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    Retro Column: Style
    Thursday, 14 August 2008
    Some games stand out for their immersive storylines, others for their jaw dropping graphics. Some games, however, feature nothing ground breaking at all and yet stand out for reasons that are hard do put into words. These games claim a spot in the gaming hall of fame by offering something else, a unique sense of style. Either by using a tried and tested technique in a new way, or by creating new techniques or their own. I take a look at what it takes to be stylish and which games succeed at it.

    Style can be a tricky thing to define. Everyone has an opinion on what makes things stylish. Some people, particularly westerners, see style as over the top explosions/deaths/injuries mixed with witty one liners, ludicrous feats of general awesomeness and a devil may care attitude. Generally the more of each, the better. Whilst this can sometimes lead to a stylish game, the vast majority of games tend to overdo it. Nothing kills a games style better than trying too hard to be cool. In order to create stylish main characters, a game needs to find the perfect balance between "awesomeness" and modesty. They need to be able to bust out all the cool moves, but at the same time need to be oblivious to their awesomeness. Here is a few games that have managed to become stylish by finding the perfect balance:

    Devil May Cry:

    The Devil May Cry series features all the over the top acrobatics and arrogance you'd expect, but manages to avoid giving the impression that they are trying too hard by giving Dante (and later Nero) a slightly quieter confidence than other "cool" heroes such as Duke Nukem. Some scenes in the game do seem a little too over the top (the scene where Nero stands on an enemy and rides it like a scooter springs to mind), but overall the Devil May Cry series manages to pull of a near perfect balance.

    Metal Gear Solid:

    First things first. Snake Plissken. The name itself is totally badass. Add the fact that he was named after the badass from Escape from New York/LA who was played by the badass Kurt Russell into the equasion and you get possibly the epitome of badassism. Now this would normally set the "trying too hard" alarm bells ringing, but the games manage to avoid this by having the main character focus on his objectives rather than taking time to make witty one liners or enjoy his coolness. The games also manage to avoid taking themselves too seriously by adding a number of easter eggs. These include catching ladies with their trousers down and "interesting" conversations between enemies.

    Another way in which a game can become stylish is by using all its elements (graphics, sound, music, level design and presentation) to make a truly unique gaming environment. This can be done either by using existing technology in a fresh new way or by creating its own technology to make its own unique style.

    Comix Zone:

    Comix Zone manages to find a unique sense of style by setting all its levels within the pages of a comic. Each level is set within a page of the comic and the player goes through each level cell by cell. Once a section is complete, the player then chooses which adjoining cell to move onto. The game adds to this comic book feel by having each character talk through speech bubbles and adds narrative blocks of text within certain cells. Some sections of the comic merely require the player to defeat the enemies within the cell, but others require players to actually tear the lines between each cell by throwing either enemies or objects through them. This really gives a sense of being trapped inside an actual comic.

    Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in America):

    Most people remember the original JSR for being one of the first games to use cell shading to create a unique game world, but the game also used its level design and soundtrack to create a futuristic, almost manga-esque scenario. The soundtrack manages to compliment the bright, exaggerated visuals and chaotic environments by using loud, energetic tracks provided by Hideki Naganumas original soundtrack and licensed tracks such as Cibo Mattos "Birthday Cake".

    The last way that a game can be stylish is by allowing the player to control the style of the characters and either encourage or force them to pull out some slick moves. These games rely on smooth, responsive controls and require the player to have quick reflexes. A lot of things can cause a game to fail at this type of style, overly complex controls and difficult camera angles are a few examples of what can ruin this type of stylish game.

    Prince of Persia:

    The Prince of Persia games manage to create a fluid sense of style with its acrobatic fighting and free running elements. Switching from wall running, leaping to a beam before making a death defying leap to a nearby platform in the 3d games gives the player a real sense of style. Even in the earlier 2d games, the sense of style is still there with the Prince showing a certain grace through the levels. This has always been helped by a smooth control system and a level design which doesn't always make it obvious which way to go. This allows the player to explore their surroundings and find their way rather than constantly being told which way to go.

    Metropolis Street Racer:

    "It's not about how fast you drive, it's about how you drive fast". MSR was the first game to reward players for driving with a certain sense of panache. The game used a Kudos system to award points for drifting and other stylish manoeuvres. These points could then be used to unlock the next level or car. The game managed to use a mix between arcade and simulation type handling to allow the players to control the cars with ease but also used realistic (for the time) graphics to make the player feel like they were controlling real cars and add to the sense of style. The illusion of realism is also helped by the life like radio stations and the accurately mapped real life cities. These cities also used the Dreamcasts internal clock to create real time cycles, for example if it was night time in Japan in real life, it would be night time in Japan in the game.

    One important thing to remember with style is that everyones opinion will be different on what makes a stylish game. This article was just my take on what gives a game style and what I feel are the best examples of each. There may have been games I missed, probably even better examples that the ones I gave, but just because they aren't there doesn't mean I don't think they're stylish. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the articles section of the forum.

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    posted by goaferboy @ 11:00  
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