Keir Miron is a video game developer from Vancouver, British Columbia, who most recently served as software engineer on Red Hook's Darkest Dungeon. He's a longtime Giant Bomb fan, as evidenced by his appearance in this mailbag from six (!!!) years ago. He's @KeirMiron on Twitter.
Darkest Dungeon being released in January allowed me to enjoy one of my favourite years in video games. This was a year a lot of games came out that I had the opportunity to play in pre release states. Most of the games listed here were either neighbours of mine at shows or were featured on my podcast, The Question Bus.
Overwatch was the game I played the most this year. Its mass appeal allowed it to become a social game for me, a way to play with friends who don’t play shooters online very often. The mass appeal is what makes Overwatch great, because having a constant stream of new players entering a multiplayer shooter at a variety of skill levels keeps the competition fair. The huge player base and a great matchmaker resulted in remarkably fair matches no matter which friends I was playing with.
Overwatch has some of the highest highs, but sadly the way that your skill rating carries over to the next competitive season has been disappointing. Darkest Dungeon’s Chris Bourassa and I were ranked at completely different rankings after doing all our placement matches together and splitting play of the games. We have not played together since, and that's why this ended up so far down my list.
“Puzzle Battle” games are one of my favorite genres, so I was pleased to see Tumblestone come out in 2016 after playing it prerelease. Tumblestone has the simplest ruleset of any Puzzle Battle game I’ve played. That simplicity makes it a battle of wits and performance, which is not apparent upon watching the game. Matching three is trivial, performing all your match threes in the right order faster than your opponents is what makes Tumblestone riveting.
Tumblestone is a easy to learn game that anyone who likes puzzles will probably try, which makes it a great party game.
The grid-based levels in Inversus are core to everything I liked about the game. Using shooting as a means of both combat and movement results in a very captivating push/pull with your opponent. You are always thinking one step ahead and trying to control the grid while surviving. Only being able to move through the opposite colour allows you to employ a variety of distance based strategies by manipulating the grid. The grid and UI are very clear, and allow you to quickly survey the grid and strategize accordingly. The grid being only two colours makes 2v2 a natural fit.
The fact that it was developed by one person makes Inversus even more impressive an achievement.
Fantastic Contraption is my favorite VR game. VR is at its best in a social setting with a variety of people playing and watching, and Fantastic Contraption is built for that. Fantastic Contraption is a game about bringing your ideas to life to solve a very simple problem, but with people around it's a funny and experimental task. It feels like a performance.
Fantastic Contraption makes doing mundane things surprisingly fun. Putting on a helmet to transport to a new world is a memorable effect and having an infinite amount of pieces you can pull from behind your back inspires creativity. Watching people discover these things is charming and hilarious to watch.
Fantastic Contraption’s mixed reality streaming can even put you in the game via green screen to share your experiences online.
I love the Souls series, but the plan was to skip Dark Souls III. Nevertheless, weeks before release I got that itch but decided to scratch it with the best timed release of the year: Salt and Sanctuary.
Salt and Sanctuary shares a lot of what makes the Souls games great: it has a rewarding timing based combat system, a variety of weapons, interlocking level design, a variety challenging bosses and the tension caused from the frequent threat of death.
Where Salt and Sanctuary shines for me is how it differs from the Souls games. It has this vast weapon-centric skill tree that leverages healing to discourage you from only going down one path. It has this strange town building mechanic where you construct what is available at your checkpoints. Unexpectedly, the Metroidvania style movement mechanics make exploring the world delightful.
This game also had a special moment for me: When I beat its final boss, I was surprised to see my name the special thanks!
Videoball has a lot of what makes sports great. It requires both strategy and performance, and in its team-based modes it encourages teamwork. It is full of one-on-one moments of competition even in team based modes. Its level design forces you out of your habits. When the game is on the line Videoball is tense and at its best.
Videoball is a very clean looking and sounding game; every screenshot tells you everything that is going on and the sound effects clearly inform you of what you are not paying attention to. This clear communication to the player along with its simple controls makes it easy to start playing.
Videoball is very customizable game with online play and a sense of humour. It’s available on a bunch of platforms and is a great value.
4. Titanfall 2
I have not even started the single-player of Titanfall 2. I hear it's great, but I am strictly about the multiplayer.
Titanfall 2 forces me to try new things and I enjoy it every time. It has the best movement I have experienced in first person but it’s still fun even when you sacrifice that to gain a competitive advantage like invisibility. You also need to consider where the Titans are and your current loadout to deal with them effectively. Making these choices in line with the progression system keeps things fresh.
My favourite mode, Bounty Hunt, encourages you to move around the map to effectively take out your targets then cash in your points. Losing half of your points when returning to the bank was the scariest part of the year for me and stealing someone else’s points filled me with such joy.
Titanfall 2 does many things better than its contemporaries without even including the giant robots.
3. The Witness
The Witness teaches you how to solve its puzzles through playing. Learning the rules, applying that information and solving the puzzles was made more satisfying because it was all self directed. To see a single concept explored this thoroughly was amazing.
When I would get stuck the layout of the island encouraged exploration. When going to other areas you get to experience The Witness’ diverse and colourful landscapes which often contain things that will make you want to explore even more. Like pornography, you will know it when you see it.
I felt smart, I felt like I accomplished something and this is a feeling that I rarely get when playing games. The Witness is full of these moments.
Uncharted has always been impressive to me. The spectacle of this series is unmatched. One of the most memorable sequences in Uncharted 4 for me was the “drag in the mud” scene. It impressed me by allowing player control; that I could pull myself up by the grappling hook, get into the back of the car, punch somebody, take cover, shoot another car and then jump into that car on my first try was amazing. One feature of Uncharted 4 that I really enjoyed was its “scenarios/moments” section in the menu, so I was able to replay sections for people.
Another scene that really stood out to me was the clock tower. The whole scene was Naughty Dog making it very clear that they have the best climbing tech in video games while in a setting very evocative of Assassin’s Creed. It felt like whoever was in charge of climbing got to do a guitar solo.
OK, now let’s talk about my favorite part of Uncharted 4: the multiplayer.
I love the way Uncharted 4 moves. Climbing adds a verticality that is rare in third-person shooters. The grappling hook is useful both to get around and to avoid getting hit. The speed at which you move makes blindfire useful. Having a one hit kill melee attack is common but Uncharted makes you have to charge it up which sacrifices most of your valuable movement capability. You also have the ability to shoot while sliding downhill, which was a memorable aspect of previous Uncharted campaigns.
I love the gold focused match structure of Uncharted 4. You can collect gold through kills, objectives or treasure somewhere on the map. This encourages people to spread throughout the map. Once you have enough gold you are then presented with the option to upgrade your gear, heavy weapon, sidekick or mystic. Each of these option types has a different impact and what you decide to upgrade has great strategic value. Reacting to other people's upgrades kept me reacting and changing my strategy every match.
I love the customizability of Uncharted 4. The versatility of how you can customize your loadout is amazing. You have a set amount of points for your loadout shared over each selection you make. Along with the choices of weapons, gear, heavy weapons, sidekicks and mystics you also get to choose your boosters which is where Uncharted 4 really shines. The best example of this is how you can customize your loadout to be effective even if you can't get any kills. You can have boosters that give you more gold when you find it in the map or leaves gold for your teammates where you died. There are also revive grenades which opens up a whole new way to be a medic. Each booster has a loadout value as well as different ranks, so finding that perfect loadout is an enjoyable experience. The daily objectives encourage you to try new things as well.
Uncharted 4 is a great final chapter to an amazing series.
1. Viking Squad
Viking Squad is an evolution of the co-op brawler that addresses the problem of depth perception by laying out the whole game into lanes. These lanes are the foundation to the unique way the enemies, levels and bosses interact with the player. It has everything you expect in a brawler like mounts, upgrades and a variety of enemies but where Viking Squad really shines is in its over the top bosses that test your ability to work together and keep moving. As with all brawlers, Viking Squad is best played with other people.
Viking Squad is made by Slick Entertainment, a fellow Vancouver indie game studio. The core team is made up of three people who collaborated with Power Up Audio (TowerFall, Crypt Of The NecroDancer, Darkest Dungeon) for sound and Shell In A Pit (Rogue Legacy, Fantastic Contraption) for the score. It’s inspiring what they were able to make what a such a small team: a fun game that had a cross platform release with online play and native 4k support.
The Vancouver indie games scene is tightknit, and the Darkest Dungeon team is especially close with Slick Entertainment. We exhibit together, frequent the same local meet-ups and spend a lot of our social time together too. One of the most amazing things about going indie is the new friends I have made. Viking Squad is a fantastic game, that my friends made, that I wish more people knew about and it’s my game of the year.