Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A renaissance in racing games

Titles such as Forza Motorsport 3 are taking racing games back to the forefront of popular gaming.

Racing games have always been one of gaming's more popular genres, selling millions of copies, attracting legions of fans, and playing a stellar role in introducing people to videogames. Along with sports games, racing games are arguably the most common 'first gaming experience' for a huge percentage of gamers - because everybody loves to race cars, right? Many of us old-timers remember fondly the hours spent playing arcade and home console classics like Pole Position, Enduro and Night Driver back in the early eighties. Developers like Accolade and papyrus gave us incredibly realistic (for the time) and enjoyable racing experiences on the PC. Even in India, during the early computing days, you'd very often find Grand Prix CGA or Test Drive or Indycar installed and running on almost every other PC you saw. Franchises like Need for Speed were instrumental in expanding the videogames market in India, and remain at the forefront of every new gamer's wish list.

However, as the years rolled on, something happened. Racing games began to become inaccessible to the new player. Controls became more realistic, the sense of speed was amazing, the games looked better and better – but boy, were they hard to master. Even the more 'arcadey' handling of titles like Need for Speed or Project Gotham Racing (leave alone simulations like TOCA Race Driver, the earlier Forza titles and Gran Turismo) required a skill level that many gamers simply did not possess, especially those who were new to racing. Most of them would enthusiastically pick up a game, enticed by the rave reviews, start off a race, and find themselves hopelessly out of their depth – skidding and spinning and crashing out of control. Frustrated, many would just give up. And miss out on some fantastic gaming fun – unless they had the perseverance to practice and master the skills. While the Burnout games went in the opposite direction - making it n00b friendly by actually encouraging and rewarding crashes and reckless driving - with tremedous success, this was the exception that proved the rule. Racing games had forsaken the newbie who had made them so successful in the first place, in search of an elusive holy grail of being the most ;realistic' or 'hardcore' title on the planet.

This alienation ultimately had its impact - big-name publishers found that they were faced with the twin problems of hugely expanding development budgets (better graphics, ultra-realistic physics, more graphics assets) and shrinking markets. Faced with this situation, companies like Codemasters, Microsoft and Sony had no choice - get more people to buy your games, or perish. And, thanks to some great design innovations, they seem to be on the right track this time.

Codemasters took the lead with last year's excellent Race Driver : GRID, which introduced a nifty 'rewind' feature that vastly improved things for the less-than-immaculate driver. Now, if you crashed negotiating a tricky turn, you didn't have to restart the race – you could simply 'rewind' to a point a few seconds before, and continue from there. Like an 'undo' feature of sorts. It was brilliant (though hardly original – remember The Sands of Time? Braid? ), and made GRID fairly accessible despite it's undoubted hardcoreness.

They repeated the feature in this year's critically acclaimed DiRT 2, with a slew of newbie friendly features and slick presentation that made it a great fun pick-up-and-play experience for players of almost any skill level. And all this was done without sacrificing the hardcoreness or challenge level for more advanced players.

Sadly, GRID and DiRT didn't quite get the sales boost they deserved, partly because of they still carried the baggage of earlier, more hardcore titles from the publisher, and were perceived by new gamers as being too hardcore. But these games undeniably laid the groundwork in terms of design for the seminal Forza Motorsport 3, which has taken accessibility to an entire new level. And, thankfully, Forza 3 sold over a million copies in the first few weeks of its release, and is well on its way to becoming one of Microsoft's top sellers for the XBOX 360.

Unlike in GRID and DiRT 2 which have limited 'rewinds', Forza has removed all limits. You can rewind at any point in the race, how ever many times you want, without any penalty. While this may seen like spoon-feeding to the tuly hardcore – the truth is that you don't have to use it if you don't want to. It doesn't alter the game for the pros, but gives the rest of us n00bs a great opportunity to try those risky moves without fear of instant failure. Eventually, the more casual players will improve their skills, and come to appreciate the game's realism and challenge when they're ready for it - as opposed to being discouraged and put off by difficulty spikes early in the game.

Forza 3 also has some of the best implementation of variable, customizable difficulty levels seen in gaming. Depending on how you want to play, you can turn on or off a number of assists such as auto-braking, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and the series' now famous racing line. Turn all of them on, and the car will practically drive itself – even a first time player will feel like Michael Schumacher. Turn all of them off, and you'd have to BE Michael Schumacher to drive with any sort of success – just like the hardcore simulation fans demand.

This is the kind of brilliant, opt-in game design that we need to take hardcore gaming mainstream. put in the features to attract and encourage newbies, and give the hardcore set the option to safely ignore them. As easy or hard as you want it to be. Microsoft seems to get this – Halo was similarly spread out difficulty wise. On Easy, it was almost impossible to die, but on Legendary, one bullet could be the end. But Forza 3 takes it well beyond that – you can get assists for skills you suck at, and set higher challenge levels for your strength areas. You can customize the challenge to suit your precise skill level and style of play. Absolutely top class game design.

Here's hoping future titles follow Forza Motorsport 3's lead and introduce design features that bring the fun back to racing. After all, we're all not quite hardcore gearheads, but we still like to race. And if publishers give us titles that are more like games and less like boot camps, we'll gladly buy them. Are you listening, Gran Turismo 5?

Is Role-Playing the ultimate videogame genre?

In the beginning, genres were watertight. Action games were pure action – some had the semblance of a story, others just ignored it altogether and let you get on with the leaping, running and killing. Racing and sports games put you in the thick of things, and didn't bother with levels or stats or items. Strategy games just focused on making sure your fingers were almost dropping off from pain. Fighting games featured crazy rosters, mad combo skills, but no customization. Adventure games had great stories, mind-bending puzzles, and little else.

Meanwhile, Role-Playing games were catering to the more hardcore, more intelligent and erudite gamers who demanded more complexity and nuance from their gaming experience. There were engaging stories, lots of complicated stats and items to manage, there were vast and exciting lands to explore, dangerous creatures to kill, puzzles to solve, strategies to formulate. Early CRPGs such as the Ultima games, SSI's legendary Gold Box games based on the Dungeons and Dragons rules, Wasteland, Daggerfall and Betrayal at Krondor were amazingly complete gaming experiences, and prely for the hardcore. They were difficult and demanding – and would usually overwhelm new players who would rather play more simple games such as Doom or Screamer or Prince of Persia.

But the fact was that Role-Playing games offered the most complete gaming experience of all genres – incorporating adventure, strategy, puzzle-solving, and action in addition to the core role-playing mechanics of character development and equipment trading.

Fast-forward to the present day, and you have every single genre scrambling to introduce 'role-playing elements'. Shooters such as Borderlands and Bioshock give you a range of weapons, stats and skills to develop your character. Racing games such as Forza Motorsport have introduced XP points, a level-up system, car customization and vehicle upgrades you can buy from a store. Sports and racing games have introduced story based 'career modes' to further draw players into the experience. Strategy games such as Dawn of War and Warcraft now feature unique 'hero' characters that can be levelled up just like in an RPG, and equipment and items that offer bonuses and boosts. Fighting games such as Soul Calibur now have 'create your own character' modes, skill progression, and unlockable moves and equipment. Even casual games like Farmville have tons of features from traditional RPG designs.

Just what is happening here?

Looks like game designers are discovering that as the gaming market matures as a whole, gamers are demanding more value from their games – especially considering that games aren't cheap these days. You stick in role-playing elements (character development and customization, item progression, engaging story and setting) and suddenly the same basic gameplay is more involving, and lasts much longer. Job done. Even online communities have all been built as meta-games, which are essentially role-playing in nature – consider XBOX Live's customizable Avatars, achievements and gamerscores, all fundamentally role-playing concepts.

So what we have here is this – whatever you're playing today, it's likely you're playing an RPG at some level.

At a basic psychological level, we're all obsessed with acquiring stuff, and comparing said stuff with our friends and neighbours and total strangers. Role-playing games tap into this need for constant acquisition driven growth, and make it a harmless (mostly) and entertaining virtual experience. And addictive. Game publishers like that.

Alright, off now. Need to play Dragon Age Origins for a few hours – so I can level up my strength to 38 and wear that Blood-Dragon Armour. That'll show Videep Vijay Kumar who's boss.

Weird, beautiful, Japanese.

Japanese game design makes another breathtaking comeback with Bayonetta – the new action adventure from Hideki Kamiya, the creator of Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe. Every time you think that Japanese studios can't make weirder, more outlandish games, they go and surprise you by doing exactly that.

Essentially, Bayonetta is a third person beat-em-up featuring insane combos, furious combat, and fantastic graphics. But that's like saying Zinedine Zidane is essentially a midfielder. It's accurate, but entirely useless in describing Zizu's magical, almost superhuman qualities. You play through Bayonetta alternating between frenzied tension, helpless laughter and sheer open-mouthed awe.

It's hard to describe the Bayonetta gameplay experience without sounding like a drug-addled lunatic, but I'll give it a shot. Bayonetta is a dark witch who has pistols in her hands. And she also has pistols that double as high-heels for her shoes. So she can, and does, shoot the bad guys while pirouetting, turning cartweels, leaping and somersaulting through the air, or just strutting around like a fashion model. She also has a variety of kicks and punches, but why bother with mundane martial arts when you can magically produce an iron-maiden and crush your foes in it? Or chop their sorry noggins off with a guillotine that appears out of nowhere? Or eat them by summoning a dragon, which used to be your hair, which used to be your clothes? You'll battle in gothic churches, broken clock-towers that hurtle through the air, abandoned train stations for dead souls – all to the beat of crazy techno music. Do I sound like a drug -addled lunatic yet? Good.

This is where Japanese game design really comes into its own – in the execution of ideas so crazy, so bizarre, that any sane publisher would immediately withdraw support. Luckily for us, the Japanese aren't sane. Which is why we get to play games like Bayonetta. Or Devil May Cry. Or Katamari Damacy. Or Loco Roco. Or Okami.

The Japanese have no problems believing that you can make a commercially successful game out of rolling really big balls using random junk, and using them to create stars in the night sky. Or one where you play a wolf-god and defeat your enemies using calligraphy (yes, calligraphy).

Even the more straight-laced games from Japanese designers, such as the Mario, Zelda and Metal Gear Solid franchises display a basic sense of fun and humour that defy conventional logic. Solid Snake hides from terrorists and other hi-tech enabled bad guys by climbing into a cardboard box, for heavens sake. Can you imagine the Master Chief doing that?

At some level, the Japanese realize that above all else, a game needs to be fun. If it manages that, it doesn't matter if it isn't realistic, or believable, or plausible. This is why they make bold, innovative games that don't puch the design envelope so much as tear it to shreds.

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's legendary creator of Mario, Zelda and Metroid, once said that he didn't understand why people always wanted to compare games to movies, and want games to be more like motion pictures. He stressed that Nintendo's design philosophy always aimed at creating games that could be enjoyed purely as games. No points for guessing which company sells the most games worldwide.

More power to innovation, I always say. I'd like to see more Bayonettas and Katamari Damacys among the inevitable deluge of derivative Halo and Call of Duty sequels. Thankfully, it seems to be happening increasingly. Good times.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Going one-up. An Aamir Khan - Shah Rukh Khan rivalry story.

 A short story by Anand Ramachandran

“Fuck! I hate my job.”, said Sankalesh Jimmy in exasperation. He would have slammed the phone down in disgust, had it not been a mobile phone. He suddenly hated mobile phones for not being slammable. He then proceeded to hate his coffee, his cubicle, his nose, and even his beloved collection of old 'Dipy's Cowboy' memorabilia – all of which were blameless for his current state of agitation.

But most of all, he hated Aamir Khan, who wasn't.

“What's the matter? You seem upset.”, said James Dare, keenly observant as always. James was one of those guys who, if you had chanced upon his visiting card without having met him, you would have imagined looked like a dynamic, rock-jawed, spacefaring captain who saved the universe on Thursdays. In reality, he looked more like 'Mirchi' Siva in a foul mood, perhaps after losing a closely fought table-tennis game from a winning position.

“Now he wants craters on the fucking SUN! Screw this.”, said Sankalesh


“It's bloody Aamir. Ever since that stupid moon-crater was named after Shah Rukh, he's been desperate for attention. Now he's asking us if we can get a sun-crater named after him. Sun-crater. Can you fucking believe that?”. Sankalesh slumped into his chair and buried his face in his hands.

“You'd think it was a blast being Aamir's PR manager.” he said wryly.

“So you're saying there aren't any craters on the sun?” asked James

“Of course not. You're telling me you didn't know that?” asked Sankalesh incredulously.

“I didn't even know that there were craters on the moon. And that you could name people after them. So there aren't any on the sun? Why not? You can't name people after them?” asked James cheerily.

“Yes there are. Yes you can. No there aren't. Maybe because the sun doesn't have a fucking SURFACE! No you can't, because there's nothing to name.”, said Sankalesh, answering the questions in the correct order, through gritted teeth.

“Oh.” said James absently, peering into Sankalesh's monitor and reading his messages. At any other time, Sankalesh would have been annoyed at this, but now he merely ignored it. He looked up at the ceiling.

“It's always the same. Shah Rukh gets a six-pack, and Aamir invents the eight-pack. Shah Rukh picks up some awards, Aamir stops accepting awards altogether. Shah Rukh plays a psychopath, Aamir plays a violent psychopath with memory-loss, a bad attitude and his contacts list tattooed on his fucking body. Shah Rukh makes a bad movie a hit, Aamir makes the worst movie of all time the biggest hit of all time. It's unbearable.”

“Yeah. Aamir rules. He's the best at everything he does.”, said James, taking a break from reading Sankalesh's monthly accounts statement in order to perform the valuable service of missing the point entirely.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“I know what I'm going to do”, said Sankalesh suddenly.

He picked up his phone and dialled.

“Hello? Aamir? Hi, it's Sankalesh. More news on Shah Rukh. Apparently this morning, he woke up and actually contemplated suicide. It's going to be in the TOI tomorrow – front page. Seriously. SRK contemplates suicide. Half-page with colour pictures. What do you suggest we do?”

He waited a few seconds, and then heard the gunshot.

He felt evil.

Note : This post is part of an experiment to treat the same subject of satire in three different ways. There's a cartoon here and a satirical fake news report here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bossfight India Game of The Decade : The Top 10

10. Guitar Hero (series)
Yeah, Rock Band got the whole 'band' thing going, but it all started with the 'Guitar Hero' franchise. Developer Red Octane captured the instinctive 'air-guitar' reflex shown by rock fans all over the world, and gave gamers the opportunity to play out their rock fantasies. A few years on, entire virtual bands are performing virtual concerts online – who knew that gaming could take on such a cool new direction. Now we have 'Rock Band', 'Band Hero' and 'DJ Hero' – looks like the fun isn't going to stop anytime soon.

9. God of War series
We're not going to say much about God of War, because talking about it makes us want to play it all over again. And there's so much work to do. One line should do it : Kratos plus brutally violent gameplay that a thousand games try to copy plus the biggest and most badass boss monsters plus incredible graphics equals awesomeness max. There.

8. Wii Sports
The largest selling console of this generation couldn't have done it without its iconic bundled title, Wii Sports. It's a tribute to the game that, for most people, it's synonymous with the console itself – they don't even know it by name. Millions of households were madly swinging their wiimotes trying to play boxing, tennis and golf – and gaming was never the same again. In fact, for a long time, Nintendo struggled to sell other games for the Wii - people were that satisfied with Wii sports.

7. Prince of Persia : The Sands of Time
Jordan Mechner's original Prince of Persia featured the most fluid, realistic animation seen in gaming during the early days. Decades later, Ubisoft continued the legacy with Prince of Persia : The Sands of Time – a 3-D reboot of the series that remains one of the most influential games in recent memory. This was the game that featured the death-defying leaps, hanging off ledges, wall-running and vaulting that you see in Assassin's Creed, InFamous, Uncharted and hundreds of other games today.

6. Baldur's Gate 2: The Shadows of Amn
Baldur's Gate 2 was a staggering achievement when it appeared – giving gamers a hardcore, high fantasy role-playing experience on an unprecedented scale (in fact, it has only been matched by Bioware's own Dragon Age : Origins earlier this year). The Bhaalspawn storyline is one of the finest fantasy stories ever written, not just in gaming, but in any medium. The spontaneous interactions between the NPCs, the romances and the personal NPC side quests sowed the seeds for the making believable NPCs – the influence of which can be seen in games as diverse as Gears of War, Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect. Even nine years after it was made, BG2 remains one of the finest games ever made, and unsurpassed in many ways as a fantasy role-playing experience.

5. The Sims
When Will Wright says that people will play a game about ordinary people gardening, cooking, taking leaks and talking on the phone, you should listen. Luckily for us, EA did precisely that. The result? Only the largest selling PC game franchise of all time. The Sims not only attracted hordes of non-gamers and brought them into the fold, it showed how you could make tons of money by releasing periodic expansion packs. It also pioneered user-generated content in PC gaming – people could create their own items, screenshots and even movies – and share them online.

4. Halo (series)
Microsoft exploded into a sceptical gaming industry, and muscled their XBOX brand into Sony's and Nintendo's turf. The fact that XBOX is now battling the traditional console giants for supremacy is due in no small part to their Halo franchise –arguably the greatest and most influential console shooters of all time. The Master Chief and his marines had millions of gamers enjoying Bungie's '60 seconds of fun – over and over again' formula – and selling XBOXes by the truckloads. Halo also showed the world how to do online multiplayer on a console, and has become one of gaming's premier franchises in a very short span of time.

3. World of Warcraft
More people play 'World of Warcraft' than the entire population of Sweden. When Blizzard took the popular Azeroth universe from their blockbuster 'Warcraft' strategy series, and decided to create a persistent, massively multiplayer role-playing world, people wondered whether it would dethrone Everquest as the king of MMOGs. Thanks to superb game design that perfectly balanced accessibility and challenge, a great questing system, fantastic presentation and Blizzard's renowned penchant for delivering visceral, exciting gameplay, Everquest was dealt a 'permanent death'. And six years later, there isn't a single game that can challenge WoW's supremacy among MMOGs.

2. Half-Life 2
Valve's seminal first-person shooter Half Life 2 remains one of the most critically acclaimed and commerically successful game ever made. Every first-person shooter is essentially an against-all-odds, one man against hordes of enemies experience – and no game delivers the tension, the excitement and the payoff as well as Half-Life 2, in whic you happen to be a bespectacled scientist with a happy knack for saving the universe with an assortment of the coolest weapons ever made (Yes, Gravity Gun, here's looking atcha, kid.). Half-Life 2 packed some of the best level design and greatest set-pieces in the FPS genre, and proved that you don't need other-planetly systems to run great looking games. Unlike that other FPS that begins, rather appropriately, with 'Cry'.

1. Grand Theft Auto series :
Grand Theft Auto 3 heralded a new era in videogames – featuring open-world exploration, great storylines, terrific acting, and completely insane, over-the-top action. The games also featured a morally ambiguous world which made you empathize with, and even glorified gangsters, drug-dealers and criminals. Vice City and San Andreas took the storytelling element even further, featuring some of the most believable, immersive worlds seen in the history of gaming. Last year's GTA IV was, for us, a signpost to the future of gaming. It was an immensely detailed experience that you didn't merely play – you LIVED through it. No two gamers will tell the same story of their experience with the GTA series. In addition to perhaps featuring the best creative work – game design, animation, writing – in gaming, the GTA series is also known for its technical brilliance, featuring top-notch physics, flawless graphics that make the gameworld come alive, and tying together so many diverse gameplay elements to deliver a coherent, beautiful gaming experience. In which other series would you have in-game TV channels and radio stations that were actually better than most drivel you get in the real world? In which other series could you get drunk at a comedy club, get chased by cops, and finally evade them by making an acrobatic motorcycle leap over a river? In which other series could you go to an in-game cyber cafe and randomly surf porn? And in which other series would any of the previously mentioned things be completely peripheral to the main game? The Grand Theft Auto series represents the pinnacle of achievement in game creation – marrying intricate and immersive gameworlds, top-notch presentation and addictive, diverse gameplay elements that remind us that, above all else, games should be fun. For that, and selling a gazillion copies and spawning off a skazillion clones (many of which are great games in their own right), the Grand Theft Auto series sits atop the pile, as Bossfight India's Game of The Decade.

Bossfight Game of The Decade : 20-11

20. Shadow of The Colossus
There are games that make you laugh. There are games that make you angry. And there are games that make you afraid. But it's a rare game that has the power to make you cry – and therein lies the beauty of Shadow of The Colossus. Sure, it had the hugest creatures seen in any game – bosses so big, they didn't END the levels, they WERE the levels. Sure, it had incredibly cinematic action that was as much fun to watch as it was to play. But as you hunted down these majestic, dignified creatures for your own selfish needs, the losses your character went through as you approached the game's end genuinely stabbed at your soul. If you had one, that is. Why it hasn't had a sequel is one of the great mysteries of gaming.

19. Counter-Strike
Yes, fanboys, we like Counter-Strike. It is teh_pWnZorr0xx0rrzzz. We agree. And it makes our top 50 partly because so many of you like it so much, you simply refuse to play anything else after all these years. Counter-Strike is arguably the greatest online shooter of all time, and to think it isn't even a standalone game. Gooseman Minh Le's Half-Life mod used to be the world's most widely played online game for several years, and continues to command a rabid, loyal fan base who refuses to play superior, more modern titles – that's what love can do to you.

18. Resident Evil 4
If there's anything that's more satisfying than shooting zombies in the kneecaps, and then shooting their heads off as they crumple to their (already shattered) knees, then we're yet to experience it. Resident Evil 4 was the biggest, baddest RE game – and featured some of the best character design we've seen. The Wii version also had some cool Wiimote based context sensitive controls – and was the first shooter to truly exploit the Wii's motion controls in a sensible way, paving the way for the many that followed. It also showed that more 'hardcore' adult games could be successful on the world's largest selling console.

17. Star Wars : Knights of The Old Republic.
The best Star Wars experience of the past ten years wasn't a movie – it was Bioware's incredible role-playing game that made the XBOX the console of choice for the RPG hardcore. KOTOR had an epic Star-Wars storyline with a mid-game plot twist that is rivalled only by the one in Bioshock. A richly fleshed-out gameworld, great NPCs, enthralling lore, tense tactical combat and top notch graphics make KOTOR Bioware's second-greatest RPG, and that's saying something. Mass Effect might have been a better cinematic experience, but it's half the game KOTOR was.

16. Gears of War (Series)
Halo 3's delayed launch for the XBOX 360 proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Gears of War suddenly became the console's flagship game. And it proved incredibly influential, too – the now-famous cover system, the cool inter-squadmate banter, and third-person action mechanics are copied in almost every subsequent TPS. Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad also reinvented the online co-op experience, and gave us the 'space-invaders-on-steroids' that is 'Horde' mode in Gears of War 2. The series also gets a special award for popularizing the colours grey, brown, greyish-brown and brownish-grey.

15. Metal Gear Solid 4 (and series)
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the staggering, mind-twisting conslusion to the Metal Gear saga, and is widely regarded as the most technically stunning videogame ever created. Hideo Kojima is the closest thing gaming has to an auteur – the MGS series seamlessly blends together characters, situations, gadgets and gameplay that range from the oddly familiar to the downright outlandish. The plots twist and turn like a Rubik's Cube crossed with Slinky from Toy Story, and by the end of it all, the good guys are the bad guys, the bad guys are still bad guys, and Solid Snake isn't who you (or even he, for that matter) think he is. It's by far the top-selling PS3 exclusive ever, and is one of the reasons that gaming is so wonderful.

14. Uncharted 2 : Among Thieves
What Indiana Jones is to cinema, Nathan Drake is to games (sorry, Lara, but you've got nothing on Drake) today. Uncharted is a strange best in that, it doesn't do anything particularly new, but it does everything to perfection – resulting in a cinematic action-experience quite unlike anything that can be reproduced in any other medium. More than any other recent game, Uncharted 2 shows us how games can be a mass entertainment medium that can deliver the 'interactive movie' experience that has been a chimera for both industries for years. It is the 'Avatar' of gaming – and indeed the prospect of an Uncharted 2 with Avatar's technology, say ten years from now, is a (quite literally) dizzying idea.

13. Forza Motorsport 3
I recently called Forza Motorsport 3 the 'Diablo of racing games'. You just can't stop playing the damn thing. It features the most scalable, customizable difficulty settings seen in any game – and should serve as a lesson to all developers who want to make their games appeal to a wider audiences without losing their hardcore fan base. It's a polished, deep, engrossing racing experience that's as easy or challenging as you want it to be. Absolute videogame perfection, this. Plus – it has Bugatti Veyron pWnage.

12. The Elder Scrolls : Oblivion (and Morrowind)
In my opinion, Oblivion is the second greatest single player role-playing game ever made. And it is the best 'pure role-playing' experience to be had in videogames. Ever. The Elder Scrolls games have their detractors who point to the stiff animations, the dull combat and the 'uncanny valley' factor – but these people are missing the wood for the trees. The basic role-playing system is absolutely spectacular, the gameworld goes far beyond the 'rip off Tolkien and be done with it' trope that even Dragon Age is prey to, and the sense of discovery and exploration in these games is unparallelled. Morrowind and Oblivion are gameworlds you can lose yourself in for months – you don't merely play these games, you actually live them.

11. Call Of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare
Boldly setting aside the tired old World War 2 setting, Modern Warfare thrust players in a fictional war that loosely resembled the Iraq scenario, and focused on giving players the most intense and frenetic FPS experience ever. Sure, the campaign was brilliant, if brief – but Modern Warfare changed the face of online multiplayer forever. It had a superb leveling up system, and introduced unlockable perks, weapons and challenges that players could access as they grew in rank. It added a layer of depth to an already excellent multiplayer shooter, and soon became the most popular online shooter in the world.

Bossfight Game of The Decade : 30 to 21

30. Dragon Age : Origins
Bioware's long-awaited 'spiritual sequel to Baldur's Gate 2' married old-school hardcore role-playing and tactical combat with new-age technical wizardry to deliver the most complete party-based fantasy role-playing game of all time. It's epic, sweeping storyline, great characters and classical RPG elements may just have ensured that Ferelden takes its place as one of gaming's premier RPG realms. Look for an MMO in about five years.

29. Civilization 4
Sid Meier's flagship franchise shows no sign of slowing down. Civ 4 somehow managed to be more addictive than its predecessors (if that's even possible) – so addictive, we played it for 27 hours in a single day. It incorporated features like Religion to the core game mechanics, and speeded up the mid-game – the weakest part of Civilization 3. The best looking Civilization game ever, this is a game we still can't stop playing. Until Civ 5 eventually comes along, hopefully.

28. Street Fighter IV
Just when Fighting Games were fast becoming fancy-pants 3-D borefests that seemed to be hopelessly floundering in the search for graphic superiority and stupid, controller-defying combo systems, along came Street Fighter IV. It opened up a can of old-school Whoop-Ass, and kicked every other game into morrow . . er . . oblivion. Effortlessly balancing hardcoreness with accessibility, SF IV is suddenly the premier fighting franchise yet again.

27. Fallout 3
Fallout fans were almost in permanent mourning over the fate of their favourite franchise (remember Van Buren?) when they found an unexpected saviour in Bethesda Softworks. The studio behind the Elder Scrolls games took the Oblivion engine, slapped in a generous helping of classic Fallout universe ingredients, added some soulful tunes by Danny Kaye, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and the like – and whipped up one magical game, one of the best of all time. And you could shoot mutants to bits - limb by limb.

26. Burnout 3 (and series)
Burnout 3 : Takedown practically reinvented the arcade racing genre which was lumbering under the weight of the bloated, wayward and unpredictable Need for Speed franchise. Burnout took all pretensions of being realisticic and tossed them out the window – setting the standards for over-the-top physics, a blazing sense of speed, and spectacular crashes. Here was a game you could finally win by crashing into other cars and the track at breakneck speed – the n00bs loved it, and the hardcore loved it and a juggernaut franchise was born.

25. Warcraft 3
Blizzard redefines every genre they make games for, every few years. Warcraft 2, along with Command and Conquer, took the RTS genre mainstream. With Warcraft 3, Blizzard destroyed Westwood by taking things so far ahead, it took the C and C franchise many years to catch up. Eye-popping graphics, superb, diverse races, role-playing elements seamlessly woven into RTS gameplay and a story that was told using some of the best cinematics gaming has ever seen. It was Warcraft 3 that paved the way for World of Warcraft, which is reason enough for it to be a hall-of-famer. But Warcraft 3 doesn't need that crutch – it's one of the greatest games ever made.

24. Super Mario Galaxy
You play as a world-famous Italian plumber who leaps from planet to planet, picking up bits of stars, defying gravity, stomping Koopa-Troopas and Goombas, dodging Bullet Bills, rescuing a princess and making sure that gamers all over the world had their pulses racing. It has explosions, Bowser, wonderfulbrillastic graphics, and one of the strangest, most beautiful musical scores to grace a videogame. Super Mario Galaxy is to Super Mario 64 what Super Mario 64 was to Super Mario World. This paragraph will now self-destruct due to awesomeness overload. Boom.

23. Metroid Prime
Roger Ebert prattles on that videogames can never be art. Shigeru Miyamoto makes games that make Roger Ebert look like an idiot. Metroid Prime was a stunningly beautiful first-person adventure featuring the classic Samus Aran bounty-hunting, puzzle solving, boss-battling gameplay set in a hauntingly beautiful 3D world – and proved that first-person games could be successful without purely focusing on gunplay. And you shoot doors to open them. Even Duke Nukem didn't have to be that awesome.

22. Deus Ex
A role-playing adventure disguised as an FPS, Warren Spector's classic arrived in the wake of Half-Life, but managed to hold its own despite being in the perpetual shadow of Gordon Freeman's happy days at Black Mesa. It had an engrossing, conspiracy based storyline, amazing characters, and deep character customization that truly enabled you to play as you liked – all guns-blazing or stealthily. Ideas from Deus Ex are being copied in games to this day – and I'm not talking about black trench-coats and cooling-glasses.

21. Bioshock
A descendant of all-time classics such as Deus Ex and System Shock 2, it would have been easy for Bioshock to have slipped into derivative mediocrity. Luckily for us, Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games took those features and supercharged them with incredible next-gen production values and creative treatment that would shame most Hollywood movies – and created one of the most beautiful, frightening and unforgettable gaming experiences in history. Bioshock's storytelling made sure that it ws one of the most emotionally resonant games ever made, and Rapture remains one of the most fascinating gameworlds of all time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bossfight Game of The Year 2009 : Genre Awards

Best Shooter: Killzone 2
Halo 3 ODST may have sold more copies in a single day than Killzone 2 did in eight months, but it was the gritty combat, addictive multiplayer and spectacular visuals of Killzone 2 that really made it stand out. It's a pity that this fantastic title was outsold by overhyped, overpriced, buggy tripe like Modern Warfare 2, but we're sticking our necks out and going with Killzone 2 as shooter of the year.

Best Action/Adventure game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 2 is the greatest action movie ever made. Except that it isn't a movie. Thank god for that – or it would have been over in three hours. Uncharted 2 was arguably the most cinematic, engrossing and thrill-a-minute-explosive experience in action-gaming history – and easily the best of this year, beating off strong competition from Assassin's Creed 2 and Batman : Arkham Asylum.

Best Fighting game: Street Fighter IV

The year was full of potential Street Fighter-killers in the form of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, Tekken 6 and EA powerhouse, Fight Night: Round 4, but it's SF IV's sheer quality that wins it this round. Bringing our favourite theme of hardcoreness-meets-accessibility to the table with great finesse and skill, Street Fighter IV had us practicing combos all over again.

Best Strategy game: Plants v/s Zombies

Plants v/s Zombies is imaginative, fun and hilarious at the same time. Don't let its initial approachability fool you, for this tower-defense parody has some serious challenge in store. It's saying something that Plants vs. Zombies beat out a top title such as Warhammer 40k : Dawn of War 2 for our award – take a bow, PopCap. You guys show how it's done, every single time. Not only is Plants vs. Zombies our strategy game of the year, it could also be the greatest 50MB download of all time.

Best Sports game: FIFA 10

Sure, PES 2010 has better looking players and is arguably more realistic, but FIFA 10 sports 30-odd licensed leagues and 500 or so teams, and this is exactly what you want to see in a game based on the world's most popular sport. Oh, and it's an insane amount of fun, too.And by sports, of course we mean football. We don't bother much with other sports - so if your favourite Tiger Woods or John Madden title isn't here, have a beer. And pay for it yourself.

Best RPG: Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age delivered the most spectacular RPG experience of the year, and the finest RPG in recent memory by a country mile. Bioware returned to form in a way they haven't done since Baldur's Gate 2 ( Yes. INCLUDING Kotor. Eat your heart out, fanboys.) You will lose 60 hours of your life to this one. We'll be babbling on and on about Dragon Age elsewhere on Bossfight, so we'll shut up now.

Best Racing game: Forza Motorsport 3

Scalable difficulty? Check. All cars and tracks unlocked right from the beginning? Check. Ultra-realistic graphics? Check. Smell of petrol? Er.. check. These are the things we wanted to see (and smell) in a racing game... and Forza 3 delivered in spades. Racing games had a terrific year, with DiRT2, Motortorm : Pacific Ridge, and Gran Turismo PSP giving us hours of fun, but Forza Motorsport 3 was still a Ferrari among station wagons, and a runaway winner.