The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Secret Project update!

This category’s been quiet for a while; that’s partly because my large-series-post energy has been somewhat redirected to the villains series, and partly because I’m working on the best way to present the next things I have to present. But it’s not done by a long shot; I have a whole lot more design prepared, and a whole lot more posts forthcoming. So just a heads-up.

May 13th, 2008 Posted by | My secret project | no comments

Best Villains Ever Wrap-up

So you’ve seen my list and heard my sweary jokes, and now the whole experience is over. So what did everybody think? I’m keen for some feedback from the readership on this issue — is there a great villain I missed? Would you put things in a different order? Did I fuck something else up?

That aside, what did all y’all think about the series in general? Would you like to see more things like that?

May 13th, 2008 Posted by | Best Villains Ever | no comments

Best Villains Ever #1

Bowser (Super Mario series)

Bowser, the giant, sinister, red-haired king of the Koopa, is probably the only villain who is instantly recognisable to nearly anyone who has ever played video games. He has appeared in more games than any other villain I can think of offhand, and it’s never a surprise when he turns out to be the bad guy in any given Mario game, but he still doesn’t get stale. Bowser has a lot of personality, and you can nearly always count on the fights to be simple but challenging and engaging. No other villain has so many different high-quality battles to his credit — Dr. Wily is the nearest competition, but he’s off by a fair few.

Beyond the fights, though, what really lifts Bowser above the crowd — what really justifies him as not only a great villain but the Best Villain Ever — is his flexibility. He is possibly the only villain who can successfully play just about any mood; sometimes he’s all business (Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros.), sometimes he’s comical (The various Mario RPG games), sometimes he’s petty (Super Mario Sunshine), and sometimes he’s terrifying (Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario 64), and he’s effective in all these roles. His plans range in scope from "Mess up Mario’s vacation" to "conquer the whole universe and build a new galaxy in the centre to rule from," which is quite a range, but they always manage to involve kidnapping the poor beleaguered Princess somehow, and he always fails but always rebounds.

These plans don’t proceed in any logical order — Bowser is a truly capricious character. He doesn’t need to succeed on a small level before going big. He is Mario’s arch-nemesis, but he fights alongside Mario on occasion also, and seems to be dimly aware of the fact that he depends on Mario to add meaning to his own existence — his goal is always just to beat Mario, never to kill him, and always grudgingly supports Mario whenever a bigger threat comes along. The relationship between Bowser and Mario is more complicated and sophisticated than that between most heroes and villains, but it remains in the background.

Bowser is the best villain ever because he excels in all areas. Kefka is more maddeningly evil by far, GLaDOS is more complex and seemingly real, Ghaleon is more hilarious, and Hitler is more Hitler-y, but Bowser isn’t relying on just one angle to carry him. Throughout his long and active career, he’s covered all the bases, and he’s maintained a consistently high quality the whole time.

So there you are. Now feel free to go rant in the comments about how you totally saw this one coming and so on and so forth.

May 9th, 2008 Posted by | Best Villains Ever | one comment

Yamauchi to world: "Pthbbbbbbbt"

Hiroshi Yamauchi is now the richest man in Japan. Remember when video games were cutesy kids’ stuff? We’re talking big money, yo.

May 9th, 2008 Posted by | Games | no comments

It’s alive! Aliiiiiiive!

The PS3 is now outselling the Xbox 360 in Europe. The PS3 has always been outselling the 360 in Japan. So now there’s just North America left before Microsoft has no choice but to go sit in the corner and sulk and think about what it’s done to end up with a third-place finish after a sixteen-month lead time.

I picture Microsoft as the hero in a zombie movie and Sony as the zombies. Sony was dead and buried and Microsoft and its girlfriend were getting cozy and snuggly, but then some sort of voodoo or magic bugs or Hollywood radiation got involved, and before you know it Microsoft is futilely beating the risen Sony with an axe handle and screaming "WHY WON’T YOU DIE??"

The twin facts that a) this story interested me and 2) I made that analogy are going a long way toward convincing me that I play too many video games.

May 8th, 2008 Posted by | Games | no comments

Sidebar: Runners-up

There were a fair few villains I considered for this list but ultimately decided against for one reason or another. They’re all excellent, but they don’t quite qualify as Best Villains Ever. Here’s a sampling of them, in no particular order. Note that this list won’t include pictures because a) I had a hard time finding pictures for some of them, and 2) formatting the Worst Villains Ever sidebar was a giant pain in the ass.

Geldoblame (Baten Kaitos series): We first encounter Geldoblame as Emperor Geldoblame, the evil tyrant of the Alfard Empire. In the prequel Baten Kaitos Origins, however, we’ll meet him in an earlier incarnation, as a sort of all-purpose advisor and confidant for the Quaestor in Mintaka. This is where he really begins to shine; we spend all of Origins questioning every statement and every move made by Geldoblame, suspicious of all the help he gives us, waiting for a double-cross we just know is coming. And he stays cagey, albeit mysterious and a bit creepy. And the game keeps us waiting. What keeps Geldoblame off this list is that, frankly, he wasn’t very interesting in the first Baten Kaitos, but his character in Origins doesn’t stand up on its own.

The G-Man (Half-life series): The G-Man is Gordon Freeman’s overseer of sorts. Who (or what) he is and who he represents are a complete mystery, but he appears to be something of a "secret master," operating behind the scenes and orchestrating events toward his desired outcome. We first encounter the G-Man in the original Half-life, wandering around the ravaged Black Mesa complex, seemingly oblivious (and impervious) to its dangers. Through the rest of the series, the G-Man is always around somewhere in the background, watching Gordon but never letting on what he’s all about. What keeps him off this list is that, plain and simple, we’re not sure he’s a villain. He’s sinister at the very least, sure, and creepy and inexplicable, but not actually necessarily a bad guy. And I don’t think I’m being too much of a stickler by insisting that all the entries on a Best Villains Ever list actually are villains.

Gruntilda (Banjo-Kazooie): Grunty is the evil witch who lives near Spiral Mountain and kidnaps Banjo’s sister as part of her sinister plan to make herself beautiful. She speaks only in rhyming couplets, and has a habit of breaking in to make a snarky comment at random intervals while Banjo and Kazooie are wandering around her lair. Eventually the heroes fight their way through to her and end up having to play a bizarre board game over a giant lake of lava to reach Grunty; this part of the game really shines, but even better is what happens when you get through it. The fight with Gruntilda is truly exceptional, going through many phases and requiring proficiency with all the game’s different moves and abilities, as well as good strategic thinking. She doesn’t make the list because this battle, while excellent, is almost completely inappropriate for the game it’s in; Banjo-Kazooie is a very easy game for most of its run, and the Gruntilda encounter is too severe a difficulty spike which many players find offputting. If the difficulty had been matched better to the rest of the game, the quality of this fight might have been enough to pull her up onto the list.

Onyxia (World of Warcraft): For an Alliance player in World of Warcraft, Onyxia represents the culmination of about half of what you do the whole time leveling to 60. She’s behind or involved in most of the turmoil and mischief taking place in the human lands, and the event that reveals this easily ranks as one of the coolest moments in the entire game. Facing Onyxia, the first thing a player is likely to notice is how huge she is; there are lots and lots of drakes and whelps and dragonkin and younger dragons in World of Warcraft, but, for most players facing Onyxia, she’s liable to be the first fully-mature dragon they’ve seen. And it’s impressive. The mechanics of the fight are also engaging; Ragnaros is probably more visually exciting (especially given the way he makes his entrance), but Onyxia’s a better fight. What holds her back is the lack of any feeling of closure after she’s beaten; there’s a small amount of fanfare in Stormwind City, and then that’s it. No follow-up quests, no changes in the way NPCs interact with the player — nothing. And that combined with the fact that you’ll probably now end up fighting her every week to get gear for people leaves the experience seeming a bit anti-climactic.

May 8th, 2008 Posted by | Best Villains Ever | one comment

Best Villains Ever #2

GLaDOS (Portal)

GLaDOS serves as guide, narrator, nemesis, and only actual character in Portal. She’s the computer system that’s currently running Aperture Science, and she remains a totally unique creation in video games. It would have been easy enough to write GLaDOS as an uninspired HAL 9000 ripoff, but that’s not what Valve has done; her dialogue is both crazy and comical, and the dangerous "edge" really develops throughout the game. Early on she’s mostly funny and instructive, but by the end of the game she’s become downright menacing — I commented yesterday on the pacing put into Kefka’s design being the best, but if it has a challenger, GLaDOS is it. The acting keeps up, also, and is initially robotic but gains much more personality and human quality toward the end; by the time we actually first get to see GLaDOS it’s almost surprising that she’s actually a giant computer, since we’ve become so accustomed to thinking of her as a person. From the first words she speaks when you wake up in the pod at the beginning of the game to the chilling final strains of Still Alive, all of GLaDOS’ lines are perfect — exactly what one would expect from the creative team of Chet Faliszek and Eric Wolpaw.

Dialogue aside, GLaDOS is a very interesting villain just because we’re never quite sure how in control of the situation she is. She’s clearly not as powerful a figure in her space as the aforementioned HAL 9000 — it appears that she can’t control or even directly observe quite large amounts of the Aperture Science facility — and yet, we’re left with the feeling that she’s outsmarted us even in the end. That, somehow, we’ve played directly into her hands anyhow, even when we thought we were escaping from her and kicking her ass with missiles. The actual fight is fairly interesting (as interesting as a boss fight in a puzzle game could be expected to be, anyhow), but the best part is listening to GLaDOS’ taunts ("All your other friends couldn’t come either, because you don’t have any other friends because of how unlikable you are. It says so right here in your personnel file: Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter unlikable loner whose passing shall not be mourned."). It’s very rare that the thing I like the most about a video game is the dialogue and the voice acting, but that’s the case with Portal, and it’s not because the gameplay was lackluster; it’s simply testament to the overpowering quality of the game’s sole character. This, as they say, was a triumph.

May 2nd, 2008 Posted by | Best Villains Ever | no comments