This year, my Games of the Year got rolled into Kill Screen’s end-of-year countdown. It’s a fine list.

Kill Screen have also put up the individual participants ballot, and you can read mine here. I also wrote some notes about the list of ten:

Here’s my secret: I’m shamelessly mainstream. When I get home from a day at a desk, designing or programming, I like to play games on my sofa. And so: lots of major console releases there, from the advanced hiking simulator that is Skyrim to the elaborate team sport (disguised as a military shooter) that is Battlefield 3. It’s not all AAA-ware, though. The fact that games like Bastion and From Dust saw release on major platforms makes me enormously happy, and they deserve their place.

What binds all these titles together? Perhaps it’s just about wonderful worlds to escape to. Wonderful for their aesthetics: the cold mountains of Tamriel; the endless greyboxes of decades of Aperture Science; the silhouetted landscapes of Outland; the spectacular 17th century Mars of Jamestown; the steely glowing cyberpunk of Frozen Synapse; the rich, detailed decay of Arkham City.

Flip that around, though, because they’re also wonderful systems to get lost in: Skyrim‘s bottomless, endlessly free systems; the careful addition of gels to the Portal formula; the binary-coloured bullet-hell of Outland; the marvellous Vaunt mechanic in Jamestown; the perfection of turn-based (and play-by-mail) strategy in Frozen Synapse; the bottomless gadget-belt and inventive environment of Arkham City. At heart, I’m an escapist, and I escape into beautiful worlds and deep mechanics equally.

Ten was hard to pick, and I wanted to represent some potentially overlooked gems (oh, Outland) as well as some obviously great mainstream games. Two games slipped off the list for me: Deus Ex: Human Revolution just slipped off, but was a surprisingly lovely way to spend the middle part of the year, and Crysis (in its re-released, updated downloadable XBox and PSN port) wasn’t eligible for inclusion as it was a remake. It was, however, definitely one of the ten best games I played last year, and the Games on Demand version is worth your time, if only for the bottomless tropical sandbox of fun it offers in its early stages.

Go read my list, and, indeed, the whole Kill Screen feature.

  • "If you can demonstrate that McDonald’s only introduces the sandwich when pork prices are lower than usual, then you’re but a couple logical steps from concluding that McDonald’s is essentially exploiting a market imbalance between what normal food producers are willing to pay for hog meat at certain times of the year, and what Americans are willing to pay for it once it is processed, molded into illogically anatomical shapes, and slathered in HFCS-rich BBQ sauce." The McRib as arbitrage of pork prices.
  • "It's 1981. Roy Richardson is a manager at a Los Angeles computer company. A devout Mormon, he has a two-year-old son, with two daughters yet to be born. He has a little over ten years to live.

    I was that two-year-old and Roy was my father. I grew up without him, knowing the outlines of his life but not the details. In 2006, at my mother's house, I found three boxes of details." Leonard never fails to surprise and amaze. This is wonderful.

  • "This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

    No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell." Lester Dent was the creator of Doc Savage, and wrote a LOT of pulp fiction.

The language of difficulty

03 January 2012

Chris Dahlen on Dark Souls and, in particular, how it uses “difficulty” not as “a club the designers bash you with, but the palette with which they paint the experience.“:

In music, film, and literature, difficult works provoke the same kind of response. We talk about them in terms of whether we can deal with them: War and Peace is too long, Ulysses is too opaque, Lars Von Trier’s films are too disturbing. Audiences may balk at a work because it’s unfamiliar, complicated, opaque, taboo, exhausting, unpleasant to the senses, and so on—but in every case, the audience has to think about that barrier and make sure they’re ready to cross it. We wonder, are we the problem? Or is the work failing us? Is it challenging because the challenge is key to the form, the message, and the experience—or is it challenging because the artist is a jerk? If the artist has a message to send us—well, to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn, why couldn’t they just send us a telegram?

Games shed new light on this old debate, because here, challenge is understood from the get-go as being integral to the experience. All games test their players, and the players accept that they are taking a test and they will be graded. By comparison, if you read a great short story, your failure to respond to it happens in the privacy of your mind.

The primary language of Dark Souls is difficulty. The game paces and varies that difficulty with the same craft that goes into its character builds, sound effects, and environmental design, and with the same purpose: to explore distinct, exquisitely-realized variations on one unified experience. What starts as a dare is revealed to be the reward.

Too long a quote to go into Pinboard, so onto the blog it goes in full. And do read the whole article; it’s thoughtful and as with all Chris’ stuff, well-written.