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Thrower’s Tallies: Games of the Year 2014

2014-goty-silly

Another year, another end of year wrap piece. Time to reflect on the past 365 days as you force down another sweetmeat and another glass of cheap sherry and then to wonder what the future holds.

This has not been the best gaming year for me, personally. Not just in terms of titles released but in terms of finding opportunities to play. For one reason and another, I just haven’t spent the time at the gaming table I’d have liked.

That makes me sad. Real life is important, of course, but you only get one shot at it, a thing I’ve become increasingly aware of as the years slip past. Since gaming is one of my favourite things to do, I ought to be able to find more space for it. Other things just always seem to intervene.

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Social Justice Warriors and The Grand Conspiracy

Tweet_SlowClap

 

The Gamasutra/Intel debacle cannot possibly be summed up better than in the pictured tweet. I’ve blacked out anything identifying because I’m specifically leaving individuals out of this post. This is not about any one person. If you need a broader primer, this article at The Verge is a good place to start. For actual, non-fantastical ethical concerns in games journalism, this is a pretty good start(Edit: And this, because GG is not about ethics.)

So, how’ve you been?

Let’s talk about social justice warriors and their grand conspiracy to… well, I’m not sure what. But it must be bad for so many people to get all riled up. All I can say for sure is that I’m with you! (I’m not.) These people, these SJWs, must be stopped! (Nope.) We must not have social justice in gaming. (Because why?) Because justice is bad. Inclusion is bad. Diversity is bad. It’s a grand media conspiracy to destroy gaming because gaming must never change. It must never be criticized. It must never evolve. It must never engage in self-examination. It must never grow or broaden, it must only double-down on what it’s been for the last ten years or so, because that is the only history that matters. More guns. More explosions. Bigger tits. These things must not become an endangered species just because a bunch of chicks who are barely gamers to begin with, and the dudes who want to score with them, think games can be more inclusive.

If you support the ideals that you believe the Gamer Gate movement represents then that paragraph is going to sound belittling and misrepresentative. And that’s okay. It was meant to be. I know, being a large-ish (maybe?) group of people, you’re not actually all of one mind about this, and what GG represents from one person to the next isn’t identical. I believe there are good people (probably) who support GG and what it represents to them; people who are genuinely fair-minded (probably); are not racist or misogynistic (probably); people who are not inherently hostile and believe with every fiber of their being that they are on the right side of the issue (probably). I believe these people exist because they have to. No movement of this relative scope can legitimately hinge on making sure vocal women can’t sleep soundly at night. I have more faith in people than that. For the life of me, though, if you’re one of these “reasonable” Gaters, I can’t begin to figure out what “issue” you think you’re on the right side of.

Seriously. I have questions…

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Cracked LCD- Reiner Knizia, Master of Theme

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Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking about what makes a game “thematic” versus “abstract. I reached a certain impasse, a level of dissatisfaction with games that were regarded by gamers with the dreadful “dripping with theme” appellation, which almost always means that a game has plentiful artwork, nomenclature and lore regardless of the relative interchangeability of mechanics derived from a stock list of routine processes and procedures. I’ve argued in the past that there are levels of theme occurring at “executive” (illustration and fluff) and “conceptual” (mechanics and contexts) levels. But a few games that I’ve been revisiting of late have caused me to completely rewrite the Barnes Position on theme in games- where it exists, what generates it and what it should be doing as part of a design.

It may surprise many readers, who have bought into a certain online gamer forum party line, that all of these games were designed by Reiner Knizia. For as far back as I can remember- going back to rec.games.board newsgroup at least- the general consensus was that Dr. Knizia was the case study for the pasted-on theme, a layer of pictures and text to impart a post facto sense of meaning or setting to colored, numbered cards or auctions.

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Why the Internet is Full of $#!t About Destiny’s Story

Destiny-Logo-XBox-One-PS4Like many of you, I’ve been playing Destiny. I’ve mostly retired from playing AAA video games for a number of reasons documented here at NHS and elsewhere, but a new game from the creators of Halo was compelling enough to get me to go to Gamestop- for the midnight release, no less- to pick up a copy of this big-budget blockbuster. Because Bungie understands video games better than many other developers. They understand play, and the Halo games have always excelled at providing players with lots of ways to engage their content. Their mechanics are impeccable and their games are thankfully free of the kinds of negative, hateful “let the bodies hit the floor” style violence so common in other popular action games.

But one thing Bungie has never been good at is telling a story.

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I Wrote the Wrong Post (on Misogyny and Gaming)

Civility

A few months ago I wrote a piece that was ostensibly about maturity in the game industry, but that was really about trying to define what is and isn’t sexism and misogyny in games. Yes, I uncategorically condemned online harassment. Yes, I absolutely supported the idea that the gaming industry desperately needs to grow up and become more inclusive. But I also wrote that the mere appearance of sexism doesn’t make something inherently sexist. I wrote that it’s impossible to avoid stereotypical pitfalls 100% of the time and that its surface appearance, which absolutely should be open to analysis and criticism, also shouldn’t come to define the entirety of the work. I wrote that we can better see the real problems the industry has with inclusion by looking more at the aggregate than the specific.

I was making the wrong arguments…

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Maturity, Inclusion, and the Game Industry in 2014

Microsoft E3 Presser

So, E3 is happening. Over Monday and Tuesday there were pressers and demos and a Brinks truck loaded with video. There’s always one or two things to stand out to me from these events, but the topic that’ll stay with me for awhile is maturity and the strange dichotomy in which this industry (fans included) needs more of it yet sometimes fails to recognize it when it appears. There are two catalysts for this post. One is the all too predictable trolling of Danielle Riendeau’s 100% on-point and valid piece on the lack of female presenters during the major press conferences. (Hat tip to the excellent work Danielle is doing at Polygon. We miss her a ton!) The other is a post from “Ashelia” on her Hellmode blog, defending the teaser trailer for the next Tomb Raider game against attacks that it’s made a victim of Lara Croft. (Apologies that I don’t have a real name to attribute to Ashelia.)

Originally, this post was mostly about Tomb Raider and a bit about Brothers and not laying charges of sexism where they don’t exist because it does disservice to those examples of brilliant work this industry is capable of producing. I can’t, in good conscience write on this topic without first calling attention to this sort of abhorrent behavior and state outright that when someone like Danielle speaks out on this topic and meets an ill-considered, reactionary response like this that it is all of our responsibility to condemn it in no uncertain terms. I don’t want these troglodytes, these soulless imbeciles, carrying the torch for who we are as gamers. I know we’re better than this. You know we’re better than this.  But unless we slam the door on this sub-human behavior we’ll remain defined by it. And in case you think I’m overstating, enjoy this piece of human filth:

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Cracked LCD: Simpler Times- Nostalgia for the Wooden Boot

simpler times

I recently picked up a second hand copy of Origin, a game that Asmodee released last year that didn’t really have much of an impact in the face of the countless deckbuilders, Kickstarter zombie miniature games, worker placement titles and LCG add-ons that crowded it out. It just came in the mail and I popped open the colorful box, depicting a friendly scene of some folks playing the game. Inside were all of these wonderful people pawns laid out in the insert each engraved with primitive detail, mimicking the kind of early sculpture the expanding civilizations depicted in the game might have made. For the first time in a long while, I was charmed by the contents of a game box and the presentation of them. Continue Reading…

FTL Tips and Strategies

Note: I originally published this article in September of 2012. I haven’t updated it for the Advanced Edition, but with Advanced Edition and the iOS port out today, I thought it worth a bump back up to the front page. Most of the advice herein remains accurate. I’ve only just begun to mess with the AE on iOS, but hopefully (maybe, maybe, maybe) I’ll have some new thoughts to post on it next week. Possibly. I think.  

I am, very likely, the last person on Earth who should be writing tips guides for gamers. Nonetheless, I’ve put in enough time and spectacularly destroyed enough starships (along with going 2 for 2 in victories on Easy) that I feel I can offer you, dear reader, the chance to learn from my mistakes. Without further adu, I present to you 15 tips for surviving to the final boss in FTL:

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Diablo 3 is Still The Same Old Waste of Time

Diablo 3 Reaper

In the past month the world of Diablo 3 has seen some tectonic shifts. The Auction House closed. Along with it, Blizzard implemented a massive patch, Loot 2.0, which has had enormous consequences for the (virtual) world economy. Oh yeah, and last week they released the new Reaper of Souls expansion that included a new class, a new act, and a new mode of play. If you’re a lapsed Diablo 3 player, like me, you might be inclined to jump back into the game and see what all the hub-bub is about. You’d be a fool to do so. You see, you’ve already got a fool right here at NHS willing to do that. The things I do so that you don’t have to.

After the break, no need to thank me…

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Cracked LCD- Looking at Legendary: Kirby Wept.

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Upper Deck’s Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game was released in 2012 and it’s been a successful product line supported by one big box expansions, two small ones and more on the way. Reviews have been mostly positive and for good reason. It’s a fun to play, easy to play deckbuilder that brings forward some of the best elements of previous games in the genre but layered with Marvel Comics characters, an appealing competitive but co-op approach and a touch of storytelling. Fans of Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and more obscure heroes like Iron Fist and Moon Knight will find a lot to like in this game.

But I’m not here to review the game.  I’m already well behind the review curve on and besides that, I just picked it up in a trade and have only just started getting into it. Instead, I’m here to administer a critical beatdown in the name of good taste and aesthetics. Legendary is a visual nightmare, a trainwreck of graphic design that dashes the viewer’s eyes against tacky artwork, horrible layouts, poorly chosen typography, ill-advised effects and an overall failure to visually present a game based upon a highly visual medium. Continue Reading…

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