Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 in Review - the Games

So I played a lot of games this year, a lot more than I ever have. Let's see how this list goes.. probably more on the good list than the bad. Obviously, this will be a very subjective list and you won't agree with everything.

Let's start off with the bad, shall we? In no particular order:

The Bad:

Diablo III

I've played Diablo II, but that was recently and I just borrowed it to play through it. I certainly don't have the memories of LAN parties lasting for an entire weekend and just playing through the entire campaign a few times with a few friends. For me, a game like this turns into a very solo experience. I just explore, mess around some, make sure to fill the ENTIRE map, and kill some dudes. It's just not the kind of multiplayer I enjoy.

I could do that with Diablo III. I DID do that with Diablo III. I even enjoyed doing that with Diablo III (By the way, Tyrael is awesome) Then I finished, started up nightmare, and played it for a few days. About half way through, I stopped. I didn't even stop because it was a bad game. I stopped because it wasn't for me. Clickfests and looting being the entire point of the game just doesn't work for me, at least not with this kind of combat. (I enjoyed Borderlands 1 well enough even solo. Of course I got that for like $20 will all the DLC, not for full price at launch)

Guild Wars 2 

This one I should have seen coming. I DID see this one coming. Guild Wars 2, before launch, was being touted as a 'completely different experience' from the WoW model, a 'WoW killer' as it were. Oh look 'skill' based combat! Auto-scaling areas and enemies! Area quests! Dynamic events! Isn't this so awesome and DIFFERENT!

Spoiler: It's not. It's the same thing except with a undeniably shallower combat and progression system than WoW, terrible crafting balance, a tendency to make you want to do EVERYTHING and thus almost inevitably underlevel you. (In a game where scaling YOU down to the enemies was a selling point!) The only motivation seemed to be 'Isn't this fun and cool and DIFFERENT?!?'

Maybe someday someone will make an MMORPG that actually IS different. I'm still looking.


Now, don't get me wrong, I appreciate Dishonored for what it is - a fully realized new IP in a very creative world with some interesting mechanics, but I'm the victim of my OWN hype here. I've been saying 'this game looks awesome' for over a year, when what I really meant 'hey this game is like those games you guys all say you like so you'll probably like this!'.

They did, I didn't. My playstyle isn't conducive to this type of game, I guess. I took the boring, simple, but guaranteed to be always useful powers and used one of the least interesting and unique strategies in the game for the ENTIRE GAME (sneaking and backstabbing, btw). I couldn't bring myself to play with the other mechanics because I didn't think they'd be more effective. Blink is cool, if a little overpowered, and there's a lot of neat ideas. But for whatever reason I didn't have all that much fun (the story and characters weren't the best either). There were some cool moments, but overall a disappointment for me personally. I'll probably enjoy it a lot more the second time around.

Assassin's Creed 3 

AC3 disappointed me because it had the potential to finally get out from the shadow of the Ezio trilogy and really be the BEST game in the series, and it dropped the ball. It's just so fundamentally broken in the way it uses its mechanics it's almost a tragedy.

Sure, it had the most interesting moral themes and characters of the entire series, but when the game itself is so broken when previous games have been so much better? I had higher hopes for this game. 

 The Good:

Mass Effect 3

I won't say much about ME3, that's beating a dead horse that was resurrected and then fell down Mount Everest. Twice. I'll just say that everything but the ending was about what I expected and even hoped for, and I refuse to let the admittedly TERRIBLE ending tarnish my view of what is STILL probably my favorite series of games ever.

 The Old Republic

"But Aldowyn, you spent two paragraphs slamming GW2 for not being different!" No. Well, yes. Kind of. I slammed GW2 for being different just for the sake of being different. TOR, on the other hand, knows what it wants to do differently and does it rather well. If you like Bioware's style of writing and storytelling, and the WoW model isn't an instant turn-off for you, TOR may be the game for you.
 I do really enjoy the class storylines, the voice acting, and how every quest has context that games like WoW really doesn't. It even has area quests somewhat similar to some of GW2's area quests, just always available as long as the mobs are there. I admit it has downsides to GW2's approach, but the base game is better for me and less reliant on gimmickry.


If you start off with an Arthur C. Clarke quote, I'm PROBABLY going to like you. Now, others have discussed the downsides of XCOM: Enemy Unknown's tactical turn-based system before, and it was sufficient for me, but that's not what I want to talk about. What I really liked about it was how it manages to naturally and intuitively fit a cohesive narrative into a tactical game that's meant to be repeated. These soldiers' lives are in your hands, and they will fight for you as heroes and, sometimes, those that can't quite cut it.

Firaxis, which if you don't know is also the developer behind the Civilization series seems to be good at this. They make these sprawling tactical systems and manage to put enough personality behind it that it doesn't feel bland and boring. This is no exception. 

The Walking Dead


This one blindsided me. I'd heard of it, and certainly the television show, but until Shamus and Co. decided they were going to cover it on Spoiler Warning (Shamus' blog should be on the sidebar somewhere if you don't follow him already), I hadn't really looked. I'm glad I did.

TWD has some of the most fully realized characters I've ever seen. The writing and voice work are both quite great (try closing your eyes and just listening...), and this is a game that's not afraid to use its mechanics to make you feel TERRIBLE. The narrative and the choices have been discussed a lot, so I'd like to bring something else up.

Quick time events. They're the primary mode of combat in this game, and this is how you do them right. Simple mouse clicks for hitting stuff, Q and E or sometimes space for struggles, and it's almost always predictable, which is the main reason QTEs genuinely suck. Very few of them are actually HARD, but you know that if you mess up you might get your brains eaten - and sometimes that makes you mess up.

Far Cry 3

Those of you that follow me on twitter may know that I am pretty much obsessed with this game right now. It's one of the most fun games I've ever played. It knows what it wants to do and delivers on it nearly flawlessly. The themes and narrative are interesting, but I haven't entirely figured them out yet, and that's a bigger discussion than I want to have here. (Not to mention I already had the first part of it in my "Welcome to the Jungle" post back in December.)

So.. yeah. Lots of cool games, lots of disappointments. I didn't play anything that was just fundamentally terrible, luckily, but there were some that were about what I was expecting, some better, some worse. Hopefully I've learned a bit more about what games I personally like, enough to ... not get every single one of my big disappointments at launch. (The only other games I got at full price were ME3, which was always going to happen, and XCOM)

Next week I'll discuss some of the constant themes in the industry from 2012 and what I expect to happen in 2013. See you then! (Who knows, I might write something before then. I should tell you guys WHY AC3 sucks instead of just 'man this was awful' all the time)

P.S. If there's something you think I'd have mentioned that I haven't, I probably didn't play it. Notably Spec Ops: The Line, Borderlands 2, and maybe Max Payne 3. FTL isn't on here because meh I don't like talking about indie games as much, sorry :P

Thursday, January 3, 2013

This is the big one

Those of you that are new here, welcome. This post is perhaps more for you than it is for my long-time followers, although I certainly hope they appreciate it too.

So, those of you that HAVE followed me for a while know that I've experimented a LOT with finding my 'niche' in internet video game criticism. I've dabbled in videos, I've dabbled in the blog here, but I've never found something that really grabbed a hold of me or even viewers/readers. I've always thought that there was something, somewhere that I could add to the discussion - I mean, the plan is to become a game designer. If I can't say something new, then is that the right plan? It certainly FEELS like it is, so SOME niche almost has to exist if I'm right.

I think this is it. This is my big plan, more fundamentally original and thus likely to succeed than any other - if I can get it off the ground. The idea is a video series not unlike Extra Credits, which is the show that really inspired me to believe that becoming a designer was really something that I could actually DO. Making games is one of those things that sounds like a fever dream, but Dan and James, and of course Allison and LeeLee (you guys are all awesome, by the way) made it seem possible. So thanks to them for that.

Back on topic. Connections and networking are one of the most important aspects in any industry, especially creative ones, and this is the lightning-in-a-bottle method of doing that ahead of time. (And I think I have it in the bottle. The problem is trying to figure out how to USE it) The only reason I'm pitching this as a video series instead of a blog post is an inherently selfish one - if you consider getting more people to watch it 'selfish'. Branding, recognition, and loyalty are all fundamentally easier for video content than text content, because humans are visual creatures. It also helps that videos do MORE than just text - they convey things through images, and words in both visual and audio form. It's a long established fact that more senses = more learning. The presence of Youtube is not a coincidence either, but I will also make transcripts available for those of you that don't like videos for whatever reason. No reason not to since it's going to be scripted anyway, and I will fight to make that happen as well as I can - even if it's just putting it in the description or if worst comes to worst putting subtitles/captions on the videos or putting it all on the screen at the end. (Like I said, last ditch scenario. I don't foresee that happening. Those last few miss the point of reading instead of watching, really :/)

The idea for the show itself is like Extra Credits in the way that many if not all of the episodes will be based on topics more fundamental than gameplay footage can accurately convey, and thus requires art of some form or another to be shown through video. (Yet another way of forming a brand. Look at Extra Credits! Or Zero Punctuation, or any number of animated videos...) That's a problem, and not the only one, but I need to finish explaining.

The TOPIC is game design. A lot of videos, including, yes, Extra Credits, often discuss game design, but it's usually either in context to a related issue, or for a specific game. (There ARE exceptions, some of which I can think of off the top of my head. They tend to be the most interesting for me. Again, not a coincidence) MY show would be JUST about game design. That's my niche. Quite a few people have already expressed interest, moreso than for any of my previous videos, series, or even individual posts. It's one of the reasons I'm so convinced this could be my big shot.

I'm going to give you an example so you know just what I'm talking about. The pilot episode, if I can make it, has to do with conflict, and how it's ESSENTIAL to designing a game. Every mechanic in a game has something to do with how the player overcomes obstacles. It's as fundamental a concept to games as conflict is in books. SOMETHING has to drive the player's play just as much as conflict drives a narrative, and it's an analogous situation. There's more to it, or there would be once I started fully writing the episode, but that's the main concept.

So that's the idea. But, as is inevitable with such an ambitious project, there are some problems. The first is the art. It HAS to be art, because it can't (or rather, I would vastly prefer) a video format, and showing gameplay A: Doesn't have enough branding (I MIGHT use clips, but probably not), and B: just doesn't work as well to explain the kind of fundamental concepts I plan on discussing. I can't draw, and I am not willing to risk this idea floundering because I'm fumbling around with new software I have no idea how to use, so getting an artist would probably be optimal. I DO have another possibility, but unless it works out I don't want to discuss it, because it drags someone else into the discussion without their permission.

The second is publicity. Finding a new show is HARD, and I want to make it as easy as possible to find my show. I have a possible idea here, and it's a fever dream, but again... it feels like it might happen. That idea is to join a major gaming network on Youtube. I won't tell you which, even though you might actually guess. I know it's extremely unlikely for an unproven youtuber to do that, but I may have a way around it and I HOPE my intensity and belief in this idea will help a lot.

I'm actively working on both these issues, and I'm hoping if this post gets spread around enough you guys can help me figure it out. I need help, and what better way to start a fanbase than to get people involved in creating the show? That's a large part of why Kickstarter and other crowdfunding (I won't forget rockethub!) works the way it does.

In any case, thanks for reading, new or old. I think I may be on to something, and I need your help to make it happen. Give me feedback, ideas, suggestions. Spread the word. Any content created for consumers is impossible without them - and the series itself is for you, not me. The experience and notoriety is just a bonus - I guess you could say the good thing for a wrong reason is still a good thing, right? I'll keep you posted, and I'll see you next time.


So, I've decided I'm going to make a pitch video ASAP, but I still want to get this right. There's a few avenues I can explore, including some that I can't until I go back to uni in a week or so. I MAY have found my solution for the art issue, which is the more immediate one - I need the pitch VIDEO and maybe even the pilot to make my official pitch to the network I mentioned. I'm going to spend the next week I have off trying random things and seeing how they work. One option is GIMP (freeware photoshop/paint) and Windows Movie Maker (or, better, some professional application like Vegas Pro), another is Flash, again if I shell out the money. (well, there's a trial for Vegas Pro and Flash that I can use for now) That's what I can mess with right now, and what I'll be spending the next few days doing. (Although I need a break, I've been running pretty much nonstop since I posted this originally) As always, I'll keep you posted.