[Interview] Five: Year One Retrospective, Part I

“Five days of Five” continues with a reflexive examination of gaming’s highest points, both past and present.
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz
Published: February 26, 2011

“Five days of Five” continues with a reflexive examination of gaming’s highest points, both past and present.

TotalPlayStation's Five interview series takes the brightest minds from the journalistic and game development worlds and asks them to expound on their personal benchmarks of the videogame industry, exploring the crucial components of narrative, music, gameplay, graphics, and character.

To celebrate Five’s first birthday, a grand party was had, and ten of the first twelve interviewees graced us not only with their presence, but also with their answers to a special question: what is the gaming experience that has stayed – or resonated – with you the most through the years? Many laughs and memories, insights and nostalgia – and cake! – were shared with us, and we’re now sharing the first five trips down memory lane with you.

(The cake, of course, was a lie. But everything else isn’t – we promise.)

[Chris Dahlen, Kill Screen Editor-in-chief
I've played games on and off my whole life. I loved them the most when I was a kid, which is also when they gave me the most trouble – I could blow my whole allowance at an arcade in ten minutes. Today, I spend so much time writing about games, thinking about games, and playing games that no one should have to play, that I rarely just play them for pleasure. And that's why I keep thinking about my favorite game from college.

When I was at the University of Chicago, I didn't own a console, and I didn't have time for computer games. I was too busy digging through homework, sneaking into rock clubs, or, best of all, working at the college paper. I was there night and day, and in my first year I distinctly remember Tetris being installed on every Mac in the office. This was the classic version with a sample of Bill Pullman crying "game over" every time you lost. I played it as a distraction, during late nights or at the end of finals week, and I became pretty good at it.

Games can offer immersion, but they're also great for distraction. I've noticed as an adult that when I'm deep in a project and regularly losing sleep, I retreat to some simple, distracting game that can give my brain a rest. (Lately, it's been Warlight.net.) So while Tetris was addictive – and a "time-waster" for sure, as I called all games back then – it was also therapy, and a break from college drama, and stupid, simple fun. I still remember one summer, right before the semester ended, sitting in the newspaper office with a can of Black Label and playing that game, and feeling relieved that I didn't have to do anything else that day.

[Rus McLaughlin, BitMob.com Features Columnist]
Growing up on the Atari 2600, we all secretly knew it kinda sucked. When the original Pitfall! rates as your high point for graphics and frame rate and you love it for those things, that's a pretty strong indication of just how skewed your standards are.

My dad worked as a department store manager at the time, and it threw these annual sales where everything just went off the rails. Customers flooded the building, the doors stayed open super-late, and Dad stayed until it ended. One year, that meant me and Mom stayed, too. So Dad stashed us in the back room, and we're talking a floor-to-ceiling cement block. Mom, always a big sleeper, crashed out on a ratty old couch. For me, he found a floor model Atari 5200 and a cartridge of Star Raiders.

You don't always realize it when you're playing a game that's going to change everything. That kind of perspective usually takes time. I knew instantly Star Raiders existed on an entirely different plain from what I was used to. It looked better than anything I'd ever seen. It presented challenges in ways no other game I'd ever seen before did. It invited me to destroy all Zylon starships on sight, and I did... one glowing pink fireball at a time.

Star Raiders hasn't aged as badly as other games – you can play it now in Microsoft's Game Room, and a revamp is supposedly in the works for this year – though it's still pretty evidently from three decades ago. Nevertheless, it pioneered gameplay that would filter down into everything from Wing Commander to Star Wars: X-Wing and TIE Fighter. And it showed me that videogames could be a whole lot more than 8-bit stick figures and flickering ghost-monsters... that's beyond price.

[Crispin Boyer, 8-4 script editor]
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was just one of those games that got more and more amazing as you played it. It was epic, it was atmospheric, it was charming, it was... unforgettable. Never mind that its muddy graphics were trumped by Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" video. Forget that I was forced to hook my N64 to a tiny TV with tinny speakers that turned the tunes from Link's titular ocarina into Casio keyboard demos. At that particular time in my life, Ocarina of Time was as good as gaming got. Maybe it still is.

[Sam Bishop, TotalPlayStation.com Editor-in-chief]
The problem with being a fogey, much less a fogey who plays probably upwards of a hundred games a year, is that there have been many amazing experiences over the years. The last 15 or so of reviewing everything from shit-tastic 3DO games to some of the biggest blockbusters of that particular year have left things a little... hazy (also, bong hits from ages past... and more present).

If I was going for purely recent experiences, I'd have to say Mass Effect 2 absolutely blew my mind. I spent hours reading over the Codex and sifting through every conversation thread. I explored every single planet, I finished every single mission, and by the time it was over, 52 hours of game time had been logged. I would honestly take another 52 of nothing but reading about how insanely well-crafted that world is, from alien culture to technology to just seeing how an imaginary solar system developed. Also, the Shadow Broker stuff was easily the most impressive DLC I've ever seen, and by a good margin.

But if I was to truly look back through all my experiences, not one has completely blown me away as much as Deus Ex. I don't even know how many times I've played that game, nor how many hours have been lost to exploring different paths or augmentation upgrade paths. It is literally the best game I have ever played, and probably will be for the rest of time. The combination of freedom and epic storyline was just mind-blowing to me at the time, and though the game hasn't aged well at all visually, that tends to disappear after a few hours of insane Illuminati banter and hacking the crap out of everything electronic in sight.

It was a lengthy, varied, brilliant game, and I still throw in the soundtrack from time to time to get down. Because I'm a huge nerd. A huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge nerd.

[Dave Zdyrko, Quick Hit Lead Designer]
I've got so many fond gaming experiences that it's really hard to pick one. The first time you meet Luna in Lunar: The Silver Star always gets me. Saving the entire galaxy rather than just the world or “only” mankind in the first Mass Effect was a grand experience that won't likely be topped. I'll surely never forget holding the number one spot on the worldwide leaderboards for the Metal Gear Solid demo for approximately 24 hours. And actually pulling off Akira's Stun Palm of Doom to win a multiplayer match will likely stand as the most skilled thing I've done as a gamer.

But the fondest memory overall would likely be a game of Madden NFL Football that I played with my brother. I can't recall exactly what version it was, but it was a Genesis version where if you moved the defender between the center and guard pre-snap and had the horizontal parts of the star lined up with the line of scrimmage, you could get through pretty quickly every time. My brother and I played both Madden and EA's NHL games to death and had many epic battles, but this one was particularly tight and had many lead changes.

[The Five Archive]

Don Zalewski

Brian Altano

Douglass C. Perry

Javi Rodriguez

Paul Semel

Andre Segers

Chris Roper

Dave Zdyrko

Micah Seff

Sam Bishop

Crispin Boyer

Rus McLaughlin

Chris Dahlen