2014 has been a wonderful year. Jenna and I had our first son (who’s interrupted my writing of this blog post about 79 times with his adorable crying), I moved over to the dev team for Landmark and EverQuest Next at Sony Online Entertainment, and I was able to play a ton of awesome games.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of my favorite things from this past year.
(You can also check out my 2013 list for things that are still very much favorites.)
My Favorite Game – Gauntlet
By itself, Gauntlet is a fun few hours of nostalgia. But with the right group of friends, Gauntlet has been the funniest, most rambunctious digital get-together I’ve had in years. The former PC Gamer intern crew — Greg, Gavin, Lucas, and I — get together about once a week to team up and bash our way through the dungeons. All the while, hurling jokes, tripping traps, and fighting over who can steal the most gold before the other players spot it. Some of the puzzles are tedious, but the spell-slinging and sword-bashing comes at a fast enough pace that I never really mind.
Here’s a quick guide to playing this game with friends, so you can have as much fun as we do:
- The only thing that matters is that you collect more gold than your friends on the score screen at the end of each level. When you do, brag incessantly.
- You can light the explosive barrels your friend is carrying by attacking the fuse rope.
- It is completely acceptable to extort favors and drinks from friends when you hold the only key needed to progress.
- Try to convince your friends that the hambone food is actually a giant strawberry. Never admit this isn’t true.
- You can spam emotes on the login screen by pressing arrow keys.
- The archer is the best at stealing gold. Curse you, Lucas!!
My Favorite Expansion – World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
There’s so much to say about the design in WoW’s latest expansion pack, but I’ll keep it short. Blizzard has learned a lot about how to make content for their style of MMO over the past 10 years, and they put that knowledge to great use in this expansion. It builds on the hero motif and traditional storylines of the game, while extending the effectiveness of phasing technology and instancing to beyond what I even thought were possible. Every second of this expansion is incredibly well thought-out and executed to ensure you’re constantly having fun.
My Favorite Dev Project – Player Collaboration for Ruins in Landmark
Forgive the self-promotion, but a lot of my life this year has been spent learning to be a better game designer from my colleagues on the EverQuest Next and Landmark teams at Sony Online Entertainment. I joined the team in March and have been fortunate enough to dabble in all aspects of the game, from combat mechanics to stat-balancing to terrain generation to art design.
But the most fun part, by far, has been working with players who wanted to build ruins for our underground caverns in Landmark. We kicked off a Team-Up, a time-limited collaboration where a few other devs worked with players to help them understand what ruins should look like in the game, and how they’d need to be built on a technical level. I spent weeks giving over a hundred thousand words’ worth of feedback to players building these amazing ruins. Once they were built, the whole design team chipped in to populate them with enemies and treasure chests, and then set everything up to have them procedurally spawn in the world.
My favorite part is that when you walk into one of these ruins in-game, a message appears telling you which player built it and when they submitted it. Some of these creations are absolutely incredible, and I love that the players are getting full credit for it. SOE has talked a lot about collaborating with players through “open development”, but this process really made me believe it. I’m really happy that I got to be a part of it, and am really excited to continue working with the incredibly talented players that are constantly building new things they want to be added to the game in an official capacity.
My Favorite Design Lesson – Numbers Matter
The designers I work with are much more experienced and, in many ways, much smarter than I am. That’s why it’s been so wonderful getting to learn from them. One thing in particular that I got insight into this year was the complex theorizing and number-crunching that goes into game balance. As an outsider, I always assumed stats were set by a gut-guess and follow-up testing, but I’ve been exposed a whole new world of incredibly complex spreadsheets calculating theoretical time-to-kills for every possible weapon/armor combination and so much more.
It’s given me a really good appreciation for games that get balance right, and also humbled me immensely when I find something that doesn’t work immediately. This stuff is crazy hard!
My Favorite Podcast – Welcome to Night Vale
A few weeks ago, I asked for podcast recommendations on Twitter and got a ton of awesome suggestions. But only one has made me late for work because I sat in the parking lot finishing an episode: the incredibly creative, funny, and unnerving Welcome to Night Vale. A fictional narrative of a radio host in a desert town flooded with creepy Lovecraftian horror events. Creepy elements like the off-limits dog park with hooded figures roaming it are balance by absurd humor like an old lady getting upset at the angels blocking her television show.
Episodes are short, have excellent audio quality, and feature a new song every time.
My Favorite Technology – Sony Xperia Z2 tablet
Full disclosure: I was given this tablet by my employer as part of their internal product testing process. I never expected to buy a tablet after I got my Surface Pro last year (which I still love). But, man, am I glad I have this tablet. It’s so light and slick.
I can’t believe I read comics on my phone after seeing them on this massive, drop-dead gorgeous screen. I read comics almost every night before bed, and they look incredible on this. Oh, and it plays Hearthstone now too, so I may never sleep again.
My Favorite New TV Show – The Flash
This has been an amazing year for comic book TV shows. Gotham, Arrow, and Agents of Shield are all staples in our weekly lineup now, bringing near-cinema action and epic storylines. But all of those shows had a rough start, needing some time to earn their footing. Flash, on the other hand, came out with the best pilot episode I’ve seen in years. The show has so many characters stacked on it, only a fraction of which have actually been developed yet. There’s no ham-fisted foreshadowing like Gotham’s “HEY DID YOU KNOW I’M TWO FACE” gags repeated 10 times in a row as soon as the character is on screen.
Flash has a brilliant cast of natural actors backed by impressive script-writing and huge room to grow as it develops the side characters waiting for their own storylines. And, man, that crossover with Arrow was sooo good. I hope CW gets more DC licenses and keeps doing great crossovers like that.
My Favorite New Comic Series – Harley Quinn
Sometimes a comic book is just a comic book, and Harley Quinn is a classic-style comic book with modern sensibilities and topics. And by that, I mean that it’s incredibly lighthearted, fast-paced action with slapstick humor and an overgrown sense of silliness and sass. Harley has been one of the bright spots in DC’s New 52, benefitting from a new identity that’s not defined solely by the Joker.
If you smile at any of these concepts — talking stuffed beavers, cybernetic cold-war spies in power scooters, roller derby brawls, and cannons that shoot trash across the Gotham skyline — you gotta pick up this book.
My Favorite Comic Issue – The Multiversity: Pax Americana
The Question is back! For one issue. But, hey, I’ll take him where I can get him. The Question is an old Charlston comics character — an obssessive truth-seeker with a compulsion to dish out vigilante justice for any offense. (He’s also the character that Watchmen’s Rorschach was based on, so picture that with more of a classic-noir vibe.)
He’s my all-time favorite comic character, and DC unequivocally destroyed him in the New 52. But, in the latest run of The Multiversity, which is a series of one-offs that feature a new alternate-reality in each issue, the classic Question returned. He’s paranoid, obsessive, enigmatic, and absolutely dedicated to finding the truth.
At his best, The Question is a bit like an obsessive-compulsive version of Batman with no money and half the sanity. And The Multiversity issue captured that perfectly. Especially in the above spread, where The Question recreates a crime in his mind during an investigation. It reminds me of my all-time favorite Batman issue as well (“Perpetual Mourning” in Batman Black and White #1 — which you can get for free on Comixology).
DC has said this is a one-time-only view into this alternate universe, but I really hope they see how valuable The Question can be, and return him to his roots. The current iterations are murdering my soul — and murdering my soul is definitely not on this list.
What About You?
I’m sure you found some awesome stuff this year too. List your favorites in the comments, so we can all discover something new 🙂