Monday, December 16, 2013

All The World's A Pretty Song

I haven’t done one of these Top # Lists in a while, and today feels like a good day to do for it. So why not?

Much of our gaming experiences revolve around the world the story is set in. So many unique, entertaining, and downright frightening things can occur in the environment that enhance the game. Without the universe that encases our favorite characters there wouldn’t be much of a game to play. It would be like Star Wars without Alderaan…dawh. Yeah I went there. Sorry. But think about GTA without Los Santos. Or Final Fantasy X without the whimsy of Spira. In honor of the environments that make up our games, here are some of my favorites (mostly places that I wish really existed so I could visit).

The Mushroom Kingdom Castle – Super Mario 64. It wasn’t until Mario made his third dimension debut that we saw a more stylized, and visualized, view of the castle that Princess Peach resides. One that has been taken over and transformed by Bowser and his minions, but never the less, it’s a pretty bitchin’ place. Hidden walls, mirrors and paintings that act as portals to other worlds, fish swimming through the air, and toadstools all around! The castle was a little slice of Mario heaven in all of the things we love, and hate, about the series. And the Chain Chomps. No castle garden is complete without one of these to protect your property.

Why do I want to go: Kid dream coming true? I’ve always adored the Mario series, and to be able to see it in person and live in it, even for a few hours, would be nostalgia heaven.

Vice City – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I think I was born in the wrong decade. I should have been born in the 70’s to be a teen in the 80’s. I do not deny my love for most things 80’s. The music in particular. The best songs ever came from that decade. And some of the colors and fashion choices weren’t bad either. Which is why I would love to see Vice City become a reality: it is nostalgia 80’s heaven. When the game was released in 2002, it came at an awkward time when 80’s was considered retro. The 1980’s are old? What? That was only a decade ago! But Vice City propelled the nostalgia factor to an 11 when the game was released and made us all long for the time period that was.

GTA:VC also became the first game to include voice acting for the main character. Tommy’s personality is very much derived from the culture of the world that he lived in. Hawaiian shirts and no socks for shoes made up the VC style that everyone embraced.

And did I mention the music? To date this is still one of the best soundtracks of any GTA game.

Why do I want to visit: To go to a Love Fist concert.

San d’Oria – Final Fantasy XI. It’s a city build on traditions, honor, and loyalty. Of all of the cities, San d’Oria always appealed to my values. The style of the architecture screams classical European gothic. The design of the city was open and inviting, while still walling itself off from enemy threats. Of all of the cities, this is the one that I felt was the most inviting. Windurst is a maze. Bastok felt dingy and sometimes claustrophobic. San d’Oria was the combination of strategy and elegance. And the holidays were always the most fun. The best spot for the SummerFest fireworks is in Northern San D’Oria at the fountain. Halloween costumes parade along the Southern route from the moment you step into the gates; they’re not hidden away like the other cities. And Christmas completely transforms the docks into a magical oasis from the rush of the outside world. The music is not the best, and many adventurers will attest to The Sanctuary of Zi’tah as one of the best songs in the game. But to me, San d’Oria was the one place I could call home and feel safe…without getting lost in the winding roads of Windurst and feel like punting Tarus.

Why do I want to go: This was my home town from the day I began me adventures in Vana’diel. And it’s the best Mog House of them all. A fireplace and a carpet? Score!

 Everywhere – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’m going to let the screenshots speak for itself.

Just look at how f-ing beautiful it is. Look at it!

Why do I want to visit: I would be in photography, and videography, heaven.

Minecraft – Minecraft. This seems like a silly entry, but hear me out. The beauty of Minecraft versus SecondLife is the ease of use. In Minecraft you can build ANYTHING with a few clicks on your mouse or controller. Granted they will all be in a square format, but the possibilities are endless. Versus something like SecondLife which is much more polished it does require quite a bit of time to understand scripting. With Minecraft you get an axe, you chop some wood, and you build. Done.

In the vision that is Minecraft, the amount of creativity continues to astound me. People have been able to develop game levels from other products to replicas of the Sistine Chapel. Or completely new mini-worlds on their islands that make us wonder if such a realm could be possible in reality. And that’s why I want a Minecraft realm to exist. Ease of use + creativity = endless opportunities to make things happen.

Why do I want to visit: Blocky replicas of The Big Bang Theory’s cast with Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment? Yes please

Bloodwing’s Holding Pen – Borderlands 2. Top this on the list of “what the crap?” but I’m choosing this because of it’s design. Just take a look at the screenshot and see for yourself. For a tiny alcove in this massive, jacking up zoo wildlife gone very wrong, experimentation camp, this area is reclusive. It almost feels, in an odd way, comforting to see this place after fighting through the seemingly never-ending packs of Skags. It also serves as a plot point in the game where emotions are running high. Many of us are not ashamed to admit that we were sad by the end of this chapter. But let’s get back to the screenshot for a moment. Look at how detailed that space is for an area that you only spend about 5 minutes in, if that. It’s a testament to the developers desire to provide an environment that truly feels real.

Why do I want to visit: Again, photography purposes. The story line at this point depressed me and I HATE this zone, in general. Invisible assholes everywhere!

The Halo – Halo (1-3). Of all of the first person shooters and of all of the games, why Halo? Honestly, it’s just plain cool. Who knew that a FPS could have hilltops and forests and beaches and tunnels and platforms, and holy crap I can launch my tank off of that thing and fly across the stage? Sweet! This seems so silly by today’s standards, but before Helo the FPS genre was limited to a lot of repetitive environments and war simulations. Halo brought us out of that relm and showed us how different the rest of the galaxy could be. Not to mention the zany things players have managed to come up with over the past decade. There are whole YouTube channels dedicated to abusing the game’s physics and objects to make weird sh*t happen. “Let’s see how many tanks we can stack on top of each other using the Blood Gultch transport systems.” Okay! Those zany features are what make Halo so damn addicting. Oh and the landscapes are pretty cool too.

But in all seriousness, the landscape for Halo is a marvel to look at. The thing that stands out to me the most is the use of color to intensify the mood of the gameplay. Your first meeting with the Hoarde is nothing short of thrilling and terrifying against the pristine dark grey metal walls, making the little maggots pop with even more gooey intensity. And I love the luscious colors of the trees and plants when you’re out in the forests; the blues, greens, and purples all collide with each other with such ease that you could barely believe that games at the time were capable of doing so.

Why do I want to visit: Any excuse to toss around the hummers and tanks across the map is a worthy endeavor.

The Laboratory – Caution: Seaman. This will deserve a bit of explanation. This choice was based off of wanting to have a real-world variant of this game. The environment is fairly simple. A water tank. A few rocks. Some other Seaman. And a blank canvas. Seaman is a game within a game. While the core of the design is centered around a virtual pet, helping it to evolve and creating offspring, it also focuses on the player as your creature watches you. Creepy, I know. So how does the world help the game? In its simplicity, we’re able to see Seaman for who he, or she, really is. And in turn, see ourselves for who we really are. Our habits and behaviors are projected onto Seaman. The more we interact with the creature, the more like us it becomes. At the same time, the less time we spend feeding and playing with it, Seaman becomes lazy (a direct correlation of the gamers actions and who they are). Having a laboratory setting in a simplistic nature allows us to better understand what Seaman is about. A busy world supporting it would have been counterproductive to the intent of the game. It’s a simple design for a complex idea, and the world best encompasses this premise.

Why do I want to visit: Leonard Nemoy narrating my life.


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