I’ve made it clear to everyone who knows me, but Supergiant Games are quite easily my favorite indie developers out there. Their games have consistently surprised and engaged me with their eye-catching visual direction, masterful and diverse soundtracks, intriguing stories, and exciting gameplay. Something I’ve written about before is my love of the company’s ability to meld their gameplay and narrative together to create experiences that really couldn’t be made in other mediums. This month, the studio released their latest offering, Hades, on early access, so I’ve been taking breaks from the new Smash Bros to get some runs in. I was worried that Supergiant’s fantastic storytelling was going to take a backseat this time around when I saw the game was a roguelike, but of course that was naive of me. Hades, even in its early stages, impresses as a roguelike that not only guides the player into that “just one more run” mentality, but also finds the rare treasure of making me slightly excited about dying.
A YouTube creator I often like to watch is Mark Brown, who posts extremely insightful and well-produced videos about game design, and last year he put out a video about what makes a good detective video game. As I went back to watch it to research for this piece, I laughed when at the end he mentioned the genius behind the very game I was looking to write about, before the game had even officially come out.
Return of the Obra Dinn is the newest game from Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope, and I felt a lot of similarities between the two games when I started it up. The low-res graphics gave off a muted and distinct flair, and the design behind the games felt like it was focused on analyzing people and circumstances to understand the bigger picture. My suspicions were true, and I began to gain a real sense that Obra Dinn was the best detective game I’d ever played, and possibly the best one out there.
The core principles that Mark Brown pinpoints as important to a detective game are that the game stays out of the player’s way so that they can understand the answers and also the questions that need to be asked. Return of the Obra Dinn is almost as hands-off in its design as possible and it places a lot of trust in its players, but the game never leaves them in the dark and ends up leaving the player feeling satisfied and intelligent.
Four and a half years ago, I began writing about games through a series called “Why Story Matters” where I’d analyze the story or storytelling devices that a game used in an interesting way. One entry I wrote focused on the episodic release structure of Telltale’s The Walking Dead and how it made for a different type of game experience. However, as episodic releases have persisted with the late Telltale and even with other games, I think it’s important to reevaluate the episodic release structure and see in what areas it works and what areas it fails. So before reading further, make sure you look here for my 2014 post, and then come back and see how things have changed.
In light of the recent Telltale layoffs, I have been thinking a lot about my history with this company. My third post ever for my little IGN-based WordPress blog, I decided to write a quick thing about the game I was really into at the time. Little did I know that this piece would end up being featured on the front page of IGN, and it was what really kept me going as a writer even 5 years later. However, IGN Blogs have been shut down, and I managed to recover this piece and subsequently see just how much I’ve evolved as a writer since those high school days. I really wanted to edit all of its little flaws, but instead I wrote a new piece quickly looking at episodic releases in the modern day that you can find here when you finish this one. So, in all of its unedited glory, is this very old piece.
Now that that pesky best game design tidbits list is out of the way, let’s get right to the main reason you’re all here: to read yet another best games of the year list. I’ve played a lot of fantastic games this year, and I personally had a harder time narrowing down a list to just ten games than I have in previous years. In fact, I’m starting off with four honorable mentions before we even get to the list. For most people that keep up with the industry, you probably will not be surprised with the inclusions on this list. However, the order of them is what may shock and appall some, so be sure to let me know what you agree and disagree with. Without further ado…
It feels like every year for the last few years, it’s been fairly easy to say, “This has been the best year in games!” With a market that’s filled to the brim with releases weekly, it’s no wonder that we see more great games coming out now than a decade or so ago. Amidst a sea of microtransactions, lootboxes, and games as services, developers have been crafting truly remarkable and innovative experiences, and it’s a great asset to look at these creative bits of design and learn from them. This isn’t a list of my favorite games of the year – that will be coming towards the end of December – but all of these games are ones I would wholeheartedly recommend.
Video game genres are numerous and multi-faceted. There are a staggering number of them, and so many of them share characteristics and can be mixed and matched to make truly unique experiences. Recently, I watched a video by Barry Kramer of Game Grumps explaining, as a smaller part of the video (which you should totally watch anyways), how video games are different from other forms of media because there is an advanced vocabulary used to categorize them. Gamers can understand a bit about a game without even playing it or researching it simply by knowing a few terms like “platformer” or “roguelike.”
In the last year, I’ve spent a good amount of time being enthralled in visual novels. I always enjoyed a great story in a game, and puzzle games are some of my favorite games to play, so it seemed only natural to be drawn in. However, as I played more and more, I begin to see a lot of similarities with a genre I was not as fond of: adventure games. I became curious as to why I enjoyed one type of game over the other, but it soon became clear that visual novels are simply the adventure games of a new generation.
Here I am again. While school and inspiration has taken its toll on my writing for this blog, I still keep track of games and enjoy sharing my opinions about them. This year, as I did last year, I kept track of my favorite games and why I loved them. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are my top 10 games of 2016. This year, all of them will have been released in 2016, unlike last year. This year, I’m looking to balance my picks between how good of games they actually are and how much fun I had while playing them. Without further ado…
“I cant believe I’m about to say this – I’ll never work in this industry again – but in the mainstream space I really haven’t seen a whole lot of progress. It seems like we’re getting more finely-tuned, prettier versions of games we’ve been playing for years.” – Warren Spector
Ingenuity is rare in the world of video games in this age of sequels and rehashes. When the NES rolled around, gaming was in its Genesis and ideas were plentiful. As Mario became a hit, companies followed the popularity and platformers flooded the market. The Super NES came out, and RPGs flourished with the extra cartridge space. Square and Enix dominated the market as platformers were still being refined into perfection, and soon companies jumped on the latest trend.
With the introduction of 3D gaming from the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, every previous genre had the chance to have a new start, for better or worse, in the third dimension. Adventure games especially exploded as collect-a-thon platformers were released in excess as a way to establish a mascot for Sony’s new console. Following that generation up was, again, an era of improvements. The graphics looked better, and suddenly action games became huge. Platformers, RPGs, adventure games, among the rest, had already made the jump to 3D, so now was the time to perfect things, as well. Finally, last generation spawned the flood of shooters, open-world games, western RPGs, simulators, and about everything else you can think of. It’s not like any of these genres were new this time around; it was just that the basic ideas from years before had been redefined over and over, and the surge of gaming into mainstream entertainment caused a lot of old ideas to become.
However, as Warren Spector said, nothing today in the industry is new. Almost every game you see today, especially from AAA companies, is just the same old game with a new coat of paint. The Witcher 3, while a great game, is the same open-world RPG that you’ll find on the skeleton of Skyrim and Watch_Dogs. These games on the surface, and even deep down, are radically different and it may seem blasphemous to even think that they are similar, but at the true core, all of these games are open-world RPGs where you travel around, level your character up, and complete quests. True, untouched ideas are hard to come by today.
The exception to this, though, is the indie scene. Last generation was the first generation where the people that were raised on video games were old enough to create their own games, and with the breakthrough marketplaces of Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, and Nintendo eShop, developers were given extremely easy ways to get their game out to the world. In some aspects, this is just continuing the problem of over-saturating the market with games everyone has already played in one form or another. On the other hand, wading through these waters will reward players with some truly unique experiences. Last year, a small game called Undertale came out of no where and redefined the RPG genre, causing surprise universal acclaim overnight and holding a place on many Game of the Year lists. This year, the FPS genre has received the same treatment. After unfathomable amounts of Call of Duty and Battlefield, a game like Superhot proves that you can breathe fresh air into anything.
WARNING: Spoilers for both The Witness and Firewatch below. While The Witness, as a puzzle game, is only spoiled on basic concepts, Firewatch, as a plot-driven game, is heavily spoiled here. I suggest you play both before reading this piece.
Oftentimes when I’m just casually gaming, I’ll put the game on, play some tunes on my Bluetooth speaker, and just have a good time. When I get very serious about playing a game, however, I often place myself into a state of solitude depending on the type of game it is. I’ll turn the lights down, put my big headset on, and immerse myself into the experience. If the game is meant to be played this way, I will try very hard to do so. Two such games came out within the last month, and they have me thinking about how I play my games.