The Games Of 2012, Part 2: The Top Five

Part 1 of this little list highlighted eight of my favorite games from 2012. This post lays out my personal top 5 games of the year.

5. Fez—Polytron Corporation

Fez

Fez is a window into another world. Two worlds, really. On one hand, it’s a game of archaeology. You fumble around in an unfamiliar land, putting together the culture of an ancient civilization. You uncover their language and writing, each new bit a clue to the arcane puzzles hidden below the game’s familiar facade.

With a little knowledge of the game’s troubled development, however, it’s easy to see Fez more as a window into the troubled mind of its designer, Phil Fish. Making this game ate away at his physical, mental, and social health. As he tells it, it nearly killed him. It’s a madness that you can feel as you fall deeper into the Fez rabbit hole. Soon you’ll find yourself scribbling notes and decoding ciphers. You start to lose it yourself. Fez isn’t just a creator making a statement about the process of creation, it forces you to feel what that creator felt. The player and Phil Fish are connected through this world and its puzzles. His descent into lunacy and frustration becomes yours. It’s an utterly unique and mystifying expression of the horrors of creation.

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The Games Of 2012, Part 1

I haven’t touched this blog in a long long time. Since starting over at The Gameological Society, I haven’t really thought to use it for anything. Seeing as how we didn’t do a traditional end-of-year feature, I wanted to put together a little list over here. I’m probably the only person on the site who actually likes lists, but when you have a stable of writers as deep as ours, well, you could see how it would become problematic.

Here’s the way this is going to work. I have 13 games (deal with it) to single out. The first eight—featured in this post—are unranked. “Part 2″ will feature my five favorites of the year, and that one is ranked. To be frank: the writing here isn’t great or particularly deep. I kind of wanted to just throw something together.

Let’s do this:

Thirty Flights Of Loving—Blendo Games

Thirty Flights Of Loving

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Fez Review: The gaping maw of madness

Fez

One of the many secret messages in Fez reads, “Trapped in a fez factory. Please send help.” This is a plea straight from the mouth of the game’s creator, Phil Fish, who for nearly five years, was trapped within the padded walls of his own creation. This game all but killed him, clawing away at his health, psyche and relationships.

And it shows.

Fez is the chronicle of Phil Fish’s descent into madness as he struggled to develop the game, and through endless mystery, obfuscation and complexity, it invites the player to suffer the same fate.

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On Mass Effect, Part 2: Collaborative storytelling and the end. (SPOILERS)

Yes, this post contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series. All titles are fair game. You have been warned.

Mass Effect 3

In part one of this reflection on the Mass Effect series, I retold the games’ plot as I saw it: an epic love story set against a galaxy’s struggle for survival. It’s not a prerequisite for reading part 2, but it does serve as the basis for much of my argument presented here.

Let’s cut to the chase: there is no possible ending BioWare could have devised for Mass Effect 3 that would have pleased everyone. The beauty of that series — something that has been reaffirmed by the outrage surrounding the finale — is the unique narrative each player builds throughout their 90-hour experience. It’s all thanks to collaborative storytelling, with both the player and developer working to build each Shepard’s story.

But that’s only true to a degree. The greatest trick BioWare ever played was making you think you were somehow writing this story. While there are near infinite combinations of story beats and outcomes across the entirety of the series, each momentary decision is just as trivially presented as the final one: you stand at a crossroad with two, three or maybe, if your lucky, four possible paths. Take your pick.

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On Mass Effect, Part 1: A hopeless romantic (SPOILERS)

Yes, this post contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series. All titles are fair game. You have been warned.

I’ve been thinking about Mass Effect a lot; about what the series means to me, why its ending has been so controversial and what separates it from similar games. I’ve come to a couple of conclusions and this is my attempt to lay them out.

I’m starting with a reflection on my Mass Effect experience. This is the story of Commander Shepard as I saw it. All of that surface level stuff — the battles with Saren and the Reapers, Cerberus’ constant meddling, the siege of Earth — is ultimately unimportant. This series is great because it allows the player to inject their own humanity into Shepard. You determine which losses are the most painful. You choose Shepard’s motivations. The choices you make within the game aren’t nearly as interesting or important to crafting your Commander Shepard as those you make outside it.

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Extra Lives: Preserving the History of Video Games

William A. Higinbotham

William A. Higinbotham

The oldest book in the Special Collections at Stony Brook University is an illustrated history of the world called “The Nuremberg Chronicle.” Printed in 1493, little more than 50 years after the invention of the printing press, it contains some of the first examples of printed illustrations.

This relic of the print age now lives alongside the William A. Higinbotham Game Studies Collection, a collection of video game cartridges, consoles, book and magazines spanning 20 years of video game history.

The collection, opened in the fall of 2011, joins the growing group of museums, libraries and universities around the United States that have begun to preserve video games and the culture surrounding them.

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The J for Janky Game of the Year Spectacular, 2011 edition — Part 3: Numbers 5-1

You can find part 1, the honorable mentions, here and part 2, numbers 10 through 6, here

5. Bulletstorm — People Can Fly

Bulletstorm

Bulletstorm doesn’t tell a great story. It doesn’t have charming visuals or music. It doesn’t explore challenging themes.

Bulletstorm does, however, make shooting fun again.

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