Monday, January 31, 2011

Games Of The Year 2010 #2

Yesterday I offered you the first handful of games that stood out to me throughout 2010 and talked about the elements of them that I'd like to see pursued in the future. Today I give you the rest.


Of all the games to feature on my list, this is probably the hardest one to describe and to articulate my thoughts with. Like Flower from 2009, Limbo left a strong and important mark on my gaming career, but for reasons of which I’m not entirely sure.

It’s a beautiful game, the silhouette, shadowy art direction being a pleasure to see in screenshots and an absolute wonder in motion. Its use of silence was particularly endearing, both because so few games use silence effectively and because it enhanced the imagery on screen to create an experience that is unique. It’s brutal; communicates a sense of longing and bravery; and what you discover is at once terrifying and ominous, yet it’s these factors that make progress through the game so compelling and rewarding. It’s also short, sweet, and surprisingly emotional: the very example of the potential downloadable games have as well as what amazing things can be achieved within the indie space. Despite some claims that the farther it goes along, the sillier it gets, nothing in Limbo feels out of place and all of it feels like it was included for a reason. The obligatory discussion about whether it’s an example of art or not is, in my mind, irrelevant -- what Limbo is, is an experience like no other, and a game that deserves to be played regardless of whether you end up liking it or not. It takes an aesthetic, simplicity in its presentation yet complexity in its design, and contends with themes that don’t exist anywhere else, combines them, and creates a game that is just a sheer delight to experience. And, perhaps, it is that last word that explains why it features on this list: it’s not just another game and when you are done, it will stay in your mind rather than be forgotten. If that’s not the sign of something worth attempting again in the future, nothing is.


Indie darling, breakout hit and my personal addiction, Minecraft surprised everybody when it became a phenomenon, including the game’s creator Notch who was suddenly a millionaire. But, when you look at what Minecraft provides and the kind of game it delivers, it’s not as surprising as it initially seems.

A true sandbox title, Minecraft’s best asset is you, the player. The reason for that is simple: Minecraft is what you make of it. Much has been said about the game’s creative side, reminding people of Lego due to its blocky worlds and the enjoyment people have had making insane creations such as replicas of various real life constructs, interpretations of fantasy locations and the demonstrations of ingenuity, particularly using Red Stone. Others again have focused on the kind of experience Minecraft delivers, discussing its survival horror elements thanks to the need to find shelter at night to defend (read: hide) from the game’s enemies; its breed of fantasy born out of ‘waking up’ in a strange new land, uncertain of what you may find; and even on the platforming elements that come from climbing the game’s many mountains and caverns. That last one is a bit of a stretch but such is the imagination that Minecraft inspires in people and the dreaming they can’t help but do when it comes to the game’s world, crucial due to the way in which it is procedurally generated and unique to each individual who plays. So far, I’ve focused on my own feelings that I’ve had during the game, and the subtle but effective ways in which it can tell a story, despite not having a predetermined narrative (yet). There’s plenty more I want to talk about in the near future so I won’t go into detail here, but needless to say, Minecraft is on this list because it caters to a variety of play-styles and player desires, puts us in a world that is at once fascinating and entirely our own, and contains an insane amount of complexity hidden behind its simple art direction and accessible mechanics. It’s popular for a reason, amazing for so much more, and is the perfect example of how to captivate an audience and keep them interested through regular additions and, more importantly, through their own, personally defined goals. This is emergent gameplay at its purest and definitely a game other developers, indie or otherwise, should look to as they chase the ever elusive emergent gameplay prize. Amusingly, the game isn’t even finished yet and as we play, we’re all helping to develop it into something that should be even more special. Based on what we have already, the future is incredibly exciting for not just the game, but the impact it will have on the medium as well.

F1 2010

It is pretty obvious by now that I’m absolutely in love with this game, my praise shortly after release coming thick and fast, and the role-playing series that followed demonstrating a desire to not only experiment with my writing and approach to games, but to inhabit the world of Formula 1 and see what comes of it. Whether that series has been successful or not is up to you but as far as the game itself is concerned, it is the best F1 game to come out in a long time and does everything a licensed game should.

F1 2010 is more than just the tracks, the drivers and the cars; it’s about the lifestyle, the spectacle and the celebration of speed, technology and engineering (sound familiar?) as well. It’s about the ability to go as fast as possible around a track, as smoothly as possible and with a skill and finesse that isn’t just tricky to master, but something that can’t be replicated anywhere else. It’s about the highs and lows that come with each race, the drama and the emotion that result from it, and the desire to work harder than before to overcome and ultimately master any issues that may arise, be it from performance, mechanical components of the car, or the constant need to improve one’s driving style. It’s about entertaining the fans whilst satisfying the team, and meeting your own personal expectations, whatever they may be. In other words, it’s about the sport of Formula 1 and as such, it delivers the life and passion of motorsport as well as the brand and culture, culminating in a game that transcends its genre (and thus, competititon), elevates a sport that’s sometimes hidden behind the celebrities and controversy, and puts people on the track instead of behind the (virtual) wheel. The fact it was Codemasters’ first attempt, while impressive, is irrelevant; that it goes above and beyond what it means to utilize a license effectively highlights not only what can be done, but why it should be in the first place.

Which begs the question: when’s F1 2011 coming out…? ;)

Heavy Rain

Something has to be said for a game’s quality if it has the power to whisk someone obsessed with another title -- which we’ll get to in a minute -- away and obtain their full attention through sheer amazement over what was just experienced. Heavy Rain did this for me, and even now, months after release and after a series of posts discussing the game, I’m still not sure I can explain why.

Ever since it was announced and I heard what Quantic Dream were attempting with Heavy Rain, combined with my enthusiasm for their previous game Fahrenheit, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to see what the final product would bring. Despite devouring any morsel of information I could find, the end result still surprised me and, like Alan Wake, I think it is purely because of the story and its characters. Unlike Alan Wake, however, Heavy Rain’s narrative was about as real as you can get in games today, focusing on themes that have never been explored (in a serious way, at least) previously, and centering the entire game around a father’s love for his children, and the lengths he would go to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Its mechanics may be a mixed bag of success and frustration; some of its characters may have not met their potential or were exploited in an unnecessary, silly way; and the eventual outcome and reveal of the Origami Killer may be disappointing -- both because it may have not been who you were expecting or wanted it to be, and because no matter how your personal story pans out, the person is the same -- but Heavy Rain delivered on its promise of a realistic narrative which ensures its position here. Its characters -- like it or not -- get under your skin, and that’s something few other games can achieve. To say Heavy Rain had to happen would be an understatement; to be thankful that it did would be to appreciate what it did manage to achieve, as well as highlight to the industry that this sort of thing -- regardless of how successful or not it happens to be -- needs to be explored further if we’re to truly obtain legitimacy as a creative, artistic medium, if not the dominant one.

BioShock 2

Surprise, surprise, a BioShock game is on the list. Come on though, as if it wouldn’t be -- you are reading a blog whose name was inspired by the franchise.

Personal bias aside, however, BioShock 2 would have made the list anyway because, quite frankly, it was just so damn good. It isn’t easy releasing a sequel to a game that has gone on to become one of the medium’s best, and one that is constantly referred to when discussing important subjects. Not since Grand Theft Auto III have we had a game (and now franchise) that has inspired such reverence and discussion (Portal aside), and as such any follow up would be scrutinized. And BioShock 2 was, copping criticism by people who were strangely (in my opinion at least) sick of Rapture; who didn’t enjoy the gameplay a second time around; and who wanted it to be, perhaps unrealistically, better than the first game. The thing is it was better than the first game, maybe not in terms of the awe and beauty that the original displayed but certainly in terms of refinement of the game’s mechanics and definitely in the way in which it framed the hallowed, empty halls of Rapture in a new light. And it is this last point that is the most important: the new perspective BioShock 2 brought to Rapture didn’t just show us another side of the city, it changed it from being Andrew Ryan’s baby to being everyone’s, through its emphasis on highlighting the people rather than the power. The areas we visited in the first game were created for Rapture’s dignitaries and people of importance, as well as designed to showcase the unique personality and extreme attitudes that Andrew Ryan so incessantly portrayed, further exacerbated by the opposition struggle led by Fontaine. BioShock 2’s version of Rapture, on the other hand, doesn’t just showcase the areas in which the ‘common-folk’ live, it showcases why they’re just as important, if not more so, than the big-shot personalities found in the likes of the Medical Pavilion and Fort Frolic. By doing so, it provides insight into the inner workings of the city as a whole and illuminates the emotion, morals and resolve that its inhabitants have -- whether Ryan or Fontaine recognised it or not. It may have introduced a new power, of sorts, with Sophia Lamb, and the importance of family -- particularly as far as the Little Sisters are concerned -- certainly played an integral role, but it was this new perspective with which to view Rapture that elevated BioShock 2 beyond sequel status and into the history books as a game worthy of attention, perhaps more so than its predecessor.

Throw in the astonishing and incredible downloadable add-on Minerva’s Den, which further defined the city through yet another perspective and demonstrated so easily just how many stories are still yet to be told within those walls deep in the depths of the ocean, and you have a game that doesn’t just improve on what’s come before, but reinvents it and boasts to the world that anything you can do, can be done better. It is this mantra, whether you believe it fits the game or not, that needs to be acknowledged in the wider industry and, with any luck, is one that will become a motivation in the years to come. Best of all, for someone like me? Rapture may be dead as far its production and celebration of the self is concerned, but it has never been more alive when it comes to its potential and what can be discovered amongst its walls. All we have to do is visit it and explore it, the rest will happen naturally.


So there you have it, my choices for 2010’s best games. Like all of you no doubt, I didn’t get to play everything that I wanted to during the year -- and I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to play games that were particularly high on my anticipation list -- but what I did experience was amazing and certainly suggests to me that gaming hasn’t just evolved, but that it is well on its way to a bigger, brighter and important future. Personally, the ability to inhabit brave new worlds whilst experiencing fascinating stories -- if not creating them ourselves -- was a really strong thing to take away from 2010, as was the celebration of the old, new and the processes in which they are made. Game spaces, stories and new perspectives were all important to me and, I have no doubt, will continue to be as we turn our attention to 2011. Based on the games I'm already chomping on the bit to play, it looks like this year will certainly give the last a run for its money -- no mean feat when you recall just how packed it was, and just what it brought to the table. Don't you just love videogames?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Games Of The Year 2010 #1

I was flicking through an older issue of EDGE recently when it dawned on me that, despite only being just over a year old, 2009’s games feel like a long time ago and in some ways, from a different period. They aren’t, obviously, but I suppose it’s the sheer quantity of games that came out in the past year that leaves the impression that the likes of Left 4 Dead 2, Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2 all came out ages ago. Right from the get go 2010 started with a bang, three games coming out that sought attention instantly -- perhaps due to the satisfaction that there were actually things to play after Christmas, instead of the usual dull period everyone is accustomed to. Bayonetta, Darksiders and Mass Effect 2 all came out in January, opening a year that, seemingly, had big-name titles in every single month that followed. It was an incredibly packed year -- we knew it would be as we approached it in 2009 -- and while a lot of titles were probably a let-down in the end, there’s no denying that the general quality we saw in 2010 didn’t just raise the bar for the medium as a whole, it exhibited a shift in the way games were perceived in general -- a step in the right direction. It gets said every time we see GOTY awards but I think it would be fair to say that 2010 was the best year for videogames yet, due to many reasons, so going forward it will be interesting to see how long it is until the bar is raised again. There seems to be a pattern where every three years or so the standard increases with 2001, 2004 and 2007 being sublime examples. Anyway, despite always hesitating with these things I’m here once again with my own nominations for last year’s best games. Unlike most other outlets however, I decide to go ahead with my picks for Games Of The Year because of two reasons: it highlights the games I’m interested in to you guys, allowing you to get to know me a little better; and it lets me explain why I’d like certain elements of these games to be pursued in the future, for better or for worse. It’s an approach that I find interesting simply because I can revisit my thoughts at any time and see if other developers have taken on board some of the great things that were demonstrated in 2010’s games, and it is one that I hope you will enjoy as well. Last year I celebrated Forza 3’s comprehensive dedication to car culture; Uncharted 2’s creation of characters that seemed like friends or companions rather than AI constructs; and Flower’s wonderful, serene combination of emotion, wonder and discovery. This year, I have even more games to look at, starting with the first handful below.

Mass Effect 2

Of all the games I had to pass up on last year -- including titles that were important to me such as Metroid: Other M and Mafia II -- Mass Effect 2 was the one that I deeply regretted. I loved the first game but for some reason forgot just how much, meaning I was interested in the sequel but believed I could ignore it -- a big mistake. I knew ME2 was a quality game due to the critical and commercial acclaim it received, but I still felt comfortable casting it aside until hype started to surround the release of the PS3 version. I played the game’s demo and was instantly reminded of a world that is exactly my kind of thing: a game set in space featuring cool planets, aliens and science fiction. Suddenly, I had Mass Effect fever and since I did actually own the game thanks to a friend who purchased it on my behalf, I immediately requested that he send it to me so I could finally play it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Where the original Mass Effect introduced us to the universe of this new and wonderful franchise, allowing us to learn about its species, planets, politics and personality, Mass Effect 2 allowed us to finally inhabit it. This distinction is small in comparison to the refinement and iteration the game received -- particularly in its mechanics -- but is still crucial in explaining why Mass Effect 2 is so damn compelling. By letting us exist within the universe rather than merely see and hear it, the game does what so many other recent titles have done so well: take us to places we can’t physically visit in reality. When you boil it down the world of BioWare’s space opera is nothing but an illusion -- just as every other game is -- and its characters, locations and general fiction don’t exist, but when you play Mass Effect 2 you truly feel like you’re traversing the galaxy, interacting with these still new and foreign -- but now wonderfully familiar -- species and ultimately learning about a universe that is not only worlds apart (literally) from Earth, but is characterized by a scope and scale that humanity’s home planet just cannot compare to. In the end it may just be a game, but the way in which it puts us in a setting that we’ve only seen and heard of before makes it one of 2010’s best, if not one of the best ever. Incidentally, I'll have more in depth coverage of BioWare's two games in the near future.

Red Dead Redemption

This belongs on the list for so many reasons that have already been discussed elsewhere and, of all the games to have come out in the past year, is easily the one that stands out the most. However, despite its amazing quality it didn’t make as much of an impact on me as I was perhaps expecting and as such, it doesn’t compare to some of the other games you’ll find in my choices. My overall impression of the game could be hindered by the way in which I always feel like I am fighting to enjoy it -- mostly due to outside elements such as a massive spoiler which turned me off the game for a while and my inexperience with the Western genre -- but, whatever the cause, it’s worth mentioning here.

Having said that, I have thoroughly enjoyed Rockstar’s latest and still find surprising new things each time I play, so it’s definitely deserving of a nod here as well as the adoration and respect it’s receiving elsewhere. Red Dead Redemption, I think it would be fair to say, blew everyone away in terms of how effectively it translated a common genre from another medium into our very own, its production values and ability to capture the Western feel being unparalleled in the industry. If anyone was going to achieve such a feat though it was going to be Rockstar, so while its extreme quality was a surprise, the achievement is not. What is a surprise is just how real it all feels while playing. Like Mass Effect 2 the best thing about RDR for me is its ability to not just show us a Western game, but to put us in one and allow us to experience what that is actually like. We’re not observing as John Marston hunts, rides into the sunset or pursues Bill Williamson, we are doing those things and, no doubt, having an absolute blast along the way. We’re not being shown the likes of Armadillo, Blackwater or Mexico, we are visiting those places ourselves, existing within those spaces just as much as -- if not more so -- than the people who actually live there. It’s a distinction that, once again, not only separates RDR from everything else but elevates it to a level that few games can match and is my main reason, I believe, for loving the game as much as I do. I appreciate the things attempted with the narrative (well, what I’ve experienced of it so far anyway) and the advances and refinement demonstrated by the mechanics, but it is Red Dead Redemption’s space and my ability to exist inside it that makes the game one of the best to have come out of last year.

Gran Turismo 5

I find it slightly amusing that now Polyphony Digital’s latest is finally out, everyone has forgotten just how long it took to come. For so long -- years even -- people whined that Gran Turismo 5 was taking too long and jokingly stated that it would be the racing genre’s very own Duke Nukem Forever (and, on that note, look how that turned out…) but now that it is here no one cares and the game has, mostly, been put behind in favour of others. This could be down to the general disappointment that Gran Turismo 5 became, being nothing more than a refined, high definition version of what has come before, or it could be as a result of the always looking forward mentality that gamers and the industry so easily portray, but whatever the reason it’s as amusing as it is ironic and interesting to observe. Personally and not surprisingly given who I am, Gran Turismo 5 hasn’t been forgotten and in fact is a game constantly on my mind despite having not played it in a while. Its release brings about so many intriguing things to consider, not least of which is its dedication to the passion for and celebration of the automotive industry.

More than anything else, Gran Turismo has always been about the cars: the speed, the technology, the thrill, and the engineering. This is evident in Gran Turismo 5, too, right from the opening clip. You can have your racing and celebrity drivers; in Gran Turismo, the cars take center stage and nothing else. Whether it’s a small, slow and agile car like the Mazda MX-5 or a supercar like the Pagani Zonda, each car has the chance to shine in Gran Turismo and each car is worth a drive. The original game brought with it the moniker of ‘The Real Driving Simulator’, a phrase that implied that no other game gave you a realistic simulation of what it was like to drive these cars, fast, around the various circuits. With Gran Turismo 5, that definition changes and instead represents what it means to simply drive: nothing more, nothing less. Sure, the driving is still done on the track and the game is still structured the same as it ever was, but after GT’s competition stepped up and, in some instances, overtook the successes of Polyphony’s famous franchise, the ethos changed and, upon doing so, changed the series -- a move that was necessary, and one that separates the game from anything else. It may go unnoticed when the game’s graphics, quantity of cars and tracks, and new additions such as NASCAR, WRC and weather effects take up all the attention, but the difference is there, subtly, and defines Gran Turismo 5 as a shift in the franchise. Whether this change proves to be successful remains to be seen, but it is this passion and celebration of cars that puts Gran Turismo 5 on my list, and makes me excited to not only revel in such adulation in the months to come, but excited for what the next installment will bring too.

Alan Wake

When I previewed this game, I made sure to be clear on just how important its emphasis on telling a good, mature story was to me. Now that I’ve played it and can reflect on my thoughts, I’m delighted to see that it delivered on my expectations.

Alan Wake was a disappointment to a lot of people. Its long and arduous development period, combined with exaggerated hype, ensured that people wanted more from the game than it was probably capable of delivering, ending up in a fair bit of criticism as it fell short. That’s not to say Alan Wake is a bad game -- far from it in fact -- it’s just, people expected one thing and ultimately got another, and this left a lot of people feeling unsatisfied. From its somewhat strange collectibles to the linear level design -- a direct conflict to the open-ended structure it was originally revealed to have -- what we got with Alan Wake wasn’t what we thought it would be, and yet, somehow, it was at the same time. Right from the start Alan Wake promised to tell a decent, mature story, featuring characters that we could relate to and a setting that was both awe-inspiring and natural. The final product delivered on all these fronts, telling a tale that while not new in other mediums was certainly new territory for games; using characters who, despite the supernatural elements of the game, were grounded in reality; and gave us a small, quaint town in Bright Falls in which we could inhabit, get to know the locals and, in my case, ultimately fall in love with. On this last point, the game dropped the ball a little by focusing so much on the light/dark mechanic, setting most of the game at night and ensuring that I couldn’t fully enjoy the beauty of Bright Falls, but this point is minor and I still came away satisfied with my visit. Even more enjoyable was the story, its realism -- even if inaccurate in terms of its depiction of a writer -- resonating with me where so many other games fail. Instead of flair and spectacle, Alan Wake had a sense of elegance and poignancy to it, something that was enhanced by the subdued nature of its tale of a couple trying to get away from their everyday life for a break, and by the laidback, happy attitudes of Bright Falls’ residents. Sure it has a strong element of supernatural, perhaps horrifying spectacle, but despite its prominence in the overall story -- particularly in the later stages of the adventure -- it can be overlooked when considering the realities demonstrated in the game, and what they mean for games going forward. It wasn’t the best story in gaming and the ways in which it was told were inconsistent, but the fact that it was telling a story in the first place makes it a game that I didn’t just enjoy, but one I hope is considered in the future as more and more developers shift their focus away from the bombast and flamboyance, and towards the potential of interactive storytelling.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

How do you take a series of games that, while fondly remembered, hasn’t been relevant for well over a decade and whose genre has moved on in a multitude of ways since? Donkey Kong Country Returns is how, and Retro’s latest game is a demonstration of how to take a quality product of years ago and give it the modern sensibilities necessary to make it successful today.

The Donkey Kong Country trilogy was an amazing series of platformers that gave Mario a run for his money more often than not, if not in design than certainly in personality. They took a character that, while well-known, didn’t have the popularity the Italian plumber did, changed his perception from antagonist to lovable brute, and set him forth on adventures of bananas, evil crocodiles and the constant need to spell his (last) name. What followed was a fanbase and, as the years progressed nostalgia, leaving anyone who tried to revive the franchise with a lofty reputation to live up to. If you were going to choose anyone to give it a try it would be Retro Studios and, fast forward to the game’s release, you have a product that doesn’t just allow people to indulge in the familiarity of a series that they hold dear, but one that brings it to the modern era and establishes it amongst its more recent peers. And it is that word, modern, that summarises everything that’s good about Donkey Kong Country Returns: you’re still playing on a mostly 2D plane, going from left to right, collecting bananas and coins and jumping on the heads of your foes, but you’re doing it with better graphics and sound, and with level design that has had years of refinement and experimentation, rather than levels that emulate from one source. It’s a reinterpretation of what it means to be a Donkey Kong Country game, whilst still being a Donkey Kong Country game and as such it gave everybody what they wanted: it brought the franchise into the current times and made it relevant again, pleasing Nintendo; it let people relive their childhood whilst also experiencing a new direction for the series, pleasing the fanbase; and put the series -- and thus, Retro’s talent -- on par with its peers of today, pleasing the Texas based studio. It is everything you could want from a reboot and the example of how it should be done should any other developer, and any other franchise, decide to attempt a similar thing in the future.


So, the possibility to visit places that we can’t in reality, a loving nod to and respect for all things automotive, and a demonstration of how to make something from the past important in the present (and, I hope, the future). An interesting, if eclectic, mix of games then, all worth playing and worth considering. You may have noted that I have been fairly quiet about these titles despite expressing my love for them. This will change in the near future as I have a lot to say on each of them, and will be posting those thoughts up as soon as I can.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Year That Was: 2010

[Note: This post is a reflection on the entire year of 2010, as it was here on the blog. In it I'll reflect on how I thought the year fared, as well as add some thoughts on some of the posts I published throughout the year.]

Monday marked the third birthday of Raptured Reality.

Not many blogs reach their third month, let alone their third year, so the fact mine has is a feat that is both surprising and pleasing. I never expected this, I never intended to be writing for so long, yet here I am and I couldn't be happier. Life has been rocky for me in recent years and blogging, no matter how inconsistent or irregular, has been my outlet. Without the ability to convey my opinion or express myself, my life would have taken another path and I'm not so sure it would have been a pleasant one. To put it simply, blogging has been nothing but a positive aspect of my life and, since you guys have played a significant part in that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for engaging a passion that made me happy when other areas of my life were trying to bring me down.

But enough about the emotional celebration; what did 2010 mean for Raptured Reality, and did it pan out as I expected? To answer that question I thought I’d break the year down into each month, to offer how I feel about the way they went, and to comment on any individual post that I feel is worth focusing on.

January was a great month last year with quite a few interesting things happening throughout. To start with, it featured my first ever Games Of The Year series of posts. Normally I hesitate when it comes to these things but my unique approach made the idea enjoyable. Instead of following the expected template and selecting favourites, I elected to highlight a smaller bunch of games and explain why I wanted to see certain elements and trends that they exhibited continued in the future. This meant my choices were limited but in doing so it allowed me to think about why these games were important and convey that on here. The results were interesting, I thought, and due to their intended succinct nature, the posts challenged me to summarise my feelings concisely and effectively, something I believe I did do.* January also marked the beginning of a series that, unfortunately, wasn’t continued, in which I looked at the ways in which games could teach and how that could be enjoyable. If I’m to be honest for a moment here, that series came out of nowhere and really was born from my enjoyment of watching the Australian Open. It was completely unexpected and so was the strong desire I had to attempt the series and see what happened. Unfortunately life matters saw it go dormant after just one post but even so the experience was enlightening and definitely something I’d like to revisit in the future. January also stands out as an important month due to the beginning of another series, one that did go on to see future posts and one that is of particular importance to me. My Space Invaders series is yet another subject that I never thought I’d be writing about, but suddenly I realised that game spaces were important to me and that I needed to find out why. While all I really did is start the series -- with a short suggestion of what was to potentially come in the opening paragraph -- it’s crucial because it is, perhaps, the series I am most passionate about doing, even if I haven’t been able to do it as much as I have wanted to. Aside from that I had a quick muse on the importance of creativity versus profits, and I continued to discuss the Assassin’s Creed series with a good friend of mine. On that point, that conversation was never completed and I have more thoughts on the series, particularly ACII, which I plan on revealing in the near future.

February was also an important month, mostly because it marked the start of my Space Invaders series proper with an in-depth look at -- what else? -- the city of Rapture from BioShock. While on the outside it may be predictable that I’d start with such a place, on the inside it was fully intentional: Rapture is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I’ve inhabited in videogames and also the city that really enlightened me to what games could do in terms of immersion, curiosity and discovery. It was the inevitable choice not because I’m a fanboy, not because the city is so incredible, but because Rapture was the turning point for me and my interest in game spaces and, thus, my desire to understand them through analysis here on the blog. Despite everything I said in those two posts about Rapture, however, I didn’t cover everything I wanted to and now, with BioShock 2 showing a different side to the underwater metropolis, I definitely feel like it’s time to revisit it in order to further understand just why Andrew Ryan’s baby is so damn compelling. Speaking of BioShock 2, February saw the release of my most anticipated game ever and the game itself went on to become even more important to me than the original did. I haven’t explained the reasons why yet, but in that month I did offer my initial thoughts on the game and discussed the reaction others had, as well as the potential future of the franchise. In news that surprises no one, this is another area in which I have more to say, so look out for that soon too.

March rounds out the trio of important months but, in a move that surprised me, it was because of a different game rather than BioShock 2. I honestly was expecting to spend March discussing 2K Marin's new game at the expense of anything else, but then Heavy Rain came along -- another game that was high on the anticipation list -- and completely rendered any content I may have had irrelevant until further notice. Heavy Rain blew me away and because of this, I just had to write up my feelings even if it meant forgetting about BioShock 2 in the meantime. I talked about the story that felt unique and personal to me, as well as the mundane actions that make up a good portion of the title's interactivity. Both of those posts were surprisingly popular and, based on the comments I received about them, seemed to resonate with other people. This was notable to me because, prior to these two posts, no one really complimented me on anything I wrote. Sure they commented and responded to what I may have said, but no one really engaged the posts beyond that so it was particularly interesting to see such a change occur. March also saw me start the wonderful and overlooked Rockstar game Bully, as well as muse on what I saw to be an increasing trend in the industry: the proliferation of quality games and how the general standard had been raised.

Heavy Rain discussion wasn’t exclusive to March, the continuation of The Origami Collection starting April off with yet another popular post, this time talking about the themes the game contended with and, by extension, Quantic Dream’s attempts to mature the medium of videogames. The important thing for me with this one was the sheer amount of themes -- most of which are seldom seen in any other game -- that were included in Heavy Rain, and while not all were successfully implemented, the attempt to include them was certainly noteworthy. March also saw a discussion of my feelings about Super Mario Galaxy and MotorStorm -- the latter being a lot more popular than I was expecting -- as well as the beginning of my Preview Power series, a short bunch of posts explaining why I’m excited about certain upcoming games.

May was another interesting month, this time because of yet another series that was started but dropped quickly thereafter. The Friday Night Forza series was intended to be weekly and was created to talk about my thoughts on not just the game itself, but any other topic that it inspired, including but not limited to: rival racing game franchises, the genre as a whole or even real life racing. I managed to talk about the various mentalities that exist while racing, as well as a phenomenon that is hard to explain but easily understood if one enjoys racing around a track like I do. Was the series successful despite its short-lived existence? I’d say so as it gave insight into some of the thoughts and feelings that come into my mind while I revel in a sport and a genre that I absolutely adore. Why didn’t it continue? Well, I didn’t want to inundate my readers with a barrage of Forza related posts, and because it wasn’t the right format to discuss my thoughts on the game effectively. I also managed to continue my Heavy Rain series with a post on its unique use of weather; as well as consider what Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City would be like if it was viewed in the eyes of Jimmy Hopkins, Bully’s protagonist. That post in particular was a pleasure to do, both because it gave me yet another perspective on a city I’m so utterly enamoured with -- on top of the ones already offered by GTA IV’s downloadable episodes -- and because it’s a concept that I’d like to see experimented with in the future. May also saw an embarrassing moment for me in which I panicked more than necessary about a computer that, to put it nicely, wasn’t co-operating with me at the time. You win some and you lose some, I guess.

June was a quiet month, the massive distraction of E3 as well as the newly released Red Dead Redemption and Alan Wake taking up the majority of my time. Even so, I did manage to have a rant about the biggest gaming event of the year, offering my thoughts on the show whilst also complaining about the sheer stupidity I thought was demonstrated by both Microsoft and Sony. I still fail to understand the appeal of Kevin Butler, all these months later, and have come to accept that either I just don’t get him, or that I do but just find the guy -- and the marketing material that comes with him -- uninteresting, overrated and simply unnecessary. I also posted another installment in my Space Invaders series, a post I’m particularly proud of as it looked at the town of Bullworth from Bully, a game most people wouldn’t consider when talking about interesting, compelling and unique game spaces.

July was also relatively quiet, the only thing appearing on the blog being a discussion of Quantic Dream’s other well-known game, Fahrenheit, with my good friend Michelle. Once again I’m proud of this series because it challenged me (and her) to knuckle down and find out the why when it came to my feelings on the game, and it was particularly poignant doing this directly after playing Heavy Rain. The series also marked the continuation of my interest in collaborations, something I still would like to do throughout this year.**

August was practically silent but particularly prominent for me personally as it was the month in which BioShock Infinite was announced. Predictably I reacted with a post discussing my feelings on the new game, showing my enthusiasm for the new direction Irrational were taking but also my disappointment that, seemingly, the developer had listened to the complaints of some people who found Rapture boring and believed the series should move on. I vehemently disagree, for reasons I didn’t really explain, but regardless of their thoughts or my own Infinite comes across as important both because of the new direction it is taking and because of what it may mean for the series going forward. I also posted a rather popular post talking about the advantages that silence can have in games, particularly titles intent on providing atmosphere and putting the player on edge.

September was key for a few reasons, the most important being the beginning of my F1 2010 role-playing series Living The Life. I did not expect to be doing such an experiment but the idea hit me after the completion of the first race in Bahrain, and the end result was a series that I’m not only committed to, but one that has brought to light some really intriguing, fascinating things. I won’t speak about what they are right now as I’m saving that for another post, but needless to say, this experiment and unique approach to a racing game has been nothing but a success, changing me as a person and illuminating the different ways in which games can be meaningful. It has also been quite popular with you lot, so there’s that too. Also popular was a post expressing my disdain and exhaustion with the consistent use of weapons and violence in the medium and in particular, how easily areas of the industry -- the media, publishers, developers, consumers -- are able to glorify the content without thinking about the consequences. It was mainly an excuse to show how bored I’m becoming with the notion that the FPS genre is the be all and end all of videogames, as well as my feelings that the medium of games should be past this point by now. Even so, it focused on an issue that in reality probably shouldn’t exist but as it does, was worth considering. My subtle post about how art directions can be timeless also received a positive response. Last but not least for this month, I talked yet again about BioShock Infinite, this time in reaction to the ten minute gameplay demonstration that was revealed to the masses. The game is going to be something, that’s for sure.

October was unintentionally and unfortunately quiet, the only posts to be published being a continuation of my enjoyable F1 series, as well as a “heartfelt” look into the emergent moments that Red Dead Redemption so easily creates, and the impact they had on me. While other games are also able to achieve such immersion and meaning with their own moments, there’s no denying that Rockstar’s Western is particularly special in this regard. November continued the relatively quiet trend, though it does stand out as the month in which I started to exhibit my strong attachment to, and affection for, the indie sensation that is Minecraft. To say I’m in love with this game would be an understatement, that’s for sure. Last but not least we have December, rounding out the trio of quiet months that finished my year. Still, I like to think I finished with a bang -- so to speak -- focusing for the third time on the R18+ issue that continues to arise in this country, as well as continuing, yet again, my F1 2010 series. The latter was important because it had been some time since the last post, the publication of the latest one proving that while I had fallen behind in writing them up, I was still absolutely dedicated to the series; while the former was key because it highlighted the absolutely appalling response and abysmal attitudes that gamers in this country seemingly have when they don’t get their way. It was important to do this, I feel, because of the irony that these people demonstrate when they irrationally and hastily react to key developments in this ongoing issue: these people are arguing for the introduction of the rating because they feel adults deserve to have access to mature content in videogames. Yet here they are acting immaturely when the result doesn’t benefit them, even if it could in the future. Impatience and childish behaviour doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t help our cause of eventually getting the rating we’ve been so desperate to acquire -- if only these people could recognise and acknowledge that. I also talked about the impending narrative due to be introduced to Minecraft, though in hindsight the post fell flat -- despite being quite popular -- due to the fact that it hasn’t been added to the game just yet.

So there you have it. That’s a summary of the year that was and an insight into how I feel about what I’ve written, what I’m proud of and disappointed by, and where I feel things could improve. My goals for 2011 and beyond aren’t defined in any way just yet, but I do know what I want to work on and as such, they will be the focus going forward. At the very least, I’m as passionate about writing as I have ever been, I’ve gradually improved as the years have progressed and I’m definitely dedicated to continuing my writing for many years to come. I’m not the most prolific, popular or eloquent blogger out there, but I have established myself in the community and I hope to continue to exist within it well into the future as we celebrate the medium we all know and love: videogames.

Happy gaming.

*In case you’re wondering where my GOTY choices are this year, stick around for the next couple of posts.

**And on that note, if you’re interested in collaborating on a project then by all means get in touch and let me know -- I love doing it and am open to any ideas you may have.