Go back in time 3 weeks, track me down and ask me if I plan on picking up Torchlight. I will look at you with the kind of expression you’d expect from a Labrador Retriever that’s just been told a dirty joke.
Today, on the other hand, Torchlight dominates me like a leather clad Amazon.
This game is a prime example of why I can still be passionate about video games. Not just because it is an outstanding Diablo clone that bests more than half the $60 games I played this year at a third of the price, but because it came out of nowhere.
It’s the equivalent of having the video game industry throw a dodgeball at my head and shout “Heads Up!” in that breath of an instant before the plastic cauliflowers my ear — except in an awesome way.
Even though I spend too many hours every week surfing the ever cresting wave of game news, an addict without restraint, games that barely register on the periphery of my consciousness can occasionally break through and knock down my well-tempered cynicism. In the moment of playing a game like Torchlight, untempered by expectation, I am a child again.
This has been a good autumn for that kind of game. Torchlight has been sharing time for the past week with the equally-out-of-left-field Panzer General: Allied Assault. Not only are these not the games I’d have been expecting to play at the end of October, but up until very recently I had no idea they even existed.
Julian’s thoughts on Panzer General may easily be mistaken for my own, and I’d accuse him of plagiarism is such a crime were possible for unspoken opinions. It is a product that can only share my plane of existence through the gateway of overwhelming peer opinion—a card-based, World War II, strategy board game. Are you serious with this?
And so, I am awash in unanticipated gaming joy. The purest distilled form of such a thing.
This is not my veiled manifesto against hype. I’m not winding my way toward the inevitable beat down of the overwhelming PR machine that feeds my head and populates my fevered dreams. On the contrary, I’ve played hundreds of games where the best part of the experience is the innocent joy of anticipation. Frankly, I love hype.
There’s great joy in circling a day on a calendar, planning subversive ways to credibly sound sick when you call in to work. I love the moment of purchase, when the transaction is made and this thing you have pined for is within your grasp. I even love the part where you buy the game halfway through the work day and then have to wait four more hours til you can rush home, ignore your wife and kids and plug the damn thing in.
The downside, of course, is that sometimes what you’ve got is a Hellgate: London, Too Human or Spore. But, even that is ok, because in the long run I probably got at least part of my money’s worth in the sheer anticipation. I mean, I don’t really spend a dollar on a lottery ticket because I think I’m going to win. I spend the money because for an hour or a day I get to dream of what I will do with my multi-millions of dollars.
If I may paraphrase that sage of wisdom, Alan Thicke: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.
You can thank me later for putting that song in your head all day.
But a game like Torchlight is something different entirely. It is the unexpected happiness of a surprise birthday party instead of the desperate longing for just the right birthday gift. It is the blind date that blossoms into a perfect evening as opposed to finally getting up the nerve to hit-it-off with that brunette vixen in Chemistry class. It is turning on the radio just as your favorite song begins instead of buying a long awaited album from your favorite band.
Somehow, the unexpected game is easier to love, because you have so little to expect from it. It isn’t burdened by preconceived notions, and so the warts aren’t so big and the barriers not so challenging. It is a pure love, brief and fiery like the spark of a match.
I know that in the coming year, after Torchlight has lost its burn and Panzer General has become just another game in my XBLA toychest, some new game I’ve never heard of will dominate my thoughts for a while. I can’t wait.