I’ve played many games and have many favourites. There’s always at least one thing in common in all of my top recommended games that I talk to my friends about, and thought it would make for a good blog post. While fairly broad, I still believe that recognising the existence of them is fairly important. What am I talking about? Read on.
The Knuckle Crack
We’ve all seen it before - someone in class cracking as many fingers as possible to show off or simply relieve pressure in their joints, some badass cracking their knuckles as they prepare to beat the crap out of someone, or maybe you’ve done it yourself. Cracking your knuckles can be a signal of preparation, respite, or both. Maybe you think it’s gross or bad for the human body, but people do it anyway. Why exactly are we talking about this?
Let’s perform some abstraction on this subject for a moment. What I want to focus on is not the action of cracking one’s knuckles, but the situation and feelings that build up to the point where you want to. ‘The knuckle crack moment’ is when some proper shit is about to happen, it’s the buildup of adrenaline, it’s when time slows down just enought to give you that feeling of let’s go. We’re no longer talking about the cracking of knuckles, we’re talking about the moment.
The Knuckle Crack moment in gaming
I’ve downloaded a few audio clips to help set the mood. I’ll make sure to credit the videos I got them from so make sure to give credit where it’s due over there. For the following sections, I feel like the power of audio is what’s truly going to take you back (or if you haven’t played the game, to convince you to take it up). I’d like to point out now that There are most definitely going to be spoilers so please be careful what you read after the following image. I’ll put the name of the game in the title so that you know whether you want to truly read the section. Note, that I’m not really spoiling for the sake of revealing info, I’m just going to be describing a moment in the game, moments that I feel should be discovered. It won’t necessarily be story spoilers, but please don’t read this as it’s safe therefore I’ll read. I’m just letting you know.
Series-specific moments: Halo: Combat Evolved - Halo
So I’m going to start things off with a very minor spoiler (mission 2) but more importantly a well cherished memory of a lot of you out there. This isn’t some dramatic plot twist or boss battle, but it’s as memorable as one. Here’s the video I took the following audio clip from.
Your escape pod has crashed and you are being hunted by the covenant - the enemy. A space ship frops off some sort of vehicle with a turret on the back allowing a second passenger to dish out machine-gun fire. It’s a Warthog, the first of the game. You enter the driver’s seat and this music plays. While the version used in the mission is a tad more toned down, this theme is played whenever a heroic Warthog-moment occurs in the game. When you hear this music, it just feels right. Hopefully you were cracking your knuckles mentally, as I feel shivers whenever I hear it. If not, then don’t worry, I’m trying to get the weaker ones out of the way.
Moments of stress, difficulty or trauma: Halo: Combat Evolved - The Library
Bonus memory from the first Halo I played. To be honest, the entire soundtrack fills me with memories, but this is probably the second most prominant one for me. Audio taken from here.
You’ve seen them before, you’ve heard about them in the previous missions and most importantly you’ve fought them - The Flood. For the young me, this track really takes me back to the first moments of the mission as the enemies started spawning. It starts off with a few spores but before you know it the numbers start multiplying. As soon as you start this mission, even if you have played it before, you know what it’s going to be like. The atmosphere of the mission is a mixture of suspense, difficulty, action, horror, hopelessness and persistance. You know you have to get through it, but you also know what you have to fight. Be ready.
Competitive bloodthirst: Your favourite competetive multiplayer games
Now I know this one is a bit of a cop-out but hear me out. I’ve been talking mainly about single player games in this article, but multiplayer ones deserve a bit of a mention as well. The reason I haven’t gone into as much depth with multiplayer games is because people love different games for different reasons and so trying to choose a game to talk about is difficult. I think we have all experienced a knuckle crack moment just as the match is about to start though.
For me, Dota 2 was the game when my friends and I were passionate about. MOBAs are kind of walking out the door right now and I haven’t played in ages, but I remember the feeling of winning a tough match and instantly queuing to get back into the game and beat some noobs. Quake, TimeSplitters (Split screen and bots of course), Dota 2, World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2 have all given me these feelings - I simply mentioned Dota 2 because a lot of people have been into MOBAs.
Now that this section is out the way, let’s get back to the memorable single player games.
The new-area feels: Dark Souls 3: Irithyll of the Boreal Valley
We’ve all gone through some tunnel or doorway and been exposed to scenery that has really amazed us. One of the most recent games that has hit me in this way was Dark Souls 3. Can’t really talk about it without pasting the image, so here it is.
Discovering a new area is like a new toothpaste tube, a can of deodorant or new socks. It’s both something that happens semi-regularly in comparison to other events, but it is always appreciated. When I first laid eyes upon the scenery captioned by “Irithyll of the Boreal Valley”, I truly was amazed. This is the kind of stuff that people make wallpapers of. The best part is that you can 100% explore it - you can climb that mountain. You take a moment to embrace the freshness before jumping into some new content. One of the more casual ways to get pumped in a video game.
Challenge presentation: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Intro
The following video is not a spoiler as it’s the very first cutscene in Ground Zeroes, although the characters involved won’t necessarily make any sense to you if you don’t know anything about MGS. The knuckle-crack moment here does not depend on any of this though! Here’s a link to the video.
This video is a little bit longer, and while I only wish to direct your attention to the scenes occuring after the 9 minute mark watching the whole thing with the idea that this is the first cutscene in mind will really help.
So this cutscene does five things: It introduces a little bit of lore and the mission by explaining what you’re doing here, it highlights the villain, it reveals the protagonist of the game Big Boss and finally it reveals the setting of the game OKB-Zero. When the lightning strikes and Snake says ‘Kept you waiting, huh?’, anyone interested in the game will begin to feel a little excited. Soon after, the camera pans around to a very panoramic view of the base you’re about to be sneaking into. Any MGS or even stealth game fanatic won’t be able to contain their giddiness over diving into such a cool looking base. Yes, you do have to sneak into there.
How upcoming challenges are presented in games can really affect the player’s first impressions. In Ground Zeroes, the player assumes control of a seemingly unstoppable character, but is also presented an immensely locked-down prison camp for them to sneak into. New players will definitely have a fun time learning just how many ways there are to traverse the various parts to the camp. I absolutely love this cutscene, and while it may not be the best MGS (although certainly better than The Phantom Pain) I rate this one pretty highly.
Boss fights: Nier Automata: Opera Singer
Boss fights are always a good source of knuckle crack moments. Whether you’re on your first try, nth attempt or even a revisit, it’s highly likely you’ll experience some sort of rush before the fight begins.
Nier Automata was (and still is) one of my favourite games of all time. This boss fight isn’t the biggest spoiler and nor is it the reason it’s so high on my list, but the music along with the introduction of the villain is spot on. In case the embed below doesn’t work, here’s a link.
This rush you experience can generally be applied to any boss fight as long as the elements involved are interesting, such as any combination of the following: difficulty, fun, length, reward, arenas, characters involved, gimmicks, strategies or even the soundtrack. If the boss fight is good then generally the run-up to it is also good, which hypes you up for the fight itself.
Plot twists: Portal: Chamber 19
If you have no idea regarding the events that occur in the first Portal game, please skip this chapter or go play it yourself. I can complete the game in 45 minutes, so it won’t take long for you to experience the wonder that is Portal. Also, if the embed below doesn’t work, here’s a link.
I have hunch that most people out there have completed Portal, but I could be wrong. Those who have will surely have this part of the game burned into their long term memory that’s for sure. Valve really played a good hand here with the surprise factor.
You start the game waking up in the first chamber of the game. From the first minute, you are already made aware that you are a subject in various tests and that GLaDOS, the robotic voice you hear, is watching and controlling everything. Your character doesn’t speak, allowing you to truly express yourself in the sense that you know everything that your character does, and your character does everything that you tell it to. It doesn’t speak for you, it doesn’t have a personality, it’s all you. You play through the levels of the game shooting blue and orange portals to traverse chambers containing different puzzles before you get to the infamous chamber 19. After completing a relatively simple puzzle, you find yourself travelling on a small platform above a deadly liquid, where you patiently wait to see what’s next.
There’s a sign for the fabled cake that GLaDOS has talked a lot about, signalling the end of the game. What’s around the corner you wonder? As soon as you get a glimpse, you begin to hear some ominous music and GLaDOS starts ‘congratulating you’, assuring that the equipment you’re holding will not be damaged whatsoever. What is she talking about? The gigantic fire pit that she’s planning to incinerate you with. When you first reach this part, you’re in a bit of shock as you’re desperate to try and find your way out. This is also when you notice that the main meat of the game is about to begin, and that those chambers were simply ‘setting the scene’. The escape isn’t all that difficult once you’ve calmed yourself, but it’s exciting nonetheless.
As I mentioned, I think that the best part about this scene is the surprise factor. For the past hour, maybe more, you have been mindlessly solving puzzles and obeying what GLaDOS has told you. All of a sudden, you are being discarded and being forced to think for yourself - not in the sense of finding a solution to the puzzle but more in a ‘what do I do now?’ kind of way. It makes you ask yourself what you’re really doing in this facility, who the hell GLaDOS is and if anyone come before you and met an unfortunate fate. It both breaks and replaces your immersion in one go, from test subject to prey.
Epic moments: Half Life 2: Episode 2: Antlion Defense
This is both one of the biggest spoilers of this post and also one of my favourite examples of what I mean by a knuckle cracking moment. My words will never, ever do this justice. If you haven’t played this game, please get off of my blog unless you intend to play it. Seriously, there’s a reason people love these games.
I feel like this should be a spectacle for you to see as it’s a blast of audio and visual cues that makes this part so brilliant. The scene is split into two parts (not really, but the videos I’m using to show it are): the setup is in this video. You really really need to watch the setup before you watch the actual part I’m talking about, as context is really important in understanding why this fight feels so good. Here is the second part of the video, but I am going to embed it below. Please watch the above link first though.
The videos are old and the quality a little undesirable, but in my mind it just makes it all the more authentic. So, you find that some lonely guys who have got a perimeter set up for the antlions (alien bugs). Seeing as you’ve just come through, they are worried about if you were followed. They are quick to ask you to help out and show you on how their system works: devices with lights are placed next to each of the tunnels that are connected to the area and each device has three lights. The lights represent the impending threat level of the corresponding tunnel where one is light threat and three is heavy threat. You are then thrown into some combat using this system to predict where the enemies are coming from. You also have mines and turrets at your disposal - a very common occurence seeing as usually these are obstacles for you and not your opponents.
Eventually, three lights appear. People start freaking out, something is coming! But it’s just a false alarm as some friendly Vortigaunts come to your aid. After a brief chat regarding their arrival, they conclude with “More antlions approach. We shall quiet them.” Anyone who has played games before will already have an idea that something bad is coming given the additional allies. All of a sudden, three lights in every tunnel. Music kicks in (Vortal Combat) as everyone starts panicking - “Oh shit! The whole is lit up! Grab a tunnel!” followed by “Are you ready, Freeman?”. Just as the music kicks in, shit hits the fan, antlions burst through the ground, vortigaunts and humans work together to survive, turrets rattle until they are destroyed. You knew the fight was coming. the music is a sign that it’s about to begin. Three lights on every tunnel. I can’t really describe this moment other than ‘perfect’. If you don’t understand what I mean by cracking your knuckles after watching that fight, then I guess I can’t convince you.
There’s probably many examples of knuckle cracking moments in gaming that I haven’t mentioned, but my goal here was to merely discuss their existance. This was a very nostalgic post to write I can assure you!
While not every good game contains a moment like the ones discussed, I have found that the most memorable games have a brief moment just to break the tension before going into some amazing segment. Another thing I have found is that the best knuckle-crack moments take advantage of more than one avenue of reaching the player. I’m not just talking about graphics and audio here. Level design, sound design, character design, pace of gameplay, atmosphere, difficulty and even the control scheme all contribute to what makes some moments in gaming spectacular.