List with a Twist: A broad look at a wide range of design triumphs in videogames. Anything goes, as Kelsey Jackson details his love of a game character, a console, a logo, a mechanical device and even a user interface…
1. OnLive user interface
On the one hand, the OnLive user interface is grand and vast. The black background gives an overriding sense of space and freedom. Is OnLive as infinite as the stars above the phony horizon? Of course it isn’t. It doesn’t come close. But it would like you to believe that it trades on the kind of scale that the Hubble telescope would squint at.
On the other hand, the sodium orange glow brings OnLive down to earth. To street level. The colour reminds me of a streetlight, giving the UI a gritty, seedy feel. All of a sudden it feels close and personal, almost intrusive. The futuristic, Minority Report-style video wall is, once you are sucked in, more Orwellian in nature; overcrowded and dystopian. Using it for your own gains feels voyeuristic.
Equal parts bathed in gold and hiding in shadows, the OnLive user interface makes this Top 5 list because its split personalities work together to create one of the classiest interfaces I have seen.
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system” 1984 – George Orwell.
2. PlayStation DualShock controller
In the terse history of videogames there have been a shockingly large number of monstrous augmentations. From attaching a glove to a NES controller, slipping the lovely Wii remote into a variety of cheap plastic sporting goods, to today where 3DS owners have had their systems rendered slightly less portable with the addition of the franken-pad. In 1997 Sony realised that their comfy-as-slippers PlayStation pad was lacking somewhat in the analogue department. Thanks to Nintendo‘s ground-breaking N64 controller, the masses demanded that they be able to glide round a corner like Schumacher instead of like the Bash Street Kids in a soapbox go-kart.
Enter the Dual Analogue controller. Almost seamlessly augmented to Sony’s existing PlayStation pad, but not quite. With the thumb sticks and housings added, the prongs that filled your palm felt spindly. The whole thing was top-heavy for me and the dipped thumb pads were uncomfortable.
Looking identical at a glance but worlds apart in practice, Sony’s follow up effort, the DualShock, was a masterpiece. Not as intimidating to look at as the N64 controller and outperforming it’s predecessor, simply holding it shouted volumes. It was weighted better due to the spinning feedback mechanism, the prongs were fatter and dappled so as not to slip out of sweaty palms like a bar of soap and thumb sticks had marvellous rubber caps that contributed to the birth of the kind of gaming precision we have come to expect from any new controller.
If I had my way, every console would be bundled with a Sony PlayStation DualShock controller.
Much like the other 150 original Pokemon who populated GameFreak‘s red and blue bulldozer of an opening gambit to a videogame franchise, Pikachu packs more of a punch than his deep, soulful eyes would suggest. But this electric mouse had a more arduous job ahead of him than any of his larger, more evolved stable-mates could have managed. As it was on his tiny, yellow non-shoulders that the Pokemon brand was carried around the world.
But why him? Why not one of the more badass Pokemon such as Charizard, Arcanine or Gyrados? Simple really. In choosing Pikachu as the torch bearer for the brand, GameFreak and Nintendo suckered in the girls and doubled Pokemon’s possible player base. Those rosy cheeks, stubby, ineffectual arms and inquisitive, trusting nature brought out the nurturing side in all of us. We just wanted to look after him (but let’s brush under the rug the part where we threw him into combat with nothing but a Thundershock, a Growl and crossed fingers).
It was certainly on the strength of Pikachu’s unassuming charms that a Game Boy Colour found a home with me. From the black tips of his long ears, to his three-toed feet and everything in between, I was sold on the Pokemon central concept of ‘catching them all’ by Pikachu.
4. PSone console
There are those thumb-sticks again. But tear your eyes from them if you can, and look at the glorious piece of space age plastic on the right. If Morpheus ever offered me the choice between a red pill and a blue pill, it’s likely I would turn them both down in favour of my favourite white pill, the SCPH-100 (PSone, to his mates). Never has a console undergone such a stylish redesign than in the year 2000 when Sony took an industrial file to the harsh edges of its frankly never appealing PlayStation console.
Out was the rough, battleship grey case that clung to grime and cigarette smoke (see your local car boot sale) as if its life depended on it. In were the kind of curves that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a space shuttle. It’s easy to imagine the stark, minimal style of the PSone was a direct and calculated result of the console’s millennial debut, looking, as it does, like a prop from 2001: A Space Oddysey. Stanley Kubrick would have approved, I’m sure.
Pale as paracetamol and smooth enough to go down real easy, like, the PSone was the console that wouldn’t get stuck in your throat. And thanks to the never ending cycle of recurring sci-fi styles it looks as chic now as it ever did and I will always be proud to have it under my telly.
5. Atari logo
It’s with a certain amount of sadness that I include the Atari logo on this list of design triumphs. As a child, bringing home a videogame cartridge or cassette bearing the Atari logo was, while not a guarantee of quality by any stretch, a thrill unmatched by any other publisher/developer of the day. The rocket-like badge promised that fantastic places would be reached that day.
In my youth I was something of an Atari-phile. The 2600 console, 800XL & 520ST home computers, even the Lynx handheld rank among some of my favourite systems. And certainly not because of the quality of output, certainly not because of the ridicule my choices generated in the playground (oh, how my Amiga or Game Gear-owning friends adored ribbing me), but because I never let go of that sense of wonder and anticipation of the unknown that the Atari logo created in my soul when my sister and I unwrapped the family’s first gaming console under a Christmas tree in 1980.
That silver badge features in many of my most precious videogame memories that will stay with me for decades and no meaningless assortment of letters like ‘PS’, ’360′ or ‘Wii U’ will ever mean as much as the silver rocket of Atari.