GOTY 2016

Not a day of this year was spent at University. My first life in the truly employed, professional, adult world. It is good, employment, because this was the year my electronics decided to begin giving out on me one-by-one, starting with Windows 10 bricking my laptop, discovering my desktop rig was not good enough to play DOOM, and then finally having said rig brick on me as well.

But, all is well! This was a good year for games, for me and, I think, the world. Maybe less a good year for other reasons.

A personal note to myself: Dishonored 2, Total War: Warhammer, DOOM, Hitman. My computer was not in a state able to play these, so I have held off until I get a better one.

List items

  • An easy first place.

    I really enjoyed Braid. It is a game that I come back to occasionally, when I feel enough time has passed in between that the puzzles are forgotten. I like puzzles, I like sudoku and riddles, and I really, really like The Witness.

    I like that The Witness takes its puzzles so seriously. I think it is fantastic. The puzzles are the reward, the puzzles are the discovery, they are the point. There is very little else. Aside from the videos and those audio clips (which are disappointing additions), the game is perfect. Yes, even in its ending, which I take no issue with.

    Zen is a word bandied about it a lot. I suspect a large part of the reason is because there is a literal audio clip you find in the game that talks about Zen. I'm uncomfortable with calling it Zen, at least, *I* am uncomfortable with *me* calling it that, because I don't have an understanding of Zen that is more nuanced than simply "peaceful and reflective". And while I see the point of calling it peaceful, there is no enemy or threat, or fail-state, the only sound is ambient and you walk pretty slow, I would actually not call The Witness very peaceful. I would call it pretty engaging. And tense, at times. There is a real threat: the threat that you will not figure this out. And that's pretty intimidating, not very peaceful at all.

    You care about what you find in The Witness, and it layers puzzles over its puzzles that you don't even realize you are solving. Like discovering a pattern you've never seen that is too complex to solve, so you abandon but keep in your mind all the while, always revisiting. Navigating the Island itself, then, becomes a puzzle, to unlock those areas you do not yet have the knowledge for.

    I regularly go back and play a particular chamber in The Witness. It is exciting and tense. And while that room is certainly an exceptional case, it fits in comfortably. Because, in truth, the whole game was exciting and tense, you just don't realize it right away.

  • Speaking of Zen!

    Last year it was Crypt of the Necrodancer, the game that I would play when I didn't want to play much and just wanted to destress a little. Perhaps the idea of playing Devil Daggers to destress is counterintuitive, but I find it works perfectly. It is a game that occupies all of your attention for a short period of time. It is like emptying your thoughts. You launch Devil Daggers with the world on your shoulders, and you must put that world away for as long as you can survive in its terrible death arena.

    It does the thing I find myself appreciating more and more: one thing, executed without mistakes.

  • I remember when I was younger, much younger, and would play Master of Orion, would be visited by strange, hostile alien races, would terraform planets all halli galli. Like most strategy games when I was young, I had no clue what was truly happening, everything I did, I did in the moment, and was, in essence, terrible at it all. But it left an indelible impression on me: I've searched for a good space 4x ever since, and Stellaris may be it.

    I was late to adopt this among my friend group, and I'm still pretty fresh on it, but Stellaris has all the hallmarks of what makes a good Space 4x. To invent words for it: simple complexity. There are planets, there are ships, there are species, there are space stations, and each of these are governed (to lesser and greater degrees) by simple rules. They are separate from each other, separate often literally, with huge black emptiness between them. But you learn and you master these rules quickly, and where it truly comes into play is then mastering the art of using them all at once.

  • It isn't a secret I keep from people that Gravity Bone is a thing I think about a lot. I find myself wondering about its implications often. Yes, it is not the only place where the things that make it special can be found, but it is one of the best examples of it, I find.

    And what is *it*? Framed storytelling.

    In my mind, Framed Storytelling is one of the biggest challenges games as a medium face. Cinema has so many tricks up its sleeve for telling a narrative story, for guiding the attention of the viewer and manipulating it. These have formed a universal cinematic language, where shots are used like words in a sentence to give meaning to scenes outside of the direct meaning of what is onscreen.

    Gaming has this, but it still feels underdeveloped. How do you overcome, in the end, the fact that the player is in control?

    Well, Gravity Bone, to me, is a foray into deciphering that problem.

    For that reason, I get excited when another new foray in that vein is made.

    Quadrilateral Cowboy was fun, I enjoyed the puzzles, simple as they were. But I found that most of what I enjoyed about Quadrilateral Cowboy, story-wise, were things that I thought worked better in the previous works. I did not have a good appreciation of the other characters, I did not feel the same connection to them. It is, in my opinion, an interesting failure. The reasons why it does not work for me are things I still wonder about and struggle with.

  • I don't even know if being on this list is surprising for Civ VI or not. Civ V hurt me so bad, I couldn't tell if I was coming into Civ VI with bitterness or excitement.

    But it works. Civ VI is good. Unlike V, it is good on day 1. It is complex, the new systems are intriguing, and the diplomacy is vastly improved.

    1UPT still lays wreckage upon the combat vs the AI. And the hex maps still somehow (for reasons I still haven't found a satisfying reason for), make the whole game feel "smaller". But the additions that these major changes make to tactical combat and map layout can actually be appreciated now.

    Though much is borrowed from Endless Legend, Civ VI is a good new Civilization game.

  • Stupid time waste easy game. Stupid mines with their stupid combat and the stupid people gift giving. Ugh. I spent so much time playing Stardew Valley I must acknowledge its power.

  • Not as tactically satisfying as Neptune's Pride, but also not as sleep-depriving, nightmare-inducing, and aneurysm-triggering. Blight of the Immortals is a blast to playthrough over a week with friends.

    It is still very much figuring itself out, and I find major issues with its balance. I hope these are resolved, but even flawed as it is, there is something inherently great about a passive game that plays out over an entire week.

  • I don't do competitive multiplayer shooting much. Overwatch is fun, I like the characters, and I like playing with friends. I'm glad Lucio exists so that I can be useful without being good or understanding the metagame or the maps.

    But really, more than the gameplay, I just like that there's a new TF2 out there. I enjoy watching Blizzard pour money into animation houses and making their dumb cliches walk around and quip. And even though I'm sure I'll never really be satisfied with how Russians are represented, I'm glad Zarya is there anyhow.

  • The elevator level is the example of what Superhot is at its best. Unfortunately, so many of the levels weren't that, and instead were arena obstacles with random red men littered about spawning wherever. I may have liked Superhot more when it was shorter and playable in a browser.

    But I really liked that Superhot, so I still like this Superhot pretty well. I am happy this was done.

  • I had gone through and played all of XCOM Enemy Within earlier in the year before I got to playing XCOM 2. It's fun, it's good, the reason for why you are now The Resistance is very interesting and, personally, I liked it.

    Much is said about how XCOM 2 is an improvement in every single possible way from XCOM EU. This is definitely true.

    But it also didn't feel very different from XCOM EU. Just better. Minor issues were fixed, but major issues were not. Most notably: power creep. You can still develop a team of invincible super soldiers, and the only way to balance against it by the developers is to have encounters rely solely on who goes first. It makes tactical play feel routine, and it makes failure feel like bullshit.

  • I once had Banner Saga 1 as my GOTY, ahead of Wolfenstein: The New Order.

    I think, nowadays, I would put Wolfenstein ahead.

    I still greatly enjoyed The Banner Saga 2, make no mistake. And the fact that it successfully and meaningfully carries over the major decision you make in the first game is, I cannot stress enough, incredibly laudable and something that is almost never done.

    That said, Banner Saga 2 is exactly Banner Saga 1, with the same issues with the turn order and tactical combat from before. I like the story and think it improved over the first, but it's clear this wasn't Banner Saga 2 so much as Banner Saga 1: Episode 2.

  • Here it is, the annual Go game.

    I still like them, I still binge them in one sitting over the holidays.

    Out of decency, I'm not putting it in the top 10 (especially with the in-game purchases the way that they are), but like I said last year: Please keep making these. They do fantastic jobs of distilling the themes of their series. (And bring back the fucking challenges!)