Give me five

Last night, I found out that knot it a nautical mile per hour, which I sort of knew, and that a nautical mile is equivalent to one minute of an arc of longitude along a meridian, which I really didn’t.  But between them that means – snarf – that a knot is measurement of minutes per hour. Ho!

To apologise for that, and to make sense of my current obsession with minutes, do please take custody of my first ever Gamasutra column, Five Minutes with Deadline. It’s the start of a series of investigations into what five minutes of play reveal about a larger game – a chance to step back from all encompassing reviews and do some hardcore design drilling into interesting games. It’s a massive treat to get to write professionally for a properly nerdy audience, after a long spell of translating games for a wider BBC/Wired readership, and I’m looking forward to being myopically, self-indulgently fascinated by five-minute segments of all sorts of things in the coming months.

Very happy to take suggestions, too – which five minutes of which games have most fascinated you?

21 thoughts on “Give me five”

  1. 5 minutes near the start (just after the train) of Half Life was pretty damn impressive at the time. Talking to NPC’s, sauntering around, without an alien in sight. Usually the start of the game immediately has an explosion of some kind or an immediate enemy to fight (even the popular Halo does this with agusto), it’s still rarely done; and also it sets up the action well for later. Half Life 2 does a similar thing; roughly 5 to 10 minutes, at the start of it too.

    5 minutes of exploring the darker areas of STALKER’s world is a possibly terrifying experience – especially the underground segments. Away from the slightly more secure areas by yourself, you have to be quick witted…probably getting more scared of your own shadow then any enemy. One underground location in the game has basically only one enemy in it, it makes you paranoid! Wish I could remember which underground it was, heh.

    5 minutes towards the end of a Phoenix Wright game, you know, with music ramping up, the evidence being laid down with agusto, making tough decisions and beating the real bad guy into a self-confession – and finally the confetti reigns down, huzzah! Can never put them down in those parts. The way what basically is a interactive book does that well is really good.

    5 minutes of Katamari Damacy – I’ve honestly never completed any one game, but man in short bursts (since it is a timed game) it is immensely engrossing, especially playing it for the first time on the first level.

    5 minutes of most Grand Theft Auto games doing what players like to do – which is, usually, blowing lots of things up and being chased by the police, can be exhilarating and fun and an absolute contrast to the (more serious) cutscenes and very linear structured missions. Utter mayhem at it’s finest; a escape from the structured game and bending what accounts to the rules of the simulation – such as getting to locations the police cannot, or using the biggest weapons you can find. In this mode, you don’t get cutscenes and invincible NPC’s, or escort missions, just a playbox to do with what you like (as long as it involves blowing things up).

    The first 5 minutes of the original Fallout does, in 5 minutes, what most games take ages to show you tutorial-wise; rats are bad, you shoot them and they die, etc. It stands out as the game does – being a very tough opening dungeon (if you do it wrong) and it make sure you’ve read the manual first! It helps to also make sure you don’t have a character that will simply die in any harder combat situation. You’re alone, against the world, it sinks in very quickly you’ll be over your head shortly if rats are that tough…

    The last 5 minutes of a Left 4 Dead finale of course sticks in the mind. The rest of your game is progression to a goal – the goal so close you can almost feel it, yet so far away since the timer is still ticking down. Finales almost make the rest of the game pale in comparison; no wonder they added more slow-down or defensive variations for mid-mission obstacles in the second game. Doing it in Versus mode also is very tough – not just playing against the AI now, but vindictive and cunning players. Planning your places, what guns you use, where defences are placed…all crucial to making it through.

    The opening 5 minutes of Sim City, well, 2000 being what I randomly play; the starting of planning, the big ideas, the laying down of groundwork that will make up your city. It’s fascinating giving the same map to different people and seeing what they immediately try and do. The simulation and planning aspects evolve from the initial designs after all.

    This opening thing applies to other games such as RTS titles. How you scout the enemy, or work with teammates to begin a level. What you build, and how fast you order troops, which has progressive effects on later moves you can make and decisions you take. Not just ones with building either – the Total War series, 5 minutes can last a lifetime planning opening moves which affect the rest of the battle.

    Some games are hard to get a 5 minute “worthwhile” part which isn’t just a cumulation of existing effort though. Long hard battles – what part do you choose? The final hit? the early time you almost died before getting spells up? It’s almost fascinating (since I don’t play them) that more spreadsheet-like battle systems, especially the Tank, Healer, Damage trio ones or turn based RPG games are fun for someone to play since to an outsider it mainly consists of numbers floating up from people :)

    5 minutes fighting the first Big Daddy early on in Bioshock was immensely fascinating (even if some of the rest of the game isn’t so much fun). Every other enemy dies in a few hits; this one doesn’t and is angry and armed with a big drill. It also is an optional enemy too, so the design of how you can pick and choose to fight it (using the environment to your advantage) makes it much more unique then any other FPS game’s battles.

    If you’re going beyond videogames, in Dominion, while perhaps not 5 minutes worth of game time, and I’ve not played it a great deal but once you get a almost perfect hand – the one that will get a gazillion cards drawn, with a gazillion actions to be played, in perfect order – and you meticulously pull it off to the groans of other players, is fascinating since it takes some careful planning to pull off and a moderate amount of luck. It can take a while to play such a glorious hand, but perhaps 5 minutes is stretching it :)

    If you can ever do it, 5 minutes in the harder continuous random-game modes of Warioware is an ever-faster-paced rather harsh set of minigames that sticks with you as an experience. In the normal singleplayer, you play a few rounds of each type but these are what you do after that – play a large variety of faster paced challenges. Very tough, and very fair.

    I could go on…heh. Might as well copy this to my own site too, man I typed too much.

  2. 5 minutes of most Grand Theft Auto games doing what players like to do – which is, usually, blowing lots of things up and being chased by the police, can be exhilarating and fun and an absolute contrast to the (more serious) cutscenes and very linear structured missions. Utter mayhem at it’s finest; a escape from the structured game and bending what accounts to the rules of the simulation – such as getting to locations the police cannot, or using the biggest weapons you can find. In this mode, you don’t get cutscenes and invincible NPC’s, or escort missions, just a playbox to do with what you like (as long as it involves blowing things up).

  3. Really enjoyed the article, will keep an eye out for the series.

    I’m a sucker for a driving game time trial.

    My particular favourite is the European(regionalised) knockout weekly competitions introduced in PGR3, top 64 times that week go through to knockout rounds.

    You bust your ass to make the cut, you’re given your time to turn up to the starting grid and you get one shot at glory. Awesome.

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