+ Month 40 Report
Sorry I’m late, I was busy getting head-shots (& getting head-shotted) in Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Here’s some of what I have to say about the past month(s) in easier to digest audio format (hit the little arrow to listen):
Also downloadable from the Dark Acre Radio page, along with the other 11 episodes to date. Check ‘em out if you’re really that bored.
In short: not much game development or writing going on in the last little while, but I’ve sure gotten good at online 1st-person competitive shooters. Good, bad, or ugly is irrelevant: I’ve been having a great time making new friends & learning the ins & outs of one of the biggest videogame franchises in history. Mostly because I finally realized it was something I could do without all the silly guilt I’d been self-attaching to it.
There’s a personal Twitch.tv channel that’s been documenting the Ghosts exploits, feel free to sub/like/follow whatever they call it. I might not notice the chat channel in there, though, as it’s rather hard to watch while playing. I also don’t do that silly picture-in-picture of my head, I find it distracts too much from the action in the game being streamed.
Okay, without further ado here’s my best-of list for ’13. Enjoy.
2013 carried on the “new” tradition of allocating large swaths of time to gaming alongside game development. I’m firmly in the camp of “one must play games to understand games”. It’s entirely possible to produce real paradigm-shifting content without playing games, but so long as I’m still capable of enjoying gaming as a hobby I’ll continue to devote my free time to it, & hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.
To qualify for this list, these games:
- Were “beaten” in 2013, i.e. played to end credits roll and/or exhausting normal gameplay.
- Were released at some point before January 1st, 2014.
Also some stats for you stats-mongers out there:
- 210 video & boardgames purchased in 2013.
- 20 videogames beaten.
- $2500 spent.
Okay here we go, & in no particular order other than how I remembered them so there’s probably some scale of favoritism here. Click any of the images to visit that game’s website.
RPG OF THE YEAR
Grand Theft Auto V
Call it misogynistic, racist, a horrible example for today’s young people. That’s cool. You’d be right, but that’s only if you took it as a serious document by which to live your life. Fortunately, it’s a fantasy videogame that’s fun as all get out & has one of the best-written anti-heroes in recent memory in the form of the brutal & abrasive Trevor Philips.
Very nearly 100%’d the campaign but for some of the more tedious gold-medal qualifiers. All in all a spectacular outing by Rockstar that combined the open-world sensibilities of Red Dead Redemption with the acidic satire we’ve come to expect from the Houser Brothers. Also a massive technical achievement that runs flawlessly on 1st-generation Playstation 3 units, something the much-lauded “Last of Us” struggled to manage.
ADVENTURES OF THE YEAR
Tomb Raider (2013)
What made this videogame so addictive? Was it the perfect storm of collection, exploration, & action-adventure? Possibly.
The reduction of the actual “tomb raiding” to a mini-game left a sour taste in many long-term fan’s mouths, but I found the incorporation of it into a much larger narrative with well-rounded characters an excellent design choice. This was a Lara Croft I really cared about.
The only real negative takeaway was the many brutal death scenarios that the development team felt important to illustrate in the goriest of manners. Quick-time events that more often than not ended in Lara getting impaled, crushed, or otherwise horribly murdered could have been handled differently, perhaps with less punishing fail-states. Despite this gruesome aspect Tomb Raider still shines as a fine example of cinematic linear adventure gaming that incorporates the very best of modern game design & technical advancements.
Assassin’s Creed 3
There’s a lot of personal bias attached to adding AC3 to this list: I’m half Mohawk Native, & I’ve had a long-term love affair with Assassin’s Creed from the very beginning. I put in the time to 100% the main campaign & not a moment felt like it was wasted. The development team nailed the feeling of nature, so much so that I often thought I smelled fresh pine while parkouring my way through the treetops.
The narrative was very well written, with an exceptional surprise twist. If you’ve heard nothing about it, as I hadn’t before starting, you’re in for a pretty cool surprise. This also marks the introduction of the sailing mechanisms that play a prominent role in the also good Black Flag.
TOUCHTRONIC EXPERIENCES OF THE YEAR
Short, sweet, & very much to the point. Steamworld Dig is a deep (pun intended) exploration of the “mine & upgrade” school of game design. It does what it needs to do in a very precise, workpersonlike manner that’s made charming by the colorful art & characters.
This was also the 1st videogame I bought & beat on my shiny “new for ’13″ Nintendo 3DS. Highly recommend experiencing it on that platform if you can, but it’s also available for personal computers via Steam.
A late ’12 release, I bought it at launch back when I was blindly supporting any & all indies who achieved major release status. Nowadays there’s one every other day & not all of the content is super-compelling, but back then HM was a pretty big deal in the indie-sphere. I played a few levels, recognized its greatness, then left it alone. It wasn’t until it was made available on the Playstation Vita that I really managed to get sucked in.
It seems the Vita is the perfect platform for a lot of games that are otherwise somewhat tedious on console or personal computer. The ability to carry the game with you wherever you want to go (usually the bathroom or the bedroom) make continuing through to completion somewhat easier.
Hotline Miami is excellent. Yes, it’s an ultra-violence simulator but one that’s so satisfying it’s very hard to put down once you get a handle on the presentation. The background music alone makes it worth the purchase price.
BOARDGAME OF THE YEAR
In a year where I spent 3 months immersing myself in all things cyberpunk, Netrunner stood out as a perfect execution of that genre. It’s fast-paced play, asymmetrical design, & unlimited room for personal play make it one of the most enjoyable deck-building card-battle games I’ve played since Upper Deck’s version of the World of Warcraft.
EVERGREEN OF THE YEAR
The videogame that keeps on giving. I hadn’t played Minecraft in ages, & coming back to it felt brand new. What really made it an amazing experience this time around was the attempt at playing “hardcore” mode, wherein you’re only given one life. It made the game so much more intense & interesting.
Further to that I established a hardcore server & started playing with other friends & folks I’ve met through the social networks. While not “true” hardcore, you could still die & lose all of your stuff but you wouldn’t be able to come back until the server restarted, which could be any where from a few hours to weeks. This made for some very compelling play.
As always I point to Mojang/Persson’s creation a real case study & model to emulate for videogame development. Create something & continue to add value to it over time, increasing the purchase price to reflect those developments, & you’ll win. The steps are deceptively simple, though, & still require attention to detail & many hours of hard labor, but I believe that Minecraft has tread the noble path in caring for their player base – past, present & future.
GAME I PLAY EVERY YEAR OF THE YEAR
Red Dead Redemption
Did playing GTAV to completion in any way alter my appreciation for Rockstar’s vision of the Old West? Not one iota.
& though another year has passed since I last moaned about it, there’s still no PC version. I’m starting to think Rockstar doesn’t even read my blog.
PARADIGM SHIFTS OF THE YEAR
Is Gone Home a videogame? Yeah. Yeah it is. I guess that ends that debate.
Gone Home’s success is important because, along with other notable indie trailblazers like Proteus & Dear Esther marks experiences that people will pay for that don’t involve killing monsters, upgrading characters, platform hopping, coin collecting, or any of the other myriad tropes we’ve come to expect from our digital divergences.
It’s an interactive story that’s really quite good, & provides a really high-quality visual presentation as well. As developers we should be celebrating the Fullbright Company for opening doors to new markets & viable designs. As players it’s a pretty good time to be standing on the bridge between “core” videogame experiences & more narrative/exploration driven ones.
The Stanley Parable
As above, really. A bit more of an extension on the burgeoning genre, & well worth playing through just to see how the development team handled the credits.
Also wow, is that Source Engine getting some mileage or what?
LUDUM DARE 48 ENTRY OF THE YEAR
I used this space last year to pimp what I’d felt had been my best entry into the 48-hour solo game-making competition known as the Ludum Dare. This year I had a heavy change of heart about the LD & game jams in general, so instead I’ll just point you to all the videogame work I’ve done so far & you can decide for yourself which of them is the “best”.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
The Last of Us
I went on media blackout for Naughty Dog’s non-Uncharted venture early in development. I knew nothing of the fungal zombies, so you might be able to imagine my surprise when I found out that what I’d previously thought was a human-vs-human post apocalyptic vision of the future had become a zombie survival horror… thing.
The game has received universal praise from popular media, but in the critical circles I listen to (other gamers, many from Japan) there was a resounding tone of disappointment. Poor artificial intelligence, a rigid & linear plot filled with strictly scripted events, & very unevenly designed set-pieces sullied the overall experience. The art direction (aside from a few minor gaffes like the re-named landmarks & “borrowing” of an outside artist’s rail map) was fantastic, however the horrible anti-aliasing that seems to be a trademark of Sony Playstation games did its ready best to muddy the already ruined landscapes. Furthermore whatever technology Naughty Dog uses for rendering caused my Japanese launch PS3 to kick on its over-loud internal turbofan, destroying the last vestiges of game immersion that had already been torn to tatters by AI partners running circles around zombies & standing in lines of fire.
I will say this, though: Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for the game is phenomenal, & now enjoys a top spot in my permanent game development BGM playlist.
Now despite being a junk videogame, The Last of Us does tell a pretty darn fantastic & emotional story. It would be far better suited to television than the medium it was executed in, but what can you do? Oh look, you can watch it on YouTube:
As always there’s a ton of stuff that gets swept under the rug by recency bias & plain forgetfulness, but the opinions expressed above are as genuine as I can make them, & for the positive ones I can guarantee you won’t be wasting your time or money on those games.
Thanks for reading, & here’s hoping 2014 yields even more treasure from the nigh-limitless amount of videogame content that’s out there & continues to pour forth from the creative minds of published game developers everywhere!