So E3 Came and Went...

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The yearly E3 expo is a highlight for a lot of gamers, myself included. It is the one time of year I want to watch something live, and I follow all the announcements and news, getting more excited than I do at pretty much any other time of year. So with 2018’s expo now over, what were the hits and misses and what do I have on my radar?

Let’s start with the misses: Sony. While I love my PS4 and found that Sony’s decision to have a smaller press briefing which focuses on just four big games to be bold, it just lacked impact. There wasn’t any cool announcements, and the main bit of news was about why the hell they had to fill time while moving attendees from one venue to another. The Last of Us Part II demo they showed saved them from being a totally forgettable couple of hours, but only just.

Nintendo missed with the amount of time devoted to Super Smash Bros Ultimate. They mentioned the game had every character ever in the game and over ten thousand changes to make it the best ever. It felt like they then proceeded to list all of them over the next twenty minutes of their direct, and it was boring. A general lack of cool looking games also didn’t help, but they did show some that peaked my interest.

As for the hits, Microsoft stole the show by a large margin. Their briefing had all the bravado that I want from one of these things, they had cool announcements and some interesting news, and generally did it right in a year the other two members of ‘The Big Three’ couldn’t. All of this helped along by the ever charismatic Phil Spencer, one of the best execs to present an E3 Briefing in some time.

So what is on my radar now that the show is over? Well the list covers a lot of genre’s and systems, from big name games to smaller indies that just look cool. Lets start with probably one of, if not the, biggest game at the show: The Last of Us Part II. The original game has become one of my favorite games of all time, and seeing some of the scenes played out on stage by the actors that played Ellie and Joel only cemented that fact.

Sony’s show opened with a demo that started at a dance, an older Ellie watching from the bar. There was a brief conversation with a new character, then she was dragged up to dance by the girl she was watching. The scene turned romantic, with some awkward flirting followed by probably the best virtual kiss ever put to screen. If this is the level of detail the whole game shows, then The Last of Us Part II can’t come quick enough. It was the thing that saved Sony from having a terrible show that was barely talked about, bold and progressive. In short, awesome.

This was followed by what is supposedly a gameplay demo of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. Norman Reedus walked and talked, a new character played by another film/tv actor showed up, and that was about it. It was a poor demo, but did nothing to extinguish my excitement for Death Stranding because, well frankly, Kojima is so nuts that the game might be just walking and talking but the story will be so out there that it will be worth it.

Spiderman is my favourite marvel superhero, so I was always going to get the new game. The gameplay demo looked cool, but I didn’t want to get too invested in it because I wanted to find everything out for myself. It looks amazing though, so I will definitely be picked this up.

On the Microsoft side of things, there were several games that peaked my interest. I don’t normally play racing games, as these days they are far too close to ‘sim’ for my tastes, but damn, does Forza Horizon 4 look good. The changing seasons look like a great addition, but just the overall look is astonishing, and it's a bit more arcadey so I might actually get on board with this.

The other big names on Microsoft's hat, Halo and Gears of War, had showings too. Halo is my favorite game series of all time, so while all we got was a brief trailer that only really showed Master Chief’s helmet I was happy and excited for Halo Infinite. Gears of War had a strange one. They unveiled three Gears games, Gears 5, Gears Tactics and Gears Pop. The last one was completely out of left field, but the trailer made me laugh, so the mobile only game might get the thumbs up from me but for now I am intrigued.

Gears tactics looked like a cool take on the cover based gameplay of the main games, so i think that could work well. It was only a brief bit of gameplay footage so no real details, but I have my fingers crossed it will turned out good. Gears 5 was shown by a cut-scene playing, and it looks good. While story has never been the series strong point, it looks like this one is taking it up a level and continuing from the foundation laid by Gears 4.

They also revealed Devil May Cry 5. Not to be confused with DmC by Ninja Theory (now a Microsoft Studio!), this a full on Capcom created sequel. It has Nero and Dante and cool shit and demons and cool shit and...well you get the idea. I only have two questions: Can they make it quicker and is former black ranger Johnny Young Bosch reprising his role as Nero?

For smaller titles, Microsoft did well too. They showed a new trailer for Ori and The Will of The Wisps, sequel to the fantastic and gorgeous Ori and the Blind Forest, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. The sequel somehow manages to look even better than the first, a high bar indeed, and if it plays just as well then this will be aiming for the top spot in my 2019 game of the year list I am sure of it.

As well as announcing the acquisition of the studio behind the game, a new trailer for We Happy Few was shown, making it look much more like the Bioshock style immersive sim that original trailer showed us. I thought it looked cool back then, and it looks doubly cool now, I just hope the final game can live up to the promise.

A new trailer for Tunic was shown, a game I hadn’t seen before but it has stunning visuals and is apparently a isometric zelda-inspired game. I cannot see any issue with anything there, hopefully the game will be great.

Finally, a game that was released and played by my good self by the time you are reading this: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. A full review is incoming so I will leave that here, but it does also get me excited to play Life is Strange 2, coming this september.

Nintendo unfortunately didn’t get me too excited this year. I am a lifelong giant robots fan, so the small indie game Daemon X Machina looked awesome, and Fortnite is now out for free on Switch, which is cool. The new Fire Emblem: Three Houses, looks cool but I have no history with the series. This might be the one to get me into it, I don’t know, guess we shall see!

I saved the last paragraph for this: Cyberpunk 2077. If you haven’t watched the trailer, go do so right now. If you are a sci-fi, it should get you excited like you wouldn’t believe. If CD Projekt Red can pull it off, that game could well go down in history as the greatest sci-fi game ever made, topping even Mass Effect and Halo. That might be hyperbolic, but...just watch that trailer again!

The rest of 2018 and 2019 should be an awesome time to be a gamer, with some truly stunning titles on the horizon, I just wish they would come out sooner!



 

Volunteering at Insomnia 62

This past weekend the Birmingham NEC saw gaming take over with the festival Insomnia 62 hitting town. Youtube personalities, Twitch streamers, tournaments, merch and everything you can think of descended on the venue to celebrate gaming culture. It was a sight to behold, and I was able to attend the last day of the event, volunteering to work at the Special Effect booth.

Special Effect is a charity that helps people with disabilities and mobility issues play games. Standard controllers for consoles and even PC are designed with players with full mobility and range of motion, but what happens when that goes away or you want to play games but haven’t ever been able to properly use a standard controller?

Enter Special Effect. They provide assessment and support for people with these issues, allowing them to come to their HQ in Oxfordshire to try out some of the custom controllers available, get advice on how to change settings in games and consoles and where to buy the kit required. They will also, if possible, allow you to borrow a controller setup to test at home and see how things go.

The booth at Insomnia 62 had two demo’s: a multiplayer Forza Motorsport 7 demo and a Kirby Star Allies demo. Forza used a controller setup that saw the left analogue stick mapped to two separate buttons, along with the left and right triggers for accelerate and brake/reverse. One player had the left stick buttons which were smaller, for use by those who found it better to use two fingers only, while the other player had large over sized buttons for the same thing so if they had issues with their fingers they could use the palm or the like for control.

It says a lot about my skill with racing games that I seemed to be better with these controllers than I was with a standard one, but...moving on. The demo’s I gave to people ranged from kids just wanting to play something to families checking out something different and wanting to beat each other. A lot of the adults found it really interesting that the controls could be remapped in such a way, and several said they ran youth groups/clubs and that it might be worth them looking into this more for some of the kids that attended.

The Kirby demo used an over sized joystick and large X/Y/A/B buttons. It was the most familiar setup, because it was just taking what was on the joy-con, splits it out into separate buttons and enlarging everything about four times. There is some comment in here about the size of the joy-con's in general, but it was a great way to play, and the separate buttons could be moved on the Velcro like board underneath so you can rearrange them for what is most comfortable.

It was really great to see such unique controllers at work. The charity does great work helping people figure out ways to play with their unique issues, with the custom controllers but also advice on which settings to change in the game. For example, the Forza demo had auto-braking enabled, so I quickly discovered that steering and keeping your finger on the accelerator was the key, and unless you crash the brake wasn’t really needed.

I had a great time helping out, and everyone who worked for Special Effect were lovely and really made the volunteers feel welcome. It was tiring being stood around all day, but I really enjoyed giving demo’s and letting people know about the work this incredible charity does. If you know anyone who has mobility issues and wants to get into games or has trouble with the games they do play, and are based in the UK, give them a call or email, they will be more than happy to help out.

Star Trek: Discovery is a Different Kind of Trek, and that's Ok.

*Major Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery to follow*

People often say that geeks fall into two camps: Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans. It is a flawed, sometimes derogatory statement, but in my experience at least, there is some truth to it. I remember a new team member coming in at my work and he said to me one day that he was ‘more like me’ I asked what he meant, and was told more Star Wars than Star Trek.

To be fair, this wasn’t wrong, I had always considered myself a Trek fan but the adventures of the Jedi just appealed that little bit more. This was due to lightsabers and the battle of good vs evil but ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation aired way back in 1990 and a ten year old me was mesmerized by the theme song, the adventures of the Enterprise held a special place in my heart.

I consider some of the best episodes of TNG as some of the best TV I have ever watched. The likes of ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, ‘The best of both Worlds 1 & 2’ and ‘The Survivors’ hold that title, and the the series overall has always appealed to the science nerd in me, especially since I given the gift of the Star Trek Technical Manual for a birthday present one year. I can still tell you how a warp core works. Can’t fix a real world car, but I can do that.

So I was very excited when a new Trek show was announced. Titled Discovery and set before the timeline splitting reboot, it looked cool, though the first teaser made the USS Discovery look more like the original series Klingon Bird of Preys, which was confusing to say the least, but I was willing to shake it off.

The series started airing just before Christmas, and showed one a week, old school style, so no binge watching here. The first few episodes quickly established something I wasn’t expecting: this isn’t Star Trek. Sure, it has the federation, Klingon's, warp drive, NCC designations for the ships, but it fundamentally wasn’t what I knew.

That is because of one thing: War. Discovery starts with the start of the Klingon-Federation war and goes from there. There is lots of action, ship battles and firefights and with the always awesome Michelle Yeoh as Discovery’s captain plenty of ass kicking, but that was never was the series, indeed the franchise, was really about.

Star Trek made a coherent universe exactly because it wasn’t just about fighting. The United Federation of Planets isn’t a military organisation, it is primarily about science and exploration. The episodes of the various shows run this gamut, where one might indeed be about a battle against the Romulans or another race, two more will be about some crazy science experiment gone wrong or a required diplomatic mission to get a new race into the federation.

It was these episodes that breathed life into the alpha quadrant and its myriad races, making the whole thing make sense. Well as much sense as an alien who is so in-tune with warp mechanics he can travel through them. Let's be honest at this point, a lot of the tales spun by Star Trek shows are massively dumb, but there is a sense is a fun at the heart of it all that few shows to this day make work. Partly, this is because they take everything so seriously but also because the cast traditionally just set out to have a great time together and that does subtly come through on screen.

Discovery, on the other hand, is War Trek through and through. Everything the crew of NCC-1031 do is done to further the battle against the Klingon empire and hopefully win the war and it feels like every episode has at least one battle in it, be that a hand phaser shoot out or a full ship fight.

As the series goes on, however, it starts to redeem itself. As the thing that makes Discovery unique is revealed and the spore drive and Mycelial Network start to become a core plot device, the science aspect of the show steps out of the shadows. Calculations are done, technology is talked about and all the cool science stuff that made earlier shows so awesome comes out to play.

This coupled with characters that have a genuine arc, evolving and developing over the course of the series and Discovery actually becomes a really good show. You are meant to connect and empathize with the central character, Michael Burnham, a girl orphaned by the Klingon's and raised by Sarek, our old friend Mr Spook’s father.

However, it is my opinion that the characters around her are far more interesting. Michael is the main character, and therefore is always destined to win and regain her honour, which was lost at the start of the show. Ensign Tilly is one of the shows best characters, a character who starts out nervous, capable but always questioning her own worth and making apologies for everything she does.

By the final episode, however, Ensign Tilly has been enrolled into the command training program, having saved a commanding officer, proven more than capable in a fight and thrust into the role of Starship captain when Discovery is trapped in an alternate dimension. It’s cool to see someone like this in a big budget show, someone who goes from nervous noob to capable officer.

The alien that becomes acting captain, Saru, is a Kelpien, a race who can easily detect danger. He goes from a first officer who is maybe over cautious, to someone who fights back against every instinct, even genetic adaptations of his species, to become a capable and liked captain.

Because of these characters, and the way everything works out over the course of the series, Discovery actually did become a great show. Is it my favorite Star Trek show? Hell no, TNG will always take that crown, well that is unless season 2 is exceptional. It is just a little too much action for what fans would traditionally think of as a Star Trek show, being more like one of the movies, especially after the reboot, but that isn’t a bad thing.

Discovery isn’t your typical Trek, but that doesn’t automatically make it terrible. Some of the episodes are legitimately great, equaling the highlights of earlier shows. The makers took the franchise in a different direction, but that direction had focus and a point. It won’t go down in history as a work of deep reverie and thought provoking art, but it will keep you entertained.

I had a friend who fell off Discovery after three episodes, and I hope this urges her to go back to it, as well as those who pass it off as ‘Star Trek’. If you didn’t like earlier shows, then you might find this new incarnation more bearable. If you are a Trek fan, don’t dismiss this, it is better than you might think.




 

Diary of a Geek Dad: Little Kingdom Wars

You know how some movies and TV shows really work because they have one character who is constantly poking fun at the whole thing? It’s like they are in the joke, and have been written, with a little help from the actor/voice actor, so that they almost know everything around them is completely made up. Kid’s shows are especially good at this as they often want to have something in there for the adults to enjoy.

In that regard, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is mightily successful, with every episode having at least one character who calls out the story for being stupid, or another character specifically. Despite my reservations, which I will get to in a bit, it works, especially because of one character in particular: Nanny Plum. Why? Well because she is Han Solo, and once you realize that, everything else clicks into place.

Everyone’s favorite smuggler is probably one of the most enduring characters of all time, let alone just the Star Wars franchise. Hell, he is even getting his own origin movie later this year in Solo: A Star Wars story, such is his appeal. The thing that made him this way,however, was the fact that he was in on the joke. Throughout all four Star Wars movies he appeared in, the character is poking the whole premise with stick going “You guys know this is stupid, right?”

He does things like run round corners on the Death Star set on killing all the bad guys, until he realizes there are more of them than he first thought and he just can’t do it. He charges around space in a ship that everyone thinks is a hunk of junk because well, it is, but Han loves that ship almost as much as he loves Leia, and ends up using it to help save the galaxy multiple times.

When discussing the force with a bona fide Jedi Knight, he says he has never seen anything to make him believe in any of that mumbo jumbo. He is swarve, dashing and more than a little dangerous. He shoots Greedo first (yes he does, get over it!), then pays the barman for the trouble. All these things contribute to making him one of the best characters ever put to film.

So how is Nanny Plum the same as the captain of the Millennium Falcon? Does she shoot bounty hunters? Maybe completes a entirely fictional run in what sounds like a unit of time but is actually a unit of distance? No, none of that. Nanny Plum simply points out that everything in the little kingdom is insanely dumb.

There are two races who live there: elves and fairies. Nanny Plum and Holly, one of the title characters, are fairies, while Ben is an elf. Already you can see not everything is normal, and as the title sequence informs you, it is a little kingdom, hidden among thorny brambles.  Strangely though, the elves have very advanced technology, including but not limited to: trucks, computers, helicopters and rockets. They even have their own version of the Thunderbird's.

Nanny Plum is therefore set. She isn’t even as subtle as Han, literally something will happen and she will just look at it and go “This is ridiculous!”. It constantly gets her into scrapes, but never does it fail to entertain. The best kids shows do this, they have something for the adults too, and the current epitome of this is the awesome Nanny.

It extends to not just point out the ridiculous so overtly though, there is an episode where Queen Thistle, Holly’s mum, goes out for the day, leaving her twin daughters in the care of their Dad, Holly, Ben and Nanny Plum. They tell her that she is the only one who can control the little girls, but she leaves anyway with instructions to let them play but not do magic. Nanny Plum can see what is coming however, and with a not so subtle “I have something very important to do…” slinks off the the kitchen, leaving the troublesome twosome in the care of King Thistle, Holly and Ben. It is kinda of hilarious, just seeing her basically go “Fuck no!” and run off.

The fun stops however, when the shows fundamental problem rears its head. Star Wars was never deemed racist, not really. There were comments about most of its cast, especially in the original trilogy, being white men but that's about it. Those comments are fair, but also a product of the time it was made. The movies made after definitely made a concerted effort to correct this, and I have never seen anything in the movies that would make me think otherwise.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom doesn’t do that. It throws casual racism about with wanton abandon. Is it downright offensive? Probably not, but that's not the point. This is a show aimed at young children, and the first two episodes I watched had both Nanny Plum and the Wise Old Elf decree that elves don’t do that or fairies can’t do this, with the emphasis on the race name just to make sure you as the viewer know that once race does things better than the other.

It’s the biggest knock against the show, and I couldn’t get past it for the longest time. Once I figured out the admittedly tenuous link to Star Wars, being the huge nerd that I am, I started to click with the show, but still that racism keeps coming back. It is in almost every episode in some form, and the way the dialogue is spoken by the voice actors really does border on ‘not cool’.  

I bring this up because my daughter is growing up an world with a sexist, racist idiot in control of the most powerful nation on the planet, and she is becoming more self aware with each passing day. I have to think about how I am going to teach her that this isn’t cool, and that it isn’t OK to be like that in the modern age, that society is trying to get better and be more inclusive of everyone. It doesn’t work perfectly by any stretch, but it is getting there.

It is the science fiction, games and geeks of the world that are leading the way on this. The recent outpouring of support for the #Metoo campaign from across the games industry show this change is starting. Sci-fi has long gone in for the Utopian future where racism and sexism have been all but abolished, and while yes, the Empire and First Order in Star Wars are xenophobic space Nazi's, the movies never really go deep on this, choosing instead to portray them as the all purpose ‘bad guys’.

As for games, well there is a recent movement to have them tackle more prominent issues in society at large. It doesn’t always work, but the desire is there and some of those games have been fantastic. There is still a prevalence of not thinking about it, but it's an industry that is still a) young and b) taking its first steps in this space.

As I navigate being a Dad in the modern world, a world at times even I don’t fully understand, I take heart in the fact that my fellow geeks are paving the way for this sea change, and hopefully my daughter will take notice that people like her Dad changed how the world thinks of different races, genders and sexuality. Maybe, as is my greatest wish, she will be someone who stands up and fights for this change, or she may just choose to treat everyone the same, either way she will be part of the movement.  

Also, once again, it is entirely possible I am overthinking things, interesting point though isn’t it?

WestYorkshireGamer's Games of the Year 2017

Well, 2017 has been quite a year hasn’t it? Despite everything going on with the world at large, what the debacle that is Brexit and the farce that is the US presidency to name but two, you would think that as a year, it pretty much sucks.

Strange then, that 2017 has been an exceptionally strong year in games, with two console launches (Xbox One X does count!) and some of the most impressive games of all time. Maybe the good really does have to come with the bad, who knows, but as gamers we are exceptionally lucky.

So here I present my top ten games of 2017. Now, quick disclaimer: not all of these came out in 2017, but I played them this year and got a lot out of them, whether that be a complete play through or just a newfound appreciation for what the game in question is doing. I hope you enjoy this list, and have a great christmas and happy new year!

 

10.Wolfenstein: The New Order

One of my earliest gaming memories is getting a copy of both DOOM and the original Wolfenstein on floppy disk from my uncle, and I played both to death. Ultimately I prefered DOOM, but Wolfenstein stayed with me too.

The New Order is a perfect example of a developer who took that original game and made it their own. Machine Games made a game in the franchise that exceeds all others. It plays great, has a surprisingly nuanced and heartfelt story (shock!) and has enough blood to refloat the titanic!

A sequel, The New Colossus, was released this year but I was unable to get the time to play it, though I am fully looking forward to digging into it in the new year.

 

9.Pokemon Go

So this might be a controversial one, because lets be honest here, there still isn’t much to the game. You can collect those adorable pocket monsters, and that is the main meat of the game. Niantic might have added raids and Pokemon from both Gen 2 and Gen 3, as well as those awesome Legendaries, but still, you walk about and collect.

Still though, it is a more satisfying experience than many give it credit for. The act of filling up the pokedex is surprisingly fulfilling, and by deciding that’s all I wanted to do I had a much better time with the game. More than that though, I have found that it’s social hooks are where it’s true strength lies.

Playing it when I hung out with my god son’s this year cemented the game as a bone fide social experience. We bonded over capturing pokemon and completing raids together, and while I was told on more than one occasion the CP level of my creatures sucked, I had a great time nonetheless.

 

8.Pyre

Certain developers have their own style. I am not talking about design philosophy here, I mean style. The now defunct Irrational Games’ style was for cool settings with deep story and at least tried to make you think, whether it always worked or not.

Supergiant Games have a style, though Pyre proves it isn’t what I first thought. Their first two games, Bastion and Transistor, showed this through top notch voice acting and awesome gameplay, but Pyre proves where it is actually at: Music and Writing.

Within five minutes of playing I could tell this was a Supergiant joint, not because of the way it played, but because of the audio cues, and the way the characters were written. There is a certain wit and playfulness at play, each character at times super serious before shifting into a quality one liner.

The music immediately conjures the developers previous games, while at the same time being its own thing. The fact that the mystical three on three basketball inspired sport that you play throughout is also awesome, surprisingly deep and full of tactics and intuitive is just a bonus. If you haven’t played a Supergiant game before, this is a perfect jumping in point, and once you have finished here pick up both Bastion and Transistor straight after.

 

7.Golf Story

Those who know me know that I don’t do sports. I can have a slight conversation around esports and Taekwondo, but all the ‘main’ sports I just don’t get. Football is eleven overpaid idiots kicking a ball around a field for ninety minutes and falling down every so often, for example.

However, I am not opposed to the odd sports game, and it has long been my opinion that golf is the perfect sport for a videogame. I remember playing golf games on my dads first PC, before Windows was even a thing, and having a surprisingly great time with it.

Golf Story is a modern take on those older games. It might look like a SNES game, but it has very modern underpinnings. It is an RPG where battles are tests of skill with a iron or putter than with a sword, and boss battles are actually tournaments on various courses.

The writing is surprisingly good, with a story revolving around a man who wants to honour his father's memory, and leaves his waning marriage to do so. There are funny moments to be had, it's a little absurd as all good RPG’s are, and the gameplay is very tight.

 

6.Subterfuge

If you have never heard of Subterfuge, you won’t be alone. I only came across it because of the folks over at Waypoint, who discussed it on a podcast. I asked some friends at work if they were up for a game, and as they say, the rest is history.

This is game as much about how well you know your friends as it is about the actual in app gameplay. Each player starts out with a few bases and a few drillers, your basic combatants. From there you have basically two options: expand or attack. All the players in the game are on the same map, and depending on game mode you have to either mine a certain amount of the games main resource, or control a set number of outposts.

The trick is that in order to do that, you have to forge alliances, but doing that with only certain players might piss off the others. Then again, it might prove to be rewarding, and the key is knowing how to socially engineer your victory. I suck at this. I won my first game because I quickly got to grips with how to actually attack, but after that, those that are more subversive than I am quickly started screwing me over.

You will get screwed over. All the time. But that is what is great about Subterfuge, it gives you a set of tools, and from there it really is up to you to win, if you don’t you just weren’t thinking about all the variables. It is awesome, if you have friends who are up for it, give this a try.

 

5.Tacoma

Fullbright Company has had exactly two games. You should play both. The first, Gone Home, was my game of the year at release, and while its follow up, Tacoma, didn’t grab me like that game did, it is still an awesome tale, told in a unique way.

Set aboard Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, players use an AR interface to replay recorded footage of the crew, and figure out exactly what happened to them. It sounds rubbish on paper, but it is so compelling that each scene propels you to find the next, deciphering just what happened to the crew.  

As with Gone Home the writing is top notch, though I found this far less compelling, the setting actually taking away from the story. That said, I recognise a great game when I see one, and this is certainly a great game.

 

4.Destiny 2

I loved the original Destiny, flaws and all. So the sequel impressed me even more, packing more story and content into the main release than the original and its first two expansions couldn’t even match.

The gun play is as A grade as ever, this being Bungie, but the single player campaign is actually quite good for the sci-fi action movie it is, and the loot grind is always fun. It might be very derisive as a series, but Destiny 2 is one of the year’s best shooters, just as it predecessor was back in 2014.

 

3.Super Mario Odyssey

In a year where this was Nintendo’s only release, it would probably be at the top of many of these types of lists, possibly even my own. However, that isn’t the 2017 we live in, and while you can always rely on the house that Mario built to provide top notch platforming, this year simply isn’t the plumbers domain.

Having said that, Odyssey is an awesome game. It feels great to play, looks fantastic and has plenty of power moons to find. Finding them all means exploring the levels, and some of them are hidden in genuinely ingenious places, get one of those and you really do feel like your intelligence increased by +1.

Even before release, I figured Odyssey would prove to be at least one of the year's best platformers, knowing how Nintendo creates them, but it surpassed even my expectations. If you get a switch for Christmas and don’t get this with it, consider it your second essential buy after Zelda.

 

2.Horizon: Zero Dawn

I remember watching the first reveal of this,  the open field, the redhead main character sneaking through the undergrowth and of course, that giant robotic dinosaur. As far as cool sci-fi worlds go, this one was placed firmly on my radar.

Upon release, I was sucked into its world and didn’t want to leave. The open world was huge, you will always find something new around the next corner, be that a village, a mission or a new type of robotic creature.

Those creatures have awesome designs, each with their own behaviors but more over their own strengths and weaknesses, and you always feel that with the right tools you can overcome any threat. Battles are always satisfying, and I spent a silly amount of time just hunting packs of machines for the fun of it.

The story is really great too, and Aloy, as a main character, is surely to become one of the most popular, not only because she is a cool cosplay idea, but also because she goes on a genuine journey in this game. She doesn’t start out a badass, but the tale the game weaves makes her that way, and by the end she unlocks her true potential in the best way.

It looks awesome, plays great and tells a brilliant tale in a unique world. This more than earned a place on my list by looks alone, but with everything else it is a worthy second place on this list, and a must for all PS4 owners.

 

1.The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It is very simple: If you own a switch, you should own this. Breath of the Wild represents what a developer can do with their core franchises if they are given leave to do pretty much what they want. This can be a double edged sword of course, and too much of a departure could permanently kill the series.

Luckily Breath of the Wild isn’t that. In fact it is one of the greatest games ever made, hands down. It is arguably the best in the series, and that is due to the aforementioned departure from series norms. It is the most radically different Zelda in years, bringing with it a fresh take on the concept that works as well as just about any other, if not surpasses it.

The open world portrayed here presents you with something new to do every five minutes, from small challenges, to the puzzle shrines, to a new enemy to fight. Everything you need is open from the very beginning, and speedrunners have been able to complete it in thirty minutes, but I myself took nearly seventy hours, and that is the beauty of the game. You can do it in less time and just complete the story, but there is so much more to it than that.

The systems at play interact in ways that even the developers didn’t anticipate, and for months after release players are finding new ways to mess with world. The thing is, none of that are bugs, it's just those systems doing what they do, and it is awesome.

Breath of the wild represents not only the pinnacle of the series, but also the open world genre, Nintendo’s games and 2017 in gaming. It will go down in history for all of these reasons and more, and will be talked about for years to come.

A Post Mortem on Developing my Game, D.A.B.G

Like many avid games players, I have spent many an hour arm chair designing when I came across moments that provided frustration, annoyance or a weird solution to a problem. I am not the first and certainly won't be the last, but after almost a decade of thinking about it, I finally decided enough was enough, and made a game myself.

First off, I haven’t made any money from this game, nor do I have any intention to. It would be nice don’t get me wrong, but I am not an idiot despite what many people say: The game just isn’t good enough to make any money from. This was a learning exercise and one I heartily enjoyed.

But it does beg the question, can I call myself a developer? Well in my heart, I am torn on this. Games Developer, as much as I would like it to be, isn’t my full time job title. I won’t be making money doing it, same as I don’t make money writing. I have always been of the mind that if you don’t make money from something you do, you can’t formally call yourself that.

However, I spent hours of my life on this project, across a few months. I formally released the game on itch.io and have even had a couple of downloads. When I say a couple I mean five total. Two of which were me testing the itch.io download to make sure everything was working. The code is all mine, the ‘art’ such as it is, was created by my own hand and the systems in place were all designed by me. So yeah, I guess I am in fact, a Games Developer.

I have to say it's a nice feeling to call myself that, after years of trying and failing to even get interviews for jobs at games companies - jobs that aren’t even design or coding orientated. I recently tried for a Senior IT technician role at a developer, basically doing what I do full time now and was told my skill set doesn’t match. Which sucks.

The last few years have been awash with games developed by people ‘doing it themselves’ as it were. Old school designers have stated it is a return to the ‘bedroom coder’ era of the 80’s, but with a generation that grew up playing games and dreaming about making them, and then making that dream a reality.

That was me. I dreamed of being part of a team that made great games, like the ones I was playing on my PC and consoles at the time, and tried several times to get into it. The problem I have always had, though, is a severe case of impostor syndrome. I am considering another article on that so I will leave it there, suffice to say that if you know what it is, it can be crippling.

25 years later I overcame that (yes, its that bad), and downloaded a copy of Game Maker, yoyo games free engine. It sat on my laptop for a couple of months, but once I loaded it up, I ran through the first couple of tutorials and went from there.

Those tutorials are pretty great. You make games almost as rubbish as mine, but it slowly teaches you how to use the ‘drag and drop’ interface and gets a game going pretty quickly. The engine has its problems from my admittedly low use, but as a starting point, that first glimpse into the development cycle, it has pretty damn sweet.

Game Maker uses a ‘drag and drop’ interface to allow you to get up and running quickly, and I have seen some marketing materials that state you do not need to know how to code at all to make great games with it. My experience differs from that statement. While yes, the interface is great and means you don’t have to memorize built in or create new methods and algorithms and actually type them into a code editor, getting it to do anything slightly more complicated that what the thing you dropped is supposed to do is a pain.

For example, I have a ball in D.A.B.G ( henceforth being called ‘the game’) that bounces around the screen, and when it hits a goal at the bottom, assuming it's the same colour, it speeds up and increases the score by one. The drag and drop interface should mean I can place all the elements to make that work into the GUI and set a few parameters and hey presto, but that doesn’t track.

That interface has a set number of things you can in fact ‘drag and drop’. Things like mouse click events, what happens when an object is created in the game and how to display the score. Which is good for beginners, but if you want it do what I wanted to with the ball, I had to drop the ‘execute code’ item in the correct place, and then write code to get it to speed up and change the score, as well as check for the colour.

In one sense, this isn’t a bad thing, I was able to practice coding skills I picked up years ago and, for the most part, they worked, but saying the engine is capable of making  great games without you having to learn code is flat out wrong in my experience. That's not to say that Game Maker isn’t a capable engine, but the interface isn’t as awesome as its creators would have you think, so if you are going to give it a try, it’s something to be aware of.

I have been coding on and off for years, but I mainly did it using Java in University and being taught object orientation, where each little bit of code that does something is treated a separate ‘object’ that can be manipulated. That's a reduced way to look at it but, I hope you get the idea. Game Maker isn’t truly object orientated, so when I tried to be clever and use that to get around a problem, in this case, checking if the ball’s speed was a certain number or higher, I found I wasn’t able to do what I wanted how I wanted to do it.

I was able to get around the problem with a bunch of nested ‘If’ statements. So if the ball’s speed is 10 or less, do the following. Which was wrapped inside an if statement about what do if the ball is the same colour as the goal, which is wrapped inside another one. To say it was elegant coding would be a straight up lie, but it got the job done. There are programmers reading this screaming at the screen right now I am sure.

Due to my lack of experience, I had to turn to the forums for coding help. I have to say that this is an immeasurable tick in Game Maker's box. The community is great, and always willing to help, and help they did, so long as I provide as much info as possible. There was no judgement, just friendly nudges in the right direction for things I hadn’t asked about and bona fide answers to the questions I had. It was a great experience, and my biggest tip to anyone is to use this resource.

With the coding in hand, I had to make some art. I am no artist, go download the game if you don’t believe me, but the engines built in sprite editor was a great way to easily get something looking half decent for what I wanted to do into the game. By creating a sprite in the editor, you then have the option to go to an actual sprite creator program that comes with the engine and design whatever you want. You can even link several images together to create animation, which is how I came up with my user interface.

That interface changes a sprite between two different sub images when the mouse is moved over it. I knocked that up in a total of about three hours for everything I wanted to add, and I am actually quite proud of how it looks. Professional UI designers are probably hunting me down, but hey, for a first attempt, it is pretty sweet and surprisingly easy.

The rest of the art are just circles, squares and lines, some you see, some you don’t. I toyed with the idea of getting the walls to change colour to be the same as the ball when it hits, just to give the game a bit more a stylized look. However, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I had to code so gave up and made the walls invisible instead.

That is an example of both ‘feature creep’ and measuring the ‘scope’ of the game. As I was developing it, I kept coming up with new ideas for things to put in, increasing the size and scope of the endeavor. Some worked out - making sure the speed doesn’t get so fast the collision detection fails - but others would have affected my intended release date and provided little benefit.

I learnt quickly that while idea might be good on paper, getting it into the game might not be worth the effort. I found this actually quite fun because I was essentially self editing on the fly, analyzing my ideas so that I made sure the right ones made it in. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult at times, there were several days when I didn’t make any progress because I was stuck trying to figure out a way around a problem before asking for help.

Luckily, I could get away with doing this. I wasn’t doing it full time as a job, I didn’t have people relying on me to get things done, and there was no formal release date set. This meant I could take my time, think through my ideas a couple of times and take the appropriate action. I like to think I would do the same in a formal developer role within a business, but the pressure would be on then, and I honestly couldn’t say for sure.

That is one of the biggest lessons I have learnt from this experience. Developing in your own time, for fun, changes the rules. I know I am not doing this as a job, but the job I do on a day to day basis requires deadlines to be met, people that depend on me to get the service they need and all this to be done professionally and in a decent time frame.

Doing something for fun means that you can ignore all of this, and do it when you want to. I honestly think I could have had this game done and out in less than a week if I was working on it full time. To be frank, if I took a week, I was probably slacking off a lot of the time. Again though, I was never aiming to make money from this, maybe get my name out there as a developer a bit, but it was more to learn.

We all have to start somewhere, for me, it was this game. I had developed a couple of applications in Uni for course work, and a couple of games when I did a course at the open university, but I never considered myself any good, nor that they would lead to more development later in life. But not long after I finished Uni, I started to follow the games industry more closely.

I found myself drawn to articles and videos about development, and criticism that delved into that side of the industry. Most people fantasize about having the power the game's protagonist has, being some preternatural bad ass that mows through bad guys with wanton abandon. I fantasized about being the guy that come up with the fiction that powers that fantasy, or helping to bring someone else's vision to life.

To be fair, I also want to be Iron Man, or the Green Ranger, or any other of a hundred preternatural bad asses. But I am a realist too, and in the real world I need a job, and I would like something I truly enjoy. I love my current one, but games developer is just cool as job titles go, and now I am one. I am cool.

My game is one I have been kicking around for years in my head, and finally made. I am planning on developing more in the future, and maybe even taking part in game jams. My impostor syndrome is an ever present threat, one I am working on defeating, and developing over the last couple of months has really helped.

The one thing I found the most easy, taking only a few minutes, was the name. I called it D.A.B.G. I am trying to be a bit clever, a bit self deprecating. It stands for Dumb Ass Ball Game, because my game is dumb, is game about a ball bouncing around the screen and I am an ass for thinking I have any right to make it, but I loved doing.

It was a modest start, but that isn’t a bad thing. I learnt how quick feature creep can set in, how to stay focused on what I am making and how large it should be. I learnt I have enough skill at coding to be dangerous, but that isn’t a bad thing and how you must work around the limitations of the software to get the best results. Those limitations may also make your game better and improve your skills by forcing you to get creative with the way you do things.

I am very proud of the achievement, and kept in mind a statement I read from a developer that stated if you do make a game, finish that first game, no matter how bad it is. I followed that. I know D.A.B.G isn’t a great game. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago I would have played it and rolled my eyes at how amateur it is and I am sure there will be plenty of people who would do the same, if they play it. No one will, but there isn’t much I can do about that.

If you enjoyed reading my over view of my development time, and would like to know more, please hit me up on twitter. If you want to play D.A.B.G, I apologize for making you feel that way, but you can play it for free by downloading from itch.io here.