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To The Past: The Games That Most Influenced Me

Meow In Verse's second article published!  This time about my favourite games.

https://medium.com/@shuandang/to-the-past-the-games-that-most-influenced-me-e0ac5c87513e


What are the games you like at different stage of your life?]
written 2020-09-13, Andrew Shuan Dang, Meow In Verse

The games that most influenced me

My favourite games of all time each have a special place in my heart.  It's tough to rank them (Banjo-Kazooie and Golden Sun both share the #1 spot), but I can highlight why each of these games mean so much to me.

Banjo-Kazooie:Don't be afraid to mash together great ideas into even bigger!


Influence:
  • Comedic Delivery
  • Unconstrained Style
  • Pure Fun
One of my favourite games of all time!  Banjo-Kazooie was a 3D platformer on the Nintendo 64, featuring a bear that journeys into a witch's lair in order to save his sister.  I have played this game so many times that I cannot count.  The levels in the world never get old, each one immaculately designed with its unique secrets and inhabitants.  And all of it comes together in an unforgettable, wacky, and funny style.

Among the other early N64 games that I played (Star Fox 64, Donkey Kong 64, Diddy Kong Racing), Banjo still stands out to me as the game that brought the most fun. 

The best part of Banjo-Kazooie was its intricately designed worlds.  Each time I completed a jigsaw puzzle and teleported to the newly unlocked level I would be blown away by the theme and creative challenges that awaited me.  Going from Mumbo's Mountain (where I had to scale a tall mountain and climb little stonehenge) to a swamp, forest, and snowy land meant more than just a change of scenery. 

On top of that, secret challenges appeared in each stage to make each visit different.  Banjo had to transform into various animals and insects, which actually changed the way that you perceive the world!  Becoming an ant let you wander into holes too small for a bear to fit in.  And transforming into a bee gave Banjo the ability to fly to high places.  The design used this sort of layering to full effect, and made every part of my exploration worth it.

Lastly, the audio design brought everything together with unforgettable sounds.  It had to!  After all, it's a game called Banjo-Kazooie.  The whole game opened with a fantastic musical sequence where the main characters play instruments and dance to the music.  To this day I can still hear Kazooie's shouts when she does her jumping and running!  She goes: "Ah-uo-bree!"

Banjo Kazooie challenges me to be unrelenting with creativity and to not be afraid to mash together great ideas into even bigger, greater ideas.

Golden Sun:Careful development of the world


Influence:
  • Fantasy Heroes and Heroines
  • Creative Magic
  • A World of Adventure

The other of my favourite games of all time is Golden Sun.  As the premiere Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) on the Game Boy Advance, it quickly brought me into a world of fantasy heroism.  Golden Sun is a game that had me lead a group of 4 friends to travel the world and stop a calamity from happening.  Its JRPG design included turn-based battles, lots of combat with monsters, and a slew of magical spells (called Psynergy), and powerful summoning abilities.  The game excelled at pushing me along a grand adventure to save the world!

Golden Sun innovated on its magic system in multiple ways:  1) You could cast magic outside of battle,  2) Magical creatures (called Djinni) could be recruited to boost your character stats, and 3) the Djinni could be channeled to summon powerful deities to help you in battle.  All of these game systems added a depth to the magic of the world that made it very engrossing.

Golden Sun Screenshots for Game Boy Advance - MobyGames


Being able to cast magic outside of battle meant that the concept of magic in Golden Sun was not limited to just fighting.  It was used for puzzles, telekinesis, mind-reading, and even pranks!  The magic felt more real and the characters lived with their abilities while out in the world exploring.  Intertwining combat mechanics and exploration mechanics added a layer of critical thinking for me to assess.  Each time I learned a new spell, I had to ask myself: "which situations would this ability be useful for?" 

The developers put a lot of care into crafting the world and the story of Golden Sun.  A lot of effort was put into making the world feel real and believable.  Every single character had a line of inner dialogue that I could read by casting the "Mind Read" spell.  The progression of the story was very tightly written and characters would all react to events in the world.  These are just some examples of their dedication to making the world come to life. 

The grand story in Golden Sun showed me that a careful development of the game world and creative use of game design will bring an unrivalled sense of immersion in fantasy.

Counter-Strike: Gamers could find mastery


Influence:
  • It's Competitive!!!
  • Endless Challenges
  • Practice and Mastery

It's the First Person Shooter that got me into FPS.  Counter-Strike in the early days was all pub games on community servers, and a great place to hangout with other players.  It's a shooting game that challenged me to practice gaming and become better at it, that pit me against other skilled opponents online.  Counter-Strike as a game perfected the art of packaging fun into a repeatable, 2 minute cycle.  Counter-Strike as a community showed me the ability for gamers to gather around and create their own content. 

While the core gunplay was fundamentally fun, there was endless design exploration done by map designers.  Most maps were not the game developers, but by other gamers who had a great idea for a map.  And these great ideas really stood out.  I would spend much of my time in Counter-Strike trying out different servers and seeing what maps they had to play.  The most popular maps like "de_dust2" or "cs_office" depicted warzones or hostage situations.  Fairly standard settings for a shooting game. 

But the gems of Counter-Strike were hidden in the weird and strange places of custom maps.  "Rats" was a gigantic map set in a kitchen where each player was the size of a rat!  "Warcraft" was a game-mode where players could upgrade themselves with fantasy abilities from Warcraft 3.  "Iceworld" was a small 4 by 4 snowy themed box where players could just pick up a gun and fight.  My most favorite times in CS was not on the standard Bomb Defusal or Hostage Rescue maps!  It was actually on these fun maps and modes. 

Counter-Strike also introduced me to competition and competitive gameplay.  In retrospect, it was a unique flavor of competition, part of the systems of those days.  I did not participate in tournament-style competition, but a partook in the intrinsic competitive nature of the game.  Public competition was more on a per-server basis, meaning that if I frequented a particular server every day, I would see and recognize who were the best players on the team.  Playing the game a lot was a form of discipline-building, requiring practice to get better and show others your improvement.

I was never good enough to go pro in CS, but this game taught me that gamers could find mastery and expertise in games, both in playing them and creating them.

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney:Games could present a deep and compelling story


Influence:
  • Lovable Characters
  • Thrilling Suspense
  • Storytelling

When I look back on it, Phoenix Wright was a game that had a lot of reading!  It probably rivals many novels in length.  This series is my favourite from the Visual Novel genre.  It's a detective and courtroom drama that is very character driven, emotionally dramatic, and funny.  The setting is distinctly modern and a cross between Japanese and Western culture (kudos to the localization for doing a superb job handling this).

Phoenix Wright was not just about readingit expanded upon its gameplay by including interrogations, investigations, and courtroom trials. 

The fantastic part of Phoenix Wright is how well the game carried me from beat to beat within each murder mystery.  It used a mix of great dialogue, funny moments, suspenseful moments, to draw me to be curious and to try and discovery clues.  It structured its mysteries in a game system, which is quite different from what you would see in a mystery book or a mystery film.  In a game, I got time to read over clues, and review the suspects' alibis.  I spent my free time over lunch discussing suspicions with friends and mulled over the court cases, trying to solve the mystery before it unraveled.

Characters in Phoenix Wright brought so much energy and fun with their larger-than-life personalities.  Every dialogue turned into a fun bit of interaction and built a deeper understanding with the characters.  They became the reason that I wanted to push forward and solve the murder, because these were characters that I wanted to save from being wrongly convicted.

Murder mystery stories promise a surprising reveal and culmination of story threads into a cohesive answer, and Phoenix Wright delivered on it superbly. 

Even while restricted to 2D characters and basic animations, the game showed that games could present a deep and compelling story.

Journey:Instill artistic connection into my game development process


Influence:
  • Discovery
  • Beauty
  • Connection

With its beauty in the glimmering sand dunes and the symbolic challenges that players face in the game, Journey puts the concept of aspiration, struggle, and transcendence into a first-hand experience.  Based on Joseph Campbell's concept of the Hero's Journey, this game turns generations of storytelling into a 2 hour personal experience.

Journey stands out in its ability to be a mirror for the player, and through that connect to the deepest parts of the human experience.  I found many enlightening moments in the game: from discovery of the past, to learning and growing, to nonverbally connecting and communicating with other players, and to the shared joy of giving to others.

The wondrous parts of Journey demonstrate that games are about the actions that players take within them.  Including the thinking and feeling that players have in their minds and their hearts as they experience what the game has to offer.  I played through this game quite a few times, and connected its themes to different challenges that I had to overcome in my life.  During my last playthrough, I took joy in guiding other players and showing them the secrets of the game.

Journey influenced me by encouraging me to think about instilling a pursuit of artistic connection into my game development process. 

Inspiration

Inspiration comes from both personal experience and the learnings from others.  I feel that from games my work is most inspired from the five games I've written about here.  Of course, I continue to learn from and have played many, many other games.  But year after year, I think about the lessons and experiences that I've gained from Banjo-Kazooie, Golden Sun, Counter-Strike, Phoenix Wright, and Journey.


For publication by MeowInVerse.
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