In any given year, the number of hours available for gaming is always exceeded by the the number of games available for playing. Also every year are confused inquiries from people, demanding to know why I was so foolish as to not play X. So I thought I’d do a post of ablative excuses and explanations before I start talking about my winners.
Remember that this isn’t an end-of-year list from the staff of a big gaming site. I’m just one guy, and I play games based on what strikes my fancy, not based on what publishers send me or public demand. This means I’ll include odd stuff, or overlook big stuff, or abandon games without finishing them.
None of these games are bad. They’re just stuff I didn’t get around to playing or finishing.
Also – and I hope you don’t think I’m condescending to you when I say this in bold – but None of these games are bad.
I know how you are, internet. And sometimes you get a little too defensive if I don’t play the game you like, or react the way you expect. Just be cool.
It was really strange juxtaposing the extreme love people expressed for this game with my own mild indifference, but the problem is that Undertale is referencing a genre and a time period that’s mostly alien to me. Undertale draws heavily from the old 2D RPG’s of the mid 90s: Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Final Fantasy IV, etc. I was very poor and very busy in that time period. I didn’t play a lot of games, and when I did they were all on PC. I didn’t own a console at all in the 90’s and never even heard of those games until they were almost a decade old. I’d never even seen a screenshot of Earthbound until I went to write this article.
So Undertale is riffing on ideas and tropes I’d never run into, from a genre I haven’t really played, and trading in nostalgia I don’t have. It’s like watching Galaxy Quest without ever seeing a single episode of Star Trek. It’s still a decent movie, but most of the jokes and ideas and character beats will miss.
I played until I met Papyrus and Sans. When the magic didn’t happen, I figured the game was broadcasting on a wavelength that I just couldn’t hear. And so I moved on.
Pillars of Eternity
Poor Obsidian. I’ve always said I’d love to see what they could accomplish without some asshole publisher kicking their game out the door before it was ready. What magnificent gem could this team create if they could just cut loose and make the game they wanted, without worrying about marketing coming in and telling them it needed more graphics and tits and less of that “confusing” and “boring” worldbuilding stuff?
And then after a half dozen of these shambling compromises, Obsidian finally got the chance. They made the game they wanted to make. And people really liked it.
And then I didn’t play it.
Someone even gifted me a copy! I didn’t even have to pay for it! And I installed it! It’s currently still on my hard drive! Right now I could alt-tab away from Google Docs where I’m writing this and launch the game in seconds. There is literally no barrier to entry here!
A major problem is that PoE uses real-time-with-pause for combat, and I hate RTWP. I like turn-based games like Fallout and X-Com, where play takes place on a strict grid with clearly delineated turns. And I love real-time games where you can get kinestheticly pleasing juice. But the compromise between the two is deeply unsatisfying to me.
The real time ruins the strategy by making it imprecise and vague, like playing chess on a board with no grid and no distinct turns, where you’re supposed to just eyeball everything. At the same time, the pausing ruins the action, like some jackass that keeps pausing a movie in the middle of a fight scene. It’s the worst of both worlds. In Fallout 4, I don’t even like using VATS. In Mass Effect, I rarely order my teammates to use powers because that requires too much use of the game-pausing command interface.
So I spent an entire year being torn between wanting to see what Obsidian was up to, and not wanting to slog through dozens of hours of RTWP gameplay.
Life is Strange
This game is wonderful. Or so everyone keeps telling me. But episodic games and I do not mix. I own Wolf Among Us. Never played it. I own Life is Strange. Didn’t even complete the first episode. Same goes for Tales from the Borderlands. And the new King’s Quest. And The Walking Dead Season 2. And 400 Days. And the Episodic Monkey Island games that came out a few years back.
I don’t like playing a game for a few hours, then waiting two months, then playing another couple hours, then waiting two more months. It sucks to write about these sorts of games. I never know how much I should spoil, or can spoil. With normal games the readership is divided into two groups: People who have played, and people who haven’t. But in an episodic game we’re divided into N+1 groups, where N is the number of currently released episodes.
Also, I like to analyze stories, and it’s frustrating and pointless trying to analyze a story that’s 3/4 of the way done. Will this plot element make sense later? Is this character really doing X? Why was this conversation so confusing? Is this a setup for a later payoff? Instead of analysis, you end up with a bunch of fan-wank conjecture. We can’t just discuss the game openly with everyone. Basically, I feel like I can’t do my job until all the episodes are out.
It’s the difference between talking about a movie after you’ve seen it, and pausing a movie so you can talk about it before it’s over. I don’t want to talk about it yet. Shut up and un-pause the movie!
So then I try to avoid this by not playing the game until all episodes are out. But by then I’m playing catch-up and it feels like the conversation is over. I’m playing through the second episode and everyone else is talking about the ending.
Episodic games just don’t work with whatever systems I use to govern my gaming habits and run this site. I should probably save my money and stop trying to cover them.
I was obsessed with the original Chime. It was satisfying, interesting, hypnotic, and beautiful. So I was pretty excited when the sequel was announced.
But then it was quietly delayed. And then when it did come out it was (and still is, as of this writing) listed as early access, which means it’s not complete. Oh, and it’s also twenty dollars, which is about double the going rate for games in this genre.
I’d still be willing to pay that much if the game was actually done. But paying double to be a beta tester? Pass.
I’ll probably pick it up this summer. Or whatever.
The number of items on my “I need to play this” list got really out of control this year. Looking at my notes and Steam wishlist we have:
- Transformers Devastation.
- The Long Dark.
- Magic Circle.
- Minecraft Story Mode.
- Hotline Miami 2.
- Invisible, Inc.
- Rebel Galaxy.
- Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void.
- Her Story
If zero games came out in 2016, I think I could fill the year up with the overflow from 2015. I suppose it doesn’t help that I spent the last third of the year trying to ship a videogame, which really ate into my game-playing hours.
Tomorrow: We’re going to start talking about the stuff I loved.
The Middle Ages
Would you have survived in the middle ages?
Project Button Masher
I teach myself music composition by imitating the style of various videogame soundtracks. How did it turn out? Listen for yourself.
Good Robot Dev Blog
An ongoing series where I work on making a 2D action game from scratch.
Programming Language for Games
Game developer Jon Blow is making a programming language just for games. Why is he doing this, and what will it mean for game development?
The Terrible New Thing
Fidget spinners are ruining education! We need to... oh, never mind the fad is over. This is not the first time we've had a dumb moral panic.