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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Quakecon 2012 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.
Spec Ops: The Line
A videogame that judges its audience, criticizes its genre, and hates its premise. How did this thing get made?
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.
The Best of 2012
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.