Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cold Night, Warm Glow

As the warmth of the Christmas holiday fades and we march on towards the cold heart of winter, I am reminded of one of my favorite wintertime activities: playing a video game all night long.

As the winter chill settles in, some people might look forward to reading a good book, curled up next to a fire with a cup of warm cocoa. Nice I suppose. Others eagerly anticipate the opportunity to strap boards to their feet and see how fast they can fly down a mountain without hitting trees. Exciting, I’m sure.

For me, the best way to pass the long winter hours is to find a good, long video game and get lost within its digital world for hours on end. True this is something I might enjoy at any time of the year, but there’s something truly comforting about the warm glow of a screen, the bright colors of a fantastical world, and the raw excitement of lands beyond, that really rids the winter chill from my bones.

What's The Best Wintertime Game?
As I pondered this question, I realized it had a relatively simple answer: role-playing games. Role-playing games usually provide long hours of play in fun fantastical worlds. Question answered. Done. Goodnight, folks!

But then, will just any old role-playing game due to stave off the winter doldrums? With RPGs being so diverse lately, what exactly is it about RPGs that really makes playing them pass the wintertime to well? I concluded that games which entertain me for long winter hours need three important components.

A Beautiful World
Fallout 3 was a fun game, but it wasn’t perfectly suited to my wintertime desires. Its post-apocalyptic setting managed to be interesting often, but beautiful rarely. Now this winter I find myself uninterested in diving into Fallout New Vegas. Maybe I’ll it try out this spring. After the Christmas lights come down, the winter landscape can be pretty bleak here in the Northwest. Snow is a rare beauty. Most of the time its wet, dirty, and gray. I need a game that has a vibrant world, bursting with color that gives me a nice mental vacation from the gray and brown blah I will be seeing outside my door for the next few months.

Here is where Final Fantasy XIII has utterly failed me. It has wonderful, vibrant landscapes…that I entirely ignore. They are a wholly unconvincing mask dressing up the endless corridor that I am forced to run down in that game. To get really lost in a game world and to feel the chill of a January night fade from my perceptions, I need to have a world to explore. I need uncharted paths, interesting sights and rewards lurking around unmarked corners. This way I can ignore, for a bit, the drear outside my door and pretend to be somewhere else for while.

Clarity and Distraction
This one is harder to pin down. It's sort of an unknowable quality I will attempt to describe. To sustain long hours of play and keep me completely engaged, a game has to have the right rhythm. It has to suck me in right at the start, push me into a grand adventure, and then quickly open up and distract me from the quest in a delightful way.

I need areas to explore, but I always want to be clear exactly where I need to go once I’m ready to push forward with the story and see someplace new. I don’t want to be forced to ignore the main quest. I don’t want the whole story to shove off onto some random tangent. I want something fun and interesting in the world to invite me to go play, explore, and ignore the grand concerns of the main quest for awhile without making me feel bad that I’m holding off on saving the universe from its terrible plight.

Then I want that main quest to call back to me. To be reminding that there was an interesting question I needed to answer. To be assured that once I’ve exhausted my interest in my current whereabouts, all I need do is tackle the next main quest (which I should be able to find and accomplish with relative ease) and I will be greeted with a new area and new delights to see.

The Old Fav: Dragon Quest VIII
So which game do I rate the best for getting me through the winter months? The current reigning champion is Dragon Quest VIII. I opened up for exploration right from the start while having the simple goal of “get to that cave over there.” It had a ton of different areas, beautiful landscapes and funny characters. Mind you, I’m biased. It also the magical effect of distracting and calming my newborn daughter. For over 100 wintry hours it helped me forget my stress, have a break from fussing, and just enjoy a grand adventure.

The Current Hope: Fable III
Fable III. Colorful world, places to explore, funny characters and for once I’m going in with no crazy expectations. I haven’t seen any hype for the game. I don’t know what new feature of the game Peter Molyneux has said will change the face of gaming as we know it; so he has no power to disappoint me. The game’s designer possesses a legendary habit of overhyping his good games so that they couldn’t possibly meet anyone’s expectations. The first two Fables were both brilliant and disappointing. Still, my hope springs eternal and there’s not much else out these days for the RPG fan hoping to find a world of fun and beauty.

Oh Ye Seekers…
…of warmth and magic on a cold, winter’s night, leave a comment and let me know if there’s something you’ve played or are playing that staves off the frosty chill. Even if it’s not an RPG, I would love to know what games ease away the hours and keep you smiling through the long nights and freezing weather. Also, please check out our friends at Growing Up Games for their perspective on a game that’s fun to play for hours.

1 comment:

  1. As silly as this sounds I really enjoy playing "Plants vs Zombies" whenever I really want something colorful and vibrant.