In keeping with the spirit of this project, the logo has been made crappy (roughly) on purpose, to symbolize the shallow and half-assed nature of this sort of thing.
A few weeks ago we dumped on PC Gamer for their list of Top 100 Games that gave top honors to Mass Effect 2It was a mess of dodgy tone, fake choice, plot holes, retcons, and cliches, but at least the shooting was… pretty standard.. A really interesting discussion about “Top Games” ensued, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really analyzed the thought process behind these lists or questioned the criteria that go into them. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had about how this is supposed to work. Eventually I realized that after deriding Top X lists for years, I hypocritically want to make one. Not because I think the final product is useful. (I don’t care who makes the list, it’s still hogwash. Look, I worked for a couple of weeks on my list and I still think it’s hogwash.)
This is a kind of experiment, “What is it like to make one of these, and how would it turn out if I made one?” I realize this is terribly crypto-hipster of me to both deride and then ironically indulge in something shallow. Just humor me.
What do people mean by “Top Games”, anyway?
The usual technique seems to be to have all the critics draw up a list, and then combine those lists numerically. That sounds nice and fair, but pointless. If I’m into Dave Brubeck and my friend is into Katy Perry, then playing their songs overlapping at half volume doesn’t magically create something that reflects our combined tastes. Neither does putting both songs in the same playlist. It also doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about music itself. It just creates something neither of us likes. You’ve just created noise from signal. It’s a collection that doesn’t really reflect the views of anyone in particular.
What makes a game a “top” game? There are a lot of criteria we could use to rate games:
- Quality of execution? I may not like playing Dark Souls, but it’s a masterwork of execution. It is exactly the game its trying to be.
- Popularity? Angry Birds should get top honors here, but is it really a “top” game simply because it’s free, portable, and convenient?
- Historical significance? Wolfenstein 3D is very dull by today’s standards, but it’s the great-great-grandfather of the modern military shooter.
- Cultural impact? Even people who have never played a videogame can recognize Lara Croft and Mario.
- Personal enjoyment and “fun”? I enjoyed the heck out of FUEL, but it sold poorly and I wasn’t even playing the game as intended.
- Novelty? Outcast was unlike anything before or since, and suggests an entirely different direction in which shooters, adventure games, and even graphics might have evolved.
Those are all very different criteria, and some of them are even slightly opposed. The list of Top “Historically Significant” games is going to be radically different from the most “novel” games. Outcast and Descent are novel precisely because they weren’t mercilessly copied. Tomb Raider had a pretty big cultural impactNot many games get big-budget movies. (Ignoring Uwe Boll.), but the games rarely rose above middling quality and always suffered from horribly muddled executionAt least until the 2013 reboot.. Since it was packaged with the mega-selling console, Wii Sports is one of the best-selling games of all time. Does that make it historically significant, even though it had almost nothing else going for it? Should we give it credit for being “novel” when all of the novelty came from the controller?
What platforms should we include? PC? Consoles? Which ones? How far back do we go? What about arcade titles? Do we give credit to games like Minecraft and Skyrim, which served as a base from which innumerable mods could grow? Do I include games I haven’t played, based purely on their reputations?
And once you figure out some system to figure out what belongs on the list, how can you possibly put them in a meaningful order? Different games appear for different reasons. Like, how do you put these items in order: Polio Vaccine, Agriculture, ice cream, your mother, music, Marvel Movies. You can’t sort those without knowing what we’re sorting for. Enjoyment? Personal importance? Significance? Popularity? What? Who made this list? This bullshit is an argument waiting to happen.
Yes, Top X lists are nonsense. But if your editor walks into your cubicle and tells you to have one up by the end of next weekOr you force yourself to make one as an academic exercise.Then you are boned, because these things take more than a week to make. then how do you go about it? How do you make a list that’s both a genuine reflection of your viewsUnless you’re just pandering to the audience by telling them what they want to hear, in which case you’re nothing more than a crappy analog version of Metacritic. and somehow useful or meaningful to others. Is such a thing even possible?
So for my own self-edification I made my own list of top games. Since everyone does “Top 50” and “Top 100”, I thought I’d be all base 16 fanboy and do a list of 64 games.
I don’t want to release the entire list at one time. That’s a huge article and the resulting discussion can’t possibly do all 64 games justice. And I don’t see any point in this at all if we don’t stop and discuss them. So I’m going to release the list 8 entries at a time, every couple of days, for the next couple of weeks.
 It was a mess of dodgy tone, fake choice, plot holes, retcons, and cliches, but at least the shooting was… pretty standard.
 Not many games get big-budget movies. (Ignoring Uwe Boll.)
 At least until the 2013 reboot.
 Or you force yourself to make one as an academic exercise.
 Then you are boned, because these things take more than a week to make.
 Unless you’re just pandering to the audience by telling them what they want to hear, in which case you’re nothing more than a crappy analog version of Metacritic.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.
Video Compression Gone Wrong
How does image compression work, and why does it create those ugly spots all over some videos and not others?
Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3
Yeah, this game is a classic. But the story is idiotic, incoherent, thematically confused, and patronizing.
Shamus Plays LOTRO
As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.