2012: The Year In Review

As I suspect no-one has noticed, I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog lately. Absent, even. I just haven’t felt like writing much about gaming; sure, I could say that I’ve just been distracted by stringing words together on my other blog, but the fact of the matter is that I feel like I’ve absolutely, one-hundred-percent, left the gaming mainstream behind.

I haven’t even felt like I want to be part of that conversation anymore.

It’s become more and more apparent to me just how abhorrent I find the idea of violence against humans in video games. Sure, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not desperate to see attempts at modelling “reality” in games; realism feels like such a lazy art-style choice to me. The fact that it’s so often coupled with gameplay that involves the slaughter of other human beings is a step too far; alien abstractions I can deal with, but realistic depictions of someone’s child? That’s too much for me.

Now, I’m not trying to be all holier-than-thou with these statements; I’m not suggesting that other people follow suit. But I recognise that these are things that I feel, that I believe, and I’m going to be putting my money where my mouth is. I do not want the gaming industry to become a race to see who can create the best stabbing-people-through-the-face simulation; gaming can – and should – be much more than that.

What I want to see is what gaming can do that other mediums cannot. I want to see new ways to tell stories. I want to be subjected to new ways of conjuring emotions. I want meaningful abstractions that engage my mind. I want to be treated as an intelligent human being.

But, by the same token, I don’t want to eschew fun; nor do I want to avoid the glitz and glamour of sexy sights and sounds. But “realism” isn’t a style that I want to partake in; cartoonish-realism is only barely tolerable to me now.

So I’m not supporting those games anymore. I’ll purge my OC tendencies on some of my existing titles through clenched teeth, but I’m now going to try and find the glory of gaming through more… well, passive avenues. The one exception will be Spec Ops: The Line, which I will purchase first thing in the New Year. I’ve heard that it does some pretty interesting things with character development and storytelling… and, as I indicated above, that is the stuff I’m interested in.

Another reason for my absence is that I’ve been paying attention to a… well, I guess it was another type of game. Throughout my thirties I managed to pack on the weight to the stage where I was… well, lardy. I objected mightily when a gastroenterologist I consulted classified me as “obese”; when Wii Fit gave me the same summation, I started to take it a little more seriously. What this says about me – that I trust Nintendo over a qualified doctor – is left to the reader’s imagination.

Still, somewhere between Christmas and New Year in 2011, I decided to clean my act up a bit. I know myself well enough to recognise that I had to make a game out of it, and – believe it or not – Wii Fit provided the perfect framework for that. And, just to be quite clear, I’m not saying that Wii Fit is a substitute for any type of combination of decent diet and exercise; it’s just that I was able to use it as a motivator. I’d weigh myself every day: that’s a data point. I challenged myself to get a certain number of Fit Credits every week: that’s motivation.

Long story short: I dropped twenty kilos in the last year without any real “effort”… well, it didn’t feel like effort, anyway. But I acknowledge that it did eat into my gaming time (and especially my writing time, which is always the first thing to feel any pressure) somewhat.

But anyway… what a year 2012 was. Some great games, for sure, but I just wanted to note that there was some other stuff at play, too. So now, let’s focus on the fun stuff!

A cursory glance at my spreadsheet reveals that I bought seventeen new games during the year (of which fourteen were off The List by year’s end), and there were no real Retail Therapy lapses. On top of that, I knocked off eight older games this year too, leaving The List at a rather slimmer 63 on New Year’s Eve. That would have been more svelte had I not picked up a Wii U on launch day, though that – so far – seems to have made about as much of an impact on me as my initial PS3 acquisition.

But now… onto my crapulent GotY Awards!

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: So… I swore off Assassin’s Creed. I was never into Mass Effect. And I even left Halo 4 alone. As usual, mainstream AAA-gaming has little appeal to me.

The “Someone’s Cutting An Onion” Emotional Punch-In-The-Guts: Oh god, will anything be able to top that climb up the mountain in Journey, especially when you’ve just been led through the secrets of the game by your playing companion? It’s an astonishing piece of game design, to conjure such compassion out of nothing. To Nivekien: thankyou thank you thankyou.

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: In a year where I spent over three days playing Uncharted 2‘s multiplayer (discovering that “boosting” in PSN-land can be slower than just earning multiplayer Trophies legit), two positive multiplayer moments stand out: assembling a cross-continental Bling Brigade (at 4am!) in WipEout HD that was full of considerate, respectful, and fun people was certainly worth a mention. But the standout multiplayer moment was playing through Portal 2‘s multiplayer with my not-frequent-enough accomplice, Lita. The bits that she knew well were bloody brilliant fun to breeze through… but when we hit the DLC levels, that neither of us had seen before, I encountered some of the most rewarding online experiences in recent memory. Even if we did get a little snippy with each other :) Thanks, Lita!

The Screaming Child Plead-for-Sanity Pacifier: OK, so I probably wouldn’t have bought The Walking Dead even if it was for sale in this country. But can someone please explain why Dyad can’t get Classified over here? Please, OFLC, please let this one through.

Disappointment of the Year: After hearing endless success stories with people transferring their Wii content to their new Wii U, I was saddened to see my attempts to do so blocked by an “error”. No description, no suggestion… just a quiet little “go fuck yourself, Pete, your purchases are staying on your old Wii.” Add on the dreadful menu load times of the Wii U and I’m left thoroughly un-enchanted.

The “I’m Out” Moment-of-Realisation Deep-Fried Tofu: The audience cheering for shotgun-in-the-face “fun” at The Last of Us‘ E3 showing this year. Au revoir.

Griddy McGriddle’s Spreadsheet-of-the-Year Calculation: Phwoar, you should see my F-Zero GX sheets in Google Docs. I can tell you – with absolute certainty – that I am 5.06% of my way through GX. And that’s the easiest 5.06%. It’s depressingly uphill from here.

Blast From The Past Award: Two playthroughs on each of three different versions of the Dreamcast’s Jet Set/Grind Radio series taught me to love the game… and even Mew, who I’d previously regarded as a Rhyth wannabe. Bless her :)

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: Uplay. So I’m wrapping up Assassin’s Creed II, and I’ve a couple of sequences left to go. I grab the DLC, for completeness’ sake, and it’s pretty… well, awful. But the final thing I need to do to get my sync to 100% is to grab one sequence from Uplay, Ubisoft’s own online gateway… but could I get access to that content? Could I fuck. Ubisoft’s “support” was essentially “restart your console,” and then they questioned my competency to do so; what they should be telling people is that they’ve turned off the servers. Well done, Ubisoft – you’ve ensured that I’ll never buy another game that has any interaction with your shitty Uplay service.

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: I flew to Melbourne to see Tetsuya Mizuguchi speak. Arriving early, I went into an exhibition that featured some of his work; after unlocking Area 5 in Rez for all to play (god knows why that hadn’t been done already), I set about unlocking the Hope Archive in Child of Eden. About three-quarters of the way through the Journey Archive, I was interrupted by staff who wanted me to leave; I turn around to discover that Miz had been standing behind me for the last couple of minutes, watching me play his game. We chatted, I had my picture taken with him, and – after he’d left the vicinity – I threw my arms into the air with joy. Another Hero met :)

The “What Have I Done?” Time-Sink Tentacle: Saints Row: The Third is silly, cartoonish fun. Thirty-five hours, I thought… easy. And then I discovered that each of the seven character voices offered to the player at the start of the game have their own unique script lines… After playing through the game another six times, some of the jokes wore a little thin. But not too much ;)

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: Sound Shapes may have appeared to have squidgey platforming mechanics, but its gorgeous visual aesthetic – and stunning soundtrack – results in an amazingly rewarding gameplay experience.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Buy Sound Shapes, you fuckers. Buy a PS3 first, if you must.

The Start-Fuck-Start-Fuck-Start Cycle-of-Pain Sushi Roll: My high-score in the easiest mode of (the glorious) Super Hexagon is 20.48 seconds. I’ve got time for another ten or twenty goes before typing the next category.

The “Flow Like A River” Natural Gameplay Award: There’s a bit in Journey where you’re introduced to sand-surfing… and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. And you’re surfing along, and the camera pans to the side to show you surfing through this structure, through which you can see this incredible landscape, but you’re still in control and you realise that you’re drooling and awestruck and overfilled with joy and that you’re playing a game. Yep, that bit takes this award.

…aaaaand that’s all I’m going to write about 2012. There’s been plenty of fun, plenty of joy, and a little bit of grief – but it’s certainly within my purview to minimise the latter in favour of the former. But there’s two special games I want to call out before New Year’s Eve rolls around.

Sound Shapes is a flip-screen platformer that may put people off with its deceptive simplicity; graphics are initially plain and bold, seemingly lacking in subtlety. But as the game opens up, different visual variations and game styles are introduced, and the use of sound throughout is stunning – it creates an adaptive audio soundscape more effectively than anything since Rez. I’d even argue that it betters Rez in creating an enveloping audio landscape within which the game can thrive. All that, and it brings forth the grins, too.

But – as if it isn’t obvious enough already – my Game of 2012 is Journey.

I honestly believe that Journey is one of the most important games in years. It manages to conjure an incredibly emotional experience out of something apparently so simple; creates a social engagement out of isolation. But why’s it so important? Because Journey uses the medium to tell a story like no other game before it; it uses the medium to encourage you to emote like no other game before it.

It is the knockout punch in any “games as art” argument.

And so, without further ado… Happy New Year!

5 Responses to “2012: The Year In Review”

  1. SlashBite December 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    A happy new year to you too, Pete!

    You should try The Walking Dead someday. Especially when you’re looking for an engaging experience. Also, congrats on losing all that weight. 20 kilo’s is a bunch and I’m glad to hear that games motivated you to do so.

  2. pete December 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Cheers Slash – and congrats on your massive GS gain over the year :)

    The Walking Dead is an odd one for me; I’m usually dead-set (no pun intended) against anything with zombies in it, but everything I’ve heard about it sounds enticing – especially in terms of storytelling, player agency, and decision cost. It was a bit of a moot point, though, since the game was never made available for sale over here: our ratings board deemed it too “adult”, and we don’t get an adult rating for games until next year tomorrow.

    I may still give it a bash, though you might understand how – with branching choices and distinct story points based on player decisions – I might find it a bit daunting ;)

  3. SlashBite January 1, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    You can’t really find that many zombie games on my gamertag either, but I got dragged into The Walking Dead instantly. I found the story very compelling and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Don’t expect too many different outcomes though. Because, like one reviewer did put it, the story itself is already written and every player will experience more or less the same story. But your choices ‘color’ the story. There are some scenes you’re going to miss out on in one playthrough, so playing through it again is certainly an option. But I can understand this game to be very daunting to you if you want to experience every single choice in the game.

    I really hope you give this one a bash someday. I’m curious to your experience with this game and I hope this can bring back some of the joy in gaming.

  4. Lita January 1, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    Happy New Pie ;)

    Yes, we were a bit snippy with each other weren’t we lol I enjoyed our Portal 2 experience very much. Shame there aren’t that many co-op experiences like that out there.

    Congrats on the weight loss too!

  5. Simon Beetlestone January 1, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    You will enjoy spec ops great story.

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