My 2017 In Bite-Sized Games
My year in games, as it turns out, has very little from 2017 in it. My day job is making games - I co-founded Artifact 5 over two years ago and spend my time producing, doing business development, narrative design, bookkeeping, you name it. So I find it less appealing to spend time outside of work on games, instead taking time to read, cook, and binge-watch Star Trek Discovery and The Crown. This means that the games I did play throughout the year were carefully picked, or managed to sneak themselves into my daily life. While each game was played for a different purpose, they all had something in common: they were quickly immersive and bite-sized, perfect for someone who can’t dedicate extensive hours to gaming. Half of the games on the list still require chunks of time, but can be stretched over weeks or months. The others are stand-alone experiences that you can gobble up quickly. None of them require having to dive too deeply into a plot you won’t remember on your next play-through (perhaps a reason I haven’t come back to the beautiful but complex Kentucky Route 0 since 2015). Here's to quality over quantity.
The Battle of Polytopia
This game captured my heart and mind back in September 2016, when I was introduced to it by my 11-year-old stepbrother. But it’s hardly a children’s game. Polytopia is small, candy-coloured, and feels like a pared-down Sid Meier game. You go on short missions for perfection or longer campaigns against the AI for domination. The visual style is sleek and playful, and fighting the other civs is both bloodthirsty and delightful. I liked it so much, I emailed the creator and signed up for Beta testing. I find it so compelling, I played in local pass-and-play mode for all 6 hours of my flight to GDC with my seatmate, and then continued after we landed. It’s never the same twice, but you can continuously improve your skills. I don’t find that I’m particularly amazing at it - I rarely reach the leaderboards - but it’s the perfect game to play on the metro (offline play!), in front of a slow TV show, or while you’re waiting for your tea to steep. Now, if only I could get 3 stars in Domination mode.
Firaxis, 2K Games
I’m in a trans-Atlantic long-distance relationship, so I am incredibly lucky that my partner also enjoys video games. I grew up playing games with my family members, particularly Civ II and III on the LAN, so connecting through online play feels like an appropriate bonding activity. We’ve tried Civilization V, Ultimate Chicken Horse, and Rocket League, but have ultimately adopted Civilization VI as our go-to game. This sprawling strategy game is ideal for when you’re all talked out, but still want to do an activity together. Civ VI allows for cooperation (or competition, if you prefer), various challenge levels, and the pace never leaves me feeling like I’ve lost the thread (Rocket League might be more fun if you enjoy a rush!). It doesn’t demand controllers or special set-ups - it’s easy to play with a laptop. And the improved AI and attention to detail you need when planning cities is an excellent leap from Civ V. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy naming their Religion “Tiny Rickism” and spreading it across continents with the help of their boyfriend’s trade routes?
Pokemon Moon Ultra
Game Freak, Nintendo / The Pokemon Company
As a Pokemon purist (why on earth do you need to catch more than 150?), I’d never expected to play, let alone enjoy, a Pokemon game made after the the late 90s. But this version leapt out at me at the end of 2017. Like everyone else, I had a temporary fling with Pokemon Go in mid-2016, but it didn’t hook me past the initial novelty of catching Pokemon “in the real world.” What’s so appealing about Pokemon Moon Ultra is that it’s great for small bursts of solo play, but can also be a social experience. From the beginning, Nintendo has understood that creating two versions of the game with unique creatures in each would necessitate working with another person to achieve your goals, and it still accomplishes that today. Evolving the baby Evee my partner sent me after I travelled back from the UK has been a way to feel connected to him, while staying immersed in the game world. As for the story itself, it’s nice to see a Pokemon game with a little bit more plot, self-awareness, and character development. I look forward to finishing this one slowly, raising up the perfect team, smashing the Elite Four or whoever shows up in the end game, and then testing my team against my partner’s on link play.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow, Annapurna Interactive
I’ve spent the past few years working on a narrative exploration game called Anamorphine. This means it’s relatively important to try to keep up with the other exploration games on the market. Happily, playing the most recent major one in the genre was pure pleasure. Edith Finch was played by my team collectively - we took turns navigating the vignettes, and we were quickly immersed in the introspective, imaginative, deadly world of the Finches. From a UX perspective it’s simple to grasp, but each new mechanic provides a new experience, adding colour to the palette. The stories somehow feel cohesive, despite taking place across time, space, and style. The heaviness of the story was counterbalanced by the joy of playing it, ending on a bittersweet note of hope that felt unexpected but fitting. I am thrilled to see the narrative genre mature and thrive in the wild, and I’m excited for the next ones to land in 2018. Hopefully this year, I'll find a few more excellent little games to nibble on.