Filed under video games

Favorite Games of 2016

It was actually rather fun putting together a list of favorite games last year, so here we go again for 2016.

Just like last year, this isn’t necessarily a “Best Of” list. Some weren’t even released in 2016. They’re just the games that I enjoyed playing this year and can recommend without reservation. Further down I list some honorable mentions — still great games, but not quite good enough to include on the main list.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

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Favorite Games of 2015

The year is drawing to a close, and that usually means lots of year-end “Best Of” lists. I tend not to read these articles, let alone write them; but, I’m making somewhat of an exception this year due to how many noteworthy games were released.

I hesitate to call this “Best Of”, as there is no ranking or rating to the games I’m going to talk about. A few also weren’t actually released in 2015, so to claim a “best of 2015” list would be incorrect. Instead, these are simply games that I played this year, enjoyed thoroughly, and highly recommend.

One other note: these aren’t typical games. In fact, several of them seem to abandon traditional gameplay in favor of story or character development. If that’s not the type of game you enjoy, this list may disappoint.

Okay! Less talk more game!

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Intelligence and the Search for Meaning: Thoughts on The Talos Principle

SPOILERS! This post is full of them. Please don’t read this post if you have any interest in playing The Talos Principle. Should you have any interest? If you liked the puzzles in Portal, and wish there were more: yes. If you want your concept of humanity and perhaps even reality to be challenged: most definitely yes. SPOILERS!

The Talos Principle

What is artificial intelligence?

The simple answer to that question can be found from the likes of Google and Apple. Saying ‘Ok, Google’ or ‘Hey Siri’ into your smartphone will allow you to ask targeted questions; and, within moments, it will be understood, processed, and acted upon.

The problem is that these services are designed around very specific use cases — getting directions to a location, figuring out whether it will rain, and so on. Any variation from this built-in expectation will result in a confused or inaccurate response.

So what do we really mean when we speak of artificial intelligence? Mostly we’re looking for something that behaves like us, like a human. And because we often build artificial things in an attempt to improve efficiency, we believe it should actually rise above some qualities of human intelligence, such as processing speed or the ability to see connections in vast amounts of data.

And that’s where The Talos Principle steps in. You find yourself in a beautiful world full of ancient ruins and complex puzzles — but not as a human. It becomes clear early in the game that you are a machine. There is no trace of a biological body in yourself or in anything else you encounter.

So what are you?

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A Hundred Billion Degrees

Little Inferno is filled with secrets
Attention! This post is full of spoilers for the game Little Inferno. I strongly recommend that you play the game before reading this, or you won’t enjoy the game nearly as much. It’s short — a few hours, easy to complete in a couple of sittings — and it’s worth the investment. This post will be here for you to peruse when you return. Promise.
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The Next Generation

With Microsoft unveiling the Xbox One yesterday, the next generation of game consoles has officially arrived. Now that we have entries on both sides, I thought I’d give some first impressions.

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MAGFest

MAGFest

Last weekend, January 5-8, @Ndoto, @FlatFootFox and I decided to check out MAGFest (Music and Gaming Festival). It was the first time any of us had attended this convention, so it was a bit overwhelming. Still, I think we all had fun! It was like a very small PAX, with an emphasis on music instead of upcoming games. In fact, in many ways, there was a strong focus on older games – chiptunes and 8-bit graphics were prevalent.

Since we didn’t stay at a hotel at the con, it was difficult to attend everything that sounded interesting. Instead of getting the full con experience, we only got a taste – but it was enough of a taste to know that, if we go again, we’ll be staying at a hotel nearby so that we can have better access to all the events.

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La Vita Loco

From The Verge:

According to a Sony representative speaking to Wired, "if a second person is using your Vita, it’s not just a case of switching out memory cards, it’s clearing out all of your saved data on the Vita itself when you do the factory reset."

Because letting a friend quickly borrow a Vita to play with, customize and experience wouldn’t be good advertising at all. No way.

Just Kevin Butler. Butler all the way. He knows how to make new hardware crazy popular.

</sarcasm>

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The Dismantling of Azeroth

When Blizzard announced their list of perks for committing to a year of World of Warcraft (exclusive mount, beta testing for the next expansion, free copy of Diablo 3), I really wanted to get back into the game. After all, I’ve always liked World of Warcraft. These perks seemed to make a deal that couldn’t be refused.

I’ve been away from World of Warcraft for a while, though. I played briefly after the last expansion pack was released, but I didn’t get very far – mostly due to other games and projects. So, before committing to a full year of the game, I wanted to see if it was something that I could once again play on a regular basis.

As I started playing, there were a lot of things I immediately enjoyed. The classic look and feel of the game was still intact, for example. While the graphics haven’t been updated in any significant way since its first release, it’s a very comforting environment. Sometimes a hyper-realistic environment can feel intimidating. Plus, for veterans of the game, the familiar feel is like slipping into your favorite pair of fuzzy slippers.

I had never completely played through the start of a Worgen character, so that was my test bed in my latest play session. I have to say that, overall, Blizzard did a truly fantastic job with the introductory environments and quest lines for Worgen. Up until about halfway through, I was certain that I would be continuing to play.

But then I started to notice big holes in my favorite slippers.

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On Minecraft and Lego

A big deal has been made about the growing initiative to convince the Lego Group to start creating a new product line based on Minecraft. Mojang has also stated that they are in their own talks with the company.

But why? Minecraft is essentially already Lego. Digital Lego. I’ll admit that a set of instructions for recreating a scene from Minecraft in Lego could be useful, and an interesting project to undertake. But to release an official series of sets? It seems a little excessive. It’s like using Lego to… recreate something that already exists as Lego.

Perhaps Mojang needs to add Lego bricks to Minecraft. Maybe then I’ll understand the appeal.

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Thoughts On Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

As you may or may not have seen, I completed AC: Brotherhood on Sunday. I thought I’d share some very brief thoughts on the game as I wrap up my time with this entry in the series, and prepare for the next.

Both Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood are incredible works of art. I won’t go into intricate details here, but suffice it to say that the music, presentation, and historical research that went into these games comes together to create an unforgettable experience.

My favorite part of Brotherhood, specifically, is how the plot unfolds. There are several factions, and each sequence essentially focuses on one of the factions. It was a smart way to layer the story, and it worked particularly well in the context of building a brotherhood of assassins.

It’s just disappointing that all of this falls apart so easily during the gameplay.

Alas, AC: Brotherhood inherits a lot of the bugs and glitches that its predecessor had, and somehow seems to make them worse, to boot. As both @ndoto and I played, cries of “Ezio! You idiot!” accompanied almost every task. Foremost in our frustration was controlling Ezio. He randomly grabs walls and items nearby to him and starts to climb them or scale them. Sometimes this is what you want, most times it is not. This is frustrating, but as you play the game you learn to adapt to it and go with Ezio’s spastic flow. What is absolutely unforgivable, though, is Ezio’s tendency to leap to his death. He could be lined up with a wooden beam right in front of him, but for some unknown reason, he will leap off to the left, away from the wooden beam, and plunge to his death. The first couple of times you think perhaps you aren’t controlling the character properly. But as this scenario repeats, you realize that, no, the game is just that glitchy.

To add insult to injury, Brotherhood added the concept of “full synchronization” – completing a sequence successfully with a certain restriction. With the controls the way they are, meeting the full synchronization requirement often requires a lot of time and patience. Needless to say, it was early on in the game that I gave up on the hope of achieving full synchronization for every sequence.

There is even one part of the game that completely glitches out, such that you can’t successfully experience it. It’s not game breaking, but it’s disappointing. And this is one year later. It should have been patched long before now.

Despite all this, I feel that the Assassin’s Creed series of games is something that should not be missed. That being said, though, the current story arc is on its way to being resolved. Ubisoft has stated its intent to keep the series going – but if these bugs don’t get fixed, no one is going to want to invest in the next chapter.

I don’t foresee AC: Revelations fixing any of these problems. But it would be encouraging to see at least some improvement – a promise from Ubisoft that they care about the future of the series as much as its fans.

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