I like to prepare for every eventuality. I have plasters and safety pins stashed in my bag. I get the train before the one I need. I have assembled a small army of toys on whose loyalty I feel I can depend if inanimate objects come alive overnight and the war between organics and inerts begins in earnest. You never know.
I also have a plan for what I would do if a mysterious benefactor died and gave me a billion dollars on the proviso that I didn’t buy anything with it. I would rent a gigantic mansion – something with wings – and I’d hire a hundred brilliant, educated, curious, dedicated minions and I would set them to work researching.
Their first task would be the definitive map of all videogames. There have been attempts before, of course. The latest I saw was Eric Wall‘s, which while fueling lots of nitpicking and chest-beating from neglected non-North Americans, was a good run at an almost impossible problem. But my map wouldn’t just do publishers and developers: it would do people.
It would start with Roger L. Jackson. You might think you don’t know Roger, but you do. Right now, you might be enjoying him in the new Monkey Island chapters. Or perhaps you met him in MadWorld. Maybe you killed him in Hitman: Blood Money. Or flirted with him in Final Fantasy X-2. Or in Mass Effect, or Jade Empire, or Yakuza, or the criminally ignored EyeToy:Antigrav.
Or, if you’re an aficionado of mid-cycle PS2 Jap weirdness, then he’s already on your shelves thanks to Kuon, Bujingai, Dororo and Virtual-On Marz. I’d met him dozens of times without realising, but today was moved to look him up for the first time. Why? Because he’s the voice talent behind maybe my favourite gaming hero ever: Galleon‘s Captain Rhama.
Galleon, mostly forgotten now, was the Xbox game Toby Gard made after leaving Eidos and Tomb Raider. Still, today, it’s a highly ambitious platfomer – full of curves when most platformers were built of blocks, full of peaks and chasms when most platformers only pretended to be in 3D. Picking it up now, your frames of reference are games that came out in the last year or two, not from 2004. Rhama’s ability to find his own route and pick his own jumps feels like Assassin’s Creed; the fluid 360° combat doesn’t suffer from direct comparison with the split new demo for Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Being five years ahead of the game in how to design action adventures isn’t what made it special, however. What made it special was that it was ten years ahead of the game in how to tell stories and create characters. Its exaggerated art style perfectly complimented its naturalist animation. Its Saturday matinee story of love and loss provided me with what still feels like the one truly significant choice I’ve ever made in a videogame. Five years on, I’m yet to encounter a title which has made me believe so much in the people I was playing. And that, it no small measure, is down to the excellent scripting and even more excellent voice talent – Roger Jackson included.
It troubles me how easily games like Galleon get forgotten. It’s obsolete, now. Won’t play on your 360, and won’t play on your Xbox until you’ve borrowed an AV cable to replace the one you’ve lost, and spent an hour looking for the power pack after temporarily forgetting that consoles didn’t used to have power packs. More than that, though, it troubles me how hard it is to figure out why it was so good – or rather, who made it so good.
The games industry is still woeful at giving the people who work so hard to make its products they credit they deserve. Admittedly, it’s still sometimes woeful at giving people who make its games the hours and working conditions they deserve, but credit at least should be free. Yet good game credits, ones that might actually encourage players to take a look – Fat Princess‘ are a current favourite – are still rare. And despite MobyGames best efforts, there just isn’t a site that has the geographical breadth and historical depth to trace the contributions of the thousands of people who’ve made brilliant or interesting games.
And that lack denies them their credit, and us of the best game of Kevin Bacon you could ever hope to play. Don’t you want to know if you can get from Roger Jackson to Gunpei Yokoi in six steps or less? Don’t you wonder what interesting and unexpected games you’d meet on the way? Could you find a way from Gunther Galipot to Gonzalo Frasca off the top of your head? Probably not, largely because you don’t know who Gunther or Gonzalo are, which is precisely my point.
So, this week, I’m not going to try to entice you to play Galleon, which honour compels me to warn you is buggy and annoying as well as ambitious and beautiful. Instead I’m going to ask that if you’re a ailing millionaire, do take note that it’s Margaret Robertson, not Robinson. And if you’re not an ailing millionaire, but you can code, then could you have a stab at building a Kevin Bacon app for Moby Games, purely because I think it might be fun? And in the unlikely event that you’re neither an ailing millionaire or an easily distracted coder, could you take a run at Roger-to-Gunpei, as above? I’d love to see where you end up.
[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can’t stop going back to.]
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