“Game of the Year” lists. Everybody’s got one, and they all tend to look the same. This year’s blockbuster hits, sequels to long-standing series, new projects created by popular development teams. After some reflection, I realized there were many gaming experiences that I excluded from my own list because I had some presuppositions of what “should” be on such a list. We expect high profile games that cost us $60, typically rewarding games that improve a formula instead of taking risks. If the recent presence of the indie development scene tells us anything, it’s that high end production and price tags aren’t necessary for making a successful game. What about the free games or the extremely niche titles? I decided to put together a small list in the spirit of rewarding some 2011 games that are unlikely to be featured elsewhere but deserve recognition for the risk taking that they took to advance the medium.
Latest Blog Posts
Earning “levels” and “unlockables” has become a standard carrot-on-a-stick for multiplayer games, and perhaps that’s why they’re not as enticing as they once were. Not only are they common, but they’re no longer a proper indicator of personal skill. When I enter a match and see that I’m the highest level person in the room, rather than feel powerful, I wonder how many people here have already reached the maximum level and started over. In racing terms, how many of my opponents have already lapped me? Even if we take levels as an indicator of playtime, not skill, they’re still confusing because I don’t know who has reset their stats and who hasn’t. These standard systems of progression have become clichéd and that’s why the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is so refreshing. It presents those same systems of progression in a new light.
It seems that reports of Shigeru Miyamoto’s retirement have been greatly exaggerated. Last week, an excerpt from Wired‘s extended interview with Miyamoto set off a brief panic amongst players and stockholders. Thanks to a combination of translation issues, alarmism, and poor reading comprehension, the prospect of Miyamoto’s impending retirement loomed large. Nintendo quickly put the kibosh on the speculation (as well as the stock dip fueled by such speculation) by reassuring the world that: “He has no intention of stepping down. Please do not be concerned” (Isabel Reynolds, “Nintendo denies report games designer Miyamoto to retire”, Reuters, 8 December 2011).
Everything is fine and nothing will change. Miyamoto’s not going anywhere. Nintendo would have us think this and dedicated fans want to believe this, but it’s only half true. Things have already changed. Miyamoto has been preparing for his late-career period for some time. Even so, we shouldn’t be concerned.
The standard hullabaloo has, of course, arrived following the release of the trailer for Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V. One bit of disappointment that some fans expressed in seeing the video for the first time was the implication that the game will feature a standard male lead in this upcoming GTA. Just before the trailer was released, rumors swirled around the internet that this iteration of GTA might feature a female protagonist, something that no GTA up to now (and really no other open world crime game, barring Saints Row—sort of—but more on that in a moment) had done.
Actually the rumors have not abated in some circles that a playable female character may still exist in the forthcoming game, as a number of folks have suggested that the absence of the male protagonist in some scenes in the trailer might suggest that this GTA might also feature the story of multiple protagonists. Some of these folks are still holding out hope that one of these speculative protagonists might be a woman.
Now, this is a notion that I myself have floated before—that it might be interesting for a GTA game to feature a female protagonist. However, I am also a little skeptical that a reasonably well defined female protagonist might be written for an open world crime game. Indeed, the one effort that I can think of to do so, in the Saints Row series, is to me a clear failure of imagination and might speak a bit to the problem of creating a female anti-hero within this particular genre construct.
When a game has many players who ignore the main quests and journey off to create their own stories, one should question the value of embedded narrative. Does a game like Skyrim need a main storyline? The writing and character voice acting were okay and forgettable, just there for when I was in the area rather than being something of interest. I venture to say that the presence of a main story that you would find in other RPGs that don’t have such an open world is dissonant with how The Elder Scrolls series tells stories best.
There are actually multiple narrative structures in conflict with one another in Skyrim—and arguably in Morrowind and Oblivion as well. The presence of fate as a central concern grows stronger in each installment, with Skyrim sometimes going as far as to control your character’s movement for you. The concept of fate is antithetical to the type of play that The Elder Scrolls promotes, which is player-focused and controlled. However, we’re so used to convention that we expect cutscenes and epic storylines to unfold before us. We’re not used to the idea of “This is my story” unless it’s a Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress that we are experiencing. Skyrim doesn’t need a storyline for the player to experience their own.