Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine staff continue the year-end series: The 50 Games That Defined 2012.
At the end of every year, you can count on Gamasutra for our annual series of retrospective roundup lists. Typically, at this point, we'd recognize the best games by platform -- PC, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, etc. etc.
This year we're doing things differently. We've nixed those platform-specific lists in favor of compiling (in alphabetical order) the 50 Games That Defined 2012, starting with the first 10.
This isn't just a list of awesome video games from 2012 (that much shorter list comes later). There will be some not-so-great games listed here as well. There will be some games that didn't release in 2012, but still made a mark on the year regardless. There will even be some games that will never release.
What all of these games have in common is that they're representative of a trend or interesting story that captured the zeitgeist of 2012 -- they all say something about what happened this year. [See part 1 and part 2.]
-- Kris Graft, Editor-in-Chief, Gamasutra
Haunts: The Manse Macabre
As games such as FTL fulfill Kickstarter backers' hopes (and pledges) with a complete, high-quality product, games such as Mob Rules' Haunts: The Manse Macabre fulfill their fears. Developer Mob Rules, made up of ex-Cryptic Studios developers, pitched Haunts as a "turn-based horror" game, and garnered enough support to raise almost $29,000 in pledges, which was over the $25,000 goal purportedly needed to complete the game (which already had $42,500 invested from the devs). Nearly a year after the campaign launched, the well-meaning developers announced that the game ran out of money, programmers and steam. Development of the game pushes forward as a volunteer-supported open source project, but that certainly wasn't the original plan. What Haunts did was remind people in 2012 that even if a project reaches its goal, nothing is certain with Kickstarter, for the developers or for the backers.
Hitman: Absolution may be remembered for its decent action and stealth sequences, but that's not really what it makes our list for. The biggest mark the game left in 2012 was through its marketing, specifically the "Nuns, Guns, and Agent 47" E3 trailer, in which a bunch of sexy dominatrix nuns are bloodily dispatched by Hitman's Agent 47. And there was the game's ill-advised Facebook app that encouraged people to put "hits" out on their friends who would be identifiable by their "small tits," "hairy legs" or "tiny penis." The reaction to these initiatives was resoundingly negative in the game criticism sphere. So negative, in fact, that developer IO Interactive apologized, and changed the level the sexy nuns appeared in, to give them more backstory, while the Facebook app was pulled within an hour. Both controversies kicked off a wide-ranging discussion of portrayal of women in games, which some might say is a net positive result, but they're also evidence that game marketing needs to grow up.
Incredipede (pictured at top) is a great physics-based puzzler that launched in October, with an inspiring story behind how it was built. But what really made Colin Northway's project so notable in 2012 was how it has fared on Steam's new Greenlight submission process. Northway, creator of the popular Fantastic Contraption, was hoping for a new, more direct path onto the all-powerful Steam store. But despite his abilities and a fantastic-looking game, it simply wasn't noticed amid the Greenlight masses. After launching the game outside of Steam, it quickly shot up the Greenlight charts and is now just about to get a Steam release. But in terms of Greenlight actually making a difference for indies pre-launch, the jury's still out.
With its previous visually-unique, dreamlike titles flOw and Flower, Thatgamecompany was clearly aiming for something in particular, but it wasn't until Journey that it felt as if it had truly attained it. Journey bore many of the same signatures -- the lightness of air or water, a focus on introspection, for example. But it had the very specific goal of creating a cooperative online experience that was specifically about players acting with and not upon one another, while remaining at a level of abstraction that permitted meditation.
The result is beautiful, and a pleasure: Every player's experience is unique, yet the monomyth throughline is universal. Proving that a game about interaction doesn't have to be yet another brawl on yet another map, Journey's world of light and sparkling sands felt markedly like evolution in a year when too many fans were thirsty for something new.
League of Legends
Over the last year, League of Legends developer Riot Games has proved that it knows more about developing and encouraging the eSports scene than just about anyone else. From embedding Twitch.TV streams directly into the game client itself, to developing a special LAN-only build for tournament use, to sinking $5 million into the League tournament scene, Riot is now carrying the flag for professional games in 2012 -- and that's doubly impressive considering League is three years old by now.
This Wii U and PC-based indie all-star project, the creation of World Of Goo's Kyle Gabler and Henry Hatsworth's Kyle Gray (with Allan Blomquist!), is definitely divisive, but surprisingly poignant along the way. Twinning an incredibly tight game loop with quirky storytelling and an amazing soundtrack, the game has you burning things to receive tokens to... burn more things. And so on. And so forth. Both a criticism of consumerism and a paean to it at the same time, the game does open up, eventually, for a finale to remember. But it's the feel of wielding fire, alone in front of your Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, that will stay with you. Burn it down.
Mass Effect 3
When BioWare's Mass Effect 3 arrived this year, it landed in the hands of some of the most loyal fans in all of games. The trilogy would be complete and the saga of Commander Shepard would be brought to an epic finale. But a swath of these loyal fans were not willing to accept the creators' finale. And these most loyal fans were also the most vocal, signing petitions and taking to social media to generate such an uproar that BioWare -- known for listening so closely to its audience -- said "Alright, we'll fix this," promising to patch the game with an ending that the studio hoped would better deliver on player expectations.
Mass Effect 3 raised hard questions about the relationship between players and creators: Did BioWare do the right thing by giving the most vocal fans what they demanded, or did the studio cave, and compromise its creative vision? And did BioWare over-promise when it said Shepard's story belonged to the players? These are questions that were prompted by Mass Effect 3 that still warrant discussion in the years ahead.
Piranha Games, Infinite Game Publishing
Just as soon as developers began to figure out the crowdfunding rules, MechWarrior Online came and rewrote them. Instead of trying to drum up funding through a Kickstarter pitch, developer Piranha Games decided to bring its crowdfunding in-house instead, offering "Founders Packages" from $30 to $120 that gave buyers early access to the closed beta, in-game real money currency at a discounted rate, and other in-game benefits. This helped finance pre-release development and engaged customers, all at once. Consider this: All in all, Piranha pulled in over $5 million from the Founders packages (about $1.7 million more than the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter), they don't need to worry about any kind of physical order fulfillment since all the goods are in-game, and they don't need to pay the 5 percent Kickstarter fee. Not a bad deal.
Ninja Gaiden 3
Team Ninja, Tecmo Koei
"It seems like we made a Japanese hamburger for the West," Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi told Gamasutra. "Maybe, as a Japanese developer, we need to make good Japanese food." It was a harsh lesson for a team confronted with the fact that they had made the best of a difficult proposition: Make the notoriously unforgiving and very Japanese Ninja Gaiden more popular in the West, in the age of Call of Duty.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is not a terrible game -- far from it -- but its approach drew the ire of fans and critics, who turned their noses up at the game, just as Americans do when confronted by Japanese pizza with mayonnaise and corn on it. More than any game, it shows the futility of this approach for Japanese developers. By trying to make its game more thematically appealing and forgiving, Team Ninja hoped to catch a wider audience. The opposite happened.
Nintendo Land isn't Wii Sports.
It sounds obvious, but it's important to remember. Where Wii Sports was constrained, simple, elegant, Nintendo Land is expansive, varied, confusing. Instead of showing players the simplest possible way to enjoy its new generation of control, Nintendo Land brims with ideas -- some unrealized, some robust -- and says, "Why don't you decide what you like best?"
It's hard to argue whether it's an effective proof of concept for the Wii U GamePad, then. Because the GamePad itself is a complex, original way of looking at console games that straddles many modes of interaction and play, so to does Nintendo Land. But that may be the best representation of Nintendo's new system -- so unusual, so complicated, so full of potential that may never be realized.