Yeah this is hands down Heat Signature for me. Sure, it takes a little bit to get used to parsing the clutter of the ships, but this soon becomes second nature. Then what unfolds is cascade of interacting systems, to create these incredible player driven stories of space hijinks.
What Remains of Edith Finch embraced mechanical variance and atmospheric visual design to tell a story in a way only games can.
Would PUBG count as a small dev? I know the publisher Bluehole is larger, but I don’t know if the size of the dev team alone is what counts or if this is against the spirit of the category.
Here was the justification for it being in the Big Developer Game nomination.
Seconding What Remains of Edith Finch
Hand of Fate 2
Hand of Fate 2 is a real patchwork game. At its core, it’s a choose your own adventure with some Arkham-lite combat, mini-games of chance, resource management, and a deck building mechanic. The writing isn’t amazing and the combat is serviceable, but really it’s the combination of all these things that make HoF2 greater than the sum of its parts. The pulpy themes of an adventurer hopping from quest to quest in the board game-like world while the mysterious dealer whispers about usurpers and eldritch magicks is really intoxicating. And while no one mechanical element could really stand on its own, the way the game constantly switches through all of them manages to create a great pace.
It’s a game that really stuck out to me because the only other games I could compare it to are Sunless Sea and 80 Days.
We’ve decided as a mod team that PUBG is a big dev game.
It may of been Early access and come from out of nowhere. But Brendan Greene was offered the creative director spot with a full team to help. It may not be what you typically think of as big dev (things published by EA , Activision , WB , Ubisoft , etc.) But it certainly was no small operation.
So if you’d still like to nominate PUBG i’d go with the Favorite Big Developer Game thread!
A Normal Lost Phone by Accidental Queens.
A game about snooping through a phone you find. The narrative is a great coming of age story and the puzzles and detective work required to unlock the different parts of the phone are all fun. The game takes some interesting directions with its gameplay as it goes on and turns the player into a real piece of shit for the steps you are required to take in order to find out more information about this individual. But in a game about invading someones privacy and snooping through their shit I am glad the game goes all the way and really has you do some messed up stuff. This direction gives “A Normal Lost Phone” an added layer to reflect on besides the content of the story.
If I can get slightly off topic and rant a bit, the sequel “Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story” (also released this year) seemed like a direct response to the criticisms of the first game as it goes out of its way to make sure you don’t “go over the line” as you invade this person’s privacy. Like, you are already crossing a line by snooping through the phone, trying to add some sugar to and make the player not seem like a piece of shit seemed to me like the wrong direction to go. Lean into the shittyness of the player character. That is why I personally much preferred the first game over the second even though it seems like the sequel was much more heavily praised.
The game has some issues, it doesn’t spend enough time letting you know what your items actually do, it’s main story mode is way too long, and some combinations are extremely overpowered, but it’s just so good. I’ve had so many “can I really…” moments where the systems working with each other allowed me to do seemingly impossible things.
A complaint often leveled against “problem-solving” puzzle games such as Spacechem, Infinifactory, Human Resource Machine and Opus Magnum are that they are complicated and difficult to get in to. Often the people who love them most are programmers and engineers who deal with this sort of stuff regularly at which point they might as well be coding. To me the greatest aspect of these games is their ability to bring the joy of a solution to anybody. Enter Freeways.
In Freeways you play the part of a civil engineer designing interchanges for fully AI controlled cars. You create the roads by drawing them freehand and are then rated on the speed of cars going through, ease of use and volume of concrete used.
The cars use a pared down but fully operational driving algorithm created by the developer and seeing them navigate your roads is endlessly gratifying. Between levels your camera zooms out to a live map of all of the previous levels with drivers pottering though them, each a junction in a mad tangle of roads across a black canvas. It is beautiful in its simplicity and lets the real stars, your roads and the cars navigating them, take center stage.
For me, however, the crowning achievement of this game is its accessibility. It provides the same depth as any Zachtronics Game while making the creation of your solution as simple as doodling on the screen.
Nomination: Butterfly Soup
Butterfly Soup is a visual novel where you can go to a dog park
Which feels like it should be enough, but I guess I can elucidate a little further. Butterfly Soup is a visual novel by Brianna Lei, with help on some art assets and music by other folks, and I don’t think I have engaged with a story – in a game or elsewhere – more this year. It’s incredibly funny, astute about teen anxieties (especially those particular to queer kids/WoC), full of memes, and has that aforementioned bit with a dog park. Danielle liked it too!
It’s the exact right length, at 3-4 hours, and has a kind of depth of characterisation most triple-A titles could only dream of having, but also this is better because the characters are gay/bi baseball players winding each other up as they, erm, wind up their pitches. It’s very funny and rich and touching and made my do big stupid grins and very loud, ugly laughs that made me glad none of my flatmates were in when I was playing it.
Sub-nomination: Akarsha for character of the year.
Battle Chef Brigade, only came out recently but it’s the only game I played this year which I went straight back into after finishing it. It’s core gameplay is so satisfying, I can actually compare it to Titanfall 2 in it’s feeling. I go into a game, analyse my goals, plan how to win and then improvise as the game goes on. It does feel like a cooking game in the right places, moving around the pieces and having to put pieces together in such a way that they somehow work. Out of every small dev game I played this year, this is the one I want to keep playing. I hope they add to it and I really hope their is a sequel in the future.
I also really hope someone nominates Snipperclips… Oh shit and Open Sourcery… Urgh, there are way too many good games this year.
Necrosphere finally scratched the VVVVVV itch I’ve had since I played VVVVVV. A (light) metroidvania that uses only 2 buttons, left and right. Fun platforming challenges that are easily digestible thanks to a forgiving checkpoint system and a strong example of how limitations can inspire creativity in design.
My first choice (Hollow Knight) has already gotten enough votes to move on, so I’ll nominate Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment.
Though technically an expansion for Shovel Knight, Specter of Torment can be played separately and succeeds on its own as a mechanically and artistically excellent precision platformer. The dash mechanic adds a dose of kinetic platforming to jumping and wall-climbing that feel consistent and precise, and every level—in vogue with its predecessor—introduces new mechanics and ways of traversing its varied obstacles and challenges. The levels themselves are impeccably designed and tutorialized, and culminate in sequences that combine the game’s many mechanics in complex and satisfying ways. Adding to that, the writing/plotting is actually pretty great, and the art and music are spectacular, nailing both overarching aesthetics and small touches (for example, slowly drawing on level with the sun as one climbs the Flying Machine).
Also this game ends with you grinding on endless rails as you dash-attack a giant ghost-fire-mecha knight and if that’s not an amazing final boss fight I don’t know what is.
West of Loathing would’ve been my first choice but it’s already been put down twice, so I’m going to show love to Thimbleweed Park, which I’m fairly sure goes in this category and not the big developer category. This game has sort of a classic but genuine sort of humor, reminiscent of the Monkey Island games that I fell in love with back in high school. It’s a deliberate callback to what Day of the Tentacle and Maniac Mansion meant to games and it emulates that well while still updating some aspects (the addition of a hint/tip line for one) to make it palatable to the modern player. I never got to try a game like this in the moment, the old LucasArts games were all retro or re-released when I got to try them for the first time, but Thimbleweed Park shows that the old Adventure genre still has legs in 2017 and can still be a compelling way to tell a great story, loaded with jokes in almost everything and with several great characters (my favorites are Delores and Agent Reyes).
I’ll second Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment. I was excited for the original release, but it really left me cold for some reason; Specter Knight patched itself earlier this year and I got so into it. It’s a really, really well executed platformer with controls that feel specific but obvious, diverse and fun environments, really good “choose your own level of challenge” mechanics with the red skull puzzle rooms. Despite being a prequel, the story still felt relevant the first time through, and the ability to jump to any palace at any time made some more frustrating sections easier to swallow, since I could go hone my Slash Dash skills elsewhere. It’s a great, tight experience that welcomes new comers just as much, if not more, than the original Shovel Knight.
The Signal from Tölva is great. It makes a valiant attempt to breach a genre that sees far too few entries, bearing a not unkind resemblance to the likes of Far Cry 2, or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I say valiant, because I think making a game like this is genuinely foolish. There’s an unreasonable number of pitfalls, a few of which Tölva does not escape, and if you succeed, you’ve just made one of those games. Y’know, the ones that are instantly polarizing, and those who love it utterly confound those who don’t.
I think Big Robot ultimately executes on the right things. It has a sense of place, and that’s really a thing where you’ll go, “Oh, sure.” Or, you’re like me, a weirdo, and you say some shit like, “I belong here. Fuck.”
The core gameplay feels designed by capable people, but if I said it doesn’t feel rote by the halfway point, I would let you call me a liar. But the surrounding elements–the audio-visual treatment, the profound eerieness of a few distinct locales, the scattered ruins that tell a story all their own–these things prop up a world that isn’t immediately unbelievable, but remains kind of surreal, and I found it immensely satisfying to explore.
I also just think it’s got a damn good look (some screenshots for your perusal).
There are way too many games I want to nominate, but I’m going to nominate Battle Chef Brigade. It feels a bit like it was made specifically to pander to me. I love Iron Chef and puzzle games that are about figuring out how to make things (on a related note Opus Magnum definitely gets an honorable mention) so I was always going to be sold on it, but I also really like the art style and characters which manages to take a lot of the things I like about Anime while leaving the stuff I don’t like.
There is also a surprising amount of depth to figuring out how to make the ideal dish and changing up your loadout or trying the daily challenge really change sthe feel of the game. It’s also just a really positive game, which I appreciate.
I just picked up Heat Signature at the weekend in the steam sale. Been playing it ever sense. It’s great. A mix of Hotline Miami and FTL.
Seconding Butterfly Soup. It has a charming cast, knows when to end and made me, a super boring person, laugh a lot. I wish all visual novels were this fun to, you know, read (looks sadly at an unfinished 3DS copy of Hakuoki).
On the downside, it taught me about baseball and I hate learning