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.
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.
Long time, no see.
It’s been a while since I last spoke, and for good reason. See, I’ve mostly lost my passion for this blog, and I don’t want to write some half-baked pieces. I know I promised a three-part Why Story Matters saga for my triumphant return, but that isn’t going to happen any time soon. With my final year of high school wrapping up, I’m hard-pressed for time. I want to give that trilogy the time and work it deserves. I want it to be my best work yet when it comes out.
This post is a year-long work in progress. Over the course of the year, I’ve been collecting my thoughts on all of the games that I played. I planned to do this from the start of the year. I almost forgot, had it not been for my good buddy ThatPlatinumDude and his recent post about his top 5 games of the year. So here’s mine. Be warned, not all of the games were released this year, and this list reflects my opinions of the games I played this year.
I must admit, I originally picked up Ori and the Blind Forest solely because of its art style and soundtrack. I knew nothing about the actual gameplay of the game, but its presentation caught my eye immediately. Luckily for me, underneath the animation and charm is a fantastic Metroidvania experience that only disappointed when I had to let the credits roll.
E-sports have been hitting an all-time high in the last year or two. Whether it’s a huge fighting game tournament like EVO or just competitive Call of Duty, multiple genres are being played to their best for money and glory. However, the one that’s grown the most and may be the most important e-sports genre is one that is virtually unknown to hardcore gamers and casual players alike. MOBAs, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, have absolutely exploded. Last year’s Dota 2 tournament The International 4 had the largest total prize pool ever for a gaming tournament of $10 million. Dota 2 is one of the most-played games on Steam, and League of Legends is one of the most popular video games, competitive or not right now, rarely leaving the top spot on video game streaming service Twitch.tv and boasting 27 million players per day and 67 million players per month. The MOBAs are dominating e-sports and gaming alike, but personally I never got into them. However, there is one game that has changed my perspective about this genre, and that game is the bridging concoction Hi-Rez Studios has created, called SMITE.
Last year, in my opinion, was a low-key year for gaming. There were very few blockbuster games, and nothing really changed the industry or blew everyone out of the water like The Last of Us or Bioshock Infinite did in 2013. However, a general trend showed its face in 2014, and it might be growing. Any trend like this should be noted and analyzed if we are to understand the future of this industry, and this could mean a dramatic change in gaming as a whole. The year of 2014 saw a shift from the reigning champions of the big-budget titles to the underdogs of the indies and smaller titles. Let’s dig in.