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Brandon Erickson's blog

The past, the present, and the future

Although it's been a long time since I posted anything on my blog, it has always been my intention to return to it, and in the coming months I hope to be able to add new entries with some regularity. Where have I been?

My favorite games of 2009

Full Throttle Screenshot

Rather than do one big top ten list, I thought I'd instead break things up into two separate top five lists (with a few honorable mentions thrown in): my favorite games of 2009, and my favorite games from prior years that I played for the first time in 2009. This seems like a good compromise, since I haven't come close to exhaustively playing all the "big" releases this year, and therefore any best of list from me would be loaded with caveats and qualifiers. In addition, many of my most memorable gaming experiences this year came from older titles, and I think that needs to be acknowledged.

On letting go of a rare and impractical piece of videogame memorabilia

Sega Saturn Kiosk

I recently reached the difficult decision that it was time to sell my beloved Sega Saturn kiosk; difficult because, on the one hand, it's probably the most unique and interesting piece of video game memorabilia that I have, while on the other hand, it's heavy (read hard to move) and takes up a lot of space. I'm not really a video game collector. Sure, I have a few obscure video game-related things, but nothing on the order of my enormous Sega kiosk.

When I spotted it a few years ago on Craigslist, I'd never seen one before. I had never even owned a Saturn for that matter. My last Sega system was the 32X. (Hey, it made sense to me at the time.) But for some reason, something clicked (snapped?) when I saw that shiny kiosk on Craigslist, complete with Sonic's large blue face staring at me, and I just knew I had to have it. It's tough to explain because it's one of those things where you either get it or you don't. If you thinks it's ridiculous, you probably think it's really ridiculous. If you think it's awesome, you probably thinks it's really, really awesome. For me, it just had the right mix of coolness factor, uniqueness, apparent rarity, and suitableness as a shrine to all things Sega.

Do improved graphics outweigh unreliability?

Red Ring of Death

My wife bought me the PlayStation 3 Collector's Edition of Resident Evil 5 on the day it came out. She knew that I hadn't yet decided which system I wanted the game for, and that I might end up trading it out, but she figured it would be a nice surprise to bring it home on release day anyway. The crux of my indecision came down to deciding between better graphics on a crappier system or slightly worse graphics on a more reliable system.

Resident Evil 5 and the recipe for a successful marriage

Resident Evil 5 Screenshot

There aren't many video games that do a good job of bringing in significant others, at least not of the kinds of games that I like to play. Sure, there are the standbys like Guitar Hero and its ilk. Super Mario Galaxy did sort of okay in this respect, albeit in a limited fashion. Of course, there are many Wii games that appeal to spouses, such as Wii Sports, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, and countless other lesser titles. But those aren't the kinds of games I usually want to play. So what's a gaming-oriented guy to do? Enter Resident Evil 5.

Killzone 2: Can amazing looks make up for an utter lack of personality?

Killzone 2

Throughout my playthrough of Killzone 2's single-player campaign, I regularly found myself making comparisons to Gears of War 2. This might seem strange given that these are very different games, one being a first-person shooter and the other being in third-person. But they share a certain gritty meat-headed quality that made it impossible for me not to think of one while playing the other. And again and again, the resounding conclusion I kept reaching about Killzone 2 was that it was missing one very important ingredient: personality.

The formula for a good game

Call of Duty 4

The great film director Howard Hawks once said that "A good movie has three great scenes and no bad ones." Lately, I've taken to pondering how this sentiment might apply to video games.

When I think about big cinematic games like God of War, Resident Evil 4, Call of Duty 4, and Metal Gear Solid 4 (damn, that's a lot of games with "4" in the title), I think the formula holds. These are all games that, for me anyway, never really had any bad parts, and had at least three great segments that really stand out in my memory. I can still vividly recall fighting the giant hydra, clashing knives with Krauser, getting hit by a nuclear blast wave, and riding a motorcycle through an eastern European city. I'm a sucker for games that give me only a few amazing moments, even if the rest of the game never rises above being merely not bad.

The use and misuse of the term 'gameplay'

Mirror's Edge

Video games are still a relatively young medium, and as such the vocabulary that we've developed to describe them is similarly immature. Nowhere does this seem more apparent to me than in the way the term gameplay is used. Most people who play and read about games probably have the same general sense of what the term means. As I understand it, gameplay refers to the experience of playing or interacting with a game without reference to things like graphics and sound. This seems pretty straight forward. But the more I read and write about games, the more I find the use of this term problematic.

Killzone 2 demo impressions

Killzone 2

I was going to write this week's blog entry about the general topic of "gameplay" and how it's defined (exciting, I know), but instead I've decided to shelve that idea in favor of something much more topical: namely, the new Killzone 2 demo, which I just had the unexpected pleasure of downloading and playing, thanks to some PSN trickery. Here are my initial thoughts.

Yes, the graphics are very good. In fact, these might be the best graphics I've seen in a game. (Before people start bringing up Crysis or whatever other graphics-heavy PC game they like to jerk off to, just bear in mind that I don't play PC games, so that's not what I'm talking about here.) The gritty atmosphere, the wind and dust, the explosions, the sunlight breaking through the hazy sky, all of it looks fantastic. The visuals aren't so much a giant leap above competitors like Gears of War 2 and Call of Duty 4 as they are a small step. But it's definitely a noticeable step.

Are nonlinear, open world games a dead end?

Far Cry 2

I've been noticing lately that I've developed a fairly strong preference for short, linear games over the more open world "sandbox" style ones. Taking a look at some of the games I've played recently (e.g., Call of Duty 4, Gears of War 2, Portal, Mirror's Edge, Grand Theft Auto IV, Far Cry 2, and Fallout 3), I can see a clear pattern emerging in terms of what games I'm more likely to go back to, or in some cases which games I'm simply more likely to continue playing through to completion.

I'm also starting to believe that the whole idea of the nonlinear, free roaming game as some sort of holy grail for the medium is a bit bogus. We've already seen some pretty damn amazing open world games, but what I'm discovering is that there doesn't seem to be anything particularly earth shattering about these games that, for me, makes them feel that much more profound than the more scripted stuff.

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