Top Ten: Gaming as an Art

By Mike on 4:50 pm

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The vast majority of games out there ride on realism. Namely the most realistic looking graphics. Sure, there's a lot of those out there and some of these games are frankly garbage. Then there are games that take your optical experience to a whole new level. For this edition of Top Games, we'll look at the top ten games that belong in an art museum. These are in no particular order and are all games I've played.

Okami (2006, PS2/Wii?)
If we're going to talk about gaming as an art, I have to mention Okami, where the game IS art. Probably one of the strangest games I've played, Okami is very similar to games in the Zelda series. It's almost like a cross between Twilight Princess and the Wind Waker. Like Wind Waker, Okami uses a technique known as cell shading, which allows for 2D characters to be rendered in a 3D environment. That environment being traditional Japanese watercolour paintings. The "Celestial Brush" allows you to actually draw things on the screen to change the environment, as if you were the actual painter. The game also brilliantly blends in Japanese mythology. Okami is one of the most stunning, artistic, and innovative games that I've seen on any platform. There are rumors of a Wii version coming out soon that will take advantage of the Wiimote for controlling the Celestial Brush. The PS2 version is very difficult to find in traditional stores but is readily available online.

Grim Fandango (1998, PC)
Another bizarre (in a good way) game that borrows artistic elements from another culture. In this case, Mexico and the artwork surrounding the Day of the Dead. Grim Fandango is very similar to Okami in terms of how it's story was laid out, playing on Aztec and Mayan mythology while incorporating elements from modern Mexico. All "human" characters in the game resemble "calacas", which are paper mache skeleton dolls made for the holiday. Non-human "demons" also exist in the game. One of the other stunning aspects is the recreation of a 1930s art deco environment. You'll see the smooth art deco lines of the Empire State Building and similar represented in a beautiful 1930s environment, with some Aztec influence mixed into the style.
Grim Fandango is a LucasArts adventure game. In fact, it was one of the last. It's also the only one that uses analogue control rather than point and click. It can still be found and works with XP.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003, Xbox/PC/Mac)
KotOR 1 has sometimes been criticized for having substandard graphics for the time of its release. For the character and weapons models, yes, I would agree with this, but not for the environments. The team at BioWare must have tried really hard to make the person feel as though they were actually in the Star Wars universe. It's obvious when you see how some of the worlds look. Kotor really takes advantage of lighting effects. The sun setting on Dantooine is probably one of the most impressive environments in game, but every world has its own unique beauty. From the clean lines of Mannan to the tropics of Lehon. Everything has been carefully designed and detailed making it the nicest looking Star Wars game yet. The Widescreen Gaming Forum has a patch that allows it to be played at HD resolutions. Definitely a must for the PC version.

Flight Simulator X (2006, PC)
Flight Simulator has always been known for being cutting edge. It falls in as an art form for doing something few games have ever done. That is making the entire world your playground. All seven continents, all countries, tens of thousands of airports all carefully mapped. The soaring mountains of the Himalayas to the teal waters of the Caribbean and Hawaii. Cities like New York, London, Paris, and Las Vegas spring to life. You can literally fly around the world. Flight simulator sets the benchmark for realism in gaming. FSX adds a whole host of new feature such as cars driving on the highway, more realistic water and trees, and realistic aircraft. The only problem? FSX requires a beefy system. Don't expect a smooth experience without high end graphics and at least a mid range gaming CPU.

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000, N64)
The Zelda series is unique in the sense that each new adventure outdoes the previous one. Majora's Mask was no exception. It was the sequel to the fantastic Ocarina of Time, which I would classify as at least one of the top ten games ever made. Though OoT was great, it was visually bland at times, at least in comparison to the sequel. MM takes advantage of (and requires) the 4mb expansion pack, which doubled the N64's system memory, which allowed for more stuff to be displayed on the screen at the same time. Majora's is a much more colourful adventure who's visuals were so expertly crafted and detailed that everything feels right. Even small things like your items and weapons are so much more colourful and detailed. Majora's is easily the best looking game for the N64.

Sam & Max Series (1994, 2006-2007, PC/Mac)
I lumped the entire Sam & Max series from Hit the Road right to Ice Station Santa. Our two buddies started their gaming life in 1994 as a LucasArts adventure game based on the characters created by cartoonist Steve Percel. LucasArts dropped the sequel for Hit the Road in 2003. Many people who worked on it left and joined Telltale Games. So far, seven more Sam & Max games have been produced in an episodic format. So why include this as an art game? Well, Sam & Max did something that few other games like it did. It took comic characters and transplanted it into a game without it sucking balls. All eight games masterfully recreate the wackiness of the comics right down to the smallest details. The series also gets big points for reviving the adventure game genre but that's for a different top ten.

Comix Zone (1994?, Sega Genesis/SNES?/PS2/PSP)
While Sam & Max expertly transplanted comic characters into a game, Comix Zone transforms the game into a comic. The game came out in the Genesis's hey day of the mid 90s. The best games for consoles always tend to appear late in their life. Essentially, your character Sketch Turner is sucked into his own comic creation and charged with fighting his own super villain. Along the way, Sketch eventually becomes his own super hero. The game is a punch-em-up game that puts the action right in the comic panels. The game feels like you're actually in a comic book. Comix Zone is included in the Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 and PSP.

Ecco the Dolphin (1993, Sega Genesis/Sega CD/PS2/PSP)
Ecco the Dolphin is perhaps the most difficult game I've ever played. I've never made it beyond the first couple of levels, and I know I'm not alone. Few people have actually seen the end of the game without cheats. This was at a time where battery backed saves were still uncommon. In the game, you, Ecco, must save your pod from an evil entity. The game recreates an undersea environment which is hauntingly beautiful, especially for the time. Coupled with the haunting score, this game is definitely a museum piece. It was released with it's equally impressive sequel Tides of Time on the Sega Genesis Collection for PS2 and PSP. Fortunately, the collection supports saved states so you can store your progress without having to use complex passwords.

Company of Heroes (2006, PC)
PC gaming has always been on the cutting edge and WWII based games have always been along for the ride ever since Wolfenstine 3D so many years ago. CoH reinvented the real time strategy genre complete with the most realistic looking graphics we had ever seen. The game makes you feel in the war. Once again, it gets the expert detailing award. That's rare in the top down view world of RTS games where units usually appear very simplistic. The environment scores big points for being historically accurate.

Orbiter (2006, PC)
I was racking my brain for the last one on the list and this one came to mind. One of the interesting things about it is it's a free game, created and developed by a British physicist to simulate realistic space flight. To the causal observer, the graphics are vastly outdated for a 2006 "game". Actually, whether it's really a game at all is debatable, though it does have missions to play. Graphics are roughly equal to what Flight Simulator 2000 was. So why would I include it. Well, it expands on what Flight Simulator did by making the whole solar system your playground. The planets are all realistically textured using high resolutions. Ground texturing is simple but you'll spend most of your time in space anyway. Considering that this was all put together by one man and a handful of dedicated modders on a non-profit basis, I'd say that's pretty impressive. Few home made games will ever get to this point. The game can be downloaded from

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