Okay I did say I would get back into this. But I have no idea how to answer the next question. Day 10 asks me what game I think has the best gameplay. I think that's a bit of an abstract concept, how do you take the defining characteristic of games amongst other artforms and declare one superior to another? Is the ideal gameplay one of intuitiveness? Input? Complexity? Interactivity? Detail? Fun? Variation?
I don't think I have the right answer here, but I do a gut feeling as to what I want to choose. I'll do my best to defend it's gameplay, but to be clear I don't necessarily think it has the "best". The key defining characteristics I'm using are as follows.
- Mastery: While I think there is a hell of a lot of merit in games that are inherently simple to play, I personally rarely find such games rewarding. I think gameplay shines when it follows the logic of the input system, that an experienced gamer should be able to discern the basic controls by quick deduction. But on the flipside of that, simplified input should extrapolate to complexity on screen. The player should make the most progress in game via mastery of the controls.
- Immersion: Gameplay obviously exists as the barrier between player and game, the most effective gameplay therefore should draw the player in. The less you think about playing a game, the better the game is. More importantly, and in a way this ties to mastery as well, to be immersed in a game the player needs to be in control and not the game. When you have to consciously change the timing or positioning of, say a jump mechanic, to take into account a control delay or poor collision detection the game has failed to be immersive.
- Fun: To me the best games have a combination of originality, complexity and variation. I enjoy games best when they have a variety of gameplay styles that merge together to more effectively depict a story. There are very few tasks in the real world that don't combine a number of skills, and games have reached a point in sophistication that genre lines should be blurred. Variation should not be arbitrary however, disjointed mini games ruin immersion. More exemplary would be something like the Mass Effect series, combining RPG elements with core shooter gameplay, broken up by vehicle based exploration and even light puzzle mechanics.
So the first title I want to bring up is one of the first games I really fell in love with, No One Lives Forever.
Coming out in November 2000, this is easily one of my most favourite games. Most people who know my taste in games have heard me waffle on about this, but it really was ahead of it's time. In terms of mastery I think this is one of the tightest and best-playing first person shooters out there. The engine is fast, and solid, with everything feeling like it should be in terms of running and jumping and gunplay. It plays as straightforward as any first person with use of the WASD layout that any gamer who has played a FPS with keyboard and mouse should be familiar with. And like any FPS, the player is limited by their own reaction time and accuracy, improving these skills is the key to success and the multiplayer in this game was one of the first online games I honed my skill on. The fact this game is so solid greatly helps with immersion, I've always liked the way the first person perspective draws the player in as well. In terms of graphics, I think this game looked great then and still looks great now. Environmental variation and clever use of colour really gave the game texture and made it stand out amongst more traditional FPS fare.
But the best thing about this game was the sheer amount of content and variation. The campaign was huge, taking the player through dozens of missions in all kinds of locations, from hotels in Morocco, to night clubs in Berlin. There were also construction yards, snowy plains, tropical islands, sky diving, scuba diving... even a series of missions on a moon base. While much of it was a straight forward shooter, it tended to reward the player for playing stealthily. Often you could sneak up on guards to catch funny glimpses into their every day lives. There were other ways the game broke up the action, with fist fights, boss fights, puzzles, stealth and exploration. All of the guns were satisfying to use, and the vast quantity of gadgets in your arsenal really made the game that much more special. I remember a belt buckle grappling hook, sleep and acid gas perfumes, lipstick explosives, a robotic poodle that put guard dogs to sleep and a briefcase that held a concealed rocket launcher. Unlocking these allowed previous levels to be revisited and more thoroughly explored, turning up more intelligence items that contributed to the humour and atmosphere of the game.
Just to put into perspective, some of the games I could have just as easily chosen include Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, Batman Arkham Asylum, Vanquish, Perfect Dark, Portal 2, No More Heroes, In The Groove 2 (or DDR games in general), Meteos, Rez, Mass Effect 2, Child of Eden and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Probably a tonne more. By this measure they all have gameplay that is to my mind perfect, yet NOLF represents a game I remember having the most fun playing. Really tough call. Fortunately the next question is going to be a whole lot easier.