Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Has Come and Gone or Indie Games Are Awesome

The year is (almost) at an end.  I know a lot of bloggers are doing top ten lists and predictions for the next year.  I've done that before, but today I feel like reflecting on 2011 in general instead of telling you about games you've already played.

The thing is, I realized that AAA $60 games were a huge disappointment for me this year.  I bought a handful, played them, and enjoyed them but looking back on the year I realize that they didn't truly do anything new.  My favorite 3 AAA titles this year were Arkham City, Assassin's Creed Revelations, and Skyrim.  They were all sequels with incremental improvements but none of them were truly groundbreaking.

For me the best part of 2011 were all the indie games.  Oh my god, the indie games.  I've seen them grow by leaps and bounds in the last few years.  With the rise of Steam, XBLA, PSN, and downloadable games in general indie games are gaining the attention of the wider gaming community.  The indie developers were the true innovators this year.

My favorite game released in 2011 was Bastion from the small team at Super Giant Games.  It gave storytelling an interesting twist with voice over in a world barely holding together.  That combined with an interesting art style to make the most memorable game of the year for me.  Super Giant Games tried new things and succeeded.

Bastion was awesome, but all the other games that surprised me with their innovation this year also came from indie developers.  Minecraft, Frozen Synapse, Atom Zombie Smasher, Tiny Wings, VVVVVV, SPAZ, and countless others I haven't tried.  Not to mention all the Humble Indie Bundle goodness that keeps coming our way.  These games are not only innovative, they are also much cheaper than the traditional $60 asking price.  Most of the games I just listed are in the $5 to $15 range.

My hopes for the future of the gaming industry no longer lie with the big name developers.  They're going to do what makes them the most money and stick to the tried and true.  Instead, I'm looking to the little guys, the start-ups, the independent developers who want to push the envelope and try something new.  That's what I learned this year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ready Player One

Happy Holidays everyone.  I hope the holiday season has given you some free time to be with family and (of course) get some gaming in.  I want to talk about an awesome gift I got from my brother, but I'll save that for another post because first I need to tell you about Ready Player One.

Last week it was slow at work and I had free time every night.  I fully intended to catch up on my Starcraft II and some of my Steam games but on Monday I happened to pick up a new book.  A friend recommended Ready Player One and said it was a great book for gamers.  That was a huge understatement.

Ready Player One is set in the near future and finds the world slowly falling into decay.  The world population now spends all their free time in the virtual world of OASIS.  OASIS is the evolution of modern day MMOs into a virtual universe where anything can exist.  The creator of OASIS was a child in the 1980s and pulled his love of 80s pop culture into OASIS.  Classic video games and movies have worlds and star systems devoted to them.

I couldn't put this book down last week.  Anyone who was alive in the 80s or appreciates classic video games will enjoy this sci-fi romp through a virtual world.  I have a feeling most of my readers would like this book.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The End is in Sight. Or is it?

I'm still playing through Final Fantasy II and enjoying the experience.  While playing, something caught my attention in this old JRPG.  I was grinding.  I was grinding for experience, gear, money, and other loot.  I was grinding the way I grind in MMOs.  But instead of that listless MMO feeling I was having fun.  What's the deal?

I think part of the reason is that I'm playing a game with a definitive ending.  I may be grinding, but there's an end in sight.  In MMOs it's way too easy to get stuck on the gear treadmill at "endgame" and keep grinding for better gear so that you can clear the next tier of raid so that you can get better gear etc, etc, etc.  That's how they keep you playing.  But without an ending, without that feeling of conclusion and satisfaction, a videogame loses something.

The end is always time for reflection

MMOs aren't the only culprit.  I've invested around 60 hours in Skyrim and have "completed" 2 of the main questlines that might as well have been entire games unto themselves (8+ hours for each).  The world and gameplay continue on despite finishing them.  Now, this is the nature of an Elder Scrolls game, they design it with open exploration in mind.  Nevertheless, Skyrim still loses something by having no true end.  There's no final payoff and sense of accomplishment.  That moment of sitting back on the couch and just reflecting on everything you've done while the credits roll doesn't exist.

I don't know if this is a problem or not.  What I do know is that games that end have a much bigger emotional impact on me than games without end.  The narratives and feelings from the game stay with me longer and I think about them more often.  So, maybe developers should think twice before deciding to create an open-ended game.  They might not be doing themselves a favor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Revealing Thoughts on Revelations

I picked up Assassin's Creed Revelations for $25 on Black Friday thanks to Amazon lightning deals.  I always keep an eye out for when they do video game lightning deals and in this case it paid off.  The game had only been out for about 2 weeks and I saved $35.  I love Amazon.

Anyway, AC Revelations is ok.  I know that's not a rousing endorsement, but it's the truth.  In terms of gameplay there is so little added on top of the last installment that it's hard to be excited.

There are a few minor changes.  Desmond gets some intriguing puzzle gameplay while stuck in the Animus, Ezio gets to customize bombs, and Ezio has access to a  badass hookblade that allows the use of ziplines and faster climbing.  None of these is bad, but they don't go far enough.  The puzzle gameplay with Desmond tells an interesting story but the puzzles themselves don't offer much fun.  The bomb customization is worthless outside of specific bomb missions, you're better off using smoke bombs all the time.  And while ziplines and new kill animations are cool the hookblade doesn't dramatically shift the game.

So why did I even pay $25 for this game?  Well, I like the Assassin's Creed series.  I'm invested in the characters and want to know the outcome of the story.  I want to support the developers so that hopefully some day they make a true Assassins Creed 3 that radically revamps the entire gameplay into a new and amazing stealth/action/exploration epic.

At this point, with yearly releases, the Assassin's Creed series is losing steam with me.  Revelations was probably worth the $25 I paid just because I'm a fan of the series but it definitely is not worth the $60 it costs regularly.  If you're new to the series you would be much better served by buying Assassin's Creed II.  It's a great starting point to get into the series and it's now a platinum hit so it'll only cost you $19.99.  Or if you want a new release in the same vein that's worth the price of entry check out Batman Arkham City.

Keep in mind all of this is based off the single player game.  If I find something worthwhile in the multiplayer I'll write it up in another post.  But again, it looks extremely similar to what was offered in AC Brotherhood so don't be surprised if that post doesn't get written.