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Brad Muir's Top 10 Games of 2011

Our second-favorite Brad takes a quick break from being such a big strong manly-man to share his ten most favoritest games of 2011 with us.

Brad Muir is a designer at Double Fine, where he had the pleasure of designing TWO games in 2011: first Trenched, and then a few months later, Iron Brigade!

Even if Brad's sick to death of the Trenched/Iron Brigade jokes, he'll always politely smile and laugh, because that's just the kind of guy Brad is.

10. Magic: the Gathering Online

OK so this is one that’s probably not eligible. But I’m the one writing the list so I get to put whatever I want on it. I’ve come back to Magic recently and the new set released in October (Innistrad) is fantastic. It’s a little-known fact that Magic: The Gathering is like catnip for game designers. I get weirdly excited just thinking about it. It’s probably a gland thing. It’s such a well-designed turn-based strategy game that’s endlessly expandable, incredibly deep, and super addictive. That being said, Magic Online is expensive, has a terrible interface, an ugly UI, and playing a draft takes two-plus hours of your life. But even through all of this I find myself ponying up real money for digital representations of cardboard cards so that I can play against anonymous people on the Internet. But I have another reason for putting Magic: The Gathering on the list. I have a high degree of “nerd shame” and I feel that sharing my love for magical cardboard with you, dear reader, will somehow help me get over that. I don’t want to be ashamed that I love Magic and I don’t care if you judge me for it. I’ll have to ask my therapist if this is a good idea…

9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

I’ve shot a lot of dudes in the face. And I’ve leveled up a lot. Like, a lot. When MW3 was prepping for launch I was not particularly stoked. I think there was a bit of CoD Fatigue that had set in. But as the hype machine grew I found myself remembering all of the fond face-shootings and leveling up that I had done in the past with my brother. After 4 years, Call of Duty PvP is still best-in-class for me and there are so many reasons why: 60 fps, solid netcode, fantastic matchmaking, tons of meaningful unlocks and customization, a frustration-easing killcam, and a great feeling of “winning” even when you’re getting the shit kicked out of you--that damnable XP bar just refuses to go in reverse! All of this adds up to the stickiest PvP experience on the market and I just can’t talk about my favorite games without mentioning it. As a dude who makes games it’s a definite bummer that the Call of Duty franchise can continue to flourish without its original creators, but until something better comes along I’ll most likely be heeding the Call of Duty next year. And the next year. And the next year.

8. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

I’m always wary about RPG-ish puzzle games but my AP Greg Rice insisted that Clash of Heroes wasn’t like the others. The standard fare usually includes taking a well-known puzzle game like Bejeweled and wrapping RPG elements around it. I think that’s a fine and safe way to go, but it doesn’t really push my buttons as a game designer. Clash of Heroes seriously bucks this trend. The Capy team created a tile-based puzzle game that feels super fresh, and they managed to weave the feel of warring fantasy units into the gameplay itself. Clash of Heroes grabbed me and would not let go until I had cracked the bones and sucked the marrow--no mean feat when there were tons of big budget AAA games vying for my attention.

7. Gears of War 3

I absolutely love the PvP of Gears of War. It’s fast-paced yet strategic, visceral, gorgeous, and I love the situational awareness that comes with the third-person perspective. I’m still bummed that even with three iterations Mr. B did not add a compelling metagame or customization component. I feel like this was the big lesson from Call of Duty 4 that continues to influence PvP gaming in a positive way. But the addition of dedicated servers created the first fair version of Gears, and the slickness of the matchmaking also brought it up to modern standards like Halo and Call of Duty. Gears still remains a punishing PvP game that isn’t very noob-friendly (shotgun? shotgun? shotgun?), but for fans of the series the third installment is just what the doctor ordered. Oh and on top of the solid PvP there’s a big coop campaign, a ridiculously engaging Horde 2.0 with tons of solid additions, and a new play-as-the-bad-guys Beast mode? How much free time do they have over at Epic anyway?

6. Dead Space 2

Issac knows why the caged bird sings.

I was a huge fan of Dead Space when it was released in ’08--it’s an excellent mix of Resident Evil, Event Horizon, and Gears of War. Dead Space 2 was a fantastic sequel with more of what I wanted from the first game and then some. The addition of competitive multiplayer was pretty baffling, but can pretty easily be overlooked. I really loved that the Visceral team chose to ditch my most hated trope in gaming, the Silent Protagonist, in favor of letting Isaac be more of a character with his own motivations and dialog. The game is super creepy and atmospheric, and the audio tricks that the team pulls off really push the state-of-the-art. It’s also dope seeing an industry stalwart like EA really get behind its fresh IPs and push them to become franchises.

5. Saints Row: The Third

I haven’t dug deep into the latest Saints Row yet, but after playing the first several hours of the game it is absolutely on my list. The evolution of this series has been strange to observe from the outside, but it seems like Volition has really hit their stride with The Third. I guess their niche is complete and utter absurdity? That’s totally fine with me. My favorite aspect of the design of Saints Row is their constant “fun-forward” mentality. It really feels like they went out of their way to make sure that fun features were available early and often so that you’re having a great time right off the bat. I believe that games are much better when you can unchain the fun and let the player do what they want to do. Saints Row is the epitome of this ideology and, like Dark Souls, makes me super happy as a designer that the industry is refusing to be swallowed up by Hollywood-esque thrill ride experiences.

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda games have usually been too broken for me, at least on a game mechanics level. I understand that’s not the point--the point is a MASSIVE world to explore with unparalleled depth across just about every axis that a video game can deliver. I resisted the hype building up to Skyrim’s launch, but I had a copy forced upon me on release day. After playing for two days I immediately Amazon Primed the shit out of my own copy and fell into a dark Nordic abyss. While the systems did eventually break down for me (umm… blacksmithing?) and I had to wrestle with the frustrating Favorites menu to play the caster that I wanted to play, it definitely felt like the least busted Bethesda game to date. And that is awesome. Plus it’s great to see such a hardcore, nerdy D&D simulation breakthrough to the mainstream and post some serious sales!

3. League of Legends

It’s probably not even eligible, being a free-to-play game that was released a while ago, but LoL has to be near the top of my list for grabbing me and not letting go for the first 6 months of 2011. The MOBA genre is a weird beast…it’s a genre born from mod makers that has a HUGE following throughout the world, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The combination of PvP, RTS-lite strategy, FPS-like teamwork, RPG-esque leveling, and a complete lack of multitasking combine to form an addictive game that sucks people in. LoL is, from what I can tell, a more streamlined and refined form of DotA and it planted some pretty deep hooks in me. It’s also a great example of Free To Play done right--it feels like the fine men and women at Riot are trying to provide actual value for your dollars as opposed to driving purchases through negative emotions. I hope that LoL becomes the gold standard for non-dirty Free To Play games as we move forward.

2. Portal 2

Is there anything else left to say about this game? It’s amazing. Erik Wolpaw is the best. The number of genuinely funny moments in Portal 2 is higher than any game I can remember. I love that Valve exists and I hope they pump out more original IPs like Portal in the future.

1. Dark Souls

I did not like Demon’s Souls. There were glimmers of brilliance in it but the experience was just too harsh. I wish I could remember what possessed me to give Dark Souls a shot, but hot damn I’m glad I did. The open world and the streamlined health potion system helped combat my frustration immensely, and while the game is insanely difficult and I would not recommend it to everyone, Dark Souls grabbed me in a way that no other title of 2011 did. After breaking through the hard outer crust of DARK, SEETHING HATRED from game designer-to-player, Dark Souls is an incredibly deep, satisfying experience that stands out amongst today’s often hand-holdy interactive movie type experiences. I think the design influence of Dark Souls will be felt for years to come as people experiment and tinker with its unique multiplayer features. I’m personally excited to see a hardcore title like this break out and I can’t wait to see what kind of crazy shit the good people at From Software have in store for me in the future.

Thanks for reading my ramblings about my favs from 2011. And thanks to Giant Bomb for all of the support this year with Double Fine’s launch of TRENCHED/IRON BRIGADE. It’s nice to know that people can still give a shit if you make a Game About Love.

Love,

Brad

P.S. Full disclosure: I’m pretty busy. Or at least I like to tell myself that as I continue playing Call of Duty or League of Legends while ignoring all of these other great games. Here’s my pile of shame for 2011:

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, L.A. Noire, Batman: Arkham City, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Battlefield 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution

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Posted by Ryan

Brad Muir is a designer at Double Fine, where he had the pleasure of designing TWO games in 2011: first Trenched, and then a few months later, Iron Brigade!

Even if Brad's sick to death of the Trenched/Iron Brigade jokes, he'll always politely smile and laugh, because that's just the kind of guy Brad is.

10. Magic: the Gathering Online

OK so this is one that’s probably not eligible. But I’m the one writing the list so I get to put whatever I want on it. I’ve come back to Magic recently and the new set released in October (Innistrad) is fantastic. It’s a little-known fact that Magic: The Gathering is like catnip for game designers. I get weirdly excited just thinking about it. It’s probably a gland thing. It’s such a well-designed turn-based strategy game that’s endlessly expandable, incredibly deep, and super addictive. That being said, Magic Online is expensive, has a terrible interface, an ugly UI, and playing a draft takes two-plus hours of your life. But even through all of this I find myself ponying up real money for digital representations of cardboard cards so that I can play against anonymous people on the Internet. But I have another reason for putting Magic: The Gathering on the list. I have a high degree of “nerd shame” and I feel that sharing my love for magical cardboard with you, dear reader, will somehow help me get over that. I don’t want to be ashamed that I love Magic and I don’t care if you judge me for it. I’ll have to ask my therapist if this is a good idea…

9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

I’ve shot a lot of dudes in the face. And I’ve leveled up a lot. Like, a lot. When MW3 was prepping for launch I was not particularly stoked. I think there was a bit of CoD Fatigue that had set in. But as the hype machine grew I found myself remembering all of the fond face-shootings and leveling up that I had done in the past with my brother. After 4 years, Call of Duty PvP is still best-in-class for me and there are so many reasons why: 60 fps, solid netcode, fantastic matchmaking, tons of meaningful unlocks and customization, a frustration-easing killcam, and a great feeling of “winning” even when you’re getting the shit kicked out of you--that damnable XP bar just refuses to go in reverse! All of this adds up to the stickiest PvP experience on the market and I just can’t talk about my favorite games without mentioning it. As a dude who makes games it’s a definite bummer that the Call of Duty franchise can continue to flourish without its original creators, but until something better comes along I’ll most likely be heeding the Call of Duty next year. And the next year. And the next year.

8. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

I’m always wary about RPG-ish puzzle games but my AP Greg Rice insisted that Clash of Heroes wasn’t like the others. The standard fare usually includes taking a well-known puzzle game like Bejeweled and wrapping RPG elements around it. I think that’s a fine and safe way to go, but it doesn’t really push my buttons as a game designer. Clash of Heroes seriously bucks this trend. The Capy team created a tile-based puzzle game that feels super fresh, and they managed to weave the feel of warring fantasy units into the gameplay itself. Clash of Heroes grabbed me and would not let go until I had cracked the bones and sucked the marrow--no mean feat when there were tons of big budget AAA games vying for my attention.

7. Gears of War 3

I absolutely love the PvP of Gears of War. It’s fast-paced yet strategic, visceral, gorgeous, and I love the situational awareness that comes with the third-person perspective. I’m still bummed that even with three iterations Mr. B did not add a compelling metagame or customization component. I feel like this was the big lesson from Call of Duty 4 that continues to influence PvP gaming in a positive way. But the addition of dedicated servers created the first fair version of Gears, and the slickness of the matchmaking also brought it up to modern standards like Halo and Call of Duty. Gears still remains a punishing PvP game that isn’t very noob-friendly (shotgun? shotgun? shotgun?), but for fans of the series the third installment is just what the doctor ordered. Oh and on top of the solid PvP there’s a big coop campaign, a ridiculously engaging Horde 2.0 with tons of solid additions, and a new play-as-the-bad-guys Beast mode? How much free time do they have over at Epic anyway?

6. Dead Space 2

Issac knows why the caged bird sings.

I was a huge fan of Dead Space when it was released in ’08--it’s an excellent mix of Resident Evil, Event Horizon, and Gears of War. Dead Space 2 was a fantastic sequel with more of what I wanted from the first game and then some. The addition of competitive multiplayer was pretty baffling, but can pretty easily be overlooked. I really loved that the Visceral team chose to ditch my most hated trope in gaming, the Silent Protagonist, in favor of letting Isaac be more of a character with his own motivations and dialog. The game is super creepy and atmospheric, and the audio tricks that the team pulls off really push the state-of-the-art. It’s also dope seeing an industry stalwart like EA really get behind its fresh IPs and push them to become franchises.

5. Saints Row: The Third

I haven’t dug deep into the latest Saints Row yet, but after playing the first several hours of the game it is absolutely on my list. The evolution of this series has been strange to observe from the outside, but it seems like Volition has really hit their stride with The Third. I guess their niche is complete and utter absurdity? That’s totally fine with me. My favorite aspect of the design of Saints Row is their constant “fun-forward” mentality. It really feels like they went out of their way to make sure that fun features were available early and often so that you’re having a great time right off the bat. I believe that games are much better when you can unchain the fun and let the player do what they want to do. Saints Row is the epitome of this ideology and, like Dark Souls, makes me super happy as a designer that the industry is refusing to be swallowed up by Hollywood-esque thrill ride experiences.

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda games have usually been too broken for me, at least on a game mechanics level. I understand that’s not the point--the point is a MASSIVE world to explore with unparalleled depth across just about every axis that a video game can deliver. I resisted the hype building up to Skyrim’s launch, but I had a copy forced upon me on release day. After playing for two days I immediately Amazon Primed the shit out of my own copy and fell into a dark Nordic abyss. While the systems did eventually break down for me (umm… blacksmithing?) and I had to wrestle with the frustrating Favorites menu to play the caster that I wanted to play, it definitely felt like the least busted Bethesda game to date. And that is awesome. Plus it’s great to see such a hardcore, nerdy D&D simulation breakthrough to the mainstream and post some serious sales!

3. League of Legends

It’s probably not even eligible, being a free-to-play game that was released a while ago, but LoL has to be near the top of my list for grabbing me and not letting go for the first 6 months of 2011. The MOBA genre is a weird beast…it’s a genre born from mod makers that has a HUGE following throughout the world, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The combination of PvP, RTS-lite strategy, FPS-like teamwork, RPG-esque leveling, and a complete lack of multitasking combine to form an addictive game that sucks people in. LoL is, from what I can tell, a more streamlined and refined form of DotA and it planted some pretty deep hooks in me. It’s also a great example of Free To Play done right--it feels like the fine men and women at Riot are trying to provide actual value for your dollars as opposed to driving purchases through negative emotions. I hope that LoL becomes the gold standard for non-dirty Free To Play games as we move forward.

2. Portal 2

Is there anything else left to say about this game? It’s amazing. Erik Wolpaw is the best. The number of genuinely funny moments in Portal 2 is higher than any game I can remember. I love that Valve exists and I hope they pump out more original IPs like Portal in the future.

1. Dark Souls

I did not like Demon’s Souls. There were glimmers of brilliance in it but the experience was just too harsh. I wish I could remember what possessed me to give Dark Souls a shot, but hot damn I’m glad I did. The open world and the streamlined health potion system helped combat my frustration immensely, and while the game is insanely difficult and I would not recommend it to everyone, Dark Souls grabbed me in a way that no other title of 2011 did. After breaking through the hard outer crust of DARK, SEETHING HATRED from game designer-to-player, Dark Souls is an incredibly deep, satisfying experience that stands out amongst today’s often hand-holdy interactive movie type experiences. I think the design influence of Dark Souls will be felt for years to come as people experiment and tinker with its unique multiplayer features. I’m personally excited to see a hardcore title like this break out and I can’t wait to see what kind of crazy shit the good people at From Software have in store for me in the future.

Thanks for reading my ramblings about my favs from 2011. And thanks to Giant Bomb for all of the support this year with Double Fine’s launch of TRENCHED/IRON BRIGADE. It’s nice to know that people can still give a shit if you make a Game About Love.

Love,

Brad

P.S. Full disclosure: I’m pretty busy. Or at least I like to tell myself that as I continue playing Call of Duty or League of Legends while ignoring all of these other great games. Here’s my pile of shame for 2011:

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, L.A. Noire, Batman: Arkham City, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Battlefield 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Staff
Posted by EpicBenjamin

Oi Bradley!

Posted by Junpei

huzzah dark souls

Posted by Ghostiet

Speaking of Brad's, what the fuck happened to one Brad Nicholson?

Online
Posted by Daiphyer

Holy shit. Awesome!

Posted by Allison

Dark Souls <3

Posted by megalowho

Stellar photo. Dark Souls, motherfuckers!!

Posted by Greebman

todays dudes got the number ones right.

Posted by Yummylee

'Bout damn time we see some lovin' for the Darkest of Souls! I also hope for it to coincidentally appear on Vinny's top 10.

Posted by Curufinwe

I prefer Brad's list to Brad's list.

Posted by Zeninnnnnnnn

Brad is one of my favorite guests on quicklooks. Also, glad to see League of Legends and Dark Souls getting some love.

Posted by rebgav

Interesting list Mr Muir but could you tell us how you feel about these games as a game designer? How would you feel about them as a cannery magnate? Or a Koi fish breeder? There are many angles unexplored.

Posted by stoic665

Finally someone gets the number one game right. Well done sir, well done.

Posted by SomeDeliCook

No Apples to Apples?

Posted by plop1920

Brad Muir sealing the deal on my heart with dark souls!

Posted by tourgen

thanks for Trenched, awesome game

Posted by Winternet

Nice list Mr. Muir. No Uncharted 3 on that pile of shame? humm . .

Posted by Jayzilla

Brad's shirt is full of win.

Posted by MannySavior

@stoic665 said:

Finally someone gets the number one game right. Well done sir, well done.

What a silly thing to say. Even if there is sarcasm, it comes off as incredibly snide towards the other guests.

Posted by Video_Game_King

What about Apples to Apples? Did you forget all the good times you had with that?

Posted by BBQBram

Fresh listssssssss.

Posted by LiK

Whoa Dark Souls. Respect.

Edited by GetEveryone

@Ghostiet said:

Speaking of Brad's, what the fuck happened to one Brad Nicholson?

Didn't he basically run the news section before Patrick got the job? I remember a lot of recycled articles...

Posted by alcor741

@GetEveryone: He is running TouchArcade's and Electric Hydra's podcasts and reviews iOS games for a living.

Posted by FTomato

@Ghostiet said:

Speaking of Brad's, what the fuck happened to one Brad Nicholson?

He works in Touch Arcade now. It's fairly successful.

Posted by fishmicmuffin

Dark souls is at the top of my list as well. Such a great game.

Posted by amir90

DARK SOULS! YES!

Posted by RampageAssassin

Love !!

Posted by Foil1212

What? An M:TG game wade a top 10 list and it WASN'T Duels of the Planeswalkers, but MODO? Awesome!

Posted by Suedehead

Stop saying PvP

Posted by Tesla

Man I forgot all about Dark Souls after Skyrim came out...and I was really into Dark Souls. High five for one Mr. Brad Muir.

Posted by the_purgatory_station

great stuff

Posted by Rudeboy217

Right on, Brad Muir!

Posted by stoic665

@MannySavior said:

@stoic665 said:

Finally someone gets the number one game right. Well done sir, well done.

What a silly thing to say. Even if there is sarcasm, it comes off as incredibly snide towards the other guests.

Does it? I was more going for tongue-in-cheek than sarcasm actually, and in any case I'm fairly certain the other guests (as well as GB staff) are used to people having different tastes in games than they do.

Lighten up duder.

Posted by probablytuna

More Dark Souls loving! WOO!

Posted by daveg

Glad to see some other views, brad m has great taste. Similarly to vinny, whichevet game hooked him and didnt let go got goty.

Posted by lead_farmer

Watch that Conduit 2 ending!

Posted by Gowans007

Love that he put LoL on that list. Really got into it this year it's fab.

I wish someone would make a console downloadable Moba like it.

Posted by Daveyo520

Nice list Brad!

Posted by TehJedicake

MTG AND DARK SOULS? I FUCKING LOVE YOU BRAD!!!

Posted by Klaimore

Oh Mista Mooear I found myself sucked into LoL as well.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Weird. I also hated Demon's Souls (what I saw/heard of it) but Dark Souls always intrigued me...and when I tried it out I actually enjoyed it a lot.

Posted by GlenTennis

I remember meeting Brad Muir after the Trenched TNT and talking about League of Legends with him. He told me "If Trenched is a game about love, League of Legends is a game about hate."

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Ok. Someone has said Dark Souls. I can die in peace?

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

Nice list B-Rad 2

Posted by Doomshine

IN YOUR FACE RYAN AND JEFF!

Posted by SuperWristBands

Weirds me out that you refer to competitive multiplayer as "PvP". I know it's right to say so, but man. I'm guessing you grew up with MMOs or something?
 
Great list though. I just got into Magic recently myself with MTG 2012 and ended up buying a few too many cards... that shit is expensive.

Posted by Box3ru13

No million dollar pyramid?

List sucks

Posted by DeathbyYeti

Brad Muir is awesome

Posted by rmanthorp

@Ghostiet said:

Speaking of Brad's, what the fuck happened to one Brad Nicholson?

They decided he was too newsy and the was a big split in the community. He went on to freelance however and is still successful. No hard feelings all round :D

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