In Search Of History's Best Video Games: Canon Fodder, Season Two

My friend N'Gai Croal and I have made a game out of choosing the 10 best video games of all time. This is a game, called Canon Fodder, that we invite game developers to play every six months or so.

Earlier this month, during Canon Fodder season two, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time got knocked off the No. 1 spot.

How This Impossible Mission Began Canon Fodder started, this past spring, with an intentionally imperfect list: The 10 highest-rated games on Gamerankings.com. There were so many problems with this list:

1) It excluded games that were popular before gamers were reviewed online.

2) It included things like The Orange Box, which people couldn't even agree was a game

3) It included Metal Gear Solid for the Game Boy Color

This was that original list:

Canon Fodder Starter List

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

2. Super Mario Galaxy

3. Grand Theft Auto IV

4. Super Mario World

5. Metroid Prime

6. SoulCalibur

7. The Orange Box

8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

9. Super Metroid

10. Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy colour) What a mess.

N'Gai and I then invited game developers to each make one of two moves. They could 1) swap the positions of any two games on the list or 2) remove any game and replace it with a new game in that removed game's spot.

We had 10 people from the games industry take turns before we showed the results to the public at the Penny Arcade Expo East in Boston. Peter Molyneux (Fable), Patrice Desilets (Assassin's Creed), Curt Schilling (yes, the ex-pitcher), people from That Game Company (Flower), and 5th Cell (Scribblenauts) all took their turns. Then, at PAX East, a bunch of developers took turns live.

(Read an account of the first 13 turns of Canon Fodder, aka Season One of our game, posted on Kotaku in March.)

The result, after 13 turns….

Canon Fodder Season 1 Finale List

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

2. Super Mario 64

3. Metal Gear Solid

4. Chrono Trigger

5. Portal

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Super Metroid

10. Tetris Time For Season Two We intended to once again "record" a bunch of turns made by professional game creators in advance of a public unveiling of the moves at this month's Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle earlier this month.

In August, I took a printed version of the Season 1 Finale list to Quakecon in Dallas, Texas and I began to look for developers to make some moves.

Quakecon is a convention built around id Software, the studio behind Doom. Its main feature is a cavernous Bring Your Own Computer area that, for three days, pretty much houses hundreds of gamers who have trucked and wheelbarrowed in their gaming rigs so they can compete in local video game shootouts. Quakecon is PC territory.

Look again at that season one finale list. Did you really think it would warm the heart of game creators at a place like Quakecon. Radical changes were made, all of which N'Gai and I then revealed to a crowd during our PAX panel, Canon Fodder Season Two.

Move 14 by Todd Howard, Creative Director of Bethesda Softworks (Fallout 3, Elder Scrolls series) 1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

2. Super Mario 64

3. Metal Gear Solid

4. Removed Chrono Trigger / Added: Civilization

5. Portal

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Super Metroid

10. Tetris

Explanation: At a Quakecon party, Howard told me that Civilization was too important not to be on the list. Why the first one? He prefers to commend originators, games that establish a successful blueprint.

Reaction: The PAX crowd freaked out at the removal of Chrono Trigger, but the insertion of Civilization was an undeniably solid move. Gamers did not riot.

*** Move 15 by Harvey Smith, Co-Creative Director of Arkane Studios (previously, co-creator of Deus Ex) 1. Removed The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Added: Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Metal Gear Solid

4. Civilization

5. Portal

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Super Metroid

10. Tetris

Explanation: Doom is the best game, Harvey had told me at Quakecon. I double-checked with him that he wasn't just saying this because we were at Quakecon. Nope! It's gotta be number one, he said.

Reaction: The crowd at PAX hated this move. This is the PAX-Quakecon divide. Doom is inarguably a huge game in the history of the medium, but few of our audience members at PAX seemed to be at peace with Smith's move, which, based on the rules of the game, had to strike Ocarina off the list in order for Doom to be introduced as Numero Uno.

*** Move 16 by Chris Rhinehart, Co-Founder, Human Head Studios 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Metal Gear Solid

4. Civilization

5. Elevated Tetris

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Super Metroid

10. Lowered Portal

Explanation: Rhinehart made his move before he and I were on a Quakecon panel together. He chose to do a swap, which hasn't been executed by many of the people playing the game. He told me that Tetris is the best game of all time, but he wasn't ready to move it into the top position. Instead, he swapped with Portal because he said the acclaimed Valve first-person shooter/puzzle-game felt too new and too slight to rank high on the list.

Reaction: The PAX crowd — and three developers N'Gai and I had on stage with us — were more or less fine with this move. There was some fretting over Portal being dropped low, but there was also agreement that newer games might not deserve to be on the list yet. Portal had been released in 2008. The second-newest game on the list, World of Warcraft, was released in 2004. Most of these games weren't even out in this decade.

*** Move 17 by Emil Pagliarulo, Lead Designer, Fallout 3 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Metal Gear Solid

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Removed Super Metroid / Added: Thief: Dark Project

10. Portal

Explanation: Few of the designers I spoke to at Quakecon made strong cases about why they removed the games they did. They focused on what they added and why. Pagliarulo, for example, argued that Thief was "the progenitor of the stealth genre." He said the world wouldn't have Splinter Cell without Thief, for example.

Reaction: Super Metroid was removed. How do you think the PAX crowd reacted?

*** Move 18 by Rafael Colantonio, Co-Creative Director, Arkane Studios 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Removed Metal Gear Solid / Added: Ultima Underworld

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Thief: Dark Project

10. Portal

Explanation: Colantonio pushed for Ultima Underworld, because, well, "it's great." He actually did make an argument about the game he removed, saying that, with Thief now on the list, it didn't make sense to have later stealth game Metal Gear Solid up there.

Reaction: It was about this time that we all realised that console games had almost been completely removed from the list by the Quakecon developers. The PAX crowd was uneasy.

*** Move 19 by Jason West, Respawn Entertainment (previously co-founder of Modern Warfare studio Infinity Ward) 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Ultima Underworld

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Removed Thief: Dark Project / Added: Street Fighter II

10. Portal

Explanation: West, who I cornered at Quakecon, said Thief "had awesome promise but didn't deliver." Street Fighter I, however, he said, popularized the fighting genre and revived the arcade scene.

Reaction: As one of the main people behind Call of Duty and Modern Warfare games, West is a proven crowd-pleaser. His move here thrilled the audience.

*** Move 20 by Todd Alderman, Respawn Entertainment (previously game designer at Modern Warfare studio Infinity Ward) 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Ultima Underworld

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Street Fighter II

10. Removed Portal / Added: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Explanation: Alderman said he went for Grand Theft Auto for the same reason West chose Street Fighter. It started a craze. He chose Vice City because he said that, of all the GTAs it had the best setting. Portal was too small scale, he argued, to be on this list over a GTA.

Reaction: Mixed.

*** Move 21 by Kim Swift, Airtight Games (previously game designer at Portal studio Valve) 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Removed Ultima Underworld / Added: The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Street Fighter II

10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Explanation: None of our early turn-takers knew which moves were made before them. So Swift didn't know that Portal, a game she helped lead the design on, was removed just before her turn. Might it have changed her move? She took her turn over e-mail and, in part, explained why, of all Zeldas, she chose Link to the Past: "I absolutely loved playing A Link to the Past and for me personally, made me fall in love with games and made me want to make video games for a living. I think A Link to the Past took adventure games to a whole new level with lots of areas to explore, fun skills to learn, an interesting story, enjoyable artwork and a memorable soundtrack."

Reaction: Zelda was back. A console game was bumping off a PC game. PAX people loved that.

*** Move 22 by Paul Wedgwood, Founder of Splash Damage 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Removed Half-Life / Added: Half-Life Counter-Strike

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Street Fighter II

10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Explanation: Wedgwood had sent a lengthy explanation that began with: "Because Doom is in the list, I don't think there's a need for a second purely single-player shooter" and culminated with "I'm cheating by swapping Half Life for Half Life: Counterstrike, and thereby including both.  Counterstrike had existed in other guises and on other game platforms before, but Half Life: Counterstrike was the first game to capture the consciousness of an audience that thought that playing games wasn't cool, and better yet, those non-gamers that were attracted to online teamplay by their friends, found themselves experiencing Half Life's incredible single-player narrative when the servers were empty…"

Reaction: We had two designers on stage at PAX who were going to take their turns live. They couldn't prepare in advance, because the list was changing before their eyes as we went through all those Quakecon and e-mailed moves. But both of them said that Wedgwood's move was the move they were going to make. They were going to have to scramble to come up with something new.

*** Move 23 by Ian Bogost, Co-Founder of Persuasive Games 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Removed The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past / Added: Adventure

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life Counter-Strike

7. World of Warcraft

8. StarCraft

9. Street Fighter II

10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Explanation: Let's have Bogost, who made this turn over e-mail, explain it himself:

"The Legend of Zelda is a big title to remove. Listing the 1991 SNES edition of that game (instead of the 1986 original, or the Ocarina of Time that once graced this list) is already a bold move, and I can't deny that it added fundamentals to the series and to the action adventure genre.

"But *any* Zelda title must first pledge fealty to Warren Robinett's masterpiece for the Atari VCS.

"Adventure is the origin of the graphical adventure game. Through adaptation, it superseded Colossal Cave and the entire text adventure genre, making the graphical or action-adventure king at a time when adventure games had to be played on PDP minicomputers (and before Infocom had even been founded). Adventure taught us how to walk off one side of the screen to appear on the opposite edge of a continuous space. Adventure originated the collide to pick up and / use logic of items that founds every graphical adventure game that follows it. Adventure gave us the original visual rendition of the disorienting labyrinth. Adventure gave us a prototype of the avatar, using the Atari's 'ball' graphic to represent 'you'-where 'you' meant any of us. Adventure began the turn away from arcade-style home console games and toward longer games with plots and purpose. Adventure deserves a spot with Doom and Super Mario 64, for like those games it invented an entire genre."

Reaction: Again, Zelda was removed. This makes PAX people mad.

*** Interlude: Audience Suggestions N'Gai and I designed this game with the intent to have it be played by people who are professionally involved in the creation of games. We invite game designers to make moves. Executives might be ok.

But, sorry, regular gamers, we're not asking you to make official moves.

We did, however, ask PAX attendees to suggest moves. We had two game designers on stage who were about to make their moves live and we told the crowd that they could do their best to influence them.

Among the suggestions from PAX attendees who stepped up to the mic:

-Remove Doom, Add Halo

-Remove Half-Life: Counterstrike, Add Quake 2

-Remove Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Add Mega Man 2

-Remove World of Warcraft, Add The Secret of Monkey Island

-Remove World of Warcraft, Add The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time

-Remove World of Warcraft, Add Zork

-Remove World of Warcraft, Add Metal Gear Solid

-Remove Super Mario 64, Add Dragon Warrior

-Remove StarCraft, Add Homeworld

-Remove StarCraft, Add Metal Gear Solid 2

-Remove Grand Theft Auto, Add Beatmania

Two Live Turns After the crowd made their suggestions, two of our game designers who were on stage with us got to make their moves (the third, 5th Cell's Jeremiah Slaczka, had already made a move in Season One.)

Move 24 by Jaime Griesemer, Game Designer At Bungie Studios 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Adventure

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life Counter-Strike

7. World of Warcraft

8. Removed StarCraft / Added: Mega Man 2

9. Street Fighter II

10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Explanation: Griesemer had to make this move live on stage at PAX. He had wanted to make the move that Wedgwood did and struggled to come up with a new move on the spot. He decided to cut StarCraft because he said it felt like it "operates on a bizarre middle ground between Civ and Diablo." He said he wanted the list to be representative and that it needed a side-scroller. So he went with Mega Man 2 .

Reaction: Mixed reaction, leaning toward positive. PAX attendees like their Mega Man.

*** Move 25 by Chris Hecker, Designer of the upcoming Spy Party 1. Doom

2. Super Mario 64

3. Removed Adventure / Added: Dance Dance Revolution

4. Civilization

5. Tetris

6. Half-Life Counter-Strike

7. World of Warcraft

8. Mega Man 2

9. Street Fighter II

10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Explanation: Hecker credited the crowd suggestion of Beatmania for inspiring him to add a music game. He called for DDR to be added to the list. Hecker said Bogost's move was just his friend Ian playing to the academic crowd. DDR, he said, "is the best rhythm game… it's the Counter-Strike of rhythm games."

Reaction: This move perplexed the crowd, an odd final twist to Season Two.

The list as of now....

What do you think of that list, huh? Perfect?

Of course not. Canon Fodder will return, maybe at PAX East in 2011. For now, stew on that Season Two finale list and decide whether you can live with Zelda games being repeated knocked off the top 10.


Comments

    The removal of ocarina of time confuses and infuriates me

      I concur. I mean, Doom? Really?

        I conclude that you are younger than 25.

          Perhaps I could explain it... in simple terms.

          Zelda was crap.

          nuff said.

            If Zelda was crap, than what do you call Doom?

            I'm older than 25 and Doom was a good game yes but nothing beats Zelda, nothing.

              I too am over 25 and I would suggest doom is the pinacle of the early fps.

              I'd have said Wolfenstein over Doom... if you were talking about genre entry points.
              If you were talking about what has cemented a franchise in the mindset and common useage then I'd have said Unreal Tornament... or maybe Quake, but that's establishing Multiplayer FPS.

              As a franchise, Zelda is beaten to death and never changes. If it was Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, Need for Speed or any of a thousand other franchises we'd be screaming about it being milked to death. But it seems to be this thing with Nintendo that no one cares if the same game gets re-released under a new name... gamers buy it like crack. And for me personnaly, Zelda is to games what My Little Pony is to action figures.

                I really don't think that Unreal Tournament will be remembered like Doom will be in 10 years time honestly. The fact that Doom has a Hollywood film should say plenty about the impact that it's had in our culture.

                I don't think the whole Zelda franchise was in question here, it was just the one game Ocarina of Time. I'm wondering.. have you played through the whole game? Seems like you've got a bit of a case of Nintendoitis.

              Agreed. Older than 25 as well and while I did grow up playing Doom (Doom II was a lot better btw), Ocarina of Time holds a bigger place in my heart and I am sure many others.

              I think 'Best' game of all time needs to include more than just being the father of a genre. That's why Wolfenstein is not there and Doom is (I know it wasn't the first of its kind either).

              Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time to get into a game. And some hold up to the test of time a bit better than others (making it easier for upcoming gaming generations to play classics).

    They take out half-life with the reasoning theirs already a single player shooter on there?!? Soooo regardless of it being an excellent game it gets the boot just because Doom is there? That...is...retarded!

    The list at the end of Season One was way better.

    I think the list ended up worse overall than what it started, but the inclusion of Doom is definitely justified. Some of the moves however seem to me to present the, how should I say, limited range of fps gamers. Stealth as a genre? Sub-genre at best. Half-Life: Counter-strike? While a great game, certainly it does not rank up with the likes of Doom.

    And Zelda needs to come back. Also Starcraft.

    doom deserves 1.
    It was genre defining, it changed the face of gaming, it originated the plethora of first person games, that would come forth after that. It kicked off the market we are in today as people tried to make a 'Doom Beater'. I would be confident in saying that all first person games including the quakes, halo's, descents, halflifes, portals, bioshocks, GOWs etc. of this world can all thank doom for being the games they are today.
    I am aware of first person games before doom, but the impact this game had just simply cannot be ignored.
    Ocarina didn't set any new ground that A link to the past and mario 64 (and even tomb raider) didn't show in their respective games, it just polished up the delivery, and combined a few elements from each of them.
    Do I agree with many entry's on the list? no, not by a long shot! where is Super mario kart, the original super mario, monkey island, 1942/raiden/gradius, zelda 1 or 3(A link to the past is still worthy of the list) Toki, X-wing etc.
    But Doom I most wholeheartedlly agree as the single game that made the market what it is today, deserves its place as number 1

      Doom owes kudos to Wolfenstein 3D for a lot of it's innovation... and it had Nazis! If we're going on genre-defining merit Wolf3D should be there, not Doom. I mean c'mon, how did a game who's final boss was a robotic Hitler with two huge chain guns not get the #1 spot?

        doom is in an entirely different league to wolfenstein.
        When doom was released, the world took notice. the gaming industry took notice and we all suddenly looked at what the PC could actually offer as a gaming pc (although a lot of us already knew). Industries scrambled to 'best' it and we all said "yeah but is it as good as doom?" There was no where near the same longevity, approachability, and innovative thought throughout the community with wofenstein than what doom garnered. It was the game that put multiplayer in the limelight as a viable business prospect and we all lapped it up.
        You simply can't look back on wolfenstein with the same glimmer in your eye that you can doom

    This list has gone from fairly agreeable to completely ridiculous. Dance Dance Revolution is definitely not the third best game of all time. Counter Strike is definitely not better than Half Life.

    I think that this list would be vastly improved in three moves.
    1. scrap DDR for Zelda: Wind Waker
    2. switch Wind Waker with Doom.
    3. switch counter strike with portal.

    I would also swap Vice City with GTA3, though it's not totally necessary. Vice City has always been the weakest 3D GTA (bar the psp ones) to me. GTA3 was revolutionary, which is why I would put it there, while San Andreas was far more expansive and a definite improvement on VC. VC had a boringly flat environment and was poorly paced in terms of progression.

      Agreed, its getting quite ridiculous. Seems almost all the devs this time around justified it with genre defining or, we needed a game of that genre on here, rather then going 'actually you know what, none of the insert genre games are one of the top 10 games ever made, may be the best in its genre, but not top 10 ever material'

      Actual numbers also probably hurt :P, Doom wont lose no.1 without being removed from the list

    I'd swap DDR for TIE Fighter... and maybe replace Mega Man with Pacman or Donkey Kong.

      Greisemer is right, though, the list needs a side scroller.
      I'd suggest Commander Keen instead of Mega Man, for it's links to the foundation of iD and thus Wolfenstein and Doom. That way Doom can be removed while still being represented, like Half-life was with counterstrike.

    I'd axe WoW for any Zelda game... if you want a good MMO on the list use one that actually put MMOs on the scene... like EQ or UO... hell, I'd rather Ragnarok over WoW. But all that said and done, Zelda needs to be on the list. Secondly, I personally think Quake > Doom for a few reasons - firstly it was the first game to require a graphics card to do 3D animation... second it was the first FPS to utilise a mouse to do freelooking aiming. both huge milestones in the FPS world...

    Super Smash Brothers anyone? C'MON GUISE!

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