Dénouement 2015 Part 3: The Winners

By Shamus
on Dec 16, 2015
Filed under:
Video Games

As in years past, I’m not going to pad or cut my list to hit some nice round multiple of ten. This is just a list of games that were part of the conversation, or that I thought were important, or that I really liked, or that I want to talk about. The only thing they have in common is that I really liked them.

Also, as we discovered in my top 64 games list, numbered lists are basically bullshit. I stand by the presence of every title on this list, but the order is pretty arbitrary. So please don’t try to haggle with me over ordering. On another day and in another mood, I’d make the same list in a totally different order.

Well, except for the top two. The “top two” really are the top two. But we’ll talk about them tomorrow. For now, let’s talk about the other favorites…

7. Human Resource Machine

Human resources are our most resourceful resources.

Human resources are our most resourceful resources.

This and TIS-100 were the two games most explicitly about coding. I think HRM wins out by having a fun visual element to it. TIS-100 was much more realistic, but the raw numeric output made it kind of dry and abstract. After the first couple of puzzles it felt a little too much like work and not quite enough like a game.

Like other games from Tomorrow Corporation, Human Resource Machine is cute, yet bittersweet, yet vaguely dark and cynical. It’s like Peanuts by way of Tim Burton.

It’s not perfect. The first dozen or so puzzles are a wonderful introduction for people who are new to (or simply curious about) programming. But somewhere it the midgame it stops trying to introduce programming concepts to newcomers and instead decides it’s a game for experienced programmers who want to code with one hand tied behind their back. It literally tells the player, “Here is a puzzle about X. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up.” Boo.

But I still think there are a lot of fun puzzles here and I highly recommend the game. If you want a little introduction to computer logic, those first dozen or so levels are a fun way to learn about the topic.

6. Beginner’s Guide

Stanley just sat at his computer, pushing buttons until he produced a videogame.

Stanley just sat at his computer, pushing buttons until he produced a videogame.

Like Stanley Parable, Beginner’s Guide is short and experimental. The setup is this: The developer of the Stanley Parable (Davey) has a friend (Coda) who develops little one-level game concepts. Coda made a lot of these strange “not quite a game” levels, many of which don’t really work, but Davey finds them captivating anyway. So Davey took Coda’s levels and stuck them all together so you can walk through them while Davey narrates what he thinks they mean, and what they tell us about Coda. So it’s sort of an art installation, or an art gallery, or a series of demos, or a character study. Or something like that.

Things eventually spiral into strangeness, but since the game is basically one long reveal I can’t say more without needing to explain the whole thing.

This is a conversation starter. It seems sort of goofy to begin with, but by the end I really wanted to know what everyone else thought. And when I looked, I found the most common reaction to the game was wondering what everyone else thought of it. Arguably, the fun of the game isn’t in the playing, but in discussing it afterwards.

I can’t promise you’ll like it, but I do promise it’s unique.

5. Minecraft: Feed The Beast: Infinity Evolved

One of my many projects this year.

One of my many projects this year.

Going by sheer hours, Minecraft eclipses every single other game I’ve ever played. Barring something truly miraculous, it’s going to be my Game of the Decade, and quite possibly the Game of My Entire Life.

But that’s sort of unfair, isn’t it? That’s like saying “A deck of playing cards is my favorite game.” Minecraft isn’t just a game, it’s a platform for an ever-evolving ecosystem of mods that completely dwarf the core game both in scope and depth. I’ve logged thousands of hours in Minecraft, but I can’t remember the last time I saw the vanilla version of the game.

Mods are completely turnkey now. You just download a launcher, peruse the mod collections, pick one, and launch the game. The average modpack these days is a mix of dozens of mods, and every pack offers a completely different experience. Searching for the right modpack is a kind of game in itself. This one makes the player too powerful. This one is too unforgiving and punishing. This one has too much wiki-reading to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. This one is too shallow. This one doesn’t offer enough building options. This one adds too much silly stuff.

Feed The Beast was originally one such collection of mods. Then the team made a launcher to install the mods for you, because that used to be really hard. Then once they had a launcher, it became easier to support other modpacks. And Infinity Evolved is one of those modpacks.

I`m not saying it was WRONG to leave slope pieces out of the core game. I`m just saying I NEED them and I`ll never play a modpack that doesn`t have them.

I`m not saying it was WRONG to leave slope pieces out of the core game. I`m just saying I NEED them and I`ll never play a modpack that doesn`t have them.

So yes, my 2015 “Game of the Year” list includes a modpack for a launcher for a videogame that came out in 2011. Is that weird? Probably. But this seems to be where the industry is taking us.

What mods make this pack special? I’ll be honest: The installation process is so effortless and so streamlined now that I don’t even know. According to the install directory, there are over 120 mods in this pack and they inter-operate so well that I can’t even tell where one mod ends and the next begins.

This collection is my favorite because it hits a lot of my various sweet spots: There are super-powerful, game-breaking items in the pack, but they’re all sufficiently difficult to acquire that they qualify as “endgame”. It avoids the extreme “clutter” problem of so many mods, where you’ve got dozens of mods that all add their own ores to the game and you don’t care about most of them and your inventory fills up after just ten meters of digging. It’s got some good bags and backpacks to ease the inventory woes without breaking the game. It’s got furniture and a greater variety of craftable stone patterns to build with. Infinity Evolved includes all of my “must have” mods and none of the mods that are deal breakers for me.

If you loved Minecraft a couple of years ago but burned out on it, then now might be a good time to give it another chance. Infinity Evolved is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but chances are your cup of tea is out there somewhere, just waiting for you to discover it.

4. Fallout 4

Preston Garvey makes me want to send a resume to Bethesda. He`s such a MASSIVE missed opportunity that he drives me mad.

Preston Garvey makes me want to send a resume to Bethesda. He`s such a MASSIVE missed opportunity that he drives me mad.

There’s a lot I could say about the story of this game, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to do a long-form analysis once my Mass Effect series is over. It’s a plot that runs on cliches, hand-waves, contrivances, and moon logic. But as dumb as this is, it’s still many times smarter than Fallout 3.

Like every other Bethesda game in the last ten years, Fallout 4 is a deeply conflicted experience. It’s a collection of ideas that all sound plausibly good in isolation, but sabotage one another when combined.

They chose to have a voiced protagonist this time around. Fine. Voiced protagonists can be good. Except this idea was ruined when they tried to give us a blank slate character. Sort of. We end up with a fully voiced blank slate, and it’s equal parts confusing and annoying.

They wanted to set the game in Boston. Fine. The games haven’t been there before and there’s lots you can do in that blank area of the map. But then instead of filling this new area in with new stuff they just did a mindless copy-paste of all the crap from Fallout 1.

They cut out the skill system and replaced it with perks. Fine. It’s nice to make single interesting decision every level instead of fussing with where to put all those individual skill points. Except, they walled off perks behind level requirements, which basically kills your ability to specialize via min/max-ing.

They gave us four options in every dialog. Fine. Choice is good, and having them map neatly to console controls is convenient. But then they didn’t actually give us four choices. In fact, most dialogs are simply a way to choose from four different ways of saying “yes” to whatever stupid bullshit the NPC’s are demanding.

They made looting a more central mechanic, really putting the focus on rooting around in ruins and looking for “treasure”. Fine. That’s always been a big draw for some. Except, Bethesda is just obsessed with the idea of setting these games centuries after the bombs fell and so it makes no sense to find any loot, anywhere, ever.

They decided to make base-building mechanics a major part of the game. Fine. It really is fun and interesting and allows for tons of player expression. Except, they decided to make the main plot about saving your son from the bad guys that killed your spouse, which runs directly counter to the “ignore the main quest until you get bored with everything else” design. Unless you’re itching to roleplay as the world’s shittest parent and most apathetic spouse, you’re going to have to make some major compromises somewhere.

And yet I played this haphazard mess of a game for 200 hours. I dunno what Bethesda puts in these things, but I’m pretty sure it’s something the FDA should be regulating.

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202040 comments. (Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.)

From the Archives:

  1. Merlin says:

    The “top two” really are the top two. But we’ll talk about them tomorrow

    Today’s list ends at #4. Did you mean to say top three, miss a game on today’s, or is the numbering just off?

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    I never got to finish Fallout 3. Hell, I barely got to play it, if I go by the amount of content people claim it has, and it was all because GFWL kept messing with my saves. I had to say “Enough!” at some point. I think GFWL was patched out some time ago, but I’m not sure. Still, I can’t play the game again because my PC was destroyed and my Notebook can’t run the game (it can run Morrowind, at least).

    So, I have two choices, wait until I can fix my PC or get the PS3 version. I’m aprehensive about getting the console versions, because they don’t have mods, and for Bethesda games, mods are sometimes the only way to fix their numerous bugs. Not to mention, they are a severe (literal) game changer.

    Also, since Fallout 4 is already out, maybe I could play this game instead. Of course, I still have the same “I can’t play it yet” problem. And yes, I could get the PS4 version instead. I hear Fallout 4 will allow mods in consoles later, but I seriously doubt it’ll get the same variety than the PC version.

    • Incunabulum says:

      Don’t get FO3.

      FNV has everything that was good about FO3, gets rid of the worst parts of it, and adds a ton of new goodness.

      Oh, plus – since you already have FO3 on PC then you can install the Tale of Two Wastelands mod which allows you to play FO3 in the less buggy FNV version of the engine as one continuous game. From the Capitol Wasteland all the way to the Mojave.

  3. Darren says:

    I played Fallout 4 for about 40 hours and struggled to do even that. What were you doing, exactly? I found that the Radiant quests made up most of my quest log by the end of 40 hours, and they were sending me back to the exact same locations repeatedly.

    It’s also just as stupid as Fallout 3 in regards to the main plot. Specifically, the Institute is a big bunch of nonsense that invites you to think about all the much more consistent stuff from the side quests and other factions and then doesn’t allow you to say anything that you logically would.

    Here’s my rant from another site, including spoilers specifically for the Railroad path:

    The Institute doesn’t believe that synths are capable of having real personalities. However, they know that synths will escape and can even take on new identities that are nothing at all like their programming, or which are aware of their programming and explicitly opposed to it. To counter this, they mind-wipe synths. This is a shitty invention, guys!

    Furthermore, they have 100% loyal synths: the coursers. Why not just limit all synths to that level of intelligence? Why build synths at all? What use is a synth gorilla, especially in Boston? Why can’t I bring up my experiences with Nick Valentine, Deacon, the Railroad, any of that? Speaking of Nick, is it true that the Institute just boots failed models out the door? Why would a secretive organization do that? Why does Father, who has stated he doesn’t believe synths are anything more than machines, want me to give synth-Shaun a “better chance?” If synths are just machines meant to serve man, why does synth-Shaun “deserve” that better chance? Why build a child synth in the first place?

    Bethesda did a pretty good job with the side content and various factions. They all had sensible motivations and more-or-less decent reasons to side against one another. It wasn’t perfect, but I’ve played games with less well-realized content. They also did a good job of connecting everything together so that it all felt of a piece rather than a mismatched collection of story-lines. But the main story–and especially the Institute itself–sinks the whole thing. It’s kind of amazing. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • ehlijen says:

      My breaking point was

      neither the institute nor the railroad ever acknowledging or explaining what the heck was up with synths replacing people and/or randomly turning violent. Was that something the institute was doing as part of their research? Was it a problem resulting from the railroad trying to hide broken synths in the population? Why can’t I ask anyone this stuff?

      • Tvtim says:

        That never made much sense to me either. It was clear the Institute was replacing the people with the synths (or at least I would hope so, otherwise that would mean the Railroad was doing it after memory wiping them).

        This kind of action goes against trying to get the Commonwealth to help or otherwise not hinder their cause of furthering humanity or otherwise trying to improve it via technology. I could just imagine the conversation:

        “Hey, let’s replace people with synths, that way they can try to get people on our side or otherwise stop or tone down hatred against us.” “What happens if people find out they’re fake?” “Oh, don’t worry about that, they’ll never figure it out.”

        I personally just want to know the rationale behind the replacing of regular people with synths and if it was the Institute or the Railroad’s mind wiped synths with their new memories.

        • Incunabulum says:

          Actually, that could make a really good ‘these guys aren’t completely good’ motivation for the railroad – it would change them from abolitionists to knight templars.

          As it is there’s no reason to support the Intitute and not much of one for the BoS – both are huge arseholes with the BoS simply being the modestly lesser evil.

      • Ambitious Sloth says:

        That was it for me too. You can’t bring it up. The Institute won’t explain it.

        So they’re trying to save humanity’s future by building synths which will help… somehow? By killing all the other surviving humans? Why? That’s actually just callously evil. And these synths, they can look act and live like humans. Heck, you can even put the memories of a human mind in one and it will believe it is human in every way. And they use these seemingly either as a slave class, or glorified murder bots.

        There’s no humane reason to not obliterate the Institute that I can see. Because they only want to kill humans and build slaves. AND YOU CAN NEVER BRING THIS UP.

        • Ambitious Sloth says:

          An Addendum:

          Also, why even replace the existing population? This is the wasteland, new people show up and get lost every day. Whether it’s a mercenary running across the country from his past, or some random person found a surprise deathclaw the population of the commonwealth is always changing. So the Institute would only need to make up a new person who just rolls into town with some caps or valuable scraps to get invited into diamond city. You’d only need to replace the people of power in the wasteland with synths, but there are actually instances you can run into where you find synths trying to replace random nobodies. Npcs who don’t even have a home anywhere in the world. Why do you need to kill and replace them? The Institute wont explain. =P

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        My breaking point was the ridiculous, borderline non-ineractive mind trip sequence. Seriously, hours after I killed this guy they’re trying to make him a sympathetic villain and they do it by shoving some of the most tried tropes down my throat.

        Truth be told I wasn’t even that in love with the exploration. I think the world looked better and the environments were more interesting but either I missed a lot of stuff or it didn’t have quite as much in term of interesting locales and mini-narratives as either FO3 or NV.

    • Will says:

      I picked the Institute if for no other reason than that they mop their damn floors (and also, in the absence of any railroading, hurr hurr, I think they seriously represent the group capable of making the biggest change for the best in the wasteland), but damn near everything they say is face-palmingly idiotic. They’re an advanced research operation capable of creating AI that can clearly pass the Turing test (though in this universe, that bar is really low), but apparently nobody’s capable of considering what the fact that synths are clearly capable of self-determination means, or what purpose is served by making hundreds or thousands of them, or if maybe they can come up with a better use for strong AI than mopping the floors, or thinking at all about anything ever. It’s pretty frustrating, which is not at all helped by the fact that you can’t say anything interesting to them, and when you assume the Directorship, you can’t do anything interesting to them, either.

      In my headcanon, I take over the Institute and give them a DC-BoS-style makeover into a high-tech humanitarian organization. They don’t even need to risk putting themselves on the surface or letting wastelanders into the subterranean facility; just export resources and technology to the surface.

  4. Paul Spooner says:

    Woo! Minecraft! Those screenshots look so beautiful, I’ll have to check out Infinity Evolved. Or at least get it running for my daughter. Gorgeous. Love what you did with the trees in your architecture too. I wish the game had more procedural tools. Something to do with walls, rooms, paths, stuff like that. The auto-generation of the trees is a huge time-saver, and the clone tools help a lot, but I kind of wish there was a way to parametrically build smarter structures, not only for the NPC buildings, but for the player’s use as well.

  5. MichaelGC says:

    Well I’m 0/4 in games-played! I seem to remember this happening last year, ‘n’ all. Oh, well, I’m pretty sure I’ve played one of the top two. And this is what wishlists were made for…

  6. SlothfulCobra says:

    Having not played the game, my favorite thing about Fallout 4 is that you can abbreviate it to something that looks like a word with a cockney accent, FOIV.

    I really have to buckle down and try figuring out Minecraft mods again one of these days.

  7. Timothy Coish says:

    Okay I’m 99% sure that one of the top 2 games is the Witcher 3. Can’t say I have any idea what the other game is. Actually I just now noticed that the list only goes to 4, which means that I’m only 1/3 on the remaining games. I have to admit that I haven’t played a single game that came out this year, with the sole exception of that disco ball game (of all things), so I’m struggling to figure out which games are plausible.

    • MichaelGC says:

      I reckon it’ll be Cities: Skylines and Soma. Not sure about the order, though.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      It’s driving me crazy too. I have no idea what the other game can be. The Talos Principle? I don’t even know what game is that, only that it was released this year and appears to be quite popular. Every other game I had considered turned out to be on his “not played” list.

      • Supahewok says:

        The Talos Principle was actually released in December 2014. Don’t know if that would make the cut for 2015. Even so, I don’t recall the game being discussed much on the blog, and the fact that there are NO hits for “Talos Principle” in the search bar implies it wasn’t discussed at all, even on the Diecast. Which seems weird, it was definitely a big deal for a little while.

        Anyways, Witcher 3 and Cities: Skylines are number 2 and 3. Number 1 is obviously Disney Infinity 3.0

  8. “…cute, yet bittersweet, yet vaguely dark and cynical. It’s like Peanuts by way of Tim Burton.”

    So a lot like the first few years of “Peanuts”, then.

  9. guy says:

    What really gets me is that they went and made the Fallout 4 protagonist voiced and pre-war, and then they wrote all the dialogue like being pre-war was analogous to the ME background choices. Really bugged me on meeting the Brotherhood main force, when they interact with you exactly like you’re a lifelong wastelander and not a living artifact from the lost golden age they want to reclaim.

    Also, I’m playing as the female protagonist, but unless they completely rewrote it for the male protagonist they’re going to have dialogue telling a decorated veteran he’s not disciplined enough to be a soldier.

    • Rack says:

      I think they did actually, there’s a load of references to the male protagonist’s military background in that section.

    • Incunabulum says:

      Or, after telling Garvey that you lived in Sanctuary Hills 200 years ago and spend the last two centuries in cryostasis he’s still *surprised* that you haven’t heard of the Quincy Massacre.

  10. Cinebeast says:

    I’ve been holding off on Fallout 4 till Christmas, and I’m so excited. The whole “not as dumb as Fallout 3” thing is a good selling point too.

    Off this list, though, the only thing I played was the Beginner’s Guide, which was a wonderful experience. Truth be told I spent a lot of this year playing older games I missed, but I had some favorites from this year.

    There’s Dragon Age Inquisition, for one. That technically came out last year, but I didn’t get to it until January and I had a good two or three playthroughs. I know it isn’t well-liked around here, but I thought it was great.

    Witcher 3, of course, was also good. I managed to convince my mom to check it out too — a staunch anti-Witcher gamer — and she ended up getting obsessed with it. So that was fun.

    I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid V, despite the obvious shortcomings. The thing isn’t even really finished, after all. But for my first MGS experience, I thought it was very cool. I’m a sucker for 80s music and Six Million Dollar Man sound effects. And I liked it enough to go and check out MGS 3: Snake Eater. I’d heard for years that it was one of the best games of the 2000s, and now I see why. Exceptional game.

    Otherwise, there was Undertale. I don’t normally go for indie games, but my brother helped Kickstart this one and asked me to check it out. For the first few hours I was certainly entertained, but not impressed.
    Then I finished it and — like, I don’t even know. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t function properly. Every waking moment, I felt like I was on the verge of bursting into tears. I’ve never had a reaction to a videogame like this before. I felt compelled to look up fan art and fan fiction, to watch videos, read goofy shitposts, listen to hours and hours of remixes and covers, all of it. And for the first time in ten years I wanted to draw again, to animate.

    In terms of gameplay value, I’d say any of the others win out for me, and Witcher 3 in particular is probably my game of the year. It really is an expertly-crafted bit of business, and totally deserves the praise it’s gotten. I eagerly await the final DLC.

    But nothing dug into my mind like Undertale did. None of the others made me truly want to create, to put my heart into something I could share with other people. I’ll never forget it, and I really, really hope Toby Fox makes more games.

    Good year, altogether.

  11. Cilvre says:

    Interesting, I put in about 60 hours into fallout 4 and declared myself done with the game. I did all the endings and all the achievements in that time frame and there isn’t any replay value to me at all. Just creating a new character a few times early on got ridiculously boring having to trudge through the opening sequence each time.

  12. Grudgeal says:

    So, what *did* you think of Beginner’s Guide, Shamus? In a conversation-starting manner, of course.

    I ended up playing half the game one evening and finishing it the next due to feeling ill. It was interesting to note that, the first day, I played it as if the premise — that Coda was a real person and Davey Wreden wanted to present his work — was entirely true, and then overnight realised that he probably wasn’t real and thus I kept playing the second half waiting for the other shoe to drop. This meant that, when the end of the tower came up, my first reaction wasn’t dismay or shock, but rather an exclamation of “Wreden you magnificent bastard!”. I find that as a commentary on the artist, I wonder if it’s not itself applicable to Wreden’s own situation — even as I realise that doing that is falling prey to the very pitfall the game is commenting on.

  13. Regarding synths in Fallout 4


    Fallout 4 is odd regarding the Synth thing. Gen 3 synths seems to be almost identical to humans (except for a tiny synth component/chip ?)

    I wonder if Gen 3 synths are interbreedable with humans or if they with other synths or are they sterile?
    I also wonder if the 10 year old prototype synth you see when you enter is actually able to grow up like a human would or will it always remain that age/look?

    What the institute is doing with synth research and what Vault Tec did with human experiments in the vaults all moves in the same direction, evolving/replacing current day (rather the 1950s) humans with Human v2.0 in some way.

    I think someone in the comments here (on a different post) mention space.
    It’s possible that scientists (behind vault tec etc) tried to make humans able to live in space/other worlds.
    Maybe it’s because of the aliens.
    (mild spoiler)

    The alien ship that crashes while you walk around the boston area shows that the aliens still exists.
    Also, is it just me or do the aliens in fallout kinda resemble the Mars Attacks aliens a little?

    But WW3 caused all those plans/projects to fall apart.
    I wonder how Fallout would do as a Sci-Fi thriller TV series.

  14. Nick Pitino says:

    So I still haven’t played Fallout 4, and won’t be able to for a couple months.

    But I see the picture of Preston Garvey.

    With his kind of colonial era looking clothing.

    Carrying what I’m told is a ‘laser musket’.

    And also that Shamus thought that the character should have been portrayed as being slightly kooky.

    All of this adds up to my personal head-cannon, where I imagine him bursting out into Johnny Horton songs at inappropriate times.

    Like, he’d charge into battle shouting “JOHN PAUL JONES WAS A FIGHTIN’ MAN, A FIGHTIN’ MAN WAS HeeEEE…” Or you’re talking to a character with a southern accent and he’d start mumbling “We said we’ll run em’ to Atlanta, and to Galveston Bay, but they ran us back to Warshington and Phil-a-del-phi-a…” Seeing the USS Constitution? “WHAT WERE THEIR NAMES, TELL ME WHAT WERE THEIR NAMES? DID YOU HAVE A FRIEND ON THE GOOD REUBEN JAMES?

    Knowing for a fact that this is not the case I expect to be severely disappointed.

  15. It’s a bit late for this, but HRM actually explained all the things it asks you to do (like exactly what the Fibonacci sequence or prime factorization is) in-game. You just have to ask your manager to “tell you more”.

    Sometimes they say something silly if the problem is already well covered, sometimes they actually go into details about what you have to do.

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