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The Modern Game Gods December 12, 2014

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Game Gods.
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For the past year I’ve been keeping track on this site of some of the greatest game developers in the world. Developers that were so great, they had in my opinion earned the title of “God”. However, in my haste to create my first two lists I neglected to mention that a new generation of Game Gods had slowly began rising to prominence in the past few years. There’s more to games than just the Triple-A multimillion dollar budget games, some games can be deeply personal work of just a few people and still grow to reach success beyond what their peers had done.

Today, we’re going to be looking at some of these developers in an article I’m calling The Modern Game Gods.  If you would like to read any other information about the Game Gods, you can read some of our earlier articles here.

Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago – The former duo from thatgamecompany was responsible for the three titles that put the Playstation 3’s downloadable games on the map, Fl0w, Flower and JourneyFlower is without a doubt one of my favorite games on the Playstation 3’s library as the perfect controls, unique art style, and amazing music won me over when I saw it demoed at a Yale Art Discussion.  Chen directed all three games while Santiago served in a producer role for the first two titles, and finally served as President of the company until her departure in 2012.  You can’t argue with the results, as Journey alone received several Game of the Year awards in 2012, a feat nearly unheard of for a digital only title.  Sadly, the duo has seemed to split.  If you haven’t played these games, don’t worry, Sony has already ported Flower and Fl0w to the Playstation 4 in full 1080p, and Journey is coming soon.  The best part is if you already purchased the games on the PS3, you don’t need to rebuy them.

Kim Swift – In 2007, Valve Software released The Orange Box, a compilation of three Half-Life 2 titles, a long awaited multiplayer game, and an entirely new game that was unlike anything gamers had seen before, Portal.  Originally designed as a small independent project produced by Swift and her team, it was so unlike anything anyone had seen before it caught the eye of the teams at Valve Software.  Valve hired the team and got them to port their technology over to Half-Life 2’s Source Engine so it could be included in a retail release.   At launch, gamers everywhere marveled at the unique gameplay as they tried to wrap their heads around solving puzzles presented to them by placing real-time portals throughout a game world.  Seven years later, that game was the only one out of the entire Orange Box to receive a full priced retail sequel.  How different would our world be if we never got the game Portal?  Thankfully we don’t have to worry about that.

Arnt Jensen – Arnt was the Director of Limbo, a unique title originally designed for the Xbox 360.  Not satisfied with an increasingly corporate gaming industry, he set out to create something small and personal with an art style inspired by his personal drawings.  The results were a game that was just as much of a piece of art as it was a fun title.  Limbo was dark, moody and minimalistic.  After the game was released on the 360, the demand to see the game on other platforms was so high it surprised everyone, and now you can probably find it on almost every platform, including the Xbox One.  After playing Limbo, I’m really looking forward to Jensen’s next tile, Inside.

Jonathan Blow – Creator of Braid, the game that was so good it made a lot of gamers demand more independent titles come to consoles.  Braid was brilliant in how it set itself apart from other games offered on the Xbox Live Marketplace.  It offered a familiar gameplay style by appearing on its face to be a charming 2D sidescroller, but Braid offered a twist by giving players the ability to manipulate time.  This offered an entirely new dimension players would need to master to solve the game’s puzzles.  It ended up becoming one of the games that put Xbox Live Marketplace on the map and showed gamers that Xbox Live could offer more than just old arcade game ports.  His next game, The Witness, just looks amazing.

Marcus “Notch” Persson – Notch is the Creator of Minecraft, a small PC game which completely blew up in a way that few independently produced titles could ever have dreamed of.  It was more than just a game of stacking blocks, the game gave you the tools to create whatever you wanted.  Limited only by your imagination, you could create theme parks, castles in the sky, or even recreate your favorite locations from other games, and make your creations easily accessible to the entire world.  It isn’t unheard of to have a game to find that much popularity based around its modification tools, as gamers have been modifying their games since before the days of Doom, but Minecraft took player-made content to an entirely new level.  Now Minecraft can now be found on almost every platform including console and mobile platforms.  Now that his company was purchased by Microsoft, Notch is moving on.

Tasha Harris Sounart – She’s worked with studios like Pixar and Double Fine, and I’m sure most of you know her as the Director of Double Fine’s Costume Quest, but personally I loved reading through this woman’s webcomic series, appropriately titled Tasha’s Comic.  As you can see from the fact that Costume Quest’s artwork matches her comic’s art so closely, her art style has a charm all its own and it shows in her work as uniquely as a fingerprint.  As for Costume Quest itself, it had a great story, fun gameplay, and became a must download title for me.  Now, you can probably find Costume Quest and its sequel on almost every platform.

Frank Wilson – One of the brains behind the work of Twisted Pixel, a formerly independent studio responsible for some of the quirkiest titles I’ve seen on the Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace. If you’ve played a Twisted Pixel Game, he’s the guy you can find in the Powered by Beard video which starts up the game.  Ever since the release of Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, I have been following this studio pretty closely.  Each of their games have offered a new twist on themes you would not think could be adapted to video games, like comic books, self-aware motorcycles, and beings made up entirely of explosions.  I was really happy to see their most recent release, LocoCycle, released day one on the Xbox One.


The NEXT Game Gods October 24, 2014

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Game Gods.
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Some time ago, I posted an article heavily influenced by the groundwork laid out by PC Gamer Magazine fourteen years ago.  In it, they detailed a list of some of the greatest PC game developers in the world and gave them the title of “God”.  A year later it was followed it up with gaming’s newest hotshots of the time who could have become the next generation of PC game designers.  I thought it was a great list, but I felt that by just keeping track of PC game developers, it was an incomplete list.  There are so many other great game developers out there that are also worthy of the title “Game God”.  It’s been a while since that list was originally posted, and a new list of great game developers have risen to prominence.

So here are the names of who I deem to be the second generation of Game Gods, in as chronological an order as I can present them.

Yuji Hori – This man is the father of Dragon Quest, and many believe that makes him the creator of the Japanese Role Playing Game (or Console Role Playing Game if you prefer).  In Japan, his name is synonymous with video games, an honor that even Mario’s creator does not have in Japan, but he started with very humble beginnings.  Rising to prominence by creating a small independent PC title and entering it into a game development contest Enix was hosting at the time, he found himself with a job at a major publisher.  After spending many nights playing PC RPGs like Wizardry, Hori was able to adapt the complex gameplay previously only thought possible on the PC platform, and make it fun on a console.  With the launch of Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in the US), Hori cemented his reputation, and became the predominant JRPG creator in his home country.

Tom Hall – This guy was one of the world’s first true game designers.  Starting in an industry where a game’s story would be a single paragraph written on a game manual, Tom Hall could create an entire universe for his games to exist in.  One of the founding members of id Software, most people will fondly remember him from his work on Commander Keen and Wolfenstien, but I most fondly remember him as the director of the PC exclusive RPG, Anachronox.  I know he’s been hoping to do a sequel to the Commander Keen series for years now, and I really hope that he gets to do it, but really I just want him to make Anachronox 2.

Shigisatu Itoi – A copywriter by trade, many people consider him to be the Japanese version of David Berry.  This guy is just really funny.  But I don’t think anyone would forget his work writing the story of the Earthbound (Mother series) on Nintendo’s consoles.  When Earthbound (Mother 2) launched, it didn’t sell as much as Nintendo had hoped it would, and dashed hopes any other games in the Mother series would come to the US.  However, sometimes it takes a while for people to appreciate greatness and over the past few years, Earthbound quietly became one of the must play titles of the Super Nintendo’s generation.  While he has said that Mother 3 will be his final title in the Mother series, he would not rule out the possibility that he would work on future game titles.  Earthbound finally saw a rerelease on the Wii U’s Virtual Console last year, and all we can do now is hope Nintendo releases the other two games in the Mother series in the US.

Shinji Mikami – The creator of Resident Evil, and the man that many credit as the creator of the Survival Horror genre.  Since leaving Capcom, Resident Evil has grown to become one of the most well known franchises in the history of gaming, going as far as to get several live action theatrical releases, a brief theme park experience at Universal Studios, and even its own themed restaurant in Japan.  Most recently he directed The Evil Within, which took horror games to a place I never thought would be possible.  Its a fantastic title I have not been able to put down.

Jordan Weissman – One of the stars behind the ill-fated FASA Studios, most people remember his company for the Mechwarrior series but, I’ll love him for the Crimson Skies franchise.  I don’t know what it is about that series, when it launched on the PC, its style just really stood out to me.  Perhaps it was the art style that showed such a love of classic pulp serials, but when the game series was finally brought to the original Xbox console, it became an early must own title for Xbox Live players.  Since leaving Microsoft, a new series heavily inspired by Crimson Skies would find its way onto tablets and smartphones.

Jordan Mechner – Twitch would never forgive me if I didn’t include this guy.  He’s the father of Prince of Persia, a game that completely revolutionized how we viewed platformers.  When the Prince of Persia series relaunched on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube systems, the (then) new hardware was able to bring  in an entirely new mechanic not seen before, the concept of reversing time.

Randy Pitchford – If you’re a fan of the Borderlands franchise, then you likely are familiar with the work of Gearbox.  Randy is the owner of Gearbox Software, who is responsible for games like Borderlands.  Gearbox started off by creating expansion packs for one of the greatest PC games ever made, Half-Life, and the PC port of Halo: Combat Evolved but quickly set themselves apart from the rest when they released Borderlands.  He was also responsible for saving Duke Nukem Forever.  Forget everything the critics had to say, I loved Duke Nukem Forever.  Sadly, his studio has come under fire after the botched release of Aliens: Colonial Marines, but hopefully with the Borderlands prequel on the horizon, Gearbox will be able to make up to its fans.

American McGee – American was one of the game developers chosen for PC Gamer’s list of Next Generation Game Gods along with other names like Stevie Case and Cliff Blizinski, and if you ask me he’s earned a place on this list due to his unique vision. He earned his stripes becoming one of the best level designers at id Software, but he found his voice when he directed Alice at the turn of the century.  There is just something so simplistic about taking a classic story and turning it completely insane, but his team was able to make it into a masterpiece many are still talking about all these years later.

Jason Jones – Jason Jones is one of the original founders of the game development studio Bungie and he is a very hard man to track down.  Remember that little game called Halo?  It was his creation.  He very rarely does interviews or talks about the projects that he’s working on, but his resume is long and full of prestige.  Now with Destiny’s launch and a planned ten year development cycle ahead of them, Bungie could be feeling the same excitement that they had back in the early days of Halo.

Suda51 – One of Japan’s young hotshot game creators, Suda (who prefers to be called Suda 51), has been responsible for several cult classics including Killer 7, No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2, and Lollipop Chainsaw.  I appreciated these titles because it was clear that unlike some other titles which prefer to play it safe with easily marketable stories and features, Suda’s games are unlike anything you may have seen before.  I was mesmerized by his unique style the second I started playing No More Heroes for the very first time, and I easily became hooked.  Now he’s working on a new title, Let it Die, for the Xbox One.  After seeing Let it Die’s announcement trailer, the game felt a lot like a long forgotten PS1 fighting game which, sadly, never saw a release.  Regardless of what the game is, I’m really eager to see more.

Swery65 – Another of Japan’s hotshot young game directors, this guy rose to fame (or infamy if you prefer) directing the cult classic Deadly Premonition.  Reviews may have been mixed on that title, but nobody could deny just how unique it was.  Now, with D4’s release on the Xbox One, it looks like Swery is experimenting with the controversial episodic distribution method.  Having loved every second of D4, I wish him the best of luck with that.

The Definitive Game Gods March 6, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Game Gods.
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Anyone who visits the site regularly knows I throw around the term “God” as a nickname for a select group of certain game developers, and I’m sure a few of you wonder why I do that. I refer to some game developers as Gods because over ten years ago there was a article about several game developers published by PC Gamer Magazine called the “Game Gods.”  It was a list of some of the best PC game directors who were considered the best in the field at the time, and many of them are still fondly remembered.  If you’re interested in more about the history of the Game Gods, I have a longer article about it which you can read here.

There was one major oversight of the original list and ten years later it has become even more visible. They were only choosing developers who made games for the PC.  While many of these developers have now developed games on consoles, it was a glaring omission that left out some of the best game creators across the world who at that point had only developed their games on console platforms.  I plan to correct that.  Over ten years later, I believe the time has come to write an entirely new list of today’s Game Gods, updated for not only PC developers but game developers of every discipline.

I’m going to be covering well over thirty years of game development history here, and trust me there were a lot of developers that have been taken into consideration.  My criteria was to list individuals based upon their impact on the gaming industry or on game culture.  The bigger the impact they made, the more likely they were to be on this list.  These are not in any particular order of importance, but I’m going to keep them listed in as chronological an order of their impact as I can.  So, let’s get started.

Ralph Baher – This man is quite literally the father of gaming.  He was a TV engineer who determined that he could construct a device that would manipulate a television’s signal to produce images that could be controlled by a user.   With his prototype, he had practically created the first home video game console.  Prior to this, if you wanted to play a video games, you had to create it from scratch with knowledgeable programmers for very specific systems.  With Ralph Baher’s Brown Box, you could play games on your home television.  The effects were really rudimentary but they were the building blocks for pretty much everything we have today, even early light guns.

Nolan Bushnell – Some early work credits him as the father of gaming but really he was only the father of Atari (and Chuck E. Cheese).  Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a very impressive credit.  He took the original groundwork set by Ralph Baher and was able to successfully commercialize it in a way that nobody could have imagined.  His PONG arcade console was one of the most ground breaking games of its time, and its financial success proved that video games were a viable commercial enterprise.  His company was instrumental in creating both the arcade boom of the 1980s and one of the most popular home consoles of its time as well, the Atari 2800.

Gunpai Yokoi – This was one of the most revolutionary minds at Nintendo when it came to new technology.  When it came to portable gaming, he was the father of it all.  Yokoi created the Nintendo Game and Watch, and later the Nintendo Game Boy, one of the most successful portable gaming consoles of all time.  After that, portable gaming attracted many imitators to try to get into Nintendo’s market, but it was very difficult for them to compete with Yokoi’s device.  Even though he had ushered in new eras of portable gaming devices which were unmatched in their day, he will probably most be remembered for creating Metroid, one of Nintendo’s staple franchises.  Rest in peace, good sir.

Shigeru Miyamoto – Does this man really need an introduction here?  Here we have one of the most creative minds in Nintendo’s history, who is still delivering hit games year after year.  One of his first games, Donkey Kong, still lives on as one of the most competitive arcade games in the world and cemented Nintendo’s reputation as a powerhouse video game company.  Oh and he is the father of Mario and Zelda, which were the games that got people to buy Nintendo’s home console, the NES (or Famicom in Japan), and brought the video game market back from the crash of 1983.  Now, he’s been the guiding light at Nintendo for well over twenty years, overseeing and producing new games and game franchises.

Hironobu Sakaguchi – He is the father of Final Fantasy, a game remembered by many as the one that wrote the book on the Japanese Role-Playing Game.  He believed it was going to be the last game he would ever work on, instead it became one of the strongest franchises worldwide, and as technology improved, laid the groundwork for what could be done on a CD-ROM.  By the time we had the release of Final Fantasy VII, we saw that games could invoke deeper emotions in players we believed only other mediums could achieve.  After he left Square, he continued work on RPGs like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey on the Xbox 360.

Yuji Naka – He was the creator of Sonic The Hedgehog, the character that put Sega on the map and gave the Genesis console the edge it needed early on to complete with the biggest gaming conglomerate at the time, Nintendo.  Here was something with attitude which appealed perfectly with the teenage gamers of the 90s.  His team delivered the right title at the right time which took gameplay that players had already seen and brought them into the 16-bit generation for all to see.  It had more colors, moved smoother, was more vibrant and gave the right level of challenge.

John Carmack – This was the guy who forever revolutionized what could be done graphically on a PC and overnight turned the early Personal Computer into Nintendo’s chief graphical rival with Commander Keen.  By using the PC’s power in newer and creative ways, he’s designed the technology that has made some of the most revolutionary games of the PC, like Wolfenstien, Doom and Quake.  Now with RAGE he is revolutionizing both what a PC and consoles can do, and this will lay out the technical groundwork for some new games from their classic properties.

Tim Sweeny – Creator of the Unreal Engines, some of the most financially successful gaming engines in history.  While it not only broke severe graphical bounds when it was first demoed, Unreal Engine 3.0 alone made this generation of multiplatform game development easier, allowing gamers on the PS3, Xbox 360 or PC to play a much wider range of games than they normally would have and lessened the amount of platform exclusive games this past generation.  Now, Unreal Engine 4.0 looks to do exactly that with the future generation of consoles like the Playstation 4 and the next generation of PCs.

Sid Myer –  How do you know you have a Sid Myer game?  His name is on the front of the box.  This was the guy responsible for some of the strongest Real Time Strategy games, including Civilization and Alpha Centauri.   As the Unknown Cameraperson would say, the man’s games are prolific and there isn’t anything out there that does it as well.  Civilization is one of the strongest Real Time Strategy game franchises available, which still continues to produce successful sequels, and many people are still playing the earlier games online, discovering new strategies and testing themselves in new ways.

Wil Wright – The self-proclaimed “nerdiest nerd in all the computerverse” this guy was responsible for games like Sim City and The Sims, both of which were some of the most successful world and life simulators in history.  You could build your own city from scratch exactly as you wanted it, but who knows if the people will be interested in what you’ve created.  His franchises continue to endure even to this day, and somehow he was able to capture the imagination of female gamers, something even he wasn’t expecting to do.

Ron Gilbert – This is pretty much the father of video game humor, but he was also responsible for some of the best early adventure games on the PC.  His first project, Maniac Mansion, laid the groundwork for all the adventure games that Lucasarts would be developing.  The revolutionary SCUMM toolset made for that game could be adapted to other projects, and kept Lucasarts on the cutting edge of adventure gaming for quite a while.  His next project?  The Cave with Double Fine.

Richard “Lord British” Garriot – Father of the Ultima series, which featured some of the best early role-playing games for the PC, and paved way for Ultima Online, one of the first successful massively multiplayer online role-playing games in history.  If men like Hironobu Sakaguchi could be considered one of the fathers of Eastern RPGs, Garriot could be considered the father of the West’s.  While the early Ultima games focused on being genuinely good and trying to make the world a better place, the later ones forced the player to make hard choices, by having to choose lesser evils in order to accomplish a greater good.

Ken and Roberta Williams – Lets face it, these two were the perfect team and they should be credited together.  Ken was a young programmer who literally wrote the books on what could be done graphically on the early PCs.  Roberta created game franchise after franchise and Ken produced them.  Together they created some of the first adventure games for the PC, which was getting more powerful every day.  Their dynamic worked perfectly.  To a lot of people, Roberta will probably be remembered for her favorite project,  Phantasmagoria.    While Sierra has long since faded we are still to this day talking about the games that their company was responsible for.  Enjoy your retirement, guys.

Tim Shaffer – This guy started off by taking the adventure game formula and putting his own personal spin on it in a way we had never seen before.  He worked on the Monkey Island games with Ron Gilbert, but he threw the entire adventure genre on top of its head with games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.  While they had a problem selling at the time, they still remain cult classics to this day among adventure and classic gamers.  Then he made Psychonauts, which proved that you could make a hilarious well polished 3D platforming game on a modern console, and became a modern cult classic.

Gabe Newell – The owner of Valve, and with it, Half-Life, Left 4 Dead and PortalHalf-Life became the first game I was aware of which took the First Person Shooter formula and revolutionized it by delivering a full story strictly from a first person view only by scripted events and not cutscenes.  They then showed they could polish this system to a complete shine in 2004 with Half-Life 2 and delivered one of the best PC games of all time which still holds up today.  His company also revolutionized online shopping as well as changed PC gaming forever with the release of Steam, which was the first digital distribution system of games that actually WORKED.  Steam is still alive, bringing new features gamers want.

Warren SpectorDeus Ex, Epic Mickey, need I say more?  This was a guy who tried his best to mix genres in a way to make games as immersive as possible.  His intention wasn’t to define a game as just a shooter or as an RPG, he took whatever he needed from any genre he could use to make the best game he possibly could.  You wouldn’t need to be locked to just one path to complete your objective, you would ALWAYS have several options available to you, and you could play to whichever strengths that suited you best.  Today, games are still trying to deliver that kind of experience.

Cliff “CliffyB” Blizinski – One of the best level designers for the original Unreal series, this guy got to really stretch his stuff by directing the Gears of War games, making it one of the strongest exclusive third-party properties on Microsoft’s platforms.  Gears of War brought a whole new level of presentation to the HD Console generation, and made game design decisions that became industry staples like regenerative health with a cover system.  Can someone please explain to me why we haven’t seen an assault rifle with a chainsaw at the end of it yet?

Hideo Kojima –  You could simply call him the father of Metal Gear, but more than that, this is the father of the modern stealth action game and quite possibly the father of cinematic gameplay.  Metal Gear Solid proved to me that I could be as emotionally invested in a game’s story as I could with any other medium and to this day I cannot bring myself to continue playing a game unless it invokes my emotions for the characters or story as the original Metal Gear Solid could.  His plan was to retire after Metal Gear Solid 4, but this is a man who simply cannot retire, even though he has tried on several occasions.  The next title he will direct will be Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes with Konami’s FOX Engine.

Satoshi Tajiri – This was the creator of the Pokémon series which revolutionized handheld games and what could be done with game properties.  If you have no idea what Pokémon is, you’ve literally been living under a rock for the last thirteen years as it is one of the most popular franchises in the history of gaming, with comic books, movies, a TV show, trading cards, toys, and oh yeah, some of the best video games ever released for handhelds.  He created an RPG and fit it perfectly into a handheld market, making full use of all the capabilities of the time.  You wouldn’t have just a dozen playable characters, you could have hundreds help you on your quest.  Overnight, students all over the world would be taking their Game Boys to school to trade and battle.  Now, with cell phones becoming major gaming platforms, gamers are using their cell phones to do many of the same things we were doing with Game Boys years earlier.

Sam Lake – The man who forever revolutionized video game writing by putting a game’s story at the forefront of the action, and immortalizing himself as the face of Max Payne in the process.  Sam Lake started off as a writer for the PC game Death Rally, which entailed putting a car’s description into a little text box on the screen.  Then with Max Payne, he was finally able to branch out and tell a mature story that gamers loved.  Since then, a game’s story has been as essential as the art or technology.  Recently he wrote the story for Alan Wake, which was one of my favorite games of this generation.

Hideki Kamiya – He was the director of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami.  Those games were some of the most unusual titles to be released by Capcom over the years.  Originally slated as the director of Resident Evil 4, during the development of that game, Kamiya set the stage for what was going to become the modern console action game and created the first Devil May Cry, which now has many imitators.  Since leaving Capcom, he directed Bayonetta, which took the ground work laid by Devil May Cry and polished it to a shine.  Now Bayonetta 2, which he is producing, looks to be a major console seller for the new Wii U.

Kenji Inafune – This is the golden boy of Capcom.  While he wasn’t the creator of Mega Man, he had worked on most of the Mega Man games early on in his career, which are considered some of the best platformers of their day, and people are still playing and talking about them.  He also served as a writer and producer on many of Capcom’s recent games over the past generation.  He wrote and produced the original Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and produced Dead Rising 1 and Dead Rising 2, both of which revolutionized what could be done with a zombie game as the genre was getting stale.

Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk – The two Doctors who founded Bioware, the company that created some of the best Western Role Playing Games of the past decade.  You do not need to look further than their games to see the level of interactivity and polish that took Role Playing Games and pushed them beyond what we had seen before.  While they released more traditional role-playing games like Neverwinter Nights, Bioware also released one of the best cinematic RPGs of the last generation with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and took that formula and put it on its head this generation with the critically acclaimed Mass Effect series.  Enjoy your retirement boys.

What a list right?  There were a lot more that I wanted to include here, and I’m sure that many of you have your own opinions on others who should be making the list as well.  Feel free to post a comment on your picks and some time down the road, I’ll revisit this list as I feel this should be revised a lot more frequently than every ten years.