The Best Video Games for Creatives
Animation and video games go together better than Doritos and Mountain Dew. So this week I’m celebrating the pairing by suggesting the best video games that animators and other creative types will enjoy.
Creativity in gaming isn’t that widespread, creatives tend to be allowed to do their thing in video games in a few ways: There are the building games, simulators, level designers, creative missions and some wildcards.
The daddy of all creative games. I refuse to believe any of you haven’t heard of this block, based, digital building and exploring game. It even has a ‘Creative Mode’ where you can float around and build freely with every available block type until you neglect all your vital bodily requirements.
It’s wildly popular and doubtless a major contributor to a transition from physical to digital entertainment by the younger generation in the last decade. The freedom afforded to you here is actually a little overwhelming, just type ‘best minecraft builds’ into your search engine of choice. The best builders have made incredible representations of real-life buildings, fantasy landscapes and pixel art-style pieces - inspiring.
In a similar vein to Minecraft (please tell me you picked up on that mining joke), Terraria drops a dimension and sees you building a base before delving sub-terra to fight bosses, find loot and swing pickaxes from a side scrolling perspective.
Taking much of the aspects that made the previous two games popular and blasting them into space, this is sci-fi’s answer to the base building genre. RimWorld leans more into simulation elements, boasting sophisticated psychology, ecology, diplomacy and mercantile elements with a bit of resource management thrown in to keep things spicy.
Keep an eye on this one, it’s still in early access so the firm foundation that it’s already established will be developed and refined further in the coming months.
Kerbal Space Program
Build a space rocket. Try not to explode. Explode a lot. This is for a particular breed of creative: engineers, mostly. KSP is part space flight simulator, part aeronautical designer.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to contend with, sure, but getting your first ship into orbit is a feeling of accomplishment rarely experienced in gaming; a sense of achievement far more rewarding than a little popup coming up at the corner of your screen saying 'achievement unlocked.’
Another one for the engineers, this time with a medieval, war machine kind of vibe. Again, the level of creativity on display here is staggering, especially for an early access title. You are given a mission like: ‘kill these soldiers’ or ‘break this house’, or ‘breach these castle walls,’ then it’s up to you to build a siege engine out of wood, metal, wheels, spikes, fire, springs, pulleys, levers and other physics-altering objects.
If you’re like me then you’ll make some sort of death cube on wheels which fires cannonballs in every direction. If you’re actually creative with your murder you’ll create giant robot people with swords to walk in and smash it up Pacific Rim-style, or build something like a helicopter that drops fire on the place.
Theme Park World/Roller Coaster Tycoon/Planet Coaster
I’ll lump these three together because they share a bunch of elements. They’re all theme park simulation and management games with included building/customisation elements for the rides. Now with VR on the scene, you know it’s gonna be even more fun testing out your coasters right from the front seat.
Oh man, the hours I’ve lost to this one. I remember sitting at home and entering the ‘motherlode’ cheat code so that I could get 50,000 simoleons. Then, I left a paperweight on the ‘enter’ key and went to watch an episode of Dexter’s Lab so that when I came back, the code had been used so much that I could build the biggest, bougiest mansion that simoleons could buy. Good times.
That’s what makes The Sims so appealing. Yes, you can use the simulation elements to live a virtual life that distracts you from the endless, crushing monotony of your own existence OR you can jump into build mode and get creative. Your choice.
This series is like The Sims if it went cartoony and all the humans apart from you were anthropomorphic animals. In a cute way, not in a creepy The Island of Doctor Moreau way. You move to a new town and immediately get bought a house by a Raccoon named Tom Nook, thus landing you deep in the hole against your will.
There’s a surprising depth of customisation here. Pop over to the town textiles shop and you can draw your own designs that can be used as flags, shirts, umbrella designs, even have them printed on the floor.
Got an urge to get horticultural without getting dirty? No worries, you can plant trees, buy some seeds and beautify your town. Wanna do some interior design? Feng shui your house to within an inch of its life and hopefully you’ll get a favourable rating from The Happy Home Academy. Tucker, my woolly mammoth neighbor, is looking for a new catch phrase? No worries, I can invent one.
It’s a game so addictive that you almost forget that you still owe a Raccoon all your money.
A classic city simulator with all the building and management features you’d expect plus a pretty deep modification system - letting you create your utopia with a bit more freedom. This is the Sim City we all wanted, basically. At least it is until the snarky complaints from your citizens makes you want to drive a tornado through the high street. Which is something you can totally do.
Super Mario Maker
My God, the possibilities posed by Mario Maker... Nintendo finally gave us the tools necessary to build a Super Mario level, all within the most polished 2 platforming engine ever devised.
Build your level, then share it online for other makers to play through. Some are faithful representations of the style of level you’d see in a real Mario game, some are incredibly creative puzzle-style maps and some are the most blood-boiling, jaw-clenching, controller-breaking exercises in difficulty ever experienced in platforming.
You can even choose between The OG Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. 3 and the modern New Super Mario Bros. U styles for your level design. Truly a celebration of one of the classics.
Little Big Planet
Honorable mention for LBP’s level designing tools, too. Yeah, it’s sort of unfair plonking this next to Mario Maker, but if you’re a Sony worshipper, you can rest easy knowing that this one is available for you to jump on and flex your level designer muscles.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Uhh, how can I let my creativity out in an action/adventure game? Well Breath of the Wild is one of those open world games with an absurd level of polish and a very well developed physics engine. You’re also given the ability to influence it with magnetic and other force-based powers which leads to some creative puzzle solving.
You can direct a rockslide into a sleeping camp of enemies who are set on fire by an explosive barrel being pushed a tiny bit too close to the campfire. You can attach balloons to a raft and fly over an enemy stronghold, dropping bombs and raining arrows down below from the safety of your flying death fortress. Failing this, you can just surf in on your shield, rip a huge kickflip off a cliff, glide down with your parachute and just start swinging your sword upon landing.
Hitman: Blood Money
The more recent entries for the Hitman series have been great at giving you a scenario, dropping you in and letting you work out which way you’d like to complete it out of the various options available.
The more non-linear missions in my action games, the better. The especially clever thing that Hitman does to encourage experimentation and creativity is to reward you for replaying scenarios and working out totally different paths to your goal.
Tempted by the sound of Hitman but it’s not quite steampunky enough for you? Great, jump into Dishonored, then you little nerd. Here, you get the option to complete your missions through stealth, combat or a mixture of both, all in a parallel reimagining of Victorian-era London.
This approach is music to my ears because I dont have the patience to sneak about undetected all the time and there’s nothing worse than a game giving you a slap on the wrist for not doing something their way. If you believe your character is capable of doing the thing and it works in the fiction: why not?
Divinity: Original Sin
There’s a highly interactive world on show in this series. Take the spells for example: cast a fire spell on a puddle of water to make steam, then throw a bolt of lightning in there to create a mini thunderstorm which proceeds to zap every nearby foe. Needlessly complicated? Maybe. Satisfying? Definitely.
There’s also a beefy adventure editor and modding tool which comes with these games, allowing you to create your own story and share it online for others to run through.
The level is your canvas in Splatoon, not in the same way that it is in Mario Maker, mind. The level is literally your canvas. The main game mode is essentially: which team of squid people armed with paint rollers, sprayers and brushes can paint the level with as much of their colour ink as possible whilst ‘splatting’ the other team.
The squiddy, Japanese, offbeat style of this game is really endearing too. Any fashionistas amongst you will enjoy combining the hottest gear with customisable outfits to create your own style out of the numerous, fictional fashion labels. Plus, with the recent release of Splatoon 2 on the Nintendo Switch, there’s never been a better time to stay fresh.
Drawn to Life
In this game, the player creates their own playable characters, level objects and accessories by drawing them using the touch screen on your phone or console.
The impressive thing here is that you’re free to create your character, the vehicles they use and the weapons they swing. Great for those of you fed up with gaming heroes you can’t relate to or that bore you.
Here’s a fun, simple action/puzzler where you have to overcome certain scenarios by typing in the name of an object, making it appear in the game. Someone can’t jump over a river so you type in ‘wings’ or ‘bridge’ and they pop in and allow them to cross, that sort of thing.
Whilst it has a creative, unique twist, most of the missions are unfortunately, painfully easy. One for the kids really.
Perhaps Spore didn’t create as big of a splash as it was hyped up to, but it still definitely needs a mention here. Where else can you design a single cell organism and guide its evolutionary/ species development until it enacts galactic conquest? Yeah, not too many of these about.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Okay, I bet you didn’t expect to see a fighting game on this list today, but buckle up whilst I justify myself, because this is arguably the most creative one of its kind to ever grace gaming.
Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus and other stars from the biggest Nintendo franchises face off in a fighting game where you have to knock the other players off the screen by increasing the amount of damage you do to them, knocking them further with each subsequent hit. Sounds simple, but the freedom you’re allowed in the game engine is what makes Melee shine.
There are so many technical skills that have been discovered by persistent players spending time ‘in the lab’, practicing various techniques: L-cancelling lets you act more quickly when landing after an aerial attack, allowing for faster follow-up attacks. Shield dropping lets you drop through platforms to the stage below more quickly. Wavedashing lets you input a jump, then an air dodge which sends you diagonally down, allowing you conserve your momentum. Again, this opens the door to some of the most spectacular follow ups and custom combos.
This is the thing that earns Smash, its place on this list: there are no set combos. It isn’t like other fighting games like Street Fighter or Tekken where you pause the game, go into ‘moves list’ and scroll through pages of various button combinations that’ll allow you to do some bonkers attacks. In Melee, every combo is a string of single attacks and movement options.
That’s why the spectators at the biggest tournaments lose their minds when they see a Fox player pull off some flashy combo that knocks out the other player without giving them a chance to escape. - they’ve literally never seen it before in the 16 years that Melee has been out.
A prominent smasher and commentator who goes by Prog famously said “Smash is like jazz.” It’s not like other fighting games where the sheet music is in front of you and you just have to follow it. Here, you have the chords and it’s up to you how to put them together. You have all the room to improvise.
For a party game that Nintendo released in 2001, Melee has shown remarkable perseverance; it’s still one of the biggest draws at the Evo 2017 Championship Series (a competitive fighting esports tournament) today. The community is still incredibly active and there are major tournaments with international entrants almost every weekend. There’s even 4 hours of documentary to get your teeth stuck into if you want to catch up on the last decade or so of Melee. Trust me, you should.
That’s enough games to be getting on with for now, then! Some of you may even be trying to break into the video gaming industry so let me know if you’ve been inspired by other great games for creatives out there that I’ve missed!
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