Favorite Video Game Companies

I know that Teminalists tend to be connoisseur gamers. We may not all like the same games, but most of use spend considerable amount of time playing them. So let’s talk about game development houses. Who do you love unconditionally? Who gets your money every time?

I have realized that nearly all of my favorite games have been created by 3 companies. There are dozens of game publishers out there. and many many awesome games. But the ones which are on my top 10 list all came from either Valve, BioWare or Bethesda. These development houses seem to consistently be able to produce titles that I find deeply satisfying. Every time I pick up one of their games I end up loving the shit out of it. Why is that?

Its possible that I somehow conditioned myself to think highly of these companies. It’s possible that I cut them a lot of slack, and tend to ignore a lot of stuff otherwise infuriate me. But I don’t think so. When I picked up Morrowind I had no clue what Bethesda was. Same goes for Jade Empire and KOTOR – I wasn’t even aware they were both made by BioWare until I started writing a review for KoTOR2 and looked this information up. They were just great games that I loved. I didn’t really care who made them.

3 best game companies, evar.

I think what happened is that these companies found the right formula for their games – one that draws me in and keeps me coming back for more. Valve for example completely nailed the FPS. I don’t claim they are the best in the FPS market – I’m just saying that what the do, is exactly what I’m looking for in an FPS game. But different people, like different things.

I learned this when I gave Ark the Orange Box copy of HL2 (I already had it, but I bought the box for Portal, Episodes and TF2). I really wanted him to experience what I thought to be one of the greatest FPS games under the sun. He beat it, and summed up his experience with a shrug. “It was ok”, he told me. Too easy, terrifyingly linear with a vague, incomprehensible story. Funny thing but this is precisely the stuff I loved about it. It was difficult enough to get my adrenaline pumping, but forgiving enough to prevent me from dying every 5 minutes. Staring at a game-over screen takes me out of the game – and since I rarely died, HL2 was a very immersive experience. The linear design made it possible for the scripted events that make the game so cinematic.

I loved Portal which was a a hybrid FPS, puzzle game with an incredible story that was as funny as it was disturbing. I love Team Fortress 2 which distilled the multiplayer team play to the point of science. Few other games offers such variety and balance. Not to mention the Left 4 Dead which combined zombies, co-op play and a unique dark humor. Valve is the only company that actually managed to get me to venture out of my shell and try that multiplayer thing that I have been avoiding for years.

Bethesda nailed the sandbox RPG model. In this day and age, everyone and their mom is using the sandbox but no one does it right. Anyone following Rockstar school of game design tries to design the experience for you. They script the missions so that you have to do them by the numbers. Bethesda tends to give you some overall quest goals and then steps back allowing you to create your own adventures. They let you wander around and steal shit from people’s houses. Most objects in their games can be either destroyed, or stolen and sold for profit. Most of the doors can be lock picked. Most fences can be scaled, jumped or levitated over. There are no impassable chest high walls or fake, painted on scenery. All enemies actually carry the items they are shown wearing. In most games when you kill a powerful knight in full plate armor who is carrying some nasty enchanted blade, all you can loot from his body is 20gp and a crappy magical helmet he wasn’t even wearing. In Bethesda games, looting is a WYSIWYG operation. This is the right way to make sandbox games.

Let me give you an example: my brother once created a Morrowind character who was a Dwemer scholar and artifact collector. He spent all his points on social skills such as bartering and speachcraft and just traveled across the island collecting Dwemer related books, items weapons and armor. He funded this enterprise via theft, drug trafficking (oh, and selling the ridiculously expensive Dark Brotherhood armors to that one talking crab merchant). After a while his house in the game looked like a museum with almost every piece of furniture holding stacks of Dwemer items.

BioWare’s winning formula on he other hand is their writing team. Not that Valve and Bethesda don’t know how to write. They all do, but BioWare makes this a core part of their experience. They can consistently invent new game worlds with expansive and complex lore, and populate them with interesting NPC’s. I mean, just look at these titles: KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Dragon Age. Great story arcs, interesting characters, plot twists and and deep branching dialogs. Their games are usually very linear but let explore the game world quite extensively by talking to NPC – both friend and foe. But most importantly their games let you develop relationships with your companion NPC’s. I mean, I am still kind off shaken by how Morrigan fucked me over in Dragon Age. Same goes for the end game twist in Jade Empire.

What is your favorite game design studio and why?

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14 Responses to Favorite Video Game Companies

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Valve, for much the same reasons as you gave. There’s something magic about what they do… I mean, looking at it critically, all the Half-Life games are pretty much strictly linear, and they aren’t terribly hard, and the background story doesn’t entirely make sense, but despite that, the experience of playing is incredibly compelling every single time.

    The game may in some ways be on rails, but they hide the rails – sometimes it looks like you’ve got multiple choices, but they craft if so that the one direction that doesn’t lead to an immediate deadend is the one I naturally feel inclined to go in. The difficulty is pitched to keep you on your toes but not keep killing you (you actually take less damage when already hurt… and even that’s done subtly enough to not really be noticed at the time)

    As for the story, even if it’s vague and incomprehensible they manage to cloak that behind a layer of suggestion, and they excel at hinting at things – whether it’s through newspaper clippings on a board or graffiti on the wall, they just an environment with the story written into it then let you figure it out.

    Plus Portal was sheer bloody awesome… like one of those fun time/physics-bending flash games, but in full 3D, and with some wonderfully black humour added. TF2 is the main thing I play these days, never gets old. And when I’m not playing TF2 I’m playing L4D.

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  2. My list would include Valve for sure. I have been fully engulfed by Half Life.

    Bungie would be on there for sure. I have played a lot of their games, not just Halo. Marathon and Myth are pretty good.

    Number three would be Origin. Yeah, they got absorbed by EA and forced Richard Garriott to leave. I still get warm fuzzies thinking about all the time I spent playing the Ultima series. Wing Commander really raised the bar for not only flight sims but started the revolution of using movie quality cinematics. And who could forget playing Auto Duel!

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  3. jambarama UNITED STATES Opera Windows Terminalist says:

    I really have loved Blizzard. Other than WoW, which I could never get into, they’ve never released a bad game or released a game too early. They’ve scrapped bad games (e.g. Ghost), their games have great replay value, other than WoW the games work single & multiplayer, and they’ve missed deadlines to balance & release a better game (a good thing IMO).

    Also another vote for Bungie, before MSFT bought them out they did great new innovative stuff. Plus whatever publisher Tim Shafer is working for – lucas arts, doublefine, whatever – everything he touches is genius.

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  4. Aleriel CANADA Google Chrome Windows says:

    My current list is the same as yours, with the addition of Blizzard. I do play WoW, but even aside from that, they’ve been making quality games for years, going back to Flashback, Blackthorne, and Lost Vikings.

    Sierra used to be on my list too, for the awesome (now) classic adventure games. These days everything has to be an RPG/shooter hybrid and there’s not nearly enough love for the good ol’ point & click.

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  5. lessigfan UNITED STATES Opera Windows says:

    For consistency, honestly, I really like nintendo. The zelda games have been pretty fun, the mario games likewise. Of course independent studios sometimes put out killer games – like okami – but there’s no one independent studio I can point to.

    Also iD. Every Doom game has been nothing short of revolutionary. I couldn’t finish Doom 3 for almost 2 years, it terrified me.

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  6. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    My favorite video game companies are alas long dead. My thanks to:

    Black Isle for Fallout and Planescape : Torment.
    Troika for Arcanum and Vampires : Bloodlines.
    Bullfrog for Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital/Park

    Among the living, I like CD Projekt for their work on The Witcher, and their Good Old Games platform. If Maxis ever decided to go back and make another “real” Sim City, I would probably get it as well.

    Obsidian Entertainment has a lot of good people and can produce good game like Neverwinter Nights 2 : Mask of the Betrayer or Knights of the Old Republic 2. They also seem to have good ideas for their upcoming games (Alpha Protocol and a Fallout 3 add-on). I expect a lot from these folks.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Craig A. Betts:

    Interesting – I didn’t even consider Bungie because they don’t really do anything other than Halo nowadays. I never played Myst, but the games were pretty big back in the day so I guess they do deserve some kudos for that. And of course the original Halo was somewhat enjoyable – I just never really played any other installment.

    Good point about Blizzard. Most people associate them with WoW and nothing but WoW these days, but that’s not all they did.

    @ Aleriel:

    Wow, true. Flashback and Lost vikings – ah, the memories. :)

    @ lessigfan:

    Nintendo is pretty consistent, isn’t it. I was just never a big fan of their games or consoles. :P

    @ Zel:

    Oh man, those are classics!

    Btw, I still have to play the Witcher. Quite possibly this will be my next game – as soon as I get bored with Psycho Bitch Sheppard – the Renegade Chick in Mass Effect 2. :P

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  8. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Valve. I own almost all of their games and the steam platform is awesome.

    Runic games is also great company. Runic has created the Torchlight.

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  9. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I’ve never thought about that, but I guess I can name two that made a lot of games I like:

    SNK: Metal Slug, Samurai Showdown, King of Fighters, Puzzle Bobble, Puyo Pop, all great games imho.

    Id: do I have to mention them? Doom, Wolf3D and Quake were the pioneers of the FPSs. They’ve also published and ported to Linux one of my favorite games, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.

    Oh, another is Oddworld Inhabitants, at least the two Abe’s are fantastic games.

    Wait, now that I think of it, is Oddworld the inspiration for Avatar?!
    They have the same type of body, they also use natural powers and they also fight the guys with the machines!

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ IceBrain:

    Heh.. Oddworld was a trip! I loved these games. Also, when I looked at the second picture you linked, I heard Abe’s meditation sound in my head. :)

    I don’t really see the the Avatar connection though.

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  11. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ IceBrain:

    Oh yeah! I forgot the ID. Thats also awesome company.

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  12. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Looking Glass Studios

    Ultima: Underworld
    System Shock

    Need I say more?

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  13. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    And Mythos Games

    Laser Squad

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  14. Adrian BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Bethesda: Their games just make you play on and on and on.

    Creative Assembly: Their Total War series are the best strategy games I’ve -ever- encountered.

    And then there’s Taleworlds from Mount & Blade.

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