Video-Game Artist Mark Essen's Top-10 Playlist
A recent graduate of Bard College, Essen designs games that resemble the 25-cent polygon-ridden Atari coin-ops that existed for a brief, but absolutely vital, window of time. On the surface, his games appear to be pure, playable homage, though once examined, can be unveiled as something both reactionary and subversive. In 2008, BusinessWeek did a write-up on one of Essen's online "action" games, entitled "You Found The Grappling Hook." Soon after the mention, Essen reconfigured the game and re-posted it -- this time, to be based around an office full of BusinessWeek writers. The goal? To seek out the employees who could no longer stand to work for BusinessWeek and pitch them out a window. Graphically straight out of 1983, the "revamped" version highlighted exactly what it is to participate in the 21st century's digital landscape: Create, Send, Respond, Fashion New Response, Re-Send.
Mark Essen's latest work is currently featured in one of the most expansive, talked-about shows to date at The New Museum in downtown NYC, called "The Generational: Younger Than Jesus," exclusively showcasing 50 different artists aged 33 and under, of which he is the youngest. Essen sat down with PsychoPEDIA and named for us a handful of absolute must-play titles. Seek them out and see them differently than you did when you were a kid and Mom made you press Pause when dinner was ready:
1. Crystal Quest (Mac)/ Sexy Hiking (PC)
Two gnarly, mouse-controlled, very unforgiving games. When you finally squeeze through that gate in Crystal Quest after clearing the screen, the game audibly sighs. When you get to the end of a Sexy Hiking level it just screams at you.
2. Rampart (SNES)/ Ken Griffey Jr (SNES)/ Virtua Tennis (PC)
The game play in these comes pretty naturally if you know how to pack, or have a basic understanding of baseball or tennis. The best part is you can still play them for hours. Totally tubular games, to be sure.
3. Joe and Mac (SNES)/ Contra 3 (SNES) / Jurassic Park 2 (SNES)
Way cool games to get you pumped. A few scenes: break a woolly mammoth apart piece-by-piece with fire and bones (Joe and Mac); kill hordes of bees flying out of a giant turtle's mouth (Contra 3), shoot a raptor in the face while hanging from a power line (Jurassic Park 2).
4. Metal Warriors (SNES)
You can jump out of your giant robot and get into a different one. Some of them can fly. Totally awesome.
5. Mech Warrior 3050 (SNES)/ Steel Battalion (Xbox)
The only way to play Mech Warrior is 2-player co-op. One person controls the legs, the other the turret. Combat is super-clunky so you have to collectively memorize exactly what to do in each level. While I haven't played Steel Battalion, I'm sure it's great. Flight sims always tempt you to build that ultimate setup of rudder pedals, throttle levers, joystick and seat, but I've never been able to justify it. This game forces all the players to invest the money and space for a huge panel of buttons and joysticks as well as three pedals, so the online matches must be pretty groovy. Ultimately we're going to need a control panel that connects to other panels that control different parts of the vehicle, like Rock Band. …I guess you could just join the army.
6. Mondo Medicals (PC)/ Stench Mechanics (PC)
Coolest games I can think of where the player wears a space suit besides Metal Warriors.
7. Star Fox (SNES)/ Star Fox 2 (SNES - never released)
Outrageous colors and crazy abstract low-poly models. Everything is moving pretty fast but it's all choreographed so well and the music blows me away.
8. Pilot Wings (SNES) / Wings 2: Aces High (SNES)
Flying is the ultimate mode of travel in 3-D games, and these two were the funky beginnings that did it best. Pilotwings was all about flying relative to the ground, Wings 2 was relative to your opponent in the air.
9. Over Flanders Fields (PC)
This is the best WWI dog-fighting simulator I've found. The planes are so slow and the graphics are really beautiful. It doesn't need a soundtrack. It's great.
10. Arena Maze of Death (GG)
I pretty much just like this for its name and the fact that you can play it on a Game Gear.
The Generational: Younger Than Jesus runs at the New Museum in NYC through June 14th 2009.
Seventh photo by David Waldman
Eigth photo by Danielle