On one of my recent “class” streams, a conversation evolved about how the flaws of games can give them character. It really started out as looking streamlining between generations of genres. In our case we were playing Borderlands 2, and I was observing how a lot of tropes of that generation were present in Destiny as a more modern “rpg-shooter” hybrid, but had been hyper streamlined. Some of the older conventions of the late PS3/XBox 360 era of shooters now felt a little clunky – things like waiting on NPC positioning for events to occur, the “turn-in” experience, accomplishing different tasks via different menus which sometimes had limited access, how sometimes the relationship between systems and options made some actions obsolete and other decision making processes feel paralyzing.
2014 feels like it’s actually been 5 years crammed into one. So much has happened! I was skimming over a list of game releases for this year and kept thinking “wait, wait that only came out THIS YEAR??”
Anyway, once again my usual caveat: these aren’t necessarily games I think were THE best games of the year, just ones that happened to consume me personally in a special way. And on that note, this is games that I played for the first time this year. On we go…
And now the games post as promised. Keep in mind, this isn’t “Games I thought were the best out of all games of 2013,” because I did not play all the games. I thought Antichamber was brilliant, but I only spectated that one. And these aren’t necessarily the artsiest-fartsiest of games, or the games with the best design. Rather, this is more of a list of “Games that consumed me in 2013,” or games that was antsy to get off work and get home so I could play some more. Here they are in order played.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
This game ended up being exactly what I hoped it would be. It had that whimsical, wondrous JRPG-from-my-childhood feel that I have been missing for so long, and I was startled to realize that a lot of that feeling merely comes from the presence of a world map. It was beautiful, and a world that I wanted to spend time in. I didn’t really get into the monster-collecting aspect of it, and stuck with a core group and strategy for the better part of the game, led by MonGod, the tankiest of tanks. I loved the combat in this game, which was active while still retaining something of that menu-based combat feel that I loved in JRPGs of old. If not for Nick’s fatigue of coaching boss battles, I would have plowed through all the post-end-of-game quests. I will do any quest that is framed as helping someone out, so the frequent-buyer style stamp cards were incredibly compelling for me. I wanted to help ALL THE PEOPLE.
I had seen this game at Indiecade the year prior, and it won me over instantly with its aesthetic and the fact that you can transform from luchador to chicken. This is a fantastic metroid-vania style brawler, and the art and animation is delightful. The theming was spot on and the music did that weird mariachi-electronica mashup that just worked so well for the game. It had some ups and downs in co-op: the brawling was a great 2-player experience, but the exploring and platforming aspects felt better in single player. I loved how many elegant design solutions showed up, especially for combining get-to-new-places abilities with specific combat needs (the different colored shields). Also you can transform into a chicken. The only bummer in this game for me was the tired old damsel-in-distress trope. I kept waiting for them to throw a clever twist on it, but they never did 🙁 Alas, can’t have everything.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
It had been a long, long time since I bought a console specifically for a single game, but the indirect peer pressure of friends posting about their villages was too much, and before long the 3DS and Animal Crossing were mine all mine. I really liked how they toned down the guilt-tripping in this game compared to previous iterations. This made me much more excited to return to my village after a small absence, rather than being terrified of the berating I would receive at the hands of my villagers. I’ve never been much for decorating house, but I do love to help run errands for my villagers, and I did manage to find all the fossils. The Halloween event was super fun, and I still feel guilty about caving and becoming another exploitive beetle farmer. I think this game consumed me so well because it fit right into my daily routine. After work every day I would take Mr. Davis for a walk for an hour, and it was the perfect time frame for checking in, digging up my fossils, watering my plants, and taking care of day-to-day town maintenance. Surprisingly, even though it was seeing other people post about this game that compelled me to buy it, I never visited a single other person’s village.
Oh, man. This game, you guys, this game. I feel like I’ve gushed enough about how much I love this game already, so I’ll just do a short recap. I loved how simple the actual mechanic was, and how complex they were able to make it without needing much more input. It made it incredibly accessible while still having the potential for a lot of depth. I loved how many ethical dilemmas I faced playing this game, and how they just showed up without any face-rubbing or drama, but were simple but still stirring. I love how intensely I cared about the wellbeing of my family, who were nothing more than names on a screen (and perhaps that is why they became so important to me, because my imagination filled in all the meat). This was also an incredibly intense, at times stressful co-op experience. I’m actually not sure if I could have handled the later levels alone. If you have yet to play this game, please give it a try. For me.
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Buying a 3DS for Animal Crossing suddenly made me realize that I got to be excited about the release of this game! A Link to the Past is tied for my all-time favorite Zelda, and I have fond memories of how much of an impression that game had on my life, so I was very excited about the idea that this game would take place in the same world. A Link Between Worlds was like coming home, the perfect balance of nostalgia factor and fresh new content and mechanics. It also made really good use of the 3D feature, with all of its clever puzzles that had to do with verticality in the top-down world. The pacing was delightful, and even when I perceived solutions to puzzles very quickly, the discovery was still intoxicating. I did a lot of the completionist stuff purely because I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the world, and was depressed to have finished it.
People who know me well know that Okami is my favorite game of all time. Recently, when playing through the HD release, I found myself at a particular moment in the game just before I had to stop playing to go get dinner with Nick. I was turning in a side quest, and was mentally time managing what I was going to do next – “I think before doing the next story quest I’m going to train up at the dojo on my way back to Shinshu Field and get the clover that I couldn’t get before, but I need to go to a shop and get more seed because I missed some birds back there. I wonder if I should farm up demon fangs and get that mirror teleport now or wait until after I do the next dungeon…”
It struck me how excited I was about doing ALL THE THINGS in that game. This is unusual for me, because in most games of this nature I tend to be a primary-path sort of girl. Even in Zelda games, which I enjoy very much, I’m never too concerned about finding all the heart containers or whatever. So I got to thinking, what is it about Okami specifically that makes me so excited about doing all the collections and side quests and essentially 100%ing the game?
In many games, the story artificially drives my sense of urgency. I’m talking about when the story is like “oh no we must rush to the castle before it is too late!” My logic brain knows that I could go out and farm for experience, complete the secret side quest in the first area, AND finish the entire chocobo minigame series or whatever before going to the castle (and when I got there I’d still arrive just in the nick of time).
However, emotional brain doesn’t quite understand this. Emotional brain feels I need to book it to the castle as fast as I can, because something very serious is at stake. I think my tendency is to let myself get engaged in the experience to the point where emotional brain is sort of guiding things, so I readily go from story point to story point.
In Okami, the story has a lot of exciting moments, but when you get to a new place it tends to frame things as not being in too much of a rush. Your companion, Issun, will be like “you’re gonna love exploring the city, there’s so much to do! I guess we should investigate the weird thing about the queen at some point…but the city is so happenin!”
It is an ever so slight encouragement to do whatever the hell you please, framing the next story point as “yeah, we’ll get around to it.” Possibly this setup sets emotional brain at ease, and makes me much more enthusiastic about feeding all the bunnies along the coastline before actually going into the city.
It’s possible that the only thing compelling me to do so much of the extra stuff in Okami is that I’m so starved for a game experience that speaks to me. I know in the back of my mind that it’ll probably be over 10 years before someone else makes a game of this scope with this amount of whimsy and personal Lisa Brown appeal, so I become desperate to squeeze every last drop out of the experience before leaving it.
What about you, internet? What games compel you to do all their extra things when comparable games do not?
I was starting to think that I had been cursed to never again attend Indiecade, as 2 years ago I came down with the flu this time of year*, and last year it was Nick who was let's-go-to-the-hospital sick right over Indiecade. But this year we were both in good health, and ventured down to Culver City to check out all the games. There was lots of cool stuff, but here are some of my favorites:
If you had told me a year ago that by the summer I would a regular e-sports watcher, I’d have called you crazy. But here I am, Wednesday-Sunday evenings, planted in front of the laptop watching Starcraft 2, and all giddy about the North American Star League finals in a few weeks. Let this be a lesson, a lot can change in a year!
“They beat us to the punch! But I can say we did something similar in Snowfort, our latest game. You play against your friend’s team (managed by an equal level AI).
We’ve got nominated to the “most creative game” at the Flash Game Summit for Snowfort. Wish us luck!http://www.flashgamingsummit.com/awards.html“
So I was playing the StarJeweled beta last night (it’s a mash-up of Bejeweled and Starcraft II, where you play bejeweled to get energy to create units, which auto-attack the other team’s base). On one match, my partner was just doing insanely good, and had like 3 times the energy as anyone else. But I was baffled because he kept chatting, suggesting strategies and cheering when we broke through and stuff.
“You’re really good at this!” I said, amazed at how he could be typing and clicking on the bejeweled board and getting such a high score all at once.
“It’s my girlfriend,” he said, “she plays and I can type, lol.”
“Well, she’s really good at this!” I replied
“Girls tend to be good at this game, lol”
I hesitated, as I always do when about to reveal my gender to strangers in an online game, but went ahead.
“I’m a girl, but I’m only so-so at bejeweled.”
“…u a girl?”
“Not many girls play Starcraft II”
“Yeah, I always hope to see some girls in the big tournaments someday”
By then the match had ended and we went our separate ways. Anyway, it just made me thoughtful.
Meanwhile, I like Starjeweled a lot, and I noticed that there’s not a lot of chatter if you’re not doing so well and your partner is, as can happen in some other games. Part of this is because you would sacrifice so much energy to stop playing and type a message that it’s often not worth the effort to say “why are you sucking!” But I think part of it is that there’s just something weird about berating someone for not being good enough at bejeweled.
Anyway, StarJeweled – it’s fun!
This Christmas vacation so far has been just the right balance of lazy relaxing and fun adventures. After Nick left I spent the remaining days with family and friends (mostly being lazy) and had a lovely family Christmas.
– Donkey Kong Country Returns (played a bit here in Florida with Nick, it’s super super fun!)
– Sonic Colors
– pre-order for Lost in Shadow, which should arrive in January
– a WoW trivia desk calendar
– Amazon gift credits, intended to be used for presents for Mr. Davis. I’m going to get him a cat condo/tree. I also used some of them to pre-order Okamiden
– Some cash monies
– a new pair of pajamas (I get one pretty much every year, which is good, because I wear through pajamas like crazy!)
– Betrayal at House on the Hill
A splendid collection of gifts if ever there was one! My brother and I got my parents Netflix, which they liked a lot. Hopefully they won’t watch through the whole streaming library in a single month 😛
After Christmas I flew down here to Sarasota to spend the rest of our break with Nick. We went to the Ringling Museum, which was pretty varied and interesting. Otherwise there has been a lot of lazing and meeting friends and playing games. I think it will be a relaxing way to see out 2010!
My visit home to Louisville has been splendid thus far! Nick and I hit up the Speed Museum, Science Center, and Slugger Museum. We ate at Dragon King’s Daughter, Ramsi’s, Old Spaghetti Factory, Coco’s Chocolate (fondue!!) and Nord’s Doughnuts. We met Ian’s puppy and played many games with friends and hung out with my family.
Now he’s off to Sarasota so we can spend Christmas with our respective families, and then I’ll join up with him again in Florida afterwards. Josh checked in on Mr. Davis for me at the Cat Hotel, and apparently he’s settled quite nicely and made friends with the other cats! Yay!
Meanwhile, I’m starting to ponder my goals for 2011. Last year the goals were: get a cat (check!) and go to Japan (check!). I already have a few goals in mind financially, but I’m molding some others in the meantime.
First, I’m feeling purge-ish again, and every time i get in the mood to get rid of stuff, the circle of influence of my grip shrinks. This time it’s the old game consoles that are feeling invasive to my space. I’ve been really thinking a lot about the way I consume media. Earlier in the year I borrowed games to try them (offering pies in exchange) and I liked the way it felt. I felt motivated to finish the games because I had to return them, and didn’t feel any guilt over a game half started and then sitting and staring at me from the PS3.
I find myself drawn more and more to Steam and PSN and investigating Wiiware titles because of the lack of physical “stuff” that comes attached to them. Perhaps I will pick up the borrowing habit once more in the New Year.
Which leads me to my second goal of consuming more games more regularly. Right now I play games in long stretches and revel in them, such as Starcraft and WoW and Minecraft. But as has been pointed out time and again, one of the flaws of my industry is how much really good content is pushed out so frequently. I feel like everyone knows someone who has a mountain of unwrapped games that they haven’t even touched yet.
I’ve attributed this need to keep up with games to be like practicing an instrument, and I think this year I need to buckle down on that and really set aside time each day for games. NEW games, I mean, not just the ones I’m in love with and playing anyway. If I can work it into my routine I think I can pull it off, but new routines are very hard to get rolling!
We shall see what the new year brings.