Greg Kasavin is creative director at Supergiant Games, an independent studio developing an original action role-playing game called Bastion. He wasn't always busy conjuring up gameworlds, characters, stories, and levels. After his parents whisked him away from the land of tolerance and freedom that was the Soviet Union, Greg must have subconsciously decided to take full advantage of the land of opportunity here in the United States by spending a disproportionate amount of time playing games as a kid. He started writing about games professionally in his senior year in high school, and wound up serving on the editorial team of the popular web site GameSpot for more than 10 years, during which time he rose from intern all the way to editor-in-chief. In spite of this long stretch in the gaming press, Greg never lost sight of his childhood dream of making great games.
Now that I'm a poor independent game developer with two kids, I'm more selective than ever when it comes to spending time and money on games, though I still try to play everything I can. Still, there are a bunch of games I've yet to play this year that I think could have cracked this list, based on what I've seen, read, and played of them. That list of speculative honorable mentions includes, in no particular order: Vanquish, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Fallout: New Vegas, Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Valkyria Chronicles II, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and, yes, Super Mario Galaxy 2. For shame. Of the stuff I did play, here's my list:
I make no apologies for Bayonetta's distinctly Japanese over-the-top weirdness, though sometimes I want to. I found the tone of the game equal turns entertaining and embarrassing. And when the game started getting all serious about its own ridiculous story, I could barely believe it. Even so, the moment-to-moment action in Bayonetta is some of the best I've played since Ninja Gaiden. For my money, very few other games have succeeded in marrying the depth, complexity, and responsive fine-tuned feel of a great fighting game with the structure of a story-driven action adventure game.
As much as I loved the concept, I passed on the original Scribblenauts when I heard it forced you to use the touchscreen to control the character. So I got a completely fresh experience from Super Scribblenauts, which brought me back to the days of playing with Legos as a kid. It's a great, imaginative game, and it holds a special place for me because my five-year-old daughter got hooked on it too. No coercion on my part, I swear. I have no doubt it's helping her learn to read and write, albeit things like "fire breathing potion" and "giant zombie hamster".
This was a bittersweet one for me on a variety of levels, but in the end, I had a great time with it and it lived up to all my expectations from a gameplay and presentation standpoint. I've loved the real-time strategy genre since it existed and the original StarCraft is my favorite game in it, so I went into StarCraft II with a bit of anxiety and apprehension. Nevertheless I think Blizzard struck a perfect balance of not-screwing-it-up while adding fresh changes, and the game brought back a lot of fond memories in the way Street Fighter IV did. I really enjoyed the campaign missions, though I wish the story hit a few more notes besides "Jim, I don't trust that guy."
For some reason this little game really got its hooks in me. I'd heard for a while about this series but never played a game in it until this one, and found it to be a very satisfying and methodical, the type of game I like to play for 30 minutes or an hour each night before I go to sleep. It brings back many fond memories of hardcore old-school computer role-playing games like The Bard's Tale and Wizardry, where death came swiftly and brutally, grinding for experience felt more rewarding than chorelike, and automaps didn't exist. Whenever I get the feeling that games are getting too dumbed down (which happens every few weeks), thank goodness I have games like this to turn to.
I like horror games but they almost never scare me. Amnesia, you came awfully close, so I salute you. I never would have guessed this was a game from a small independent developer because of its beautiful atmospheric visuals and great presentation, and from a design perspective it achieves the remarkable feat of being an interesting first-person action adventure that doesn't lean on combat for its moment-to-moment play experience. Parts of this game are genuinely frightening in a way I've never felt from playing other horror games.
I cut my teeth on the kinds of brutal action games that Super Meat Boy pays homage to at the beginning of each of its worlds, so this game was right up my alley and I had a great time with it. There aren't many games out there these days where a sense of mastery comes so quickly and often. Practically every one of its bite-sized levels first appears virtually impossible, and then by the time you can reach the end, you're navigating through all kinds of deathtraps with the same lazy abandon as a morning commute. It's a weird and cool feeling, and Super Meat Boy's goofy and funny personality and excellent presentation seal the deal.
Red Dead would be much farther down this list had I stopped short of finishing the game, which I almost did since I'm normally not a huge fan of open-world games and their long travel times between scripted missions. But Red Dead's world is unusually detailed in every respect, and its story payoff I thought was outstanding. For such a huge game that so many people must have poured so much blood, sweat, and tears into, I was surprised at how personal aspects of the game felt. Many AAA blockbuster games are loud and embarrassing but Red Dead felt like it had a heart. Besides, I've wanted a be-all, end-all Western-themed game ever since LucasArts' Outlaws, and this pretty much nailed it.
One of those games that seems to have burned itself into my memory, thanks to its impeccable and artful presentation. It sucked me into its morbid, indescribable world almost immediately and kept me glued and wondering about what was going on through to its stark ending and beyond. This is one of those games where, even though it's relatively short and spent years in the making, the effort and attention to detail really shines through. Like any good puzzle game it also makes me wonder how on Earth they came up with some of those puzzles, since they can be so devious and challenging, and rewarding to solve.
Street Fighter IV was my most-played game of 2009, so I knew I'd be there day one for the inevitable update. And what an update! It added almost too many interesting new characters and opened up all kinds of exciting new match-ups without screwing up the surprisingly awesome core gameplay of the previous game. So many Super Street Fighter IV matches end in nail-biting, dramatic moments. Competition in this game is much more exciting to me than I can ever get from playing, say, a multiplayer shooter. Even when I wasn't playing the game, I often found myself watching tournament videos or reading up on how to be a better player. I basically had to force myself to stop playing.
I'm surprised to find Mass Effect 2 at the top of my list both because it released almost a year ago (the last time a January game was my Game-of-the-Year was Resident Evil 4) and because I disagreed with aspects of its throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach to improving on its predecessor's problems. But in spite of this, I loved Mass Effect 2. BioWare crafts some of the best, most interesting characters in games and Mass Effect 2 puts this strength at the forefront. I loved being able to interrupt certain conversations with quick actions--such a simple, smart addition to the previous game's outstanding conversation system. And as for the combat, I thought it felt better than the previous game by leaps and bounds. I was so into this game that I replayed the endgame sequence five different times just to see all the different permutations of what could happen. I still worry that BioWare is trending farther and farther away from making the kinds of role-playing games I love to play, but Mass Effect 2 reassured me that I was still in very good hands.
Honorable Mention: One Chance (PC)This was one of the more emotionally affecting games I've played all year, in spite of being a 15-minute Flash game. It's very similar to an older game called Everyday the Same Dream, which I hadn't played prior to One Chance -- good thing for that, too, since my experience with One Chance was better for having no expectations going into it. I played a lot of great independent games this year, but while many of those games were simply fun, One Chance stuck in my gut, and is yet another reminder of how powerful games can be as a narrative medium. I never did finish Heavy Rain (I know I should) but One Chance to me is like a distilled version of the same basic goal, with none of the uncanny-valley presentation problems, no quick-time events, and a cooler story.
Jeremiah Slaczka, also known by his nickname, Miah, is a video game designer/the creative director and co-founder of 5th Cell, a video game developer in Bellevue, Washington. He is best known for being the concept creator and director of Scribblenauts, the million-seller hit video game Drawn to Life, as well as the critically acclaimed Lock’s Quest. Jeremiah is credited as the Director, Lead Designer, Story Writer, Original Concept Creator, and Art Director for both Drawn to Life and Lock’s Quest.
My top ten list comprises titles that I made sure all my friends had to check out. These were titles I evangelized as a gamer just because I wanted others to experience that awesomeness that I did!
original Pac-Man is a classic, but to be honest it's a little stale after 30 years. After playing the demo for just five minutes I bought the title on the spot and made everyone who came over play it. It's also such a simple idea; anybody can get into it easily.
7. LimboA game I can easily finish in a single sitting? With a beautiful art style and actually unique platformer brainteasers? Yes please. Also Dino, the CEO of Playdead, is an awesome guy.
Jade Empire and the KotoR series. But the polish on the sequel blew me away. Everything in the game upped the ante of what a BioWare title could be.
5. Minecraft I was a really early adopter of this game back in June when Notch just launched his Alpha and I've been evangelizing it ever since. It's so simple, yet so deep. Its scary how many hours you can lose in that game perfecting your work.
Treyarch really pulled out all the stops from World at War, a game I enjoyed. The multiplayer is an excellent refinement of what the direction the series has been going in. I've been playing a ton of it.
Miyamoto. This was my GOTY until Game Dev Story came out.