Cha's 2010 Wrap Up

I'm not big on absolutes, so my brain hates trying to determine 'favourites'. So, no 'Cha's Game of the Year', just a bunch of interesting games that were part of my year (including some older stuff). In alphabetical order.

Dinner Date

I'm not sure what it says about me that I was excited about a game involving being stood up for a date. I've been stood up in real life, and it isn't something I recommend, generally. Well, apparently in my case he did eventually show up five hours late, but I wasn't prepared to wait in the rain for quite that long.

I think I've changed since then: now I would stand around in the rain five hours or longer for a few minutes of his perspective. Some people are like trying to catch water with a butterfly net, but it's pretty as it flows past and I can't resist the attempt.

Dinner Date isn't like my overly-flowery melancholy. It's about extreme self-pity and the inner thoughts of someone with messed up priorities. I worry when someone latches onto sex as their hope for happiness and contentment. Sex and romance are cool and all, but there is more to life than a love story – those 'Happy Ever After' fairy tales have a lot to answer for. If someone is permanently unsatisfied without someone what makes them think they will be satisfied with them?

Dinner Date is an uncomfortable game, mostly because it feels true. I recognised at least one person I know while sitting inside Julian's subconscious. I squirmed and wondered if that's really what it feels like. I've done lonely, but not in quite such a bleak and entitled way.

Games are not about fun. They can be, sure. Like my boss, who uses entertainment to switch off from seriousness and favours watching comedies. But in my case I either want to feel something or learn something, whatever that may be. I used to think forgetting the fun aspect of games was a weakness, but it's worth looking at other things. It sells the spectrum of game experience rather short to just slap a fun label on it and be done.

Dragon Age: Origins

My human rogue's beginning was ridiculous, but in some ways it worked. My Warden gladly ran away from the affectations of nobility, but eventually found herself having to return to that life, take responsibility and handle it. That was my story, and involved some genuinely difficult decisions and character development.

I liked many things about Dragon Age: Origins, but it overstayed its welcome. It's very tempting to cloud everything I say about it with negativity, which is probably unjustified. I suppose I always feel like these games could be doing more. Less plasticky faces and Lord of the Rings battles. I get cynical as soon as something tries to be too epic. I do get my preferred small-scale personal stories and at least some shades of grey, but it always comes back to the big bad invading army of inhuman thingies.

(Tangent: I am childishly excited about The Witcher 2. I uncharacteristically pre-ordered the crazy collector's edition. Now, back to being a sensible consumer and not doing anything like that again for the rest of my life.)

That might not actually be much of a tangent. I'm getting used to having unpopular opinions, and preferring The Witcher to Dragon Age is one of them. The Witcher achieves choice and grey morality without the contrived placement of binary options favoured by Dragon Age. Geralt is far more my sort of protagonist, with his unwillingness to get involved in politics or play the great hero, but always getting caught up in shitty situations.

Speaking of, I received a Christmas Card in my email from the Witcher people wishing me a non-linear Christmas. I think I can safely say no one has ever wished me that before, and I was suitably impressed. Actually, it happened too, since my family had a Doctor Who themed Christmas with time travel, and my Dad regenerated – true story.

Okay, that was a tangent after all. Short version: I like Dragon Age, it's hard not to really. But it's not The Witcher, and didn't wish me any kind of Christmas at all.

Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep

My surprise hit of the year. Endless Ocean is evidence that family-friendly games about animals and such are not all shovelware aimed at people who don't know any better.

Games can be many things, but relaxing is rarely one of them for me, except in a take-mind-off-something sort of way. Endless Ocean is an exception, and lasts much longer than, say, Flower.

My time management (or, perhaps more accurately, my energy management) has been a mess this year. I try to do everything at once, and then fall in a heap and can't do much more than lie around worrying about how much I'm not doing. The value of switching off is not to be underestimated. So, I'm planning to struggle less and remember how to sink under the waves.

Flower, Sun and Rain

This year I finally joined the hordes of DS users, giving me plenty of catching up to do. Flower, Sun, and Rain is the stand out so far. I adore this game, but can't recommend it to anyone else because it's actually terrible and my opinion is dead wrong. It's about running an ugly set of polygons back and forward about the place repetitively, looking up numbers in a guide book, and something about exploding aeroplanes and pink crocodiles. I love you, Suda 51.

I like weird. I don't quite understand the fear some people seem to have of not understanding. Possibly because I never claim to understand things, really. When understanding is acknowledged as a process without an end point it doesn't matter how strange whatever you are trying to understand is, and it's possible to relax and accept.

Besides, pink crocodiles aren't actually as weird as many things I see people doing every day.

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon

This turned out pretty much as expected. It's a beautiful game. I adore the landscapes and abandoned buildings, the use of colour, and the emotions it plays with. I liked collecting little pieces of memory and trying to fit them together.

I particularly appreciated the little details in Fragile Dreams. Not every dead-end contained an item to pick up – although often they did – but there was usually some other reason to visit: a bone which looks disturbingly human, or invisible ink on the wall from someone who loves doughnuts. I took longer than most people to finish because I spent so much time exploring.

I find there's a big risk with post-apocalyptic games in explaining how the current situation came to be. But in this case it was compelling and felt right, rather than destroying the magic.

Fragile Dreams also gets the ending right. A touch bittersweet, and leaving the details up to the imagination. Perfect for me, probably a little dissatisfying for some.

But, damn the annoying inventory shuffling, constantly breaking weapons, and simplistic fighting. Also, walking down an empty corridor for how long, now? Some parts create an incredible sense of scale, but also an incredible sense of tedium.

So, I suppose, as a computer game Fragile Dreams is a great anime. If I'm to find a suitable year-ending message here, it's the mix of good and bad in everything. I think I'm becoming increasingly okay with that.

Heavy Rain

Ah look, another unpopular opinion. Time to stand up for Heavy Rain again.

It's a game experienced in-the-moment rather than handling later dissection. As I've said previously, it paints an emotional picture rather than a logical one. So, the plot holes aren't my problem.

I've been watching Dexter recently. Season 1 that is. I don't watch television, so I'm behind on just about everything, but after multiple recommendations from people who know what a creep I can be I was bound to give in eventually. (Aww, the serial killer made them think of me, how sweet).

I have a point here. Dexter seems to be partly about bringing emotion to the unemotional. So is Heavy Rain. Sure, Heavy Rain is (at least by theoretical design) full of emotion. But it's in a medium so starved for real connection it might as well be targeting sociopaths. But I'm not sure that's a completely hopeless case - it did get through to at least some people in some ways, and I think that's worth noting.

Still, whatever flaws Heavy Rain has (and yes, there are plenty), they are irrelevant if people aren't in the right place to receive whatever it did have going for it.

I think games have a long way to go, but I'm suggesting players do too. That probably sounds a bit mean, but it's also exciting. I want to be challenged and shaped by what's around me.

Kana: Little Sister

Long non-interactive sections in action games are annoying because, well, I'm there because I want to do stuff, not sit around twiddling my thumbs. But that's a problem of working against expectations rather than long sections of text or cut-scenes necessarily being problematic.

This year, I began to appreciate visual novels. Another Code: Two Memories, Hotel Dusk, and the Ace Attorney games were like my gateway drugs before moving on to visual novels proper.

So, Kana: Little Sister. An old visual novel, but it got some attention this year thanks to a (censored) PSP port. I don't know about the PSP version (though I think it would still be good without the sex), but highly recommended if you can deal with incest themes. The story shaped itself to my choices far more than I expected. It also left me a blubbering mess in parts, which even though I'm a highly emotional sort doesn't happen often in games. If I ever see that much feeling in something more interactive I'll be a happy Cha.

My to-play pile (and my to-read pile) is huge, and that's stopped me from seeking out a lot more visual novels. But I am taking recommendations on particularly good ones.

Mass Effect 2

I much preferred the original, but Mass Effect 2 still rates a mention.

My Shepard started off mildly Renegade. Not harsh for no reason, just very uncompromising and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the mission. Mass Effect 2 shaped my Shepard into something much crueler. Brought back from the dead and forced into working with people she didn't want to, she began to care less and act out more against, well, everything.

In games with a good-evil axis I usually come out mildly evil. Not because I'm a bastard, just because I'm most enamoured of neutrality on the Dungeons & Dragons good-neutral-evil axis. The closest I can get to neutral alignment in most games is acting self-interested, hence usually turning out mildly evil but not baby-murdering insane.

So, Mass Effect 2 is where I gave in and started shooting people just because it was funny. That's the kind of desperation and mental instability my Shepard has reached. Somehow, people still seem to respect her, and not just in a scared of getting shot way. I suppose there is power in strength, even blunt, crudely wielded strength.

It's pretty far away from my usual playstyle. But what I actually like most about Mass Effect is that it reminds me I have a quad. I can hopefully use strength a little more sensibly than my Shepard, but it's nice to remember I have it.

Nier

It's difficult to write something short about Nier (in other words, this probably will be short before I let myself get carried away into a longer discussion). From the moment I turned it on and Kainé started swearing at me I was hooked. Hooked enough to forgive the grind, which is the major downside.

It doesn't take an awful lot to create something new. Nier borrows from an awful lot of places. But throw in a forty-something man trying to look after his daughter, a foul-mouthed intersex swordswoman and an arrogant, wonderfully voiced spellbook.

Yeah, that will pretty much do. Everything has been done before, but everything is new too. And that is basically why life's worth it.

Honourable mentions

Borderlands - Enough said.

Braid - I'm proud of myself for finally finishing it (even with a little bit of cheating to get the last puzzle pieces). I wrote more about it over on Game People which was good fun.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep - Surprised at how much I like it, but don't have much more to say right now.

Minecraft - Something I plan to play a lot more of, in that mystical future where I have time.

Monster Hunter tri - I'm horribly behind, but haven't given up on myself as a hunter just yet.

The Path - More to say on this when I've finished. Why didn't I play this earlier? It's perfect for me.

Sleep is Death - Freaked me the fuck out, actually - too much stress and effort. But I can't help but admire it.