Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The most important games to me from 2014

Episode 5 of five out of ten magazine features an essay by Brendan Keogh about games exactly like Threes. About how these deeply systemic game are hard to talk. Graphics, story, sound, and some elements of gameplay are easy to talk about, but systems are harder. Threes is kinda like Tetris in that new tiles are always entering the board and you have to figure out how to combine them to make more room. In Threes there are things you have control over (how you're going to shift and combine tiles) and things you don't have control over (what tile is coming up next and where it enters). You're given enough knowledge about what tile is coming next and where it can enter that you can make intelligent decisions about what to do.

It's the things that you don't have control over that make the things you do have control over fun and interesting. Threes is a focused example of how random effects, information, and choice mix together to make an amazing gameplay experience.

I reached my pinnacle in this game in October by getting a 3072 tile on my board. I've done it a couple more times since then but I highly doubt I'll ever do better. But I keep playing.

FTL: Faster than Light
FTL came out in 2012, but it received a significant update this year, which is when I really fell for it. FTL is a roguelike, which is an utterly useless descriptor, unless you're familiar with the game Rogue, in which case it still doesn't tell you anything about the game. Roguelikes are games that have a relatively short duration but make up for that by using random generation to create replayability. Roguelikes must have a definite end goal and be hard. Failure must be an reasonably possible outcome.

FTL has you controlling a spaceship and it's crew, racing to alert the Federation of the oncoming rebel threat, like a reverse Star Wars. As you play you'll defeat enemy ships and get scrap and other material which you use to upgrade your ship. FTL asks you to overcome increasingly difficult enemies by figuring out where best to spend your scrap to complement your ships current build and the enemies your facing. Every run through FTL feels different even if you're using the same ship (of which there are 29).

I love Hearthstone. In particular I love Hearthstone Arena. I love it for all the same reasons I love the above two game. Hearthstone Arena asks you to construct a deck out of randomly selected cards that are presented to you three at a time to use against other people who have similarly constructed a deck. Hearthstone arena is great because you don't have to buy the cards to use in it. You don't even have to pay to enter unless you don't have enough gold, which brings me to my second point.

Hearthstone's daily quest system is perfect. You get a quest every day, you can save up to three daily quests, and every day you can reroll one of your quests. If you want to play casually you can reroll quests to try and get quests that can be completed at the same time. If you want to be hardcore and try to get the most coins possible from quests you just reroll your 40 gold quests to try and get 60 gold quests. They challenge you to try new classes but offer you enough flexibility to avoid them if you want.

If the above games are about choice granting you power and control to face randomly generated adversity, then PT is the opposite of that. It's not random. You have no power. PT is the scariest fucking shit I've ever played and it's free if you have a PS4. You're stuck in a hallway with no way to fight what haunts you. You can escape, but you have to figure out how, and it's not easy. PT is like nothing I've ever played before.

Goat of the Year 2014
Escape Goat 2
I know that Goat Simulator got more attention for it's title, wacky gameplay, and satirical bent but I enjoyed this game far more. Platformers are one of my favorite categories of games. Puzzles too. Puzzle platformers tend to fall flat but Escape Goat 2 manages it perfectly. It stays fresh and fun throughout without becoming impossibly obtuse, which is what generally happens with puzzle games. It has charming graphics and sound. It has a goat and a mouse. There's one puzzle that comes to mind that was really just too hard, but I was able to look up a solution fortunately. I don't really have too much to say about this game really. It's just a really solid game that deserves more attention than it got.

Desert Golfing
Desert FUCKING Golfing. Desert Golfing is an incredibly simple game. It doesn't integrate with facebook or twitter. There are no in-app purchases. Contrary to mobile game best practices, it costs $1.99 to download. There's no daily bonus that begs me to log back in.  Its feels like a rebellion against F2P and social gaming. It's the complete opposite of current trends.

You just golf. Place, drag, release. Place, drag, release. Place, drag, release. Next hole.

The difficulty comes and goes. When it's hard you're relieved to get past it. When it's easy, you celebrate the skill you've gained.

Nobody at work understands why I love Desert Golfing.

I'm stuck in Desert Golfing, stage 2303.

UPDATE: I loaded up Desert Golfing right after writing that sentence and beat that stage first try. IT TOOK ME SO MANY TRIES

Other games I really enjoyed but don't really have words for right now:
Mario Kart 8
Shadow of Mordor
Monument Valley
Shovel Knight
The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo