Thursday, December 13, 2012

999.9: Settings and set pieces I love in video games

I was just reading some articles about level design theory and settings and some technical stuff and I started thinking about some of my favorite games and settings.  Figured I'd do a list of stuff I like.  Feel free to add anything I forgot:


  •  The Hitman series has some of the best - and most memorable - levels I can think of from the Meat King's Slaughterhouse to the Opera to a vast Russian airbase.  The motel sequence in Absolution was the best part of the entire game and really the key reason to playing it all.  
  • Libraries.  I love libraries in RL and in  games just as much, even if it isn't during an action sequence.  In any RPG I'll head towards libraries ASAP and check every shelf for books and loots.
  • Museums.  Fallout 3, GTA IV, Stranglehold, and Arkham City all had excellent museum levels.  Like libraries I'll scour the place for loot and hidden objects.
  • Cities and urban environments.  
  • Casinos - because blowing up slot machines and taking cover behind flipped over blackjack tables is fun (Rainbow 6: Vegas has the best Vegas levels...uh...hence...uh...)
  • Large scale bridge battles.  
  • Vaults in Fallout 3 and Vegas.  Like dungeons but with less stupid nature involved.
  • The final techno-dungeon in Final Fantasy VI.
  • The "San Francisco" level of War of the Monsters.
  • Cyberpunk.  All of it.
  • Though I've yet to encounter one: the hive cities of Warhammer 40K.  I've never understood why there wasn't a truly epic Necromunda RPG.  The possibilities of awesome are limitless.
  • For bombed out city sniper-y goodness Sniper Elite takes the cake.  Sure the game could hate you, especially if you ramp up the difficultly but man there was intense action involved.
  • The Dark World in Legend of Zelda for the SNES.
  • Vice City.  All of it.
  • The mansion at the end of Manhunt.
  • The first Metroid.
  • The castle in Ico.
  • LV-426.
  • London in The Getaway.  I actually dug out a street map of London to help me get around.  The game had some control and play issues and ended up with some shitty missions at the end but damn it was fun to drive around.
  • The office buildings in Shadowrun (SNES).  Man that was awesome fun.
  • Arkham Asylum was just brilliantly designed.
  • The Brooklyn level of Freedom Fighters.
  • Trench warfare
  • The Black Deep (?) in Skyrim was pretty frigging epic.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Talk about claustrophobic and nightmarish.
  • Silent Hill 2 & 3.
  • The Secret World's level design is amazing, too bad the game sucked.  
  • Red Dead Redemption's Mexico.
  • The funhouse in Max Payne 2.
Now for where I don't need to go anymore:
  • Laboratories
  • The fucking jungle, except in Far Cry 2.
  • Warehouses
  • Mining sites
  • I'm getting tired of caverns and caverny dungeons.  Yes, I realize that in fantasy RPGs baddies would live in caverns, caves, etc but jeez do they have to be so drab?  And why are there torches and fires lit everywhere - even if the denizens would have no need for any light?  And where are the bioluminescents?  Yes, Skyrim had them but there were also plenty of bland Draugur sites too.
  • Brown and grey palettes are staples.  I know, I know destroyed areas are burned out and charred and dirty but do the levels need to look so flat and rote?  Ico and Shadow of Colossus both had limited palettes but there was a richness to them, a depth.
  • The sticks.  I'm looking at you GTA: SA.
  • Kashyyk
  • Raccoon City

Coming soon - "What do you mean I can't turn Auto Equip off?", "I just ran out of space in inventory.  Why the fuck can't I have a pack horse or a wagon?", "How hard is it for me to bring all my followers with me?  Just scale up the difficulty!"*



*This last whine has been a long standing complaint of mine since playing Final Fantasy VI.  In that game you broke your characters into teams and at many points in the game it worked brilliantly.  In the stunningly good Suikoden III you built a town out of followers (108!) found throughout the game and multiple story arcs but you could only sally forth with a few - most of the time (this game remains in my top five favorite RPGs of all time).  I'd love to see a game in which you amass individual followers and build an army and by the end of the game, facing the big bad and his legions of forces you command your own large force (with friendly NPC perma-death - Mass Effect did feature this and I think it's one of the strongest elements to the game).  How frigging epic would that be?  Lately I very rarely care about companions or what their story is, a large number of helper monkeys are just Smitty to me.  "Smitty carry this shit."  "Smitty be a bullet magnet."  "Jesus, Smitty get the fuck out of the way!  I'm sniping ova 'ere!  Dumb shit!"  "Smitty, if you don't get get this jeep and man the .50 I'm gonna run over your fingers and then beat you for not playin' 'Chopsticks'!"  "Damn it Smitty!  I shoulda mailed it to the Marx Brothers!"      

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