If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll be horrified to hear that the Sega CD’s table scraps—namely Night Trap, Double Switch, and Ground Zero Texas—have risen from the dead. Because Five Nights at Freddy’s is Night Trap with jump scares. And in a perfect world where a benevolent god shoots terrible game creators with lightning, we could end the review right there. Unfortunately, most of the people playing Freddy’s weren’t even alive when the Sega CD came out, and the result is that 1994’s bargain bin can become 2014’s indie success story.
Difficulty is a combination of various parameters in a game’s design: How much room for error do you get? How long do you have to demonstrate skillful play in order to succeed? How does the game punish the player for failure? All of these things will add up to the following: How hard is it to achieve a task or beat a game?
Like all choices in the design process, difficulty should lead to a more engaging game. Different games will demand different approaches to difficulty, and what may be appropriate for the arcade shoot ‘em up may not apply to the open-world computer game. The proper difficulty level can make the game more challenging—requiring a player to master a greater range of skills in order to keep everything from crashing down—and it can make a game world feel more atmospheric and dangerous.
Co-developed by Epic Games (then Epic MegaGames) and Digital Extremes
Published by GT Interactive
Released in 1998 for the Personal Computer
So, here’s our setup: At a time when companies are re-evaluating the genre in order to distance themselves from the masters at id Software, Epic Games drops their brass balls on the table and not only builds a game that will appeal to the fans of Doom and Quake, but outclasses those games on a wide number of fronts. Unreal becomes yet another technical landmark in a pioneering computer videogame market where tiny Manhattan Projects had become utterly routine.
This was [Richard Garriott’s] world: the murders, the violence, the chaos. It was all his and his team’s doing and the game was no longer under his full control. … “I went off to rethink the rules and think about the fact that people are just gaming the system you provide. You can’t really blame the player killers, you can’t blame the people stealing stuff from each other, you can only blame the vision and rules and structure that you put into play.”
- Richard Garriott, on the early, blood-soaked days of Ultima Online, as discussed in Replay: The History of Video Games*
And now, the rabble asks: “What do we do about ‘toxic’ behavior in online videogames?” Everyone seems to have an opinion on this one. Even non-celebrity Wil Wheaton thinks we should banish anonymity in the medium,* because if there’s anyone who understands the reasons that private individuals choose to stay private in their private lives, it’s a man who can gain financially and socially every time he uses his public persona on the internet. But he’s not the only person who feels this way, and in lieu of the “death threats” that are now a common part of every internet “controversy”, “we need to take out the trolls” has become an appealing and rather braindead position to take.
Developed and published by LucasArts
Released in 1997 for the Personal Computer
The sequel to Star Wars: Dark Forces looks like the ultimate Star Wars power fantasy, supporting a solid 3D engine (that’s admittedly aged terribly), larger levels than its predecessor, new gear, more enemies, lightsaber melee combat, a large array of Force powers, a somewhat ambitious overarching story that promotes player choice between Light/Dark Side with two endings, and multiplayer with several game modes and options. On top of this, it’s simply more accessible, with proper mouselook and extensive key bindings.
The Game Awards 2014 will desperately try to convince you that this show has nothing in common with the Spike Video Game Awards or last year’s disastrous VGX. They are fuckin’ liars. Everything about this show—from the corporate influence, to the structure, and pacing, to the horrible choice of entertainment options—is partially or absolutely the work of one Geoff Keighley, the Lord and Master of Doing the Dew. But talk is cheap and so is this awards ceremony. Let’s get to business.
Co-developed by feelplus and Q Entertainment
Published by Konami
Released in 2010 for the Xbox 360
N3II: Ninety-Nine Nights drops its series’ pretense and affiliation with the Kingdom Under Fire series, and instead uses the scope and grandeur of its inspiration to pursue the role of a more conventional 3D brawler. Though I suppose “conventional” is disingenuous to a game that combines the sprawling armies of Dynasty Warriors with the grit and brutality of a God of War, ending up with something that Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, Untold Legends, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and countless other “dungeon brawlers” have desperately wanted to be.
Videogames have seen the most exponential growth of any media format in human history, where the combination of new hardware and design theory has allowed each decade of videogames to outclass the previous one. It is difficult to overstate how rapid this transformation has been. In five years, Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty became Total Annihilation, with players throwing over 100 different units and buildings at each other across land, sea, and air. In four years, Wolfenstein 3-D became Descent II, a flight simulator with a twenty-weapon arms system, three-dimensional freedom of movement, and some of the most complex level design in the history of videogames. In roughly a decade, Street Fighter II had given way to the team-oriented engagements in The King of Fighters and Marvel vs. Capcom series, while the Arcana Heart, Guilty Gear, and Melty Blood series would exhaustively explore air combat.
Synopsis: The common narrative for dota’s popularity is a myth that can be debunked with a brief look into the history of Battle.net. The real answer? The genre takes the core impulses that drive players and makes them more appealing. It builds on the bare appeals of many popular computer games. It takes the addictive level-up mechanics and turns them into the central attraction in a versus multiplayer game. It rewards “time played” as the primary vector for early improvement. And in addition, the genre is bound to a distribution model which gives it a huge advantage over prior models and prior games. The end result is a genre with wide appeal that can be distributed around the world with ease. It is important to understand this, because the dota genre (and other games) is waging a full assault on the videogame publishing model, the most important quality control mechanism of the last three decades. The wide popularity that can be achieved with digital distribution will be used to defend these games, and it will be crucial to separate popularity from quality in order to get the most out of this medium.
Synopsis: The reason that dota is held to critical acclaim is simple: The novelty of the experience. Videogames now face a world where documentation and the internet leave few stones unturned, and players are quickly confronted by familiar situations that showcase the optimal tactics. Dota counters this reality with a game model that can not only weather the decline of novelty, but manufacture novelty on a regular basis. By combining a massive range of choice, large team formats, and a persistent development process, dota games assure that players will rarely have to revisit familiar matchups and situations, creating the illusion of a game with “endless depth”. The goal of this development model is to stave off the moment that dota ceases to be novel. If players are left to a familiar matchups, familiar strategies, and familiar situations, they will quickly realize that the concepts and elements that define the genre are terrible. And when it is time to determine where these games stand in history—without developers scribbling corrections in their thesis—they will not hold to scrutiny.