The Top 100 Games: #99 Brataccas
Mar 19th, 2014 by Ice Cream Jonsey

#99 – BRATACCAS (1986, Amiga, Psygnosis)

If this new list accomplishes anything, I hope that it will convince some people somewhere that Brataccas isn’t a terrible game with a terrible interface, but a great game with an interface that is "only" bad.

The premise of Brataccas is that you are a genetic engineer named Kyne. You developed a way to engineer a super breed of man. The government wants this research to create a supersoldier, but Kyne refuses. He is framed for treason, there is a reward for his capture and Kyne travels to the asteroid of Brataccas for evidence to clear his name.

You are then dropped into a self-contained world filled with characters that have their own agendas, their own cares and desires. At no point does anyone give a shit about the well-being of the player of Kyne. It’s surprising that the pages to the manual are even bound together.

Each "room" in Brataccas can have several different things going on. There are elevators, so that you can travel along the game’s y-axis. There are characters to bribe. You can start a fight with almost anyone in the game, which was waay, waaaaay ahead of its time. The cops are trying to arrest you, sure, but they don’t have omniscience. There are security cameras to disable, false leads, bartenders to get rumors from and a lone, hissing psychopath wandering around the asteroid that will try to kill you with his sword for no reason.

The room layout of Brataccas is compact and paranoid and uncomfortably put together. When you get arrested, you travel in real time behind the cop, who drops you off to the jail cell. You go through rooms that, when you start, you probably can’t get to easily, meaning that the act of getting arrested in the game is initially interesting. (Years later, the act of getting arrested in the most famous series of games, GTA, simply cuts to a black screen. Brataccas was ahead of its time.)

There is a problem with the game, however, that every review addresses. Brataccas offers gesture-based mouse controls. And they are just as terrible as you might think with systems like the Amiga, Atari ST and Macintosh that used mice with physical balls.

It’s terrible and inintuitive. This game would be famous if they didn’t screw it up! You move forward by moving the mouse to the right, but then have to stop by holding the button and moving the other way. And you have to stomp that mouse. You have to slowly press down and move it the other way. You’ll gesture to enter combat when you meant to jump. In a way, and I am admitting this is a stretch, the terrible gestures mean that you will randomly start combat with people minding their own business. Some guy that you might want to talk to might end up with a sword in the gut. It adds to the web of lunacy going on in the asteroid.

That said, when I played it on my real Amiga, I saw that the game lets you use keyboard controls. Great! I thought I would try that. And that’s when the final mystery of Brataccas revealed itself to me: the gesture-based controls that everyone savages are actually better than the keyboard controls.

Brataccas is just a game that requires time to learn its controls. It’s like Defender in that respect, it’s just that with Defender you feel like a spaceship captain and every NES game in the world mastered moving people with a gamepad. Because of the gesturing it’s a game of skill with the most wide-open sci-fi world of its time. The speech bubbles are all in caps, with bizarre punctuation. The graphics mode for the Amiga has you at 640×200, which is a very silly resolution to try to do anything in.

Brataccas is the best example that I can think of of an attempt at a simulated, uncaring world. And while I appreciate the quest arrow on Fallout 3 and BioShock, those games will always be a little less than they could be because they care about you in a way that Brataccas never will. It feels just as cold as life on an asteroid probably would be.

I guess I can also put it this way: when it comes to each game I’ve made myself, they always started in the design document phase as open-ended simulations where the player is dropped in and meant to learn and survive, just like (and even thanks to*) Brataccas. None of them have ended up that way because I haven’t been able to achieve what this extremely goofy, yet charming, little asteroid-sim did manage to successfully accomplish. A world.

(*Specifically, the fact that you can start a fight with anyone in Fallacy of Dawn, and the one "CopBot" were inspired from Brataccas, along with the fact that I set Pantomime on a moon essentially the size of an asteroid.)

The Top 100 Games: #100 Portal
Mar 14th, 2014 by Ice Cream Jonsey

#100 – PORTAL (2007, PC, Valve)

My Internet comedy partner, Pinback, and I have had long discussions about all manner of media. Video games, for sure. But also movies and television shows. One of the concepts I have floated towards Pinback is that of the "minimum we should expect."

I think that video games are an immature medium that seems to constantly fall backwards. The technology improves, sure — the most clever programmers are game programmers, and it’s sad that you hear about the long hours many of them work and the pay that doesn’t quite match what they could get for other companies. Video games have the most immature writing of any form of entertainment that I can think of.

Which leads to Portal.

Nerds did their best to ruin it like they did Monty Python and Douglas Adams. Hell, a buddy of mine bought me a "The Cake Is A Lie" shirt and I don’t think we ever had more than a couple Portal-based conversations together. It just dominated the end of 2007 and most of 2008. You couldn’t escape it if you were on the internet. and not trying to overthrow a government with social media.

The act of moving through portals is fun, and there are a few clever puzzles in there, but that’s not why this game is the 100th best ever made. Portal is so memorable because of the character of GlaDOS and the writing of Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek.

(It wouldn’t exist at all without Kim Swift. She was the lead on one of the greatest games I have ever played. I don’t want to short change the contributions of anyone who worked on Portal. I just happened to have a special, crazed, possibly unhealthy one-way relationship with Chet and Erik. The problem is with me.)

Everyone at JC knows this, but in case this gets linked elsewhere, Chet and Erik wrote for Without that site (and Amiga Power 2) I wouldn’t even be on the Internet. Not like this — they proved what a website could do, how it could be unique, how anyone’s voice will rise if it is funny enough. They took shots at everyone, but saved the best ones for themselves and each other. And this madcap hilarity comes through every time GlaDOS insults the player.

Telling the player that you should feel bad because you’re probably adopted isn’t just wacky for gamer dads, it’s great for everyone.

The rest of the game really is OK. It’s fine! I think that a lot of puzzle games suffer from the fact that you can sort of "see" the solution in your mind, and then it just becomes a skill test to execute. Portal is one of those games. But God, that moment where you jump off the rails and go to a very different place….

So, the minimum. Portal is the minimum we should expect from writing, plot and dialogue in a video game. Every game should have at least one character as fleshed out as GlaDOS. Most of them don’t. Most of the games that are above Portal on this list don’t, they just happen to do other things extremely well. But Portal is the minimum of what I should be getting out of a computer game if that game is going to be considered legendary. It begins our new list

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