Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On My Mind: The Top Ten Lists

Recently I had an interesting conversation with someone after they found out I made games: they wanted to know "What is my perfect game?" It's interesting because I then spiralled out of control giving a non-sensical 10 minute answer about why it's not possible. Yet within the answer I told him one of the processes I had really liked when talking to people about games: A Top Ten List.

Most gamers have an attention span of a fly, and if you ask them on a game they really like, they're most likely to gravitate to something they've played recently, only because they remember it more. Phrasing a question "What is your 10 most favourite games of all time?" paints a much better picture of that person, more importantly, for me as a designer, it gives me a much clearer idea of what this person sees in games, and what kind of things they look for in the entertainment they enjoy. Let's try a few examples (some of you may know where this came from :P) :

Person A:
  1. Gran Turismo 3
  2. Need for Speed: High Stakes
  3. F1 2002
  4. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
  5. Team Fortress 2
  6. NHL 07
  7. Burnout Paradise
  8. Project Gotham Racing 4
  9. Carmageddon
  10. Twisted Metal Black
A very heavy sense of driving/racing games right? I think that's the most obvious thing out of this list. Wolfenstein, TF2 and Twisted Metal Black can sort of be lumped together, and one can assume this person would be interested in team based combat games.

Person B:
  1. Mega Man 2
  2. Super Mario Bros 3
  3. Mike Tyson's Punch Out
  4. Super Mario Kart
  5. Mega Man X
  6. Sonic 3 & Knuckles
  7. New Mario Bros DS
  8. Rock Band
  9. Team Fortress 2
  10. Street Fighter 4
This one is also pretty obvious with platforming dominating the bulk of the list.

Person C:
  1. Phantasy Star (1, 2, 3 and 4)
  2. Lunar (Silver Star and Eternal Blue)
  3. Shining Force (1 and 2)
  4. Chrono Trigger
  5. Megaman X
  6. Virtua Fighter
  7. Street Fighter (2 and 4)
  8. Warcraft 2
  9. Starcraft (1 and 2)
  10. Diablo (1 and 2)
Quite a few old school JRPGs, two highly revered fighting game franchises, and a bunch of Blizzard gams.

What's really interesting with these lists, is that no two person will ever come up with the same one, and more importantly, each will paint a very interesting picture of what they are into. Someone who's list is made up of games entirely before 1995 will have much different taste compared to someone who would name all their favourite games as released within the last two years.

For me though, this kind of list would be interesting when judging the person as a game designer. While this isn't the be all, end all way of judging who/what makes a good designer, these lists could be potential warning signs for someone who's too focused on a specific niche and may not work well in certain roles/projects. For example, if I was making a racing game, and I found a designer who lists nothing but racing games, then they'd be a tremendous asset. However, the same person probably won't be a great fit if I were to make something else completely different.

An extension that I've started appending is a second list, of "10 favourite games of the last 5 years". When people think about their favourite games, they tend to gravitate to really old games, or something really recent; by placing a 5 year limitation, it forces people to really think about what they've enjoyed recently. If I were to ask a designer this question, I would expect a wide range of answers, from really popular AAA titles, to really niche/indie titles that no one has heard of. Even more interesting, is to compared the two lists, and see if the person's tastes have changed over the years, and what has changed.

Obviously, this whole discussion is sort of pointless without example, and specifically, from me, so here's my list:

Top 10 games of all time, sorted by release (including the platform and genre):
  1. Uniracers - SNES/ Racing
  2. Donkey Kong Country 2 - SNES/ Platforming
  3. Zelda Ocarina of Time - N64/ Action Adenture
  4. SSX3 - GC/ Racing/Sports
  5. Ikaruga - GC/ SHMUP
  6. F-Zero GX - GC/ Racing
  7. Resident Evil 4 - GC/ Third Person Shooter
  8. Peggle/Peggle Nights - PC/ Puzzle
  9. Ouendan 1/2/Elite Beat Agents - DS/ Rhythm
  10. Burnout Paradise - 360/ Racing
Top 10 games of last 5 years, sorted by release (including the platform and genre):
  1. Burnout Paradise - 360/ Racing
  2. Portal /2 - PC/ Puzzle
  3. Peggle/Peggle Nights - PC/ Puzzle
  4. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 - XBLA/ SHMUP
  5. WipEout HD - PSN/ Racing
  6. Mirror's Edge - 360 FPS/Platforming
  7. DJ Hero - 360/ Rhythm
  8. Rhythm Heaven - DS/ Rhythm
  9. Art Style: light trax - WiiWare/ Racing
  10. Space Invaders Infinity Gene - iPhone/XBLA / SHMUP
I think the most consistent things from both list is how heavy racing games dominate it (and probably not a surprise to most people who know me), I make no concessions about my love for racing games, and would definitely work on one if I had a chance. However, outside of that, it's pretty hard to draw any more conclusions. You can observe general trends: In the last 5 years, I've favoured smaller, download titles over full game releases; games that have a minimal visual design and interesting audio have also rated highly (Geometry Wars 2, Rhythm Heaven, Art Style: light trax).

Can you spot what's common between these three games?

I'm sure there's way more you can extract out of such a list, and I'm sure that expanding such to 10 games can be even more helpful, but I think this is usually a good enough starting point between any two gamers to start talking about commonalities they see in games.

So, what are your top 10 games?


    1. Since you asked, (in rough order of release)
      1. Sim City 2000
      2. Final Fantasy VI
      3. Tetris Attack
      4. Harvest Moon
      5. StarCraft
      6. Zelda: Ocarina of Time
      7. Final Fantasy X
      8. GTA Vice City
      9. World of WarCraft
      10. Rock Band

      I realize that most of this is pretty old, and I have slightly bizarre tastes. Used to internet game more heavily, but most of those were more community focused, and wouldn't really rank in terms of best games ever. Also have not been able to game as much since I received the girlfriend achievement.

      Specific genres came to mind, eg Halo for shooter, Mario Kart for racing, but honestly, I just haven't put in the thousand hours in those genres to find the ones that stood out the most.

    2. Out of the few that I've talked to people about, they mostly tend to look like this, often a heavy mix of really seemingly random games, and really, there's nothing wrong with it.

      It would be more concerning if there's more defined pattern, yet the person can't explain why it is. I'd be very concern if I end up talking to a designer who can only name the most recent games as their favourite, and can't pinpoint a reason why that is the case.