A lot of gaming sites are putting out their “best games of 2012” award lists right now and, quite frankly, I miss sitting in a room for hours straight arguing over what games we should give award to at PC Gamer. So I decided to put together my own list of entertainment that I enjoyed this year. It’s not nearly as authoritative as PCG’s, but hey, I didn’t have to arm wrestle Dan to get my choice listed here!
Inspirational: Mists of Pandaria
2012 was a weird year for me. I started it as an established games writer and ended it as a brand-new-and-confused game designer. I’ve had to learn a lot, and the awesome people I work with on EverQuest at SOE have taught me so much. But I’m always looking at other games for inspiration as well.
More than any other game I played this year, Mists of Pandaria taught me to open my eyes in regards to quest design. Anything can be turned into a quest, and it’s absolutely vital to break up the kill-grind monotony with fresh encounters and events that pique player’s curiosity. It blows my mind how consistently MoP has made me re-examine my view of quest design.
It’s little touches like the side love story between the undead rogue and the Hozen bufoon in the flashback missions as the Horde trains their new monkey allies that reminded me that characters should always be more than talking sign posts.
Running away from a charging bull and leaping off a cliff as it rolls over me reminds me that quests don’t have to be long and don’t always have to be overly epic—it just takes one solid experience to make it memorable. And missions like the shooting gallery quest in Jade Forest remind me to always push the technical limits of the game I’m working on because there’s always something new to build that will surprise my players.
Friendly: Planetside 2
Sure, it’s probably a little cheesy to give an award to the company I’m currently working for, but since my awards are worthless and no other game came close to the group experience I got in PS2, I’m doing it anyway! I miss playing games with the guys at PCG, and Planetside 2 got all of us back in a single game, chatting on Skype as Evan coordinated our squad’s movements.
10 people can make a big difference and we were usually big enough to inspire a small group of randoms to roll with us as we conquered bases in the almighty name of alien technology as Vanu. It was an absolute blast, especially when Gavin, Greg, and Lucas started trying to run each other over with spaceships.
Reliable: League of Legends
I miss a lot about working as the MMO guy at PC Gamer, but there’s one thing I don’t miss at all: having to actively play 15+ MMO/MOBAs at all times. When I left PCG, I fully embraced the opportunity to abandon games I didn’t love to play, and quickly retreated back to my two-or-three-games-at-a-time lifestyle.
I’ve bounced between a lot of great games this year—Guild Wars 2, Age of Empires Online, Tera, Dota 2, SWTOR, EQ and WoW, to name a few—but League of Legends is the only game that I’ve consistently played all year long, even when I didn’t have to.
The new champions constantly showing up to twist team lineups keep my mind dreaming up potential new combos to test out, and the focus on PvP gameplay means that every game is different and exciting. I’ve been playing LoL on-and-off for almost 4 years now, and I expect to be a staple in my gaming diet for at least as many more year.
Sharable: The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is special. It’s the first game since Peggle that my wife has really gotten into, and she doesn’t even play it. She just sits and watches it like a TV show, occasionally chiming in to encourage me to make a particular choice when lives hang in the balance.
It’s rare that I get to play videogames with my wife, and it’s really nice to be able to share the experience of the Walking Dead (and, from what I hear, share some tear-shedding as we work through the later episodes).
The popularity of The Walking Dead TV show has also made it so easy to recommend this game to non-gamers or gamers without a lot of free time. My non-gaming relatives may laugh when I talk about orcs and elves, but they nod intently when I tell them there’s an easy-to-play, super story-driven, game that ties in with their favorite television show. And nobody calls you a nerd for talking about it
Welcoming: Age of Empires Online
I kicked off a podcast this year with my good friend Greg, centered around strategies and build orders for Age of Empires Online. When we couldn’t find a single podcast to subscribe to for the MMORTS we’d been hooked on all year, we knew it was time to make one ourselves.
We jumped into the community totally blind and hoping for the best, and I was incredibly surprised to find a super friendly, welcoming bunch of players greeting us. The WoW forums trained me to expect the worst from people on official message boards, but people like AndyPierce and Tminc94 have come alongside the show to encourage us, help us refine strats, and even jump on as guest hosts. Then they jumped with us in-game and played some matches with us.
The AOEO community is still small, and I think that’s what keeps it so friendly, but whatever the reason, I’m super thankful for the warmth and kindness they showed Greg and I this year.
Liberating: Google Music
I love music, and I’m usually listening to something while working at the office, driving in my car, or playing games at home (aka 90% of my waking life). I used to listen to Pandora at the office because I didn’t want to dump my music files on my work machine or drag an external drive around.
Then Google Music blew my mind. Run a small app on your machine, telling it to monitor certain folders where you keep your music. It uploads all of your music to Google’s servers, while keeping your metadata and all your custom songs (not just checking to see if it has a stored version of the same song you’re trying to upload and skipping the file if it doesn’t).
Then your entire music library is accessible in the library interface on the website, and through the phone app. It streams the music down as you listen to it, or you can choose to specify songs, albums, or playlists to store permanently on the device.
I have all my music all the time, and I now use it to keep the podcasts I listen to linked up whether I’m listening on my phone or my PC.
Surprising: Night of the Owls arc, DC Comics
Apparently I’ve decided to add non-games to this list, so I’m throwing this one in too! I’ve had mixed thoughts on DC’s New 52 relaunch, and I went into the first major Batman story arc expecting to be disappointed.
The Court of the Owls seemed like kind of a lame villain at first (oo, shadowy government that likes fairy tales), but they played out really well in the universe, tying in with so many of the books in big and small ways. And their assassins, the Talons, provided some of the most memorable backstories of the whole year for me. I won’t spoil anything, but the story of the Japanese girl that battles Batgirl is tragic and inspiring—I love it.
DC impressed me with this arc, and more than anything else I read this year, it made me happy to be in the New 52.