Well, here we are: the final day of character reveals from the Joystick Division Banner Contest, #17-23. This last block was a very stark mix of extremely easy and extremely difficult characters to identify, with nobody in between. In fact, more incorrect guesses (or blank answers) fell into this last block than any of the prior two.
Some of that is sorta-kinda my fault. But we'll get to that.
Today we also have the winners to announce, those readers among you who proved they know their gaming trivia just a little better than the average joe (or at the very least, are a little better at deciphering my drawings).
Let's finish this mammoth series up, shall we?
#17: Quote, Cave Story
Quote is the first of a string of characters - 17, 18 and 19 - that just gave everyone a hard time. I haven't crunched the numbers, but offhand it seemed like nobody got all three of those right. Maybe one person.
Quote was suggested by Ward Rubrecht, who passed along this note:
The protagonist of the most brutally kick-ass freeware ever produced. Rumor has it the massive side-scroller was developed over five years by a single dude, and his quirky sense of style shows through in every aspect of the game, from alien rabbits to impeccably balanced weapons. It's a must-have for any computer gamer with nostalgia for the old SNES side-scrollers.
I have to confess: I'm more of a console gamer. I used to split my time between console and PC games, but the last PC game I really spent any time on was Ultima Online when it first came out, back in the late 90s. (To any PC enthusiasts out there: mea culpa.)
So when Ward suggested Cave Story, I really didn't know anything about it. The name was vaguely familiar, but that was it. So to do my due diligence I downloaded it for my Mac and gave it a spin.
Wow. As a huge fan of both Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, I can't believe Cave Story has been sitting out there so long without me playing it. Really: if you liked any of those games, download Cave Story now. Right now.
The game's lead, Quote, stumped lots of people - he's actually in third place in terms of stumpage (The Avatar, #8, was first, then #18 in second). This is partly due to two things:
1) Quote looks a bit like the Pokemon Trainer, which some people mistook him for, and...
2) This is what Quote actually looks like in-game:
i.e., nothing like how he appears in the banner. Plus official Quote art is sparse. I just had to pick a piece of art I liked the most personally, and then base my drawing off that. Here was my reference, Quote right there in the bottom middle:
Quote compared to the Pokemon Trainer, with my interpretation in the middle:
So there it is.
#18: Albatross, Rolling Thunder
Albatross was suggested by Nate Patrin, and turned out to be the second hardest character in the banner. There were so many wrong answers, in fact, I was really puzzled. Albatross! Rolling Thunder! One of the best arcade games of the late 80s! Multiple home conversions! Sequels! Like Shinobi, but with guns! I figured with the iconic red shirt and shoulder straps, he'd be one of the easiest characters. So I loaded up Rolling Thunder on MAME to see if there was something I'd missed.
Nope, looks good... oh wait a minute.
Uh-oh. He's wearing a goddamned turtleneck. Mine has a button-down and a tie.
I was sure he wore a tie, and couldn't figure out where I got that idea from, until I looked at Rolling Thunder 2 for the Sega Genesis - a game I owned and played the hell out of a like 15 years ago. Albatross in RT2:
His appearance in the two games apparently melded in my memory. And that probably threw a bunch of people.
Because of this, I actually considered tossing Albatross out of the contest since - at that time - nobody had gotten him right. But then a couple people did, ruining the grading curve for the rest of you. Sorry.
As I explained to Nate later: don't think of it as a mistake, think of it as me updating his look. I mean turtlenecks? Come on.
#19: Billy Blaze, Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons
Ward Rubrecht - clearly a connoisseur of 2D PC platformers - nominated 8 year old boy genius Billy Blaze. His thoughts:
Screw Nintendo nostalgia - real nerds have DOS nostalgia. This sidescroller (and its titular protagonist), along with Duke Nukem II and Bio Menace, formed a core of actiony goodness that would resonate in the future development of computer games for years.
The Commander Keen series is a nice surprise for anyone who thinks of id Software as little more than a Doom factory (like me). The games - a half dozen in all, not counting the lackluster GameBoy Color version - are truly great (albeit now vintage) 2D action-platformers, with charming visuals, solid controls, and some really enjoyable gameplay.
For the uninitiated, Billy Blaze's nom de guerre when out playing interstellar hero is Commander Keen, equipped with gear like a ray gun, a pogo stick, and his trusty Green Bay Packers helmet.
Billy stumped lots of people. But for people who knew the games, he was easily recognizable.
#20 & 21: Big Daddy and Little Sister, BioShock
(Xbox 360, 2007)
I nominated Big Daddy and Little Sister, as BioShock is - in my estimation anyway - one of the greatest games to come along in a long time, only barely missing Game On's nod for Best Game of 2007.
Part of my admiration is the writing and story, all told through gameplay, not in between it. With only a couple (plot-justified) exceptions, players have full control over their character in BioShock at all times - no cutscenes, no pages of reading, no storytelling of any kind outside of the game experience.
To me, that's the future of gaming. I've said it a few times before, most recently in my review of Lost Odyssey: games are best when they aren't trying to be another medium. Games aren't books, don't make me read; games aren't movies, don't make me watch. If you have a story to tell, tell it through gameplay. Tell it in a way only a game can.
In writing, they advise: "Show, don't tell." I think we need to retool that when it comes to games to: "Involve, don't show." BioShock threw down that gauntlet, I hope more developers accept the challenge.
Oh, and nobody got Big Daddy or Little Sister wrong.
#22: Pac-Man, Pac-Man
Pac-Man, naturally, was picked by the Pac-Man himself, Chris Ward. His thoughts:
I’ve always been obsessed with Pac-Man to an unhealthy degree. I even have a fully fleshed out Pac-Man movie idea (a pretty good one, according to my mom) in my head, because I’m the only one who could do it right (you heard me, jerks. I’ll cut the Pac-Man tattoo off my arm if Nic Cage ends up starring in the real deal). I’ve been too lazy to launch a rival website to the neglected First Church of Pac-Man, but when I finally do, it’ll make that Pac-Man church look like a shameful bible study in a basement. I’ll be the 700 Club of Pac-Man worshipping sites. But without, like, all the sociopathic and hateful dogma.
I have only two things to add:
1) Pac-Man Championship Edition for Xbox Live is - believe it or not - even better than the original. I know that sounds like heresy, but I'm not bullshitting you. It's fantastic. They actually made a classic better, yet stayed utterly true to the formula. That might be the first time that's ever happened in gaming. If you have a 360, you really should check it out. Maybe Chris will even post his Gamertag here so you can gawk in admiration and terror at his worldwide ranking at the game.
2) Had anyone gotten this one wrong, it would have resulted in a permanent IP ban on their computer. I mean come on. Even Mother Teresa would be able to identify Pac-Man. And she's dead.
#23: Weighted Companion Cube, Portal
The last character in the banner, Weighted Companion Cube, was proposed by Ward Rubrecht. He nicely sums up why:
Portal represented the single biggest artistic leap in the history of video games. Not only did it take full advantage of the 3D environment in a way no game had before, but the concept, dialogue, pacing, and gameplay were revolutionary to put it lightly. This delightful weighted box helped you through many of the game's devious puzzles.
Indeed, Portal is the closest thing I've played to a perfect game in recent memory. You know what? Fuck that mitigation: Portal is a perfect game. It does everything - everything - right. As I argued in Game On's Best of 2007 column last year:
It’s so clever and startlingly original, The Orange Box’s other games might as well be packing material.
A bold thing to say when those "other games" are little titles like Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2. But still true, thus why we named Portal the Best Game of 2007. (It also - like our runner-up, BioShock - showed the best stories and dialogue can be presented to a player without ever taking away control.)
It also had the best song to ever play over end credits. EVER. It's on my iPod.
With that, I'll sign off with a pic of myself with one of my favorite bits of game swag from my infamous closet:
Again: our thanks go out to everyone who entered - and for that matter, even everyone who didn't enter but has been reading. We were very excited to see how many people seemed to enjoy the Banner Contest.
First Place was a reader who - like a superhero - only wanted to be known by his alias, "Garr", and his icon:
Asked who he would've suggested for the banner had he been asked, Garr answered the hero of Crystalis. "My favorite game, and being one of the first I ever played gives me a bit of a bias towards him."
For coming in first place, Garr won himself a once-reviewed-but-otherwise mint copy of Metal Gear Solid 4 Limited Edition for the PlayStation 3. He also got to pick a character sketch, and he chose Quote.
Second Place goes to Ian O., who was right on Garr's heels. Ian wins a combo of games: Major League Baseball 2K8 for the 360 and Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue for the Wii, as well as his pick of sketch too.
On what character he would have nominated, Ian writes: "My first choice for the banner probably would have been The Nameless One from Planescape Torment. His face made for some of the most repugnant box art ever -- even so far as to deter me from the game for a couple of years -- but he is the medium's most tragic and alluring cipher, and probably one of the only reasonable arguments for good writing in videogames."
Finally, our Third Place winner was Paul Ference, who actually tied with Ian but was a few days behind him in entering. Asked who he would've suggested for the banner, Paul writes:
Just one? Shit... Ummm It'd be a toss up between Conker (Conker's BFD), Raz (Psychonauts), and Jade (Beyond Good and Evil). I was sold on Conker at E3 in 2000 and I bought the game, even though I didn't own an N64. Raz is the latest example of Tim Schaefer rocking out. And Jade is the best female lead in any game that I can think of. So, that said, I gotta go with Jade.
Sophia the 3rd - (Blaster Master) The controls were tight, the levels were well designed, the music was catchy, and the best part was "Hey fuckers! Look what my tank can do now! Come get some you ugly sons of bitches!"
The Guardian - (The Guardian Legend) 1/2 Vertical shmup, 1/2 Zelda dungeon, this game is still my favorite NES game. I still have a copy with box.
Kerrigan - (Starcraft) Has anyone in gaming history gotten the shaft as badly as she has and survived? And not only survived, but proceeded to become "Queen Bitch of the Universe"?
...thus illustrating how tough it is to pick just a few characters for a banner. 23 might seem like a lot, but believe me, it's not.
In the original outline of the contest, I said the third place winner got a lifetime subscription to Joystick Division with unlimited visits. But since Paul was only a hair away from second place, I'll be sending him some sort of consolation prize. Paul also gets one of the original sketches, his pick being Pipboy.