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Brad Muir's Top Games of 2012

The Muir-cat pounces on the games of 2012 that put a smile on his face. :D!

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Brad Muir is a designer at Double Fine. He invented Iron Brigade, with his mind. He was high on Percocet following some dental surgery when he wrote this list, which would explain why there's only eight games on this top 10 list.

8. Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Magic makes my list again, but this time it's for a bit of a different reason. The fine cardboard magicians at Wizards of the Coast ported their "Duels of the Planeswalkers" series to the iPad this year. And what an awesome place for this game to live! I toned down my card lust a bit in 2012 and being able to play this streamlined version of Magic on a tablet is fantastic. It's such a high-quality product and it almost feels out-of-place when compared to a lot of the 2D Flash-esque games that litter the tablet landscape.

While the Planechase mode is a miss (IT TAKES FOREVER!) the rest of the package is great. Plenty of battles through a linear campaign and a nice new set of fiendish puzzles to solve. Their card unlock system is a little hungry for microtransactions, but it doesn't impact the game that much to just unlock the cards slowly over time. I'm still trying to feel comfortable with being a public lover of magical cardboard and it's great that I can hide in my bedroom with the iPad and sling some spells away from prying eyes. :D!

7. Diablo III

It feels like it's been a while since a true "event game" come out. The kind of game where EVERYONE scoops it on day 1 and jumps in together. There are so many games out there vying for our attention that it's almost impossible for a game to come along and cut through the noise. I guess that's why Blizzard exists!

But Diablo III didn't really live up to the hype. I'm not sure that any game really could have... I think people were expecting to play D3 as much as D2 and I don't think that's very realistic given the quantity and quality of games out there today. Now that the dust has settled I feel like people spend so much time focused on the negatives of Diablo III--poor top-end balancing, odd loot distribution, a mundane story, bad VO, and a real money auction house that wanted to taste the inside of your wallet so badly. But there were so many positives--five super diverse classes, free on-the-fly respec'ing that encouraged experimentation, super visceral combat, the return of "STAY A WHILE AND LISTEN" Deckard Cain, and a super smooth coop implementation that really encouraged you to beat the shit out of monsters with your buddies.

Diablo III was definitely a mixed bag, but I had a great time with it for a few weeks. And on top of everything else it gave us a hilarious midnight launch trainwreck! Definitely a highlight of 2012. :D!

6. Spelunky

I played the original PC build of Spelunky when Derek Yu showed it off at the Experimental Gameplay Sessions at GDC and I was hooked immediately! Much like FTL and The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky does a great job of putting roguelike mechanics where they don't belong--in this case a 2D tile-based platformer. You play an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer delving into a highly randomized Mayan temple, dealing with tons of threats along the way. Permadeath is the name of the game and you'll find yourself dying A LOT. But there's just enough predictability in the controls and the hazards that the deaths rarely feel cheap, leading to a great "just one more run" feeling as you jump back into the temple.

My only gripe with the Xbox release was the alteration of the requirements for that damned Tunnel Man. In the PC download version you could unlock the shortcuts with money, making it a slow grind towards your next shortcut unlock. In the Xbox release, the Tunnel Man saddles you with more and more ridiculous requests to unlock the shortcuts. The final request, at the end of World 4 where he asks you to bring him an item from World 1, was so outrageous that it made me quit the game. But up until that point I had a great time whipping snakes, rescuing damsels, stealing golden idols, and trying to steal items from that shotgun-toting shopkeeper!

Bonus feminism points to Derek for allowing you to change the stereotypical damsel in distress into a dude wearing a speedo or a super cute pug! :D!

5. Dota 2

League of Legends was a big part of my Top 10 list last year. I was sucked into the Lords Management style of gameplay by my own nefarious brother, not knowing what horrors lurked within. Jungling, carries, laning, teamfights, Baron, last-hitting--the list of weird verbage goes on a mile long. These games are so opaque for new players that I'm still a bit shocked that millions upon millions of people play these games! But once you play them enough (about 40+ hours for me) there's something that clicks and you just get it. There's profound magic at the heart of the MOBA phenomenon and once you see it it's hard to unsee. LoL gripped me and I played A LOT last year!

But when my brother started playing Dota 2 this year I avoided joining him. Dota 2 seemed like an even weirder beast than League of Legends. Based on the long-developed mod for Warcraft III it comes with a long list of quirks when compared to the more streamlined LoL: games are longer, there's no way to surrender when you're losing terribly, you have to purchase a consumable item to go back to town, the item trees are more complex, and you can kill your own units to deny xp and gold to your opponents. When I finally caved and found myself playing Dota 2 there was a new difficulty barrier to climb. I was shocked that with all of my LoL experience I was feeling like a brand new player.

Yet with the streamlining of LoL it feels like something got left behind - there's a bit of extra magic in Dota 2 despite its weird complexity. The character diversity is truly brilliant with lots of one-offs and archetypes that are not represented in League. This diversity leads to an incredibly rich metagame at the pro level, and like any sport it's interesting to follow the top pros and strategies, even if you can't personally pull them off. I also got the opportunity to watch some of The International Dota 2 tourney live at PAX Prime. Watching those games with the vuvuzela-infused faithful definitely had a part in converting me! Dota 2 is a weird, great game and I'm sure that its influence will be felt for many, many years! :D!

4. Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Oh man this again? Seriously? We're seriously doing this again? My gun doesn't start with a red dot sight? I have to get to level 4 before I can customize my class?

This happens to me every year. But I cannot resist it! It's as if Bobby Kotick has a creepy Brad Muir fetish in his office that he enjoys poking every November. He takes a pin out and stabs it right in its Call of Duty gland and then 60 dollars magically goes from my bank account to his. Ugh.

All jokes aside, MW3 was kind of disappointing last year so I wasn't even sure that I was going to go back to Call of Duty this year. But I thought that Treyarch did such a bangup job with the not-so-serious Blops 1 that I decided to give it another shot at the last minute. And after checking out Blops 2 I feel like Treyarch has stepped up to become the true owners of the CoD franchise. The Pick 10 system, while not completely revolutionary, represents the largest overhaul to the multiplayer customization system since Call of Duty 4. It's a very elegantly designed system that allows for some diverse and hilarious builds - forgoing a primary weapon so that I can carry around an RPG, C4, and a ton of relevant perks makes me an incredibly happy camper. :D!

CoD still represents the most accessible shoot-guys-in-the-face-with-your-friends experience and until something new comes along to dethrone it I'm almost positive that I'll be ponying up my 60 bucks next November. I guess at this point I've just accepted that Call of Duty is my Madden. Here's to hoping that Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer, and the other 83 Activision CoD studios can keep this forward momentum going for next year! :D!

3. FTL: Faster Than Light

I had an opportunity to talk about FTL at IndieCade this year so I was given an excellent excuse to play a LOT OF IT. :D! Like Spelunky, FTL takes roguelike mechanics and applies them to a non-dungeon crawling setting - in this case you're directing a Star Trek-esque crew around their ship with simple RTS-style commands. The cutaway view that focuses only on the interior of the ships created the worst "wish I'd thought of it" moment for me in 2012, and that pretty much cemented FTL on my list. :D!

FTL represents another extremely successful attempt at applying heavy randomization, permadeath, and brutal difficulty to create a game that's highly replayable and fun to lose. The game's far from perfect--the randomization can bite you in the ass from time to time and the final boss is a gigantic pile of terrific bullshit. But the flavor of the game is so powerful and the interconnected gameplay systems create such great moments that all is forgiven. I love FTL and so can you! :D!

2. Dishonored

This one came out of nowhere for me! I originally skipped it on release day due to its shipping the same day as XCOM so I've just recently started to dig into it. I feel like the marketing was weird--I thought it was a shallow face-stabbing simulation but what I ended up getting was an incredibly deep blend of Thief, Deus Ex, Half Life 2, and BioShock. The open-ended nature of each mission feels great, and the blink-based mobility really helps open up the environment to lots of exploration. Unlocking powers in a completely flat talent tree feels great, you can really sculpt your character in the direction that you want right out of the gate. The level design is super solid, and when combined with a very capable enemy AI you get some great playground spaces to navigate. And the world! The "whalepunk" aesthetic is fantastic! DEAR ARKANE STUDIOS--YOU HAD ME AT MAGICAL SCRIMSHAW.

The game suffers a bit from the quicksave/quickload conundrum of hardcore PC games. This tends to reduce the tension and the impact of your choices if you decide to abuse it. But this is a nitpick: the only major failing of Dishonored in my opinion is that of the dreaded Silent Protagonist. It's frustrating that Dishonored is filled with tons of great writing and none of it is delivered by its main character. I realize that this is an opinion, but could Corvo, the badass bodyguard/assassin be better and more interesting with well-written, well-acted dialog? I think the answer is YES! :D!

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Without a doubt XCOM was my most anticipated game going into 2012. I have such fond memories of playing the original game on my parents' PC in high school. The game was such a ridiculously deep, tense, engaging experience. I loved the mixture of high-level base management mixed with the low-level tactical missions, especially how interconnected the two were. Research the wrong technology and your troops were going to be at a disadvantage in combat. Lose too many dudes in combat and you won't have anyone left to hold the shiny new toys you're cranking out of the engineering bay!

I was hoping that the new XCOM would live up to my self-hype and it totally did! I was feeling really torn about the game because I wanted Firaxis to simplify the game a bit so that they could bring it to a wider audience, but I also didn't want them to lose the magic of the old game. For the most part I really appreciated the simplifications that Firaxis made to the formula--not having to worry about action points is a huge boon in a turn-based strategy game like this one. And simplifying the game paved the way for some great modern additions--the four classes for your soldiers, complete with talent trees, really deepens your connection to your troops. This makes it even more horrifying when a Muton crits your Corporal Sniper from across the map!

I think the biggest weakness of this new incarnation is the lack of true simulation--"unlocking" dormant enemies feels a bit weird and I'm bummed out by the fact that the bullets are no longer simulated in the environment. This leads to the game feeling a bit more like a board game than a true sim game. But despite these small flaws Firaxis really succeeded in making a game that pays homage to the original and at the same time breathes new life into it. I hope that they moved some crazy units on the PC so that we can see more streamlined turn-based strategy games in the future!

Honorable Mention: Hawken/MechWarrior Online

I can't put either of these on the real list because they both just went into open beta and I haven't spent that much time with either of them. But having not one but two free-to-play PvP mech games released at the end of 2012 makes me feel like it's my birthday! It's also a really cool design exercise to compare and contrast these two games. Hawken feels more like a traditional FPS with about 10% mech sim rubbed on it whereas MechWarrior Online feels like a hardcore sim, going in a decidedly World of Tanks direction. They both feel very competent in their mechanics with Hawken nailing the dashing-anime-mecha feel and MechWarrior just crushing the slow, lumbering BattleTech style. It's pretty cool to be able to bounce between the two of them for the unbeatable price of zero dollars. I hope to spend a lot more time with both of these fine games in 2013! :D!

Pile of Shame

There are a bunch of games that I have not played yet! I really feel like I need more time! I think that a lot of these games would be on the list if I had experienced them!

Halo 4, Hitman Absolution, Far Cry 3, Mark of the Ninja, The Walking Dead

Thanks for taking the time to read my list! You guys are the best. :D!