Are You Sitting Comfortably?

We’re used to talking about endings in video games. We’ll discuss in hushed tones and spoiler warnings about who dies, who lives and who turns out to have been a vampire all along. There doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of discussion about the introductions though. Those first few moments in a game world or cut scene are all important to getting us involved in whatever follows. Considering what comes afterwards could be perhaps sixty hours or more then this is very much an important part of the overall game.

Over the years I’ve seen many great examples of this but here’s my pick of the top ones.

There are spoilers ahead if you’re one of those people who considers being told what happens five minutes into a game somehow ruins the whole thing for you.

  1. Bioshock

A friend loaned me Bioshock on the Xbox 360 not long after it first came out. I hadn’t really read anything about it nor seen anything of it up until then. This actually resulted in probably the only time I went into such a well known game completely blind. It only made the opening scenes of Irrational Games’ 2007 classic all the better.

The text ‘Mid-Atlantic 1960’ comes up on screen and we see through the eyes of an aircraft passenger. It’s the only we hear any dialogue from the character you play as and even then it’s only a couple of lines. The plane soon goes into a nosedive and lands in the middle of the ocean. There you float amongst the wreckage and everything burns around you. This was done so wonderfully and smoothly that it actually took me a few seconds to work out I’d taken over control.

You’re instantly attracted to a tower standing high over the surface of the water. Swimming towards it reveals a large door. Beyond that opening there’s a statue of a man holding a red banner.

‘No Gods Or Kings, Only Man’ say the golden letters on it. It’s the first clue as to the themes of objectivism present in the game. Not that you know it yet but the man holding the banner is Andrew Ryan, the creator of the underwater city of Rapture. There is then the journey into the main entrance to Rapture itself, weaving through underwater skyscrapers with neon filled signs on them. You then hear a voice on the radio of a person stuck down here with his family who, like you, is desperate for a way out.

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All of this happens within the first ten minutes and it’s nigh on perfect the way it’s set out. There’s a wonderful look at the location, a brief glimpse of the main characters and an overall sense of dread that something down here has gone truly, utterly wrong.

2. Doom (2016).

I actually managed to pick this up on the PS4 for the grand total of a tenner the other day and the introduction is probably what got me thinking of this list. There was a period of time last year just before this game’s release that I recall reading some pretty downbeat thoughts on it. How could Id Software possibly recreate what made the original Doom so good back in 1993? The multiplayer demo had a fairly lukewarm reception. The single player campaign’s introduction though makes no bones about it. Whilst the game may be running on much better hardware and have all the trapping of modern first person shooters, this is still the Doom that gave rise to the FPS genre all those years ago.

You awake on a table, almost like a surgery except it seems to be surrounded by candles and has pentagrams scrawled on the walls. It’s then you notice that you’re actually handcuffed to the table as a demon makes it’s way across to you, mouth agape and hands raised. You manage to smash the abomination’s head against the table with a hugely satisfactory shower of blood and skull. A quick yank of the chain makes it snap.

There’s a screen over to one corner and the words ‘Demonic Invasion In Progress’ scroll across. There follows a recorded message by Dr Samuel Hayden who is the head of the facility. Just when you’re thinking this will be another long winded, audio diary left around the place just before it all went South the character you’re controlling rips the entire thing off the wall and throws it across the other side of the room. Doom Marine does not care for the details.

There’s a run through of a few corridors which includes the tutorial for the brilliant ‘Glory Kill’ melee attacks. The heavy, industrial music builds up and up. At the end of this section you reach an elevator that not only has a dead body in it but also another screen in which Hayden assures you that ‘what we were doing here was for the good of mankind’. Doom guy cocks his shotgun (in time with the music), the doors open onto the surface of Mars and the game’s title flashes up on screen in that familiar font.

It’s taken about three minutes but Doom has left you in no doubt what it’s all about. Find demons, shoot demons, survive. 1993 called and it’s damn happy you still love it.

3. Blade Runner

You know how some people describe movies licensed games as ‘tie ins’? Often, especially in the 90’s, this just involved slapping the film’s name on a platform game that didn’t bear much resemblance at all to the source material. The Westwood produced, PC point and click Blade Runner was a complete tie in. You might not play as Deckard but events of the movie are going on in the background of the game as you play. Certain characters cross over and voice actors reprise their role in animated form.

The introduction might well look clunky these days but it still looks absolutely a part of the Blade Runner cannon. It features the exact same scrolling text as the film as well as the flight over 2019 Los Angeles. ¬†We’re then in a pet shop selling real animals (a rarity in Blade Runner’s future) as a young girl tells the owner that she’s done all her jobs and needs to leave. The owner then starts saying that she ‘has one job left’ in a rather creepy manner.

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Events play out very differently as two men walk into the shop and break the owner’s hand before killing all the animals in the store. We then jump to McCoy from the Blade Runner division who gets a report of animal murder in a pet shop. The opening scene of the game is the aftermath of the crime you saw in the introduction and the story spirals from there.

Blade Runner pitches itself perfectly alongside the source material and the introduction is an amazing welcome to the story that follows.

Anybody have anymore favourites? Put them in the comments below.

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“You Can Do It, I Believe In You”

The Legend of Zelda has always been a part of my gaming life. Playing Link To The Past still reminds me of my sister and I passing the pad to each other, taking turns to complete dungeons and defeat bosses. Wind Waker still reminds me of working in a small games shop in Carlisle. I recently bought a Nintendo Switch along with Breath Of The Wild. Despite the fact it’s a wonderful reworking of the entire Zelda formula there’s another big reason why BotW will live long in my memory.

My ten year old son is on the autistic spectrum and was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome a couple of years ago. Essentially it means that he often has routines that he sticks to and gets really concerned and scared when something comes along that may disturb that. It also means that anything new to him, be it places or people, has to be introduced gradually.

He often plays video games. Whilst his friends at school often ask him why he’s not playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty he prefers anything Nintendo related. He knows that games such as GTA are for people aged 18 years or over. Another part of his condition is his tendency to not want to break any ‘rules’. Obsessions can also be another part of Aspergers and one of his current, long standing ones is Nintendo. Others in his class may be taking control of Trevor Philips of an evening but he’s perfectly content with Mario, Yoshi, Samus or indeed Link. He will talk endlessly about them, make up stories with them as the central characters and draw them using the copious amounts of notebooks he’s gained.

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One of the main problems he’s had in the past with games is losing. In his mind he would often build up the perfect story of being a hero, of succeeding against all the odds and coming out victorious. If any boss or another player came along and changed that by winning instead then it would be a break in the procedure and a big change. What he had envisaged in front of him was now not going to happen. He wouldn’t process it well, often breaking down and he’d switch it off and give up. Said game would never really be touched ever again. This wasn’t just limited to games either, anything that brought up any kind of resistance was met with him backing away. Any primary school teacher trying to teach him maths early on in his school life became well aware of this too.

His early gaming years were, like many kids his age, made in Minecraft. When put on creative mode there were no barriers put in his way in Mojang’s world. If anything proved too difficult then it could be scrubbed out and build over. He spent hours constructing large buildings and whole towns. Disney Infinity came along and served much the same purpose (the large army of plastic figures stored below my TV is a testament to this). This also kicked off a fascination with Marvel comics and Star Wars. Super Mario Maker meant he could delete and rebuild entire levels even if the end results often didn’t make a lot of sense to anybody else bar him.

I’d heard from a few people that Breath of the Wild was difficult and having had a few hours with it myself I can say that it does have something of a mean streak. The game gives no real indication of where to go and what order to do quests in. It’s appropriate that the Link of BotW has lost all his memory as a lot of the gameplay is rediscovering places and people in Hyrule thought lost. Much of the time is spent getting used to systems and walking around the map with the possibility of running into enemies that are far higher in skill and weaponry than you. Early on in the game when Link has only three hearts for a life bar and one stamina wheel it’s quite possible to get wiped out in one hit by something far larger than you are.

My son really, really wanted to play BotW and I thought the worst was going to happen. He’d try once or maybe twice, get slaughtered by a few Mokoblins and then he’d be sitting and watching me play.

This hasn’t really happened.

Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game my son has had his own save file for as he said from the start he wanted his own decisions and experiences to count in this playthrough. Upon starting the game on the Great Plateau he quickly learned that Guardians are not to be messed with whilst you only have a tree branch. The laser fired right towards him and the Game Over screen quickly popped up.

Then he tried again, this time avoiding them and moving for cover if they discovered him. He got to the Shrine nearby and completed it in fairly short order. With it being the summer holidays he’s often spending time each morning playing a little more of the game and edging forwards all the time. Each death was greeted by him shrugging his shoulders and pressing continue, learning from each demise as he went. He’s spent more time with the game currently than I have, spending evenings telling me of his exploits in Hyrule, blissfully unaware of how spoiler filled it can sometimes get. I don’t really mind though, not when he’s getting this much enjoyment out of it.

Today we were both home together and he happened upon Sidon, the Prince of the Zora. Not only is he a member of a fish royal family but he’s also the most positive character I’ve seen in gaming for a long while. When he pumps his fist and says “Link, you can do it and I believe in you!” it genuinely feels like an in game pep talk.

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Seriously, he’s bloody great

Sidon wants you to help his people deal with one of the Divine Beasts which has been possessed by Ganon and is now causing huge amounts of rainfall around this part of Hyrule. In order to get to the Zora Domain Link must walk a mountain pathway full of various monsters, many of which are a step up from those he meets at the beginning of the game on the Great Plateau.

I sat with a cup of coffee and watched my son play through this section of the game. There were a couple of deaths and a few moments of panic as a sentry lizard found him and brought the whole camp down upon Link but in each case he tried again and kept on going. Eventually Zora’s Domain was reached and my son was wonderfully happy at reaching this stage of the game and even more ecstatic that he hadn’t given up. As I sat on the sofa next to him I shared this fantastic moment with him. It might only be a very small part of the game but it gained significance for us personally. It’s a complete change from instances in the past when he’s tried to play other games of a similar style. This is persistence introduced to him via video games, a thing he likes and cherishes. He may have slowly been coming around to this idea before and getting much better but Breath of the Wild is the game that seems to be sealing the deal for him not backing out at the first sign of anything not being part of the plan.

He ended his play session today after attempting to get to the Divine Beast itself. He died in the process and he’s agreed that perhaps leaping to battle a huge boss creature with only a four heart life bar maybe isn’t the best idea. Rather than pack in completely though he’s now determined to find more of the Shrines dotted around the area so he can get more Soul Orbs and increase his life bar. Every system in BotW is joined this way and there always seems to be something he can do. If the Divine Beast was a boss in a previous, more linear Zelda game then he’d be truly stuck there. Now however he’s working out different ways to solve it.

Because of all of this Breath of the Wild will certainly be added to the list of important Zelda games of my life. Even if I have to wait until he’s gone to bed to get my hands on the Switch to play it myself.