Top Five: Video Games of 2013

Ninety-nine percent of my gaming this year has taken place when I should been in bed. But that didn't stop me, even when it should have. These five games did the most to keep me from getting enough sleep this year. As always, this is a list of games were are important to me this year, not some kind of authoritative, objective list of the best games of the year.

Dark Souls - I've owned Dark Souls for close to two years now and I never beat it. The difference between this game and every other one in my collection is that I'm still trying to beat Dark Souls. I don't know that a game has ever gotten under skin the same way. No, I'm not playing it the "right way". I've read every wiki, forum, and guide I could find. I watched so many videos. But that doesn't mean anything when you have a controller in hand and have to execute everything you've learned. Dark Souls is an unforgiving teacher. And I love it dearly because of that.

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan - When I played D&D, I was always the DM. I didn't mind. I liked getting friends together to play. But the part I didn't tell anyone about was that I really liked to make maps. EO4 is a gift to my map-marker heart. An old-school, Wizardry-style dungeon crawler, I haven't played a game like this since Might & Magic II and The Bard's Tale. Funny that a genre you might think long dead could be alive, well, and just as good as you remember from thirty years ago.

Gone Home - From the moment of heard about the Fullbright Company, I knew that I wanted to follow them. Gone Home was exactly what I hoped it would be. It seemed to be a direct response to everything I wanted out of Bioshock Infinite. I enjoyed wandering through the house, finding out what happened to my (Katie's) family over the last year, and hoping that I would find them okay. I can't wait to see what the team does in the future.

Saints Row IV - Considering how much I loved Saints Row The Third, there was no chance I would pass up SR4. Although in some ways it felt like an add-on to SR3, it ended up surpassing the older game in many ways. I would have trouble returning to Steelport without having access to superpowers any more. The game was pure joy from beginning to end.

World Of Warcraft (Private Server) - I make the distinction here because playing an MMO in a world with only one player is a very strange experience. The economy is non-functional and the several quests and characters are all kinds of buggy. But turning the nobs on the server to suit my needs, whether it is weakening elite mobs or turning up reputation gain (because screw reputation grinds), is really gratifying. No, it is not the same. But exploring an Azeroth that no longer exists (the server is set to patch 3.3.5a) is a difference kind of treasure.

Honorabe mentions Super Hexagon and Bioshock Infinite came pretty close to making the list. It has been a very strange year for gaming, but I'm super happy to have such variety.

So, what were your favorite games this year?

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In Memoriam - 2013

Once again, it is time reflect on those we lost during 2013. And let us hope that 2014 is less ruthless.

  • Normand Corbeil, 56, composer for Quantic Dream, credits include Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls
  • Robin Sachs, 61, voice actor, credits include Mass Effect and Dragon Age
  • Kenji Eno, 42, game designer and musician, credits include D, Sega Rally 2, Newtonica, and Kimi to Boku to Rittai
  • Seung Hyun Park, 25, aka “Go)Space”, professional Warcraft IIIplayer
  • Andrew Reisse, 33, co-founder of Oculus VR
  • Doug Engelbart, 88, inventor of the computer mouse, helped develop hypertext, computer networks, and graphical user interfaces
  • Ryan Davis, 34, co-founder of Giant Bomb
  • Hiroshi Yamauchi, 85, president of Nintendo from 1949 until 2002, lead company in transition from a trading card company into a video game empire
  • Mark Valentine, aka “h2orat”, video artist for Cryptic Studios/Perfect World Entertainment, credits include Champions Online and Star Trek Online
  • Tom Clancy, 66, author of The Hunt For Red October and late Jack Ryan novels, co-founder of Red Storm Entertainment which produced the Rainbow Six series, lent his name to other Ubisoft series, such as Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon
  • Aaron Larry Hilden, 37, co-host of Drunken Gamers Radio podcast
  • Charles Bellfield, vice president of Sega of America, shepherded Dreamcast from launch and helped transition Sega to out of the hardware business

Be good to one another, because life is too short to spend it angry.

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Random Shots: LotRO Finally Gets Around To Selling Levels

  • /yawn
  • Remember when we were all up in arms about horse armor? That only made tenth place in this list of the most egregious microtransaction items. And that was two years ago. It probably wouldn’t make the top ten today.
  • The time has long passed when we should be surprised or shocked when a game company decides to pad its bottem line by flipping a few bits in a database. MMOs are broken and I don’t blame developers for trying to fix them, even if they are charging for it.
  • If you are really curious, go read Syp’s, Syncaine’s, and TAGN’s thoughts on the news. They are at least more interested in the topic.
  • /yawn Oh, sorry. I should really take a nap.

- Marty Runyon

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Played Lately: Dark Souls

  • I dedicate this post to the two brave souls who helps me defeat the Bell Gargoyles for the very first time last night. You will never be forgotten, though I’ve already forgotten your Xbox user names.
  • Dark Souls has occupied an inordinate amount of my attention lately. It started last week when Vinny Caravella from Giant Bomb decided to stream his return to the game. (I would embed them, but the videos are subscriber only.) That got me looking for speed runs on YouTube. That video got me looking for Let’s Play videos.
  • And that led to me playing Dark Souls Sunday night. I looked at my achievements. It has been nearly two years since I last played the game. Even after watching the videos, I couldn’t remember how to control or play my character, so it was time to roll up someone new. Instead of playing it by ear, I followed the bog standard recommended build a rolled a pyromancer with the master key.
  • Wow, those Let’s Play people make this game look easy. I played through the Undead Asylum pretty quickly since it is straightforward once you know the layout. Even with all of the video training, the Asylum Demon killed me on my first attempt. But, practice make perfect, right?
  • On my first character, those two years ago, I ended up spending a lot of time farming the Undead Burg for souls. This time, since I was more confident in what I was doing, I moved through the zone with greater speed. After clearing the zone to the best of my abilities, charged right in to take on the Taurus Demon.
  • And he killed me. Over and over again. I swear, they make it look so easy in the videos! But down he went down eventually. One of the things they don’t tell you about Dark Souls is that death is actually liberating. Once you’ve been killed and you’ve lost your souls on hand (souls are currency and experience all rolled into one), you are free to just pile your enemies under your corpses until they no longer stand. As long as you can persevere, you can find a way to defeat your enemies.
  • I wasn’t about to end there. In my prior attempt, I never got very far into the Undead Parish. But I was confident that I could do better. I continued on. Past the rats, past hollows of all sorts, past the fang boar. Finally, I ascended the church and, with the two other players I mentioned earlier, I defeated the Gargoyles. Ringing the first Bell of Awakening was a huge achievement for me, something that seemed like a distant goal when I first started playing
  • When I turned off my Xbox for the night, I compared my save games. My new character was level 22 in under four hours. My old character was level 25 in over ten hours. I had accomplished more in one night than I ever did when I played back in 2011. No, I did not do it the right way. I watched all the videos and I followed the wikis. But I had fun doing it. Don’t let the perceived difficulty dissuade you. If I can get this far in Dark Souls, I suspect anyone can.

- Marty Runyon

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Played Lately: Gone Home

  • As an experiment in environmental storytelling, Gone Home is an unqualified success. As a game, depending on your definition, it may pale next to the first person shooters that spawned it. It’s not a game that you are going to ever describe as “visceral.” But if you ever wondered what it would be like to walk through Rapture or Columbia and take in the world and its stories, The Fullbright Company has served up a dream.
  • Gone Home is the story of Kaitlin Greenbrier, a twenty-one year old woman who arrives at her family’s new home after a year abroad. But when she arrives, there is no one home. She must put the story together by exploring an unfamiliar house, seeking clues as to what happened to her parents and sister. But while Katie is the protagonist, her sister Sam is the real main character. Throughout the game, Sam narrates entries from her journal as you dig up clues. Although I was initially thrown by this parallel storytelling, I found that it really paid off in the end.
  • I like what playing the game says about Katie. She is very much a cypher, but your actions actually illuminate the character’s personality. We find that Katie is not the type of woman who sits down in the living room, waiting for everyone to return. She is quick to poke around an unfamiliar environment, and even invade her family’s privacy if it is necessary. But in some cases, Katie tells us directly when she is uncomfortable with items you discover. She is very curious, upending just about anything, searching every square inch to learn a truth. At one point, you find a find a note from your father dressing Sam down for leaving all of the lights on, “just like Katie.” Sure enough, I rarely turned a light off once it was on.
  • Though the main plot line is quite in your face, with Sam reading her journal entries as you explore, there are some amazing little subplots and details that you can only piece together by paying close attention. I loved the strange fate of Captain Allegra’s first mate (which I figured out before the big reveal). I really enjoyed watching their father’s writing career make some interesting twists, though I did miss the large connection he had with the house.
  • I didn’t cry at the ending. I mean, honestly, it’s not like this is a Pixar film. But I was very nervous as I made my way to the finale. I had been so drawn into the story that I actually feared what I would find at the end. Not that I’m going to spoil it for you, other than to say that everything in the game comes together by the end. If you can afford to do so (or have access to a friend’s copy), you should take the two hours it takes to play through the game. I put that video up there, but don’t watch it. Experience the story, one of the best stories in gaming, for yourself.
  • That said, I completely understand why you might be put off by a twenty dollar price tag for what is a two to three hour game. Jayedub and I had a short conversation on twitter the other day about judging games based on their cost. (He tackles some more issues surrounding the game on his blog.) As a work of art and entertainment, criticism of video games should be about their qualities as games. Gone Home is not a lesser game because of its price. But it is valid to make the purchasing decision based on your tolerance for prices. And I understand why that is a concern here. But if you can afford to do so, I think it is well worth the price.

- Marty Runyon

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Top Five: Best Things About Ultima Forever

  • Ultima name used for an actual game - I mean, at least they didn't turn it into a crappy online service like they did with the Origin name.
  • Runs better on the iPhone than on the iPad - That has got to be some kind of achievement, right?
  • You don't have to pay for it before finding out how bad it is - Try before you buy hundreds and hundreds of keys!
  • Um, this is a lot harder than I thought - There has to be more. I assume so.
  • Yeah.... - Maybe not.

- Marty Runyon

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Random Shots: Misguided

  • One of the things I miss about MMO blogging are the debates that would rage through the community. Debates like that don't come along very often anymore. So when I discover that someone is wrong on the Internet, I must avail myself of every opportunity to pounce on the gormless perpetrator and rip him or her to shreds.
  • At the beginning of the month, Polygon posted an opinion piece by L. Rhodes about the eventual end of World of Warcraft. The author compares this to the decentralized worlds of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In Animal Crossing, multiplayer games are peer-to-peer affairs, which allows players to connect with other players to explore their towns. The author argues that by taking a centralized server out of the equation, Animal Crossing is much less likely to suffer a world failure than World of Warcraft.
  • Of course what this does not take into account, something that the author even acknowledges in the article, is that these games have so little in common as to make the comparison silly. Animal Crossing has more in common with something like Diablo III, which could actually benefit by enabling peer-to-peer networking. The lost of online worlds is a serious matter and should be discussed, but I don't see how comparing massively multiplayer games to fundamentally single player games serves any purpose.
  • All of this discussion could be for naught anyway. Although his list may not be exhaustive, Syp keeps an excellent list of MMO launches and collapses. Although he lists ninety-eight launches on his timeline, only twenty-seven games have closed. Even more interestingly, only twenty games have transformed to free-to-play or relaunched. That leaves fifty-one games that are, presumably, humming along just fine. Maybe our online worlds are not in as much jeopardy as we might be lead to believe.
  • If there is one valid takeaway from this article, it's that our online worlds survive only at the pleasure of their owners. Only when these worlds are placed in the hands of the players do they have the chance to live on. And who knows, maybe there is a future for Azeroth yet.

- Marty Runyon

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Random Shots: The Winter Of Our Blogging Lives

  • There is a meme traveling through what is left of the MMO blogging community lamenting the death of blogging. I first picked up on it from Brian Green. But various responses have appeared from Wilhelm Arcturus, Ravious, and the inimitable Syncaine. Even Tobold took a break from this anti-5th edition crusade to weigh in.
  • It is hard to deny that the MMO blogging community is not as vibrant as it once was. Syncaine pegs its apex at the launch of Warhammer Online, the game that is emblematic of everything that is wrong with post-World of Warcraft MMORPGs. Since then, even with efforts to draft new bloggers into the fight, fewer and fewer are taking up arms to debate the merits and failing of these games. Even the most prolific bloggers are standing down from the barricades.
  • The conversation that used to occur in the blogging community seems to have shifted to other platforms like Twitter, Google Plus, and even Facebook. Not that there is much to talk about. Each new MMO since WoW has been increasingly tepid. Looking at Hunter's blogroll shows that half of the Guild Wars 2 blogs have stopped updating or disappeared entirely and it's been out for under a year. Only EVE Online has anything that looks like a community. That it continues to thrive around that game should be no surprise anyone.
  • Back in the day, back when I first discovered blogging, it was not about conversations and reasoned arguments. It was about the rant. Writers like the legendary Lum The Mad challenged game design as it was in its infancy and helped shape it. But then, the games became tamer. There was nothing to rant about, so we discussed best practices and MMO theory. It was a bit of an echo chamber, but it was a lot of fun. We played together, looked forward to the next big thing, and rushed to be first in the queue when the servers opened.
  • But then the innovation stopped. Companies spending millions of dollars and years of development time started playing it safe. The occasional issue came up now and again, but the future of the MMO and, thus, the blogging community was sealed. You just have to look at the shambling husks of WoW-Killers to see that things have gone terribly wrong. There is nothing to discuss if no one is willing to innovate anymore.
  • It is not the community that failed; it's the games that failed us.

- Marty Runyon

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Random Shots: Witnessing How The Sausage Is Made

  • It's hard to go anywhere in the gaming sections of the internet with finding strong opinions about the change. On one hand, there is still incredible trust that Tim Schafer can bring home an amazing game. On the other, people are going ballistic that costs have spiraled out of control on what was originally a small project.
  • I must admit that am a little concerned that Double Fine is burning the candle at both ends to get Broken Age made. They have poured Brütal Legend and Humble Bundle revenues into the game. And now they propose selling the first half of the game to finance the second half. I wonder, once all if said and done, if there will be anyone left to buy the game once it is officially released.
  • But of course there will be. Some people won't buy an incomplete game. Some people haven't even heard of it. Some people will wait for the eventual Steam sale. At least, that is what Double Fine is banking on.
  • I have to give credit to Tim Schafer for not compromising on his vision. Were it not for the documentary, we would not even know about the development turmoils they have faced. It is good to see how the sausage is made. I have learned a lot about the process. And a lot more about the business side of development. I glad we have this opportunity, even if we are powerless to affect the outcome.

- Marty Runyon

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Random Shots: Why I Bought A PlayStation 4

  • Yesterday was a crazy day. The announcement that Microsoft has capitulated on their DRM plans made next generation a two console race again. So when I got home from work last night, I went to my computer, gathered up all of my gift cards, and put down my preorder.
  • For the PlayStation 4.
  • This is an unusual situation for me. I've never been a Sony fanboy. I've never bought a PlayStation as a primary console. Late in their generations, I did get used PS1 and PS2's to play a few console exclusives (DQ7 and Fear Effect stand out). But even in the face of the PS2's overwhelming popularity, I was a Dreamcast/Xbox guy. No more.
  • I'm going with the Playstation 4 for a couple of reasons. I like that Sony is courting indie developers. I loved XBLA this generation. If everyone is switching to the new platform, I want to go with them. I can't just let Transistor come out and not get to play. And the price is just better. I don't want a Kinect. I don't want Microsoft's fancy TV watching options. I want a game machine. And it sounds like that's what Sony is delivering. That's it. The decision was that close for me.
  • There has to be competition in the market. Each time Sony or Microsoft became the clear winner, they became arrogant and their product went to hell. I'm jumping ship now because Sony is the underdog this time, and I'm excited about how hungry they are to take on their opponent's Goliath.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

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