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Dan Teasdale's Top 10 Games of 2011

Twisted Pixel's Dan Teasdale shares his favorite games from 2011.

Dan Teasdale is a game designer at Twisted Pixel, whose credits include The Gunstringer, BioShock, and the Rock Band series.

He's also Australian, but we try not to hold that against him.

Man, writing about video games is hard.

Before I get to the Top 10, I have to call out my honorable mentions: TrackMania 2: Canyon and Driver: San Francisco. Trackmania is brilliant and fun, but not on the list because it’s still essentially the same game I thought was brilliant and fun years and years ago. Driver was unexpectedly the best adaption of the TV series Life on Mars I’ve played, but there were too many other games that were better this year. So, they didn’t make it in. Here’s what did:

10. L.A. Noire

Goddammit, Brendan McNamara.

I didn’t want this to be Top 10 worthy. It’s responsible for huge quality of life violations during development, involved in the collapse of the Australian game industry, and the “groundbreaking” facial mocap is basically a brute force trick that can’t really be applied to pushing forward character performances in games.

The problem behind hating how L.A. Noire was made is that there are parts of it that are great to play. Piecing together a case and having failure be something that you have to live with feels really satisfying. You get really sucked into the idea that you’re actually a detective with consequences - at least, right up until the point where you have to go to an abandoned lot to kill 50 bodyguards, or until you get to the end of the game and things go off the rails. Those small bits where everything works though are enough to edge it into my Top 10.

9. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

[Spoilers ahead!]

I was a little slow getting through Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A bunch of people I follow on Twitter started talking about how the most visceral moment in the game was when Malik is killed. I was really annoyed that I had such a huge plot point spoiled for me--right up until the point where I finished the game and this never happened for me. That is why this game is in the Top Ten.

It’s a miracle that Eidos Montreal managed to evoke that turn-of-the-century PC gaming freedom while bringing in modern day accessibility. I had more fun breaking into offices and unravelling office politics in the first hour of Human Revolution than I did in any scripted sequence from Battlefield 3’s story campaign.

(A side note: I had an awesome bug in Battlefield 3’s final scripted sequence where the final boss was invisible. It looked like I was fighting myself Fight Club style, implying that I was stopping myself from destroying New York. If this had been intentional, it would have improved Battlefield 3’s story so much that it would have entered the Top 10.)

8. Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal is basically an in-development Bridge Builder, but with a pile of rocket parts that you need to assemble into a rocket that can manage to leave the planet’s atmosphere, and an unwitting crew that’s almost assuredly going to die because of your terrible rocket-making skills. Since you’re always just one more tweak away from possibly making it into orbit, it’s almost impossible to start playing without losing track of a few hours of time.

The real reason Kerbal shines? Jebediah Kerman. Throughout all of my terrifying spaceship disintegrations and one way trips into space, he was always grinning the grin of a flight commander with nothing to fear. Facing certain death yet again, he’d ride that rocket Major Kong-style into the ground with a smile from ear to ear. If I was picking Character of the Year, he’d be in the running.

7. Star Wars: The Old Republic

My World of Warcraft kick in 2005 was pretty brutal. I spent a year doing some “design consulting”, which basically meant that I worked for a couple of hours in the morning, then spent the afternoon doing Molten Core for gear. My will broke around the time Burning Crusade came out, making my months of work irrelevant with a simple fetch quest.

It turned me into a casual MMO player. I play for a few hours a week with my girlfriend for story and cool things that won’t be irrelevant like mounts and pets. With that in mind, playing The Old Republic beta was basically crack for me. I honestly couldn’t care less about min/maxing my dark and light side points, getting gear, or poopsocking raids, because this game is essentially persistent Mass Effect where I get to pretend to be Han Solo. If BioWare can keep pumping out story, I’ll keep shovelling them money.

6. Rayman: Origins

There was a time that “social” meant that it was a game you played in a living room with friends. I still like to live in this world, even though the term has been perverted by Zynga to talk about the concept of selling your design and gameplay morals in order to make the most money possible from your userbase.

In my much nicer world, Rayman: Origins wins Game of the Year. Everyone goes to their friend’s house to play some games, fall in love with Rayman’s ridiculously lush graphics and great couch multiplayer, then buy their own copies. People rightly cheer Ubisoft’s bold move to bury Assassin’s Creed: Revelations in order to promote such a masterwork as Rayman: Origins. President Nolan North declares November 15th to be Rayman Day. Outback Steakhouse is closed down. All is well in the world.

5. Jetpack Joyride

I’ve been a closet fan of SFCave for a long time, so the core mechanic of one button jetpack dodging was enough to sell me from the start. Adding in things like comparative distance leaderboards, upgrades, goals, and the ability to kill scientists with my jetpack turned this into the only game I bother playing on my phone with any kind of regularity.

Another side bonus is that while it does have in-app purchases, the game doesn’t have a crippled progression curve that forces you to use them. Because of that, I ended up buying an in-app purchase because I was enjoying the game, not because I was bored or impatient. Thanks for still caring about designing good games first, Halfbrick!

4. Stacking

There have been many attempts to jumpstart adventure games as a genre, but Stacking was the first game I played that took everything great about adventure games and put them in a new format that made sense for a 2011 game.

It’s actually pretty surprising that things like direct player control and secondary collection through puzzle solving haven’t been tackled earlier. The “Here are the ways you can solve this puzzle, collect them all” UI alone gets my award for inspired design this year. Inject some Double Fine characters and class, and you have what I consider Double Fine’s best title ever.

3. Portal 2

Out of all the games that came out this year, Portal 2 is probably the closest to perfect execution.

Valve’s focus test-based iteration process is a given, so seeing something mechanically polished isn’t really a surprise anymore. Seeing pitch-perfect voice acting, separately designed co-op, and extending a concept that was considered to be “good for a few hours” to a full game without any padding is brilliant. Nice work, Valve! Now release Half-Life 4 already.

2. Saints Row: The Third

There’s no real way to talk about how great Saints Row: The Third is without spoiling parts, so just skip this if you haven’t played the game yet.

Saints Row: The Third is a game where you can play as a badass female zombie who calls up Burt Reynolds to fight alongside you while you explode people with taunts by wearing a wrestler’s mask. Volition finally gets why people play sandboxes--to be dicks to everyone around them. It doesn’t matter that the story content is rushed, or that an entire act seems to be phoned in with side mission introductions, or that those side missions don’t feel as fresh as Saints Row 2’s missions like the sewage truck. Saints Row: The Third is still something that needs to be experienced, enjoyed, and celebrated.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While writing this, all I’ve wanted to do is play Skyrim. After a few hours of withdrawal, Jeremy Soule’s Skyrim theme starts playing in my head, looping the “Dovahkiin” chant over and over.

Part of this is probably because I’m a big system design nerd, and seeing dozens of interlocking design systems work like clockwork gives me professional boners. But it’s something more than that. It’s the concept that separates games from other media--freedom of choice. You can tell that Skyrim is made by people who love building worlds, not movies. In a world where “follow this guy for five hours” nets hundreds of millions of dollars and “social” means you need to pay every day to play, Skyrim reminds us that there is still a world where gaming and design can be pushed forwards for the better.

In the future, Skyrim will no longer be known as a fantasy game, but as the day when game developers declared in one voice “We will not follow Soap quietly into the night!”. We will not vanish when going outside the bounds of an encounter! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive!

Today, we celebrate our independence day.

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Posted by Ryan

Dan Teasdale is a game designer at Twisted Pixel, whose credits include The Gunstringer, BioShock, and the Rock Band series.

He's also Australian, but we try not to hold that against him.

Man, writing about video games is hard.

Before I get to the Top 10, I have to call out my honorable mentions: TrackMania 2: Canyon and Driver: San Francisco. Trackmania is brilliant and fun, but not on the list because it’s still essentially the same game I thought was brilliant and fun years and years ago. Driver was unexpectedly the best adaption of the TV series Life on Mars I’ve played, but there were too many other games that were better this year. So, they didn’t make it in. Here’s what did:

10. L.A. Noire

Goddammit, Brendan McNamara.

I didn’t want this to be Top 10 worthy. It’s responsible for huge quality of life violations during development, involved in the collapse of the Australian game industry, and the “groundbreaking” facial mocap is basically a brute force trick that can’t really be applied to pushing forward character performances in games.

The problem behind hating how L.A. Noire was made is that there are parts of it that are great to play. Piecing together a case and having failure be something that you have to live with feels really satisfying. You get really sucked into the idea that you’re actually a detective with consequences - at least, right up until the point where you have to go to an abandoned lot to kill 50 bodyguards, or until you get to the end of the game and things go off the rails. Those small bits where everything works though are enough to edge it into my Top 10.

9. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

[Spoilers ahead!]

I was a little slow getting through Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A bunch of people I follow on Twitter started talking about how the most visceral moment in the game was when Malik is killed. I was really annoyed that I had such a huge plot point spoiled for me--right up until the point where I finished the game and this never happened for me. That is why this game is in the Top Ten.

It’s a miracle that Eidos Montreal managed to evoke that turn-of-the-century PC gaming freedom while bringing in modern day accessibility. I had more fun breaking into offices and unravelling office politics in the first hour of Human Revolution than I did in any scripted sequence from Battlefield 3’s story campaign.

(A side note: I had an awesome bug in Battlefield 3’s final scripted sequence where the final boss was invisible. It looked like I was fighting myself Fight Club style, implying that I was stopping myself from destroying New York. If this had been intentional, it would have improved Battlefield 3’s story so much that it would have entered the Top 10.)

8. Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal is basically an in-development Bridge Builder, but with a pile of rocket parts that you need to assemble into a rocket that can manage to leave the planet’s atmosphere, and an unwitting crew that’s almost assuredly going to die because of your terrible rocket-making skills. Since you’re always just one more tweak away from possibly making it into orbit, it’s almost impossible to start playing without losing track of a few hours of time.

The real reason Kerbal shines? Jebediah Kerman. Throughout all of my terrifying spaceship disintegrations and one way trips into space, he was always grinning the grin of a flight commander with nothing to fear. Facing certain death yet again, he’d ride that rocket Major Kong-style into the ground with a smile from ear to ear. If I was picking Character of the Year, he’d be in the running.

7. Star Wars: The Old Republic

My World of Warcraft kick in 2005 was pretty brutal. I spent a year doing some “design consulting”, which basically meant that I worked for a couple of hours in the morning, then spent the afternoon doing Molten Core for gear. My will broke around the time Burning Crusade came out, making my months of work irrelevant with a simple fetch quest.

It turned me into a casual MMO player. I play for a few hours a week with my girlfriend for story and cool things that won’t be irrelevant like mounts and pets. With that in mind, playing The Old Republic beta was basically crack for me. I honestly couldn’t care less about min/maxing my dark and light side points, getting gear, or poopsocking raids, because this game is essentially persistent Mass Effect where I get to pretend to be Han Solo. If BioWare can keep pumping out story, I’ll keep shovelling them money.

6. Rayman: Origins

There was a time that “social” meant that it was a game you played in a living room with friends. I still like to live in this world, even though the term has been perverted by Zynga to talk about the concept of selling your design and gameplay morals in order to make the most money possible from your userbase.

In my much nicer world, Rayman: Origins wins Game of the Year. Everyone goes to their friend’s house to play some games, fall in love with Rayman’s ridiculously lush graphics and great couch multiplayer, then buy their own copies. People rightly cheer Ubisoft’s bold move to bury Assassin’s Creed: Revelations in order to promote such a masterwork as Rayman: Origins. President Nolan North declares November 15th to be Rayman Day. Outback Steakhouse is closed down. All is well in the world.

5. Jetpack Joyride

I’ve been a closet fan of SFCave for a long time, so the core mechanic of one button jetpack dodging was enough to sell me from the start. Adding in things like comparative distance leaderboards, upgrades, goals, and the ability to kill scientists with my jetpack turned this into the only game I bother playing on my phone with any kind of regularity.

Another side bonus is that while it does have in-app purchases, the game doesn’t have a crippled progression curve that forces you to use them. Because of that, I ended up buying an in-app purchase because I was enjoying the game, not because I was bored or impatient. Thanks for still caring about designing good games first, Halfbrick!

4. Stacking

There have been many attempts to jumpstart adventure games as a genre, but Stacking was the first game I played that took everything great about adventure games and put them in a new format that made sense for a 2011 game.

It’s actually pretty surprising that things like direct player control and secondary collection through puzzle solving haven’t been tackled earlier. The “Here are the ways you can solve this puzzle, collect them all” UI alone gets my award for inspired design this year. Inject some Double Fine characters and class, and you have what I consider Double Fine’s best title ever.

3. Portal 2

Out of all the games that came out this year, Portal 2 is probably the closest to perfect execution.

Valve’s focus test-based iteration process is a given, so seeing something mechanically polished isn’t really a surprise anymore. Seeing pitch-perfect voice acting, separately designed co-op, and extending a concept that was considered to be “good for a few hours” to a full game without any padding is brilliant. Nice work, Valve! Now release Half-Life 4 already.

2. Saints Row: The Third

There’s no real way to talk about how great Saints Row: The Third is without spoiling parts, so just skip this if you haven’t played the game yet.

Saints Row: The Third is a game where you can play as a badass female zombie who calls up Burt Reynolds to fight alongside you while you explode people with taunts by wearing a wrestler’s mask. Volition finally gets why people play sandboxes--to be dicks to everyone around them. It doesn’t matter that the story content is rushed, or that an entire act seems to be phoned in with side mission introductions, or that those side missions don’t feel as fresh as Saints Row 2’s missions like the sewage truck. Saints Row: The Third is still something that needs to be experienced, enjoyed, and celebrated.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While writing this, all I’ve wanted to do is play Skyrim. After a few hours of withdrawal, Jeremy Soule’s Skyrim theme starts playing in my head, looping the “Dovahkiin” chant over and over.

Part of this is probably because I’m a big system design nerd, and seeing dozens of interlocking design systems work like clockwork gives me professional boners. But it’s something more than that. It’s the concept that separates games from other media--freedom of choice. You can tell that Skyrim is made by people who love building worlds, not movies. In a world where “follow this guy for five hours” nets hundreds of millions of dollars and “social” means you need to pay every day to play, Skyrim reminds us that there is still a world where gaming and design can be pushed forwards for the better.

In the future, Skyrim will no longer be known as a fantasy game, but as the day when game developers declared in one voice “We will not follow Soap quietly into the night!”. We will not vanish when going outside the bounds of an encounter! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive!

Today, we celebrate our independence day.

Staff
Edited by Gilbert64

Of course its skyrim

Posted by AuthenticM

Finally!

Posted by HydraHam

@Gilbert64 said:

Of course its skyrim

Pretty much everyone's GOTY is going to be skyrim.

Unless you hate fun.

Posted by Depth

Skyrim deserves every GOTY it gets.

Edited by MolluskLingers

this guy has pretty bad taste

bad taste as in great taste because LA Noire did rock

:bow teasdale

Posted by Elliotpage

KSP? Hell yes! Teasdale is a cool dude for picking out this gem.

Posted by RedHatDrew

Good list! Had completely forgotten about Kerbal Space Program.

Posted by MisterMouse

FUS ROH DAH ... first win I shall be counting the number of wins it has... or not.

Posted by ckeats

Props to this for including Jetpack Joyride. So much time I wasted playing this.

Posted by Brodehouse

There is nothing about Skyrim that is pushing anything forward. It is identical to a game that came out in 2006. It's a great game, but there is nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking about it. It's a lot of money and time turned into a game. It's an RPG version of Uncharted.

Posted by Winternet

Fly that anti-MW flag, son.

Solid list, nevertheless.

Posted by mcmax3000

I haven't played Skyrim but I'm happy to see Saints Row, Portal 2 and especially L.A. Noire on the list. I understand your reasons for not wanting to include L.A. Noire and I agree with them but man did I enjoy playing that game.

Posted by jred250

Didn't like LA Noire and didn't try KSP or Jetpack Joyride, otherwise I think it is a great list (with detailed descriptions).

I like how giant bomb is really moving towards getting people within the industry some exposure. I would like to hear a video interview with Dan Teasdale where he just tells the behind the scenes stories of the games he has worked on.

Posted by Sjupp

Professional boners.

Posted by Jayzilla

What's Skyrim? I guess I will have to check it out.

Posted by Grillbar

@Jayzilla said:

What's Skyrim? I guess I will have to check it out.

OMG you dont know are you serious...

everyone knows its the new zelda game duhh

Posted by zameer

Nice read, thanks Dan!

Posted by boyusmaximus

Half-Life 4?

Edited by MeatSim

He made a game with good FMV so I think is list is extremely creditable naturally.

Posted by the_purgatory_station

great writing duder

Posted by Rasta_Zergling

I fucking love kerbal space program! So glad to see it get some props

Posted by Vexxan

SKYRIM!

Posted by the_OFFICIAL_jAPanese_teaBAG
@Grillbar said:

@Jayzilla said:

What's Skyrim? I guess I will have to check it out.

OMG you dont know are you serious...

everyone knows its the new zelda game duhh

Yeah!  It uses Motion Plus motherfucker....
Posted by IshimuraD

Very nice choices, I love these guest top 10s.

Posted by probablytuna

All this talk about Saints Row: The Third from the Bombcast and the GOTY Day One recap makes me want to buy it.

Posted by AssInAss

"People rightly cheer Ubisoft’sbold move to bury Assassin’s Creed: Revelations in order to promote such a masterwork as Rayman: Origins."

Oh man, I wish. If Rayman Origins sold 2 million copies, I'd be the happiest camper. I bought the 360 and PS3 versions. Because I love everything about this game.

Bring on Beyond Good and Evil 2!

Posted by Brodehouse
@Lebensbaum

@Brodehouse said:

There is nothing about Skyrim that is pushing anything forward.

You are blind, sir.

No, I'm not. There is nothing in Skyrim that isn't iterative on Oblivion (which was iterative on Morrowind). Don't confuse high production value with originality.

Granted, almost every game that came out this year was heavily iterative. But Skyrim is not breaking new ground in games. If anything, it's a throwback like Dragon Age Origins.
Posted by steelknight2000

Welcome to Nirn <punch>

Posted by LordKorax

Finally, someone that agrees with me about LA Noire's face capture.

Posted by SuperWristBands

Nolan North for president and the Independence Day speech? I think I am in love.

Edited by TentPole

With a deep breath I decide to become an official contrarian . . . Fuck Skyrim.

Edited by Yummylee

Great list. I like how there's some left-wing additions in here, too, instead of this being just another list made up of all the usual AAA stuff.

Posted by algertman

@TentPole said:

With a deep breath I decide to become a official contrarian . . . Fuck Skyrim.

Agreed.

Posted by Schnarf

Was not aware of Kerbal Space Program until this list. Tried it, bought into it (7 bucks right now ala Minecraft alpha buy-in), and am loving it. Thanks!

Posted by Gav47

Thank you for putting Jetpack Joyride on you list, its so awesome and I have a feeling its going to be one of very few mobile games mentioned in this years preceding.

Posted by RenegadeSaint

It's nice seeing a list with some variety. "Best" is open for interpretation.

Posted by MysteriousBob

Wait, LA Noire did what now?

Posted by Phished0ne

@Styl3s said:

@Gilbert64 said:

Of course its skyrim

Pretty much everyone's GOTY is going to be skyrim.

Unless you hate fun.

I would argue that if you love fun your game of the year should obviously be Saints Row:The Third.

Posted by krabboss
But it’s something more than that. It’s the concept that separates games from other media--freedom of choice.

The freedom to play linear quests in any order isn't exactly what I'd call freedom of choice.

Posted by Napalm
@Abyssfull said:

Great list. I like how there's some left-wing additions in here, too, instead of this being just another list made up of all the usual AAA stuff.

Yeah, I agree fully with this.
Posted by KommanderCevin

Now playing lots of Kerbal Space Program.

Posted by prestonhedges

I guess people do like hitting XBOX trigger buttons mindlessly for hours.

Posted by HydraHam

@Phished0ne said:

@Styl3s said:

@Gilbert64 said:

Of course its skyrim

Pretty much everyone's GOTY is going to be skyrim.

Unless you hate fun.

I would argue that if you love fun your game of the year should obviously be Saints Row:The Third.

I got maybe 20 hours out SR3, over 120 hours in skyrim and i still have a blast.

for most people skyrim will be GOTY because of the amount of time you can lose yourself into the game without even touching the main quest, i just hit the 120 hour mark and i just now started the greybeards quest line.

Posted by oobs

i liked the soap comment at the end..nice reference

Posted by Milkman

Holy shit, Stacking came out this year?

Posted by Dudacles

I must say this is a great list, and Teasdale really knows how to put his thoughts about games into words. I actually enjoyed reading this more than I enjoyed watching the day one wrap-up video--which is saying something. God, this'll be such a great week.

Posted by fisk0

@krabboss said:

But it’s something more than that. It’s the concept that separates games from other media--freedom of choice.

The freedom to play linear quests in any order isn't exactly what I'd call freedom of choice.

At some point there is a limit to what's possible for the game medium with the current technology and resources, Skyrim could have been a lot more non-linear, but the fact that a lot of quests do have forks where you can choose the direction to take and generally gives you plenty of options in just how to tackle even that predefined goal, which each results in different long time or short time rewards and at times even different quest trees depending on how you complete the tasks makes it stand well above most other games in the past few years (that said, maybe Skyrim should have done more in this regard, as some quests notably lack any alternate solutions where there seems like there should be). Maybe Skyrim shouldn't be praised for coming close to doing what the game medium should be about, but rather the majority of the other games made today should be much more heavily criticized for entirely disregarding the strengths and weaknesses of the medium, but I think that maybe positive reinforcement for those who move in the right direction rather than unending streams of expletives to those who don't might be more helpful in the long run.

I do look forward to the future where procedurally generated content reaches the level where it's indistinguishable from man made content, and having entire sand box games being run by an advanced A.I. dungeon master which organically reacts to every thing the player does in the game world and generate new content accordingly, but I think there's a long way to go still.

Posted by DarkCypher

Would have appreciated a heads up on the Deus Ex spoiler... grr..

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