Hello all! These year end lists are often a bit autobiographical and mine for 2018 is no exception. What follows is a reflection of how I spent half of the year directing and producing a free-to-play mobile game that nobody will ever play, an abrupt but welcome five months of blissful time home with my boys, and closed the year with a return to making games that people play with controllers, mice and keyboards. It’s good to be back making “real” games!
Easiest Game to Recommend: Florence
I’m always looking for game recommendations, and if you’re reading this you probably are too! Here’s my layup of the year--Florence. It’s a lovely game that tells a touching and relatable story with almost no text, relying instead on a wide variety of simple mechanics that feel like a perfect fit to each story beat. There are masterful touches, like how the gameplay takes a step up or down in intensity to keep pace with the emotions of the scene. If you haven’t already, give it a look. I think you’ll like it!
Best Return to Personally Feeling Competitive at a Multiplayer Game: Brawl Stars
One of the best practices many mobile game studios employ is to soft launch their titles in countries other than America to test things like their economic model, user acquisition strategy, bugs, crashes, and player engagement. It’s like a limited but kind of open beta to smooth out all those metrics so you have a better chance of success when you launch worldwide. As a player, you can create an app store account based in those countries and get the mobile equivalent of early access to games months, or sometimes years away from launch. Enter Brawl Stars, Supercell’s 3v3, single screen shooter that’s been available in Canada since mid-2017. It’s a solid game that will finally come to the US this month, but it makes this list for a very specific reason--I was pretty good at it, for like a whole month or two. It’s been too long since I felt like I could hang competitively in a multiplayer game, and my average skills and lack of time were counterbalanced by the comparatively smaller pool of Canadian Brawlers. I got so into the game for a spell and, for the first time in my life, I watched a streamer! So weird! Then I later got matched up against him! And lost. Now that the game is dropping down here I’ll never play it again as I’m sure to be stomped every time out. But still, what a thrill.
Best Game With the Best Animal: Donut County
Donut County is available all over the place, I played it on my iPhone and loved it. It’s a chill Katamari Damacy but with growing holes instead of growing balls. And it has raccoons everywhere! It’s fun, has a nice style and raccoons are my favorite animal, so there you have it.
Best Mobile Game of 2018: Supertype
Philipp Stollenmayer, aka Kamibox, consistently creates solid phone games that match a simple premise with a clean look and smooth mechanics. Games with equally simple names like Burger, Pancake, Bacon and Zip Zap that are all fun to play on a phone. This year with Supertype he really created something special. Supertype is a physics puzzle game where you are trying to get an object (or objects) to land on certain spots within a simple 2D level. The neat twist is that those objects are the lowercase alphabet. When you play a level, the keyboard pops up, allowing you to type any letter however many times you want. The letters you pick fall onto the level and behave according to their shape and the pull of gravity. O's and c’s roll, p’s and q’s tip over, y’s slide, and the little dots above j’s and i’s fly all over the place. You’ll need to set up letters to interact with each other like a series of unpredictable dominoes. It’s tricky to explain but quick to grasp when playing. The 100+ levels are varied and well crafted, and the alphabet affords you lots of room for experimentation. It’s a great game to fill those idle moments, give it a shot.
Best Arcade Game: MISTER NBA Jam
A few months back I was worrying to Vinny that I couldn’t get my boys interested in video games. He quickly called that a “monkey paw wish” as in be careful what you ask for. And while I’m no Steve Lin when it comes to collecting video games, when a nearby town was auctioning off a neglected NBA Jam 4-player arcade cabinet from its teen center, I went all in and got it. So bend that monkey finger down as playing NBA Jam (or “MISTER NBA Jam” as my kids call it for some reason) is now one of our favorite things to do together as a family. The five-year-old takes it seriously and can score fairly consistently, though if I’m being honest he doesn’t use as much of the floor space as he could. The three-year-old specializes in testing the game’s notoriously brutal rubberbanding by taking 100% of his shots from full court, and making more than he should. My wife is the best and most often plays as Player 1, which is busted and can’t go right. My job is to keep the score close and making sure everybody takes turns winning. And yes boys, if you somehow find this article years from now, every time you won is because I let you. Every. Time. ….except once when Scott Skiles clanked a 3 at the buzzer, you got lucky there.
Best Odd Confluence of My Life and Career: Battlebots
Speaking of my boys, somehow, even though they are only allotted about 40 minutes of TV daily, they have become huge fans of Battlebots. They have memorized every bot’s name, every driver’s name, every judge and commentator, and the results of every match from the 20 episodes we can stream. It’s a great show, and yet! When I tell them that my first job in video games was as tester on THQ’s unreleased Battlebots for the GameCube… nothing. Not even eye contact.
Runner-Up: The company that bought the name of my former employer THQ bought the IP of my former employer 38 Studios.
Best Vinyl: The Stanley Parable
I’ve always preferred gaming on consoles, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate games made for the PC. Until recently I didn’t even own a Windows machine, but that didn’t prevent me from building a nice little Steam collection over the years, mainly purchasing them as a way of showing support to friends as well as developers trying interesting things. I once compared it to compiling a stack of vinyl records without owning a record player. This summer, as I researched various companies for my next gig, I acquired a Windows laptop so I could play their games (producer pro tip: If you are ever interviewing for a job with a game company, play their games beforehand). Suddenly my Steam collection was a thing I could do more than look at. And it turned out you guys were right, The Stanley Parable is great! And I totally could’ve had that five-year achievement if I paid attention to such things!
Best Game I Went Back and Finished: Night In the Woods
I appreciated how my time off let me check off so many things from my to-do list. I read a mess of books, I built a rad fort for my kids, I hit the gym and lost 30 pounds, I started playing hockey again, and most importantly to this article, I wrapped up a bunch of video games that I had left unfinished. No surprise, Night in the Woods finished strong, I love its characters, its setting, and especially its dialogue. The conversations feel so natural. And it’s a small part to latch onto, but the game does such a good job with conversation pacing, beats and pauses. I’m also glad I got over my fears and played Gone Home beyond the second room. No matter how many people told me it wasn’t supposed to be scary, dude. It was a creaky, dark house in the middle of a storm...that held a sweet and endearing story told in an interesting way! Huh. You guys were right again.
Runner-Up: Gone Home
My Favorite Console Game of 2018: God of War
I played hundreds of mobile games this year, which is why I feel confident that Supertype is the “best mobile game” of the year. But console games man, they’re long, and expensive. So when I say God of War is “my favorite” console game of the year, that very much means it successfully convinced me through its marketing and prior games in the series to buy it, and that I liked it more than the other games that also convinced me to spend money. Specifically that short list of contenders consists of Red Dead Redemption 2 (which I find so far to be beautiful, ponderous, and overwhelming), Spider-Man (pretty fun and the story was better than I expected!), Tetris Effect (which made me miss Lumines, one of my favorite games of all time. I guess I need to try it in VR?), and the single player campaign of Titanfall 2 (I liked the time travel bits). So congrats to God of War for rising above!
It was gorgeous and fun to play but what really made it stand out for me was all the Dad Stuff™. Kratos struggling to be a good dad to Atreus while maintaining his super tough guy stoicism wasn’t perfect, but it was done well enough to affect me. Being a parent is not easy! You’re often tired, there’s way too much on your plate, and your kids are always watching you to set an example. So despite everything you have to be “on,” all the time. No letting up. For me that means exhibiting the usual stuff like good manners, enthusiasm for the day’s activities and lots of general attentiveness. For Kratos that means being prepared for some bloodthirsty mythical creature to jump out at any moment and exhibiting the proper techniques to defeat them so Atreus may grow to do the same. Around those moments of combat, I felt God of War did a really nice job of chipping away at Kratos, taking him on just the right amount of emotional arc for his character. That storytelling, backed by the aforementioned gameplay and amazing visuals, make it my favorite console game of the year.
That’s it from me, thanks for reading!