The 5 Greatest Unscripted Scenes in Video Game History
I've got kind of a love/hate relationship with video games. On the one hand, I'm slightly embarrassed by the amount of time I've spent playing them, feeling far, far prouder of the times in my life when I've been making things, rather than just consuming them. On the other hand, I've spent a cumulative 700 years of my life playing video games, so there must be something there.
It couldn't just be that I'm a colossal loser. Could it?
And when I think back on it, I can recall a few perfect, totally pure moments of gaming pleasure, moments that couldn't possibly be found in non-interactive media, moments that make gaming special. And note that I'm not speaking of tightly scripted moments, events, and experiences that were programmed specifically into a game. Not that those aren't worthwhile; a lot of scripted moments are really, really good. Think of the delight in seeing the moon in Portal 2, getting scared shitless by the window dogs from Resident Evil, or Samus Aran revealing that girls can do things too in Metroid.
"But if a girl could do all that, maybe I'm wrong about the cooties thing too?"
No, what I'm thinking of are those unscripted moments that come up organically, moments when the game is just trying to be a game, and only by accident does it convey something more. These are obviously going to be highly personal and subjective; you'll have played the same games and have similar stories, but all of our little moments are going to be unique. Here's my top five.
Rocket Geometry in the Mine Tunnels of Half-Life
Half-Life is a superb first-person shooter filled with great moments, both scripted and organic. Most of the organic ones are based on the extremely good level design, which provides both a great sense of place and an incredible environment for shooting baddies.
Except for the mine tunnels. The mine tunnels sucked.
Long, tedious, and painful, the video game equivalent of a root canal being performed rectally.
Yet that's where one of my favorite gaming moments took place. In one of those tedious passageways, something appeared in front of me. It was a tiny little white and red something, like a bug, or maybe a torch, and it was getting a bit bigger, and oh shit, duck.
It's coming right at us!
What I was seeing was a rocket that had been shot at me by some asshole at the other end of this miles-long hallway. I moved to the side, and the rocket sailed past me, but another puff soon appeared. The video-game literate among you will recognize that, as I was now pressed up against a wall, if this next rocket missed, it would still hit the wall behind me, hurting me with splash damage. In short, this was a spectacularly bad environment for dodging rockets, and I think I was supposed to retreat at this point and loop around to catch this guy from behind or something.
Instead, I charged him, moving toward the rocket but away from where it would strike, watching it miss by a few inches and hit the tunnel walls well behind me. I opened fire with my submachine gun, which had an effective range much less than the mile I really needed for this situation. Another rocket sailed past. I reloaded. Four more rockets. I kept shooting and reloading, and when that gun was empty, I switched to another. Twelve more rockets came by. It was a long fucking hallway.
Somewhere a mighty oak sprang from a tiny acorn.
Recall that this was an era of FPS when health kits and ammo were a little rarer than they are now, and it wasn't unheard of for a player to beat a section of the game, only to reload an earlier save and try to do it again more efficiently, to save ammo. And what I was doing was just about the least efficient way possible of dealing with this situation, dumping every bullet I had into a single enemy. This was dumb, and there was a better way, and yet, when I reached the end of the tunnel, dry-firing an empty gun at what was now just a bloody smear, I knew something special had happened. Two men, 20 rockets, 7,000 bullets, and the principles of splash damage and geometry had combined into something beautiful. I didn't retry that shit.
Even if it meant spending the next half hour getting slaughtered while lamely flailing my crowbar at people.
Making Powerful Enemies in Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas is an open-world game that by design is going to throw up a lot of great gaming moments. Mine occurred relatively early on when I entered a small town. I found that all of its residents had been killed or enslaved by some jerks from Caesar's Legion, which is an army of assholes that dress like Roman legionaries for ... there must have been some reason.
"Have you guys seen those 'pants' things everyone else wears?"
"Yeah. They look dumb."
"Right. I was going to say they looked dumb, too. I just wanted to know if you thought the same."
Anyways, the intent of this scripted moment was to introduce these assholes and a semi-important NPC to me, and also to underline just how harsh this particular world was. Although it's an open-world game where I could potentially do whatever I wanted, I wasn't expected to do much more than watch here; the townspeople present were beyond saving, and the Legion members vastly outnumbered and outarmed me. Attacking them would have been foolish.
So I attacked them foolishly.
Mainly by shooting and then scampering away in terror several times, just like the professionals.
This had a couple of interesting side effects. For one, I now felt really proud of myself, unusually so for someone playing video games in a smelly, darkened room. I was now the badass vigilante justice dealer of the desert, and all would tremble before me.
Much as they do when smelling my video game room.
But this also turned the most powerful faction in the game completely and irrevocably against me, to the point that they started sending squads of assassins after me every half hour or so. That early in the game, I was in no way prepared to face twice-hourly squads of assassins, and I spent basically the rest of the game limping and scurrying from town to town trying to avoid them in a decidedly ignoble manner for a badass vigilante justice dealer.
No regrets, though. Fuck those guys.
Ramming Crooks into the Water in Grand Theft Auto III
The Grand Theft Auto games are also open-world sandbox games, jam-packed with the toys to make organic gaming moments. Everyone who's played them probably has their own favorites. But the one that always sticks out in my mind is from GTA III's vigilante mode, where you're given a very tight time limit to race across town and murder a criminal.
I've just realized a lot of these are about killing. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. On the plus side,
at least my rage issues are no longer undiagnosed.
The GTA games are packed with ways to murder people, but these missions were still a little tricky, simply because the bad guy was almost always in a car and the player had limited means of both keeping up with and stopping a car. A typical vigilante mission soon devolved into a clumsy sequence of ramming and randomly sprayed bullets.
And thus lacked much of the formal elegance that has given GTA a reputation as the "chess of video games."
On this particular mission, however, I simply didn't have the necessary time for clumsy ramming and spraying. I only just managed to catch up to the guy with a few seconds left on my timer (after which murdering him would have been illegal). So, with the usual tactics ruled out, I used the powerful lateral thinking skills that all gamers have (for murdering) and noticed the large patch of blue to our right -- the ocean, filled with the curiously fatal water of early GTA games. By that point I had never seen anyone but me die in the water, but with little time to do anything else, I gave it the old college try, and I rammed the guy toward the side of the elevated highway we were driving on.
What am I going to do? Not try to murder him?
It worked, spectacularly well. That poor bastard Dukes of Hazzarded off the edge and into the water, a glorious THREAT ELIMINATED splaying across the screen as my clock reached zero. That I received $2,000 for this seemed almost an insult for a murder so creative and well-executed.
Really the game should have stopped for the mayor to give me a medal.
Butchering Oddjob in GoldenEye 007
GoldenEye 007 was a first-person shooter on the Nintendo 64, notable for its classic multiplayer mode. Important for this story is the fact that this was back in an era when first-person shooters were only just developing an understanding of concepts like "up" and "down," and on consoles particularly, aiming at anything other than something at shoulder height was fairly challenging.
I think you had to blow on the controller to do it.
And so, with the state of affairs in 1997 laid out, I'd like to introduce you to Oddjob.
I hate him.
Oddjob was exactly as armed, fast, and capable as every other character in the game, only with the minor advantage that he was impossible to hit. Every bullet in the game would pass over his head, because his head was 4 fucking inches off the ground. Anyone playing as Oddjob gained a massive advantage over their opponents, and in the few games where he wasn't banned outright, he was hated with a pure fury. Any time Oddjob died was a cause for celebration, and I haven't forgotten a single death.
One time, because my time just wasn't that valuable, I started a four-player multiplayer game by myself, filling the level with three other stationary Oddjobs. This was to "practice" and "look for his weaknesses," if anyone asked.
The fact that I was semi-erect while butchering that little bastard should be considered a coincidence.
I shot his tiny little ass and cackled wildly. I threw knives into his tiny little knees and moaned with pleasure. I shot a rocket into his tiny little face and clapped and laughed like a studio audience. It was, in every sense of the word, insane, and the only sensible move I made that day was to lock the door to my dorm room halfway through.
"If this room is rockin', I'm in here doing something almost certainly worthy of mockin'."
Petty Vandalism in System Shock
If you haven't played the original System Shock, then I can only assume that you're an empty shell of a human being, walking through a ghostly world of shadow and despair. It basically invented the RPG/FPS genre that series like Deus Ex and BioShock now tread in, and it contained perhaps the best villain in video game history, a malevolent AI called SHODAN.
I hate her.
Set on a space station that's been taken over by the evil SHODAN, System Shock is a relatively linear game full of scripted moments. But it's a rich world, and one of my favorite organic moments arrived fairly early in the game. I visited a room with an important switch and was told that I couldn't flip that switch until I'd first flipped some other switches elsewhere. You know, video game stuff.
I have flipped 12 trillion switches in my video game lifetime.
So off I went to flip those other important switches, and then I returned to the original room. I should also mention that by this point in the game I had a pretty good grip on most of its mechanics, including the fact that enemies don't respawn in great numbers. In general, once a room is cleared, it stays cleared, so when I returned to that first room, strolled into the middle of it, and was murdered by several assassin bots, it would be fair to say that I was a little surprised.
"That was distressing."
I shouldn't have been, though. Within the context of this universe, in a space station under the control of a hyper-intelligent and turbo-evil AI, the switch-flipping scheme I was attempting was incredibly obvious. It was entirely predictable that SHODAN would see what I was doing and think to ambush me. But I hadn't even considered the possibility, making this the first and perhaps the only time that I've ever felt like a video game character outsmarted me.
And as a young man who took much pride in his intelligence and murder-dealing ability, this stung a little.
And so, for the remainder of the game, I destroyed every single television and monitor with her ugly face on it. This was completely pointless, served no benefit to me, and wasted much ammunition that I didn't really have to spare, but fight the fucking power, man.
"I HATE YOU, MOM! What? Ohhhhhhhh."
-I finally make the breakthrough that allows me to begin healing-
For moments we wish would've happened, check out 24 Video Game Plot Twists That Would Have Blown Your Mind.