(my, aoanla's) 2021 In Video Games - but also post your own essays here

So, there’ve been a lot of specific end of 2021 games threads, but I wanted to write some stuff about 2021 from my perspective overall, since I’ve been keeping notes.

I played 34 games over 2021 [counting Quake map packs as 1 entry, for “Quake” - if I picked each map pack separately, I’d be over 45 and a good 25% of my games would be just map packs for Quake].

Of these, I played 9 games I’d previously played - Noita, VVVVVV, CK2, CK3, Shenzen I/O, Quake (map packs, not the original campaign), Doom (map packs, not the original campaign), Audiosurf and Super Hexagon.

I played 3 games from actual 2021 - Loop Hero, Get in the Car, Loser! and Inscryption. I really enjoyed one of them - Loop Hero. The others, I found super flawed and could not finish.

I also played several games which were GoTY or very critically lauded in their time, which I didn’t get on with: The Witcher 3, Outer Wilds, Journey, and arguably the likely GoTY for a lot of people this year, Inscryption. (Of these, I still think Outer Wilds is a good game, just not one I personally can bring myself to complete.)
(This will mark the second year in a row, probably, where I disliked the game that was the critical darling - I didn’t get on with Hades, in the end, either, last year.)

Speaking of SuperGiant Games, this is also the year where I realised that there’s actually only one game of theirs that I really like - I love and loved Transistor, but on playing Pyre this year, it left me as cold as Bastion did back in the day, although for different reasons. (I really do not like their sportsball implementation. At All.)

I also reinforced my feeling that I just do not get modern FPS games, even retro ones. This year, I played Amid Evil (headache inducing), ULTRAKILL (far too fast paced) and bounced off of both of them - although not as hard as I bounced off of Doom 2016 back in 2017.

Similarly, I think I realised that there’s a brand of “slightly meta”, “very internet” games - Undertale [which I played the demo of and strongly disliked years ago], Doki Doki Literature Club, Inscryption (both from this year) - which I just am psychically allergic to or something. They all just rub me up entirely the wrong way, and leave me grumpy and completely uninclined to give them any benefit of the doubt.

My big favourite games of the year were all games that had relatively simple interfaces - Sayonara Wild Hearts often reduces to a single button press or a direction, Heaven’s Vault is “select highlighted point of interest”, even Loop Hero is pausable-click-and-drag most of the time. They also all had relatively deep narratives in one way or another, with gameplay that didn’t get in the way of that.

(A runner up on games I should mention I played this year - A Short Hike - also does this kind of thing well; whilst Pyre and Get in the Car, Loser! felt like they had promising narrative and an annoying mechanic that wanted to get in the way of that too often.)

Shout outs also to surprisingly big-news (even to the author) Doom 2 level pack, Thatcher’s Techbase. It wasn’t the best Doom 2 level pack I’ve played, but it was definitely “on theme”, with a huge amount of 80s/early90s references, and the true level of real anger you’d want from a game about the UK Prime Minister who made greed good.

Oh, and I played the only game that’s ever tempted me to get VR to play it better: Polybius. (Beat Saber might tempt me if I ever played it, but since you need VR in the first place to play it…)

2021’s been a weird year for all of us, and it’s been an unusual year for video games for me. But, I think I’m also realising a lot of things about how I interact with games, and what games I want to play. So, that’s progress?

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I also want to add to this more about map packs and non-AAA indie games.

A good chunk of the games I played this year and last were from the various itch.io “bundles for causes” - the BLM one last year, for example. A lot of them are experimental things - I am still not sure exactly what Magic Wand is saying, but it’s pretty clear that it is saying something. (I decided, in the end, that I got the same sense as doomdream from it - doomdream is a sort of endless dreaming evocation of Doom, without actual combat or an end to the level; Magic Wand feels like a similar evocation of a certain kind of open-world lo-fi RPG setting.). Some of them just didn’t work for me - Haque, for example, just rubbed me the wrong way with its writing [see also: Undertale, “internet humour” etc]. A lot of them were considerably harder than they needed to be - Sky Rogue is actually super tough, although I am also very bad at flight sims* .

I sort of get a similar experimental feel from the 3rd party mapping communities for Quake and Doom. Both produce a significant amount of output - there’s something like 200 entries rated “5 stars” on the unofficial Quake mapping portal qaddicted, and there’s less 5 star maps than any other set, and Doomworld has probably three or four times as many maps at least. Yes, a bunch of the maps are derivative or broken or very obviously “my first map”… but there’s also a significant amount of really good, innovative work.
Some of this works within the “genre”, but does it very well or adds something - ionous’s Microcosmosophy series (the original in XmasJam2020, and the second in XmasJam2021) fitting the essence of an entire episode of Quake each into a single, small, cubical space, for example; or, on the other scale, several of the maps from the famous and ambitious Arcane Dimensions map pack/expansion - of which obviously, I’m going to call out Bal’s Tears of the False God, which is probably the most fun map I’ve played [complete with a huge number of secrets, some of which open up their own map areas].
But some of them try to do something new - quasiotter has a series of experimental maps which don’t involve combat at all (some of which worked much better for me than others); there’s an entire subgenre of “exploration” maps which rely on traversal and secret spotting over any combat; and so on and so forth.

I get the same kind of feel from the mapping community, in terms of ongoing creativity, as I do from itch.io . And, in many ways, they’re both far more exciting than 99% of the AA or AAA games that get all the coverage.

*the only flight sim I played a lot of in the 1990s was Microprose’s “controversial at the time” F19 Stealth Fighter. I never managed to work out how to land properly, after hours of play, so I never managed to get past the opening few missions, as I’d either crash or eject from the plane to end them, and thus fail to “pass” the mission with enough points. I have not gotten better at them since.

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Also, I just realised that there is exactly 1 category in the forums “End of Year” vote that I can actually vote for (since the other categories have either no games I’ve played, or no games I’ve enjoyed, this year).

I am not sure what that says about my tastes versus that of the rest of the forum…

My plan is to play Eastward and borrow an Xbox to play Sable, then I can write my full Top 11(?) list for 2021.

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The thing with Sable is that I hear as many people complaining about bugs as I do praising it. (But, yes, it’s my most likely thing I might pick up before 1 Jan… if I can stop playing Noita for a bit…)

Some thoughts on voting, which I’ve always had annually here:

Unfortunately, Discourse’s voting plugin is limited to one of the worst voting schemes in common use “First Past the Post”. With more than 2 options, FPTP very often fails to reflect the “community’s choice” option - it picks the option with the most “first votes”, which will likely have less than 50% of the community behind it, and has no info on how those who didn’t vote for it first feel about it (maybe they all hate it, in which case having the most first votes is kinda irrelevant, since an actual majority dislike it; or, conversely, maybe they all think it’s an acceptable second choice, in which case it is a good idea).

We can see this effect this year - only one category actually produced an overall “winner” with majority appeal. (Best Ongoing Game returned Final Fantasy XIV with 54% of the first votes… although that category also had the fewest votes cast overall.)
Interestingly, the other category with the fewest votes cast - Best Multiplayer - also came closest to another majority - Halo: Infinite got 49% of the vote.

In every other category there is no clear winner (and in some categories, it’s genuinely impossible to select an actual supportable community choice within the evidence FPTP gives us).

Probably the worst cases are Best Presentation (highest rated first choice vote is only 29%, and a tie at that position) and Best Game Music (highest rated first choice vote 31%, with a near tie in second between almost all of the rest of the field, all around 19% (Guilty Gear Strive, Deltarune Chapter 2 and Inscryption)). In both these cases, there are multiple options which might realistically stand a chance of winning “overall”, and it’s certainly unreasonable to just pick the one with the most first choice votes, as more than 2/3 of the voters didn’t vote for them!

Best Narrative (Psychonauts 2, 42% of the vote, with a 16% lead over Wildermyth) is in the least-worst non-majority case, and it’s a weakly supported winner even without the evidence to support it.

Best Game Feel (Metroid Dread at 37%, only 4% ahead of Inscryption at 33%) can’t be separated from a tie within the info we have. You could easily get a 4% swing either way from the 30% of votes
cast to the remaining options if they were asked for second choices.

Game of the Year (Inscryption 37%, Metroid Dread 26%, Deltarune Chapter 2 15%) is similarly problematic, although not quite as bad as Best Game Feel. Whilst the top two are separated by 11%, there’s also more than 1/3 of the votes not represented there, and we only need them to split 2/3 for Metroid Dread (in second choices or whatever) for it to win. So, statistically, FPTP hasn’t given us an unambiguous winner here, either.

Whilst I’ve been talking about the issues here in terms of Instant Runoff Voting language (“second choice votes” being obtained from the lower rated first choices), I actually think the most easily approached solution here - and the one best suited to a community consensus, which is all about common choices - is Approval Voting.
(That is: just let everyone tick more than one option for each category, picking all of the games they wouldn’t mind winning. As long as most people pick 2 or more, it becomes much more likely you’ll converge on a majority acceptable winner.)

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The other possibility, of course, is that it is actually impossible for us to achieve a “complete winner” as the space of accessible games is too fragmented.

For example, looking at Game of the Year only:
Inscryption is only available on PC [and, technically only on Windows - although it works on Linux via Proton - so Apple fans are also unable to play it], so anyone who only games on Consoles can’t have experienced it.
Metroid Dread is only on Nintendo Switch, so if you’re not a Switch owner, you can’t have experienced it.
Deltarune Chapter 2 is the first actual multiplatform possibility - it’s on Windows, MacOS, Switch and PS4! This also, of course, means that it is unfairly competing against Metroid Dread amongst Switch players, and Inscryption amongst Windows people - but those two are less likely to compete against each other. (On the other side - Deltarune Chapter 2 is also free, unlike both Inscryption and Metroid Dread, and it’s unclear if this influences people’s tendency to vote in terms of “value for money” or not.)

I actually didn’t have time to play Sable, but the list is done.

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