Pop-up Videos and Love

Although I enjoy creating games more than anything, occasionally I ponder what it’d be like to focus on critiquing. If I were to take that path, I have a couple of ideas for “hooks” that could potentially set me apart from countless critics and reviewers. One such hook is (was?) the format of a Pop-Up Video.

The idea is simple enough, although time consuming. Still, it’s a sure fire way to stand out from the crowd, and Ben Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation has certainly shown the benefits of a unique format. Also, the iconic imagery used to convey opinions and trivia in Pop-Up Videos can be extremely preferable to actual voice recordings.

And with the advent of YouTube’s annotations, Frank Cifaldi of Lost Levels has created his own version of the concept:

Obviously it’s missing the visuals of Pop-Up Videos, and there’s a bit of a data overload for the length of the clips, but it’s still good stuff.

The videos also repeatedly mention one aspect of game creation that’s widely recognized but rarely discussed in detail: “the love.”

It’s a nebulous term, and seeing how it’s been a while since I’ve suggested any definitions, I figured it’d take a shot at it.

One of my personal favourite loving touches: the plant enemy from DraculaX. It's not a boss, yet it's only encountered once in this semi-secret room along the way to the alternate exit from Stage 1. It's completely optional and there's no prize for defeating it, but it greatly enhances to the atmosphere.

The idea of love in a videogame usually boils down to the romantic notion of a developer so passionate about a title that he surmounts countless hurdles to put his personal stamp on the creation. It’s the extra sprite that’s encountered just once in the game, the playful dialogue between minor characters only accessible upon subsequent replays, an alternate special move for a boss that only appears on the hardest difficulty, etc.

These loving touches don’t carry a lot of bang for the buck. They’re easy to miss, they’re rarely duplicated, and they usually have a minimal effect on the gameplay. If they’re planned ahead of time, they’re often the first elements to get cut when the realities of budgets and schedules rear up. It’s not easy to place any actual value on them, and when removed — or simply not implemented — their absence doesn’t seem very detrimental.

In short, they’re the opposite of the typical bullet-points that can go on the back of a box.

Baking bread in Ultima VII was far from a requirement, yet it's often used by fans to exemplify the game's rich setting.

Somewhat contradictorily, though, they can easily become the most memorable parts of a game. They’re what can set it apart from other titles and make it special to the player, and, in the grand scheme of things, matter a whole lot more than the number of levels or weapons. That alone warrants a definition:

loving touch, n.

  1. An element of a videogame that’s largely inconsequential and easily overlooked, but one that often represents quality and resonates as a unique and defining feature.

What are some of your favourite examples of “the love” in a videogame?

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  1. #1 by Matthew on February 27, 2010 - 9:15 pm

    A good example might be the freedom to wander around and play minigames at the Millennial Fair, right at the beginning of Chrono Trigger. If the game was made today, I am sure the concern would be, “how do we get the player kicking ass as soon as possible?”

  2. #2 by The Management on February 27, 2010 - 9:37 pm

    Hmmm, well the battle with Gato is one of the events at the fair, so the player doesn’t have to wait too long for the action.

    The other activities can be fun, though, and some of them certainly represent interesting one-offs that didn’t need to be in the game. Going into a bit more detail, one of Chrono Trigger’s loving touches that I distinctly remember was the ability to get extra cats.

  3. #3 by Cavan on February 27, 2010 - 9:57 pm

    Super Metroid. Hands down one of my favorite love games with the little aliens and the small but interesting alternate ending. It may not be a programmer’s signature, but it made the game seem more interesting to me.

  4. #4 by Not That Guy on February 27, 2010 - 10:12 pm

    In Final Fantasy VIII and IX, the card games were a way to add a touch of realism to these worlds, while giving the player a sometimes welcome diversion.

  5. #5 by The Management on February 27, 2010 - 10:48 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call the card games a loving touch since they were quite prevalent and their rewards were heavily integrated with the battle system, i.e., the core gameplay focus of the series.

    Super Metroid, though, is definitely a great example. As an obscure reference (if I recall correctly), invincible enemies couldn’t be frozen with the ice-beam, but they would still slow down if shot with it. Now that’s love!

  6. #6 by Bill on March 7, 2010 - 3:45 pm

    Plenty of games have this sort of thing. Perfect Dark and the cheese, Metal Gear Solid and the pictures, Portal and its recent Morse code, etc.

    Personally, my favorite loving touches are those that involve the characters. Things that really help develop them. You can find quite a few of these in most character-driven games: Majora’s Mask, the Final Fantasies, or the Harvest Moon games, for example.

  7. #7 by Pedro Luchini on January 3, 2011 - 5:07 pm

    You mentioned “Dracula X”, but the game that takes the cake in my opinion is “Symphony of the Night”. I’ve played through the whole thing half a dozen times, and I always discover something new with each playthrough. (I once went through the trouble of taking screenshots with a PSX emulator to verify that equipping the “Secret Boots” does, indeed, increase the height of Alucard’s sprite by one pixel!)

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