Five: Rus McLaughlin
Five: Rus McLaughlin
by Marc N. Kleinhenz
Comic Related's Five interview series takes the brightest minds from the journalistic and game development worlds and asks them to expound on their personal benchmarks of the videogame industry, exploring the crucial components of narrative, music, gameplay, graphics, and character.
Rus McLaughlin is a features writer for IGN.com, where he also writes State of Play, a twice-monthly op-ed column covering the gaming industry; his previous IGN column, AutoLockon, ran from 2006 to 2008. In addition to numerous freelancing credits, he has worked extensively for Electronic Arts and Ubisoft.
Plot point/character beat/story twist
I went into the original Halo spoiler-free and co-oped my first run through the campaign with my wife. We cut a two-Spartan hole through that game without blinking... then we walked into a room covered with blood, the doors locked, and we were surrounded by hundreds of freaky little creatures skittering at us. And my rock-steady wingman, the love of my life, said "Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Help me! Help me! AHHHHHHHHH!"
Plenty of games throw plenty of curveballs, but few are as visceral and effective as Halo's mid-game introduction of the Flood. Even fewer pivot the game into a new direction so deftly. Suddenly, the threat was entirely different, far deadlier, and we were not ready for it. The screaming to my immediate left probably didn't help, either.
Song and/or soundtrack
I seriously dig Jesper Kyd's work. All of it. He's a master at setting tone with a small whisper of strings, or he can go full-bore Ava Maria on your ass. I generally don't listen to game music outside of a game, but "Jerusalem Horse Ride" from Assassin's Creed holds a spot on several of my playlists. It's so multilayered and evocative that, from a distance, it even makes the dullest part of that game feel epic.
I once caught sight of Kyd on the floor at E3 and thought, "Hey! That's Jesper Kyd!" And as I stopped to consider the many, many ways that made me mind-meltingly geekish, he vanished into thin air. Like a Danish ninja.
They weren't exactly mechanics (point in fact, they were bugs), but when gamers discovered animation breaks in Street Fighter II, it was a game-changer in every sense of the words. Fantastically punishing combos became possible. Mastering them became the goal, and for the first time, hardcore and casual became real distinctions. I didn't learn every exploit, but I sure abused the ones I did. It was the only way to survive.
Capcom's programmers actually knew about these bugs well before the games shipped but didn't bother cleaning them out because they didn't think players were good enough to dial in. Every developer since has learned from that mistake.
While I loved me some vector graphics (Tail Gunner, anyone?), nothing beat seeing the first true 3D game for the first time. Shot straight from the genius brain of Dave Theurer (Missile Command, Tempest), it was I Robot, it was beautiful, and it was bonkers.
Nothing else looked or acted like it. You wheeled a rebellious little droid through 3D polygonal stages under the (literal) watchful eye of Big Brother, and every stage threw something new at you. Like soccer balls. Or creatures that attacked your view of the stage; you had to change camera angles to see around them. And since one of Big Brother's arbitrary rules was "No Jumping," he'd instantly blow you to mesons if he caught you leaping from one block to the next... in a platforming game. Nice touch, that.
I Robot was so wild and weird, almost nobody played it. That didn't make it any less revolutionary, and I'm proud to say I made one 7-11 rich enough to keep theirs around an extra six months.
Try playing through Portal with the sound muted, and you'll see just how much GLaDOS adds to that perfect little game. The truth is, Valve could've rubber-stamped any kind of non-story around those nifty portal mechanics and called it good. Instead, they gave their game a personality... a kindly, smarmy, wonderfully sinister personality that promised us cake and assured us everything would be fine, even as she trundled us into an open flame pit. GLaDOS was always ten steps ahead, dangling carrots we'd never - and should never - get. And let's be honest, it takes a special kind of end-boss to happily sing her own praises after you've blown her up.
GLaDOS was our foil, guide, enemy, and entertainer. I can't wait until she tries to kill me again.
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