Top 100

Woke up this morning to find a package on my doormat from Tom at Eurogamer containing the next game I’m to review for them. He’s addressed it to “C-Monster”. Which is such a moment of extreme cuteness that it restores my faith in humanity. Doesn’t take much.

Yesterday I spent in the beer garden of the Boater locked in mortal (er) discussion with the usual suspects. We were trying to compile one of Gamer’s yearly traditions, the Top 100 Best Games Of All Time. It’s always problematic, with the same debates with different spins emerging to be quashed. Do you count a game’s mods when including it? (A: No, because it’s not the developers works. That’s like saying Windows XP is the best game ever as it allows playing everyone else’s games). Can you include mods themselves? (A: Yes, if they’re good enough). Can I include X: Beyond the Frontier? (A: No, don’t be fucking stupid).

A lot of the arguments revolve around how intellectually vague the remit of the exercise is. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what the Top 100 actually *means*.

You see, there’s lots of more coherent approaches to Top 100 games. In terms of magazines who only have done it as a very occasional article, the approach usually taken is “the Greatest games of all time”. In other words, you include not only how good the game is to play, but how innovative and important it is in terms of the development of the form. For example, when Edge did theirs it was very much this model. The problem with that is that if you do one more regularly than once every five years or so, the list calcifies. In terms of overall importance and greatness, that list doesn’t change significantly in a twelve month period. And if it does, it really does undermine the article.

The alternative is “our favourite games” model, which simply selects the Top 100 games which the writers like *right now*. Historical import doesn’t really matter, just your current love. If you were going to play something now, what would it be? This tends towards the gloriously pop mafly nature of games, with lots of turn around as the latest Slightly-better-than-last genre game appears. And that’s not even considering the shifting population of the magazine writers. This is the model Amiga Power seemed to use. Its problem is that if it’s being completely honest, it’s also going to be cheerfully dismissive of a minority of writers (and readers) tastes. You also end up with quirks like Gravity Power at number 2, just because all the writers love it, when in the world outside the magazine’s bounds most gamers couldn’t even name it.

There’s a third method which is a logical extension of the second one. Rather than a Top 100 which is argued for by the staff as a whole, the Top 100 is produced by a opinionated single writer. Only magazine I know who ever did this was Your Sinclair, where Stuart Campbell wrote his gleefully personal take on the history of the Speccy. That it was one man’s work meant that it tended not to be confused with the editorial opinion of the magazine as a whole (despite being labelled the offical YS Top 100) and stressed that it was the start of a dialogue. That is, if Stuart could have his own, then so can everyone else. It’s second strength is that it removes the chance of bland list created by simple compromise. Problem with this is that it too can’t be repeated to often, meaning that Gamer couldn’t use it. Equally, the PC is such a wide and long-existing form, the number of writers who have been around long enough and have expansive enough tastes to perform the role are strictly limited. Of the current Brit game press, only Richard Cobbet comes to mind as someone who mixes both absolutely encyclopedic knowledge with the voliciferous beliefs required to make an entertaining list.

Gamer is quieter, less explicitly controversial and self-indulgent, magazine than Amiga Power, so while the list features a fairly hefty subjective component, it also tends to make tokenistic gestures to genres not many writers like but we consider important. While this is done for the best reasons, it does tend to make Gamer’s lists fall between the two poles. Its number one position will never be held by Doom (as it would if we did a pure List #1 style) or the modern equivalent of GravityPower (if we did it as a pure List #2 style). Afterwards, people seemed more pleased with this list than last one. A better reflection of the PC, is the sort of phrase that people stated.

Which reveals the nature of the PC Gamer Top 100. It’s a mirror of what the magazine thinks the PC is this year, where we are and what we’re going. The list is, essentially, this is what everyone’s playing and this is what everyone’s thinking about. Last year, KOTOR appeared at #3. While a great game, I think it more reflected the tone of last year, where multiformated console games were increasingly part of our idea-space. Genres which were PC only were being bastardised to go on a joypad too, and it was important we recognise while this is happening, it’s better that it happens *well*. This year’s list seems to do a similar reflection of where we are and what we want, but in the considerably altered world of the last twelve months.

Or that’s the justification I’m sticking to for now.

What the Top 100 really does is actually sell a dream. If you really love games, the idea that people can actually sit around for a day and argue intensively about their merits is a seductive fantasy. What most amazes new writers who turn up for their first time is that this idea isn’t just an image sold through the text. It actually happens. The dream’s real. And that, more than anything, is the Top 100’s greatest triumph. That it happens.

The YS Top 100 as “start of a dialogue?” Only if the dialogue went like this:

YS Reader: Hey, what about –
Me: SHUT UP.

I thought it went..

YS Read: Hey, what about Chaos –
Rev Stu: Shit.

KG

SHUT UP.

See?

Well hooray for that. Since games should strive for the same level of artistic merit as any other medium (although I don’t think many game developers do this), gamers should be able to discuss the top 100 Games in the same way we discuss our top 100 Books down the pub every friday night (well, not every friday night).

I guess you’re right, and it is important for a Top 100 to be a reflection of current highlights, rather than a constant regurgitation of the TOP 100 MOST IMPORTANT, SIGNIFICANT GAMES EVER.

Having said that, it will always annoy me to open a Gamer Top 100 and see ‘Halo’ above ‘Thief’. Always.

Er… last year’s Top 100 had Thief at 6 and Halo at 9 or 10.

KG

Then clearly, it is necesarry for me to re-remember how to read.

“games should strive for the same level of artistic merit as any other medium”

games should strive to be good games. well, actually, games shouldn’t strive to do anything. games should sit there and play. games developers should strive to make their games fun to play. fuck ‘artistic merit’. when i put forty quid down for something, i want to be entertained — something that isn’t mutually exclusive with artistry, but should absolutely come first.

You’ve gone into depth on the format, which is good, I suppose. But you’ve entirely skipped over what is naturally a far more pertinent factor:

What are you all going to be dressed up as this year?

While selling the ideal of people arguing over the merits of different games is indeed important, it is as nothing to the thought of the PCG staff humiliating themselves dressed as Biblical characters of note.

I was disappointed that they went with the Heaven rather than Valhalla motif last year. Barbarian warriors eating roast hogs beat dippy angels, any fucking day.

KG

Yes, your attempt at “evil” angel, sulking in the corner, left a lot to be desired.

Additionally, since I was in the office at the right time last year Tim showed me a sneak peak of the… uh… cosplay. I was torn between not wanting to offend, and the insatiable desire to scream “You all look like the biggest tits in Christendom!” at the top of my voice.

My concept was “Garrett goes to heaven. And becomes ludicrously camp”.

Our careers in Gamer are essentially about looking like Tits. Thomas Wolfe never had to dress up like an idiot to… oh, forget that one.

KG

Advantage of my job at the moment: you don’t even have to shave, iron or bathe, because it makes you look more like a technical guy.

Also, it really annoys Linux Format when the fans are blowing in their direction.

What kind of idiot hasn’t heard of Gravity Power? I keep hoping I’ll find a decent PC imitation, but I’ve only ever come across games that were vaguely like it in some massively limited way.

Since the magazine runs a list of the best games each month (the Big Game Hunt, IIRC) won’t you just be copying that out?

“fuck ‘artistic merit’. when i put forty quid down for something, i want to be entertained ”
This mad attitude is part of the reson why computer games are still treated like pinball machines. Games that are sophisticated can also be fun — more so than mindless shooters, probably. Seeing as this interactive medium is the ‘future’, games developers should strive to make games for the same audience as an author would write a book or a auteur create a film.

Wouldn’t the book audience rather, y’know, read a book?

I think most people are flexible enough to enjoy a lot of different mediums. ;)

I don’t think it’s right that the Top 100 should be judged on the importance of certain games. Sure, Doom may be the most important FPS in PC history (maybe all platform history) but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather play a game such as the wonderful Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (note well: not the fucking piece of fetid gobshite that is WW *spit*), which while will never have the lasting impact of Doom is, I think, far more fun. If you assess games’ qualities on the basis of their impact then surely you could argue that Shogun gets in above Rome simply because Rome is merely an extrapolation of Shogun’s ideas?

However, I don’t think you can justifiably rate games solely on their ‘moment’ in time. For example, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was widely appraised… for two months until another certain WW2 FPS blew it out the water. Now, with the benefit of hindsight RtCW isn’t really all that brilliant but based on the spur-of-the-moment system, a Top 100 just before MoH probably would have placed RtCW higher.

It’s a difficult balance, certainly. Either way, you can justify any person’s misgivings or complaints about it by simply wheeling out the old subjectivity argument… and that’s why the top 3 should be Deus Ex, Sands of Time and HL2. :)

As last year, I feel like I did more than I could have reasonably have hoped for the games I love, but still not nearly enough.

I think #99 and #100 are interesting choices in an interesting order, this year. Especially given #1. INTERESTING.

Grim Fandango is going to be in the list, and the description is going to be “You know how you all keep saying Psychonauts is really funny and really good? WHERE WERE YOU WHEN GRIM FANDANGO CAME OUT? YOU FUCKS!”

Or at least, it should be.

No-one will agree, but I’ve always thought Discworld Noir was an adventure game more than deserved of being in the Top 100…

…*runs*

Random guess: Darwinia will be in the top 5 this year, vanish utterly next year, and reappear in subsequent lists somewhere around the 75-mark.

And HL2 will be #2. Mostly because Tom says #1 is interesting and HL2 is not interesting.

you are missing the point, macsen. if you make a game that is full of artistic merit but no fun to play, NO-ONE IS GOING TO BUY IT. if no-one buys it, no-one sees it, and if no-one sees it you’re wasting your time. as admirable as your sentiment is, we are not in a place right now where people are prepared to put down forty quid for a game that makes them ask deep and meaningful questions about the world and doesn’t entertain them in the meantime. take little steps – give us ico (which sold poorly, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t have sold well) – and you’ll have a greater effect on peoples perceptions of gaming than super fruedian adventure, where you’re jumping on your mom’s head again and again and again.

having said all that, i’ve yet to hear anyone define an ‘artistic game’ that isn’t just a modern game structure with some kind of posh texture set or better writing. both of which are good things; neither of which are going to change the world.

Changing the world is a pretty big task. Surely it is more common for a game to simply change people’s perceptions of it? Which is, essentially, almost as good anyway.

Deus Ex Machina and Id both probably qualify as “artistic games” without modern game structures. But that’s 8-bit era, which was probably the last time anyone had the chance to do that in commercial games without some cunt in a suit interfering.

I demand that Bladerunner be reinstated in it’s rightful position of #100. Not that I’ve ever played it or anything but it’s just the tradition!

There are modern pure art games. Just that not many of them are actually developed in the mainstream of the industry. It’s my standard example, but I don’t think you could describe Galatea as anything other than an art game.

KG

David: Its long since been replaced by another tradition.

KG

Refusing to put Deus Ex at no. 1?

I hope you’ve got gobshite celebrities drivelling faux-reminiscences and biting sounds between each entry.

Otherwise, y’know, people might just skip over it and not care, being sick of top 100 this, that, and 98 others.

Is this computer games’ contribution to mainstream culture? The most annoying bit of channels 4 and 5?

Ah, but the PC Gamer has a USP over most other Top 100s, namely that it usually has 300 things in it.

They haven’t done that for four or five years, dude. I purged the “Whole series” impulse the year after you made a noise about it to me.

KG

Man! That’ll teach ME never to read PC Gamer!

What’s my idea-space?

A little bit cramped.

KG

Goodnight everybody!

On the Garry’s Mod forums you get auto-banned if you end your posts with the same thing – i.e. sign them. And I hear the trains run on time.

TF

I have nothing to add except that the plural of “medium” is “media”.