Welcome to my video game award show, honoring some of the best games of this year. Unfortunately even though this is a blog entry, we went over budget already so no body painted women here. Now it is my duty to tell you that this award show has massively sold out, only games I’ve played this year will be up for awards. Games that the majority loved will probably not be mentioned at all. So if you would like to complain please send a free copy of the insulted game and I will get back to you sometime by next year’s award show. Now let’s begin with no particular order:

Best handheld game:The World Ends With You (NDS) I have to give credit to Square-Enix when they want to make something different and weird they can definitely do that. A J Pop RPG where you control two characters at once in combat fits the bill nicely. Using every feature of the NDS in some regard while throwing out tiresome cliché RPG conventions makes it one of the best handheld games I’ve played.

Best multi player game:Left 4 Dead (PC and 360): It’s not every game that makes gamers want to work together for the greater good instead of high scores. Valve continuing the trend with great shooters after Team Fortress 2 has scored another winner with L4D. This game has been the cause of me gaining over 50 friends on Steam in less then a week, and has providing much in the way of teaching me useful survival tips for when the zombies come.(Yes I know they’re not really zombies but you get my point).

Best RPG:Kings Bounty: The Legend (PC): It’s not everyday when I fall in love with a game that I haven’t heard anything about prior to buying it. From positive posts on game forums and an entry on Rock Paper Shotgun I decided to pick it up while it was on sale. A long time ago I swore off of CRPGs, but I’m glad that I didn’t miss this one. With an excellent combat system, bright visuals and touching that collector’s itch of mine with numerous things to find in the world makes Kings Bounty one of my favorite games this year; also it managed to beat out The World Ends With You for my favorite RPG.

Best Wii game: Um, hold on a second (shifts through notes)……….(Runs down stairs to check game collection)……..(Runs back up) ahem:No More Heroes: Well this was not a good year for the Wii for me, in fact I couldn’t remember the last Wii title I bought this year. Since I have a huge love for Suda 51 we have a unanimous winner for No More Heroes. One part beat em up, one part insane ride with deserts. Also if this is any indication I’m reserving this award now for MadWorld for the 09 award show (Go Clover Studios… part 2).

Best Playstation 2 game:Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4: My love of the SMT series goes back to my time with Nocturne, so it should be no surprised that the latest game in the series gets a mention here. Doubly so for being the last PS2 game release this year that I can remember.

Best 360 game:Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Easily the biggest surprise this year for me, considering how I almost wrote off the game completely a few weeks ago. With some amazing visuals and scratching every itch of my gotta collect them all side, makes this one of the best. The designers really designed this game for the user to have fun with the challenges and it is such a breath of fresh air to play a game where the rules of the world can work for the player instead of against them.

Best party game:Rock Band 2: (Pick a console) Rock Band 2 wins hands down by being the first game that my entire family actually sat down to watch and play. With three of us on the instruments and the rest rocking out it was a grand time to be sure, however I did not get on the mic, which could have ruined the evening right there.

Most artistic game:Braid (XBLA): Taking the 2d platformer into new strange directions, Braid has been the talk of the internet with amazing visuals, beautiful music and the lovely game mechanic of time manipulation. With a story that is still anyone’s guess makes it the winner of this award.

And there you go the games I truly loved this year. Now as a hardcore gamer I played a lot more games then the ones mentioned here and a lot of them were good, but these are the ones that stood out among the rest in my opinion.

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A few weeks ago I ranted against Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Or BK for this entry), well after hearing some recommendations and a $15 off sale of it I decided to pick it up, text problems and all. What I found was one of the more inventive titles this year and could be one of the better games I’ve played.

The story is a satire of the platform genre, a being known as the Lord of Games is tired of the same old fighting between Banjo and Grunty (evil witch of the series) and has created challenges to see who will win everything. This is all fluff however for the game play, the challenges themselves. Each world is made up of timed challenges which will reward the player depending on how well they complete them. However once you look under the hood so to speak, you’ll find something very different.

BK is not a platformer, I’m going to say that again so that it sinks in, BK is not a platformer, sure you run and jump but those skills will not be helping you here. Every challenge in this game is done with vehicles, some you’ll have to use a preset one, others you create your own. Each challenge has a time limit and three levels of rewards, basically bronze, silver and gold. Earning jiggies (BK world equivalent of stars) unlocks new worlds which are earned for getting a silver or gold rank on a challenge. You can find boxes in the over world that contain parts to be used in the editor or buy new parts and blueprints (already made vehicles) from the local shops, now then let’s head to the garage.

For those who want to see everything BK has to offer, you will be spending a lot of time in the garage. Most vehicle blueprints while good, will most often only net you a silver, to completely master a challenge you’ll need to either alter a vehicle or create your own. This is where BK shines, as the editor is incredibly powerful and allows users to create land, sea, and air vehicles and combinations as well. Using physics vehicles respond realistically no matter how unrealistic you make them. The part variety is astonishing from numerous engines, to weapons and even parts that let you drop parts of your vehicle like a space shuttle. In many ways the BK vehicle editor is similar to Spore’s creature editor , but I have to give the nod to BK. Changing your creatures in Spore will not change the game play, however in BK you will see almost immediate differences as you create your dream car/plane/boat.

The design of the worlds is amazing; this is what it means to have style. The first time I took my helicopter around the first world I was shocked with how good it looks. The bigger more open worlds are better then the smaller ones, but everything has that sheen to it. Credit has to go to the over world, filled with nooks and crannies where parts wait make it one of the more enjoyable places to muck around in.

Now I’ve been raving about this title for the last few paragraphs, but there are a few problems with the game. First the game starts off really slow and doesn’t ease the player into vehicle creation in my opinion. I would have liked to have seen more tutorials on vehicle construction and using some of the more advanced parts. You really won’t have enough breadth and depth of parts to build your custom vehicles until a few hours in. Then there is the text issue, as mentioned the text is close to unreadable on SDTVs a patch is in the works but no one knows when it’s coming. I would have liked to have seen challenges not built around a time limit such as building a vehicle for someone to use and being ranked for it. Still you get what you put into BK; gamers who like building their own stuff are going to love this game. I am amazed with the turn around of Rare Ware these past few years; first with Viva Piñata and now BK they have risen from the ashes of game mediocrity. If BK is proof of a new direction for Rare Ware, then I can’t wait to see what happens next from them. I haven’t thought like that since the N64 was popular.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts gets my entire line of J-vehicles, because if you can’t get to your destination without destroying everything in your way, then what was the point of going in the first place?

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There is one aspect of story writing that I’ve yet to see any video game handle decently, the idea of consequence and punishment to the player. In other mediums we can see the character being punished and the outcome of this event in the narrative, however in video games this plot device goes against the game play. If the player is punished due to some random story event and it ruins the game for them, I bet the player will be very annoyed. I believe though that is possible to show punishment and have it work with game play to produce an excellent story in video games. Let’s start with a few of the worst examples I’ve seen.

A few years back Quake 4 tried to be creative by having a major plot twist which happened to be announced a week or so before the game was released. The twist was that the player became half human half alien species and spent the rest of the game like that. I was really hoping that this would bring huge changes to the game play; instead all it did was add fifty more health points to the player. What about taking away some of the player’s original weapons, or giving him something new? This was a huge missed opportunity, but it was in a FPS my next example is a lot more serious.

Everyone should know by now that I don’t like Bioware and my next examples come from two of their more recent titles Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire (Did not play Mass Effect.) In both these titles there are numerous decisions for the player to make determining their next action; however none of these show any tangible consequence. I’m so sick and tired of RPGS that the only thing that happens to you from doing something evil is +5 evil points to your stats. Now I haven’t played Fable 2 yet, which should send Corvus into a shock after I revealed I haven’t played the Ultima series so that could be an example of a game doing it right. The problem is that the story and game design are always in conflict with each other, easily proven by my next example.

Final Fantasy 7 has a now classic example of a major plot twist, spoiler warning now for a game that came out about 10 years ago, Aeris died. For the story it was sad moment that made gamers cried around the world, however in the game space it was a horribly stupid event that made me laugh while I watched it. You’re telling me that a single sword through the chest is fatal; being hit by a fireball the size of a continent isn’t? Of course there are those magical phoenix downs that work on everything except for this. The sad part is the designers made no attempt at explaining this tragic event. Then there is the fact that this moment had no effect on the game play, all you needed was another person who had healing powers and problem solved. At least Final Fantasy 6 gave each person unique abilities making their lost important to the game play. Moving on, here are my examples of possible game ideas showing both good and bad consequences to a major decision.

First bad, let’s take a standard fantasy medieval world and have the player utterly destroy a town that provides the majority of steel for the land, by doing this swords become rare and hard to find making swords more valuable then gold. Knights can no longer defend their homelands without swords or the steel for armor and now wander the land doing random jobs. Archery becomes the main profession for warriors causing the forest to be cut down faster due to increase supply. As you can see there is a huge ripple affect both benefiting the player (less need to worry about melee attacks) and hurting the player (harder to find armor, economy weaken). Now here an example of a major bad event towards the player that has good consequences.

In the same fantasy world the player is asked to sacrifice one of his arms to appease an angry deity to save a major city. By doing this the player loses the ability to dual wield, can’t use two handed weapons or wield a shield and sword and a lost to the player’s max health. However the player now has universal appeal across the land from the villagers for the brave sacrifice and will give him major discounts on anything he wants; people will also come to the player’s aid for whatever quests that needs to be done. In this case a major event has a huge effect on the game play and both punish and reward the player at the same time.

In order for both game design and story development to evolve, there needs to be major consequences for the player and they need to affect the game play as well as the plot. If you want gamers to make big decisions in your games, then those decisions need to have big effects on what happens afterwards. We need to get away from having these major “point of no return” moments at the last part of the game and work on gradual cut off points based on all the player’s actions. Because if there is anything less realistic then surviving an explosion the size of a planet, it’s spending 50 hours as an evil bastard and clicking one choice to completely redeem yourself.

Josh

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Finally some good news, not about a job or anything like that, but the Ghostbusters video game is officially being developed again and will be released this June. A new trailer is making its way across the various game sites and I had a grin on my face for the entire trailer.

Now as a hard core gamer I’ve been preconditioned to look at any movie based game as a buggy horrible time. So I would like to say the following to the developers, please don’t screw this up. Like most gamers I have fond childhood memories of the Ghostbusters and I don’t feel like having them destroyed by a bad game tie-in. To add to the movie based goodness, information regarding the Chronicles of Riddick 360 update has surfaced. Information meaning that it’s still being developed and not cancelled.

In other news, I had a great time at the Philly IGDA meeting last night and can’t wait for the next game jam.

Josh

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