The last couple years I've enjoyed cataloguing all the games I play in a calendar year for two main reasons:
- It's kind of like keeping a gaming-centric journal that helps me reflect on what games I really enjoyed.
- It allows me to more easily frame what I think were my favorite gaming experiences of the year and feel more a part of annual Game of the Year conversations in a small way.
But as I was cataloguing my 2020 in games, I noticed a difference from previous years: that my time with two games (my top two of five games, that is) was incredibly skewed compared to the rest. This left me feeling the need to express some thoughts and feelings about these two games and somewhat chronicle my experiences. Both games mean a great deal to me for different reasons, but ultimately they both greatly contributed to what semblance of a social life I could achieve online this year, and for that I am thankful.
When Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out in March of 2020, it was lauded as the end-all-be-all social stimulant that everyone craved as quarantine was just beginning in the wake of the coronavirus. My love of Animal Crossing began with New Leaf on the 3DS, and this long-awaited sequel was already something I was convinced would be Nintendo's top showing of 2020. But in combination with a worldwide quarantine, Animal Crossing transcended all criticism and became the newest must-buy for more people than I'd ever dreamed of becoming fans of the series just for the opportunity to, like, visit each others' islands and like, trade stuff? There actually isn't that much to do with fr- OH YEAH THE FREAKIN' TURNIPS.
Sorry, it's been a while since I was really in the heat of the turnip craze that blazed across the Animal Crossing part of the internet. The Stalk Market is an entirely optional feature in the game where you play the odds by purchasing turnips from the cutest little boar there ever was and see if you can sell 'em off at a much higher price during the week. This mechanic was partially why I resurrected my old Discord server that, up until that point, I had used strictly for occasional multiplayer game chats. I was getting Animal Crossing-related messages via text, Facebook, Instagram, and Discord and I really wanted to bring it to a central location with all of my lovely friends so we could revel in the game's greatness together. At its peak there were about 15-20 people (or @Villagers as they're known in the server, as this also prompted me to learn more about Discord server roles) actively using the chat to track turnip prices together and talk about the game. For several consecutive weeks we had anywhere from 8-10 people tracking their turnip prices and it always ended in huge payouts.
having a normal one pic.twitter.com/dKEggbVBrR— natalie watson [KEYBLADE MASTER] (@nataliewatson) March 30, 2020
Thanks to @nataliewatson (AKA The Joyous Gamer) on Twitter who provided a Google Sheets template that we used to collaborate and track our prices each week. Eventually, I created a #turnip-stonks channel for us to communicate about all things turnips at a rapid pace. To put it in perspective, my #animal-crossing-new-horizons general channel has 4,041 messages since I started the channel on March 23, where #turnip-stonks has 1,240 messages, and was last used frequently in June where the general chat continued to be used after the heat of the turnips simmered down. That may not seem like much, but I can say that nearly every single day for about 3 months, people were chatting about and coordinating turnip logistics. We were tracking trends, firing off Dodo codes to our islands or the islands of outsiders to get a good price, and generally raving about the sheer magnitude of digital wealth gained in record times.
We went from having tens of thousands of bells to tens of millions practically overnight. Money became trivial, which is like, not the point of the game, but also, the mechanic is very there for you to exploit, so actually I think it was the point of the game for us at the time.
And that's really the beauty of a simple life sim like Animal Crossing - it can be whatever experience you want it to be. The social aspect of the game served as a great distraction from the insanity of 2020 for myself and I imagine my friends and family who were also participating. And it also served to introduce some friends to each other who may not have met otherwise, and to this day I smile just thinking about how happy I was to see my friends from different parts of my life interacting with each other over a game we all love.
But, I'd be lying if I said it was still just as hoppin' in my server's #animal-crossing-new-horizons channel. After the hunger for turnips was sated when we'd all become bellionaires, activity dried up, and now there are just a few messages every once in a while. But I will always treasure my time hustling those dang turnips and regularly discussing the game with so many of my friends.
During this time where I had a great, big Discord community of all my friends, I also got to bear witness to my mom and dad falling head over heels for Animal Crossing. My sister, her husband, and I had already been enjoying the game, but I could have never guessed the amount that my parents, especially my mom, would absolutely love Animal Crossing. This was their first entry in the series, and really the first single-player game that my mom actively wanted to play. Before this, all she had really played with us growing up was Dr. Mario, whereas my dad introduced my sister and I to video games and he had always played games with us and on his own throughout my childhood. At the time of this writing, my parents have many hundreds of hours played between them in this game alone, and with little sign of slowing down. Granted, going off my own experience with the game this year, a chunk of their hours were likely racked up keeping their islands open for a while to allow visitors to wish on stars or visit shops. BUT STILL.
Ultimately, my family loving this game led to us using it as an intermediary for interaction in a year where we didn't feel comfortable gathering together in person as often as we might usually. After the turnip craze died down, we focused on other goals and shared our progress together through our family group chat. We shared all our new island design ideas, fun items we received, and importantly when we'd get a new villager photo. That has become one of the main reasons we all log in as often as we still do, to get those lovely little photos villagers reward you with when your friendship level is high enough.
Animal Crossing is great. It's cute as heck. I love it. My friends love it. My family loves it. Long live Animal Crossing.
Hades has impacted me in ways most games never even get close to accomplishing. And what's crazy is that it's only due in part to its magnificent storytelling, gameplay, art, and music. What really cemented Hades as an all-timer for me was the extremely fun early access experience they provided. When I heard they announced Hades at the Game Awards in December 2018, I immediately downloaded the Epic Games Store app so I could purchase the game. Where I know that announcement was supposed to garner attention from a wider audience, it felt like it was tailor-made for me and every other Supergiant mega fan out there. Why? Because it had only been a year's time since the release of their previous title, Pyre. Up until that point, Supergiant was releasing games 3 years apart from each other, so to have a new game from them only a year later? In short: mind-blowing.
What a treat to be able to experience a brand new @SupergiantGames game in such short time since Pyre! I can't wait to dive in and see all the characters @kasavin whipped up for us this time. 💚 pic.twitter.com/jNGt8MlZdI— Logan J (@_hellogan) December 14, 2018
Early access was a real treat for me and so many others. It was a dream come true to interact with my favorite developers on Twitter and Discord to contribute feedback and bug reports on an already great game and make it better and better. Every update felt like a major event because they always added something significant, from new characters and art, to new weapons, enemies, and zones. They may not be the only studio to do early access this way, but they certainly executed it with near-perfection from my view.
The only downside for me during the early access phase and exclusivity period on the Epic Games Store was that none of my friends felt as inclined as I did to pick it up and dig in. I understood why, and had played very few games in early access prior, but I wanted so badly for my friends to see this game I already loved and experience the magic of watching it come together.
Eventually, I would end up buying a few copies for friends shortly after the game came out on Steam, and they all liked it, so that was definitely satisfying. But not nearly as satisfying as the feeling I felt in September 2020, when the final game was released in 1.0 for PC and Switch simultaneously.
When 1.0 dropped, all bets were off. For most of 2020 prior to September, I was only dabbling in the early access version a little after each update. I knew the final game was to be released later in the year, and I wanted to experience the complete game on a new save the moment it happened. So, I started my fresh save and "encouraged" (which is a nice way of saying "forcefully pushed") my friends to pick up the game as soon as possible. And, one by one, around a dozen of my friends picked it up and were loving it. So many conversations were being had, that again I created a separate channel for Hades in my Discord server and we started having regular discussions and sharing our victories and memes about the game.
To see all of these friends of mine rally around a game I had been championing for 2 years was not only satisfying, but vindicating. I had long suspected that Hades would be well received by many of my friends, but to see their reactions to the game in real time be so overwhelmingly positive was truly special.
There is no multiplayer in Hades, but of course there is a speedrunning community that emerged out of the early access scene and began to thrive now that the game was out. A favorite streamer of mine, @MFPallytime, also made a video featuring a race between him and a friend to see who could clear a run of Hades the fastest with a certain set of restrictions in place. This inspired me to host a race of my own with my Discord community that we called The Hermes Invitational, a nod to the previously established Hermes Cup stream from the Hades speedrun community. I had a little fun making some graphics to go along with the day, including a certificate of participation for those who came (see images below). I practiced every day leading up to race day, cramping my hand real good in the process. The race day consisted of me and a couple friends battling it out for supremacy, and I have to admit that I completely beefed it in the primary race - didn't even get to Lord Hades. However, on our second attempt, I beat my personal best by clearing a run at 11 minutes, 13 seconds. Felt good.
If all of this had happened in a bubble, and I had this great game to play and talk about with just my friends, I'd have been happy. But, Hades turned out to be nothing short of a smash hit with the wider gaming community. Rave reviews were coming fast and furious in the days and weeks after the full release hit. Really great think pieces and articles filled my Twitter feed. Virtually no one I spoke to or heard from online had bad things to say about Hades.
The greatest contribution to my excitement for the game was Noclip's 6-part series on the early access development called, "Developing Hell." Each episode tackles a different aspect of developing the game, and also addresses the challenges the team at Supergiant faced at various points in the timeline of development. It was particularly fascinating to see how the pandemic affected the studio since they were so close to the full release of Hades. The final episode is set to release in January 2021, and I am absolutely psyched to see the conclusion of the series.
Hades has also gone on to win a number of awards, including The Video Game Awards' "Best Indie Game" and "Best Action Game." All well-deserved, and it's been fun seeing the developers' reactions to every nomination and win. Hades even won TIME's Person of the Year award.
At this point, I am mostly done with Hades, as I've played through half of its content twice between my time in early access and my new save. I've completed all the achievements, unlocked the majority of the cosmetic items, unlocked all the weapons and their various aspects, and seen all of the character relationships through to their apex. But, having a little left to do will serve me well when, in probably a matter of weeks I will want to FEEL that good gameplay all over again.
Hades and Animal Crossing are wildly different games, and both brought me together with friends and family this year more than any other game. They also 110% delivered on everything they promised and fulfilled virtually all my hopes and expectations. And nothing embodies the feelings I've had about both of these games more than the orchestral arrangements of Hades music transitioning into Animal Crossing music from the 2020 Game Awards, so I'll leave you to listen to that: