Cole's Hat (L.A. Noire)
To be honest, it was playing L.A. Noire that brought on the idea for this list. Why?
For some reason or another, we've gotten used to the idea that character models on our heroes are unchanging things. If you are playing as say, Marcus Fenix, then no matter how many bullets get shot into your chest, that precious COG Armor isn't going to undergo any sweet "battle damage".
Which sucks, cause battle damage is the one thing that makes dinosaurs even more awesome; as proven by Jurassic Park Toys.
Anyway, I guess it's because I've gotten lulled into this silly state of complacency that Cole's Hat actually seems awesome to me. It's a seriously minor touch; the hat can fall off Cole's head if he gets punched or a bullet goes whizzing by, as seen in the following video:
It's a seriously minor effect. Even more minor is the added touch of Cole picking up and putting his hat back on if you walk over to it later. But these touches of detail not only makes perfect sense (seriously, Marston's glued on headgear in Red Dead Redemption was a bit odd), but brings the game just one step closer to the realism it's trying to sell. It shows a basic understanding of physics (hats get knocked off easily) and even a small character note, since Cole takes the tie to put it back on, and not ignore it.
He should care, that hat cost Phelps Twelve dollars. Twelve WHOLE DOLLARS! At 1947 prices, that was probably the equivalent of a car payment, three movie tickets, two pairs of shoes, or a night with Betty Grable!
Betty Grable's posterior single handedly won the war on forties masturbation fantasies you know.
Pointless Menu Interactions (Mario 64)
Now this is something that I love, but so few game developers ever actually include. One of the few that does seem to do this consistently though, is Nintendo.
Remember how in Mario Kart 64, the main menu's background image changed once you did everything in the game? Or how about Starfox 64, where if you waited on the title screen, after getting the intro, you could swing the little 64 around and have the team track it? They always looked so surprised! To be fair, if giant floating backwards numbers appeared in front of me at my photo shoot, I'd probably freak the f**k out.
Team StarFox, nonchalantly dealing with numerical hallucinations since 1997.
But they're not the only ones. Valve's main menus for single player games have backgrounds that change locations depending on how far you are in the game. If you're halfway through Half-Life 2 the background on the title screen isn't just City 17, it's now the Antlion coast.
But the king of this concept still belongs to Nintendo, if for no other reason than Mario 64, and the big stretchy Mario Head.
Why did starting the game bring us a floating disembodied Mario head? Why was it stretchier than Elastigirl's birth canal after a night with Stretch Armstrong? Who in their right mind would think of this?
Questions for the ages. But this little pointless menu distraction has probably collectively sucked away hours of our lives, and it does absolutely NOTHING. But it's OK, since it was fun, and seeing as that's like, the point of video games, I think we're all glad it's there.
Petty Naming Screens (Uniracers)
Back in the long ago, the before time, when games were 16 bits a little war erupted between the two giants: Sega and Nintendo.
The first shot was fired by Sega, when they claimed that "Genesis does, what Ninten-don't!"
And this wasn't something said in an E3 press conference, or as a snarky comment in an interview. This was their ad campaign.
That's ballsy right there. No obvious parody using "Brand X", or implied inferiority of their competition. It was just Sega straight up calling Nintendo out like they were drunk at a bar and Nintendo had hit on Sega's girlfriend. Sega wanted to take this outside.
Of course this attitude was thus carried over into every single schoolyard in America. Battle-lines were drawn and soon everyone was seeing insinuations in even the most harmless animations, like in Sonic the Hedgehog's intro screen where he waves his finger . . .
... amongst my friends, that was Sonic saying, "No no, Mario!".
If you were a Nintendo fanboy, it became frustrating since it seemed like the Big N was constantly trying to take the higher ground. While not responding to such petty taunting makes perfect sense to the adult mind, to a child, it's like letting your enemies win without fighting back.
Eventually though, Nintendo did start tossing in jabs here or there, but man were they subtle. The best example has to be in one the SNES's most intriguing little games, Uniracers.
This 1994 release about the ghosts of epileptic acrobats possessing unicycles in a series of apocalyptic death races (that was the plot right?) is probably the only thing, let alone game, that has ever tried to make the unicycle cool. More amazing was that it actually worked, since the game was kickass.
So what happened if you tried to enter the name "Sega" or "Sonic" on the name entry screen? Well, then Uniracers declared you to be:
"Not Cool enough."
DAYUUUMMN! You just got told. By Uniracers. That's low.
Of course these sort of petty jabs at the competition were from an age long past. We'd never see any major corporation ever stoop so low after the 90's. Right?
Mega Man's Hadouken (Mega Man X)
Everyone loves a good secret in a video game.
I mean especially the ones that are completely hidden. The stuff that no one in their right mind would ever think of doing, but if you do, you get that sense of wonder and satisfaction that only come from exploration. You feel like Indiana Jones must have felt when he first spotted the Cross of Coronado or the sense of perverse awe that comes when you and your grade school buddy make your first hand vagina.
As demonstrated here by two amoral Italian gentlemen.
The thing of it is, most secrets in games are actually worth something. You unlock a costume, and that can help relieve boredom and add some novelty. You discover a secret code for more lives, and that's just plain useful. You find a hidden summon or weapon, hell, these bad boys are often game breaking.
But then there are the secrets that for all intents and purposes, are useless.
Maybe it's like the Adventure Easter Egg (by all accounts the first one), and all you've stumbled upon is a hidden developer credit. Or maybe it's changing the announcer from a friendly guy into a total jerkwad. Or maybe it's just a stupid photo of an annoying character after searching a desk fifty fracking times.
The more hidden and more useless these are, the more of a gigantic cocktease they become.
Kind of like Superman here.
But for my money there was no secret more teasing than the one in Mega Man X.
At the time, this secret was up there with the whole Sheng Long in Street Fighter 2 rumor in terms of legend. I mean the requirements are kind dumb-f**k-tarded.
You have to :
1) Beat all 8 Mavericks Bosses (OK).
2) Get all Heart and Sub Tanks, (Alright).
3) Get all the X-Armor upgrades (still don't see what the problem is).
4) Go to a specific spot in a specific level that not very obvious, and then jump into a pit and die - FOUR TIMES. (Wha?)
If you do all this, then on the fifth time you go to the spot, Dr. Light appears in Ryu's Gi and teaches Mega MAn how to do a hadouken. Cries of "BULLS**T!" echoed across many a playground upon this revelation. So of course this secret turned out to be one hundred percent accurate.
But this is all just a tease because well, you have to put in a ton of effort for a new attack that's, well . . . terrible.
I mean Mega Man can already fire energy at enemies all the time. Having a fancier way to do that doesn't accomplish anything. There's pretty much no reason to NEED another way to do this, and there's no reason that such a convoluted means to do this was ever necessary.
But man, it was legendary.
Kombat Kodes (Mortal Kombat)
Like Easter Eggs and other game secrets, everybody loves cheats.
Whether it's the unlockable cheats of Goldeneye turning spies into long-armed Bobble heads:
Or the fun that can be had with noclip:
And lest we forget infinite ammo headbands:
They can all be fun from time to time. For the most part, cheats have some sort of usefulness to them, even DK Mode made headshots easier to pull off (for obvious reasons).
But then there are the Kombat Kodes, which takes the concept of bonus cheats to new levels.
Introduced in Mortal Kombat 3, the Kodes have been an inconsistent feature, but have appeared as recently as the latest sequel. Pretty well thought out, they only show up in versus mode matches and both players have to enter their own 3 symbols into the six slots available. If one person doesn't want them, they don't have to do anything, but if both do it, hilarity ensues in the form of a crap ton of random effects.
Things like disabling throws, headless combat, the lights turning out, vampire modes, "dream" modes and the list goes on. Hell, there's even a Zombie Mode!
This is a prime example of a little touch that adds a lot to a game without actually doing much. Tournament players be damned, Kombat Kodes are awesome!
Awesome Game Over Screens (Sega Rally)
Although plenty of games these days try their darnedest to prevent you from dying at any point, I think it's a shame, as it robs us of one thing I used to love: Ridiculously awesome death screens.
They were a little touch that eased the pain of dying, gave you a laugh or bullied you into trying again, some of these screens were more memorable than the actual games themselves.
Who can forget Resident Evil obviousness?
Thanks Resident Evil. I think I got that.
Or the ominousness of Chrono Trigger?
Oh no! Just like in real life!
Or the Time Paradox Game Over from MGS 3?
Wait. But this game over conflicts with the Chrono Trigger game over and then th- *head pops*
All are great, but for my money the two best come down to either Sega Rally and Total Distortion.
Sega Rally Definitely had the happiest jingle for a game over ever:
How could you not want to try again after hearing that jaunty tune?
But Total Distortion has got to have the most ludicrous:
Hell, I never even played Total Distortion I only found that when searching for funny game over screens, it only shows up because of it's Game Over song. It's pretty much the only thing anyone remembers about this game anymore - that's how awesome it is.
In any case, death screens like these are the perfect little touch that we just need more of damn it.
The Audience (Super Smash Bros.)
Something that you usually don't appreciate after you've played a game for a while is just how spectacular the action on screen is getting. I mean if you're playing as a hyper-cyborg who can fly around with rocket boots, it seems cool at first, but eventually after around hour three or four the novelty wears off, and the hundred foot leaps, mega-powered punches and blood explosions stop being as exciting as they once were.
Ryu here just cut twelve ninjas into bits, I'm pretty sure he's still asleep.
It's a pretty common problem in games, but there are a few solutions.
First you can keep upping the ante, until you eventually reach the level known as Bayonetta
Pictured: a rather average boss in Bayonetta. It has three heads, two of them dragons, one upside down. You know, normal stuff.
You can also try to limit the awesome to appropriate moments and cutscenes, but then it gets frustrating when you can't actually do that stuff in game.
So you can CUT A MOUNTAIN IN HALF during this cutscene Frog, but then you're never again this strong. What the hell dude?!
Or, as another idea, you can actually have the characters in game react to the ludicrous stuff their doing in an appropriate manner. This last method is becoming more common, but one of the best early implementations had to be the audience that's apparently watching every match of Super Smash Bros.
When you blow it, you can hear the crowd audibly wincing, when you knock someone out, they cheer. Recover from almost being knocked out, they'll react with surprise. Do particularly well, and they chant your name.
It's the perfect little touch. Totally and completely unnecessary, but incredibly gratifying nonetheless.
Snake's Dream (MGS 3)
In all honesty I probably could have written this entire list based off of stuff from the Metal Gear Solid series.
Each game comes with dozens if not hundreds of little references, Easter eggs, secrets and an attention to detail that borders on the compulsive.
From Playboy magazines that you can peruse in MGS4, ice that melts realistically for some insane reason in MGS2, Rose breaking up with Raiden if you shoot too many birds (and thus preventing you from saving until you apologize) or the fact that if you let the wolves pee on your box in MGS1, they won't attack you anymore.
Then there are the codec calls, and how damn specific and numerous they can get.
My theory is that Hideo Kojima is either a true genius, or he's secretly Monk.
He make's a terrible final boss: you can defeat him by simply trying to shake his hand.
But the king of the little details as far as I'm concerned is Snake's dream sequence.
At one point in MGS3, you end up stuck in a cell with a bed. If you save and quit the game here, then load the file, you load into something completely insane.
You're now playing as a samurai apparently, fighting undead monsters weilding gigantic hooks. It's in an odd sepia tone and there's no music anymore. If you kill enough of them, you can turn into some sort of werewolfand slaughter them by the truckload, except they keep coming. More and more of them. Eventually you're going to die simply due to attrition as they keep coming and coming and -
Then you wake up. It was all a dream and you're safe now.
What the hell? why did- Guh? Who does that?
Completely pointless and totally absurd, this moment shows a game creator going above and beyond the call to bring us something as indelible as it is inane. I think we're all happy he did. I mean, I'm pretty sure we are anyway.
Hugging (Portal 2)
This one's simple:
There's absolutely no reason to allow you to play rock/paper/scissors with, wave to, or hug your co-op partner in Portal 2 but you can.
Sure they toss some mumbo jumbo at you as to why you can do this stuff, but it accomplishes absolutely nothing in terms of gameplay. It's just there because Valve wants us to spread the love a little more.
It's somehow the most adorable gesture ever conceived and the perfect pointless addition to anything. I hope it ends up in everything.
Everything in Duke Nukem
So Duke Nukem Forever is finally coming out. It's been such a long journey that anyone who was actually waiting for the game in anticipation from years ago has long since stopped being hyped for it.
Hell, it's been so long that people are now capable of looking back upon his last official game with nostalgia. Legitimate nostalgia too, seeing as it was OVER A DECADE AGO.
Adjusted for age compared to social relevance, these two should look like your grandparents at this point.
Duke Nukem 3D came out so long ago, that it's actually hard to remember why the hell it mattered. It came out so long ago that it qualifies for social security. It came out so long ago that the George Lucas was still remembered fondly. It came out so long ago that multiple Jay Leno comedy routines have come and gone - that man changes his routine every time a redwood dies of old age! It came out so long ago that- well I think you get the point.
So why did we dig the Duke?
I mean Duke certainly had some kick ass one liners. Except . . . they were all stolen. Or at least his best ones were. Before the devs started ripping off Bruce Campbell and Rowdy Roddy Piper, this was the best Duke could come up with:
Oprah Duke? Really?
As to the gameplay? Well, it was pretty much a generic first person shooter in a lot of ways. It was good, but nothing super spectacular. You didn't have any cool unique abilities other than the jetpack and a couple of guns that shouldn't be as practical as they were, but nothing crazy.
No, what Duke Nukem 3D had was . . . stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.
From light switches you could turn on, water fountains you could drink from, destructible toilets, cash registers you could open, film projectors you could use, references to Doom Marines and of course, strippers, Duke Nukem had just a ton of . . .stuff.
It's what set the game apart from the pack, all these little things that you could do. It brought interactivity to a new place, especially considering the time it came out in. And if the first reports, demos, and trailers are any indication, Duke Nukem Forever is going to have a crap ton of . . . stuff as well.
From what I've seen we've already got: drinkable water fountains, playable slot machines, playable pool, drivable trucks, crankable cranks, punchable sacks, throwable feces, usable urinals, working "massagers" and even more strippers!
Hell, even peanut butter gets used as a weapon when you're tiny!
Duke Nukem - he's got stuff. And lots of it. It's exactly why we love him.
Well, that and the strippers.