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Erik Wolpaw's Top 10 Games of 2011

Stare into the mouth of madness of Erik Wolpaw. Looks like a regular mouth, right? Nope. Each of his teeth is wearing a tiny straitjacket, and his tongue thinks it's Grover Cleveland.

Erik Wolpaw has written or co-written ten games including Psychonauts, the Left 4 Deads, Team Fortress 2, Alien vs. Child Predator, Portal, and Portal 2. He has been recognized by the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry as someone who made a game about an alien who killed registered sex offenders from North Carolina, and he is currently employed at Valve.

10. Elijah

You know how at Passover Seder you leave an empty seat for Elijah? This is just like that, except replace Passover with this list and the prophet Elijah with the dark knight Batman. In other words, this position is reserved for my huge backlog. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’d have a decent shot of making this list if I’d actually managed to play it in 2011. Stuff like Arkham City, Dead Space 2, Uncharted 3, Trenched, The Gunstringer, and Rayman: Origins. This is also where I’m putting games I played for 30 great minutes and then my DS broke, although only Ghost Trick falls into that category.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Number nine through number two are basically interchangeable. I’m listing them more or less as they occurred to me. So if you’re angry that "Gavel" is three spots ahead of "Upholstery Hammer", just pretend you pled your swear-filled case in the forum and I was like, yup, that makes a lot of sense, I’m reordering the list and I should probably go fuck myself. So that I don’t ruin the surprise, I took that example from a list I made for a magazine about hammering things. Also, number one is number one. So if you’re mad about that, I can’t help you.

9. Serious Sam 3: BFE

I love Serious Sam games, and this is a spectacular return to form for Croteam after the pretty lackluster Serious Sam II. I never get why people call Serious Sam "mindless". Other than once a year when I nominate myself for a million dollar MacArthur Genius Grant, I don’t consider myself a genius. So maybe I’m an idiot, but I’m thinking all the time when I play Serious Sam. About weapon selection, ammo supplies, enemy wave management. And I’m doing all of that thinking under serious time pressure as huge packs of monsters sprint towards me. You know what? Screw it. Serious Sam 3 is the thinking man’s first-person shooter.

8. God Hand

It’s the best game of all time and it got re-released on the PSN store this year and so it qualifies for this list. Don’t like that? Maybe you should take it up with the International Criminal Court. Also, if it’s the best game ever, why isn’t it #1 on the list? Maybe you could ask the warden of International Criminal Jail, where you’re probably spending the rest of your life after lodging your earlier frivolous complaint that made the International Criminal Court so mad.

7. Sonic Generations

Other than last year’s amazing list of the Top 10 Hottest Female Sonic Characters, it’s been a long dry stretch for this franchise. But, man, Generations is the perfect blend of nostalgia and sensible updates. A great, great gamey game.

6. Bastion

It’s on everybody’s list because holy crap it’s good. Supergiant crafted a game that feels totally complete, as if no corners were cut. It’s a really spectacular example of designing around the constraints of a small team. Great writing, acting, and a stirring soundtrack as well.

5. (tie): Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman/Cladun X2

Technically, ZHP came out in late 2010, but bear with me here. For the first four months of this year, I spent a ton of time travelling all over the place promoting Portal 2. It was a tiring, lonely, and generally all around anxiety-producing experience. These two PSP games saw me through a lot of long plane flights, train rides, and hotel stays. NIS America is famous for publishing high-personality grind fests like the amazing Disgaea series, and these are both great examples of that tradition. For some reason, I can only play these types of games on portable systems, which is why the new Disgaea didn’t rank. Anyway, these two are inextricably linked in my head to the craziness surrounding the release of Portal 2, and so, bam, there you go. They’re on the list.

4. Driver: San Francisco

If this was a “Heroes of Game Writing” list, Driver: SF would be number one. It’s a game writer’s nightmare scenario: We need you to revive a basically dead franchise and also we need you to explain why the main character can suddenly fly and also he can possess people and also it still needs to be a serious police procedural and also you can’t get out of the car. The writers not only managed to deal with these constraints, they thrived under them. Driver’s writing is clever and funny while still taking its absurd core premise seriously enough to carry you through a ten hour story. Plus, the game is really fun. I expected nothing from Driver and was blown away.

3. (tie) Dungeons of Dredmor/The Binding of Isaac

Another tie! Only this time it’s because these two polished, excellent, accessible, funny rogue-likes have kind of fused in my memory. That means it’s possible one of them is carrying the other, but I’m pretty sure they were both great. Look, some of my fondest life memories are much, much hazier than the vague, pleasant impression of gathering loot and dying a lot that these games left me with.

2. Saints Row: The Third

If Valve ever cans me, I’m going to show up at Volition begging for a job, because Saints Row seems like it’d be a huge amount of fun to work on. Instead of coming up with a brand new description, I’m gonna repurpose something I wrote about GTA in 2005:

“When I was a kid, I was fascinated by a really detailed fake ad in National Lampoon for a ghetto train set. I was too young to realize that it was a joke, so every Christmas I'd beg my parents to buy it for me. Eventually, my parents went broke and we moved to a real ghetto. Time passed, and a bunch of stuff happened, like I got a job selling hot dogs and a chronic illness. Just when my life seemed to be winding down to its painful, embarrassing conclusion, Rockstar actually released the detailed ghetto train set of my childhood dreams. It was a Christmas miracle. The end.”

Anyway, that all applies quadruple to Saints Row: The Third. Volition made the smart choice to embrace the violent absurdity inherent to the open world, clockwork-city crime genre. And they didn’t just embrace it, they penetrated it with a giant purple dildo etc etc. For me, the biggest sin a game can commit is to be bland, and whatever else you might say about Saints Row, it’s not bland.

1. Dark Souls

Number one. By a mile. I loved Demon’s Souls, and I love Dark Souls even more. It has a great, original sense of place, a spectacularly tense risk/reward structure, and the best melee combat of all time. No other game makes me feel like I’m actually smashing things with a 50-pound hammer. It also has a very scary giant bird and a uniquely weird vibe. It feels like anything could happen at any moment, and I love that feeling. One of my favorite games, period.

Special Achievement: Conduit 2

I didn’t actually play Conduit 2, but I did watch the incredible ending on youtube. If they follow through with the promise they make in that scene, Conduit 3 is my most anticipated game of the decade.

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Posted by Ryan

Erik Wolpaw has written or co-written ten games including Psychonauts, the Left 4 Deads, Team Fortress 2, Alien vs. Child Predator, Portal, and Portal 2. He has been recognized by the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry as someone who made a game about an alien who killed registered sex offenders from North Carolina, and he is currently employed at Valve.

10. Elijah

You know how at Passover Seder you leave an empty seat for Elijah? This is just like that, except replace Passover with this list and the prophet Elijah with the dark knight Batman. In other words, this position is reserved for my huge backlog. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’d have a decent shot of making this list if I’d actually managed to play it in 2011. Stuff like Arkham City, Dead Space 2, Uncharted 3, Trenched, The Gunstringer, and Rayman: Origins. This is also where I’m putting games I played for 30 great minutes and then my DS broke, although only Ghost Trick falls into that category.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Number nine through number two are basically interchangeable. I’m listing them more or less as they occurred to me. So if you’re angry that "Gavel" is three spots ahead of "Upholstery Hammer", just pretend you pled your swear-filled case in the forum and I was like, yup, that makes a lot of sense, I’m reordering the list and I should probably go fuck myself. So that I don’t ruin the surprise, I took that example from a list I made for a magazine about hammering things. Also, number one is number one. So if you’re mad about that, I can’t help you.

9. Serious Sam 3: BFE

I love Serious Sam games, and this is a spectacular return to form for Croteam after the pretty lackluster Serious Sam II. I never get why people call Serious Sam "mindless". Other than once a year when I nominate myself for a million dollar MacArthur Genius Grant, I don’t consider myself a genius. So maybe I’m an idiot, but I’m thinking all the time when I play Serious Sam. About weapon selection, ammo supplies, enemy wave management. And I’m doing all of that thinking under serious time pressure as huge packs of monsters sprint towards me. You know what? Screw it. Serious Sam 3 is the thinking man’s first-person shooter.

8. God Hand

It’s the best game of all time and it got re-released on the PSN store this year and so it qualifies for this list. Don’t like that? Maybe you should take it up with the International Criminal Court. Also, if it’s the best game ever, why isn’t it #1 on the list? Maybe you could ask the warden of International Criminal Jail, where you’re probably spending the rest of your life after lodging your earlier frivolous complaint that made the International Criminal Court so mad.

7. Sonic Generations

Other than last year’s amazing list of the Top 10 Hottest Female Sonic Characters, it’s been a long dry stretch for this franchise. But, man, Generations is the perfect blend of nostalgia and sensible updates. A great, great gamey game.

6. Bastion

It’s on everybody’s list because holy crap it’s good. Supergiant crafted a game that feels totally complete, as if no corners were cut. It’s a really spectacular example of designing around the constraints of a small team. Great writing, acting, and a stirring soundtrack as well.

5. (tie): Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman/Cladun X2

Technically, ZHP came out in late 2010, but bear with me here. For the first four months of this year, I spent a ton of time travelling all over the place promoting Portal 2. It was a tiring, lonely, and generally all around anxiety-producing experience. These two PSP games saw me through a lot of long plane flights, train rides, and hotel stays. NIS America is famous for publishing high-personality grind fests like the amazing Disgaea series, and these are both great examples of that tradition. For some reason, I can only play these types of games on portable systems, which is why the new Disgaea didn’t rank. Anyway, these two are inextricably linked in my head to the craziness surrounding the release of Portal 2, and so, bam, there you go. They’re on the list.

4. Driver: San Francisco

If this was a “Heroes of Game Writing” list, Driver: SF would be number one. It’s a game writer’s nightmare scenario: We need you to revive a basically dead franchise and also we need you to explain why the main character can suddenly fly and also he can possess people and also it still needs to be a serious police procedural and also you can’t get out of the car. The writers not only managed to deal with these constraints, they thrived under them. Driver’s writing is clever and funny while still taking its absurd core premise seriously enough to carry you through a ten hour story. Plus, the game is really fun. I expected nothing from Driver and was blown away.

3. (tie) Dungeons of Dredmor/The Binding of Isaac

Another tie! Only this time it’s because these two polished, excellent, accessible, funny rogue-likes have kind of fused in my memory. That means it’s possible one of them is carrying the other, but I’m pretty sure they were both great. Look, some of my fondest life memories are much, much hazier than the vague, pleasant impression of gathering loot and dying a lot that these games left me with.

2. Saints Row: The Third

If Valve ever cans me, I’m going to show up at Volition begging for a job, because Saints Row seems like it’d be a huge amount of fun to work on. Instead of coming up with a brand new description, I’m gonna repurpose something I wrote about GTA in 2005:

“When I was a kid, I was fascinated by a really detailed fake ad in National Lampoon for a ghetto train set. I was too young to realize that it was a joke, so every Christmas I'd beg my parents to buy it for me. Eventually, my parents went broke and we moved to a real ghetto. Time passed, and a bunch of stuff happened, like I got a job selling hot dogs and a chronic illness. Just when my life seemed to be winding down to its painful, embarrassing conclusion, Rockstar actually released the detailed ghetto train set of my childhood dreams. It was a Christmas miracle. The end.”

Anyway, that all applies quadruple to Saints Row: The Third. Volition made the smart choice to embrace the violent absurdity inherent to the open world, clockwork-city crime genre. And they didn’t just embrace it, they penetrated it with a giant purple dildo etc etc. For me, the biggest sin a game can commit is to be bland, and whatever else you might say about Saints Row, it’s not bland.

1. Dark Souls

Number one. By a mile. I loved Demon’s Souls, and I love Dark Souls even more. It has a great, original sense of place, a spectacularly tense risk/reward structure, and the best melee combat of all time. No other game makes me feel like I’m actually smashing things with a 50-pound hammer. It also has a very scary giant bird and a uniquely weird vibe. It feels like anything could happen at any moment, and I love that feeling. One of my favorite games, period.

Special Achievement: Conduit 2

I didn’t actually play Conduit 2, but I did watch the incredible ending on youtube. If they follow through with the promise they make in that scene, Conduit 3 is my most anticipated game of the decade.

Edited by cheywoodward2

I will tell my children of this day.

Erik Wolpaw has a pretty unique taste in games.

Edit: All Sonic characters, regardless of gender, are equally attractive in my heart.

Posted by BeachThunder

Great to see Binding of Dredmor on this list. Also, this guy should play Portal 2, he'd probably enjoy it.

Posted by Greebman

Dark Souls is number one this is a good list and Erik is a good man, will buy his video games in the future.

Edited by KaneRobot

Another person putting in "ties" and then still including the next number in the countdown resulting in 12 games on the list. STOP BREAKING THE NEVER-EXPLICITLY-STATED RULES. ::shakes fist::

List should be 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1.

Posted by admanb

This is a good list and very entertaining, but I hate this man for linking to that Hottest Sonic Females video.

Posted by SensuousLettuce

Bring back Old Man Murray!

Posted by Yummylee

Keep the Dark Souls lovin' a-comin'!

Posted by SiN13

It's extremely humbling to know that so many other developers that I admire have played Saints Row the Third and have put it in their top 10. Makes all the hard work worth it.

Posted by mortal_sb

this erik wolpaw is a cool dude. even made me giggle a couple of times in his top 10 list. damn you wolpaw.

Posted by Allison

ZHP and Patapon 3 were my favorite PSP games of the year. Great o see some love for ZHP. Probably one of the big underrated games of the year, too. Thanks Wolpaw. :3

Posted by SomeDeliCook

Saints Row AND Serious Sam on Erik's list?

You're a good man, Mr. Wolpaw.

Posted by Winsord

This list has God Hand. This list is good.

Online
Posted by the_Hollow

Erik Wolpaw <3 : Awesome and funny dude.

Posted by BradBrains

a sonic game on a top ten list on giant bomb? crazy

Posted by Jayzilla

The games that Erik has made are legit. Erik's list is pretty great too.

Posted by claudius

Man, Erik Wolpaw is awesome.

Posted by rubberluffy

God Hand is game of the year all years.

Posted by OriginalGman

Helluva list, Erik. Helluva list. I really need to go download God Hand, I'm not sure why I keep waiting.... oh yeah, my hard drive was full when it was released. Back to it!

Posted by davedave24

Seeing God Hand on this list has made my day!

Posted by sketch

I was thinking for a second about how much this read like a Rock Paper Shotgun article.

The I remembered, Old Man Murray...

Edited by Winternet

What a great read. Congrats Mr. Wolpaw.

Edit: Special Achievement award is THE best award yet.

Posted by Video_Game_King

I now have two reasons not to like this guy: Wolpaw's Law and the lack of El Shaddai on this list. Zettai was certainly unexpected, but that doesn't make up for it.

Posted by Jimbo

@KaneRobot said:

Another person putting in "ties" and then still including the next number in the countdown resulting in 12 games on the list. STOP BREAKING THE NEVER-EXPLICITLY-STATED RULES. ::shakes fist::

List should be 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1.

Actually, Unwritten Rule #1 / #1 states 'No ties under any circumstances' so...

Posted by MisterFaulkner

Kudos, Wolpaw. I respect that you still have the time to put so much thought into games. That Dark Souls made number one on your list makes me tingle inside. Non-sexually, of course.

Posted by Alphazero

I carried a flag all the way through this list and showed it to each item. The flag approved.

Posted by Vorbis

Great to see someone at Valve loving Dark Souls and crazy NIS RPGs, just boosts my opinion of them even more.

Also I had heard the Conduit 2 ending was crazy... but I did not expect that.

Posted by amir90

Dark Souls again, fuck yeah!

Posted by Supercancer

I like how varied Erik's choices in games were, going from Serious Sam to Bastion. I approve greatly!

Posted by ZombiePie

You got your Old Man Murray in my Giant Bomb.

Moderator
Edited by MattyFTM

Erik Wolpaw sure knows how to write an entertaining article. Part of me wishes he had never left the gaming journalism scene. The world would be a better place if Old Man Murray was still putting out articles. But the vast majority of me knows that his contributions to things like Portal 2 are infinitely superior to anything he could ever do on the other side of the industry.

Moderator
Posted by johnsonic7

@claudius said:

Man, Erik Wolpaw is awesome.

I concur. A very entertaining read.

Posted by the_purgatory_station

great stuff

Posted by Shimafran

God Hand? This is clearly a man of refined and respectable tastes.

Posted by dr_mantas

This is a solid list.

Posted by MasterVader

Any top 10 list with God Hand is legit.

Posted by buemba

If this list sells even one more copy of ZHP all is well with the world. It's an awesome and quirky game that deserved more attention than it got.

Posted by FTomato

Thank you for that Sonic list. Thank you so much. That toed the line between amazing and terrible perfectly.

Also Portal 2 is amazing etc.

Posted by probablytuna

Glad to see Dark Souls getting some GOTY recognition!

Posted by a5ehren

@Vorbis said:

Great to see someone at Valve loving Dark Souls and crazy NIS RPGs, just boosts my opinion of them even more.

Also I had heard the Conduit 2 ending was crazy... but I did not expect that.

Yeah. At first I was like "OK he activated the Reapers...whatev...OH MY GOD IT'S FUCKING ABE LINCOLN"

Posted by Depth

This is a great list.

Posted by LiK

YOUR LIST IS WEIRDER THAN ZMF'S!

Posted by sirdesmond

If someone could find me that article about "hammering things" he mentioned, that would be great.

Posted by Xeteh

I had opinions about this list but the International Criminal Court told me that I'm no longer allowed to share them.

Posted by Vexxan

Hey look, a list that doesn't look like everyone else!

Posted by Pepsiman

I am completely okay with God Hand showing up on this list for the reasons it did.

Online
Posted by PerfidiousSinn

God Hand totally counts. I put it on my GOTY list every year.

Posted by WatanabeKazuma

I was just thinking its unfortunate that Sonic Generations doesn't have a chance of appearing on any of the GB lists, so its nice that its appeared here.

Darks Souls too as it seems to be a dark house now, thought for sure it would be more prominent come nomination time.

Posted by MormonWarrior

That's a weird list.

Also, I laughed about the Elijah thing.

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

I love everything about this.

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