Brendon Chung runs Blendo Games, a small independent game studio. He is the creator of titles such as Thirty Flights of Loving, Atom Zombie Smasher, and most recently, Quadrilateral Cowboy. Prior to founding Blendo Games, he was a designer at Pandemic Studios. You can follow Brendon on Twitter @blendogames.
10. Budget Cuts
When I'm trying out a VR thing, sometimes I get caught up in the moment. I'll try to rest the controller onto a (virtual) table or I'll try to lean against a (virtual) wall. It's a bizarre sensation when those lines get blurred. Neat Corporation's Budget Cuts is soaked in that feeling. The game only exists as a VR demo at the moment, but never have I felt so completely transported. I'm in another building and another time, stealthing and sneaking through places I shouldn't be. Smartly designed, and an incredible sense of place.
There's that quote that says, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." To me, Playdead's Inside is pure magic.
Every piece of technology has strengths and limitations. Inside feels like it was developed by a team that intimately knew where those boundaries lie, and then squeezed every last drop of juice out of the engine. This is one of those games that perfectly hits the sweet spot between design and technology, achieving things that by all rights should be impossible.
Frontier's Planet Coaster is secretly a 3D modeling application. For theme parks. It includes game-like things--I dunno, gameplay and mechanics and all those things--but at its heart, it's all about the joy of building. Sure, you can use their packaged prefab buildings, but what makes the game special is in how every wall, rafter, light fixture, windowsill, whatever, is a modular piece. If this sounds like an absolutely overwhelming and paralyzing amount of creative freedom, you're right--and it's great.
Something happens when a piece of work trusts you. When dots are put in front of you and you're trusted to connect them, there's a feeling of mutual respect. The game doesn't stoop down, because it believes you will rise up. Ocelot Society's Event puts faith in the player. Notes and answers are strewn about its space station, and the way to find them is by letting you explore--both geographically and through its incredible dialogue system.
A handful of developers and I share an office with Heart Machine, the creators of Hyper Light Drifter. Whenever I catch snippets of their development process, I'm bowled over by their excruciating amount of scrutiny over every world detail, game mechanic, and tidbit of game feel. I often hammer on the importance of execution--Hyper Light Drifter is a game that nails it, and most importantly, it shows on the screen. Everything is placed for a reason, everything has a history, and you can feel it in your bones. Consistent, cohesive, and tight as a drum.
Campo Santo's Firewatch is one of those total packages. Smart writing, funny, fantastic art direction and implementation, novel ideas brought to the table. From a developer perspective, it's a great case study of what a small team can achieve with smart design choices.
And special mention to Firewatch's Far Cry 2-esque map interface. Folks, if you're going to have an in-game map, you might as well do the right thing and make it like Far Cry 2's.
Marauder Interactive's House of the Dying Sun is what happens when you carve a space sim down to the bone. It asks how can you take the best parts of a game experience and somehow squeeze it into a few minutes. This is the polar opposite of a slow burn--it's high-concentrate straight into the jugular. Which is to say: House of the Dying Sun has a ton of respect for your time. As someone who grew up playing the X-Wing/TIE Fighter games, this felt like something I've been waiting a long time for someone to make.
When I saw Mad Max Fury Road last year, I left the theater exhilarated. The film rips apart stale conventions limb from limb and rewires them into a new beast. I felt like I was discovering cinema for the very first time.
Kentucky Route Zero is that. Whenever I finish an installment, I have to re-frame all other games I've played. This year's Act 4 was no different--reinventing and unwilling to repeat itself, this time with an absurd amount of branching paths. Tonally unique, tonally consistent, every piece of it fitting snug against one another.
I have a deep fondness for first-person things. Part of it is nostalgia, part of it is their specific kind of role-playing I can't find elsewhere. With that said, something I've been thinking about is FPS conventions. Protagonists who walk around with their arm ramrod-straight, holding a weapon--for hours on end. That feeling you're a rigid camera attached to a gun. Superhot is the opposite of that. Superhot is about verbs and dynamism and flexibility, taking advantage of its time-only-moves-when-you-move mechanic. A typical moment-to-moment plays out like:
- Throw a pool ball at someone's head.
- The person staggers back and drops their gun.
- You snatch their gun in mid-air.
- You fire. They shatter.
- You throw the weapon at someone else. They stagger.
- You punch them in the face.
- And take their shotgun.
I couldn't get enough of it.
My game of the year is id Software's Doom: