You know what's really, really time-consuming? Make a video game! I've just been absolutely sodding inundated with making our game and while I think it's starting to very much come together, there's still a lot of distance between here and the finish line. And it's distance that's got to be covered sooner rather than later. So this post won't exactly be heralding in a new spate of writing from me; I'm just trying to assuage my shame over posting a part 1 without finishing it up.
Oh, but as a positive aside, we're going to be announcing our new game as soon as sometime this month, and I'm really, really excited for people to finally get an idea of what we're working on.
But now, back to the awesome games I played in 2011.
Best (Repeated) Use of the Word "Boner" - Shadows of the Damned
While a brief glance at Shadows of the Damned might leave one feeling like it's shallow, sophomoric humour and blasting demons, even a little time with SotD reveals the game has a lot more going on. A collaboration between Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami, the game proudly carries its parentage. The prevalent presence of all things "boner," the absurdly wonderful and horrible world and three profoundly bizarre but hilarious cautionary pseudo fairy tales (also showcasing the protagonist's meager literacy) all smell sweetly of Suda. And the shooting is tight and gory, easily an equal of Resident Evil 4 (but perhaps lacking RE4's setpieces and diversity in enemies).
I wrote more about SotD back here and I really recommend you find or borrow a copy. Of all the games released in 2011 that feel like hidden gems, Shadows of the Damned is the game whose inclusion on various year-end lists I really hope propels more people to check it out. People like you!
Best Spiritual Relation to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - The Stanley Parable
One of, if not the, most brilliantly self-aware pieces of video game writing was a Half-Life 2 mod finally released this year, called The Stanley Parable. You play the eponymous Stanley and in typically game-like fashion, a disembodied narrator dictates your actions. And honestly, I don't want to even say more than that. Just grab the mod and play it, because it's both brief and brilliant. And for reasons I still can't entirely put my finger on, it feels a lot like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If a modern H2G2 game ever gets made (sigh), I'd want it to feel like this.
Oh and when you're done playing, you can go read some awesome words Kirk Hamilton strung together about The Stanley Parable on Kotaku.
Best Cyberware - Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I think a lot of folks, myself included, had a bit of anxiety about the new Deus Ex. One of PC gaming's most venerated games, it has inspired countless designers and for some, it's still the high water mark for emergent gameplay. Giving that franchise to a brand new team, in an era when seeing a beloved franchise get a modern update is usually a cause for great disappointment, well, I can see why people were nervous. But then Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out and it was good. Maybe it's just a case of managing expectations, but the game just felt tremendously right. The game's design was lifted almost wholesale from the first Deus Ex, but that in and of itself demonstrates seriously significant dedication and confidence, both on the team's part and the publishers. Giving that game to almost any other studio would almost certainly result in a game heavy on spectacle and gunplay, and light on meaningful choice, customization and emergence (you know, the things people love about Deus Ex).
More than anything else, I love that DX: HR not only demonstrates these kinds of games are financially and critically viable, but there's an underserved audience very hungry for this kind of game. I'm hoping Arkane's Dishonored offers up a similar buffet when it comes out this year.
Oh, and the other thing to learn from DX: HR? Never, *ever* outsource gigantic progress blocking boss fights in your game. Just ... just don't. Ever.
Best Spaceship Arm- Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
I didn't buy Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet when it first came out (I tried the demo and it didn't grab me), but then I was assigned to judge the game for this year's IGF. I played it through to completion and was actually struck by how much I enjoyed it. Beyond the striking visuals that clearly bear Michel Gagné's mark, the game itself is actually a pretty freaking tight little Metroidvania. The various tools almost all have a great feel, especially the little claw arm the ship can use to heft, drag and throw objects. The perfect size for a downloadable game, it very well scratched that explore -> upgrade -> explore more itch. And it made me kind of want to make a Metroidvania game ... hmmm ...
And it appears that ITSP was nominated for an Annie Award (Animation's Oscars, basically) for best game animation. Shank was actually nominated last year, but Limbo took the award home, which was fair enough. And I'd say that if ITSP or Rayman: Origins doesn't take home the statue this year, something ain't right with the world.
Best Emo Vikings - Skyrim
This one is cheating a little, since I technically haven't finished Skyrim yet (but I will ... someday!). And really, I'm not sure there's left to be said about Skyrim that someone hasn't already said. It's gorgeous, it's sprawling, it's diverse and it supports so many different kinds of play. Sure, it has its flaws, but the sheer scale of the game and the joy one gets from exploring it make that almost not matter. (Although Shamus Young's takedown of the Thieves Guild questline took me from ambivalent to also actually very disappointed as soon as I thought about how many gigantic plot holes there are, and I generally love any sneak-y bits!)
So yeah, Skyrim is fantastic, especially once you install the mod that gives the game an actual, usable inventory. Actually, the fact that when so many games are shipping with ever-increasing restrictions, seeing Bethesda's whole hearted support of modding of Skyrim continue (and in fact, via the Steam Workshop, become possibly more prolific than its ever been) is something I could not be more excited about. I'll always be a PC person at heart and things like this are a big part of the reason why.
So those were some of my favourite games of 2011. Now back to making ours, so hopefully it can show up on at least a few people's lists this time next year.