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Growing Up Geek: The Year That Changed My Life

In this installment of Growing Up Geek, Jared takes a look back at the video games that changed his perception of the medium forever. Also, he pines over Morgan Webb. A lot.

3. Katamari Damacy
Release Date: September 22, 2004
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Creative Director: Keita Takahashi

Holy. Fucking. Shit. That’s about all I can say to describe this game. Think about the weirdest Japanese nonsense you can possibly imagine (excluding tentacle porn). Write it all down. Drop some acid. Then read that list. That is what Katamari Damacy is.

This is just the game’s intro. I can’t even try to explain its plot.

Katamari Damacy is the weirdest game I have ever played, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It couldn’t have come from anywhere but Japan. Between the completely nonsensical story, motherfucking brilliant soundtrack, and addictive gameplay, Katamari ruled my life for a solid month.

How did it change my views on video games? Well, for starters, it’s another game I probably wouldn’t have even heard about if not for my expanding horizons. Beyond that, it wasn’t even a matter of being wacky Japanese kitsch. The bottom line is that Katamari Damacy was crazy fun. In fact, when I was visiting my parents this past Christmas, I dusted off my brother’s PS2. His game selection is…um…what do you call someone who seems to think that the only things worthwhile not only come from Japan, but are the stupid, obscure things from Japan? So yeah, most of his PS2 games start with Xeno-something. But he has Katamari Damacy, and I delayed Christmas dinner by about 15 minutes because I was busy rolling up small children into a ball that I subsequently shot into outer space to create a star.

Yup.

2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Release Date: October 26, 2004
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Writer, Producer: Dan Houser

This commercial still gives me a testosterone-induced boner.

I know this seems like it might be out of place, but I don’t care. Yes, I would have played San Andreas regardless. I played the shit out of Vice City. The thing is, I approached San Andreas with a different point of view than I would have otherwise. There’s so much more to the game than over-the-top violence, sophomoric humor, and an outstanding, period-specific soundtrack. San Andreas was probably the most ambitious title of its time.

Think about it this way. Do you remember what the most annoying part of Vice City was? It was when you crossed the bridge in the middle of the city and the game stopped to load for 30 seconds. The San Andreas map was three times larger than Vice City and had no load times at all.

In addition, there were the minor RPG elements introduced to the series. You could make protagonist Carl Johnson work out to build up his strength and endurance. San Andreas introduced airplanes as controllable vehicles in addition to cars, boats, and helicopters. There were also hundreds of new customization combinations with clothes, haircuts, tattoos, and even your cars. Oh, and for the first time ever, falling into water isn’t instant death since now you can swim.

I know that it’s become vogue over the years to shit on Grand Theft Auto. I’m not one of those people. I love the world that Dan Houser has created. Each new entry in the series improves on its predecessor exponentially. I thought Vice City was the pinnacle of gaming when it came out. San Andreas completely blew it out of the water. Between the cities of Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas, Rockstar Games built a living, breathing world populated with dozens of memorable characters for CJ to interact with. Even to this day, I’m still blown away by the sheer scope of what Rockstar was able to accomplish with San Andreas.

Also, San Andreas beat Saints Row: The Third to the “beating people to death with a dildo” punch by about seven years.

Also also, SAMUEL L. MOTHERFUCKING JACKSON, MOTHERFUCKER!

1. God of War
Release Date: March 22, 2005
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment, Santa Monica
Director, Lead Designer: David Jaffe

I’m a total fanboy for the God of War series. The reason I finally broke down and bought a PS3 was so I could play God of War III. God of War II, released on the PS2, looked better than some of the early Xbox 360 titles. That love all started for me in 2005 with the original God of War.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I was hooked on the game within two minutes of turning it on. As I took control of Kratos, I grabbed the first undead legionnaire I found by his neck. I then proceeded to RIP HIM IN FUCKING HALF WITH MY BARE HANDS. There are very few times in my 25 years of gaming that something has made me actually verbalize the words “holy shit”. That was one of them.

This happens about 15 minutes after that. The hilarity starts at about 6:30.

God of War was the perfect storm of video games. Not only was it an ultra-violent action game that had straight up naked chicks in it. It also had the tightest, most responsive controls in the genre. Mastering the combat system wasn’t extremely difficult, and rewarded you graciously by making you feel like the massive badass that Kratos is. The orchestrated soundtrack is a thing of beauty, and captures the ambience of ancient Greece perfectly. On top of that, the story is actually compelling. As you slaughter your way through hordes of monsters and demons, you learn just how Kratos earned his nickname “The Ghost of Sparta” and why he’s so hell-bent on face-fucking Ares with his Blades of Chaos.

The hallmark of any good game is giving you a protagonist you actually care about, and it’s amazing how many titles fail miserably at it. Throughout God of War, we learn that Kratos isn’t just angry for coolness’ sake. He’s actually pretty justified in being as pissed off as he perpetually is, and we actually find ourselves rooting for him as he absolutely murders everything that stands between him and his revenge.

Looking back on it, there’s no way God of War wasn’t going to be a massive success. It’s a bloody revenge fantasy and it has tits. It’s every awesome 80’s action movie all rolled into one, multiplied by a billion, and you’re at the helm. It was the first time I played a game that truly had that epic, cinematic feeling to it. And this was all despite David Jaffe being a yet another douchey, blow-hard game developer that takes himself way too seriously.

Seriously, two motherfucking douche peas in a douche pod.

A lot has changed in the last seven years. Well, mostly G4’s format is what’s changed. There’s literally 90 minutes of original programming per week dedicated to video games. The rest is all reruns of Cops and Cheaters and Kevin Pereira phoning it in to collect a paycheck on Attack of the Show. However, a lot of things are still the same. Tim Schafer is still content making critically acclaimed games that nobody will play, and David Jaffe still rambles on the internet as if he’s someone important.

Looking back at it all, this really was where it all changed for me. I do feel vindicated by the fact that both Stranger’s Wrath and God of War got HD remakes released for the PS3. Additionally, Psychonauts and San Andreas are available for download on XBLA.

It might be easy to look at this and say, “Oh, so you played a bunch of critically acclaimed games, and that’s what taught you to appreciate video games as art?” And I would reply, “Yes, but there’s no need to be a dickhead about it.” These games taught me what actually makes games good. They taught me how to appreciate how hundreds of hours are poured into making one little three minute segment awesome. Most importantly, they taught me how to be objective. I learned how to appreciate games and discover what I personally value in a title. When I look back at that time in my life, I realize that’s when I found my identity in gaming culture. For that, I owe Kevin Pereira’s awesome mustache a debt of gratitude I can never repay.

And obviously, still in love with Morgan Webb after all these years.