Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Second Chance to Disappoint

I randomly decided to play GTAIV again. Started the mission where you have to taxi Little Jacob around, ignoring his incomprehensible babbling and relying on mission markers and tutorial text boxes to know where to go. I got shot up pretty bad in the first encounter, then had to waste time finding a burger joint to get my health back. So basically, major skill-oriented games are all going the route of pussified health auto-regen, yet a game that prides itself in gangster-tough immersion finds the need to force the player to drive out of the way in the middle of a mission to eat a burger instead of letting their health regen on the drive to the next mission point so they can keep the action going. Brilliant.

Got to the second mission spot, followed the instructions for taking cover, then my AI partner got shot after just a few seconds of entering the house, failing the mission for me. Awesome. I was going to force my way through the game so I can at least say that I've beaten it in case the need arises to defend my experience in a debate about the title. Sadly, this has become the main reason I complete most games nowadays instead of joy. Don't want to be that guy at a game development company that hasn't completed Halo 3.

I was going to beat GTAIV this week or next, but fuck it. I need to take another several month break from this overrated piece of mediocrity.

As I type this, a hotdog vender barks repeatedly every ten seconds, repeating the same line at least once a minute. High frequency bark repeating. In a 2008 title. Not a point I would normally drill on, especiailly in a world as large and asset-filled as Liberty City, but this game is full of such flaws and nuisances and yet still has a 98 on metacritic. And objectively-backed flaws aside, I will argue with my subjective liberties that it just doesn't provide an entertaining experience. I don't care if your world is so detailed I can watch TV in it - in fact, if you choose to implement this unnecessary functionality, chances are these are manhours that could have gone into fixing some of the questionable missions. No, I don't want a world where I can do many boring things - I want a world where the things I can do are fun.

This game is not much fun. Whatever enjoyment I started to have when I first played it has quickly gone out the window from the linear, frustrating missions whose failure conditions never cause me to think that I messed up. Driving between missions, a task quite central to the theme of the game (and implied in the title), has become a chore. There is a huge city to explore, and no compelling reason to do so. The difficulty, while not obscene, is a hindrance to the immersion, and forcing the player to chow down on fast food to regain health feels like a waste of time. Yes, I usually lament health regen in challenge-oriented games, but GTA has always been more about the experience than overcoming difficulty, so this design decision (or lack of real design thoughtfulness?) is painfully tragic.

To put things into perspective for anyone that thinks I'm just an artsy game designer belittling yet another high profile mass appeal sequel, I will go on record as saying that Halo 3 was a good game. It was enjoyable. It wasn't particularly special, but the action was streamlined. I hate its success in light of the failures of better titles, but I enjoyed completing it. GTAIV, not so much. Not nearly so much.

Can someone please tell me why this game has a 98/100 on metacritic? Or why I have bothered studying the craft of better game design via subtraction and pitching interesting and innovative gameplay ideas when groupthink shit riddled with high level and low level flaws wrapped in a controversial sandbox package with unnecessary simulation (TV shows???) thrown in to fill the void where good pacing should have been implemented sells millions and woos critics??

Okay, in a less bitter note, can anyone who enjoys this game tell me if/why you think it deserves a near perfect score, much more than SotC, Bioshock, or Braid?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The World Begins With Us

I was going to write a post sometime soon about The World Ends With You. It was going to be a high brow review, rejecting numerical summaries and hype-driven prose, for I felt this game deserved more. And of course I'm too good for such drivel. No, I was going to take the "game as arts" approach and herald it as a rare jewel. I was going to mention the brilliant manner in which Jupiter has captured the theme of loneliness en masse and held true to that vision in every pixel, the grin-inducing moment when I realized that the regional "trend" system that guided my choice in equipment could in turn be affected by me and what kind of a wonderful message this was, delivered via gameplay mechanics as only an interactive medium could. I was going to write some paragraphs, dust them off, and feel good about myself for commenting intelligently on a topic dear to me and adding another post to my blog.

Then I made the mistake of beating the game.

I have dreamt of making video games since I was five years old. I was even drawing them on paper back then, a hobby that would turn into making levels in Wrecking Crew on the NES, then into making more complicated levels in games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, then into programming. All along, video games were produced by people, not people like me, for if they were like me I would understand them. No, people with talents and visions far beyond what I was capable of grasping or imagining. Imagine my shock two years ago when I entered the industry and realized that these people did not exist.

Well they did, except they weren't unattainable gods of the interactive arts. They were people like me. It has been relieving and disappointing, and above all else disorienting, to come to terms with what the industry has become. Every asset carefully calculated in a middle manager's spread sheet, every in-company rumor carefully filtered through a bloated pyramid. But that's how it is, and that's how games are made, and I don't deserve to expect more when I have a job and so many don't right now.

And I understood this, and things were simple, until I beat the game. And again and again, three weeks of what should have been groan-inducing plot twists when the game "wasn't actually over" instead drew out smiles as I realized with relief that I did not have to stop playing yet.

I was going to write an artistic review about the artistic merits of an artistic game, but The World Ends With You deserves far more than that. Far more than I can contort my fingers to type. For it is far more than art, and it is unfortunate that I do not have a word to describe what it is.

When I was fourteen, I read an article in an innocuous encyclopedia describing the mating habits of humans, and it has torn a hole in my soul so deep that I can never feel romantic love. I watch my friends date, have sex, get married, and a voice louder than a thousand ends of the world wants to yell, to tell them that they are just doing it because of hormones, that they don't really love each other, that we are just meat machines, that we all live in our own little worlds and can only appear to come out and connect when there is something we need, and that we are selfish in such a way and, worse, deterministically so, so we can't be blamed nor can we ever change, and don't they even realize this? And why am I the only one that finds himself suffocating in this toxic air of causal psychology and nihilism? Am I a super intelligence painfully evolved to recognize the illusions of morality and justice, or am I so far behind the cognitive development of the average human for letting such emotional desires as sincerity cause me to think that this world was ever something more? Just a strange mix of emotional and insightful?

Why am I alone?

Art has become like this romantic love, perverted beyond the reach of sincerity. Art has become snarky toilets in snobby museums, an antithesis to the desires of the uneducated masses, a battle between the interpreter and the creator, and all manner of semantic faux debating, and to reduce TWEWY to this realm of ivory tower treadmilling is a sin far greater than I care to commit. It is unfortunate, then, that I have no rhetorical training to describe what I am trying to get at, but I must still try.

An Explanation, as best I can

I purchased this game a couple of weeks ago. I had heard good things, but I had never been in a hurry to get it. Looked like a slightly innovative game for anime fans and Japanophiles in general, enough to pique my curiosity but not enough for me to purchase with a first priority mindset. I enjoyed it right away, glad that I purchased it as the fresh aesthetic and quality were immediately apparent. It took a little bit longer to appreciate the purposefulness, the manner in which the heroic journey from self-isolation to ally dependency was expressed not only in the characters and story but in the gameplay mechanics, through and through. A little bit later, and I realized that this game was at least as good as Chrono Trigger, an amazing thing to realize as I have not felt that way about an RPG in years. Forcing myself to play through a few every now and then, I thought I had just outgrown them. Now I realize that we have just quit making them good.

Skip forward to tonight, and I have just completed a game so emotionally moving, by its own merits as well as by what it means for our craft, that I immediately had to take a walk through the local park and collect my blended thoughts. At 4 in the morning.

Yes, I'm scared. I'm scared that this isn't really as good a game as I gush about and that I am overreacting because it happened to resonate with me, for whatever reason. Seeing a verdict of 89 on metacritic last week, I nodded in agreement. Felt right. Now, I am wondering how numbers are even the right way to measure such a title, when GTAIV about tops out the max at 98. I would suggest you get this game, but what if you don't enjoy it? What does that say about my abilities as a designer, a skill in which the accurate assessments of other titles is a necessity? I thought I was mature enough to understand and accept the innate subjective limitations of views on the quality of art, but now I'm not sure I can afford emotionally to be wrong. That's what this game has done to me.

I described earlier the feeling of separation between my childhood self and the gods that made video games. At some point growing up and entering their circle, that feeling vanished. Until now. The feelings that TWEWY have evoked in me, night after night as if to assure they aren't accidental, have proven that there are gods of game development far beyond my comprehension yet again, and in a bittersweet way I wonder if I have made any progress whatsoever toward mastering the art, choking back tears with laughter as I realize that it is out there, the star that I have been reaching for but have become blind to after decades of struggle, that there is a right direction, and I need to take it.

I'm disappointed in myself. What have I done? With my life. What the fuck have I accomplished? If I die tomorrow, who will remember me? Who will I have changed? What has my purpose been? I graduated from college, run through the factory of higher education. I won the state math competition one year when I had an odd infatuation with math, and my parents assure me that I still have a plaque at my high school for the highest cumulative SAT score. But how many people's lives have I enriched with an SAT score? I have shipped two commercial video game titles, one ranking in the fifties and one in the sixties on metacritic, and neither deserving of much more. Every week or so, I blog cynically about the state of the industry, never changing it but patting myself on the back nonetheless for constructing such "insightful" declarations in such edgy tones. I am kept up at night with internal dialogs.

I should quit my job and try to start my own video game company where customers are friends, not sources of income to manipulate through marketing.

But I don't know how to start a company, and I don't have the money, and if I borrow money from an investor then I am stuck in the art-disruptive cycle of financial responsibility yet again

But if I don't take that risk then I may go through my life without ever truly doing what makes me happy

And why am I not happy now, now that I am in the wonderful industry that I dreamed of entering since I was five?

And what will my parents think if I fail, run away, and need to leech off of them again?

And will I ever really be happy, or is satisfaction just a bubble under some infinite wall paper that I can chase around but never capture?

And on and on, until I somehow fall asleep.

I have accomplished absolutely nothing, and it pains me more than I can bear. I wake up every day, marching to work like a toy soldier, because I have to pay the bills, the very expensive bills that I have amassed moving out here to work in the industry in the first place. And if I die tomorrow, no one will remember me. No one will remember me, because I don't deserve remembrance. Sure, the people that matter to me will, and maybe a few of them will cry. But I don't see them anymore. I talk to them on the phone, if I talk to them at all, their digitized voices trying but failing to mask the 2,000+ mile gap that I have put between us. I fail to see them at Christmas, because I am too tired from crunch on a project that will soon be lost in the middle of the game ranking bell curve to even fly home.

I tell myself this is okay, because at least I have a job, and... you know, "the economy" and all that. But a job is nothing without happiness. Life is nothing without happiness. I am not happy with my life. I have hope, but that is a painful kind of happiness, because it can easily be taken away or spoiled before fruition.

The World Ends With You has shown me that I was wrong to believe that it was my jaded attitude keeping me from enjoying games, for how else could I enjoy it as much as any of my childhood favorites at my current age? Most games today are developed by incapable, uncaring individuals with far too much power over the individuals that do care. And really, in my long winded way, that is what I am trying to praise Jupiter and Square Enix for; they care. They have to care. The localization team cares, the voice actors care, the writers care. They all care. This game exists because people enjoyed making it, and wanted to share that joy with an audience that is precious to them. I have no other reason to believe this than the game itself; that it is capable of communicating this is a testament to their talent as well as their sincerity. I must seek such a position, I must be a part of this. Could you imagine if every game developer put innovation above finance, quality above innovation, art above quality, and sincerity above art? What a wonderful world such would be!


I can't do this alone. I can't even continue tricking myself when I wake up each morning into believing that I can be a savior of the craft someday, that today is going to be different from yesterday somehow. I have no clout. I have not been in the industry 'x years' for any impressive value of 'x'. I dream, I desire, but I don't see the answers. If you have any answers, any answers at all, whether you are an industry veteran or a college student trying to get in, or if you are simply a fan of games interested in a healthier future where the discourse between developers and purchasers is more meaningful than the current back and forth of "you give us money, we give you product", please let me know.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Randomly Inspired, Belated Answer

It has become nigh memetic to ask, “When will we have our Citizen Kane” of games?

Not before we have our “Y'all Want a Single”, I can guarantee that much.

“We wanted to add 3 or 4 more songs, so we came back to record them. Then our record company was like 'Hey, we'd really love to have a single' and our management, The Firm said 'We would really like to have a smash hit single, man, can you dig it?'. We were really appalled by that scene. They wanted 'Got the Life' or 'Freak on a Leash', and that shit wasn't flying with us at all! For the first time in our lives we were dissecting our music, and try to analyze the structure of those songs, trying to figure out what made them huge hits. But Korn never works like that, and while we're all were wondering, Jonathan came up with a line: "Y'all want a single? Say: FUCK THAT" and we wrote Y'All Want a Single as a big 'fuck you' to them.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Before I forget...


"The traditional game industry model ... is not really set up to make games, per se.

It's more set up to make game companies. Each game is just a vehicle for the company. We're really talking more about game company development here than game development."

And it does need to change.

My, Haven't We Come a Long Way?

I just beat Eternal Sonata, and now the credits are rolling and all the characters are judging and patronizing me :(. AND OH GOD NOW THERE IS A FUCKING SNAIL TALKING TO A CATERPILLAR AFTER THE CREDITS ROLLED.

Without spoiling too much, an important character turned on the rest of my party, becoming the final boss for no believable reason. Then another character kills them self for no believable reason (though it is foreshadowed), then the credits roll with random party characters telling me I shouldn't give up until the end or something. This is after a good 24 hours of typical RPG narrative nonsense where for some reason I end up with a dozen characters in my party that decided they had no lives and desired to follow my group around. Cait Sith Syndrome, if you will. In the basest sense, I feel I can explain "why" characters chose to do what they did and why the story followed the path that it did, but I just didn't "feel" it. I didn't "feel" that my party would so readily turn on a long time ally just because he said "lol Let's Fight!" I didn't "feel" sorrow that one character commits suicide while another one lets her monologue for several minutes, asking afterwards what he could have done to save her. I am getting a similar feeling that I got at the end of Braid, a game which, for some reason unsatisfied with being an exemplar of the interactive arts via its mechanics, had to pull a narrative switcheroo by "not really being about what you think it's about" in the end. I know I know, "art" and all that jazz, but art is allowed to be critiqued, and, feeling as if I've somehow "missed" something in Eternal Sonata (ugh), I can't say that the ending is all that satisfying to me. I suppose that an ambiguous ending, or an ending where there is a deeper meaning to "get" can cause some water cooler/forum discussions that extend the life of your game past its ending, but is that really the best way to extend the life of an interactive experience? Via tricks of the linear narrative trade?

Eternal Sonata is a fantastically beautiful game visually and aurally, and it even has an innovative combat system and faster-than-usual progression for those of us who don't want to commit 50-70 hours to beat an RPG. Thus I am a little disappointed that, while captivating enough for me to put over 20 hours into beating (which is more than I can say for many video games nowadays), I found myself lacking emotions, empathy, and understanding of the characters' motives for most of the game.

I guess games have matured? I mean, I'm thankful that modern games give me a narrative drive extending beyond being a bad enough dude to save the president from ninjas, but... do I need that same pseudo-intellectual pretension, that coy "this is our story but this isn't really our story" attitude that filled many a poetry explication in high school Literature classes? Are cheap shots like this taken from old linear forms of media the best way to expand our interactive arts?

If High School Lit is any indication, then soon all of our narrative games will "really" be about masturbation or something. Or has this already happened and I'm not "educated" enough to have noticed?? @_@

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Advertising Blues

So I got home around 9 tonight, not because I just finished a late night at the office, but because I haven't finished my work yet and just decided to get some food and finish it at home. I could rant about that, but it's more of a mild annoyance than a topic worthy of a full blog post. That is, assuming that it stops occurring so frequently, an assumption I hold onto like a battered wife holding her black eye and smiling as she reminisces about the golden days and tells herself they're coming back, just around the corner. I'm not sure what my "golden" days are in this metaphor since I have been crunching constantly from the day I entered the industry, an unfortunate side effect of being put on a game being rushed to completion in less time than it should really be given, laid off, then being hired and put on another game being rushed to completion in less time than it should really be given.

This post is about what was waiting for me when I got home. An apple software update. An innocuous yet pesky blue-iconed window that I usually close out of habit while I'm trying to get work done. Since I am waiting for a build to finish, I decided to go ahead and accept the updates to get it out of my way. After telling it that I don't want to reboot my computer now (have we still not found a way to ubiquitously update software without bringing the user's system to a full halt?), I was greeted with a followup window advertising some new software that I might want to download.

So next I decided to play some PC games. I opened my Steam client, which took a while to load as always, possibly because it's loading these ads in the background of this software suite that I paid for. That I paid a lot for, as Steam games, despite digital distribution, are just as expensive as boxed games. And yet they still feel the need to open a second window of ads and further peck away at my dwindling economy of attention when I just want to enjoy some games that I have paid for in a short break period sandwiched by long hours at work. They don't call them ads; no, they call it "Update News". Closing that window, I see an animation in my main steam client (which defaults to the "store" tab instead of the more useful "my games" tab upon opening, to guarantee diverting your attention to their advertising) that cycles through a list of huge budget games that everyone knows exist anyway. Particularly interesting is the ad for Fallout 3, boasting a "100/100" score on Gamespy, a site that uses a 5 star rating system. Yes, there is a huge difference between 5/5 and 100/100, but who am I to judge marketing spin. Even more remarkable is that I purchased the PC version of Fallout 3 from Steam on the day it came out! And they're still advertising it to me??? They know what games I purchased from them! Not only are they wasting my time and attention, they aren't even doing it efficiently!

It would be interesting to see a study of our modern economy of attention and how much advertising and constant update reminders cost us in this economy. How many times a day do you find yourself updating something? Do you even know what you're getting when you update it? Is it improving your use of the software, or just moving some GUI components around so you have to relearn where things are? I recently had a stressful time trying to put together hospital bills and insurance statements after heart surgery due to the piles of junk mail that would pile up when I got home from 12+ hour shifts at work. Do you ever have these problems? spam, pop unders, telemarketers? Seconds of your life, robbed from you by a faceless corporation's childish need for attention. A shame really, as time is the most nonrenewable resource.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Patent Fending

From wikipedia:

"At present, the (US patent) files, are so extraordinarily complex and the items so multitudinous that a veritable army of governmental servants is required to attend them and sort them into some order of distinguishable categories to which reference may be made when corresponding with patent applicants for the purposes of examiner citation of "prior art" disclosure. This complexity makes it inevitable that the human-equation involved in government servants relative to carelessness or mechanical limitations should occasion the granting of multitudes of "probably" invalid patent claims."

Funny thing? That is a quote from 1938.


I like games. You probably like games as well if you are reading this blog.

Let's play a game! I call it “What's Wrong With This Picture?”

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bad ACS, no Twinkie

So I've gotten back into Doom modding again, and during the process I have had to pick up ACS again. After spending over an hour trying to print a single sentence to screen (I'll get to that in a second) and having Doom Builder crash Yet Again, losing all of my progress, I figured I needed a break to blow off steam.

So why did it take me so long to print a message to the screen? Modularity. The mod I am making is going to have a lot of text printed to the screen, and in realizing this up front I decided to go ahead and write a function that would center it and compute the duration (how long the text should be displayed) based on string length to save me some typing. There is a rant in here alright, but there are also some interesting programming issues that I want to touch on lightly. For example, how do we balance planning ahead and building foundations with actually getting shit done? There, that was lightly, wasn't it?

Basically, I wanted to go from typing this:

hudMessage(s:"mah message"; HUDMSG_PLAIN | HUDMSG_LOG, 0, CR_GRAY, 0.5, 0.5, duration);

to typing this:

pcThink("mah message", duration)

and have the 'duration' variable be intelligently calculated (with the option to explicitly set it in cases where the default algorithm generates suboptimal results). Thus I set out to write the pcThink function. After several iterations, I ended up with the following:

function int pcThink(str thought, int duration)
// a value of 0 for the duration means the caller wants
// us to figure it out for ourselves
    if (duration == 0.0)
        duration = strLen(thought) * 65536;
        duration = duration / 10.0 + 1.0;
    hudMessage(s:thought; HUDMSG_PLAIN | HUDMSG_LOG, 0,
       CR_GRAY, 0.5, 0.5, duration);
// return our duration in tics so it can be used in
// delay() calls
    return duration * 35 / 65536;

If you can spot the mistake, then maybe you deserve a twinkie. ACS does not. I'll give you a hint: the symptom of the bug was that my messages were not lasting long enough. And no, there were no compile errors.

Okay, maybe you noticed my liberal mix of floats (they're actually fixed point values in ACS) and ints. duration is, after all, declared as an int, and I am multiplying it by 65536 in one place then diving it by 10.0 in another. Am I crazy? Have my rugged good looks finally gotten the best of my mental facilities? Perhaps - nay, likely. But that is not the cause of my problems in this instance, though you would be looking in the right direction.

hudMessage takes a fixed point value for its last parameter, which represents how long the message is supposed to be displayed to the screen. I am passing in duration here, which was declared as an int, but like any good language ACS coerces ints to floats (fixeds?) and vice versa, which all sounds keen and gives one a warm fuzzy feeling, right? Except that this coercion is done in a manner described most accurately as despicable. ints in ACS are 4 byte storage containers, pretty typical. Fixed point values do not technically exist in that there is no fixed keyword like there is an "int" keyword, though there are fixed point literals which can be illustrated by the following declaration:

int wolfInSheepsClothing = 50.0;

The way this is stored is that the upper 2 bytes represent the decimal value (things to the right of the period) while the lower 2 bytes represent the integral value (things to the left of the period). This is atrocious! 1.0 does not equal 1 in this system, and not just because it actually equals 1.0000001. No, because 1.0 actually equals 65536! In Soviet ACS, 1.0 + 1 equals 65537! I'm not even kidding! Who the hell thought this was a good idea?! The error in my above code is where I am dividing by 10.0, intending to increase the duration by one second for every ten characters in the message, but I instead increase the duration by one second for every 6554 characters!

Other gripes with ACS include dividing time into units of 35 tics per second (I'm sure there's a good reason...) and converting strings to ints when using the plus operator instead of concatenating or generating a compile error. ACS is actually a pretty good language for what it's meant to do and provides script parallelization that is easy to rationalize.

I am getting sick of goofy language design decisions pandering to low-level needs slowing down my high-level development. We need better abstractions that fit with our taught domain knowledge of mathematics and text so we can write "x = 1 + 2.0" without worrying about coercion tricks while "x = "foo" + 7" or "if (someIntegerValue)" will not compile. And don't get me started about pointer arithmetic. Also, why on earth have units not become more prevalent? I might not remember if delay(int) expects tics or seconds, but if I am allowed to type "delay(70 tics)" or "delay(2 seconds)" at my whim, I don't have to remember. And having static unit analysis at compile time could avoid certain embarassing blunders.

Oh, and indexing starting at zero! Dijkstra be damned, I still find this to be a counter intuitive (and thus incorrect) language design decision after over a decade of programming with it, though for the sake of brevity I will save the details for another post.

The problem as I see it is that programming language decisions were originally made based on memory limitations and thinking too closely to the machine. We have not evolved enough past these tarpits. We don't have enough, or any, "High Enough Level" languages. You've probably heard the cobbler's children analogy applied to programming, particularly to language design. If we were shoe makers, we would be hammering horseshoes on our kids' feet if nails were cheaper than stitches. Swear to God.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Appreciation of Music in Games

It happened again at lunch today. I was talking about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with a coworker, and, unprompted, one of the first things they brought up was how good they remembered the music being. A couple of other people have said the same thing, and I have even read a preview comparing the music in our game to the music in SotN (in quality, definitely not in style). Unlike me, these people played the game when it came out (XBLA gave me a second chance to redeem myself), and they still find the music memorable. Trouble is, I can't for the life of me remember a single track from beginning to end, and I have just recently beaten the game a second time to get 200.6% and once more with Richter to get the full 200 achievement points. And then some to get 99 of everything the librarian sells including duplicators (I used the sword familiar glitch, but it still took a while). And then some more to grind up some levels. Fantastic control scheme, brilliant use of gameplay mechanics to implicitly branch the story, and support for a variety of play styles make this game one of the best of the PSX era. But wait, there was music playing in the background? I do remember some area had music that sounded like it would be better on an elevator than in a Castlevania, and the ending theme was far more emotional than the rest of the game tried to evoke, but the remainder of the tracks have not managed to stick in my memory.

I have begun to wonder if I am not giving enough attention to the aural aspect of game consumption. If ten years from now someone was to bring up SotN in a conversation, the first things I would laud would be the castle design and the risky decision to put so much effort into implementing and not advertising the second half of the game. The background tracks, while fitting and mostly just as polished as the game, would not even come to mind. But my experience has shown me that Symphony's music is in fact one of the first things people remember about the game. If you have played this title, what do you think? Is the music memorable to you? Is it as good as the gameplay or better?

That out of the way, there are a few titles that show me that I can notice and appreciate music in games. Eternal Sonata immediately comes to mind, as do many older JRPGs (almost any FF, Chrono Trigger, Lunar, Xenogears - pretty much anything done by Uematsu, Mitsuda, or Iwadare). I recently started playing Banjo Kazooie and marvelled at how the music changes dynamically from an ominous version to a softer version of the same tune when you approach the door to a world, or when you transition underwater. I even found myself relaxing recently to the title screen theme to the XBLA port of Uno when I left it running in the background. Conversely, when I played the original Castlevania again recently, I was cringing at how grating the three-channel NES tracks were. We put up with a lot back in the day...

How about you? What games have soundtracks that you remember years later (or will likely remember years from now if they are recent)? I would have to give mad props to the original Nights for having some of the most original, uplifting music in video game history (the sequel does a good job in this area as well) and to Doom64 for trading pop melody for darker atmospheric tracks (best in the series, imo). Another interesting question: is it possible for game music to be "too good" - that is, to be so outstanding that you are pulled out of the immersion and start appreciating it for its own merits? If this occurs, is it a good thing for the game as a whole?