The Monday 'Joe: On 2011

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

The year is ending, and this is the last Monday ‘Joe of 2011 as we’re not running on Boxing Day. This is the time when sites run their end of year awards. We’re doing it a little differently: we’re not doing them. However, everyone has their favourites, and this is where we can discuss what 2011 brought to us as gamers.

This week’s questions:

What did you think of 2011 over all? What was your favourite game of 2011?

Crystal Steltenpohl: 2011 was a really busy year for me outside of video games, so I didn’t really get a chance to play nearly as much as I would have hoped to. That said, it was a decent year, I suppose, for video games. We had the release of Little Big Planet 2, Dead Space 2, You Don’t Know Jack, Marvel vs Capcom 3, Pokémon Black & White, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Mass Effect 2, Ys I & II Chronicles, Final Fantasy XIV, Dynasty Warriors 7, Portal 2, Terraria, Fable III, L.A. Noire, Infamous 2, Duke Nukem Forever, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, F.E.A.R. 3, Catherine, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Gears of War 3, The Ico & Shadow of Collossus Collection, Rage, Orcs Must Die!, Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dungeon Defenders, Sonic Generations, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Saint’s Row: The Third, Minecraft (final release anyway), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Mario Kart 6, and Star Wars: The Old Republic, to name but a few.

The only thing I’d complain about in regards to this year is that it seems that a lot of games that were released were either ports to different consoles, rereleases of older games, or sequels to games—outside of the indie industry anyway. I guess that’s why I didn’t get really excited about too many releases. That said, I did enjoy quite a few of the games I listed above. Little Big Planet 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are really fun games, and Pokémon Black & White were a lot better than I thought they’d be. A good friend of mine just recently gave me Portal 2 for Christmas and I’m looking forward to playing that, if I haven’t already started by the time this gets posted. Duke Nukem was a flop, but I guess that’s to be expected. Ocarina of Time 3D is enjoyable, as are Skyrim and Arkham City. Catherine seemed interesting and most of my friends enjoyed it. Dungeon Defenders is really fun, one of the better indie games that got released this year. Finally, SWTOR looks like it’s going to be a great MMO, and I’m excited to see where that goes even though I don’t have the money to play the game.

I guess my favorite game this year that I had the opportunity to play would have to be either Skyrim or Dungeon Defenders, and I can’t tell if that’s because they were released recently and so that’s what I remember playing the most. Skyrim is a really nice open world experience where you can do whatever you want and, well, kill dragons. The bugs kind of kill it for me, though. Dungeon Defenders, on the other hand, is a cute little tower defense/action game that’s a lot more fun than it probably should be; and the ability to play with friends really nabbed me since I recently moved to a new area and miss my friends back home quite a bit. I also played Portal all the way through for the first time, and I’m really looking forward to when I can play Portal 2. All in all, these three games probably made my year. I don’t know what that says about 2011, honestly.

Joshua Moore: 2011 was an interesting year for me. I started WoW again, and then I quit after about six months. I haven’t had much time for real gaming anymore recently, but I was determined to change that this year. I managed to finish Devil Survivor, 999, The World Ends With You, Portal, Portal 2, Ico, and Shadow of the Colossus, all during the school year no less. I also managed to finish Vanguard Bandits, and I’ve started Skyrim and Cave Story+, both of which are pretty fantastic. I’ve made a lot of gaming purchases throughout the year, and it’s been frustrating me that I haven’t gotten a chance to play them. My backlog is quite enormous, but I’m determined to gradually work my way through it. 2011 has proven to be the beginning of this process, and I’m making up for all the gaming that college life as an engineering major has taken away from me.

However, the many releases of this year have pointed out something that’s glaringly obvious: Too many games are being released with far too many bugs. A friend of mine has pointed out this is likely because of the availability of patches. In games like Skyrim and Dead Island, this results in a pretty broken game from the get-go. I have the feeling this may prove to make a good feature article later, but for now, I’d simply like to point out that in the Skyrim wiki, every quest has a huge list of bugs. Is there no true play-testing anymore? Has so much emphasis been placed on creating a product and pushing it out onto the market that an enjoyable and mostly bug-free experience has been placed on the backburner, only to be addressed as an afterthought? This example is not provided because I dislike Skyrim—quite the contrary, actually—but this has proven to be quite prevalent among current games, and I’m not sure it’s the best way to go about things. Games today are huge; that is a fact. It might be impossible to play-test things quite like it used to be done. However, I can’t help but feel there has been a bit of neglect.

As far as my favorite game of the year goes, it’s a hard choose just one. Two stand out: Skyrim, which is somewhat of a given at this point, and 999. Both are fantastic games. The former, I expected; however, the latter was completely unexpected. I truly did not expect such a niche title to be so fantastic with a truly compelling storyline that I don’t often find in a video game. Skyrim, while littered with bugs, presents countless hours of fun via a world that can be enjoyed in whatever play style the user likes. It once again puts The Elder Scrolls at the forefront of gaming excellence, a position which few other games often lay claim to.

Mohammed Al-Saadoon: In 2011, I really had two consoles with me: a PS3 and a gaming PC. That meant I could cover about 80% of the gaming world. I do have a 3DS, but region locking fucks me over; and I do have a PSP, but nothing worthwhile comes out for it anymore. My Xbox 360 and Wii are on the other side of the Earth right now, so I haven’t been able to sample their delicious exclusives.

2011 was another bumper year for gaming. Huge titles like Skyrim, Zelda, Uncharted, Call of Duty, Deus Ex, Saints Row, Battlefield and a host of others all jostled for space, and I literally have not had time to do more than play a few minutes of some games. I cast guilty glances to excellent titles like The Witcher 2 and Red Orchestra 2 as I haven’t given them the love they deserve.

There is one thing that bothered me, though: the abundance of sequels in this year’s stock of games. Now, I’m not against sequels, and I realize that the video game industry has been dominated by sequels since forever; but this year, it just seems I can’t look anywhere outside the indie game world without seeing a number or a roman numeral at the end of a title. There’s just a lack of real new titles even from small publishers these days.

Favorite game? That’s a tough question. Should I choose the fantastic Shogun 2: Total War for bringing the Total War series full circle to its roots? The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game that’s literally consumed days of my life? Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, the first good non-RTS game in the Warhammer 40k franchise? Frozen Synapse, the best indie game I’ve played since Introversion’s seminal Uplink?

No, I’m going to have to go with L.A. Noire. Not only is it a stylish merger of two of my favorite genres—open world sandbox and point-and-click adventure—but it also manages to tie some great characters and dialogue into a beautiful 1940’s Los Angeles detective setting. All this from a fairly large studio, Rockstar. I mentioned above how distraught I was at the lack of new IP from big developers, so I tip my hat to L.A. Noire. It’s a complete shame what happened to Team Bondi after the title was released, and I hope the former members form a new studio and continue to make great games.

Brandon Mietzner: 2011 really had its ups and downs for me. It started off with Dragon Age 2 and Crysis 2, both of which were both abysmal games for some different but similar reasons. The best thing to come out earlier this year was the Humble Indie Bundles: they gave you a chance to name what price you wanted for them, all the while helping charities, and they gave these games a higher profile to not just game news sites but gamers as well, myself included. The year continued for me with Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Rage. Again, both were another set of bad games, and this really upset me because I had pre-ordered these games and they were horrible.

Then, for some reason, my fortunes changed. I got into the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta and was swept away with elation and excitement. The only thing that brought it down was that I knew it was a beta and I’d lose my character. Then Battlefield 3, Skyrim, and Saints Row: The Third came out. These games haven’t disappointed except for maybe the graphics drivers in Skyrim and Battlefield 3. At this point, it seems like the bad luck with games had finally ended. I was really starting to get worried that the games would just be bad through the year, and I’m glad that I was wrong.

What’s my favorite game of 2011? It would have to be Skyrim for the PC—not the console, the PC. The reason for this is due to how moddable this game is. Even without tools from Day One, the modding community has put out several graphical and gameplay tweaks. This game will live on mostly through it’s open world, mods, and DLC. I’ve put a ton of hours put into it and I still haven’t finished the main story, but it is by far the best game I have played this year.

Mel Ngai: Gaming in 2011 was no different for me than any other year before it: a bunch of games are announced and released, and I pick the ones that catch my interest the most. Inevitably, this combines with having real-life commitments to take care of, so I wind up playing a very small number of games per year. In any case, I have no strong opinion either way on the gaming front of 2011.

As for my favorite game of the year, that’s a toss-up between Pokémon Black and Sonic Generations.

Regarding Pokémon Black, I haven’t felt this enthused about a Pokémon game since the days of Red & Blue and Gold & Silver. Everything from how the battles move at a much brisker pace to how the story was surprisingly well told has made Pokémon Black an enjoyable experience for me. It helps that I actually do like the designs of most of the new Pokémon.

Regarding Sonic Generations, the entire game was a wonderful nostalgia fest for me. Not that I wasn’t expecting that given the game’s premise, of course; just, the nostalgia hit me with the force of that City Escape truck, and it was great (getting hit by the actual truck in the stage isn’t so great, of course). I like the stages and the challenges, and even the tougher obstacles that made me grit my teeth never quite wiped away that smile from my face. To quote Sonic himself from one scene in the game, “Like it? Ilove it!”

I love both games that I mentioned, of course. I just don’t know which one I love more or if I care enough to make that assessment.

Aileen Coe: 2011 was the first year I’ve had a console other than the Wii, namely the PS3. Most of what I played on the PS3 didn’t come out this year, e.g. Borderlands, Fallout 3, Demon’s Souls, Valkyria Chronicles, LittleBigPlanet, Atelier Rorona, Disgaea 3, Trinity Universe, and Super Street Fighter IV. I didn’t get to do quite as much catching up or playing as many of this year’s PS3 releases as I thought I’d be able to, but hey, there’s always next year. In terms of this year’s releases, there was Radiant Historia, Ghost Trick, Okamiden, Corpse Party, Fate/Extra, Portal 2, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Professor Layton and the Last Specter, and Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. Catherine seemed interesting from the demo, but I haven’t had the chance to pick that up yet. I even got to try a couple of 360 games on my brother’s 360: WWE All Stars and Gears of War 3. Over all, the year was packed, even if many of the titles were sequels. Actually, there’s still a lot I’ve yet to try.

Out of what I have played, I would count Corpse Party among the hidden gems that a lot of people either haven’t heard of or would skip over in favor of other titles. It had a solid story, creepy atmosphere, and a top-notch localization. It also had a unique feature with the binaural recording, which allowed for a more immersive experience when playing with headphones. I wish more games had this.

Christopher Bowen: An interesting thing happened in 2011: I learned that running a video games web site that focuses on the news of the industry is not a good way to keep up with the actual games themselves. What I mean by that is, I know what performed well and can rattle those statistics off the top of my head. “Oh, yeah, traditional JRPGs are struggling in the American market, while free to play stuff like Smurfs’s Village is doing well,” I can say at parties because nothing gets me female fans like talking about financial statements. But for all of the involvement I have in the industry itself, I have had very little time to actually play the games themselves—what with a day career, a hockey career, and the time that just goes into being a man in his 30’s in 2011. Killzone 3, Pokémon Black & White, Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, Catherine, Saints Row: The Third, Deus Ex: Human Revolution… I haven’t played one minute of any of these games, and it’s not for a lack of want; I literally have not had the time to play these games. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the exception: I finally bought it and played some of it to squelch everyone going, “FUCKING BUY SKYRIM NOW!” but I’m hardly far enough in it to give it a definitive write-up.

I’ve become, for the most part, just another adult who plays video games when he has time instead of making time for video games. I’ll play a game or two of whatever NHL game is current, which is funny because I have a love/hate relationship with NHL ’12 that’s usually reserved for old married couples whose church forbids divorce. I’ll play a couple games of NBA 2K11 because I don’t think 2K12 is worth a full $60. I’ll go play a couple of games on MAME, games so old they’re archaeological. The days of my beating eighty-hour epics like Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky or any other massive timesink aren’t altogether gone, but they’re fleeting.

So after my bout of middle-aged whining, just what was my favourite game of 2011? It’s a game that has virtually no actual gameplay and that no one’s heard of: To The Moon, a $12 indie title where the entire point is to relive the memories of a dying man. I’m not even finished with this game yet, and it’s amazing. There’s no real gameplay to speak of—in fact, there are no battles at all—but that’s OK, because I find myself playing games more for the experience than actual gameplay as I get older. The experience is simply sublime: a wonderfully told story of a life well lived that brings out every emotion one can feel in a powerful form with a soundtrack that rivals Chrono Trigger. Yes, I went there.

People who think video games are solely about gameplay—the act of controlling an avatar to do the things that you want done—are misguided. This isn’t meant in a derogatory sense; I was like that as well. But the experience, the act of immersing yourself into an interactive experience and forgetting completely where you are, is what makes video gaming such an enjoyable pasttime. The minutia of how one gets that experience is ultimately irrelevant.

Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.