Side Quest: 2012 in Review (and Some Long Overdue Thanks)

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If you follow this blog, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I didn’t play many new games in 2012.

There are plenty of debates and discussions going on in these year-end wrap-ups that I know plenty about, but don’t feel comfortable commenting on in full. I’m sure I’ll have something to say about that Mass Effect 3 ending, but I have three whole games’ worth of aliens to kill and/or bed before that can happen. I won’t know if Assassin’s Creed III (it’s the end of a console generation, so seems like it was mainly safe-bet threequels this year) really pales that much in comparison to the second installment until I skulk around Renaissance Italy for a bit. I’ve played through the intro of Dishonored, and while I enjoy its art style and will surely have a lot of fun in its Thief-aping mission playgrounds, I put it down to concentrate on titles more relevant to this blog.

I did manage to pick up and trek through a handful of this year’s big indie releases, though. I’ve been a fan of Jonatan Söderström’s absurdist, off-the-cuff fare for awhile, but Hotline Miami still caught me completely off-guard. Söderström’s bad-trip ode to all things neon and blood-soaked is one of those great moments where a fringe artist finally pulls together everything interesting about his work into one coherent statement. Its punishing difficulty is more than evened out by tight, strategic controls and guffaw-worthy use of player death as an arbitrary, unavoidable annoyance. It’s a game where your character’s blood is just one more shade of red in an already overflowing palette. I haven’t completed the game’s nonsense (in a good way) story, about a man who receives mysterious phone calls instructing him to kill hordes of white-suited Russian mobsters, but the game has all the marks of one that will be fondly remembered.

And of course, there was Journey. I was unsure how I would feel about Journey going into it; I prefer my spiritual symbolism a little less on-the-nose, my worldview a little less wide-eyed. But damn it, the game works so well in the big, sweeping, universal way it sets out to that it even melted the heart of this jaded grump. I was genuinely surprised by the game’s nuances, how smoothly it flowed from one grand setpiece to the next. And the way so much you encounter is thematically integrated — like the many different fabrics that appear to have lives of their own, also struggling toward some sort of enlightenment — is exactly what this industry needs more of, so I am thrilled for thatgamecompany’s success. Most exciting of all is how the game handles online encounters, with other players entering and leaving your quest, just as your acquaintances do in real life. In the end, I was impressed and moved in equal measure; this is a game that warrants a closer look sometime soon.

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But while Journey is plenty economic, the most sparse and audacious game I played this year is shorter than most title’s opening cut scenes. Thirty Flights of Loving, Brendon Chung’s follow-up to his more traditional (but still excellently off-kilter) 2008 freebie Gravity Bone, packs so many ideas into its fifteen minutes that it makes every dunderheaded, triple-A, fifty-hour time-waster look even more like the empty, plodding dinosaur it is at its core. The fragmented story of a con job gone wrong, Thirty Flights is like a lesson in how to design a game with purpose and confidence. Every detail and object you can interact with, right down to an endless supply of oranges you can munch on, is there to serve the game’s story, mood, and wonderfully dry sense of humor. But Chung’s biggest and most unprecedented achievement is the use of in-game smash cuts to move the story forward, unexpectedly whisking the player from one scenario to the next. It’s an abrupt but completely logical way to tell a video game story, insuring the player never lingers in a scene for much longer than the designer intended. In a perfect world, gamers will look back at Thirty Flights of Loving the way cinephiles look back at Breathless: as a new and freeing means to move a medium’s form and storytelling abilities forward.

But as I said, 2012 was a year for me to catch up on older titles, as I assume the next several years will be if I continue this pursuit. I must say that I’ve had a wonderful time exploring these many worlds and trying to articulate why I think video games are such a special and powerful form of entertainment. And as I considered doing a year-end retrospective, I realized it was the perfect time to express some long overdue gratitude.

I’ve been running this blog rather stubbornly, insistent on keeping to my formula and not acknowledging the rest of the community as much as I should. Because you see, the rest of the community has been pretty wonderful and open to my newborn enterprise. I got a spot on WordPress’ coveted Freshly Pressed page for my article on Spacewar!, which earned me several new readers and thoughtful comments. And two veteran blogs — At the Buzzer (who are doing a pretty excellent top 25 game countdown right now) and Gamerscene — were kind enough to consider me for an ongoing WordPress acknowledgement called the One Lovely Blog Award.

So I really do want to extend my heartfelt thanks. This blog is fairly new, but I’m very proud of the work I’ve done so far. While I’m certainly not the biggest or best game writer around, nothing makes me happier than the fact that most of my posts inspire at least a handful of comments and discussions. A lot of name sites don’t even have active commenters, so it really means a lot that you guys would take the time and express your opinions about my writing.

Which is why I want to open up the floor to the readers a bit more this year. As you can see, I’ve added a Requests page in the top bar, so please feel free to comment there and tell me which games (classics, personal favorites, lost gems, unmitigated disasters, etc.) you’d like to see me cover in the future. And let me know in the comments here how I’ve been doing overall. Is there any sort of content you’d like to see more of? Would you like to see me do more general essays (like the Celine & Julie one) in addition to game-specific analyses? Is there anything I can do to facilitate better discussions, or make you feel more comfortable, say, recommending this blog to people? Please let me know; I’m seriously all ears.

I hope that it always goes without saying that you have my deepest gratitude for bothering to even read my blog in the first place. I have a great time writing on a subject I’m truly this passionate about, and I hope that comes through in every post. Expect essays over the next few weeks on The Secret of Monkey Island, Another World, Doom, and Passage, among others. I look forward to another great year of wonderful games, and I hope you do, too.

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5 thoughts on “Side Quest: 2012 in Review (and Some Long Overdue Thanks)

  1. Mass Effect 3 was tough for me. I invested so much but got very little in return. Hotline is so incredibly unique, Thirty Flights is brilliant and I wish wish wish I had a ps3 to play Journey. Great read.

    • Mass Effect 3 does seem like a conundrum. A lot of people whose opinions I look toward thought it was an unmitigated disaster, while others claim it’s something of a masterpiece. Guess I’ll have to finally try the series for myself and see.

      I’m so glad Thirty Flights is being (relatively) widely embraced; definitely gives me hope that people will seriously examine what that game does so well. It ended up on a lot of year-end lists on sites I didn’t necessarily expect to pay attention to games like that.

      • ryath says:

        Well, in this blogger’s opinion, if you tackle the Mass Effect series, you’ve at least got one stellar game and another wonderful (if misguided) one ahead of you before you have to suffer through the third. Two out of three ain’t bad, as the song goes.

  2. Sam Leung says:

    Ah well, it’s not the quantity, but the quality that matters anyway! Hmm, I’ve heard a lot about Journey and Thirty Flights of Loving. It’s definitely time to give them a shot I think. I also totally agree you should play ME at some point. Regardless of your opinion of the last 10 mins of the last game, personally, they’re still my favourite games of all time and I would recommend them to anyone.

    • Definitely give them a try! They’re both pretty economical both time- and money-wise, so I’d say they’re definitely worth it if you’re curious.

      And yeah, Mass Effect is definitely coming sometime in the not-too-far future. As soon as I get through some of my (ridiculous) backlog of games I already own, I plan to buy that new Trilogy package for the PS3.

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