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Gamasutra's Quantum Leap Awards: Most Important Games, 2006

You voted, we listened, and with the combined effort of Gamasutra's staff and its esteemed readership of games industry professionals, scholars and educators, we're proud to present our Quantum Leap Awards for the most important games of 2006.

They're timeless. They're inspirational. They inspire us, make us question our standards, and provide a roadmap for the future of development. They are the games that innovate and move the industry forward, and Gamasutra is proud to recognize them with our series of Quantum Leap Awards.

In December of 2006, Gamasutra asked its esteemed readership of games industry professionals, educators, and students to vote on the most important games of the year, as part of its ongoing Quantum Leap Awards series. Specifically, we asked the following:

Q: Which video game has made the biggest 'quantum leap' in 2006, in terms of innovation and advancing the state of the art of the industry?

You spoke, and we listened. Here, Gamasutra presents the winners of the 2006 Quantum Leap Award for Most Important Game. We'll start with three pages of honorable mentions, and then present the five most important games of 2006, as voted by our readers.

Honorable Mentions

Over numerous iterations and side stories, Final Fantasy has established itself as the benchmark against which all other similar titles are measured, at least in terms of overall success. That is perhaps why it felt so appropriate that the series which is responsible for creating so many of the conventions now seen as commonplace within the RPG genre took it upon itself to so dramatically change what it meant to be a console RPG in Final Fantasy XII.


Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII (PlayStation 2)

Adopting real time gameplay mechanisms more in line with PC MMORPGs, and tossing aside the turn based combat that had up until this release been a series staple, this game felt like the beginning of something entirely new, different, and altogether exciting for the venerable role-playing powerhouse. Final Fantasy XII is the perfect punctuation mark on the series, as it transitions from the current to next generation of gaming.

Jason Dobson, Editor, Serious Games Source


Nintendo's Wii Console

Although it's not a game, the real answer to this question in 2006 is the Nintendo Wii platform. It's not that Nintendo invented motion sensing or pointer-device technology -- it's how the company applied that to the product. It's easy to use, intuitive, and immediately fun to play with. It's a fundamental change to the interface of gaming, and how we interact with products. Combined with an always-on, online architecture of the system, Nintendo's Wii should both bring new people into gaming and open up new markets for innovative new game types. If that isn't a Quantum Leap, I want my Scott Bakula back.

Dave Kosak, Editor-in-Chief, FilePlanet.com


Honorable Mentions (Continued)

Brain Age deserves a special place in videogame history, since it dramatically pushes the defining boundaries of games and game consoles. The first time I played it was at GDC, with 2.5 hours of sleep the night before, on stage during Satoru Iwata’s keynote, in competition with Bill Trinen, Will Wright, and Geoff Keighley. Of the various brain teaser games comprising Brain Age, we played a timed quiz of multiplication problems. While it was comical that Geoff insisted that 9 times 6 was 63 on the giant projection screen, there was also a clear “aha” moment that hit everyone in the audience at the same time – this game was bringing together a diverse group of people to play something fun.

There’s nothing next-gen about it; in fact it’s decidedly homebrew in terms of look, development time (three months), and team size (around ten). And instead of evolved but traditional game genres, it focuses on the common references of human culture such as math, color, and memory.

This is not to say that I don’t also love Motorstorm and Dead Rising, which I do. Brain Age just illustrates the range of development models, fun experiences, and diversity of players available to every developer, with a game design that levels the playing field for grandmothers, wives, and 5-year-olds to play together.

Jamil Moledina, Executive Director, Game Developers Conference


Nintendo's Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day (Nintendo DS)

This indie game, who's gameplay you might have seen, if not in its original form, in Valve's up and coming game Portal, is short and somewhat unspectacular, other than in its main feature. The special thanks to M. C. Escher in the ending credits, however, ascertains that these developers have all the right sources of inspiration. This game is a testament to the mind bending possibilities of computer games, something the industry seems to be in desperate need of. Narbacular Drop would be well deserving of the title Quantum Leap in Games, 2006.

Ali Pang, Lund Institute of Technology


Nuclear Monkey's Narbacular Drop (PC)

This game deserves honorable mention, if only because it excels as a youth-oriented action game where many others have failed. It’s got actual depth of gameplay, pleasing humor, and spot-on controls. Some of the puzzles are quite clever, and the tank battles are pure fun. Though the game lacks any semblance of challenge for the seasoned player, the game is a delightfully breezy romp from start to finish – with some bonus missions besides.

Developer TOSE has done good work for Square Enix here, in the first instance of this Dragon Quest offshoot to hit the States. Bonus points are awarded for not being afraid to ignore the touch screen on the DS – if you don’t need it, don’t use it!

Brandon Sheffield, Features Editor, Game Developer magazine


Square Enix's Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (Nintendo DS)

Honorable Mentions (Continued)

Taken individually, few of Nintendo’s variously-developed titles in the Bit Generations series offered anything truly mechanically groundbreaking, deeply rooted in casual color-match puzzling (the Cornelius sound-designed Coloris and lazy jazz-driven Dialhex) and Pong variations (Boundish) as they might have been, but as a whole the campaign was a remarkable one, especially coming from such a relatively traditionalist publisher.

Intended as a boutique series meant to showcase the fashionable handheld future the GameBoy Micro should have inspired (though largely failing to drive hardware sales, let alone sales of the games themselves), each of the seven starkly minimalist but highly stylized games offered something unique. From its most ambitious, Q-Games’ awesomely obscure traffic-directing puzzler Digidrive, to its most challenging, Skip’s visuals-optional audio exploration game Soundvoyager, the series was a landmark one for art-house gaming, rivaling even Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Q Entertainment’s finest.

Brandon Boyer, News Editor, Gamasutra



Nintendo's "Bit Generations" series (Game Boy Advance)

Capcom’s splatterfest Dead Rising took the sandbox genre and threw in some zombies and a mess of weird weapons and clothes. Not exactly a quantum leap, but certainly a good idea. Adding tons of ways to smite your foes, and the ability to accumulate a crew of idiot survivors (try commanding five of them to move to any given area, and watch them fight to be on that exact pixel), as well as vehicles and cheesy dialog, all inside a shopping mall with big-breasted homeland security agents…well it was a stroke of B-movie genius, if you believe it was all intentional.

Dead Rising is enjoyable more for its camp and visceral fun than its serious themes or deep story, but isn’t that what (at least some) videogames are meant to be about? Sometimes it’s good to stop taking ourselves so seriously – without letting gameplay fall by the wayside either.

Brandon Sheffield, Features Editor, Game Developer magazine


Capcom's Dead Rising (Xbox 360)

More of my not-actually-free-time time since August has been wasted on Hizoka T Ohkuba’s freeware shooter Ray Hound than on any other distraction. I’m a sucker for shoot ‘em ups – especially Ohkuba’s previous effort, the exasperatingly addictive Warning Forever – and while Ray Hound isn’t as traditional in its gameplay, it’s no less enjoyable. It’s simply a matter of reflecting lasers shot at you by turrets by “whipping” them around your ship using the mouse, and the fact that it’s so simple to pick up and play at any time means that it is, effectively, sitting on my PC desktop like some sort of horrible temptress.

It takes a little while to get going to the sort of manic pace that really gets the blood pumping, but once it does – that’s when it hooks its claws in. It’s not quite in its final state, but once it is I can’t help but feel that it would make a pretty damn good portable game too, or at least a nice little downloadable from one of the console’s online stores. Hmm?

Alistair Wallis, Writer, Gamasutra


Hizoka T Ohkuba's Ray Hound (PC)

The Quantum Leap Awards, Top 5

5. Nintendo's Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS)

Already a fan of rhythm games since Parappa The Rapper, I imported Keiichi Yano's Ouendan for the Nintendo DS to check out what was apparently a brilliant Nintendo DS touchscreen rhythm game, complete with a whole bunch of J-Pop that I'd never heard of. And it was indeed brilliant, and the J-Pop was catchy enough that it compensated for not knowing any of it, and the scenarios in which the game was staged were endearingly wacky.

So when I found out that iNiS was making a Westernized version of the game, in the form of Elite Beat Agents, I was naturally delighted. And the final product, while it turned off some of the hardcore fans of the Japanese original by using songs from Ashlee Simpson and the Jackson Five, the game sits very well with me, since I'm a fan of catchy music, whatever the source. The offbeat humor behind the game's scenario concepts are still in place, and the touch-based gameplay is spot on - smooth and intuitive.

All this means that one of the simpler games released this year is by far one of the most enjoyable. It's just a shame that, as Reggie Fils-Aime recently indicated, the title hasn't caught on with the American public in the same way that some of the other Touch Generations games have. Still, given that it's presumably a reasonably inexpensive game to make (before licensing), one would hope to see more Agents infiltrating Nintendo consoles in the future. We can only dream!

Simon Carless, Editor-In-Chief, Gamasutra

The delightful visceral oddness of Elite Beat Agents isn't all that surprising; lord knows we've had off-beat visionaries at the helm of games like Katamari Damacy and Psychonauts before. The simple, tight and addicting mechanics of the actual gameplay aren't mindblowing either. It's a rhythm game, after all, and I've played lots of those.

That we have easy-to-learn, accessible mechanics, using a still reasonably new touch screen interface, with beautiful hand-drawn art, and a lively soundtrack of familiar songs, lovingly crafted by a team that makes it their modus operandi to make me smile? That we have a game so accomplished and, indeed, excelled in each and every aspect, that I struggle to think of any genuine flaws? That's rare. It's more than rare, it's revolutionary.

I love this game. It brings to the table everything that's right with the medium, and experiments - quite successfully - with solutions to many things that we've been doing wrong. At its core, it is the simplest of games. When a circle appears on screen, simply tap on it when prompted. When a numbered sequence is laid out, tap it in order. It's easy, it's accessible, and it draws upon basic human action/reaction reasoning.

At its easiest level, anyone with basic motor skills can play the game successfully. At its hardest, it puts the player into an unbreakable trance, into a state of pure instinct and concentration. It is either a fun pastime, or it is the hardest of hardcore. And it does all this while men with large hair and sunglasses dance around to Jackson 5 and Madonna tunes, inspiring babysitters to do their best and disgruntled truck workers to slay zombies using peanuts.

What impresses me most about Elite Beat Agents, and what I hope designers take away from the game, is the way that it approaches storytelling. Long have we argued the proper approach to telling a story interactively, about balancing the fine line between the creator guiding a player where he needs to be, and the player himself feeling a sense of freedom.

In Elite Beat Agents, players are not guiding the story. They're inspiring it. The scenarios are set in stone, the actors are in place, and outside of outright failing a stage, nothing can prevent it from playing out as intended. The story is out of the player's hands, and yet, the player is still actively involved, and never feels a loss of participation.

I've seen nothing like it before, and whether this revolutionary step forward is utilized or ignored, whether or not I'm the only one who sees it, I'll still consider it the biggest quantum leap of 2006.

Frank Cifaldi, Features Editor, Gamasutra


4. Capcom's Okami (PlayStation 2)

I suppose it is my nature to cheer for an "underdog" title (pun intended, as you will see!) but I find myself turning to a last-generation game for a dead platform as a source of inspiration for the game industry.

Clover Studios' Okami is a game that bared its teeth at commercialism and next-gen photorealism and taught the "old dog" PS2 new graphical and input tricks. As I ran through the gorgeous lansdcapes caught between Japanese silk painting and Dali-esque surrealism, I couldn't help but imagine the scream of a thousand frustrated art directors exclaiming "THAT's what I was seeing in my head!"

Okami is an "apex game," one that is the tip of a pyramid composed of the incremental development of the JRPG, the adventure game and even the "collection" games so unique to Asian design. The audacity of the design and aesthetics of Okami gives the lie to the next-gen credo that bleeding-edge technology and gritty photorealism are the inevitable path designers and publishers must tread. In Okami I find a love for all things that other mediums can never deliver: the emotional impact of being liberated from anything remotely resembling the mundane world and the thrill of participating in the act of raw human creativity; not exiled as an outside observer, but wielding the brush in my own hand and participating, to some degree, in the act of creation.

Michael Eilers, University of Advancing Technology

Clover Studios' Okami demonstrated that you don't need a different controller, or next-generation hardware, to make an innovative, fun game that still retains the epic feel we commonly associate with games like Zelda. Using the brush to build missing structures, create bombs, manipulate the elements or slash through enemies is a gameplay mechanic that is both easily accessible and lasting in its appeal. And lasts it does, as the game never feels like it's too long, even though it takes dozens of hours to complete the main quest.

Personally, I took 117 hours to beat the whole game with every single corner uncovered and conquered, and I'm someone that has found a hard time playing long games the last couple of years, with a demanding school schedule and living with my better half. Okami is also an example of developers' desire to create new and exciting ways to entertain gamers, hardcore or otherwise.

I fear that Clover Studios' recent demise will send a negative message to the industry about the risks of developing towards innovation, as I'd love to have an effort like Okami come out more often than on a yearly basis. As corny as it sounds, Okami is one of those games that reminds me in big, bold letters why I want to design and make games. I want players to have as much fun, and feel the way I felt when I was playing this game.

Carlos Mijares, Full Sail


3. Epic's Gears of War (Xbox 360)

By deriving from the classical first-person shooter into a new sub-genre, by virtue of its excellent art direction and execution, and by first showing what the next-gen is really about, I think Gears of War deserves the GOTY title for 2006.

An Anonymous Reader

Epic’s manly muscle-fest is a solid first step into next-gen gameplay, and as such, warrants a spot on the top of the heap this year. The visuals can’t be denied, as the game has the best graphics, from a detail standpoint, of any released so far. Many laud the game’s cover-based gameplay as indicative of next-gen sensibilities, and indeed it adds a nice element of depth to the experience. It does, however, also make the game difficult to pick up and play for casual users, so unlike the Halos of our era, Gears of War focuses on the hardcore players. I’m personally most fond of the game’s cooperative play – the most fully-realized truly cooperative action experience in games since the days of 2D beat ‘em ups – Double Dragon and their ilk.

The game was heavily inspired by Resident Evil 4, so it’s tough to call the game a quantum leap by its own merits, but it does a good job of moving the horror-action genre further into the action camp, with some frantic gun battles, and a sense of real collaboration with your partner, especially in the higher difficulty settings. Ultimately Gears of War is a satisfying experience, and it may take some time before the game’s graphical detail and complexity is bested on any platform.

Brandon Sheffield, Features Editor, Game Developer magazine


2. Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, Gamecube)

It seems that holy grail of a game we all dream of making is that much closer when the intuitiveness of the Wii control system becomes another arrow in our creative quiver. And Twilight Princess represents the first leap in that direction. With the support of story, exploration, quest depth and problem solving, Twilight Princess does everything right in order to showcase the innovation of the controls.

I've got a funny feeling this and future Quantum Leap Awards will go to games made for the Wii, since it actually PROVIDES the opportunity for innovation. Not that I don't enjoy the more traditional 14-button control scheme of console gaming but -- speculation aside -- the Nintendo Wii is the covered wagon and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess sets the pace in trailblazing the unexplored wilderness of interactive media. Giddyup.

Matthew Allmer, Rendered Vision

Few if any titles released in 2006 came to market preceded by as much hype and player anticipation than Nintendo's own The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. First revealed as a title for the Gamecube, development on the sequel was eventually shifted to that of a marquee title for Nintendo's Wii, and in doing so the game became the focal point for a marking blitz for the new next-gen console.

Taking expert advantage of the Wii's unique controls and exemplifying Nintendo's emphasis on fun and style over pure presentation, Twilight Princess is one of the best titles to ever launch alongside a new console. The game serves as both an appropriate swan song for the Gamecube as well as the single best reason to invest in Nintendo's unconventional Wii at launch.

Jason Dobson, Editor, Serious Games Source

In terms of showcasing the Wii, Twilight Princess gave a better indication of what the console is capable of than Wii Sports did – it’s an interesting game, and undoubtedly succeeds in bringing people to the Wii that would never even consider playing a videogame, but Twilight Princess felt a more complete package, and instantly made me forget any concerns I had about the console’s controls.

It’s not without fault, especially musically, and it’s hard not to feel a little sad that the bar wasn’t pushed more, but it’s almost as if the series needed something that is, essentially, a bigger, better version of Ocarina of Time before it can really move in new directions. In the end, during the time I spent playing it, I was completely enthralled and actually felt a little decadent. And I came out of it feeling entirely satisfied. Now I’m going to play it again – maybe left handed, I’m not sure.

Alistair Wallis, Writer, Gamasutra


The Most Important Game of 2006

1. Wii Sports

It says a lot for Wii Sports, which is really Nintendo's proof of concept for the Wii's unique controller capabilities, that it turned out so well that the company packed it in to all North American consoles at launch. And, given that it really is a simple collection of mini-games, it's wonderful that Wii Sports turned out to be such a crowd-pleaser - it's already hooking many more non-traditional gamers than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 put together.

But actually, the games have been very, very carefully crafted - for example, the smart rules changes on baseball to make it fun to hit further, even if the rules of the actual game aren't completely replicated. And integrating your friends' Mii's into the audience and even playable in the games is another signature, delightful Nintendo touch.

The fluidity of the controller is probably what sets the game apart from other mini-game offerings - because there are a myriad of ways that you can flex your own body, it takes much longer for the gameplay to get stale, because you're always trying out new methods. And perhaps this is a vote for the genius of the Wii as much as for the genius of Wii Sports. But hey - it's still a vote, right?

Simon Carless, Editor-In-Chief, Gamasutra

It's simple, it's fun, and everyone loves to play it. It exemplifies everything that Nintendo has done right in 2006.

An Anonymous Reader

There were plenty of great, innovative games this year, but the one that stands out in my mind as the most innovative, as well as potentially changing the face of video games forever, is Wii Sports. It really shows off the potential of a truly new and original control scheme. Not to mention there's something about this simple, little game that seems to appeal to almost everyone who gets their hands on it, young or old, male or female, gamer or gaming virgin.

An Anonymous Reader

My mother, who hung up her gaming gloves for good after beating Super Mario Bros. 3 within a month of its release (love you, Mom), swearing to never play a video game again, practically snagged the Wii remote from me last Thanksgiving, after watching me bowl in Wii Sports.

If that's not revolutionary, I don't know what is.

Other people who played (and unanimously adored) Wii Sports during my Thanksgiving vacation include:

  • One aunt
  • Six cousins
  • One cousin's boyfriend
  • A comic book nerd
  • A construction worker
  • A punk rock star
  • A stride pianist
  • A poet
  • A cat (with assistance)
  • And, once in a great while, myself.

Frank Cifaldi, Features Editor, Gamasutra

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