Hub towns are places you keep going back to between quests or between levels. Sometimes they are just simple spaces where you select your next level or maybe buy some equipment. However, the most fantastic hub towns increase your investment in the game by giving you someplace familiar to return to and recurring characters you grow to care about. Not all all hubs are "towns" exactly, as you will see from our list. However, the best ones feel like they have a community or a space that's worth exploring and fun to come back to over and over. They have character and create a sense of immersion and connection that makes for a memorable part of these adventures and stories.
Hillys is the fantastic hub world/city from Beyond Good and Evil. It’s a place filled with several islands and you have to go jetting around on a hover boat to explore it all. Hillys has a lot of personality. Charming anthropomorphic creatures lounge about the Akuda Bar. News reports and danger warnings blast out across the city. However, what makes Hillys so great is that there is a lot to explore and more to see as the game continues. Many of the best levels in the game are side missions discovered throughout the city. There are hover boat races, strange factories to explore, and loot to be found. When it’s all said and done, Hillys really isn’t that huge, but it filled with fun characters, hidden levels, and an endearing quality that makes you motivated to save it from the evil aliens that come to threaten it. That’s one of the magical things about great hub cities, they get you invested in the story by repeatedly making you care about the world and its people.
Peach’s Castle from Mario 64
Mario has had a lot of hub towns over the years, but the castle from his first 3D platforming adventure is probably the most memorable. It had a strange and magical ambience to it. It was filled with gallery after gallery of paintings you literally jumped into to enter the game’s levels. What made it the most fun, however, was exploring the castle itself. To find all of the levels you searched around corners, checked nooks and crannies, and had to make your way through entirely different sections of the castle. There were secret slides, hidden stars, and a random bunny that kept showing up for you to chase through the castle corridors. The grand finale was a cannon that shot up to the top of the entire castle where you discovered your dinosaur friend Yoshi hanging out…and you could accidently fall through the roof and glitch out the game. Well, nothing’s perfect. What made Peach’s Castle so memorable was the sense of discovery. In previous Mario games, you simply went to the next level either automatically or by selecting it off of a map screen. In Peach’s Castle, there were worlds to discover. When a hub world has so many details to discover, it can make the entire game world seem more fun and alive.
The Normandy from the Mass Effect Trilogy
The Normandy was not a city or hub world in the traditional sense. It was your starship. Still, it is the place you went back to time and time again. It was a hub you got to move around through the galaxy. Exploring this hub wasn’t really about exploring the space so much. New parts of your starship don’t unlock and there aren’t that many rooms to discover. Instead, it’s the characters that make the Normandy so fulfilling as a hub. The Normandy was filled with all kinds of folks to talk to and many of them had different things to say depending on where your hub ship was currently parked and where you were in your quests. The Normandy was a hub world you could change and alter not so much by changing the architecture but by changing the people. After every major mission, it was always worth walking around your ship to see what affect the story was having on your crew. This is another great way hubs help out a game. They show the impact of your actions by showing how the results have changed those closest to you.
Showdown Town from Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts
Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was a game about inventing your own vehicles, building them out of spare parts, and then seeing how they could help you explore the world. The hub city of Showdown Town was a fantastic place to try out your new ideas without the risk of losing a mission and having to start over. This hub city encouraged experimentation and invention. More and more of it became available the further you went into the game, but when it was available wasn’t always obvious. Sometimes you had to build the right crazy contraption and really play around to discover just where you could get. While some of the challenges of Nuts and Bolts could get frustrating, bouncing around Showdown Town was almost always pure fun. Hub towns can really increase your enjoyment of a game by giving you a safe place to play before you go off and face real danger.
Ironforge from World of Warcarft
Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) take the concept of hub worlds to a whole new level. Not only does the hub serve as a home base for you, it’s the hub for the whole community of players on your team/server. The hub becomes somewhere to meet other players, exchange goods, and often house game elements such as important npc’s, quests, events, trainers, merchants, services. One MMO hub city that stands out as the essence of this concept for many is the city of Ironforge in the game World of Warcraft. For the Alliance gnomes and dwarves, Ironforge is an impressive city with many features that keep you coming back again and again. Shaped like a wheel, with a central forge and several themed spokes, Ironforge is a city that is easy to navigate and home to a host of invaluable services. The auction house, bank, great forge, flight path, and tram are all easy to access and frequently full of players chatting, crafting, trading, grouping up to go on adventures, and passing through en route to other parts of the world. The city manages to feel full and vast at the same time, and the thematic undermountain vista is an unforgettable sight that will always feel like home for those of us who have spent countless hours running through it's halls. A hub world can be a place for players to come together and share experiences, as well as provide important options in a game in the form of services.
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5 Game Salute Games from Cool People We Met at Gencon
Today’s “shopping” list of what YOU can buy (or preorder) with your Game Salute credit when you win is a little different, we’re going to tell you about some games designed by some of the really great folks we got a chance to meet at Gencon this summer. One of the greatest things about working with a publisher like Game Salute is that there’s a whole bunch of independent design studios all demoing games side-by-side at conventions and it creates a fun community setting for everyone. As first time attendees of Gencon and brand new to the gaming industry as designers, it was really great to have such a welcoming group of people to hang out with, and it was awesome to get a chance to learn about some great new games.
If I’m Going Down: If I’m Going Down… is a unique zombie themed game in which you are GOING to die, but the fun is in taking down as many of those brain-munching shamblers as possible with you. Designer A.J. Porfirio has written some great advice and consideration for designers looking to use Kickstarter to fund their games (which helped us immensely in our preparation for the Story Realms campaign), and was someone we really enjoyed meeting in person because he’s such a nice guy and a fellow parent of young kids who could commiserate with missing our babies while at the show!
Chicken Caesar(Preorder): In Chicken Caesar you play as an artiscratic ancient Roman chicken family… yeah, I just said that!. Seriously, this game has a well-integrated theme and really solid political gameplay that is sure to amuse and challenge even the most noble roosters! We saw so many packed tables of people having a great time vying for the title of Caesar throughout the show, this game is not to be missed. As an aside, the folks at Nevermore Games are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for Mars Needs Mechanics, another game that looks like an absolute blast!
Carnival: In Carnival you are trying to open your midway before your opponents; flying swings, bumper cars, carousels! Carnival is Dice Hate Me Games first title, and while the designer Cherilyn Kirkman wasn’t at Gencon, we did get to meet Chris and play a couple games with him. It was a very surreal experience to be sitting across the table a podcaster we’ve been listening to for a long time, but Chris is a really friendly guy who made it easy to just jump in and play.
Pixel Lincoln(Preorder): Pixel Lincoln is a sidescrolling deck-building game in which you play as a pixilated version of Americ’as favorite president and battle bad-guys, power-up, and tackle bosses! I made it a point to go introduce myself to designer Jason Tagmire, because Pixel Licoln is one of the recent Kickstarter projects that I got really excited about. I love the merging of two of my favorite hobbies (video and board games) and Pixel Lincoln is a cool cross-over mash-up of awesome!
GrandpaBecks Cover Your A$$ets: I had the pleasure of meeting Grandpa Beck and his wife at Gen Con. They were lovely folks that were very pleasant to hang out with. My family is a bunch of card sharks and Cover Your Assets is a game I’m seriously considering getting as a Christmas gift for some of them. The mechanics are pretty simple. You lay down pairs of assets of different values onto your stack. You can steal from other peoples stacks and the goal is to be the first person to a million dollars in assets. It may not have the high fantasy or sci-fi feel I usually love in games, but there’s something charming about it that I really enjoyed. The rules may be simple, but there was a surprising level of strategy and interesting consideration throughout the game.
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