Category Archives: Video Games

Remembering Tony Jay

Earlier this month, voice-actor Tony Jay passed away from cancer. Chances are you’ve heard his voice in a video game at some point in the last decade; his IMDB page lists out the various projects to which he lent his very memorable voice.

I first read about Jay after playing Planescape: Torment (which boasted an unusually high quality of voice acting all around). I was quite impressed by the voice of The Transcendant One in that game, and wanted to find out who had played that role. Since then, I’ve noticed his work in quite a few different games–he has a deep baritone voice that’s impossible to miss. Rest in peace, Tony, and thanks for contributing your voice-acting talents to our little corner of the universe.

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How to kill a (video game) boss

The Guardian published a fun piece yesterday about end-of-level bosses in video games. The author lists five basic strategies for successfully beating a tough game boss (keep moving, watch for a pattern shift when the boss hits 25% health, etc.) Good tips.

Good bosses can really add to the fun of a game, just as mediocre bosses can detract from an otherwise excellent game. (I thought the lackluster final boss in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, for instance, was a notable disappointment in an otherwise spectacular game.) But creating a good boss is a tricky thing. It’s not just a matter of giving the boss lots of health and powerful weapons–those bosses are the least satisfying to defeat, as they require no special strategizing to beat.

What makes a really memorable boss? In my mind, a good boss should have a pattern (and an accompanying vulnerability) that doesn’t become clear until you’ve done a fair amount of experimenting (and probably been killed a few times). A good boss doesn’t just sit there firing weapons at you–it should move or otherwise interact with the environment, and thus require you to do the same in order to beat it. You shouldn’t be able to kill a boss by sheer application of firepower–you should be forced to think a bit outside the box to take it down. On the other hand, a boss fight should give you a chance to use all those weapon skills you’ve been honing over the course of the game–a boss fight where you don’t get to actually put those high-power weapons you’ve been hoarding to good use is a let-down.

Looking at recent games, I’ve seen a fair share of both interesting and mediocre bosses. The Metroid Prime games both feature excellent boss monsters. In fact, the final boss in Metroid Prime is a textbook example of a good boss: it moves around a lot; it has a definite (and evolving) pattern that requires some experimentation to figure out; it forces the player to move quickly and tactically to stay alive; and it’s tough enough that finally beating it really feels like an accomplishment. The bosses in Alien Hominid are particularly good as well. Looking a bit further back, the Zelda and Castlevania franchises have both had their share of well-designed boss fights.

One thing the article doesn’t touch on is the buildup to the boss battle, which for me is often as fun as the actual boss fight itself. Who hasn’t been spooked by the eerily empty corridors or levels that immediately precede the boss fight? When the game pace abruptly slows, and the monsters disappear, and you’re suddenly finding all sorts of ammunition and health packs laying around… there’s a moment of fear and nervousness as you realize you’re being set up for a big battle with something truly nasty.

Of course, I’ve been mostly talking about bosses in first-person shooter and action games. Good bosses in a traditional RPG are a different sort of beast altogether, and probably should be the subject of a future post. But for now… keep moving, watch out for those pattern shifts, and good luck!

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The journey or the destination?

Interesting post over at Kotaku about the restrictions that video games put on players. Do video games focus too much on enforcing “rules of gameplay” and fail to give players the freedom they enjoy in other “real life” activities? And if so, is that unhealthy for the players?

What should we expect to get out of our video games? Should it just be about enjoying the moment, entertaining oneself? Or should you be able to come away with lessons. The experience of playing real baseball in a real dirt and weed-filled hole wasn’t about accomplishing the inevitable it was about the communal experience of being there and playing.

Video games, I think, are too often about the destination and not nearly enough about the trip. We churn through games to beat them, not to experience them.

Are video games too restrictive by design, too focused on simply completing them for its own sake? Should we expect that the journey to beating a video game be more fulfilling and meaningful than it currently is? Or is the appeal of video games precisely that they don’t generally aspire to be more than an entertaining diversion?

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Is something wrong with the ESRB?

1UP has an interesting and balanced piece on the current debate over the ESRB (the organization that assigns ratings to video games). As you’re probably aware, the rather spectacular “Hot Coffee” incident, which involved the discovery of inappropriate (and inaccessible without a special hack) hidden content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, kicked off an all-new wave of criticism aimed at the ESRB and the game industry. (Way to go, GTA developers.)

Personally, I tend to side with the ESRB on these issues–much of the rhetoric coming from critics betrays a certain level of ignorance about how game content and rating systems work–but I’m certainly open to earnest suggestions for making the current rating system more useful and effective. And I would wholeheartedly support efforts to instill a greater sense of social responsibility in the game industry. Preferably without government intervention, but we’ll see what happens…

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