Take to the streets you mad geeks! It’s a time of public celebration, wild revelry and dancing in the streets. Make your obeisance to Dionysus, Bibulous, and Xenagos, rattle your beads and show us your… sick dance moves. Here is our procession of festivals from fiction, parades and holidays that drive people out of their houses to join together and rejoice.
We were asked by the lovely team over at the Later Levels if I would like to take part in doing a monthly Q&A, to open discussion about video games amongst bloggers. If you’re interested in joining in the discussion, leave us a comment below, or reach out to Later Levels. It’s been a few months since we last took part in one of these here on GeekOut South-West, but as ever we’ll be sharing what the question of the month is, as well as what our answers to this question is and our justification for the answers. We’ve not been involved in the past few, but hey, we’re back! Development of some projects is taking longer than expected, so here’s a chance for us to kick back and enjoy some hypothetical questions – This is the question of the month:
Which video game character would do a better job than Santa?
With a few noteworthy exceptions, most games tend to have a fairly homogeneous progression, usually going from lush green grasslands and becoming progressively more wild, desert, jungle, and usually ending with freezing cold, winter perhaps, snowy tundra, or soaring mountain range. Some examples:
Diablo 2 progresses from the temperate plains around the rogue encampment, straight into the desert of Lut Gholein, forests of Kurast, and finally hell itself. The expansion then takes the hero to the barbarous wastes of Harrogath, a land filled with massive, destructive beasts and hellspawn.
Borderlands is almost exclusively deserts and salt flats, being the more common terrain on Pandora. The finale however takes our Vault Hunter to a snow-capped mountain in the Eridium Highlands.
Bastions journey leads the Kid from the ruins of his old town through the drifting chunks of Jawson’s Bog, forests and jungles, ending in the ice blocks of Urzendra Gate, Zulten’s Hollow and the Tazal Terminals, dripping with icicles.
Castle Crashers, Titan Quest, the masterpiece edition of Myst, Grim Fandango when you think about it, Skyrim’s fairly snowy all over but the difference from Helgen to the Throat is a marked difference, Pokemon Gold/Silver ends on Mt. Silver, and I’m sure if you think on it you’ve already conjured a few examples yourself. Why do so many game designers take their story along this path?
There’s a literary device known as Pathetic Fallacy, you may be familiar with it. The sun shines on happy days, it rains when everything’s sad, it’s tragic, but some people still do it, and if it’s done well enough you’d never even notice it was happening. The same thing can also apply to the seasons, they follow a fairly natural progression with all the metaphors to go with them, spring is a time of rebirth and new beginnings; summer is filled with life, growth and joy; autumn is a period of decay, when everything is undone and falls into decline; finally winter is the season of darkness, and death.
The progression of a game follows a like-for-like path, and often the terrain and weather reflect it. A game usually begins with the birth of a hero, the call to action that takes the normal person into a story. The action builds, intrigue rises, suspense and activity grows, driving the hero to develop and achieve things he/she never thought themselves capable of. Finally the real conflict is ahead, seemingly insurmountable, friends fall behind, the world crumbles, the hero is faced with an impossible decision or heartbreaking revelation. They overcome at last to stand before the end, victory or defeat, life or death, pivoting on a single moment.
A less heroic analogy, a decline in weather follows the decline of Prince Arthas in Warcraft 3, from the young hero of springtime, and the madness he pursues takes him into winters death, which then follows him everywhere he goes.
Keep your eyes peeled for this particular quirk of media, and how weather can influence emotions as part of narrative, and particularly look at how it can change your perspective on an area. It may not be the very last segments of the game, occasionally they are the very beginning (Metal Gear Solid, Borderlands 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider), but they’re frequently pivotal, memorable, tough, or some mixture of all three. If you’ve ever felt daunted at the sight of snow then you’ve already fallen victim to pathetic fallacy.
The Point and Click Adventure genre leans a little too heavily on one very simple puzzle which I’ll refer to here as the Lock & Key: finding Thing A and applying to Thing B in order to proceed.
To be clear, things A and B can be a wide variety of things, a ladder and a wall, a photograph and a person, an ostrich and a sandwich toaster, or an actual key that corresponds to an actual lock. We can all thing of a few dozen examples, if pressed we could probably come up with that many from the same title. Grim Fandango, Machinarium, the Discworld game series, to an extent one could argue The Room, all make heavy use of this basic set up. Why?
Well, ignoring for a moment the fact that it is very simple and easy to put together in game, from a game design perspective it’s no bad thing either. It’s an un-failable task, you can’t get it wrong, you can only keep trying. It’s an obstacle to be overcome, to face the next obstacle, and the next one, and the next one. Occasionally you’ll see something different, I’d just like to offer a few suggestions of how we can shake up the genre.
Sidekicks, the oft-forgotten but ultimately necessary addition to any great main character. Let’s face it, what is Batman without Robin? Sure, we all care about the main guy more, but let’s face the facts: The sidekick serves more purpose than just comedic effect, (although some seem tied into this role.) Some are actually intelligent, capable and sometimes are more rounded than the main characters themselves.
In honour of all of the best secondary characters out there, as voted by you, this week we’re dedicated to bringing you our Top 10 Sidekicks in Games.
10) CL4-TP – Borderlands 2
Specifically Borderlands 2. Why? In the first in the series CL4-TP units were everywhere, each had their own variation on the basic personality type of arrogant and cowardly, and they would eventually come to rise up against their Hyperion masters and endeavour to assimilate various main characters. In the pre-sequel, the Interplanetary Ninja Assassin model becomes a playable character.
In Borderlands 2, that same Claptrap is the last of his kind, living in a mausoleum made of his broken friends. Hard to feel bad for him though, while he is essential to the plot, he spends most of the first chapter referring to you as “Minion” while shaking in a corner as you deal with his problems. He’s full of catchphrases and soundbites, and every one makes you want to throw him off Sanctuary just to watch him bounce. Sadly for us all, he’s necessary.
9) Lydia – Skyrim
Otherwise known as Housecarl to the Thane of Whiterun, trap springer, arrow catcher, and “Dammit, get out of the way!” there is no more dedicated a sidekick than Lydia. Willing to fling herself into danger in the name of her Thane, no matter the consequences, literally no matter what the consequences, good/bad/irritating, it doesn’t matter.
She can take a beating, and she is sworn to carry your burdens, so she’s not all bad. And worst case scenario you can always tell her to go home. She’ll even stand in the cold and unfurnished shell of Breezehome, diligently awaiting your return. She’s not quite so keen as Oblivion’s adoring fan, but at least she has a name.
8) Ora – Mark of the Ninja
Ahh, here we go, a sidekick who knows what she’s for!
Mark of the Ninja’s Marked rarely sees his companion Ora except when she drops in to inform him of security measures up ahead that he may not have seen already, or critical changes in the situation. After that she vanishes, presumably to go deal with things off-screen while you get on with the game. She may very well be running her own little mission for all you care, but stays broadly by your side for when you need her most.
There may be a reason for this however [SPOILERS] Ora may very well be a hallucination brought about by the markings on the Ninja protagonist, and you are eventually faced with the possibility of killing your friend and ally, or possibly slipping into psychosis [SPOILERS OVER]. She’s a creepy question mark hovering over your narrative, but she’s also indispensible.
7) Murray, The Curse of Monkey Island
“I am Murray, the evil demonic skull! Muwahahaha!”
Murray is an interesting character overall. He’s a comedic relief, in a game series known for its humorous dialogue. The Curse of Monkey Island has a relatively ‘serious’ plot, in that you are trying to save Elaine from being a solid gold statue and defeat the evil pirate LeChuck.
Technically, this demonic talking skull isn’t really a sidekick, but in some situations he certainly acts like one. He gives you little hints and tips, all whilst realising the inevitability of his circumstances, (y’know, being just a skull means you can’t do much.) Whilst he’s snarky and nasty to you a good 95% of the time, he not only sometimes just appears out of the blue, (questionable how a talking skull gets about so much), but he’ll even go in your inventory and talk when you open it. At least he’s always there for you. Annoyingly.
6) Ellie, The Last of Us
The Last of Us is a game that took the world by storm and for good reason. The protagonist, Joel (not to be confused with our very own Joel,) loses his daughter and becomes a bit of a negative person. However, when push comes to shove, he is tasked with looking after Ellie and the two form a fantastic duo.
Perhaps it’s the strange bond of humanity that makes these two characters an absolutely believable team, or perhaps it’s the direness of the situations they’ve been faced with. Whatever the reason for these two and how they manage to look after one another, Ellie holds her own at such a young age. She makes a lot of sense in terms of character development and she’s up there amongst the most awesome youngen in video games.
Naughty Dog, you can be proud of yourselves for portraying Ellie so well in this. She’s the real hero to me.
5) Potato GLADoS – Portal 2
We struggled with this one, but frankly Wheatley made a far more interesting villain than sidekick. Somehow GLADoS’s journey from AI with god delusions – all-powerful within her self-contained domain – to science fair project with a personality disorder made her far more compelling a companion.
The excursion into Aperture’s abandoned projects and the narrative that unfolded their made her presence far more interesting, and her assistance felling the mad moron drunk with science was invaluable. Ok so her reward for restoring her to her rightful place was not killing you, considering her attitude towards you over the last eight years, you got off lightly.
4) Glottis vs Pey’J, Grim Fandango vs Beyond Good and Evil
This town ain’t big enough for two non-human engineer sidekicks. It’s time for you to cast your vote as to which of these two behemoths are video games best engineer sidekick, but first, let’s explain who these two are.
Glottis, the Demon engineer who isn’t allowed to torch anything bigger than a cigarette without a form signed by the boss himself. After Manny manages to get a signature for Glottis to do his thing to Mannys company car, Glottis becomes Mannys personal driver. Turning the car into the Bone Wagon that we all know and love, Glottis is a fun and incredibly enthusiastic character. He understands rules, but most importantly: He values loyalty and friendship above all else.
Pey’J is a Sus Sapien. If you don’t know what that means, it’s basically a pig human. Don’t be fooled by his gruff looks though, Pey’J is also an incredibly loyal character, but unlike Glottis, his head is way more down to earth and clearly understands the importance of Jades discoveries. He likes to create electronic devices for himself and Jade, often to help Jade out… But sometimes just be cause he enjoys making things. Conversely to Glottis, he doesn’t like driving, but he’s a master mechanic and engineer.
Luigi needs no introduction what so ever. The guy has his own stories and his own games that he goes through. Recently, there was even a year in his honour. If you missed out on that, then you missed out on a special part of the Mario universe. However, the Green Plumber is often picked over his own brother, which begs the question: Is he a sidekick, or an alternative hero at this point of time? Originally, he certainly was introduced as a sidekick, being the player two to Mario.
We can’t be too wrong with this one. Many other websites with similar Top 10 themes rate Luigi as a highly dependable character. With videos such as the below to support him too, whose to say he doesn’t deserve a top 3 spot? Honestly, the next two sidekicks however… They take it to the next level.
2) Tails – Sonic
Ok, so he’s not quite so good as Sonic, not as fast and not all that useful in multiplayer. But the twin-tailed fox has something unique that makes him surprisingly handy at exactly the right moment, and isn’t that ultimately what makes a sidekick perfect? Miles “Tails” Prower doesn’t exactly seize the spotlight but there are times you’d father rather you were flying than rushing past everything at breakneck speeds.
Unlike Knuckles – the third addition to the Sonic team – who has his own stuff to get on with unless he’s needed, Tails is friend and admirer to Sonic. Though he can increasingly depend on himself without the blue speedster watching his back, Sonic can always depend on him when he’s in a fix.
Plus he’s ginger. Gotta represent!
1) Alyx Vance, Half Life 2
Alyx Vance is, for all intensive purposes, the perfect Non-Playable Character and I cannot fault her at all. She’s logical, she’s believable, she’s very intelligent and she’s very athletic and helpful. There’s no reason to dislike Alyx, even if you’ve never played Half Life 2, you will at least know of her. She’s considered one of the greatest NPCs of all time by many, she’s full of presence in Half Life 2 and she’s likeable.
What helps is that throughout Half Life 2, you meet characters who are good for helping you out. Alyx is a constant reminder that friendship and devotion to a cause can be a powerful combination. She cares deeply about Gordon Freeman, the silent crowbar wielding protagonist, which is apparent. Combine this with stellar AI which possibly helps her be one of the smartest AIs in video games at that, it’s apparent she’s the perfect sidekick.
I know for a fact right now that if nothing else, there’s one GeekOut reader who’ll see this at the number one spot and be fist pumping and will never stop talking about it, because the guy never shuts up (and we love him for it). He knows who he is.
We’ve been through the motions of our Top 10 but now that the heroes helpers have been honoured, it’s time to have a look at some more sidekicks who didn’t quite make the cut for the full list. Nevermind, they’re still winners to us, even if they’re rarely remembered. We remembered them… Wait, that’s not how this works! We remember these characters for very specific reasons and here’s why!
Navi, The Legend of Zelda
ARGH!!! STOP IT NAVI!!!
Actually, the whole issue of Navi being an annoying character is slightly inflated by the internet. Hear me out here – I don’t remember playing Ocarina of Time and having Navi saying this all that often. Yes it is somewhat annoying when she does decide to go on a “hey listen” rant, but that’s probably because you’re not actually, y’know, paying attention to what she has to say? She’s there to help and she tries her damned best.
Instead, she’s become a bit of a mocking point for the internet. A real shame, too. She is only doing her job.
Pikachu – Pokémon Yellow
The infamous and least useful “Fourth Starter” was the first Pokémon to stalk you through the Kanto realm because he refused to stay in a pokéball. Well go to hell you stuck-up glorified battery! And stop turning your nose up and threatening to shock me whenever I try to talk to you. I have to go through Brock’s gym with you and a pidgey, that’s gonna be like trying to demolish a building with a pamphlet!
Much like in the anime, the pikachu in Pokémon Yellow edition grows to like you in time. He’s not entirely useless despite the fact that you can’t evolve him without losing the entertaining bouncy sprite following you around, and with it losing one of the most unique features of the game (certainly at the time, not so much anymore).
Quite so Watson, it’s time for us to wrap up this weeks Top 10. Much like our sidekicks that made the cut, this list is secondary to them. Hey, some of these may be scoffed at but we truly felt they deserved a mention. Don’t forget to hit that vote button for our next list!
As always though, we wouldn’t make these lists without you, the readers. Please cast your votes and let us know in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter: Do you think our choices were right for this, or are there any characters you feel deserves a mention? Did we put these in the wrong order? Is Alyx Vance really the top sidekick in video gaming, even above Luigi and Tails?! Let us know your thoughts and we’ll see you all again next week for another Top 10.
Two of history’s best games have had the HD treatment lately. I played one today, and it’s the second remastered game I’ve ever played. The next is on the list for “soon”.
I wasn’t sure what I’d make of HD game updates. You can improve resolution and textures as much as you like, but it won’t improve the quality of the models unless you’re prepared to do a full remake, and any issues with gameplay are likely to remain, so you’re still playing the same game but in nicer clothes, and you’ve paid money to do it. But my gods it’s pretty.
Heroes of Might & Magic 3
I mentioned this in my post about the Ninetees that Heroes of Might & Magic 3 was getting an HD makeover. It released last Thursday, and I wasted no time getting it installed and going, it was a piece of my childhood, and now it looks prettier than ever. The gameplay was always good, and I’ve played it over and over again and this week marks the start of another cycle of nostalgic glee.
Visually, the game is stunning. There are details that I had never noticed before that are suddenly sharp and crisp, for example, I always believed that the red slash on the heads of the imps was their eye. Now I know for a fact that it’s a long whispy eyebrow! Little things to keep me cheerful. The animation still has a low frame-rate, but the cleaner image seems to make it flow that little bit more. Most importantly the map-builder is back, and that can only stoke my passion for games design.
There are a few minor sound errors that will hopefully be ironed out within an update or two, and I suppose it’s sad that we no longer expect games to come out of the publishers perfect any more. Notably absent are the expansions, but they put a hell of a lot of work into the core game, and there’s an entire additional town and perhaps twice the number of creatures to re-create, so there’s time yet.
The Tim Schafer favourite finally re-released after years of speculation and featuring a fine and dandy new Double-Fine logo. Seventeen years later, the game still has a heaving fan base that were eager to see it return, and there have been many rumours and false starts over the years. The new version includes more realistic lighting features, and a wealth of control options so that players can choose between the classic and the improved methods of play.
Physical copies became few and far between, and the only copy I could find in a local shop was gone before I knew I needed it. Thank gods for digital distribution, were it not for my temporarily horrendous download speeds I’d be playing it right now.
realMyst: Masterpiece Edition
Another ninetees favourite, the legendary puzzle-solver got the remastery treatment last year. The puzzles and physical models remain the same, but the Masterpiece edition took the frame-by-frame navigation to more normal WASD (or analogue stick) movement, a simple addition along with the essential graphical upgrade. It lends that extra layer of depth and exploration options that the Myst’s multiple universes richly deserve, no matter that it doesn’t change the puzzles or the story.
Time, weather and ambient effects were added, as were other renewed visuals such as small animals, foliage to really bring the worlds to life.
What realMyst’s update suffers for is a poorly executed WASD controls. While most (if not all) first person games have a centralized cursor or crosshair that completely controls what direction you face, the only way to turn the camera in Myst is to push against the sides of the screen, and yet Exile – the series’ third instalment – handled the method flawlessly. It doesn’t completely ruin the game, but it does put a damper on enjoyment.
Considering the rate at which computer technology moves on, a lot of classic games tend to be tragically lost under the steamroller of inevitability and mangled in the combine harvester of progress, but many classics are so loved that dedicated and talented people slave to see them reinvigorated to be enjoyed by new generations.
As sculptures need repairs, paintings need cleaning and occasionally brightening, and films are redrawn frame by frame or completely remaking, so too games will occasionally need maintenance to keep them looking as fresh and new as the day they were first released. But standards in the industry have slipped as deadlines are getting harsher, but with updates and patching they can get away with completing games after release. Which in many ways is what a remastered version is: a more complete version than what went before.
What other games have you enjoyed for being remastered? What games would you like to see remastered? Join in the discussion down below!