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

This past weekend, N'Gai Croal and I launched an idea two years in the making: The Best Method Of All Time For Selecting The 10 Best Video Games Of All Time. Or, as we more humbly call it: Canon Fodder.

Canon Fodder isn't just a way of identifying the best games ever. It is is a game. It is the production of an evolving list, changed one at a time, by the best game creators in the world. N'Gai and I have been developing the idea for some time. He runs a consultancy called Hit Detection now. I work here at Kotaku. We were excited to collaborate again, as we had in our Newsweek and MTV days.

For one hour at PAX East in Boston on Saturday, we chronicled the first dozen-plus moves, some made in advance and some made live in front of a standing-room only crowd of more than 600. N'Gai and I hosted the panel, with game designers Chris Avellone, Frank Lantz and Justin Richmond providing feedback and eventually making moves of their own (as would one other game designer in an impromptu walk-on).

This is 10 minutes before the panel started:

This is right before we began:

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

Mike Fahey liveblogged it for posterity. Here, in one big post, is the list in all of its evolutions up through now.

N'Gai and I wanted to use something neutral for our starter list. We wouldn't kick this off with a list of our personal favorites. We relied, instead, on numbers. Specifically, we went to review aggregator GameRankings.com a couple of weeks ago and pulled the list of the 10 highest-scoring games of all time. That produced this:

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 Color)

We knew our starter listed would be flawed. GameRankings.com would not include old games that were released before games were reviewed on the Internet. It would have entries like The Orange Box that might not fit some people's criteria for a best-games list, since it is a compilation of games.

But N'Gai and I didn't have to worry about any flaws in this list. The point of Canon Fodder is to get all the flaws corrected. To do that, we would take the list to one game creator at a time, asking them to make one change.

Contestants had two moves available: 1) Swap the position of two games on the list or 2) Replace a game on the list with one not on it, putting the new game in the departing game's spot.

Here are the moves we recorded in advance:

Move 1 by Patrice Desilets, Creative Director of Assassin's Creed

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Removed Super Mario Galaxy / Added: Super Mario 64
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 Color)

Explanation: Desilets told us that "all the rules of 3D gameplay were invented in" Super Mario 64.

Reaction: The crowd booed the removal of Galaxy but cheered boisterously when they saw 64 take its place.

***
Move 2 by Peter Molyneux, Founder of Lionhead Studios

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Grand Theft Auto IV
4. Super Mario World
5. Removed Metroid Prime / Added: Half-Life
6. SoulCalibur
7. The Orange Box
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy Color)

Explanation: Molyneux did not provide one.

Reaction: Similar to Move 1. The crowd booed the removal of Metroid Prime but cheered when they saw Half-Life take its place.

***
Move 3 by Kellee Santiago, President of That Game Company

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Grand Theft Auto IV
4. Super Mario World
5. Half-Life
6. SoulCalibur
7. Removed The Orange Box / Added: Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy Color)

Explanation: Santiago said that Portal was strong enough to be in the top 10 by itself. She described it as "designed superbly and executed flawlessly. Portal sets a bar that every developer now attempts to reach."

Reaction: As soon as Santiago removed The Orange Box, the crowd and our panelists began voicing their prediction that Portal would take its place. This move was well-approved.

***
Move 4 by Jenova Chen, Lead Designer of Flower

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Grand Theft Auto IV
4. Super Mario World
5. Half-Life
6. Removed SoulCalibur / Added: World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy Color)

Explanation: "WoW has consumed more man hours than any other games, there should be a place for it."

Reaction: SoulCalibur's removal led many in the crowd to assume a different fighting game would take its place. Replacing it with World of Warcraft got a mixed response.

***
Move 5 by Jade Raymond, Studio Chief of Ubisoft Toronto

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Grand Theft Auto IV
4. Super Mario World
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Removed Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy Color) / Added: Tetris

Explanation: Raymond told us that this was a tough choice and that she struggled to decide which of her favorites absent from the list she would add. She considered Ico, Resident Evil 4 and Tekken 4 but went with Tetris. She said she also had a tough time figuring out where to place it. She considered dropping Super Mario 64, considering she prefers Super Mario World and thought one could argue that the list didn't need two Marios. "I also thought about removing Uncharted because, even though I loved that game, I don't think it has staying power in a top 10 list (e.g. Shadow of Colossus was in many top 10 ever lists that were made near when the game came out but it's not on this list). But I like the idea of having at least one game from this year in the list."

Reaction: The crowd had been calling for the removal of the Game Boy version of Metal Gear Solid from the get-go (though not necessarily for the addition of Tetris). Cutting MGS GBC got a nearly unanimous thumbs up.

***
Move 6 by Jeremiah Slaczka, Creative Director, 5th Cell

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Removed Grand Theft Auto IV / Added: Metal Gear Solid
4. Super Mario World
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: The Scribblenauts creator said he both personally loved Metal Gear Solid when he was young and considered it an innovator in terms of cinematic style and stealth gameplay. He said that Grand Theft Auto III might well have a spot on this list, but he didn't think GTA IV did enough new things to merit inclusion.

Reaction: GTA IV's removal was mostly applauded though there was some dissension. The addition of Metal Gear Solid got cheers. I noticed some people calling for the addition of MGS2 instead.

***
Move 7 by Pete Wanat, Producer of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Scarface: The World Is Yours

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Removed Super Mario World / Added: Madden 2004
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: Initially, Wanat pushed for just any Madden, but we had him pick a specific edition. He flipped between Madden 2004 on the PlayStation 2 and Madden '94 on the Sega Genesis, eventually going with '04. As for why Madden, it wasn't just because he felt the list needed a sports game: "Madden has helped power EA for so many years and has funded many other games from its bountiful profits and is an event on launch day every year. Its reach goes well beyond games into the mainstream: Madden Curse, Madden Widows, etc. It has evolved and grown with the franchise. Its reach and influence exceed what most games have ever dreamed, so it needs to be on the list."

Reaction: The people who go to conventions like PAX do not like sports games, and they love their 16-bit Mario games. So, removing Super Mario World and putting Madden in its spot was loathed.

***
Move 8 by Alex Evans and David Smith, Media Molecule

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Removed Madden 2004 / Added: Ico
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: We went to Evans, but the LittleBigPlanet developer, who said he knew immediately that he wanted to add Ico, needed colleague David Smith's help for figuring out where to put it. Smith let us know what we get for bringing a list with Madden to two British developers.

Reaction: Cheers from the crowd.

***
Move 9 by Curt Schilling, Founder of 38 Studios, Boston Red Sox pitching ace

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Removed Ico / Added: Wizardry
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: Schilling had promised us he would throw a "monkey wrench" into this and go "old-school." He certainly did, saying that Wizardry, a game he loved, deserved to be on this list.

Reaction: This was the most controversial move so far. Our panelists were split. Some felt that the list had desperately needed a single-player role-playing game on there. But one, Frank Lantz, objected to the idea that a game that was someone's personal favorite belonged on this list. He questioned whether Wizardry had established sufficient greatness for inclusion. Lucky for him, he'd be going soon.

***

Here are the moves that happened live:

Move 10 by Justin Richmond, Game Designer at Naughty Dog

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Removed Wizardry / Added: Chrono Trigger
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: Richmond had a chance to remove or elevate a game he worked on, Uncharted 2 (he did the multiplayer), but he said he decided to leave it alone. He considered adding the first Modern Warfare or God of War but went with what he felt was the best of the Japanese role-playing games: Chrono Trigger.

Reaction: Many in the crowd liked this move, though plenty were calling for a Final Fantasy instead.

***
Move 11 by Frank Lantz, Creative Director of Drop 7 studio Area Code

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Chrono Trigger
5. Half-Life
6. World of Warcraft
7. Portal
8. Removed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves / Added: StarCraft
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: Lantz said he wouldn't put just his personal favorites in the list. He loves Bushido Blade, Crackdown, Advance Wars and others that he said probably didn't belong in a list of 10 best games. Instead he thought of two titles that he believes have transcended the term "video games" to be considered as globally successful "games": Counter-Strike and StarCraft. He went with the latter.

Reaction: The crowd approved, with more than three quarters of them raising their hands for StarCraft during an impromptu poll about which of Frank's two games more deserved the nod.

***
Move 12 by Chris Avellone, Creative Director, Obsidian Entertaiment

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Chrono Trigger
5. Elevated Portal
6. World of Warcraft
7. Lowered Half-Life
8. StarCraft
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: Avellone simply felt Portal is better than Half-Life. But he did say he was uncomfortable letting World of Warcraft sit higher than Half-Life.

Reaction: The crowd approved.

***
Move 13 by Richard Lemarchand, Game Designer, Naughty Dog

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Super Mario 64
3. Metal Gear Solid
4. Chrono Trigger
5. Portal
6. Elevated Half-Life
7. Lowered World of Warcraft
8. StarCraft
9. Super Metroid
10. Tetris

Explanation: Lemarchand, the co-lead designer of Uncharted 2 had watched the panel from the front row and agreed with Avellone's discomfort about the previous swap. We welcomed him onto the stage to make what he and the panel felt was a needed correction. That put Valve's games above Blizzard's.

Reaction: The crowd liked this too.

***

The list as of now....

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

After everyone had taken their turn, we invited members of the crowd to argue for more changes. Should Ocarina stay at number one? Should Pac-Man be added? After the panel I heard arguments for Pokemon and Doom.

For now, though, Canon Fodder is at its season cliffhanger. Stay tuned for news on when, where and how it will return, with more of the world's top developers making changes to this ever-evolving list, one step at a time.