have similar areas and enemies (for example that one quest in Morrowind where you have to transport into a room totally separate from any other area that exists basically in a void and fight a unique enemy), and for an example of story, that hidden Prothean orb in the first Mass Effect game that gives Shepard a flashback of Protheans observing and messing with caveman-era humans is haunting and unlike anything else in the game (and sadly pretty much never gets explained in the rest of the franchise).

  • Effigy_Power

    First of all, totally unconnected:

    http://i.imgbox.com/accMPRFp.png

    Comment later.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      This is good.

    • Electric Dragon

       You’ve crossed the line, @Effigy_Power:disqus ! I’ll have your badge for this!

      • Effigy_Power

        Hey, I may not do things by the book but I get results, damnit!

    • caspiancomic

       Yes.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      C&D’d on behalf of Studfiend & Stancemeister.

      • Effigy_Power

        You’ll hear from my lawyer, “Dodgy” Ralph McNub.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      What’s that thing on Agnello?

      • PaganPoet

        I think he’s holding a badge (which is the Gameological logo). I know it’s been said before, but I’ll go ahead and say it again: GS should totally sell t-shirts with their logo (and just their logo) on the front. I would get one.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

          Is the logo supposed to be the Xbox Red Ring of Death? Or Hal?

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          @twitter-259492037:disqus I always thought it was a big button like on an arcade cabinet. 

    • Morgan Filbert

       Nicely done Effigy. My favorite of your pieces so far.

    • Fluka

      This was a triumph.

      • His_Space_Holiness

        I’m making a note here, “huge success.”

  • Colonel

    I absolutely love Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines (not a big fan of the title though) for all the freedom it gives you.  You’re not supposed to go out and kill in public but, well, we’ll give you five strikes and you’re out.  Killing innocents makes you more monstrous and that’s bad…except when there is a whole vampire clan dedicated to going feral.  One of my favorite moments is in the tutorial when your friend says that rats can be a source of blood if you can’t find anything else then tells you to go try one. When you return all he says is “Wow, I didn’t think you’d actually do it.”  It actively makes fun of you for following instructions.

    • duwease

      That game is criminally underrated.. possibly one of the most flexible game worlds ever created.  There were *so* many ways of doing things with all the different character types.

      Too bad all that freedom is a real bitch to QA.. the game’s also famous for its bevy of game-breaking bugs.

    • djsubversive

      You don’t HAVE to eat rats. You’re full enough at that point. If you don’t, Jack even says something like “couldn’t do it, eh? I don’t blame ya.” I usually end up having to resort to rat-sucking during the unending sewer trip. Never played a Ventrue; I bet those occasional surface-access doors are a godsend for them. Well, that or carrying a shitload of blood packs.

      Also, Bloodlines lets you help a vampire River Phoenix kill himself (again)!

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    So the best part of the hero’s journey narrative is that cathartic moment of self-actualization that represents an unlocking of inner emotional or spiritual knowledge, but for the sake of good entertainment has to have some external dramatic manifestation.
       Arthur claiming Excalibur, Luke staging the rescue from Jabba in Return of the Jedi, Stephen Chow making barbecue pork rice in God of Cookery, etc.
       But it’s best in video games because the narrative satisfaction of character development directly correlates to a sudden quantifiable increase in your abilities that lets you experience that growth by running amok on an unstoppable killing frenzy.  Well, at least until you get to what usually follows being the final level, with enemy difficulty to match.
       Metroid: Zero Mission did that perfectly with Samus understanding the full import of her Chozo upbringing and unlocking a fully-powered Varia Suit.
       It’s not a super-common device, given legitimate concerns with game balance.  And especially now where the buffet approach to personalizing character growth eschews that kind of unified arc.
       But if there’s anything more satisfying than Joseph Campbell’s mythological archetypes being deconstructed via a gigantic energy-infused bastard sword, I don’t know what it is.  

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      To connect yours to Samantha’s, the Lunar series does this so well.  When young me lost the fight to Black Dragon, Luna suddenly remembered Alex, and Ghaleon couldn’t stop http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iLuOFVSYlQ#t=8m1s from happening, I had FEELINGS, Mafia.  REAL FEELINGS.  (And, frankly, I’m on Ghaleon’s side philosophically.)  The extra powers, statistic boosts, and Dragonmaster sprite were just bonuses.

      The thing is that they pull the trick AGAIN in nearly the exact same way, after a losing battle, a revelation, and a 2nd transformation.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdD_9L7EfS4  And it worked again!

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        “And, frankly, I’m on Ghaleon’s side philosophically.”

        Dude, wake up. You’ve been possessed by an evil puppet.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Were you there in my lowest moments, Girard?  Were you?!  No.  Ghaleon Hand Puppet was!  Hovering ominously before me!  Jabbing me repeatedly in the temple while I sobbed and sobbed!  Don’t make this about you when it’s about US.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/gorfious,4040/ Gorfious

      “Stephen Chow making barbecue pork rice in God of Cookery”
      A like is not good enough for this reference.  I love you.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        And I love you too.
           The day that movie is finally made available world-wide in proper release is the day war ends.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Zone of the Enders 2 does this pretty well. You already have a pretty good idea of your TRUE POWER~ because your evil twin mech has it and is unstoppable. And before you confront him you of course get to use your newfound powers on a bunch of helpless goons.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Half Life 2 does this a bit with the upgraded gravity gun at the end, too.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I wonder if you might consider Pac-Man to be an ongoing, ebb-and-flow cycle of those kinds of “moments of self-actualization.” Pac-Man oscillates between being impotent prey and violent aggressor over the course of each level, in a way that’s kind of interesting.

      It’s not exactly linear enough a progression to map well onto the hero’s journey, but honestly, I count any narrative/design decision that doesn’t fit cleanly into Campbell’s restrictive mythic narrative model a plus.

      • DrFlimFlam

         This sounds like Lucky Wander Boy.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        That’s a great observation, I think. A lot of games have these elevated states that you can attain, but they’re stingy with their permanence. In Super Mario, we risk our life chasing after the star that represents the most perfect state of being the game offers. When we get it, we dash towards the finish like there’s no tomorrow because we don’t want to go back to being ordinary. Not before we finish this level. Even something like Super Hang-On has a clearly defined perfect state: 324km/h. “Accelerate” will only take you to 280; to surpass that you need to press the seperate turbo button. Here, with the ideal state only a button press away, the question is no longer “Can you exceed your potential?” but “Of course you can, but how much of the time?”

      • SamPlays

        Pac-Man is definitely a rudimentary example of this. I’m also not convinced that Campbell’s take on narrative structure holds much water these days. Perhaps the next special edition of Pac-Man can have Joseph Campbell’s head being haunted by the spectres of Derrida, Eco and Deleuze. The post-structuralists are coming to get you!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

      Liked for the God of Cookery reference. Pissing Beef Balls!

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      This trope is very common in anime. Digimon evolved whenever their trainers had some major personal epiphany. Goku becomes a Super Saiyan after his best friend is killed.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

    A tough question, and almost as tough to describe what’s likeable about one’s favorite trope.  I guess, for me, it’s having a visible goal with no easy way to get there.  Examples would include a number of the Riddler’s graffiti in Batman: Arkham Asylum (you’ve gotta get in juuust the right position to take a snapshot of that question mark, but how can you do it?), several chasm-filled rooms in Half Life, the big whooshing intro to the “beat the train” DLC game for Dishonored…heck, you can take it back to, “ooh, there’s that key I need!  But how do I get to that side of the maze?” in Atari’s Adventure.  Even if it isn’t much of a puzzle to figure out how to get to your goal, making the goal seen from far away somehow makes it seem like a puzzle.  Putting a juicy ripe carrot out on a highly visible stick causes some sort of itch that’s just SO satisfying to scratch when I’ve finally made it to the platform/door/item and look back across the vast reaches of space to Where I Once Was.  There, I was a boy; here, I am a man.  Or just a more worn-out gamer.

    An alternate fave would be any time the designers put in a little “coffee break” area with their signatures, wacky doodles, etc.  Again, Adventure was the granddaddy of this, with Warren Robinette’s giant room dedicated to his signature, but I also loved the zany “level 0″ of Thief, with glitches, failed jokes, and a Rockette line of zombies.  A great way to get a break from a tense game is to go hang out behind the camera with the crew for awhile; I like it when a game is self-aware enough to let me do that.

    • PaganPoet

      Like the coffee break in Earthbound? With the coffee which was obviously laced with acid?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      The developer room in FFIV was a nice, silly, “coffee break” area.

      • Citric

        All “coffee break” areas need dirty magazines.

    • dmikester

      Not exactly a “coffee break” area, but in Duke Nukem 3D, if you turned on a cheat that let you go through walls, there was one level where if you went through a specific wall (I think it was in a cave or something not man-made) you got to a nondescript enclosed area that had nonetheless been textured and drawn, and scrawled on a wall was the phrase “You’re not supposed to be here- Levelord”.  Levelord was one of the main level designers for the game.  Talk about self-aware!

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Similar to the “coffee break”, I absolutely love the elevators complete with Muzak in System Shock.

      • PaganPoet

        On a similar note, I actually liked the elevator rides in the first Mass Effect. Yeah, they were long, but they at least sometimes resulted in hilarious dialogue and news reel. I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard a news reel about some director putting on an “all-Elcor” production of Macbeth.

        • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

           Those elevators were a brilliant way to mask a loading screen.

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

          When we read Macbeth aloud in high school English class, it may as well have been an Elcor cast.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OD35QQZNBPZJXWTCBY7N4EE7VY Sarah

          It’s extraordinarily difficult to stage effectively.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      What is the Beat the Train DLC for Dishonored? Never heard of that.

      Speaking of which, some new single player DLC is just out for Dishonored. Anyone picking it up? I’m still in my second (lethal) playthrough, but haven’t had time to finish.

      • Fluka

        Aw dang, I thought the Knife of Dunwall DLC wasn’t out until next month?  I initially wasn’t interested in Dishonored DLC, but the concept – play as another character, prior to Corvo’s actions in the main game, with different gear and powers – sounds pretty neat.  Daud actually was a voiced character, too, so I wonder if he’ll have a tad more personality than Mr. Silent Protagonist.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

          I read it wrong, yes it’s in April.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

        “Train Runner”, I believe, is the official name, part of the Dunwall City Trials package.  Your goal is to parkour (and Blink) your way to the end of a long maze of cobbled-together bits of Dishonored scenery, and beat a (mysteriously flaming) train on its way to the same destination for bonus points.  Possible to do in under thirty seconds if you memorize the right path and have good reflexes.  Each time you fire it up, there’s a nice long tracking shot of “you are here…get to here” that inspired me to include it in this list.  Fun stuff, although not as fun as “Time Bend Massacre”.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    Samantha, as always is spot on for her answer and Nippon Ichi example.  You can tell the competence of a scenario writer by how well they can do an unwinnable fight.

    I’ll go with “puzzle that doesn’t work until you set up all of the pieces.”  Think the automatic failures in any Sierra or Turnabout Trial/Ace Attorney game, The Incredible Machine or any other Rube Goldberg device game with limited test runs, any block puzzle game with a puzzle mode where switching 2 things will unleash x43 super combos, or puzzle-platformers where you succeed or die, no 2nd guessing.  There’s something so empowering about conceiving solutions in your head BEFORE acting rather than bumbling through.

    Handicapped fights are brilliant.  Why, yes, AKI wrestling games, Virtua FIghter, and team-based fighting titles, I would love to beat down 3 pretty good opponents in succession rather than play 1 opponent that anticipates moves or performs moves without a proper super bar charge.  Consistency is as important as brilliance in succeeding in the genre.

    I’m also part of the problem in that I love jack-of-all-genres games IF they are used to further some idea or plot rather than complete publisher checklists.  That’s 1 of the many reasons I loathe Assassin’s Creed, and why Moon: Remix R.P.G. Adventure would be my favorite game even if it weren’t so smart.  I get that people think Sly Cooper and Like A Dragon/Yakuza were watered down over time and that Mario role-playing games should be Shin Mario Tensei, but I think a multidisciplinary approach is a relatively unexplored way to elevate how games express ideas.  Even when games don’t aspire to high art, things like the Twinkle Star Sprites series and Bangaio series make it safe for developers to use genres in service of ideas rather than the other way around.

  • ItsTheShadsy

    Can anyone even think of other examples of the discover-a-lost-culture device? Riven is easily one of my favorite games of all time for that very reason, and I can think of very few games (let alone non-adventure games) that do the same thing. Maybe… Metroid Prime sort of? Yeek, I dunno.

    • George_Liquor

      Well, Myst for one. Indiana Jones & The Fate Of Atlantis probably qualifies, too.

      • Chuck Spear

        Fate of Atlantis also qualifies for the dynamic credits sequence, if memory serves.

    • rvb1023

       Shadow of the Colossus, though a lot of it is inferred.

    • Djur

      Two Ultima games come to mind: Martian Dreams and Serpent Isle. Ultima VI lays heavy emphasis on learning about an alien but extant culture, as does its shareware doppleganger Exile II.

      Really, exploring the ruins of a long-dead civilization and having to become versed in its culture is a pretty common element of RPGs.

      • ItsTheShadsy

         Whoa whoa whoa, someone else who played Exile!

        • http://twitter.com/itisdancing djur

          Yeah, I cut my RPG teeth on that series. Big fan of all four games.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      A LOT of adventure games. Offhand: the Zork series, Myst, Rama, The Dig, Fate of Atlantis, Starship Titanic, Trinity, Zack McKracken, The Martian Chronicles. Bits of Frederick Pohl’s Gateway. And probably about a jillion Myst-alikes from the mid-90s I never played.

      • ItsTheShadsy

        I will self-flagellate for days for forgetting The Dig.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          The Dig was pretty generic, but I felt it was really solid. It combined your typical “ancient alien civilization” adventure game with the typically impeccable LucasArts production values and game design into a thoroughly enjoyable, if ultimately kind of forgettable, brew (which kind of suits the fact that Spielberg was involved).

    • DrFlimFlam

      Isn’t there that ancient culture that has lots of the underground ruins in Oblivion.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Yeah, Dwemer ruins are in (if I recall correctly) Morrowind and Skyrim as well, though you don’t really learn much about them outside of books.

        • deltadisco

           Oblivion was mostly Ayleid ruins.. but yes, the ruins themselves don’t necessarily offer a ton of info.

        • His_Space_Holiness

          Ayleid ruins teach you that the Ayleids were morbid as fuck and had extremely stagnant architecture.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Dark Souls, especially the DLC which deals with the lost culture of Oolacile.

      If I had to pick a favorite fictional world from this generation Dark Souls world would be very near the top.  The lore for everything is hidden in item descriptions and such but there’s so much detail and craft put into it. *sniff* It’s beautiful.

    • Alkaron

      Metroid Prime for sure. I still think that the scan visor was an amazing innovation by the designers and was key for moving Samus into the modern gaming age while still keeping her as a silent badass. (I like to pretend that Other M never happened.)

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    I like when games give you a ton of options and let you work them out your own damn self. Example: Dota 2 (I know, shut up) where there are TONS of different characters with unique moves and different items to buy, figuring out ways that they can complement each other is just too much fun. 

    Also, upgradable weapons/character/whatever, where the upgrades affect more than just a number like damage or armor or whatever. The second Ratchet and Clank game was a ton of fun seeing how each gun would get stronger/cooler as you used them.

    When games take advantage of whatever medium they’re played on is awesome too. Boardgames that take advantage of the fact that you are sitting with people in the same room are way fun. Bluffing is something that pretty much doesn’t happen in videogames, and it’s so much fun when you can trick everyone in the room by doing some subtle thing. 

    • PaganPoet

      I’m actually the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE having options, but for me, there comes a point where too much choice is detrimental. It’s the reason I can’t get hooked into open-world RPGs like Skyrim or New Vegas.

      • GaryX

        Now, see, I would argue that Skyrim and New Vegas, etc were slightly disappointing because they had less choice/complicated mechanics then I wanted.

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

        Rift is like that for me.  The Soul system (where you basically pick from a buffet of talent trees per class) presents so many options that I am left overwhelmed, thinking, how am I going to figure this all out without referring to somebody else’s theorycrafting?  There’s no way I’ll have enough time to experiment with it all.

        The GBA/DS generation of Castlevania games struck a satisfying balance of secondary customization options for me.

        • His_Space_Holiness

          Rift actually addressed that with a patch that allowed you to pick a preset Soul combination if you wanted to skip all the guesswork. It was funny and useful, since I’d started getting kicked out of parties for not being powerful enough with the powers I’d picked.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Maybe it’s not so much choice I like, as it is distinct things that interact with each other in cool and sometimes not so obvious ways. In long RPGs I tend to get bogged down trying to decide what kind of character I want to play, so the choices are sometimes less fun. But when there are a lot of gameplay mechanics that can be used together, it’s really cool to find combinations that work really well/break the game.

  • Effigy_Power

    I have to say that I would love to play a god again. That’s something I haven’t really experienced game-wise in a while. Sure, you get to be commander, employer or mayor or something, but to be the actual god of your own world is a profoundly awesome experience for me and one I haven’t really seen done well in a while.
    Black&White had some of it, for sure. Before that, Populus tried it too and got it fairly right. But then there’s the problem that even in those games you’re still reduced to a utility god. From Dust basically turned you into a cosmic front-end loader, whereas Black&White limited not only your sphere of influence, but also a lot of direct agency over your world. A god without terraforming ability? Blah.

    I love the idea and the gaming-experience of being godlike, but not limited to carve a bloody path through enemies. I would love a ultra-creative, completely open divine sandbox, where I can create life and watch it evolve, just as I can destroy it with my wroth, so to speak.

    So yeah, the almost non-existent trope of divine omnipotence would be a neat comeback.

    • TreeRol

      Black & White was close. Being able to influence people through the “divine hand” of your avatar was very clever. The problem I had with the game is that your people couldn’t fend for themselves, which limited your ability to expand. Christianity never would’ve gotten to Europe if God had to keep telling folks in the Middle East when to mate.

      • His_Space_Holiness

        That, and the bulk of the game was a glorified 3D Tamagochi. I’m here to do my divine will, not keep a five-ton virtual cat!

    • Chum Joely

      You would totally love God of War, I’m sure of it.

    • PaganPoet

      The adorable, little one-eyed nuggets in the Patapon series consider the player their god. It’s not a god-sim, mind you, it’s a rhythm game, but it was still a neat touch.

      • Jackbert

        Responding because I ALWAYS respond to Patapon comments.

        And then, in the third game, the player comes to the Patapon world to become their savior!

    • Effigy_Power

      To clarify: I’ve always loved the “Treehouse of Terror” episode of the Simpsons in which Lisa creates a tiny society in a bowl of cola by putting her tooth inside, and the South Park episode purposely copying it.
      To drop a bit of life into a world I created and then see it slowly evolve along a certain path determined by my actions, that sounds quite awesome. SimEarth had certain aspects of that, but was just so clunky.
      Yeah, just remake SimEarth, and make sure to not let me play it offline or at all, Maxis.

      • Logoboros

         SimEarth sucks! SimLife rules!

        • ItsTheShadsy

          I’ve tried both and got totally lost in like 10 minutes. I need to give them a shot again. I know they’re vaguely similar, but SimEarth is macro-level stuff and SimLife is about individual species, right?

        • Logoboros

          Pretty much. SimLife actually let you carry out rather sophisticated experiments with basic genetic principles, though. You can, for example, set up a population with a gender distribution of 10 females for every 1 male (since it seems, on first glance, that this would be a better ratio for population growth), and watch as mutation basically forces the ratio down to 1:1. It’s pretty cool. You can also run nifty invasive-species-in-an-island-ecosystem type scenarios.

          My favorite things was creating a robust-enough plant system that I could start a wildfire in one corner of the world, watch the fire sweep across the map, nearly burn out in the other corner, and have the grasslands reseeded and re-sprouted fast enough that the fire could pick back up and rush across the map again to the other corner. And then repeat for as long as possible — never indefinitely, though. Inevitably, either the entire world would burn or (more commonly) the fire would get to a point were it would burn out.

          You could do an even more challenging animal variation of this by launching a virus, and see 95% of the population die except for a few isolated pockets, that would repopulate the globe, only to bump into the last, dying infected animal and start the pandemic all over again. That pattern usually ended with all animals eventually dead after a few cycles (usually the last couple of potential breeding pairs just never encountered each other before dying alone).

        • Logoboros

          @ItsTheShadsy:disqus PS: Both are games from the days when you actually had to read the manual to understand anything. And SimLife at least is very much a *true* sandbox. There are no goals other than what you set for yourself, so if you aren’t motivated by a kind of experimental curiosity, the game’s not going to offer you much. So bafflement after only 10 minutes is entirely to be expected.

      • Morgan Filbert

        Didn’t we have this conversation last week Effigy?

        And you sadly informed me that we already got our sequel to SimEarth, called Spore.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      From Dust looked so cool that I preordered it. But after playing for the first 2 missions I just got intensely displeased. I guess mainly because the PC port controls are atrocious. But it also just felt like a constant playthrough of Disaster Scenarios in Sim City, which I was never a fan of.

    • dmikester

      Wow, a second opportunity to mention ActRaiser (at least, the first one)!  But yeah, as much fun as the platforming and the fighting is in that game, the great stuff comes from being a god and rebuilding towns through smart, careful little things like say miracles or properly placing roads.  Yes, it’s limited in many respects, but you still feel omnipotent as opposed to a conquering hero.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Not a god game, but Dark Cloud was another one of those “go kill monsters then build your town” games.  It’s a fun combination/hybrid.

      • Bakken Hood

        ActRaiser is one of the few shreds of evidence that more powerful systems might be inherently better than their predecessors.  It had some ideas that just couldn’t be realized in 16 bits.  A modern-day reboot, one that gets deeper into the nitty-gritty of godhood and the thorny morality of leadership, could really make good on the original’s potential.  Benevolent loving deity or smite-happy Old Testament God, diplomat or warlord, love your whole flock or favor the strongest…especially if these choices spill over into the hack ‘n’ slash aspects by creating high-value tactical targets or crushing an army’s morale.

        When I revisited the original a few years back, my jaw dropped during the ending when the Angel made a comment about how you know you’re a good deity when your people forget that they need you.  That went right the fuck over my younger head.  If the gameplay makes the same point (see also: the closing line of Futurama S4E8, Godfellas), that’s an instant classic

  • George_Liquor

    I hate to sound pedantic, but… aww who are we kidding, I love it! Anywho, the culture you encounter in Riven isn’t lost; it’s very much alive. One of your character’s primary goals is to ensure the people of Riven escape their world’s slow deterioration. 

  • rvb1023

    I still always love a recurring antagonist that always gets in the way or is constantly and consistently either a threat or a at the very least an unease somewhere in the back of your mind while you play.

    This can be good, like with Pyramid Head, Nemesis, that dude from Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, etc.

    Or it can be silly, like Seymour or Ultros from Final Fantasy or Jason Vorhees from the old NES Friday the 13th.

    Maybe it’s just the idea that there exists an entity in the game world whose sole purpose is to kill you that adds urgency and tension, rather than being an enemy whose job is to stand there and be a obstacle to be cut down by the PC.

    • DrFlimFlam

      That is too much tension for me. I don’t need some freak monster always lurking just outside the screen.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      I kind of love hate it. I guess I love it. In scary games, like Nemesis, it really, really heightens the tension, which is excellent for the game, but sometimes I just can’t take it and have to quit playing. 

      The more comedic ones are usually hit or miss. Sometimes they are super endearing, sometimes they are cringe worthy. I think Final Fantasy has always handled it pretty well. Ultros was one of the best parts of FFVI.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I liked the concept of the Dahaka from PoP:WW, but man, the sections where you had to run away from him were INFURIATING.

    • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

       You should check out the original Clock Tower on SNES.  Damn Scissorman…

    • duwease

       Couldn’t agree more.  The satisfaction gained in defeating a foe for me is strengthened greatly by having a history of antagonistic clashes beforehand, so that when I finally triumph, it feels like I’ve finally won a losing battle.  Plus, it gives character to the villain, as opposed to the pointless “out of nowhere” final bosses in most Final Fantasy games.

  • Bakken Hood

    Gerardi nailed it.  Anyone who played Half-Life 2 knows that fleeing a helicopter gunship is better than shooting at it.

    See also (trying to keep my spoilers cryptic): any enemy you can’t fight in Dead Space, rushing the Conduit in Mass Effect/the callback in ME3, the big finale in Halo CE (not apologizing, it was awesome), getting “Run For The Hills” in Brutal Legend…goddamn, more game designers need to realize that running away from something is more thrilling than fighting it.

    • Electric Dragon

      Better still is fleeing from it, and then being able to turn the tables and take it down.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        YES!  There’s nothing quite like being scared shitless by some overpowered enemy, then eventually turn around and kick its ass.

        Though that often loses its impact if, later in the game, you end up fighting dozens of that enemy at once and slaughtering them.

  • PaganPoet

    I love suplexing a god damned train. Oh? That’s not a trope?? Fuck you! I love it anyway!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

      This has always been and will always remain one of gaming’s greatest moments.

    • The_Misanthrope

       FFVI is still one of the most inventive–both story- and gameplay-wise–entries in the series. 

    • indy2003

      Along those lines: I’m always up for a good train level. I know it’s not a particularly imaginative idea at this point, but there’s something quite satisfying about fighting your way to the front of a train through a horde of increasingly challenging enemies. 

    • Fluka

      It’s not a trope…but it really should be.

  • Gauephat

    I love games that encourage and reward multiplayer teamwork.  It sort of turns things into elaborate puzzles attempting to be solved by multiple people: you’ve got a tank, four other players, some good cover, and a position to take.  How do you coordinate the attack, communicate, etc.?  It results in a great feeling when you actually pull things off, even if it is with complete strangers.  As a result, I’ve been playing a lot of Forgotten Hope 2 and Project Reality recently, because of how well-polished the combined arms and teamwork mechanics are.

    • djsubversive

      Project Reality as in the BF2 and ArmA 2 mod? (I’m assuming you don’t mean the weather mods for New Vegas and Skyrim). 

      I tried the BF2 version a while back, and I liked it more than vanilla BF2, but I didn’t have anyone to play with, so I just sort of forgot about it. Then we got into ArmA 2, and I noticed that there was a PR for that (because why wouldn’t there be?), and one is most likely coming for Arma 3. 

      Lately, there’s been a core crew of Gameological folks (okay, three or four of us, but I’m trying to make it sound more impressive) playing PlanetSide 2 and when it clicks, it’s great. Working as a team, communicating with each other, and playing an important role in an attack or defense… that “great feeling when you actually pull things off” is pretty awesome.

      Prepared PlanetSide 2 Plug: Gameological Society Outfit. Neo Conglomerate/Mattherson server (US East, but that doesn’t seem to matter). I have the same in-game name as I do here (and on steam, but the steam one is spaced properly). K/D is meaningless. I’m a bad squad leader and a horrible driver. Hobbes and Effigy are pretty good pilots. Upthrust likes to drive a tank, I think. The one rule in the GS Outfit: don’t be a jerk. feel free to make fun of my driv… TWO rules. One: don’t be a jerk. Two: feel free to make fun of my driving. Three: don’t run in front of Effigy when she’s shoot– oh, I’ll come in again. 

      I won’t, but the point is: we don’t take always things seriously, but we still try because it’s cool when we work together and manage to win a fight.

  • http://twitter.com/vowelsagogo Kilzor

    Mine is a certain subset of secret boss fights that I like to call “the reward boss.”  Usually these are harder than the “final boss” in a game, but the difference is that they’re there as a fun present for the serious player.  Examples!:

    .Super Mario RPG: The over the top Square/FF-esque designed boss that’s powered by the 4 element trope (which is also one of my favorite RPG tropes).

    .Ni No Kuni: the World Guardian, who is just a cool design and nice refresher after having to deal with the hard/optional version of the Zodiarch.

    .Xenosaga: Erde Kaiser Sigma, the secret evil super mech.

    It’s like: “You enjoy playing games, well enjoy THIS (but, actually enjoy it, and thanks for playing our game, really!)!

    • DrFlimFlam

      I can’t imagine ever trudging into Omega Ruins again, but by the time I was done with it in 2002, none could stop me.

    • His_Space_Holiness

      I’m well aware of the flaws of the Xenosaga games, and I love them dearly for them, but taking the time to layer an elaborate parody of giant-robot anime into an already-stuffed RPG trilogy as an optional sidequest won my heart forever.

  • caspiancomic

    I think one of my favourite game design tropes is having a base of operations or headquarters, especially one that can be in some way customized. Somewhere you can hang out between missions, chill with your various NPCs and support characters, play minigames, maybe witness a few optional scenes or unlock some hidden dialogue, etc.

    My brain goes instantly to the Suikoden series, every one of which features an HQ that’s usually bursting with fun diversions and character building conversations. From III onwards you can also decorate your HQ with the antiques you find lying around the world, and the whole endeavour becomes that much more charming. See also: The Normandy (Eff, that’s another dollar from Bioware for me), the weirdly mobile HQ from Shining Force, the Bastion from… well…

    • dmikester

      Total agreement here, and I love all the examples you gave.  I know I’ve mentioned this on GS recently, but the Homestead in Assassin’s Creed 3 is like this too, and is my favorite part of the game.  I think what these hubs do is force the developers to think small and personal, and often as a result the game gets much deeper and more compelling as you learn and care about the characters more as well as feel like you’re personally invested by having a place of your own.

    • DrFlimFlam

      That is a good one. I had forgotten how much of a slog Skies of Arcadia is for so long because of how fun it is amassing your base (and fleet) at the end of the game.

      It’s like your own virtual treehouse your dad never made you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

        Yeah I love this too. The Homestead in AC3, Colony 6 in Xenoblade Chronicles, and the Pirate Base in Skies of Arcadia all have special places in my heart.

        Skies SPOILER:

        Although this also ties into my comment below about “Roaring Rampages of Revenge”. When I first started that base, I went with Fiona’s “dolphin” flag. When the base got sacked? Vyse’s “skull” flag and it was on, bitches.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      This is a trope that I love because normal base building in games like Starcraft stresses me the hell out. I obsess over where I should allocate resources and if I mismanaged my base in the early game.  It becomes an anxiety-simulator after a while for me.

      So having a chill place that basically takes care of itself like the Bastion or your HQ in Saints Row is nice.

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

        hahaha. I think one of the reasons I suck so much at RTS games is that I obsess over building my base for so long

        • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

          There was a trend that popped up briefly in the SC2 community a few months back where folks would join games and agree not to attack each other, and just build their bases as big as they wanted.  That act of innocently yet deliberately subverting the game’s intent was quite endearing.

    • Halloween_Jack

      One of the many things that I miss badly from City of Heroes is having a base to hang out in. I had a regular group to play with on a regular day and time of the week, and while we were waiting for the latecomers to show up, we’d hang out in the group’s base (well, more than one base, actually–there were separate bases for each of the classes) and chat on Ventrilo. 

    • PaganPoet

      Before the days of YouTube and Spotify, where you can instantly listen to just about any piece music, I used to love that the Suikoden series (or other games) had a way for you to listen to any music track in the game. Especially because many of the best tracks are only played once or twice and never again (for example: I used to put the controller down for a few minutes in Chrono Trigger when you first meet Schala and Janus since “Schala’s Theme” is awesomeballs, but you only hear it like 3 times in the whole game).

      • DrFlimFlam

         I loved doing that in Phantasy Star IV.

      • Morgan Filbert

        I’ve had similar experiences in both Chrono Trigger and in Chrono Cross.

    • aklab

      My favorite example of this is Breath of Fire II. You get people to move to your town, but you have to actually make choices — some armor merchants will be better than others, for example. And then by the end of the game you can actually uproot your town and fly it around the world. Perfect. 

    • Logoboros

      I also miss the rampant wall-building of old RTS games, like the original Age of Empires and Age of Kings. I’ve always liked to turtle in those games, sending raiding parties out from my heavily walled domain, but it seems like the design of most of RTSes from the last few years have deliberately prevented or undermined turtling (probably because it’s not much fun if four human players are all trying to turtle, but turtling is great fun if you’re co-opting with a friend against the AI). Though the genre seems to have kind of died a weird and unexpected death after riding high in the early- to mid-00s

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        I sort of hate RTS games, because they never accommodate my playstyle which is building a big base and then a huge army. Even playing skirmishes against easy AI in Warcraft 3 never worked out for me because the enemy always did stuff faster than me.

        Like, I get that I’m bad at them. But I COULD TOTALLY BE HAVING FUN WITH THIS GODDAMMIT. JUST BUILD A HUGE BASE ASSHOLE IT WILL BE COOL.

        • Logoboros

          My dad and his friend were big RTS players a few years ago, in the heyday of the genre. Their strategy for both Age of Empires III was to sit in some tiny corner of the map and basically just wait. Eventually the AI essentially breaks down once it controls 90% of the map. All of its population turns into villagers and it doesn’t seem to have a proper aggressive mode to implement, so my dad and his friend would just pop out of the corner of the map after sitting there hiding for easily an hour or more and then manage to sweep across and take over the world.

          I later got a game design textbook off a bargain bin somewhere, and learned that this is called a “degenerate strategy” (basically playing so that the game breaks, and then using that to win). When I described this to my dad and his friend, they were quite miffed, because they saw their strategy as brilliant warmongering and not at all an exploitation of a programming weakness.

          • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

            That is too awesome.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      The Misadventures of Tron Bonne had a pretty awesome central base, with lots of different rooms where you could do different tasks and minigames, and it was crawling with 100 (I think) little lego-man Servbots who each had their own stats and personality that you could beef up with minigames to make them stronger for use in the Pikmin-like action levels.

      That game was overall pretty eclectic and weird, but in retrospect really something quite unusual and special, especially for something that was kind of a MegaMan game.

      • Morgan Filbert

        I remember that game! It came packaged with the Demo for Legends 2. I loved the sporadic style changes between the different missions.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I love the little town you build in “Breath of Fire 2″. You can recruit a limited number villagers from all over the world, which will affect what shops etc. are available.

      • PaganPoet

        Doesn’t the architecture itself change, as well, depending on which carpenter you recruit?

        Breath of Fire is a series that needs a comeback.

    • Gangrene77

      Agreed about the base building.  Which leads me to one of my favorite tropes.  Give me some land, build a castle, and let me rule over my subjects.  I think NWN 2 or one of it’s add ons did this really well.  Make me gather resources to build defenses or additions.  Let me choose how to tax my subjects.  Let me settle disputes, my word is LAW!

      This really adds to the authenticity of an RPG for me.  It bothers me that I spend all this time gaining levels, becoming rich an powerful, and having really nothing to show for it. 

      • djsubversive

        NWN 2 had Crossroads Keep, I think it was. That was a pretty neat little thing. Find people to help staff your castle, spend a bunch of your hard-earned gold to increase the defenses, and (eventually) have to hold off an attack.

        The NWN2 expansion Storm of Zehir went even further down the “maybe adventurers shouldn’t commit murder, larceny, and arson all the time” path and let you engage in trading with various towns for supplies, raw materials, and “trade bars” worth a bit of money.

        Storm of Zehir also changed up a lot of other D&D video game tropes – death is permanent (but easily remedied with a magic life-coin-thing that everybody got and could be purchased from temples; also, divine magic). Skills other than Bluff and Diplomacy had uses in conversation. The skills and stats of your party’s leader while traveling on the overland map determined what random encounters you’d find (not all, just some of them – high spot/search lets you find hidden temples and stuff, high survival makes you move overland a bit faster, stealth hides you from enemies, and other similar minor affects).

        Unfortunately, SoZ is an expansion for a game that also includes Mask of the Betrayer, so it tends to get overlooked, since MotB is easily the best thing about NWN2 (in my Obsidian-loving opinion, of course).

    • His_Space_Holiness

      I got a big kick out of tricking out the big manor in Assassin’s Creed II, mainly because of the hilarious ability to corner the market in great artwork. Oh, so you’ve got a shiny magic Space-Apple, Templars? That’s nice. I own THE GOD DAMNED MONA LISA.

      • caspiancomic

         I really liked Assassin’s Creed II (it’s the only one in the series I’ve really played), and having my own little town was one of my favourite parts for the exact reason you mentioned. I majored in art history, so I always took every opportunity to snatch up the newest artwork. My collection’s crown jewel was Leonardo’s Leda and the Swan, because it’s lost in real life (the image they use for it in the game is based on Cesare de Cesto’s copy of Leonardo’s original.)

    • Boko_Fittleworth

      There’s also the keep in Dragon Age: Awakening, although I wish that had been way more customizable than it was.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       I think I enjoyed just wandering around my ship and talking to the crew in Mass Effect 2 more than any of the combat bits.

    • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

      I wish Level 5 would make a new Dark Cloud/Dark Chronicle game, because the world-rebuilding element was really fun, especially in the second one.

      Legend of Mana has an interesting take on this as well, where you rebuild the world map as you like, from chunks representing cities or dungeons.  Depending on the order and location you place them, the enemies within the dungeons will have some variations in power, and makes for a satisfyingly non-linear experience.  There are entire subplots you can miss if you don’t unlock their corresponding map chunks.

  • CNightwing

    For me it has to be exposition in the form of books, diaries, logs, bits of paper, and so on. Any game which gives you the minimum amount of information about the world you exist in, but lets you discover it by reading these things is awesome – obvious examples being the Elder Scrolls games, System Shock I/II and even the Deux Ex games. You get juicy details about gods and monsters, but it’s also about the little things, the romantic notes to NPCs, or complaints about how there’s no coffee left in the office.

    • DrFlimFlam

       I get overloaded on those. They need to be short, to the point, and very legible.

      • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

        Yeah, I love the idea in theory, because I like the distance it puts between you and the back-story (forcing you to become part of the process of building the game’s world by putting together clues), but after the sixteenth five-paragraph-long letter home from a soldier, or essay on whaling, or audio log, I’m not paying attention anymore. It reminds me a little of reading a comic book, and getting annoyed when there’s too much text on the page; I love reading, but it distracts from the flow of the experience.

        • Halloween_Jack

          Yeah, I’ve started playing Dragon Age: Origins, and I’m a little staggered by all these books I keep finding. I mean, I know (rather, I hope) that they’re nowhere near book-sized in terms of content, but I keep wondering if I should be reading these as I go along; how much is really necessary/desirable for playing the game, and how much is just background for atmosphere? Do I have to do homework for my hack-and-slash sword-and-sorcery RPG? (It doesn’t help that the text is rather small on the screen, even though I’m playing on my TV.) 

        • GaryX

          Yeah, sort of agree. Though I do like the injection of audio logs as a way of making it interrupt the flow less even if they tend to make little sense overall.

        • DrFlimFlam

          Definitely, @GaryX:disqus. Been replying BioShock in anticipation of Infinite, and it is so much easier (and so much more effective) finding those tape decks that tell the story behind the fall of Rapture, acted out for me while I still play.

        • AmaltheaElanor

          @Halloween_Jack:disqus IIRC, no.  Reading all the codex entries is generally optional, while playing the game itself gives the necessary backstory and exposition you need.  I do really enjoy how much effort BioWare puts into this kind of detail in their games (I always loved that when I found a book or new weapon in Baldur’s Gate, I could actually read it or its history) but if it becomes a requirement to play the game and understand the story, then it crosses the line into tedious.

        • djsubversive

          Far Cry 2′s Jackal tapes were a good execution of this, I thought. They’re excerpts from a series of interviews with the Jackal, the arms dealer that you’ve been sent to kill. They’re all about 30 seconds or less, just short clips of him discussing his methods and beliefs.

          “I’ll tell you what’s sick. People in the UK, the US, fuckin’ Canada, Sweden. They pay their taxes and some remote-piloted drone fires a missile into a public market to hit some warlord. Yeah, so maybe war doesn’t happen for another six months, and the price of their gluten-free sorghum bread stays low. It’s not sick to arm people. It’s sick to bump off their crooks and dictators in protection of our interests and then call it ‘international justice.’ These people don’t have remote-piloted drones guarding their interests ten thousand miles away. They don’t have a war machine paid for with taxes. Where I am, they usually don’t even have a fucking government. The remote drone is the oppressor, the gluten-free sorghum bread is the oppressor. The AK-47 is the great equalizer. I empower these people.”

          The tapes are not subtle at all, but they do help set the mood of the game: dark, depressing, and there will be no happy endings for anyone. You’re killing people because other people are paying you. The Jackal sells guns because other people are paying him (also, he’s a bit crazy). 

          Far Cry 2 is a very bleak game. I love it.

      • SamPlays

        I thought it was done well in Arkham Asylum – I was genuinely interested in the checkered history of the asylum, its inmates, etc. Ditto for about 30% of what I came across in Fallout 3. I generally disliked the e-mails in Deus Ex, especially since the important information (like passwords) got automatically entered into your log/notebook. I hated the sheer quantity of back story in Mass Effect 2 because it was just too much to get into. I love the idea that the developers put so much thought into the peripheral aspects of their game but I have zero interest in becoming well-read on the fake history of video game universe. But I can dig that other people dig it. 

        • Halloween_Jack

          I think that the Mass Effect codices are mostly superfluous, although they do a pretty good job of showing off the considerable amount of world-building that was done for the game. Most of what you need to know is in the form of expository dialogue, which is itself mostly skippable in subsequent playthroughs. 

    • boardgameguy

      amnesia does a nice job of this

    • Alkaron

      I love this too. I already crowed about the Metroid Prime series’ scan visor elsewhere on this page, but I can’t help but repeat it here. You can easily beat Metroid Prime 1 in its entirety without having any idea of the larger conflict you’re a part of, because all that information is contained solely within scan points. (This is largely true of Prime 2 & 3 too, though they both cheat a bit by using expository cutscenes and dialogue.) If you don’t care about the story, you can just blast your way through the game without having to deal with it.

      But if you DO care about the story, the game rewards you by letting you explore it yourself. No annoying cutscenes with obvious dialogue and terrible voice acting—just you and your scan visor, discovering that if you scan that terminal in the corner over there, you get a cool little tidbit about what’s going on that you would never have known about otherwise. In effect, the Prime series turns its story into a little subgame to play, making you an active participant in the little revelations and plot twists. It makes everything that much more mysterious and intriguing.

      I knew I was in love with Prime 1 when I told my friend (who had already finished it) about the cool stuff I learned about Metroid Prime (the final boss) just by reading Space Pirate logs in the Phazon Mines … and my friend had no idea what I was talking about. I had found story bits that he had missed, and my knowledge of the game world was deeper than his as a result. That moment of realization was a whole new kind of gaming rush.

      • AmaltheaElanor

        Plus, reading all the logs from the Space Pirates, or the inscriptions left behind by the Chozo, infers a great deal, and is far more powerful than if they had given and shown more explicit backstory.  It’s a great way of giving you just enough information, and letting your imagination fills in the rest.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

      I like these as well, but they can also get fairly obnoxious in some games. In others, many of them are just oddly anachronistic or make no sense under the circumstances. “Oh hey, there’s a horde of monsters chasing me and it’s the year 2033. Lemme just take out this pen and notepad and write a few paragraphs.”

      I just wish there was a more organic way of fleshing out the world and backstory. I think Skyrim did a cool thing with this with the books, especially after someone put them all in to eReader format. I read through all this Skyrim and Tamriel lore outside of the game which really made the world feel more real, but I didn’t have to interrupt my playing to do so.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      “The Neverhood” had one huge library with a history of the world. I like having it all in one place, where I can take it or leave it, rather than have hundreds of little books to collect.  

  • IntotheNightSky

    This may seem a bit elementary, and it piggybacks a bit off of what Mr. Whitehead said, but I love it when NPCs behave like real, intelligent people.  One instance in particular stands out in my memory.  During my playthough of Mass Effect 3, I equivocated a lot regarding the efforts to sterilize the Krogans.  So when I finally decided to let Wrex know the Salarians’ were trying to sustain the Genophage, he told me straight up that he had no idea what the hell I was doing and came as close as a Krogan warrior can to calling someone a flip-flopper.  The fact that a fictional character could have me pegged so well blew my mind in a small, but very satisfactory, way.

    • DrFlimFlam

      *ME3 spoilers, I guess.*

      Yes, I liked that because of the way I moralized and bullied the Salarians, they didn’t really care about supporting the fleet. That kind of “pick one friend, you can’t have both” moment was neat. Navigating the romantic path of Mass Effect also had that, since I wasn’t able to continue my ME1 romance (itself a consolation for what I wanted because I wasn’t xenophobic enough, apparently), but then Shadow Broker put me on the spot, and then AGAIN I was called out by my dumped ME2 lover to make a decision.

      Dooming her to DEATH.

      • PaganPoet

        You killed the galaxy’s last surviving Aussie. For shame.

        • DrFlimFlam

           I still feel bad about it.

  • ChicaneryTheYounger

    Dialogue trees with branching consequences. Annoying when done badly, but I still always like the choice.

    • djsubversive

      You, my Irish friend, need to play Alpha Protocol. Unless you have already, in which case, you need to play it again. :)

      • ChicaneryTheYounger

        I heard nothing but bad things about it, but I will give it a try once I’ve got through some of my backlog!

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          It is a game that was about 3 more months of work away from being one of the best western RPGs I’ve ever played, but ended up being just okay.

          But, honestly, it’s ‘just okay’ in a way I’m 100% fine with, and I replay it a lot more than most ‘better’ games.

          Just to warn you – this pissed some people off – it does the original DEUS EX thing of having you be shit-all with weapons until you’ve put some points into them.  If you find yourself missing a lot, it’s not a glitch, it’s how the game was designed; until you put enough points in a weapon to be able to fire from the hip with any accuracy, you pretty much HAVE to take the time to aim carefully.

          • ChicaneryTheYounger

             Deus Ex is pretty much my second favourite game of all time, so I’m pretty okay with this. As long as there’s stealth and exploration.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    You know what? Just put

        THANK YOU FOR PLAYING!!

    at the end of your game and we’re good.

    • hastapura

      Opinions on the game notwithstanding, I really liked the credits of the new Tomb Raider. Kinda sweet to have the heartfelt thanks and pictures of the team scrolling by.

    • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

       My favorite was always

      “Special Thanks to

      CAPCOM ALL STAFF
      and you”

      :)

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    This one is totally personal, but despite their formulaic nature, I could play new MegaMan games until the cows come home, and probably would if Capcom went back to their 90s business model of extruding another mechanically-identical MegaMan game every year or so.

    I would say the overall MegaMan structure is itself a trope, since it’s been employed in so many games, but I can also tease out the sub-tropes that make it press my buttons so well.

    -The non-linear level selection provides a sense of agency and exploration (and blew my Mario-playing mind in second grade).

    -The colorful and interesting pantheon of bosses with distinct elemental powers has a sort of mythic resonance. And the fact that they are all “______-Men” who are roughly your size and shape gives them this interesting doppelganger quality they wouldn’t have if they were giant monsters like the game’s midbosses or Wily-level bosses.

    -Your chance to take on the foes’ abilities allows you to not only overcome them as a challenge, but to learn something from them and become them, which also, mechanically, opens up new gameplay possibilities.

    • doyourealize

      Mega Man is one of the games that makes me sad that I didn’t own a Nintendo growing up. I was able to play sometimes, but never really get that good at it. So I never developed the Mega Man which I think exists. I also never beat Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda, and my love for The Adventures of Link came much later…like in the last few years.

      As much as I can appreciate your thoughts on the game, I can’t reciprocate.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Someone with a 3D Dot Game Heroes avatar NEEDS to play Legend of Zelda. Like, NOW. It’ll only take you an afternoon, probably.

        As for MegaMan, while the fact that there are jillions of games can seem daunting, I’d recommend giving MegaMan 2, 3 (for NES) and X (for SNES) a spin. They’re probably the most essential, and arguably the strongest, games in the series. They’re also not a huge time commitment. Sometimes when I have a free afternoon I’ll blast through MegaMan X just because it’s so familiar and so great. Total video game comfort food.

        • doyourealize

          Oh, I’ve played it…just never beat it. Kept getting killed by those damn wizards in the (I think) 6th dungeon.

          • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

            I guess you should just stick to those easy games like Dark Souls…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      As someone who recently purchased both MM2 and MM3 for the fourth time each (to be fair, one of those times was the Anniversary Collection), I wholeheartedly agree. The MM formula is so solid that I can’t play any action-platformer that isn’t a MM game to this day.

    • hastapura
    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      As solid as the MegaMan formula was (and is), it was never enough (on its own) to satisfy me. As you’ve alluded to, some games were better-constructed than others (2, 3, X) presumably because the developers poured more love into making them feel right.

  • Lucifer’s Peaches

    Best stay-alive-for-30-minutes game: Home Alone for NES.  I remember avoiding Marv and Harry and setting traps when I was about five, and beating the game when I was twenty.

  • doyourealize

    I actually touched on this a little in my Soupy-approved comment last week, but I love story that reveals itself subtly. Cutscenes serve their purpose, and some are done very well, as in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. However, some of the background dialogue in that game works to reveal the history of some races and cultures. My favorite bit (spoilers ahead) comes when the Stranger invades the race of creatures that eventually become the race that turns him into a messiah. The Stranger’s first encounter is not so nice, however, as when he appears, they all run into their houses behind locked doors and wait idly while you steal their treasure, to which one of them yells, “Our heads already look like dicks, and now we can’t even have any pride!” A small moment, but one that also foreshadows what comes later. (No more spoilers.)

    My favorite example of this, though, is of course Demon’s Souls (and by extension Dark Souls). The game almost never breaks to launch into story, but for those who want to look, there’s hints everywhere to the history and mythology of Boletaria. In an excellent thread over at GameFaqs (can’t link to it as I’m at work), someone posted “So it seems there is a subtle backstory to the bosses”. Upon beating the Maneater, which is actually two gargoyle-like creatures, the original commenter noticed that afterwards he found expensive hero souls on two bodies, causing him to wonder about what happened that caused the Maneaters to form. People replied with 27 pages of comments about that and other areas in which backstory could be revealed for those who looked. It wasn’t thrown in your face, a la Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, but rather a reward for astute gamers.

  • DrFlimFlam

    I like Dan’s. I can usually tell how much work went into an RPG by trying to “talk” to local faunae. When the cats in Chrono Cross meowed at me, I knew I was good to go. When there are books in the bookshelf with a variety of titles, you know this is a deep RPG that understands the RPG fetishist heart and soul.

    But my personal favorite trope is simple morality. I like when games let me make the decision of what kind of person I can be, and then let me live with those consequences. I am almost unfailingly good. I have only ever been any kind of jerk twice, on second run-throughs of the first Mass Effect and KOTOR, and while it was fun, I like it when games tell me I can be a jerk so I can decline. Politely.

  • Cloks

    I like it when games interact with the system in unexpected ways. It’s things like having to move around your memory card in Metal Gear Solid or getting trophies for playing other games in Super Smash Brothers that really delight me.

  • The_Misanthrope

    I like side-stories in games, especially ones that flesh out some of the ancillary characters.  I’m not talking about busy-work side-quests or flavor text, but something that actually feels connected to the main narrative.  FFVI did it perfectly, weaving smaller (but no less affecting) character arcs into the grand save-the-world-from-the-strangely-dressed-man plot.  And all those loyalty missions in ME2 really gave depth to all those  team members that would go to their deaths during the suicide mission (or maybe you made smart decisions and they all came back).

    I’m also kind of a sucker for dystopias.  I just don’t have that much faith in civilization and human nature.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I can’t tell if I love or hate what I call the “sunset” periods of civilizations much of art adores. George R. R. Martin, specifically, loves to talk about the time RIGHT AFTER the good times.

      I love Rapture, but man, to see it in its glory, that would be something.

      But I do love the dessicated remains of DC in Fallout 3.

    • PaganPoet

      Another good example of this is Persona 4. Hell, in order to unlock their personas, the characters in the game have to face their biggest shames and darkest side of their personalities. It results in some pretty dark, but relatable personality flaws being exposed:

      (Spoiler-ish warning):

      1) Party member says he’s horrified about all the murders going on, but deep down he’s secretly excited about it because it gives him the chance to play the hero
      2) Party member is jealous of her best friend since she is prettier and more feminine, so she secretly revels in the fact that her best friend is also weak-willed and dependent on her
      3) Party member feels trapped by her family’s business, secretly wishes someone (or something, such as a fire that destroys the business) would rescue her from her perceived obligations
      4) Party member is unsure about his sexuality; is furthermore embarrassed by his “feminine” hobbies like sewing, so he puts up a tough-punk demeanor so nobody can get close to him
      5) Party member is a celebrity, sick of acting cheerful and fake in front of the cameras, and is depressed that she has no real friends or anyone who knows the “real” her
      6) Party member doesn’t know his own origins, resulting in a very nihilistic and existential view of the world
      7) Party member worries that she will never be taken seriously because of her age and gender, so puts up a cool demeanor and dresses like a man

      • Citric

        I like how Persona can usually take their big, world altering storyline and boil it down to just being about the characters and their personal problems.

      • Morgan Filbert

        Number 6 was my favorite moment in Persona 4. That particular shadow was by far the creepiest and most evocative for me.

        *Spoilers*

        Plus this directly leads to him taking human form, which is just too funny.

        *End spoilers*

        How about you PaganPoet (or any other persona fans out there) which Shadow was your favorite?

        • PaganPoet

          I think his shadow is the most memorable, because of his creepy attitude, and his broken face. Really cool battle.

          I related most to Number 4, though, since I went through, well, pretty much that in high school. 

  • stakkalee

    Collectibles.  I love collectibles.  Whether it’s the snowglobes from New Vegas, the spaceship models of ME3, or even just the statues of Dibella from Skyrim.  There’s something about finding those little out-of-the-way items that gives me a little thrill.  I think it’s the knowledge that they were probably some designer’s “baby” – someone’s job was to make these completely useless little tchotchkes and hide them around the game world so that a player like me could collect them and put them on a shelf to admire them.

    • PaganPoet

      You must have loved the Banjo-Kazooie games.

      • stakkalee

        I never had a Nintendo 64 – I was off to college right before it came out.  I see that B&K is available on XBox Live – perhaps I should invest some time and money? Thanks for the recommendation!

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        Pretty much every platformer since the mid-90s has had collectibles, but very few have collectibles that are more interesting than golden coins.  

  • signsofrain

    I think my favourite game trope is one that doesn’t show up too much anymore. I love it when games give you difficult challenges with lots of ways to die, and then when you do die the game makes fun of you for it. Things like Space Quest’s hilarious death texts/pictures. Or like in Prince of Persia where you take a dainty little leap directly into a spike pit. There’s a sense of the designers at play. You can almost see them at their desks chuckling to themselves.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      “Jak and Daxter” is the last game I can recall doing that. It was also one of the first platformers to embrace the end of “lives”.

      • SamPlays

        Super Meat Boy made a pretty good spectacle of death – when you restart a level, the blood from your last death is still there. 

        Regarding Jak and Daxter, it was one of the first games that featured no loading screens after the main title. It was also one of the first games to feature a fully integrated 3D environment. This meant two things:

        1) Environments would not “reset” if you left them. In other words, once you cleared the eggs, eco and monsters in an area they were gone for good. Past platformers would “reset” if you exited a level (e.g., eliminate all of the enemies, leave, come back and all enemies are revived). 

        2) The game didn’t revolve around an obvious central hub – all of the environments, although distinct, flowed seamlessly from one to another. It brought a different kind of continuity to the action and refocused the idea of “finishing a level” to “completing a task”.

        These innovations are commonplace today but it was a pretty neat trick back in 2002.

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

          One of the things I liked least about Jak II was the way the entire game kept coming back to that one city. It really hurt that continuity that the first game had.

        • SamPlays

          I agree. Jak 2 tried to be a “sandbox” but it failed miserably. I think it even introduced car-jacking, which was just a straight-up misguided decision.

    • Citric

      This isn’t quite what you’re talking about, but I think my favorite thing in Shadow of Destiny is all the ways the main character gets killed. Then he goes through a whole bunch of effort to change history so he’s not killed, takes two steps, and then is killed again.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Quantum Conundrum did something like that. Every time you died, it would display a message indicating something you would never get to experience now that you’re dead.

    • The_Misanthrope

       I do like an amusing insta-death, if implemented well.  Or sometimes, even if implemented in one of the insanely difficult Sega Genesis games ever:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4a2LpbPbu4

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

    My favorite-ever “kill ‘em all” mission has to be in Mark of Kri. After several dozen stages of awesome stealth-based infiltration, inching your way through various environments while avoiding detection and exacting gruesome stealth kills (displayed via Disney-quality animation, which is a nice juxtaposition) and occasionally engaging in some of the best-executed “one vs. many” combat mechanics ever, eventually everything just goes to hell for the hero. He is literally at his lowest point.

    That’s when the game finally gives you main-story access to the take-no-shit Axe, and pits you up against a legion of zombies standing between you and your goal.

    It’s time to cut loose. Also: heads, limbs, and anything else that might get in the way of that swinging blade of death as you set out on your roaring rampage of revenge.

    • SamPlays

      Mark of Kri was awesome. It came out at a time when I was super interested in old school Disney animation. Not sure if it would hold up as well today but it’s a good memory.

    • djsubversive

      Jade Empire has something similar (the roaring rampage, not “awesome stealth-based infiltration”). The Black Whirlwind is a pretty generic “best fighter ever. also, he’s a drunk.” companion you can recruit into your party. His stories consist of other times he got into fights while drunk. When you have him as your active companion, all he does is fight (no Support style). 

      Trying to avoid spoilers here… at some point in the game, you’re given control of Black Whirlwind for a big battle (normally, you only control your main character while your ally fights alongside you). There’s Unreal-style “kill streak!” announcements, and if you take too long, the announcer says “Hurry up and just kill the [boss] already!”

      Black Whirlwind gets another playable moment during the ever-present arena battles. And somewhere else, you have to choose one of your party members to do something, and you’re given control of that character while they do it.

      One thing that I really like about all of these situations is that your companions all have their own quest logs that you can check (if you even think of doing it) while you’re in control of them. Little touches like that (and Minister Sheng, and John Cleese) make me really like Jade Empire, and if a sequel ever comes out, it’ll be a day-one purchase for me (barring the usual games-industry-fuckery).

  • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

    I dig games that strive for a totality of design. I love Dark Souls because it’s difficult, but I also love it for the ways the designers find to make that difficulty part of an overall focus on immersion. It’s the small stuff, like how simple and stark the opening menus are, and the minimum of clear exposition and handholding. (Although the latter often drives me batshit in other games; Dark Souls does a great job of giving you definite goals–namely, explore this place and try not to die–and then filling in the smaller bits as you go along.) Or the way that the game lacks an easy pause function; there are safe spots like bonfires where you can go on a snack run or hit the bathroom without worrying about dying, but for the most part, if you’re in the middle of an area, you’ve got to keep moving and keep paying attention, or you’re corpsed. Speaking of, this is one of the first games that ever really made me think about how death in video gaming often works. In Dark Souls, if something happens you don’t like–say, you fall off a building and lose a few thousand souls, or you get hit by one of those nasty bastards that cut your health bar in half–you can’t just reset to an earlier save point. The game keeps track of your progress as you go, so even if you quit, you can’t cheat your way back to an earlier, better situation. This can make for some painfully unforgiving situations, but it also means that there’s less of a barrier between the player and the game world; the artifice still exists, but it’s been reduced to its barest degree. I love that, and I love the idea of using tools we take for granted (pause button, saved games, resets) and using them in a way that fits in with the game as a whole, instead of simply existing because that’s the way games are supposed to work. 

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Amen to that brother!  At no point does Dark Souls do anything that is not “Dark Souls-esque” everything down to the ‘fuck you, you’re getting invaded’ multiplayer fits into their cohesive vision for a world in it’s twilight.  It’s amazing how much of the gameplay decisions seem to reflect the thematic decisions as well.  A game with cohesive and unforgiving gameplay takes place in a cohesive and unforgiving setting.  That doesn’t do justice to it, but you know what I mean.

      Man I love that game.

  • Morgan Filbert

    I’ve always enjoyed it when a game includes me, the player, as an element within the game. Not to say that I control the main character, party or what have you. But legitimate 4th wall bending/breaking interaction where I am addressed.

    The instance of this that most leaps to mind is the Psycho Mantis fight in Metal Gear Solid. (*Spoiler, I guess, technically speaking, but the game is about 13 years old*) Between Snake nodding to you to put the controller down, having to switch the port that the controller is plugged into, etc. It’s chocked full of this.

    Another fun examples is Baten Kaitos where you, the player, are the guardian spirit the main hero talks to and occasionally asks advice from. If he likes you and approves of what you’ve done so far he’ll take the advice, if he doesn’t, he’ll ignore it often to amusing effect.

  • David White

    I love being able to choose the order in which I tackle missions. The Mass Effect games did this really well. I damn near cried in ME3 when [SPOILER] Tali died because I couldn’t talk her people out of attacking the Geth. I felt even worst when a friend of mine casually mentioned that he was able to resolve their problems, and I realized that if I’d waited til later when my Paragon points were higher, I’d have been able to save her.

    I also love being a bringer of life. I never felt happier playing a video game than the times in Okami when I made the trees bloom. 

    • DrFlimFlam

      On that note, bringing full color to shrunk-down black and white France in The Saboteur is so awesome. The game is so stark and oppressive at first, and the way you unlock full color just feels great.

      • djsubversive

        Yes. I forgot about that. Another awesome reason to play The Saboteur. Driving through dreary black-and-white Paris, only to get to the “cleaned-up” area I’d been doing missions in and have things immediately liven up (music, more people out and about and talking, and obviously the color) was great. 

        • DrFlimFlam

          Everyone should play The Saboteur and then crank up the Nina Simone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

      I was going to mention how much I loved the bits of Okami when you unlock new areas and color sweeps into them as they come back to life, but I wasn’t sure that was actually a “trope” or whatever, since I can’t think of any other game that does something similar. But calling it being “a bringer of life” works, and it’s definitely something I would love to see more of. Are there any other games that use that trope? Now I’m curious…

      • David White

        There’s Flower, on the PS3, which I heard was a great game. 

        And Beyond Good & Evil wasn’t quite the same, but I loved how my pictures and reporting led to citizens overthrowing an evil government. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

          Ooh, I loved Beyond Good & Evil! I should play that one again sometime.

          I guess this could be expanded to “seeing the impact your actions throughout the game have had on the game’s world”. That’s pretty general, and could be talking about plot points, or the way NPC’s react to you, or physical changes to the environment, and it could be fully scripted or dynamic, but however it’s done, it’s cool to see stuff you’ve done actually change the state of the game around you. 

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        Soul Blazer and the Dark Cloud series come to mind.

        And there’s a game called Flower (for PS3) that is like an interactive version of those Okami animations.

      • djsubversive

        Like @drflimflam:disqus and I mentioned above, The Saboteur (GTA-type game set in WW2 Paris with an Irish mechanic as the protagonist) starts out with Paris and the surrounding countryside in black and white, and as you reduce Nazi presence in an area (missions, destroying structures, donkey-punching Nazis and stealing their clothes), color starts to come back to the city. It’s a neat effect, and I haven’t seen anything similar used in a GTA-type game before or since.

        It’s a fun game. And I mean actual fun, not just fun for me (ie: “depressing and difficult, and probably requires an unofficial patch to be playable”). @DrFlimFlam:disqus can back me up on this one. :)

        • DrFlimFlam

          It is the only 1000+ achievement point game I have ever perfected.
          I have literally done every achievable thing that game has. ALL OF IT.

          And I still think about going back to it.

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

    I love team-building. Whether it’s in a JRPG like “Chrono Cross” or a strategy game like “Star Control 2″, there’s something very satisfying about getting stronger through your team.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    What’s a trope I like that hasn’t been discussed yet? F’in Cory Casciato took my real all-time fav.  Who doesn’t love obliterating everything in sight?

    Shoot, it seems like I hate all the tropes I’m thinking of… Fuck it, it’s not really a trope but I’m a huge sucker for procedurally generated environments or levels in video games.

    This has really blown up on the indie scene what with Minecraft making as much money as most countries, but I just love the possibilities of infinite different worlds.  I would restart so many Minecraft games after walking around for 15 minutes because I knew that it could be better next time.  Proteus also does this beautifully, and the randomly generated maps in the Civ series can be a hoot (you try building an empire when the world consists only of loosely connected archipelagos) but really there’s one game that takes the random generation cake for me.

    F’in Spelunky. I could play Spelunky every day of my life and I would never get sick of it.  It’s got tight controls, fun and creative items plus, all-around perfect gameplay, but the fact that every time I start means I get a different world, just makes it that much better. I don’t have to memorize how to make the same jump over and over and over but certain features become apparent so you can still master the game (PROTIP: In the caves, if you see a giant spider, stand just close enough that you’re almost underneath them, and then throw a bomb upwards into their net. It won’t alert them and the bomb will instantly kill them getting you some rubies and a jar of paste!)

    I love Spelunky so damn much.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I liked that about Azure Dreams back in the 90s, and I like the randomized elements of FTL, though sometimes it means I’m humming along and then three Mantises show up and murderate my oxygen and set fire to everything.

      And other times my balloon isn’t popped until the very end.

      • aklab

        I believe the term is moiderize

  • Halloween_Jack

    One of the things that I love about Mass Effect, especially the second game, are shifting mission goals in mid-stream. You’re going out to recruit this mysterious vigilante, and he turns out to be your best friend from the first game (and, later, when you’re in the middle of helping him enact his Righteous Vengeance, depending on how you’re playing, you may end up talking him out of it). Another vengeance-oriented loyalty mission ends up with you having to decide to go through with the original goal or saving all the people that your vengeful squad mate has put in mortal peril. Even at the very end, your backer pops up when you’re about to destroy the enemy headquarters and says, oh, hey, about that… I’ve recently decided to give ME a rest for a little bit and play Dragon Age: Origins instead, and am already running into that with Teyrn Loghain.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Oh man, you’ll love the left turns in Dragon Age: Origins. Nothing is ever simple in that game.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I appreciate how well BioWare games mess with expectations in quests, because I’m playing through Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning these days, and boy does that game have a predilection for throwing unnecessary complications into every. single. fucking. quest.

      • djsubversive

        Replace “Dragon Age: Origins” with “Alpha Protocol” and it works just as well. But left turns kind of come with the territory, when that territory is “spy adventure!”

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          So you’re the other Alpha Protocol fan in the world, huh?  Awesome.

  • Alkaron

    I really like games that present the gameplay narrative as taking place in the past. The best examples of this are Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Eternal Darkness, and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In these games, the levels you play are all recollections of the past. They’ve “already happened”; you’re simply re-creating the past by playing through them.

    I like this for three reasons. 

    1) It means we don’t have to futz around with time-travel and how it works.
    2) It works really well with the deterministic nature of narrative-oriented games. It makes sense that you can’t do whatever you want, because events have to play out in a certain way. Your agency is constrained because you’re playing through history. 
    3) It makes everything seem that much more epic. That fetch-quest to get some special weapon or whatever? It’s an historical event, an important part of the story that’s being told! It gives a context to every action beyond just “do this in order to advance to the next level.”

    In the case of “Call of Cthulhu,” this technique has the added bonus of intensifying the despairing atmosphere of the game. The very first cutscene shows your character committing suicide in an asylum! Everything you do in the game thereafter, every discovery you make and every success you have, is tinged by the knowledge that, in the end, your character will lose. It’s an unspeakably dark way to design a game, and it makes me wish that the designers had gotten a chance to continue the series.

    • http://www.facebook.com/craig.duda Craig Duda

       Interesting. I hate those. If I’m just replaying events that already happened, what’s the point? They already happened; I can’t change the outcome, no matter what I do. The outcome has already been determined; my actions mean nothing.

      • Alkaron

        “The outcome has already been determined; my actions mean nothing.”

        But this is true of almost all narrative-driven games. Even those that make a big deal of player choice and consequences do this: there is always a finite number of endings you can achieve.

        - Do A, B, and C and wind up with X ending.
        - Do D, E, and F and wind up with Y ending. 
        - Do B, D, and F and wind up with X-Y ending. 

        The fact is that, in narrative-driven games, “meaningful choice” is an illusion. You’re always “replaying events that have already happened”: you’re stuck inside a story that’s been planned out and created by the writers and designers. The specific number of branching paths, no matter how vast, is still limited. You can never do anything and everything you want.

        Games like the ones I mentioned above find a way to use this limitation to enrich their stories.

        • http://www.facebook.com/craig.duda Craig Duda

          At least there’s the illusion that you’re in control. But when the game starts by showing you the outcome, that illusion is instantly and permanently shattered.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         Yeah, I hate those, too. Why is the character remembering that he fucked up and died five times before he completed a part of the story?

        The only game where this didn’t bother me was AssCreed2.

    • ManhackMan

      PoP:SoT definitely got it right. To this day, after dying stupidly in a game (most recently Tomb Raider), I’ll say “No no no, that’s not how it happened.”

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Yup. I loved his remarks when you fucked up. It’s like story time!

        • Citric

          I just have to wonder what the person he’s telling the story to thinks. “And then I fell into a big pit of spikes, wait… no I jumped over the pit of spikes and ran into a saw! No… uh…”

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        My opinions on the actual gameplay notwithstanding, PoP:SoT might have my favourite video game narrative of all time. It’s a simple story beautifully told.

  • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

    I feel like Teti in that if something trope-y keeps showing up and it sticks out to me, it’s bound to be a negative quality. There are thematic and gameplay elements that I really enjoy, but I don’t think they are narrow enough to really qualify as a trope.

    I guess one random thing I really enjoy is in games where you can explore environments, sometimes you will come upon a meticulously staged room or area that is just wonderful to look at. You know one of the developers took some time off to make it fun and interesting. I guess this falls in to easter egg categories, but those are usually referential to something, and this is more like just a cool scene of something that exists in the world.

    Trying to think of an example, one that comes to mind is either in Fallout 3 or New Vegas, I was exploring one of the many ruined buildings, and there’s a room you can easily walk past on the way to your goal that has nothing of real use in it, but if you go look, there are the remains of some people playing checkers with bottle caps and it’s like a little game table setup with everything arranged just so. Actually it may have been gnome statues playing, i can’t remember. But stuff like that always makes me smile and feel like the developers really cared about it.

  • duwease

    I love, love, LOVE the gameplay trope of restoring life to a barren world.  Probably the earliest example I can think of is Soul Blazer, which is a generic action game, but the feeling of coming back and seeing the houses and people that YOU caused to be rebuilt and saved was fantastic.  Its sequel, Terranigma, was an amazing game that did this well.

    More recently, there was Dark Cloud 2 to an extent, but the one that REALLY scratched the itch was Okami.  I could play that game the rest of my life, just blooming trees and cleaning the wilderness of monster shrines.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I’m going to bring up Azure Dreams again because you turn a desert nothing town into a bustling little Japanese Pawnee, complete with swimming pool, by the time you’re done.

  • http://twitter.com/Tim_Kraemer Tim Kraemer

    I’m a fan of what I’ve heard referred to as the deja vu dungeon. That is, a level/dungeon/whatever that you go through very early on in the game, then come back and do the same level/dungeon later on in the game except it’s beefed up and made much harder, and you have that “Aha!” moment of recognition as it links the beginning and endgame together. It’s almost like in-game nostalgia. 

    Maybe the best example of what I’m talking about would be Super Mario RPG, where the first and second-to-last dungeon are both Bowser’s Keep. Also Final Fantasy VI (a few places in the world of balance are repeated but harder in the world of ruin, including Narshe and Figaro cave), EarthBound (getting to the top of your hometown, now invaded by monsters, ends up being one of the last “dungeons” of the game), StarTropics 2 (the first level of StarTropics 1 is its final level), Terranigma (you meet the final boss in your hometown), and Skyward Sword (the final dungeon is in your hometown).

    • Alkaron

      Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in existence who played (and mostly enjoyed) StarTropics 2, so it’s a nice surprise to see you mention it. And you’re right, the final level, where you return to Coralcola to find all your friends from the first game turned into pigs, was simultaneously nostalgic and a little creepy.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Chrono Cross uses this trope brilliantly.

      • PaganPoet

        You guys reminded me of a similar trope that I like, the “inverse dungeon” I can think of two great examples:

        1) Illusion of Gaia – Sky Garden; whatever switches and levers you use on the upside of the garden affects the underside of the garden; also a neat little touch: the little worm monsters on the upside fall apart and explode on the upside, whereas they just fall down to the Earth below on the underside

        2) Alundra – Nestus and Bergus’s dream; you enter one twin’s dream with the idea of exiting the other twins’ dream to find where he’s being held captive; the two dreams are mirror images of each other, and things done in one dream affects the layout of the other

  • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

    I love when games provide an awe-inspiring sense of scale. The obvious example is Shadow of the Colossus, not just because of the size of the Colossi, but also the world itself and the way you had to search throughout it to find your goals. The moments when you realize what a vast landscape it is and what a tiny figure you are within it are awesome. 

    There’s also the way an environment (especially a man-made structure, but “natural” areas could also work) can seem so vast, like in Ico, or Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but you still understand the way it is laid out spatially and have the idea that it’s all explorable.

    And for that matter, there’s the ever-increasing scale of the Katamari games, where you start out tiny and get bigger and bigger, coming back to objects that once seemed huge but are now just another bit of debris to roll up. I love that.

    • SamPlays

      God of War has its flaws but scale is not one of them. SotC is my favorite example of large scale, interactive environments – really, each Colossus was essentially a moving maze/puzzle.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

        Very true. That bit in Pandora’s Castle, or whatever that big maze near the end of the first game is called, is pretty impressively massive. I like some of the big monsters you fight too, like that one that you have to fire logs at. And that final fight against Zeus is pretty awesome too, when you’re both towering over the cities below as you slug it out. Yeah, that game is pretty cool.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Yeah, the sense of scale in Divinity’s Reach in Guild Wars 2 convinced me to buy it.  Sadly there are very few other locations in the game as awe-inspiring, but it was definitely fun enough to be worth the money.

      Conversely, games where the scale is much smaller than it should be annoy the heck out of me.  “Wow, I’ve finally reached the capital city of the entire nation…what an amazing front gate!  And…the city itself is four blocks?  Bah!”

  • dthree

    I know its a cheesy trope borrowed from a long history of storytelling, but I always find it compelling when I play a game where I switch sides partway through. There’s something cathartic about fighting for the “right side” after realizing that you were helping the bad guys from the start. Especially when you have to perform a specific action to make this happen, rather than having it automatically happen in a cut scene, even if it is inevitable. Deus Ex (2000) handled this really well. Like when you infiltrate your former base as an enemy, it was great to find some sympathizers.

  • Matthew Burke

    I’m a sucker for any game with a morality meter, no matter how arbitrary. I remember first getting Fable and being hooked immediately. My brother and I were simultaneously playing through it and, by the end, I was this beloved angelic character, and he was essentially the devil. This concept amazed me, that we could play the same game so differently and face minute consequences for saving/murdering everyone. I love that so many games incorporate this now, but there should be more. The next Angry Birds should make you choose between a napalm bird, which, while effective, could potentially cause civilian causalities, and a diplomat bird, which, while completely useless, makes it look like you’re trying to help.

    • http://www.facebook.com/craig.duda Craig Duda

       I think the problem with most morality systems in games is that every action is either good or bad; there’s no gray area, no subtlety.

      • DrFlimFlam

        BioWare has tried to frame it more as “getting results” and “playing nice” ever since Jade Empire, and Dragon Age was actually more of a personality meter, which was neat, but yes, there’s still work to be done.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        In the first Dragon Age, the choices weren’t always so clear. Do you support the Circle or the Templars? Which Dwarf will you put on the throne? The tangible ramifications of these decisions are minimal, but they force you to question what “good and bad” really is.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        New Vegas handled it alright, much better than Fallout 3, by having different “morality meters” for each faction in the game. 

        • djsubversive

          Now if only they’d just ditch Karma entirely. or severely scale back the good karma you get from killing fiends and ghouls, and the bad karma you get from stealing things. It’s the Wasteland. If they can’t keep it, they don’t deserve it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.duda Craig Duda

    Have I been playing a different Fez than everyone else? It seems like it. The Fez I’ve been playing is a simple platformer where you just rotate the world so you can jump from platform to platform to reach the McGuffins. I have yet (and I’ve played for like 10 hours and collected hundreds of little yellow cubes) to find an interesting or challenging puzzle.

    • http://twitter.com/Gerardi Matt Gerardi

      Oh man. You’re just scraping the surface.

      • http://www.facebook.com/craig.duda Craig Duda

        How much longer do I have to scrape the surface before I get to the interesting parts? I loved the game at first, but it’s been the same thing over and over for like 10 hours. The backgrounds change, but that’s all.

        • http://twitter.com/Gerardi Matt Gerardi

          It’s not really about how long you’ve been playing. It’s all been there the whole time. You’ve probably noticed lots of weird symbols and things in the world (that bell, the giant clock, QR codes). Nearly everything you see in the background has a purpose and can fit into a puzzle in some way. If I remember correctly, when looking at the map, unless the bubble around a room has turned gold, there’s still something to discover in it. 

          It’s kind of hard to talk about in vague terms, but really, the puzzles aren’t something that often jump out at you. They’re sort of tucked away into the game’s cracks. Once you start to notice them, though, they become much easier to spot. 

  • ManhackMan

    This isn’t really a game-specific trope, but if any characters discover an elaborately locked door and say “They really wanted to keep people out.” “Or keep something…in…”, I am instantly psyched. Beyond just that ridiculous cliche, I like when releasing the unspeakable horror is the only way to progress, making you a little bit complicit in what happens for the rest of the game and giving you a more personal stake in setting things right.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       A related trope that I kind of like is when a character mentions an area that’s super dangerous and that you should never go there -  then of course it ends up that that is the only way to go.

  • Chuck Spear

    I’m a sucker for RPGs that let you talk instead of fight. The best examples I can think of are the PC games Planescape: Torment and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. There was a lot of things that you could do to progress in these games, and it was cool to see a pathway to that progress open up through wisdom (in Planescape) or charisma and persuasion (in Arcanum). In fact, in the former, conversation skills are key to getting the best possible ending, and in the latter it allows you to gather a party of people to do your fighting for you, when talking just won’t do it.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I’m playing Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey right now, and I love having the option to talk to the demons instead of fighting them. I normally am anti-jrpg, but this simple change is pretty cool in that if I don’t want to fight I can try to talk my way out of it.

    • djsubversive

      I do love when the face can actually accomplish things. My first run through New Vegas was a man with a gun and a silver tongue, who backed the NCR because they were the first organized group he had met that a) weren’t assholes and b) didn’t want him dead (hadn’t been to Hoover Dam yet at that point, because that’s where you find most of the NCR assholes…).

      I’M SPOILING THE END OF FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS BELOW THIS. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

      Having a squad of Rangers and my Enclave allies and my best buddy Boone (and, of course, my floating robot pal ED-E) escort me to the final showdown while the Boomers rained fiery hell upon the Dam? Pretty awesome. But then I was able to walk up to the Monster of the East, Legate Lanius, the guy who was built up the entire game to be an unstoppable remorseless killing machine loyal only to Caesar, and we had a chat. 

      I figured it was going to be a nice little pre-fight warm-up speech, where he’d threaten to rip my intestines out and bathe in my blood and I’d say “yeah, okay,” and then Boone would shoot him in the head. Imagine my surprise when I saw [Speech 80], then [Speech 90], then [Speech 100] (all of them pretty solid arguments), which Lanius responded to surprisingly civilly. We talked some more, and he agreed to leave Hoover Dam in peace, and vowing to return at some vague undefined future point. Whatever, my job was done. I had defeated the Monster of the East and ended the Second Battle of Hoover Dam through diplomacy, not force… okay, there was a bit of force. But mostly diplomacy at the end.

  • Chuck Spear

    As kids, my friends and I held that two-player cooperative games with purchasable upgrades were the pinnacle of gaming. River City Ransom and Forgotten Worlds are the two that spring most readily to mind, and that trope is clearly one of a bygone era.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger

      The LEGO games have two player co-op with purchaseable upgrades. Or at least Star Wars did.

      • Chuck Spear

        Sounds like I need to get myself on some LEGO games.

  • Professor_Cuntburglar

    I love easter eggs in games, especially in sandbox games. It’s nice when all of your exploring turns up something new.

    Best recent examples: In Driver: San Fancisco, one of the unlockable cars is a DeLorean. If you drive it to 88 mph it unlocks a bonus mission.

    Also, in Infamous 2, I noticed that all of the movies listed on the marquees on the movie theaters are parodies of famous games.

  • Brainstrain

    In the vein of “figuring out a long-lost culture”, also one of my favorite tropes, there’s a browser game called Looming that’s just lovely.

  • HilariousNPC

    We’re painting pretty broadly with that “trope” brush, aren’t we?

    The large majority of what everyone is calling a trope seems to be more of a “feature”.

  • djsubversive

    I’ve been giving this a bit of thought, and I’m not sure how exactly to put it.

    You know how in a lot of games, the player character is the Chosen One, the last surviving member of their [special group], or is otherwise somehow totally unique? I like it when games completely avoid that, or even deconstruct it. I’ve never played more than five minutes of Oblivion, but one of the things I heard/read about it was that your character was actually just the errand-boy for the Chosen One who saved the world at the end. I like that idea. There’s a big prophecy or world-shaking event that’s about to come to pass, and it involves a special person who’s only born once every thousand generations, and you… are not him.

    I don’t know if it’s considered a gaming trope, but I also like games that don’t hold your hand. I don’t need to be told every 2 minutes what my objective is, or where I should be going for my next mission, and I certainly don’t need to be reminded how to use a weapon when I equip it for the hundredth time. Let the tutorial popup bullshit end when the tutorial does.

    Also, while I’m thinking of it, what happened to tutorials as separate things from the game? Do I really need to spend the first half hour of every game going over how to move and attack and interact with the world? The worst is when the game doesn’t unlock controls or actions until you’re “taught” about them. New Vegas does this, and it’s annoying as hell (look at that, I am aware that New Vegas has flaws. :D).

  • M.J Kaspar

    I miss breaking into a home. Not a cookie-cutter house where some generic NPC lives, but a real home, lived-in, with the personality of its resident. I haven’t broken into a really good home since Quest For Glory I. I’ll never forget burglarizing that little old lady’s house.

    Ah, sweet nostalgia.

  • japanesebrucewillis

    I think Teti wins this one. As an aside, I enjoy meta games.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

    Sorry Ryan Smith, but time limits are annoying.  A game like Majora’s Mask can make them work by basically turning it into groundhogs day (you don’t have to save the world in the 3 day loop, just make it to specific objectives). But few things are as annoying as being close to wrapping a mission and dying because the arbitrary timer went out. This is only something that can work in the short term. And the limit can’t be arbitrary, as in you’ve got until the Cerberus goons take down Mordin’s shields to save Eve, not 5 minutes because that sounds like a good time limit. And then you kill everyone only to fail because you don’t walk to the console fast enough after.

    Mass Effect 3 could have followed Mass Effect 2′s lead by there being consequences to delaying missions. But Citadel DLC aside, people really do go to bars during wars. If you don’t believe me I will personally let you barrow my Tardis and we will fly back to 1941 where people will be drinking, dancing and chatting up their friends

  • SaintStryfe

    Funny you say that, Samantha. Most WoW’s fans were very annoyed with how the Lich King was portrayed. They called him a “Saturday morning cartoon villain , who’d show up, curse you, then run off. I never saw it that way, especially since the first time (for Alliance members who found him in a spirit realm), he kills your character. Most of the times we see him, he’s actually an image or projection. For Catacylsm they really cut back the Deathwing (that game’s big villain) appearances and to a point, it worked. Playing through the badlands (about level 50 of 85) you get one big shot of him and he is SCARY for it. You won’t see him again, really, until 84/85, and then not until you face down with him. I don’t know if was as effective – he seemed distant. 

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    I love suburban environments like neighborhoods or shopping malls in games, there’s just something about being able to run amok in these everyday environments that I find really cool, I’ll list a few examples

    1: Dead Rising, this is probably the ultimate example since not only is the whole game set in a shopping mall but you’re supposed to grab anything you can get your hands on to kill the zombies, God I love that game….

    2: Zombies Ate my Neighbors, in particular the levels in set either in neighborhoods or shopping malls

    3: The Milkman Conspiracy level in Psychonauts, it might not quite be my favorite level in the game, but it’s one of them for sure 

    4: the Domestic Disturbance chapter in Manhunt 2, sneaking around (and executing) SWAT team members in a suburban neighborhood? by far the best level in the game 

    5: Fort Frolic in Bioshock, by far my favorite level in Bioshock, hopefully Bioshock infinite will have a level like it  

  • Ryan Peterson

    After watching the Battlefield 4 gameplay, here’s my two cents.  I hate the everything is fuzzy, wake up, grab your gun, and go sequence that happens in pretty much every FPS.