Rich Gallup (@rich_gallup) is Live Producer for Disruptor Beam, currently working on Game of Thrones: Ascent. Recently he founded Summer Camp Studios, creators of the doofy iOS game Fart Cat!, and before that he had a front row seat for one of this year’s more unfortunate stories in gaming as Lead Producer at 38 Studios.
As with any personal top ten list, below you will find a reflection of my gaming habits and tastes, so allow me to start off by spelling them out. This was a busy, frantic year for me, one where I had less time than ever for my favorite style of gaming experience--comfortably lounged in my living room, controller in hands with my TV and a console. Many of my friends were abruptly spread across time zones, while others saw their families and careers grow to the point where our schedules never seemed to line up for multiplayer. It was also an intense year of staring at computers, whether work or while looking for work. For me, computers became so linked to work that when I wanted to get away from it (e.g. to play) I got away from computers. And finally, I’m terrified of zombies. So, without further ado...
Now that we know each other so well, I feel comfortable telling you I play Fairway Solitaire every day. It’s my Minesweeper. My Freecell. My Solitaire, but with golf scoring and the requisite annoying gopher. This solid, polished, comfort-zone puzzle game is my first stop when I have a few moments to spare, and the folks at Big Fish Games happily feed my habit by releasing new content every day. Just let me go! No, please don’t. I’ll never quit you, Fairway Solitaire.
Many great iOS games seek only to entertain for short periods of time by presenting you with a challenging, unwinnable experience. You have fun for a bit, eventually get sick of dying, and then put it away until you have another couple minutes to play it again. For some folks Punch Quest scratches that itch, for others it’s Super Hexagon. For me, it’s Gauge by Etienne Perin. With graphics reminiscent of a PSP launch title, solid controls (all you do is tap) and a quirky spirit, Gauge is weird, captivating fun. I’m awful at it and I love it.
Once upon a time, my internet handle was ThugNinja, based on the awful rank I earned in the tutorial for Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on the PlayStation. In the spring of 2000 I made a junior thesis film titled Curse of the Ninja. What I’m saying is I have a deep and storied love of ninjas. Mark of the Ninja makes this list for being the first game ever where if I get pummeled to death by alerted guards, I feel it’s my fault and not the game’s.
Every game collection needs that title that lets you take a break from being crazy and awesome and flipping out all the time. Journey provides a gorgeous, relaxed, and (mostly) stress-free play session that I recommend everybody experience in one sitting. I did, and when I compare it to equivalent binge sessions with Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Assassin’s Creed III, I find myself vastly preferring Journey’s understated, wordless tale and simple, clean controls. My imagination was given room to breathe, and that’s rare for a console title. Journey also earns bonus points for leading to the following exchange between me and my wife:
“I heard about this game on NPR today called Journey.”
“Oh yeah? What did they say about it?”
“You have a scarf.”
“That’s about right.”
I have the best birthday. Loving video games and being born in mid-November means one can be buried in all of the great fall releases right when they’re coming out. None of this waiting for Santa Claus malarky. My 360’s calendar is booked solid well into 2013, but I had to perform a solid sit down with each of my gifts to see what I would play through first. Dishonored is officially waiting on deck. Don’t ruin it for me, but it seems the game is British BioShock, with canned whale meat stacked as high as a Loyalist’s eye. I could be completely wrong, but first impressions have me more excited about the potential for this game than many of 2012’s big name sequels. Great visual style, too!
Yeah I went there. Initially, I didn’t know where to put Reckoning to properly reflect the love and effort put into it by my friends and colleagues at Big Huge Games. Solidly in the midst of the year’s best feels like the perfect spot. I played Reckoning for over 100 hours, and some day I’ll be ready to play it all again. An open-world fantasy RPG with slick, fluid combat is truly special, and to pull it all off with so few bugs is a rare thing to be appreciated. Apologies if you feel this is a bit of a homer pick, I promise to never do it again for a 38 Studios title...
4. Far Cry 3
See what I did there? Picking the mood back up, have you played this game?!? When I’m not stabbing goats in the name of holsters I’m getting eaten by sharks in pursuit of a bigger wallet, and there are signs I can finally break the bloody stalemate in my war with the Komodo Dragons. My, this world is certainly full of things - that I want to kill and craft into other things. Just like Dishonored, I have barely started Far Cry 3 but this game has its hooks into me deeeep.
3. WarGames: WOPR
Henceforth, Be-Rad’s WarGames: WOPR shall forever be included on any list of the best games based on a movie license. This is a fun, strategic puzzle game with balanced, progressive game mechanics, a sweet art style, and boss fights against Ally Sheedy and Dabney Coleman. Plus, at least one of the game’s music tracks fits right into that driving sound that’s been making the fine gentlemen at this site pause and appreciate in many a 2012 Quicklook.
I have no clear rationale as to how this game got so high up my list except that Sos Kamisnki’s McPixel is stupid, stupid funny. I feel less of myself for having laughed at certain parts. Can I justify my enjoyment by claiming that this game is not sophomoric, but witty? There’s a Dexter’s Lab reference, that’s a thinking man’s cartoon! All I know is the quick pace, hidden jokes, countless explosions and relentless music egged me into getting a gold on every single level, all within 24 hours of purchase.
Luca Redwood’s 10,000,000 could my game of 2012 solely for its fresh and addictive combination of those ubiquitous game elements of match-three puzzles and endless runners, with a nice layer of basic RPG levelling on top. It’s that good. But to me, as somebody who took a stab at starting their own mobile gaming company, 10,000,000 means so much more.
We are living in an exciting and scary time for video games. Studios with decades of history have been forced to dramatically scale back on headcount or close entirely for one costly decision or another. Traditional publishers would rather risk their giants budgets on proven, money-making sequels. This makes sound business sense but potentially limits the opportunities to innovate for some of the greatest developer talents in the industry and risks boring the consumer. Will the looming new console cycle return the game development world to “normal”? Or will every game company just hire former Zynga analysts to chase the exploding free-to-play demographic, fueling an analytical-driven chase after a video game market that may no longer be dominated by the traditional Giant Bomb reader and their friends?
While the big shops sort all of that out, I don’t get worried. Because in today’s world, one dedicated guy, with a little help from his friends, can make a fun and captivating game that can be easily accessed by tens of millions of people and be rightfully named Game of the Year. Luca Redwood’s 10,000,000 is why I am eternally optimistic about the future of gaming. We’ll see you there!