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Can You Make A Video Game With No Experience? – Pt. 1 Coming up With An Idea

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The Experiment

I’ve been playing video games since I was five years old, and writing about them since I was 19. I’ve gone from playing Spongebob Squarepants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman, to writing complex breakdowns of the games industry at large and how it relates to social, political and personal issues. However I have such a small understanding of how something so pivotal to who I am is created. I don’t understand the difference between creating art for video games, and illustrating a book. I wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to good level design. I have a lot of experience as a writer, and can understand the process for writing a game, but not how to make it meaningful. I literally have no idea how to code. Apparently there are various languages within coding. What does that even mean???

Therefore I am conducting this experiment. An experiment to see whether someone with no experience, education, or understanding of game development can learn the ropes. I’m going to take you through a step by step breakdown of everything I learn when creating my first video game, and I’m going to do it on a weekly basis over the next 3 months.

Yes, I may ask for advice from experienced game developers along the way when I get stuck, but the point of this is to make everything on my own. Wish me luck, because from what I’ve been told, this is not going to be easy.

 

Game Development Terms to Learn This Week

  1. Game Developer: An artist, programmer, writer or individual who contributes to making a game.
  2. Engine: A software used to make video games (kind of like Photoshop for making photos or Premiere Pro for making videos).
  3. Game Maker Studio 2/ Unity: Two different software you can use to make your video game.
  4. Programming Languages (e.g. GML, C#, UnityScript and BOO): You make a game by writing in a programming language, in the same way you write a book with a written language. Programming languages can be different, in the same way writing in the English language is different to writing in Japanese.
  5. Indie: A game made by one individual or small company without the backing of a big publisher like Ubisoft or Sony.
  6. Game Jam: A 48 hour competition where game developers try and prototype a project.
  7. Spiritual Successor: A game or idea that takes the core concepts of one game, and then recreates them with a new brand or I.P.
  8. I.P: An intellectual property is another way of referencing a game or brand, e.g. Assassin’s Creed is an I.P. owned by Ubisoft.
  9. Publisher: A publisher is a company that helps fund, market and release games (made by developers or studios) on various systems.
  10. Mechanic: Something you can do in a game, e.g. walk, interact with objects or teleport.
  11. 2D platformer: A game where you move within a two dimensional world, which has a focus on jumping from one platform to another to complete a level.
  12. HTML 5: Is a language used for producing content for the web. I’m assuming it is similar to the other programming languages I’ve mentioned, but at this point can’t say for sure.

 

About Me and my Experience

OK, so first things first; let’s break down who I am and what transferable skills I might have to aid me. My names Chris Bowring and I’m 21 years old. My name and age aren’t really skills, but it’s a good place to start.

Skills, Experience and Education:

  • I’ve been a writer for several years, that’s really my strong suit. During my teenage years I wrote countless short stories, young adult horror novels, kids’ books and poems. I self-published, co wrote and illustrated my first children’s book when I was 17.
  • I’ve worked in the games journalism/entertainment industry as a freelance writer for a few years. I’ve produced countless feature pieces, wikis, reviews, news pieces, opinion pieces, video features, graphic designs and podcasts over the years. If you consider this experience alongside the fact that I play and beat roughly 100 games a year, I know the industry pretty well.
  • I launched a website in December of 2017 called Quiet Stories. Under this brand I’ve been compiling some of the best journalistic content I’ve created for other websites (check out a piece I did about the future of Star Wars games), and launched the podcast Fist Fight. Fist Fight is one half video game debate show, and one half indie developer interview. Each week I talk with an indie developer from around the world about their newest game and the development process. In the first episode I interview the team behind the indie game Beholder, which you can check out at, https://quietstoriesblog.com/. This in itself could be instrumental to me acquiring the knowledge I need to succeed in this experiment.

 

What is Actually Achievable?

When deciding what to make as your first game, the options are limitless. However with a little research you’ll soon find you NEED to limit your options rather substantially. I’m not going to make a competitor to Red Dead Redemption in 12 weeks. A total of 10 studios worked on Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014). Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (2013) only had 7-8 studios working on it, and it employed a team of nearly 1000 people. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag producer Martin Schelling and Mission Director Ashraf Ismail both stated that they began the project in the summer of 2011, so that means the game was in development for around two and a half years. I don’t have that kind of team size or development time, so let’s start with something smaller.

 

Games Created by one Individual

Let’s take a look at what is achievable as a solo developer. What scope is realistic when the entire games development rests on your shoulders?

  • Axiom Verge seems to be a fan made spiritual successor to the 2D Metroid games. It was created by Thomas Happ, who was an engineer on games like NFL Street and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. He made the game in his spare time, over 5 years. It’s found a reasonable amount of success, so recreating my own version of a much beloved series could be the way to go.
  • Eric Barone worked on Stardew Valley for nearly 5 years as well. He was looking to add to his game design portfolio after graduation and ended up creating an indie hit. Stardew Valley is fairly extensive in scope and game length, but works with admittedly simplistic visuals.
  • Lucas Pope, an American living in Japan, used his own personal experiences to create Papers, Please. Papers, Please was lauded for its uniqueness and so perhaps I should consider making a game with a topic I’m familiar with or feel passionately about.

 

Games Created in a Short Period of Time

Time is also a crucial factor. I have a short window to produce a final product, so I can’t afford to get hung up on the little details. Game Jams have become rather common. Developers of all backgrounds and experience levels team up, and put out the best game they can within a 48 hour window. I have a bit longer than 48 hours, but I’ll also be learning as I go, so these could be some good references for what I could actually create. These were some of the best projects from the Game Makers Tool Kit Game Jam, which had over 700 applicants.

  • Power core is a tower defense game with simplistic but stunning visuals. You play as a cube with a multitude of functions, from stunning enemies to capturing power nodes. Each mechanic in the game serves a variety of purposes, so creating a single mechanic with a multitude of functions seems to be a good way of speeding up the development process.
  • Lock step also uses a cube as the main character. Its visuals are simple but it plays with a unique co-op function. As the two players come closer together the camera pans inwards, making proximity to other players an actual mechanic to be aware of.
  • Resize is a puzzle platformer where you’ll actually need to use your mouse to resize and reshape the window the game is being played in, allowing you to traverse the environment and manoeuvre past obstacles.

 

What are my Inspirations?

So from the examples above we can learn a few things about what to consider when making a game on your own, in a short period of time.

  1. It seems 2D animation over 3D is the way to go. You can create simplistic designs, without having the overall game lose its visual quality.
  2. The key to making a game in a short period of time is taking simple mechanics and either, utilizing them in a multitude of ways, or twisting them into something creative we haven’t seen before.
  3. Having a game that is somewhat inspired by a famous retro or smaller game helps; focus the project, provide a guide for the overall design, and draw in players of the franchise that inspired your game.
  4. Basing your game around a core theme that you are familiar with or passionate about may help you stand out.

After completing this research I considered some games that meet this criteria and that I’d like to create something similar to. My personal inspirations for this project include; Super Mario Bros., Super Meat Boy, Super Time Force and Super Hot. I’m going with all the supers, except Super Man 64.

I’ve been fairly triggered/engaged in the ongoing conversations around video games in the United States. President Trump has gathered various individuals from the video game industry to discuss the impact of games on American youth. These conversations are topical and something I’m very passionate about.

Therefore for this project I will designing a 2D platformer focused on video game violence.

 

What Software/ Engine should I use to Make My Game?

This is a big one. When you put together a video, you use Premiere Pro and After Effects. When you edit a photo or create an illustration, you use Photoshop and Illustrator. So what is the best software to use when making a game, specifically your first game? From extensive research it ended up coming down to two finalists, Unity and Game Maker Studio 2. RealTutsGML provides a video with a pretty reasonable breakdown of the two options.

Unity is a cross platform game engine that allows you to produce games for desktops, consoles and mobile devices.

Pros for Unity:

  • Unity has been used to design some of the best indie games of the last few years. In 2016 alone, Unity was used to produce; Firewatch, Furi, Inside, Oxenfree and Super Hot. Three of those games were on my game of the year list in 2016, Super Hot is one of the inspirations for the game I’m making during this project, and Inside was a game of the year contender at major sites like IGN.
  • Can be used to make 2D and 3D games, but is better at creating 3D games.
  • You can merge 2D and 3D elements with ease. For example you could make a 2D platformer with 3D objects in the background.
  • It is easier to optimise your games for multiple platforms, compared to Game Maker.
  • You can choose to use three different languages when programming on Unity; #C, BOO or UnityScript (also known as JavaScript for Unity).
  • All versions of Unity are royalty free, provide access to development for any platform and include all core engine features.
  • The base version of Unity is free.
  • Unity Plus is $35 a month, and includes game developer courses, 20% off the asset store, analytics and some other stuff that I don’t really understand.
  • Unity Pro is $125 a month, and includes all the features of Plus, Pro level services and premium support and source code access (also not sure what that means).

Game Maker Studio 2 claims to be the most intuitive software for developing 2D games. You can produce games for desktop, mobile, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

“Making games development accessible to everyone means taking away the barriers to getting started. Using our intuitive ‘Drag and Drop’ development environment you can have your game up and running in a matter of minutes without ever having to write any code! GameMaker’s built-in language (GML) helps you learn to program as you go and not jump in at the deep end of coding.”

Game Maker Studio

That all sounds pretty good to me.

Pros for using Game Maker Studio 2:

  • Game Maker Studio was used to create games like; Downwell, Hyper Light Drifter, Undertale and DEADBOLT.
  • Can be used to make 2D and 3D games, but is better at creating 2D games.
  • Game Maker Studio 2 offers a drag and drop (DND) option, which allows you to create entire games with no programming knowledge or coding. It’s also a good way to learn Game Maker’s coding language GML. (Unity doesn’t really have this option)
  • It is quicker and easier to prototype game ideas than in Unity.
  • Game Maker has extensive development tutorials on their website, and an active YouTube, and forum community, who seem to be extremely willing to provide help and advice.
  • Game Maker announced, in just the last 48 hours, that games can now be developed for Nintendo Switch using their software.
  • Game Maker Studio 2 offers a free trial, which includes the majority of the software’s features, but doesn’t allow you to publish final products.
  • The Game Maker Studio’s Creator package gives you all the software’s tools, allows you to publish on either Windows or Mac computers and is $39 a year.
  • The Game Maker Studio’s Developer package gives you all the software’s tools, allows you to publish on either Desktop (Windows and Mac), the Web (HTML 5) or Mobile (Apple and Android), for a one time price that ranges from $99 to $399.
  • The Game Maker Studio’s Console package gives you all the software’s tools, allows you to publish on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and costs between $799 and $1500 a year.

From this breakdown I believe Game Maker Studio 2 is the best option for this project. Both Unity and Game Maker are capable of creating great 2D games. Both software provide extensive tutorials and support. Both software are capable of publishing on multiple platforms and offer a free trial. Yes, Unity offers the choice of three different coding languages compared to Game Maker which forces you to use GML, but Game Maker’s drag and drop feature will be invaluable to someone like myself, who has no programming experience and is trying to put together a prototype quickly.

 

Conclusions for This Week

So we’ve highlighted what we aim to accomplish with this project, broken down my skill set, researched what kind of project is achievable, narrowed down the project to a 2D platformer with a core theme, and decided which software we’re going to make this game with.

It’s now time to download the free version of Game Maker Studio 2 and see what we can achieve in our first week of development on Video Games Made Me Violent.

Feature Writer/ Reviewer for Goombastomp and founder of Quiet Stories For more info on upcoming books, podcasts, articles and video games follow me @OurQuietStories on Twitter. On a more personal note i'm a beard fanatic, calamari connoisseur and professional fat guy.

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Games

Indie Games Spotlight – Looking Ahead to 2020

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Indie Game Spotlight

The year is coming to an end. The holidays are just around the corner. We’ve already published our list of the best indie games of 2019 and now it is time to start looking forward to 2020. In what is sure to be our last Indie Games Spotlight of 2019, we take a look at some of the indies set for release next year. This issue includes a student project that led to the creation of an indie studio; a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game; and a comedic occult adventure game that takes place during World War II. All this and more!

Lightmatter

Imagine, “if Limbo and Portal had a weird baby.”

Aspyr and Tunnel Vision Games announced that their long-awaited, award-winning puzzle game, Lightmatter, arrives on Steam on January 15, 2020.

Lightmatter is an atmospheric, first-person puzzle game set inside a mysterious experimental facility where the shadows will kill you. The game tells a sci-fi story about a maniac inventor who has created the ultimate power source called Lightmatter. Players must explore the facility in an attempt to discover the hidden plot while facing challenging puzzles that require mastering different light sources to survive.

Not only does the game look great but what’s even more impressive is that Lightmatter originally started out as a university project where a group of Medialogy students wanted to explore lights and shadows as the primary gameplay mechanic in a puzzle game. After creating a 15-minute prototype, the team offered it as a free download on Reddit. To their surprise, the game became an overnight success with thousands of downloads and multiple accolades from game conferences around the world. It didn’t take long before they created Tunnel Vision Games with the mission to take the light/shadow concept further and turn it into a fully-fledged game. The rest, as they say, is history.


Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Investigate the Occult

Nine Witches: Family Disruption is the comedic occult adventure game you’ve been waiting for. From Blowfish Studios and Indiesruption, the game takes place in a rustic Norwegian village on the fringe of World War II, where a supernatural scholar investigates the Nazi’s plan to conjure a dark ancient power and strike a devastating blow to the Allied powers. Players must investigate their plots by communing with a variety of eccentric characters from the realms of both the living and the dead. It’s your job to unravel a mystical mystery and put a stop to the Okkulte-SS’s evil schemes before it’s too late.

Nine Witches: Family Disruption was born from my desire to blend world history with magic and my personal sense of humor,” said Diego Cánepa, designer, Indiesruption. “I’m grateful Blowfish Studios are using their powers to help me bring the game to consoles and PC so this story can be enjoyed by players across the world.” If you like indie games with beautiful, retro-inspired pixel art and a comical story dripping with gleefully absurd, dark humor, you’ll want to check this out. Nine Witches: Family Disruption summons supernatural hi-jinks to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC in Q2 2020.


Filament

Explore a mysterious ship.

Ahead of next year’s anticipated release of Filament, Kasedo Games & Beard Envy have revealed an exclusive look into the making of the upcoming puzzle game with the first in a series of short dev featurettes. Developed by three friends in the front room of their shared house, Filament is a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship. According to the press release, Filament lets you freely explore the mysterious ship, solving over 300 challenging and varied puzzles in (almost) any order you like.

If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out the short episode series which explains the complexity and variety of puzzles and offers an insight into how the game was made. Filament will release for PC and consoles next year.


West of the Dead

The Wild West has never been this dark.

Announced at X019 in London, West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter developed by UK-based studio Upstream Arcade. The game stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) as the voice of the main protagonist William Mason, a dead man awakened with only the memory of a figure in black. His existence sets into motion a chain of events that have truly mythic consequences.

Thrown into the unknown procedurally generated hunting grounds of Purgatory, your skills will be put to the test as you shoot and dodge your way through the grime and grit of the underworld. No one said dying would be easy and West of the Dead will surely test your skills. The battle for your soul will take place on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2020.


The Red Lantern

Survive the Alaskan wilderness in this dog sledding, story-driven, rogue-lite game

We first took notice of The Red Lantern during a Nintendo Direct earlier this year and ever since we’ve been impatiently awaiting its release. The Red Lantern is a resource management game where you and your team of five sled dogs must survive the wilderness and find your way home. Set in Nome, Alaska, you play as The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Life is Strange), as she sets out to train for the grueling Iditarod race.

The game combines rogue-lite elements into this story-driven adventure game, where hundreds of different events can occur—like fending off bears, resisting frostbite, attending your dogs, or receiving a signature moose-licking. This might be the first and last dog-sledding survival game we will ever play but that’s fine by us because judging by the screenshots and trailer, the game looks terrific. The Red Lantern is Timberline Studio’s debut game and is funded by Kowloon Nights. The game will be releasing on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

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The Best Games of the 2010s

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Best Games of the 2010s Best Games of the Decade

The 2010s have spoiled us with an abundance of amazing games released year after year, and with the decade quickly drawing to a close, some would argue it is the best decade for video games yet. The choice of AAA titles, MMOs, indies and even mobile games is simply overwhelming. In no other decade have we had so much variety and so much to choose from making it extremely hard to pinpoint what our favourites are. Truth be told, many of us still have some catching up to do. Not everyone has played every game nominated below, and how could we considering some of these games require hundreds of hours of our time to complete? Thankfully we have enough writers on staff to be able to cover it all, and as expected, none of us seem to agree on every winner. It wasn’t easy to choose from our many favourites but we narrowed it down to one winner and five special mentions for each year. At last, here are the best games released in the 2010s.

Best Games of the Decade

Mass-Effect-2-Best-Games-of-the-Decade

2010) Mass Effect 2

Bioware’s Mass Effect announced itself as a different kind of game. The natural evolution of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicMass Effect offered gamers a whole universe of possibilities. Depending on their choices, their protagonist could be a cocksure rogue or an unrepentant optimist, a cold pragmatist or a warm confidante. Regardless of your choices though, what Mass Effect really offered was the chance to enter a world and experience it in your own individual manner.

Mass Effect 2 doubled down on this prospect in a way that was almost inconceivable. Giving players a bigger galaxy to explore, more characters to journey through it with, and more refined gameplay with which to devour it, Mass Effect 2 arrived as the sequel that fans never even dreamed was possible. A game with so many different possibilities for outcomes that there was an ending designed as if the player had died in his quest, there was literally no wrong way to play Mass Effect 2.

While the sequel ended up having to pull back on these ambitions, Mass Effect 2 still remains a game that made players believe that literally anything was possible, and for that reason alone, it remains a one of a kind, unforgettable experience. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Super Meat Boy

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

2011) Dark Souls

Like Mass Effect 2Dark Souls is less an original prospect in and of itself, and more the perfectly refined version of a very good idea. Hidetaka Miyazaki may have hit upon a gold rush with his experimental action-RPG Demon’s Souls, but it was Dark Souls that really hit paydirt. Transporting the hybrid single-player/multiplayer experience into an ever-growing open world that devoured itself like an ouroborosDark Souls didn’t just perfect the experience that its predecessor had plotted out, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre.

Players still relentlessly speed run, troll, experiment with and redefine what Dark Souls is, and what it means to them, nearly a decade after its initial release. Check Twitch or YouTube on any given day, and you’re likely to find dozens of gamers re-exploring the world of Lordran, and seeing what it might offer them in this reincarnation of its virtues and faults, concepts and confines. Such is the result of a game so endlessly replayable that it doesn’t even ask before plonking you back at the beginning after those end credits. After all, why not spend a little more time in this world? (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft, Portal 2, Rayman Origins

Xeonblade-1024x576

2012) Xenoblade Chronicles

It’s hard to find a game as niche as Xenoblade Chronicles. A JRPG, published in North America two years after its initial 2010 release on the already-sunsetting Wii, it seemed an unlikely prospect for success. After all, the Wii was perhaps Nintendo’s most family-friendly console, a system designed around casual audiences and motion controls; its successor, the Wii U, was just around the corner. It made little sense to release a JRPG, of all things, when the system was on its last legs.

Despite launching at the tail end of one generation and the beginning of the other,  Xenoblade Chronicles delivered one of the best JRPG experiences in decades. Xenoblade creator Tetsuya Takahashi, with a checkered history of ambitious games that failed to fully deliver on their promises, finally perfected his craft.  A gripping narrative, a spectacular score, and an innovative focus on blending the best of both Western and Japanese RPGs made Xenoblade Chronicles a stunning achievement and the best JRPG to ever come from Nintendo.

Seven years, and two critically praised sequels, later, and Takahashi has yet to recapture the magic in the original Xenoblade and rekindle the pure, unadulterated sense of exploration and adventure that made it such an enjoyable experience, a testament to how unique and incredible this JRPG truly is. (Iszak Barnette)

Runners-Up: Diablo III, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Journey, The Walking Dead

The Best Games of the 2010s

2013) The Last of Us

With The Last of Us, the cinematic-loving geniuses at Naughty Dog proved themselves once again as one of the most accomplished development teams in the world. The confident and handsome survival thriller was instantly hailed as the new bar for what gaming could and should be moving forward. The Last of Us is Hollywood stuff, of course, and it borrows from dozens of carefully chosen inspirations, among them George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the game’s cynical portrayal of survivors turning on each other is a very familiar premise – The Last of Us is also the rare video game that follows a traditional storyline and then improves upon it. Set twenty years after a pandemic radically transformed civilization – The Last of Us follows Joel, a salty survivor, who is hired to smuggle a fourteen-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a rough military quarantine. What begins as a straightforward, albeit risky job, quickly turns into a highly emotional, palm-sweating journey that you won’t ever forget.

The Last of Us mixes traditional adventure, survival, action, stealth, and constant exploration. Amidst the action, the horror and the many layers of modern mythology at work here (all quintessentially American), the game succeeds simply as a parable of what it means to live versus surviving. By the time you get to the last act, you understand why The Last of Us is the stuff of legends. The ending is simply amazing and not because it ends with a bang, but instead, because it ends with a simple line of dialogue. It’s intense and, yes, depressing – and it earns every minute of it.

Exhausting to play but oddly exhilarating to experience, The Last of Us works its way under our skin to unnerve, reside and haunt us. From the rich, complex combat system to the sublime sound design, this game immerses the player from start to finish. The Last of Us proves how far the craftsmanship of making video games has come from the outstanding engineering and art and sound design to the fine direction and performances, and the touching relationship of the two leads. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Last of Us is our favourite game of 2013 because it works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastic cautionary tale, a coming of age story, and a sophisticated drama about the best and worst qualities of humanity. There’s something for everyone here to appreciate! (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, DOTA 2, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V

2014) Mario Kart 8

Nintendo was so confident about Mario Kart 8 that they implied it could turn the tides of both sales and public consciousness on the Wii U. Of course, Mario Kart 8 didn’t end up doing that, but it did handily exceed the expectations of its legion of naysayers, such as the infamous Polygon pie charts. Five years later and it has not only gone down in the record books as the highest-selling game on that fateful console, but is also the highest-selling game on Nintendo’s renaissance console, the Switch.

While the appeal of Mario Kart remains perennial, Mario Kart 8 is an especially special Mario Kart. Its controls are the most fluid and refined, its visuals the most lush and detailed, and its courses the most vibrant and fully-realized. Moreover, its breakneck 200cc mode, wealth of fantastic DLC courses, and Deluxe-specific battle mode have given Mario Kart 8 incredible replay value, depth, and variety despite lacking an adventure mode. At launch, Mario Kart 8 was the peak of the series, the best modern kart racer, and a game of the year contender. Now, with tons of extra content, over thirty million copies sold, and the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 may become known as the greatest and most popular racing game of all time, kart or otherwise. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Bayonetta 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Hearthstone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts: The Great War

bloodborne-the-old-hunters-1920x1080

2015) Bloodborne

FromSoftware pioneered a new genre and difficulty standard with their Souls series, but Bloodborne’s their magnum opus. The sordid streets of Yharnam teem with monsters, and hacking through the bloody lot of them is a visceral (and challenging) delight.

I made it through Bloodborne with minimal trouble, felling most bosses in two or three tries. But the last boss, the dude whose name starts with G (no spoilers), kicked my ass to the moon and back. I fought him for a whole weekend, dying upwards of fifty times. I thought I couldn’t do it, that I’d have to throw in the towel, for this was a mountain I couldn’t scale. But then something unexpected happened: I won! I flawlessly dodged his attacks, steadily chipping away at his lofty life bar until he kicked the bucket. The sensation of elation I experienced upon victory was a high that lasted for hours, and that’s when it clicked for me “This is why there’s no easy mode”. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Life is Strange, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rocket League, Undertale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Persona5-1-1024x576

2016) Persona 5

When it comes to JRPGs, there’s no shortage of turn-based level grind-y time sinkers on offer, but Persona 5 is something different. It’s both unabashedly inspired by its genre brethren, yet wholly unique. Where countless JRPG stories crumble under the weight of “That’s flippin’ nonsense”, Persona 5 serves up a rewarding narrative driven by a wildly loveable band of misfits. Its relationship-building mechanics (that inspired Fire Emblem: Three Houses) are addictive, and its user interface is award-worthy. Every facet of this genre masterpiece is meticulously honed to perfection, and its bigger and better iteration (Persona 5 Royal) can’t come soon enough. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Inside, Overwatch, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is just how familiar yet simultaneously refreshing it feels. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it still feels like a Zelda adventure — in spirit, story, tone and in gameplay. You play as the young courageous Link, the hero of Hyrule, who awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave and teams up with the eponymous princess (so to speak) and sets out on an adventure to destroy the horrible fanged, boar-faced Calamity Ganon, a megalomaniac holding Princess Zelda hostage and bent on destroying Hyrule. The narrative setup is more or less standard for a Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild has something that was missing from the series for far too long — perhaps since the original title was released back in 1986.

Much like that original, Breath of the Wild is a game that begs you to keep exploring and it does this right from the start, immediately instilling a real sense of mystery, no matter how familiar you are with the series. As soon as you emerge from that opening cave, you’ll find yourself on a vista, looking out at the beautiful mountains and ruins of a post-apocalyptic, techno-plagued world. And from that moment on, the world is your oyster.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brought a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s such a landmark in video games that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. Though in the end, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go, is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil VII, Super Mario Odyssey

2018) God of War

To take their beloved franchise, turn it on its head, and deliver an experience that surpasses its acclaimed predecessors was no easy task for Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, yet they smashed it! God of War pays homage to its roots, whilst simultaneously bounding headlong into uncharted waters. It embraces modern conventions but utilizes them in a way that feels fantastically fresh.

Kratos’s journey with Atreus through the universe of Norse mythology is a masterclass in both character study and organic world-building, and a far cry from the one dimensional “Kratos angry, Kratos kill things” fare of old. Combat strikes a balance between strategic nuance and gory glee, and the Leviathan Axe feels badass to swing around. Discussing this game is more often than not an exercise in rattling off cool qualities, because there’s just that many things to dig about it. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Games of the Decade

2019 ) Fire Emblem: Three Houses

With three stories that can change depending on the choices taken, Fire Emblem: Three Houses really does allow the player to choose the path they wish. Much like previous Fire Emblem games, what the player does and chooses is at the heart of the game, with benefits and consequences for each action taken. With three different houses to discover, Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be replayed countless times while never feeling like the same game.

It’s easy to get enchanted by all the personality, charisma, and cheesiness the game has outside of battles, that it’s even easier to miss the tactical ingenuity within battles. Fire Emblem: Three Houses has shaken up much of the battle formula from previous Fire Emblem games, creating a much more fragile web, requiring a balancing of personalities and classes that can develop constructively for the rest of the game. This means every brick you place from the start of the game will affect how well your house stands by the end of the game. It’s a clever design that can catch even the most ardent Fire Emblem veterans out there.

But most importantly of all, each story doesn’t feel rushed or out of place. That isn’t just the three main stories but every characters’ own personal story. Some of the characters are a little overly cloy for my personal tastes, but that isn’t to say they didn’t fit the narrative. Their story was woven into the main story without a slip or a bump. It is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is more than just how the player develops, but how each character develops around them. (James Baker)

Runner-Up: The Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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