The EZA Forum Hall of Greats (September 2022)

  • EZA Forums Hall of Greats — September 2022 Submission

    Youtube Video

    Not trying to get any yellow cards here so I'll keep it brief. Please watch this in full and enjoy the video.

    Good luck everyone!

  • Greetings Easy Allies Community!

    I wasn't able to put much work into this presentation but I'm delighted to nominate one of my all-time favorite strategy games for this Hall of Greats - XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This is an important game for myself and others who were new to the XCOM series when Enemy Unknown released in 2012. It's a perfect combination of strategy gameplay and presentation that surpassed all turn-based strategy games I had played before. It was a great game that also ignited a fire that I still have for XCOM style games such as Wasteland 3, Gears Tactics and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

    XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts you in control of XCOM, a secret organization tasked with defending the world from alien attacks. As the commander, you recruit soldiers, manage your base, research technologies, customize your soldiers and oversee combat on the ground. With the councils support and the support of your crew, the decisions you make could be the difference between winning and losing the war. There is always something to do between battles, with new research, launching satellites and monitoring monthly council reports. Going from combat to overseeing the base is a very satisfying gameplay loop, that keeps the game feeling fresh from start to finish.

    0_1663608003404_Xcom research.jpg

    The main bulk of XCOM: Enemy Unknown's gameplay is the turn-based battles, and these battles don't pull any punches. Every alien has unique strengths, weaknesses and abilities. New types of enemies are introduced regularly and they become a real menace by the end of the game. They have different abilities like mind control and poison attacks, to go along with groups of massive robot minions. It doesn't matter how your progressing with the different systems, they only get stronger as the game goes on.

    All that may sound scary, but this game gives you all the tools you need to overcome these challenges. Decisions such as squad movement and squad composition are at your discretion. Fill the squad with heavies, using their explosives to go in loud, or be more tactical with snipers, supports, and assaults. Your recruits don't start with much but they can be molded into alien killing machines. With a combination of perk upgrades through battle experience and advanced equipment through the results of your tech research. Soldiers are randomly generated when you recruit them, but you will get attached to them because of what their presence in battle means for your squad.

    For an added challenge, I like playing with the optional Ironman mode turned on. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown your troops can die in battle, losing all of their experience with them. Normally, you can reload a save but there's no second chances with Ironman enabled. This added tension helps make the tactical battles more engaging, knowing that one shot can make the difference when it comes to the outcome of a fight. Of course, this is just an optional mode and the game offers different difficulty options, including other advanced options that allow you to modify the difficulty to your skill level.

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    Strategy games are not always the most graphically impressive video games but XCOM does look great. The game features several different maps that have great detail and are interesting to explore. There's a good variety of locations including UFO's, city centers, military installations and rural locations. A cinematic action-cam is also used to show crucial moments, like when you kill an enemy with a critical hit. The user interface is key to any strategy game and the UI is presented well for playing with controller or mouse and keyboard.

    XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a huge shot in the arm for the genre when it released 10 years ago. And because of it's success, XCOM-like games are still incredibly popular with developers and players today. It took a genre which is often very dense and hard for non-strategy players, and made a super accessible, fun strategy game that many developers before that time were unable to accomplish. It did that, while still offering a challenging and immensely satisfying gameplay loop that only gets better as the game progresses. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an all-time great strategy game, one of my personal favorite games and I would love to see it make the Hall of Greats.

    0_1663608034110_Xcom gameplay.jpg

    Youtube Video

    Main Theme:
    Youtube Video

  • Here's my presentation. It's generally very spoiler-free, but some may consider the game's very conceit to be a spoiler. Idk, I kinda have to talk about it if I wish to make a case for it being a Great, but I figured I would make you aware. Would hate to ruin your ability to go in blind, so if that bothers you, don't watch it! I'd happily take the game not getting in if it meant you were able to experience the game as blind as you desire.

    My presentation:
    Youtube Video

  • Star Fox 64 is what turned me into a gamer. As of 1997, I'd never owned a gaming system. My only contacts with games were Sonic and Quake on my neighbor's Genesis and PC (though more watching than playing) and a few brief encounters with arcade games such as Lethal Enforcers and The Simpsons. I'd vaguely heard about "Nintendo", but both the name and what little I knew about them came across as 'kiddy' to me. I thought the games with 'attitude' I was familiar with were 'the place to be'. Though, I'd never felt a strong draw towards games; they were just something that existed to me, like any other fun thing to do.

    Then, around October, I happened to notice a demo kiosk running Star Fox 64. I wasn't familiar with any of it, I just knew it was a game because a controller was hooked up to a television. The moment I moved the stick around with my thumb and saw a beautifully lit, textured, and animated 3D ship INSTANTLY and PERFECTLY match my movements, I became awake. I'm not trying to sound fancy, it really felt like looking out the window in the morning and seeing the bright sun.

    Everything about the experience spoke to me. The easy to grip controller, the super tight controls, the strong colours, the clear sound effects and voices, the uplifting cutscene you get when you beat a level. It felt a thousand miles ahead of all other video games I knew. Since then, anything with lower production values has felt kind of ancient to me.

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    The feeling of flying the Arwing around holds up to this day, as does the game design. The core level design has you 'on rails' dodging around obstacles and laser blasts, with a few levels and boss battles in "all-range mode" that places you in an arena that lets you fly around in any direction. There's a large range of difficulty - if you kind of casually fly around and blast stuff, you can get through the first several levels quite easily. But, that just eases you in for the real stuff in the back half. Be prepared to get lots of game overs two-thirds of the way through a run.

    Youtube Video

    Youtube Video

    Each run is 7 levels, but depending on how you play, the levels don't have to be the same ones each time through. Many levels have branching paths, with criteria ranging from finding a secret boss, to beating a boss quickly, to flipping switches, to finding a secret warp. Triggering alternate routes leads to higher difficulty levels. If you can find the route to go through all the very hardest levels in one run, you get a alternate final level with a radically different true ending.

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    A couple of levels have you traversing the ground in the Landmaster Tank, which is quite a different skill set, in movement speed and shooting dynamics, but nearly as fun as the Arwing. One level also takes place underwater in the Blue Marine submarine, but not only is it pretty much just a slower, chunkier Arwing, it's the darkest and hardest level in the game. That level is the game's one major annoyance, but thankfully, it's just one (and the level right after it is one of the coolest).

    There's also a basic training mode and a 4 player versus mode. The multiplayer is pretty basic, and you spend most of your time just trying to find your opponents, but it's a decently fun diversion.

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    Aside from the super smooth controls and the very cinematic cutscenes, my favorite aspects of Star Fox 64 are the weird boss designs, the wonderful soundtrack (the intro song to the first level was the first piece of video game music I ever took notice of, and I've hummed it almost every day since; it turned out to be one of the few tracks in the game done by Koji Kondo, who became my favorite video game composer via the N64 Zeldas), and the one of the game's (and the system's) biggest innovations, the Rumble Pak. When you got hit or hit a wall, the controller would jolt in your hands, and a REAL jolt, not the kinda buzz built-in rumble gives you. When you beat a boss and it self-destructed, it was like a full-on earthquake in your hands.

  • Looks like both @Oscillator and I got in right at the buzzer, which means that everybody has submitted their presentations and Cross Examination is now open! I encourage you to look at the rules one more time, but otherwise it's time to ask and answer questions. This period lasts until the end of next monday, the 26th. See you then!

  • Question for @bruno_saurus about God of War (2018).

    One feature that got a lot of attention pre-release and was hardly brought up after the launch is a “single-take camera”. I love camera work as a storytelling tool, and it’s one of the reasons why films like Gravity are among my favorites. In God of War (2018) this technique did nothing in terms of making me more immersed in the world or more attached to the characters. In fact, there were even a couple of moments when intense scene was losing its steam only because the dialog was halted while camera was changing perspective.

    Additionally, “single-take camera” increases loading times (the game has to load “transition” world first and then it spends computing resources on its rendering, physics, etc., leaving only part of PS4 CPUs for doing what you actually want – loading target location) and prevents the game from allowing players to fast-travel from anywhere to anywhere. As a result, if you want to explore or get some collectable, you have to essentially sit through multiple loading screens (traveling through “loading” corridors to fast-travel gates, fast-traveling, traveling through “loading” corridors to desired location), and I definitely felt that the game is wasting my time for no good reason.

    Do you agree that the developers prioritized the gimmick over what’s better for the game and its players?

  • Question for @Brannox about DOOM II.

    You’ve spoke a lot about excellent level design, but when I played this game back in 90s, I couldn’t pass level 24 because I had no idea where to go and was constantly falling off those tiny pathways. I wasn’t the only one with this problem – my cousin and my dad had exactly the same issue and level 24 was the end of the road for them as well. I think, when multiple people get permanently stuck on the same level, it’s a sign of poor level design. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that many secrets in Doom II have no visual, sound or any other cues, and the only way to discover them is to hit spacebar and move around the perimeter of every room. It was normal three decades ago, but by today’s standards this is a poor level design.

    Do you think someone who never played Doom II before will highlight level design if they play this game today?

  • Question for @JDINCINERATOR about What Remains of Edith Finch.

    When I’ve played this game back in 2017, I was impressed with its visuals, number of details and constant variations in gameplay. Such density was something I never seen before in videogames, and I was eagerly anticipating discovering the next thing. However, since my attention was grabbed by this fountain of ideas, the narrative went right over my head and the only thing I could tell after completing the game it that it was a family story.

    Do you think that the form overshadows the substance in this game?

  • Question for @DIPSET about The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.

    You’ve highlighted the environment as a strong point of the game, but all locations in your footage look very similar and almost blend with each other. I understand that similarity of different prison’s corridors makes sense and that games of that era weren’t capable of filling places with lots of tiny details, but I’m still concerned that I’ll get tired of the sameness (and maybe even get lost) if I play this game today.

    Does the game do anything to keep its environments fresh for entire duration?

  • Question for @Shoulderguy about XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

    Strategy games have an aspect that some players, especially newcomers, find very difficult to deal with – you may suddenly realize that you’ve lost the game several hours ago and to fix that mistake you’ll have to replay a good chunk of the game (and you’re lucky if you’ve saved in separate slot close enough). You spoke about accessibility of XCOM: Enemy Unknown – how does it deal with that problem?

  • Question for @Capnbobamous about Outer Wilds.

    While time mechanic is crucial to this game’s narrative and design, it can also be frustrating in so many ways. You may run out of time while exploring some location or solving some puzzle, which means that you have to redo everything again. Sometimes this may mean repeating some challenging navigation or trying to remember how exactly you’ve got to where you were. This pushes you to do everything as fast as possible and if you rush at the wrong moment, you’ll miss some important clue. Additionally, there are several locations, including one vital, that can be get into only during extremely short timeframes, so if you weren’t in the right spot at the right time, you will be lost. I believe developers even admitted that clues for getting into that vital location are too faint and lots of players are struggling with it (including me – I’ve got there by lucky accident, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finish this game without a guide).

    Do you agree that player’s enjoyment of this game is luck-based?

  • Question for @Oscillator about Star Fox 64.

    You’ve mentioned that first few levels are casual, and the back half will result in numerous game overs. How frustrating is it when the game forces you to constantly redo trivial tasks before letting you to attempt the thing you actually want to beat?

  • @ffff0 said in The EZA Forum Hall of Greats (September 2022):

    Question for @Oscillator about Star Fox 64.

    You’ve mentioned that first few levels are casual, and the back half will result in numerous game overs. How frustrating is it when the game forces you to constantly redo trivial tasks before letting you to attempt the thing you actually want to beat?

    On the more casual levels (the first mission plus the next few on the easy/medium routes), the core gameplay is very fun. Dodging enemy fire, braking and taking u-turns to get behind them, dashing for powerups, it's just very consistently fun. The first level, Corneria, gets tiring faster than the rest because it's the one you play every run, but it's bright and colourful, and moves along quickly, so it's not a major annoyance. Some of the boss battles do feel like barriers because of the lack of mobility you typically have during them and their slow patterns, but they also often have the best dialogue.

    The music and crew chatter also livens the mood and helps distracts you from the repetition. It's when you're actually playing the far harder latter levels that frustration rears its head.

  • Question for @bruno_saurus about God of War (2018)

    There's an obvious narrative jump/hole with Atreus having a sudden personality shift that's very decisive for the story. That felt really weird when playing and kind of a big flaw in such a story heavy game, with developers later acknowledging it as cut content due to a somewhat troubled production. How do you feel about it?

    How do you feel about filler worlds like Muspelheim and Niflheim when you know meaningful content was cut out?

    Question for @Shoulderguy about XCOM: Enemy Unknown

    My main issue with this proposal is that it becomes difficult to justify its entry when you have the 1994's UFO: Enemy Unknown game and then XCOM 2 improving upon XCOM. I love LOVE XCOM but being a Hall of Greats why pick this title over the others. Or in other words, how will you sell it to me who played the original why this should be the one in. And why XCOM and not XCOM 2.

    Question for @Brannox about DOOM II

    This again is a question tied to the nature of the Hall of Greats and maybe being difficult to justify having both Doom and Doom II featuring in it. If we had an entry for the original Doom here today, considering the enormous relevance it has in gaming's history, do you think DOOM II is enough of an improvement to justify being in the HoG over DOOM?

  • @ffff0 I agree that the narrative of Edith Finch is under the surface while the gameplay segments take center stage, but I truly believe that Edith Finch wants the gameplay to be front and center, because games of its ilk are sneered at for being "walking simulators", containing mild interactions that can bore players. The Finch family curse elements may not be as fleshed out and evident as all of its other beautiful aspects, but I do think every element of Edith Finch is evident of a spectacularly cohesive vision.

  • I just want to say at this point that it might be impossible for me to choose a top 3 because you've all brought amazing games to this Hall of Greats.

  • As always, I'm leaving all questions to all presenters all at once, and because it is early morning as me writing this, I'm unable to answer the questions posed to me for several hours as I'm about to head off to work and I want to make sure I give each, any, and all questions posed to me the time they deserve. Without further ado:

    To @ffff0 regarding Forza Horizon 5:
    1.) I’m someone who likes playing in isolation as opposed to having any multiplayer components. How integrated is the online experience and is it something you can opt out of/turn off? Is it even possible to play offline?

    2.) A major issue with Forza games is the licensing of the cars to the point these games can only be up for sale for only a few years before they’re delisted. Does this make the game (and series/franchise for that matter) having an impending discontinue date limit it’s viability years in the future?

    To @bruno_saurus regarding God of War (2018):
    1.) For as much praise God of War (2018) gets, it does have some flaws. The first criticism I have is having unnecessary tasks that add nothing, or there just to be there. A premium example of this is the Labors. I get all the different ways of taking out enemies incentivizes different play, but they so pointless with little reward. Do you agree or disagree the Labors add to the game and why/why not?

    2.) While I agree combat is very strong, it does suffer from the standard trappings of finding a combination of Runics/Enchantments you enjoy and never feeling incentivized to switch things up. Personally, I have the setup I’ve got and haven’t changed across multiple New Game Plus playthroughs. This includes armor giving me the best stats, despite not being into the look of said armor. Do you think outside of the ice/fire dynamic of your weapons and enemies, which being only binary isn’t all that in-depth in itself, the game provides enough justification for you to switch up tactics/loadouts and fully delve into its systems?

    To @JDINCINERATOR regarding What Remains of Edith Finch:
    1.) In many cases, it’s not really a personal dealbreaker if a game’s replay-ability isn’t great, and with you saying the game’s only a couple hours, it does have me wondering: How well does the game incentivize multiple playthroughs? Is it a one-and-done until you want to go through the story again, or because the minimal time commitment, is it immune to fatigue for repeated playthroughs in a short span of time?

    2.) And on the flip side, you clearly feel, for you, the game does more than enough with the little time it has and not overstay its welcome to leave a lasting impact. However, if someone plays this and doesn’t vibe with the story, well that’s it. There’s nothing else it really offers to people. Do you think it could/should have more aspects to the game (like more family members’ stories, mini-games, etc.) to incentivize players to spend time with it longer?

    To @DIPSET regarding The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay:
    1.) One thing I always think about when it comes to Hall of Greats, be it the Allies’ or ours, is if the presentation does a wonderful job to entice me to play, how simple would it be for me to get a copy. And as you demonstrate right at the end, physical appears to be the way to go with it being delisted. A cursory glance shows its originally for only OG Xbox and Windows, whereas it being bundled with Assault on Dark Athena brought it forward one generation. If one isn’t concerned about it being used, it’s pretty cheap to get, but new copies are much higher in cost. Do you think going through the effort of purchasing a copy (much like your own real world example of not available to rent, purchase only) for older platforms that many probably don’t own anymore is enough for this single game?

    2.) You’ve said a lot of terms that appeal to me: “Stealth based,” “immersive-sim elements,” “simple dialogue trees,” and so on, and the foundational gameplay looks solid, but one thing I’m not able to get past (and yes, it is ENTIRELY subjective) is how it looks. Even with the remaster, everything looks in a way that’s hard to describe, but it clearly shows its age and it’s off putting to me, to the point there are games of the time (and older) that I feel do 3D models a lot better. In your opinion, do you think it graphically holds up, not just in today’s space, but against its contemporaries as well?

    To @Shoulderguy regarding XCOM: Enemy Unknown:
    1.) You briefly touch on it in your presentation, but there appears to be a lot of things you need to manage to stay on top of things, and while you explicitly state a couple times this is one of the most approachable strategy games out there, that doesn’t mean the genre in itself is simple, nor many of the systems can be ignored. So a two parter: A.) Can you please explain the gameplay differences in these systems (to use your listed examples: Battles, new research, launching satellites and Monitoring monthly council reports) and B.) How integral they are to success/failure?

    2.) One of the most notorious things I’ve heard about XCOM (and I think you briefly vaguely reference it in the optional mode you discuss), is how you can have a high percentage chance of a hit at point-blank range and completely miss it due to RNG. How prevalent are these kinds of examples and further, how punishing/forgiving is the RNG overall?

    To @Capnbobamous regarding The Outer Wilds:
    1.) One of the biggest hangups I have regarding this is how, as you state a couple times in your presentation, and Isla as well, to truly talk about the best aspects of the game fundamentally spoils its very nature. Do you think this is a detriment when trying to convince people to play, when the “going in blind” advice needs to be so heavily relied upon?

    2.) Personally speaking, I’m not a fan of almost aimless, “go where you want, do what you want” types of games, insofar as not having at least one concrete marker to guide me when I’m ready to progress to a main objective. With all that happens in The Outer Wilds, do you think the game does a good enough job helping you keep up with all your discoveries without running the risk of forgetting key details while simultaneously implicitly pointing you in the direction you need to go?

    To @Oscillator regarding Star Fox 64:
    1.) To me, on-rails shooter is a genre that on its surface sounds restrictive in that most (but not all) of time you don’t fully have three-dimensional, 360 degree spherical movement, nor do you have the ability to explore outside of shooting targets and enemies. Does Star Fox 64 allow you any freedom to fly around many of the levels and take in the atmosphere?

    2.) In the two videos you’ve provided, something that jumped out to me is the camera is always behind you and in order to look/go behind, you must do a u-turn, but the camera quickly sticks back behind you again. Do you think it’s a hindrance to not have any expansive camera control during gameplay?

  • @brannox
    1). I feel Edith Finch is an experience you play when you want to without the fatigue or demands many games give to incentivize repeated playthroughs. Edith Finch isn't a game to rush, it's a game to savor, think about and process.
    2). I don't believe length is what makes Edith Finch special. The stories are diverse and quirky enough to appeal in its own distinctive way. If people don't vibe with the story, I think Edith Finch's ability to engage with new kinds of stories and gameplay interactions, gives it something special and unique that not many games out there have. If length is an issue regarding Edith Finch, I don't think they will appreciate what the game is trying to achieve-but I do think the looks the game throws at players is enough to satisfy wonderfully.

  • Overall, I want to let everyone know that I'm going to use the entirey of this week of formulate my questions. Some of the games presented are pretty easily available on Game Pass so I've actually started a playthough for two of them so far just to get an idea. So I want to dig in a bit more before I cross-examine.

    I'll still be around to answer.


    The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
    Answer #1 re: Setting / Location diversity

    @ffff0 said in The EZA Forum Hall of Greats (September 2022):

    Question for @DIPSET about The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.
    You’ve highlighted the environment as a strong point of the game, but all locations in your footage look very similar and almost blend with each other. I understand that similarity of different prison’s corridors makes sense and that games of that era weren’t capable of filling places with lots of tiny details, but I’m still concerned that I’ll get tired of the sameness (and maybe even get lost) if I play this game today.
    Does the game do anything to keep its environments fresh for entire duration?

    I should preface that 90% of the footage I used for the video is not only the beginning of the game, but in or around the tutorial and first level. But even with that said, the prison cell block section does ooze atmosphere.

    The reason it works so well from an immersive standpoint—ironically enough for a game set in a prison—is because the devs just set you free in a cell block. So the beginning section is small and looks a bit similar because it's a few prison corridors, a courtyard, and another prison block held by rival gangs. But what makes it so cool and immersive is that you can just mill around popping into people's cell's, talking to them, learning about the lore, who is whom, etc. You can actually murder the prisoners at will and if you don't get caught, you can get away with it. Or you can opt to just murder everybody in the beginning cell block section and still progress the story (but it'll be way harder). Very few games really just set you loose in a prison and trust the player enough to figure out what's going on and how to escape.

    But that's just the beginning. Escape from Butcher Bay has three core areas throughout the 12-15 hour game:

    1. Intro / Max Security (most of what you saw in the video)
    2. Double Max Security
    3. Cryosleep

    And within each main section, there are smaller bespoke areas like the sewers which are tight and full of weird creatures and important NPCs who you can stumble into.

    Those three main areas are extremely distinct from one another. Double Max for example, has prison cells made from a series of port yard shipping containers hanging above a bottomless black abyss. Escape in this area seems almost impossible and the sense of confinement is extraordinary. However, there is still a prison culture with different NPCs and guards with quests and interests that feel distinct from the first section. Overall, this section is very industrial feeling and more wide open and sneaky.

    Cryosleep is sort of like a white bright sci-fi future with clinical looking walls and glowing technology. It's like a ultra max security sci-fi thriller aesthetic that completely juxtaposes against the rest of the game.

    If I could make a more modern comparison, think of the approach towards the aesthetic in Remedy's Control. That game has a unified aesthetic but there are distinctions in the areas so not everything looks like a brutalist-era office hallway. That said, I much prefer the variety is setting / aesthetic in Escape From Butcher Bay versus Control, but that's just an example to give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

    EDIT - I should add, to answer you specifically, you run absolutely no risk of getting lost in this game. It's like open sections with bespoke level design. It's not entirely linear, but their is a clear linear progression. It's more Half Life 2 than Deus Ex.

  • Response to @Brannox question about Forza Horizon 5 offline mode and limited time availability.

    Online component in Forza Horizon 5 is completely optional, and you can go offline anytime you want from the main menu. Additionally, if you are playing online and your connection goes down, you will not be booted out (unless you’re in a multiplayer match) – the game simply repopulate the world with AI cars and let you keep doing whatever you were doing. By the way, presence of other players doesn’t impact you in any way (their cars don’t have collision with yours until you decide to team up) and you don’t run into them every minute. So even for solo players I would recommend playing online, as it bolsters the idea of being at a car festival. But again, if you don’t want to, you don’t need to. The choice is yours.

    As for being delisted due to licensing – this is unfortunate reality of the industry that isn’t exclusive to racing games. Many games become unavailable at some point (including some among today’s nominees), but it shouldn’t stop us from playing them and loving them. Forza Horizon 5 isn’t a live-service game, it has feature-complete physical release, so I don’t expect it to be lost in time. And given Microsoft commitment to backwards compatibility, I’m sure that you’ll be able to put that disc in 2030’s Xbox and just play the game.