I am proud to announce that as of 2013 I am finally a qualified games journalist. I got an Achievement that told me so, and that’s the recognition that I absolutely needed. As a fully qualified games journalist, I write Games of the Year articles… kind of like I did in previous years. Some things don’t change.
As in those previous years, we at Tap-Repeatedly are using our look-back time to mention games that defined 2013 for us. This doesn’t necessarily have to be games that came out this year, though for me, I’m going to keep things fairly current. The usual rule is five games each. But I’ll also talk about other trends I noticed this year, as a reason primarily to mention more games! First, the list:
Game of the Year: Fire Emblem: Awakening
Please send help. I am supposed to do a write-up about my 2013 games of the year, but I can’t stop playing Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Anyone who is trying to make games that appeal to women should spend some time with Fire Emblem: Awakening. This is not to say that women cannot enjoy whatever games they like. But, to me, this game appeals not just to me personally, but to my feminine side. It allows me to play as a young woman with an important destiny and powerful magic. It showcases a wide variety of different female characters with different personalities and roles to fill, in addition to a variety of pretty boys. It allows me to perform social matchmaking with all of these different attractive people.
It’s also a crunchy, tactical RPG with tons of strategy and mathematics. Woe unto you if you do not take the dangers of Fire Emblem: Awakening seriously just because those dangers happen to be riding a black pegasus over the scenic snowy mountains. Those black pegasi are OP.
I’d have written more about this game, but for me to do that I’d have had to have put it down first. And I haven’t even started on the DLC maps yet, so I have almost an entire second game packed on this cart. It’s not just an interesting game to play; it’s an interesting game to just talk about. “Who did you marry in Fire Emblem?” Turns out you can marry almost anyone (though there’s no option for same-sex which might be neat in a future installment). Great music, great art, and enough challenge to keep me busy off and on all year. This alone was worth buying a 3DS for.
Nintendo game I wish I’d gotten around to this year that might have also been a contender: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – Sorry, Nintendo, I’ll play this as soon as my 3DS is freed up. I hear it’s great and Link to the Past was my favorite of the old Zeldas. I’ve just been a bit hooked on your other game.
Game of the Year Most Fun Solo: Saints Row IV
Saints Row IV is a pretty clever game. In a year with a lot of big budgets and excess, it did less with more. Saints Row IV reused assets and that is okay. I feel cleverness should be encouraged, especially when cleverness includes spot-on Transformers the Movie references. And Gargoyles! There is a Gargoyles joke in Saints Row IV. This game temporarily filled the superhero-game-shaped hole in my heart left by the absence of City of Heroes. Here’s my previous review/editorial about Saints Row IV and why I enjoyed it.
I know just in putting this on the list, someone is going to say “well it was pretty entertaining but I’m not sure about Game of the Year material” so allow me to showcase this counterpoint courtesy Junk Food King on YouTube:
That being said…
Game of the Year Least Fun: The Last of Us
Oh, no, why am I putting another zombie game on my list again? I don’t like zombie games, in theory. I am not in love with the idea of zombies. I keep wanting to say that they are played-out. But yet, if I never love a zombie game again, let the last zombie game I rave about be The Last of Us.
I am speaking positively about the game, but giving it this specific award to be clear. This game is not fun. This game made me edgy and cranky. I’d put the controller down and be shaking for hours afterwards. But would I recommend it? Absolutely. And not because of the story or the dialog or even the graphical polish, though the polish on the game is certainly nice. But because mechanically, it does the tense-survival experience almost too perfectly. It does exactly what it set out to do.
Runner-up Least Fun: Papers, Please. I wouldn’t call this game fun either. But it’s such a compelling game: high-stakes paperwork, we’ve called it. I enjoyed it, I think, if that is a thing I can really say about something so bleak and unforgiving. I got shot. I went to jail. I’d do it again.
Game of the Year Most Fun With Friends: Dragon’s Crown
I wrote a review of this game and it got linked around a lot because I took a stand in favor of the game’s art style. I purposely didn’t talk too much about the game itself, but it’s a blast. Solo it’s just sort of fun; multi-player it’s a lot of fun. I’m not really one for on-line co-op with a game like this. I like the rattle of dice in my D&D games, and I like my co-op on the couch with friends. In this way Dragon’s Crown delivers. I bought extra controllers for this title alone. With all the new patches, I know I’ll be playing it well into 2014, as long as people are over to enjoy it with me.
Possible contender but I haven’t tried it yet: Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. That’s my “I keep meaning to get around to learning that” multi-player game. I hear good things.
Game of the Year Award for Cerebral Remake: The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable original made my runners-up list last year. This year it became a full game and it really got under my skin. It’s so weird and interesting. The free demo is certainly worth trying too, as it’s another weird interesting experiment worth the price of the zero-dollar admission. There were a lot of times when the game made me uncomfortable, but the more I’ve stewed on it the more I like it. Read my review or Electron Dance’s excellent write-up that hits on a lot of things I missed.
Runner-up Cerebral Remake: Deadly Premonition: the Director’s Cut. Hey, that came out this year! It’s hard to top the amazing madness of playing it for the first time, but if you missed it the first time: Deadly Premonition: now you have no excuse. Marathon in conjunction with Twin Peaks on Netflix and lots of coffee.
Game Industry and Design Trends I Noticed in 2013
Now is the part of the writeup where I look back at the year in general.
First, I need to check in again with my 16-year-old self.
Hi me: just sending another note after our conversation a couple years ago. Couple of surprises in 2013. This year, you will play a Lara Croft game, and in spite of the initial bad press, you will not hate it. You will also play a Deadpool game, and you will not really like it. I know. The world is upside-down here in the future. …. Could I introduce you to this game Fire Emblem? You two will be great friends.
Other than that, me, here’s what video games do in 2013…
I’ve never managed to write an entire essay on this phenomenon. I guess it’s because one isn’t necessary. It’s pretty easy to sum up.
Game developers are still mostly men, and the men at the top of the AAA development food chain are getting a little bit older and starting to have kids. Therefore, the love interest female character is out. The female character who is like your daughter, whom you must parent, is in. Usually it’s a daughter – sometimes it’s a son – but daughter-anxiety seems to be much higher than son-anxiety in 2013. This is possibly due to the inherent implied vulnerability of your daughter (no matter how actually invulnerable she may be for game mechanics’ purposes). Silent Hill was an early adopter in the field of “have you seen my daughter; I’m looking for a girl” games. This genre would reach its peak in 2012-2013 with the central daughter figure characters in The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, and BioShock Infinite and many other game series like Call of Duty and even Grand Theft Auto exploring the unique difficulties of fatherhood.
I actually like a lot of these games, but I’m still exhausted by the trend. Not all of us empathize with the dadfeels of game developers and they’re wearing them a bit on their sleeve. Kudos go once again to Fire Emblem: Awakening, the only game this year in which I was able to play as someone’s cool mom. Motherhood is otherwise a task that is relegated to badgers.
I predict that more video games about fatherhood will appear in the coming years, followed up by video games about empty nest syndrome and then videogames about the angst that comes with middle-age realizations of your inevitable death. In another twenty years all the video game action heroes will be aging just like the film action heroes are now. Japan has a head start on us here as well so look forward to it!
In the meantime, it is now possible to get the mocking #dadfeels hashtag I started on Twitter on the front of a T-shirt or a whisky flask. I have even seen some people use this hashtag non-ironically. Feel your fatherhood feelings in your own way. Just please don’t lose track of that girl; you know you can’t handle the guilt.
My husband just finished playing Assassin’s Creed IV, and the other day, I was playing Tomb Raider (2013 edition). I was walking around the lovely island forest looking for collectables – like you do – and had lost my way off the main path. I expressed an uncertainty about how to proceed, and my husband said: “Just use your Eagle Vision. Oh wait, you don’t have that.”
Except: PUMMMMMM – he was wrong – here is a press of the left-side button, and a low rumble of thunder, and, I sure do have Eagle Vision or Survival Instincts Vision whatever because remember the Detective Mode vision in Batman: Arkham Asylum and how it was so useful that everyone mostly left it on for the entire game? Just about half of all the other action games have that now. We demanded lush, realistic environments, and we got them, at the natural expense of clear affordances and uncluttered levels. The HUD needed to provide a counter balance.
Tomb Raider in fact has some of the best implementation of this little feature that I’ve ever seen in the wild: a vision mode that, when a button is pulsed, highlights important objects in the environment for just a few seconds, or stays on until Lara moves from where she is standing. It lets me see an ammo box at twenty yards among lots of other environment clutter but it doesn’t stay on long enough to distract from the environments being viewed as-intended. The alternative to this is something like Bioshock Infinite does, where important objects in the environment just glitter and twinkle until they’re interacted with, which works okay in a more stylized world like Binfinite’s but in a realistic environment would be additionally distracting. I think this vision-mode feature may be here to stay.
We’re Still Working on Ludonarrative Dissonance
In 2007 Clint Hocking coined the term Ludonarrative Dissonance to describe the disconnect between the game mechanics and the story elements in the original BioShock. This was an excellent coinage, but then nobody was entirely sure what it meant for a while, and it got pretty muddled up until it was a meaningless buzzword for “stuff I dislike in a game” and most often meant when a game has too much killing in it when you’re playing as a character that doesn’t like killing.
In 2013 people were actually making bigger attempts to solve this issue by, for example, making a GTA character who was in fact actually a sociopath, or making a game starring Deadpool. This last move has solved ludonarrative dissonance entirely but it turns out no one really cares. Even though LND (go with me – it’s a long phrase) is a problem you can point out and write about, it’s not actually a problem that makes a game a lot worse most of the time. Like maybe the problem isn’t “fighting all these dudes doesn’t gel with the story we’re supposed to be telling about this character” so much as it is “turns out fighting all these dudes isn’t something the game made interesting no matter how they tried to narratively justify it” and this is a bigger problem.
If a game’s story and mechanics somehow have a lovely, perfect, on-message harmony, that’s a nice surprise. It’s a lot to expect, though, I guess. The game Gunpoint actually did the smartest thing with the concept of LND this year, which is allow you to play through a story with dissonance intact, then write a snarky blog post about it in the game’s finale. If ludonarrative dissonance was both achieved and properly recognized, the player is awarded with an Achievement for those efforts.
Here’s a picture of it, to explain the lead-in I wrote to this article and why I am now qualified to write about games forever. Go me!
Finally, I wanted to write something here about how you can now in 2013 just sort of release an alpha of your game and work on it for a while longer, maybe years, and that’s so normalized that Steam has a whole section for it now. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this practice. I guess I feel mostly positively about it. I’ve bought quite a few unfinished games this year, because I liked what the game was shaping up to be and wanted to support the developers and their process. And I’ve certainly bought unfinished games that were released as finished games, so isn’t this practice of admitting a game is coming out as an alpha and will be updated periodically actually a pretty honest one? But then there’s the counter-argument that this will make developers lazy or unlikely to actually complete the game and something something this article is still in alpha finish this thought later
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Have a very happy 2014!