I’ve been trying to work out what makes a game a ‘favourite’ for me, as opposed to a game I just play a lot. After all, there’s a lot of content in (for example) Fallout 3, so you can play for many hours. However, since I haven’t played it for months, I suspect I couldn’t call it a favourite.
I’m going to go through my favourite games, in chronological order, and see where that takes me.
I’ve probably forgotten my first favourite game, but the first one I remember is Impossible Mission on the Commodore 64. It was a platformer that provided just the right level of challenge. Though it always contained the same rooms, their location, and the behaviour of the robots within them was mixed up with each game. A room that you breezed through last game, might be ‘impossible’ this game. Also, having to assemble the password to complete the game was an extra mini-game that increased the interest. There was also the challenge of beating your best time.
It was also a game that, despite having a limited ‘world’, you could explore. You could play with how far a ‘step’ would take you to learn how to step across floors with holes in it. You could learn how far off a platform you could be and still be able to jump – as opposed to just falling. The options were limited, but over time you learned new tricks, and possibly got into areas , or solved puzzles, in ways the designers didn’t expect.
The next favourite I remember is the Thief game. I played the demo to death on a system that could barely cope with it at the lowest, silliest resolution possible. I did the same to the full version. When I finally bought a system that could cope with higher resolutions and detail, then I played it to death again. And again.
I loved the character of Garrett, and the stealth type gameplay – that seems to suit me somehow as I tend to try that in many games even now. It was also the first game I played that one might term ‘sandbox’. While there were several levels, played one after the other, each level was a large area that you could attack many ways. It was in this game I learned the joys of exploring not only the game, but the game engine. This is where you learn the rules of the game-world, and try to break them, or at the least twist them. Sometimes this helps in the game itself, other times it just leads to amusing consequences. It also leads to giving the game even more play time.
When you play this way, you really need to know the game inside out. You need to know when it’s safe to ignore the game the designers intended, so you can poke, prod and play an entirely different game. For some people this is actually game breaking. Once they find the little glitches or bugs, they find they can’t enjoy the game itself afterwards. For me, it’s the other way around. But then, I find that learning how a magic trick was done makes it even more interesting, not less.
Thief II got the same treatment from me when it came out – leaving Thief 1 mostly relegated to the cupboard.
Then came Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I never really got wrapped up in the earlier GTA games, but San Andreas hooked me totally. Partly it was the ‘serious’ story that seemed mostly a satire of the whole ‘Hood culture, but mostly it was that there was a whole world to play in. I found I could just explore the world, or do a mission if I wanted – depending on my mood.
The game certainly had its bugs, the targeting was a pain in the rear, but none of that seemed to matter. I played it through several times – though I could never get 100% completion. I enjoyed it, but some things I’m just not good at. Overall I played it at least once a week, for well over three years.
Then came Grand Theft Auto IV. At first, I wasn’t really sure about the new game. I loved the graphics, and the story – at least the early story – but the way it ‘handled’ was very different to GTA:SA. Eventually I decided I enjoyed IV more, and it became my ‘default’ game, and still is. Others, such as Red Dead Redemption and the aforementioned Fallout 3 have vied for the title, but I’ve grown tired of each one, leaving GTAIV still being played regularly.
So, at the end of this, I think I can say that for a game to become a favourite for me, it needs to be a game I can take beyond the “intended game”. It needs to be a game that I can explore; not just exploring the world itself, but exploring the game and the engine that drives the game.
So what makes a game a favourite for you, and what are your favourites?