Throughout the month of June, Blastr will be celebrating our favorite digital diversions with Video Game Month: a look at some best, worst and wackiest from the world of shooters, space sims, strategy games and more.
Over the past four decades, video games have grown exponentially in complexity. As such, significant video game achievements are no longer limited to "played Berserk and had a massive coronary." I wanted to shed some light on some truly impressive things people are doing in video games. There are some accomplishments that, while staring down the barrel of a ray gun, humans can point to and say, "Look, aliens, we achieved something significant. There's no need to wipe us out." Here are my nominees for seven works of gaming that belong among the all-time greatest human endeavors.
The Perfect Sim City
SimCity has long been the go-to game for aspiring city planners. But it's not just for crazy people; millions of adults have tinkered around in one of the many versions of this classic game series. I would always focus on getting high approval ratings, and I still wear my 97% citizen happiness rate as a badge of honor. My process was simple:
1. When citizens complain about something, listen very carefully
2. Study super hard to figure out the exact area where complaining people's homes were being affected
3. Bulldoze those homes
However, the traditional benchmark for performance has always been population. Traditionally, packing in 500,000 is considered "beating the game," although many experts like to push it to 1 million and beyond. Then, there's Vincent Oscala. He decided he wanted to build the biggest city allowed in SimCity 3000. Instead of grabbing his controller, he pulled out a pen-and-paper and started calculating:
Oscala spent years doing calculations before commencing construction on what became the biggest city in Sim City 3000 history. Every acre of the town is packed with bustling commerce, industrial, or residential zones. No space is wasted with sub-tier buildings. There is no crime. All of the resources are brought in for neighboring cities, eliminating the need for space-consuming utilities plants. There are zero roads, relying solely on mass transit.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that all this hasn't made life peachy-keen for the average citizen of Magnasanti. Unemployment skyrocketed, pollution hangs thick in the air, there chances of getting an education are abysma thanks to minimal schools. Oh, and forget about hurting yourself, because there are no fire nor emergency services.
In the end, Oscala racked up over 6 million people. People whose life expectancy is 50, but hey they aren't real, right?
Final Fantasy VII Entirely Remade in Little Big Planet
Video game wonders, like their real-world counterparts, all have one thing in common: At their core is an obsessive gamer. Perhaps there is no game upon which more gamers focused this obsession than the 1990s RPG Final Fantasy VII. They collect art from the game, still bust out their PlayStation 1 to replay classic scenes, and believe they are possessed by the characters inside the game. Yet none of those actions, not even that last one, comes close to rivaling the obsessive nature of Jamie Colliver. Which is a good thing, for without this nature, we never would have gotten Final Fantasy VII completely remade in the game Little Big Planet.
The whole endeavor took Colliver over six months to complete. What makes this especially arduous is that FF VII has a ton of cutscenes. You see, at the time, developers were excited by how much information the new PlayStation format could hold, and so they went nuts with vignettes. There are cut scenes of meteors hitting the Earth, cut scenes of enormous military bases, cut scenes of majestically flying airships. Then they ran out of ideas and gave us cut scenes of chicken breeding, cut scenes of meeting a cat-powered robot fortune teller at an amusement park, cut scenes of the hero dressing up as a woman to get seduced by an evil guy, etc. It's all here in the Little Big Planet recreation. Pretty much everything's here: There's over 18 hours of Final Fantasy VII - as told by sack puppets- to behold.
What is to be expected is, there's not a huge audience for watching classic video games painstakingly remade in other games. While the first video of the FF VII LBP mashup has over 150,000 views, the numbers quickly dwindle off. Many videos have fewer that 1,000 views. Yes, believe it or not, watching chacters run up 100 flights of stairs is not the way to keep an audience.
Designer Spends 8 Months Recreating Notre Dame Cathedral
The architecture of Europe tends to be mind-blowingly big, incredibly old, and spectacularly beautiful. Perhaps the greatest example of this, architecturally, is the massive Notre Dame Cathedral.
Having interesting stuff to look at is one of the make-or-break features of stealth games. Like when I'm hiding in the bathroom at work during performance review week, it really helps if there's a good magazine or some interesting limericks.
Because of this, when the famous medieval-stealth-game-meets-ridiculous-alien-conspiracy series, Assassin's Creed, chose the French Revolution for the setting of their eighth title, architecture became doubly important. For Notre Dame Cathedral, the crown jewel of pre-industrial architecture, it was imperative that they get everything looking good enough to make gamers gasp. Do things right, and the game would have a spectacular-looking landmark for promotional material, and for gamers to climb all over (an act that is discouraged by France's no-fun IRL tourism board).
So, Ubisoft appointed someone to work on this task full time. As in, their entire job would be painstakingly recreating the cathedral, brick by brick, until they finished a masterpiece or went insane, or maybe both.
The developer was Caroline Miousse. Working with an architect, she painstakingly began the process of recreating the cathedral brick by brick, and continued this work for TWO WHOLE YEARS.
That, in and of itself is a crazy-daunting task, but there were several obstacles that made designing the church even more difficult. First of all, a lot of the dazzling art in Notre-Dame Cathedral is protected by copyright law, so Miousse had to design her own art and rival the works that took groups of artists hundreds of years to create. Also, the game wasn't set in the present, it was set during the French Revolution, leaving Miousse the unenviable task of researching exactly what the place looked like hundreds of years ago.
Another difficulty is that Miousse hadn't actually visited the real cathedral. She pressed on, however, and succeeded nobly, creating one of the most spectacular buildings in the video game universe.
The Minecraft Battlestar Galactica
Obviously, one of the modern wonders of the video game world has to come from Minecraft, where gamers design spectacular creations every day. But picking one is not easy. We considered going with the scale model of Earth, the working 8-bit computer, and the entire island from LOST. In the end, we went with the 1:1 scale model of Battlestar Galactica. Consisting of over 5 milion blocks, this creation took four months to piece together.
While many Minecraft structures are made by a team of players working on the same server, this behemoth was done by just one. The designer went to a lot of trouble to get every detail just right. The engines section is precisely detailed, the causeways are accurately placed, the design scheme unnecessarily shoehorns in angles, etc.
What elevates this from spectacular to Wonder status is that the designer then made all of the ship's interiors, as well. From the landing bay to the flight pods, any gamer can explore this ship and feel like they are on the real thing. Some gamers will be lucky enough to have an additional link to share with the inhabitants of BSG: The pervasive feeling that they don't belong anywhere.
The Philadelphia Tetris Skyscraper
It's one thing to design a building in-game, but engineers at the 2014 Philly tech week inverted the paradigm by designing a game on a building. While the concept of rigging a building to play Tetris has been done before, the scope and controllability are whan made this endeavor truly a spectacle to behold
Drexel University's gaming department celebrated the 30th anniversary of the classic puzzle game by wiring up Philly's Cira Center. Both the North and South faces of the 29-story skyscraper were turned into enormous puzzle-dropping behemoths. Visitors lined up to get a chance to control the game with an arcade-style setup
To be fair, it's not an exact representation of the Tetris grid. A standard grid is twenty lines high, whereas this grid only appears to be about 12 high, thus increasing the difficulty. On the other hand, it was refreshing to see participants actually succeed in completing lines. Contrast that with this 2012 MIT building hack, wherein engineers took control of a buildings lights to make them play Tetris, then put the controls in the hands of the worst Tetris player in history.
The 14-Foot-High Arcade Machine
Many of us Generation X-ers are nostalgic for the days when arcades weren't just a bunch of pseudo-gambling machines that spat out tickets for worthless prizes. Installing arcade games in one's entertainment room has become a popular way to recreate that arcade feeling without the weird smell combination of body odor and electricity. Jason Camberis decided that one feature that had not been recreated sufficiently was how arcade machines dwarfed quarter-carrying children. We remember that with an emotion that is fondness mixed with the frustration of having to practically jump on the original Street Fighter buttons just to throw a punch. Camberis set to work creating the almost-fifteen-foot-high arcade deluxe, an arcade machine that plays a variety of classic games.
It's not solely the size that makes the Arcade Deluxe such a marvel of achievement. There are lots of "little" touches that bring back that arcade experience. Most notable is the giant trackball: A 15-inch glass ball he had to special order from a bowling ball company.
In all, designing and building the Arcade Deluxe took a year and a half. We assume that designing the web page took significantly less time, as it is a total Web 1.0 throwback, right down to the visitors counter. It fits the "throwback" theme of the product, which is for sale and plays over 200 games. We hope this is more successful than our idea for giant air hockey, which resulted in dozens of broken bones.
Fallout 4's Towering Eden Settlement
One of the most well-received additions to the most recent Fallout game is the ability to build settlements. Basically, they're like little towns. The player goes out and collects junk and uses it to maintain the town's infrastructure. Obviously, this takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, so settlements are kind of shoddy. That is, unless you're the creator of the Eden settlement.
Rising up from the Abernathy Farm settlement, Eden manages to reach the game's build limit for height. There is a complicated electrical system. There is a hallway filled with traps. Adding to the intensity of the labor is that this was all accomplished on a PS4. That means no mods to make getting/using resources simpler. All of these interiors, with their full furnishings, cool lights, and spectacular windows, were designed without the help of console commands.
Naturally, these are just my choices for the seven video game wonders of the modern world. Share your own suggestions in the comments. For instance, I hear the emole people are making amazing settlements with the enormous mounds of E.T. cartridges in that New Mexico landfill.