After a lengthy tenure at Double Fine, Brad Muir recently joined the ranks at Valve as a gameplay programmer, but not before launching the successfully Kickstarted Massive Chalice for Xbox One and PC. Add a little positivity to your life by following him on Twitter.
2015 was a crazy year for me so this list is going to seem a bit weird! I crunched to finish MASSIVE CHALICE, had a baby, moved from San Francisco to the Pacific Northwest, and just started a new job a few days ago at Valve. It’s been great but I haven’t had a whole lot of time to play games, especially the big AAA releases. Thanks to the Giant Bomb community for all the support over the years! I’m excited for a more relaxed 2016. :D!
10. Invisible, Inc.
Klei is a powerhouse! Having just spent a ton of time working on on a turn-based isometric game, it was really cool to compare and contrast my own work with Invisible, Inc.
Invisible, Inc. is a really great deviation from typical turn-based strategy mechanics. For starters the game centers around stealth and avoidance instead of a typical destroy-all-enemies goal. You only control two characters at a time, characters don’t have hitpoints, and missions get continually more difficult the longer that you take to complete them. This last point is a brilliant twist because it puts some well-needed time pressure on the player, forcing them to move swiftly while still avoiding detection. Add to this a really interesting hacking management aspect and a compelling meta game and you’ve got a compelling roguelike that’s well worth your time!
9. Diablo III
D3 is showing up randomly here because of it's amazing one-handed baby-friendliness! While holding my newborn I was able to rattle off the first 10 levels with a few new characters. It was amazing! I'm also very impressed with Blizzard’s dedication to support of the game even without an announced expansion. It feels great to see new things like seasonal play, new crafting options, and even new zones being generated at no cost to the players. D3’s redemption is one of my favorite stories over the past few years and it couldn't have happened to a better game! :D
There’s a decently sized Monster Hunting crew at Double Fine and 4 Ultimate captured more hunters than ever before! Monster Hunting is always better with pals and it was great to hit the lunch room and see a dozen 3DSs gathering hunting parties for weeks.
4 Ultimate felt like a mega director’s cut of Tri. They removed the less-than-stellar underwater missions and added brand new climbing and monster-mounting systems. The end result was a much cleaner version of MH that had fewer groaner missions than ever before. It’s still rough around the edges and it still has its fair share of strange design decisions, but if you can get past those and really get into it Monster Hunter is an addictive coop game that’ll have you mashing the shit out of your 3DS like few other games.
I love Davey Wreden!
The Beginner’s Guide is such a weird game. It's the most meta game I've ever played--it's a game about making games told through the perspective of a real game dev commenting on an imaginary game dev’s work. The premise is so bizarre but it starts off so innocently and simply that it's really easy to go along for the ride.
As a game developer I feel like The Beginner’s Guide spoke to me on a deep level. So many of us are wrapped up in the fact that this is mostly a commercial medium. One of your goals as a mainstream dev is to try to get as many people to play your game as possible. It’s almost woven into the fabric of game design. It’s tough to talk about without spoiling the game, but The Beginner’s Guide really made me think about how some devs might not agree with this point of view. Can a creator just create in a vacuum? What if they just want to share it with their friends? It's a valid way to approach creativity but it feels so against the core of game development (even most indie game development!) that it was shocking to me.
Another reason to get this game on my list is the form! I love that I could sit down and finish The Beginner’s Guide in just a couple of sittings. It’s a short, tight game that really has something to say. I hope that more games adopt this style--I just don’t think I have any more 100+ hour RPG’s in me! :D!
MOBA fever is no joke! I played a decent amount of the HotS beta and I really liked it! It’s so interesting seeing the design choices that were made to try to streamline this crazy genre into something that’s more accessible. There were some things that I really loved: the removal of the shop in favor of individualized hero talent trees, ammunition on towers, and the removal of “last hits.” All of these changes make the game more forgiving to new players and also allow you to focus on the fun parts of the MOBA: team fights!
There were other changes that I was less thrilled about: joint team leveling, maps with wildly different rules, and neutral objectives that could overshadow good teamwork and strategy. I thought that these changes drove the genre in a less satisfying direction overall. I still had a really great time playing it earlier in the year and I hope to go back to it!
I’m also fascinated at a deep level about the origins of the MOBA and how the genre has developed. And HotS is the literal ouroboros made flesh! It starts as a mod inside Warcraft III, then gets made into a full blown game by another studio, and then Blizzard makes a derivative of this game? What? It’s incredible! :D!
Magic has been a perennial favorite of mine since I got back into the game in ‘09. The design has become so clean and each new set is a near-perfect blend of new and familiar mechanics and flavor. The new set, Battle for Zendikar, is a revisit to 2009’s original Zendikar set. It’s a homerun on so many levels: flavor, mechanics, draft, etc. It’s a tough game to get into, and it’s complexity can feel bottomless at times, but I love how the game continually freshens itself each quarter. Plus I’m excited to be in the Seattle area where they handcraft the magical cardboard! :D!
YMBAB, just like 10000000000, is a match 3 game with a dungeon-running twist. Your character runs automatically along the top of a match 3 board and encounters a bunch of different hazards like monsters and locked treasure chests. Matching tiles helps him get past the hazards.
The brilliance of the design is difficult to see at first. The dungeon running gives you direction in the match 3 game, and you begin to set up for potential encounters that your little adventurer might run into. Everything is timed so the game has a frantic pace to it, with a great difficulty ramp that eventually dead-ends your run. I especially love that failing a run is accompanied by a great YOU WIN prompt. It’s just the right amount of silly.
It’s all tied together by a really tight economy full of upgrades back at the titular boat--it’s really a great little game and a nice change of pace from all of the F2P cruft on the iOS store.
Bonus points for being incredibly baby-friendly too! This is a great game to just rip off a round or two while your little one is snoozing. :D!
Please save your comments about being Late to the Party. :D
I first played Minecraft years ago when it was in alpha and I didn’t really get it. I liked the aesthetic and it seemed cool but it just didn’t feel like it was for me. I wanted more direction. Flash forward a billion years where my 6 year old nephew calls me up and wants to play Minecraft on the 360. Ok sure! He’s 3,000 miles away and I don’t get to see him a lot. Why not?
Playing Minecraft with a 6 year old gave me a whole new appreciation for the game. Hearing the excitement in his voice as we explored the world together was infectious. I don’t think that our experience was super novel - we did the things that Minecraft players do. We built a tiny house, survived through our first night together, smelted some ore, built a stone castle. fought some skeletons, and tried to not starve. But the sense of wonder that only a child can bring really opened my eyes to how brilliant the game is. I get it now. It’s awesome. And if I had two billion dollars to spend I would have totally bought it. :D!
2. Dota 2
Oh man, it’s on here again! And now I work at Valve? COLLUSION! :D!
But surely Brad Shoemaker must somehow be responsible for this madness so I’ll just blame him for the continued Dota Fever that grips me and my kin. :D!
I didn’t have the time to play as much Dota as I would have liked this year, but I really enjoyed the time that I did get to spend with the game. It’s been really cool to watch it stabilize and mature into a full blown esport. I think I watched more Dota than I played this year!
Even though I wasn’t able to attend The International this year it was an incredible showcase of production values and community crowdfunding. The prize pool hit a staggering $18M and it was great to follow one of the few American teams in the tournament all the way to a victory in the finals! There was also a focus on classic sports drama with some great in-depth player profiles.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for Dota and now I might even do some work on it? What? Pinch me! :D!
Hearthstone easily takes the number one spot for me this year! The iPhone port of the game hit about a week before my wife gave birth to our little baby boy. Having access to a relatively hardcore PvP game that I could play while laying next to our sleeping newborn was amazing. It really helped me feel connected to the world of gaming and it was a great escape from some of the reality-bending things that you get hit with while trying to take care of a baby for the first time.
Not only did the game fit into my life like no other, but Blizzard also released a ton of content for it! There were two LCG-style adventure packs released (Blackrock Mountain and League of Explorers) along with a full CCG-style expansion (The Grand Tournament). Not everything has been a homerun but there have been enough solid, deck-defining cards released to keep the game fresh for almost the entire year. That’s no simple task and Hearthstone is definitely my number one game of 2015! :D!