Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Top Five Hyped Games of the Last Decade

The years spanning 2000 - 2010 have been some exciting ones for gamers. There have been a boatload of great titles in the decade that saw 3D gaming start to hit its stride. There have also been some serious flops, some half-flops, a whoopie cushion, and probably the odd bell clanging.

But this top five list isn't concerned with either the successes or the failures. This is a list dedicated to the top five most exciting game hypes of the decade. Whether these games made good on their promises to deliver revolutionary experiences or fell short of the mark is of little concern to this list. This list is designed to take you back to the moments of pure anticipation when you were ready to sign away your left testicle / pap (depending on your gender) just to get your mitts on the object of your excitement.

Given that two generations of consoles spanned this decade, and given that a new console is usually the vanguard of just this sort of testicle-shedding infatuation, this list comes with one caveat: no console-launch related games are in the running. This helps weed out the Killzone 2's (technically not a launch title but certainly testicle-shedding for a few weeks due to launch-related reasons) and Gears of Wars, the Rogue Squadrons and Dead or Alive 3s.

So, without further preamble...the list! (In descending order of testicular-sheddation.)

5: The Twilight Princess Reveal

The E3 2004 trailer for the first 'realistic' adventure since Ocarina was a drool-inducing phenomenon. (The employment of the term 'realism' in this context is explicable only by the fantastic but drool-quenchingly cartoony Wind Waker.) The audience exploded into applause. Fans cried. Multiple articles were written about the trailer itself (nevermind the game it portrayed). How it was edited. Who wrote the music. Granted Nintendo tripped over its own feet in the ensuing months with distracting news about the Wii and confusing news about multiple versions of the game. But for a few precious months, Zelda ruled our hearts and minds.

4: The Starcraft II Announcement

Deciding where to place this on the list is tricky due to the focused geographic nature of the mania this announcement induced. If you were anywhere outside of South Korea when Blizzard showed the first footage of the sequel to the best strategy game of all time, your excitement probably ran somewhere from "well it's about goddamned time!" to "aw sweet! that's a must buy!" However, if you were anywhere in that darling country with the B-Boys and the cute girls, you couldn't escape this mania.

I was in Seoul when Blizzard held their event in 2007 to announce Starcraft II. I wasn't aware that the event was happening (this was during my fear and loathing days when the only pulse I had my finger on was my own) and was quite surprised to be hugged on three separate occasions by crying fanboys. I wasn't anywhere near the location of the event, showed no signs of outward interest in Starcraft or Blizzard, and am not the friendliest looking fellow. It speaks to how intense the fervor was surrounding this announcement.

3: The Project Ego Experience

Unlike the preceding two entries on this list, the game that would eventually be released as Fable did not create a splash of interest all at once. With Project Ego, Master Chef Molyneux brought the cauldron slowly to a boil and then continued to stoke the flames. While Starcraft and Zelda are notable for the excitement generated with their announcement, Project Ego maintained this excitement over the course of 2 years. The concept and hype that accompanied Project Ego's introduction to the gaming media was enough to sustain it's lengthy development process and allow Fable multi-million unit sales. Indeed, some would argue that this very hype not only paved the way for the success of the original Fable but also for two sequels. It is on the strength of that original dream, drug-induced though it may have been, that the gaming media and masses continue to overrate and over-consume the ensuing products.

2: The Halo 2 Juggernaut

Halo 2 wasn't a surprise. (If we're being honest with ourselves, neither were Twilight Princess nor Starcraft II but they still managed to shock us.) A sequel to the muscle behind Microsoft's Xbox was a foregone conclusion before the frenzy over Combat Evolved even died down. But the trickle of screenshots, the sweeping score, the teasers, the trailers, the magazine exclusives all fomented a level of anticipation that brought out Episode I-esque lines for the midnight release. Every single piece of this hype was precisely calibrated to keep the anticipation for Halo 2's release roaring at full blast. Bungie and Microsoft spent millions in marketing to assure the gaming public that Halo 2 was the end of videogame history and we ate it up.

1: The Black and White Fantasy

The inclusion of Black and White on this list might bend the definition of 'the last decade' as the flames of anticipation were first sparked in late 1999. But more so than any other game on this list, the hype surrounding Black and White in the years leading up to its release was cacophonous. And not the finely tuned hype of Halo 2 which was a top-down trickle of information into the hungry maw of the gaming public. Nor was the hype a giddy explosion of excitement like the glee of the Zelda and Starcraft II reveals. Unsurprisingly, Black and White's nearest relative on this list is Project Ego which also thrived on the hearsay of its rabid community (and also featured one Peter Molyneux as the snake oil salesman manipulating the crowd). Black and White was an idea frenzy in which everyone participated in imagining an impossible game.

The years between the announcement and the game's final release saw a vicious cycle of ideas and interpretations build off each other within the rabid fan base. Again, it was Peter Molyneux playing the impish knave, fomenting these assumptions and relishing the ideas they generated. No matter that most of the ideas were impractical or impossible to implement! It was an idea orgy in which Mr. M turned his fan base into a brainstorming machine. In an environment where nothing was discounted, Black and White took on epic proportions of hype and anticipation as it was no longer really a game but rather everyone's dream rolled into one.

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