長文分析:Raph Koster 談2017年的最佳遊戲設計

長文分析:Raph Koster 談2017年的最佳遊戲設計

原作者:Raph Koster 譯者:Willow Wu

之前有說過2017年我最喜歡的遊戲是What Remains of Edith Finch,但是還有些遊戲我也很喜歡,於是這篇文章就給大家做個推薦,談談我爲什麼喜歡這些遊戲。

我一年下來能玩大大小小100多個遊戲,但是大部分都是年末假期時候玩的,我可以坐在屏幕前一天花8個小時玩遊戲。就算我很喜歡某個遊戲通常我也只玩一遍,我的遊戲完成率太差了。但是我通關了Gorogoa、 Edith Finch和《老人之旅》,主要原因是它們的流程都比較短。因此,請記住:對我來說“最喜歡”的意思就是“在設計上令我着迷”而並不一定是“最好玩”。你可以把這個推薦清單看作是“遊戲設計師應該玩的遊戲”。

遊戲按照名稱字母順序推薦,並不是由於什麼特別原因所以這樣排列。

·Circles

這是2017年我最喜歡的純設計遊戲之一。遊戲操作完全依靠鼠標移動,圓圈會擴大或者是收縮。有時候它會在你上移時變大,在你下移時變小。有時候它會根據你的鼠標移動速度擴大/縮小。你的目標就是通過移動鼠標到達出口。遊戲中幾乎沒有用任何視覺語言表現出鼠標的移動方式跟障礙物的變化有什麼關係,所以每一個謎題都是一個全新的關卡,你需要自己摸索,但從本質上說,前後關卡還是保持了內部的連貫性。整個遊戲是由它自創的視覺語言構建而成,甚至連遊戲的UI以及其它功能性選項(比如離開關卡等等)也是如此。這種極簡式抽象藝術可能會讓部分玩家在剛開始就放棄遊戲,在我看來這種遊戲設計是非常具有挑戰性的,但是它做得非常優秀。撇開遊戲劇情,Circles引導玩家的方式很容易就讓人聯想到Gorogoa。

·Doki Doki Literature Club

這是一個顛覆性的遊戲。但是在劇情發生大轉折之前要花費很長的時間,我差點就放棄了。遊戲的前三分之一是非常普通戀愛遊戲套路,選擇對話、提高好感度什麼的,這一部分我都是在不斷地跳過,拼命點鼠標,簡直無聊透頂。然後(前方劇透)!其中一個角色突然自殺了,遊戲出現了故障,meta部分出現,遊戲開始變得有趣了。我還在猶豫要不要多講一些,各位最好是自己去感受下劇情轉折所帶來的那種正面衝擊。這麼說吧,它顛覆了以往我們所見的文字遊戲(visual novel),通過遊戲自身批判了文字遊戲的形式以及人們對這類遊戲內容的偏見。

·Everything

顯然,這遊戲就是個藝術作品,令人讚歎不已。在遊戲中,你可以成爲任何角色。你可以是病毒、蜥蜴、大樹、洲、銀河系,在遊戲中展開探索之旅,爲大自然的美妙載歌載舞。繼續變換角色,你可以是婚戒、夸克、鹿羣、炙熱氣體,感受不同物質之間的共性所在。我玩到的部分可能還只是遊戲中的冰山一角,但我扮演過各種不同的東西,從基本構成物質到宇宙都有,也算是完成了某種循環。這是一個絢麗的遊戲,還可以在模擬萬物的過程中領悟哲學。在我看來,Everything已經超越了“遊戲”的範疇,雖然很新穎但是缺乏系統性。遊戲中的沒有刻意設置關卡,而是通過文字註釋幫助玩家繼續探索,逐步接近自然界的循環終點,這就是遊戲中爲數不多的系統性表現。這是一種非常棒的呈現方式,如果能想出這種創意,你的問題大概只剩時間和預算了。在剛開始玩的時候我覺得遊戲角色的移動方式很奇怪,一維空間設定下的操作也很不順暢,但是遊戲想要表達的意思大概是不同生物會形成不同的遊戲體驗。不要錯過這個遊戲,它絕對可以位列我最愛的五個遊戲之一。

·Gang Beasts

這遊戲的很多地方都太糟糕了!不告訴你怎麼操作,菜單導航也不實用。你甚至還可以發起一場只有你在的多人混戰,然後就在遊戲中傻傻的什麼也幹不了。但是,如果你是跟其他人一起玩的這遊戲,那就完全不一樣了——混戰機制讓人眼前一亮,你可以抓、扔、爬等等,你要在遊戲中扮演這些軟綿綿、傻乎乎的格鬥手。彆扭的操作方式以及物理效果形成了一幅滑稽的畫面。把它跟最近的格鬥遊戲相比,你會覺得其它遊戲都好嚴肅,但是感覺又沒什麼深度,這種感覺很奇妙。Gang Beasts無疑是我近期玩過的最有意思的多人遊戲之一。

·Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy

這是一個和挫折有關的遊戲,但是玩這個這遊戲就是個挫折。開發者設計出了一大堆超難駕馭的遊戲機制(這就是Bennett Foddy本人的設計特色,你看QWOP也是),但是關卡都經過了精心調整,算是相當精巧了。作爲一個玩家,我也許會玩一段時間然後就放棄了,我懂這個設計思路,但是我玩得實在是太差。網上有個競速遊戲社區可能會喜歡這個遊戲,完成這個不太可能通關的遊戲。我覺得Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy甚至可以促使玩家自發建立一個“完美通關小組”。我自己也是一直很想再玩一遍,爭取比較好的成績。還有一點,Getting Over It還會在遊戲中跟玩家說話,告訴你放棄不是什麼壞事。這一meta機制深得我心。

·Golf Story

2017年很多人關注的是塞爾達和馬里奧新作,但我認爲Golf Story也是一款值得花時間的好遊戲。(我能說Switch的首年表現令人驚喜萬分嗎?世嘉Dreamcast之後我大概就沒有這麼興奮過了。)雖然是個偏冷門的RPG遊戲但趣味十足,高爾夫部分絲毫不遜色於熱門手遊Golf Clash。遊戲完成度高,節奏好,挑戰機制有特色,跟一般的RPG遊戲不一樣。總之,是個非常對我胃口的冷門遊戲,設計得很有意思。遊戲中的高爾夫比賽和現實中的差不多,但是爲了增加深度,遊戲中還加入了地鼠,它們會偷走你的球而且行動敏捷。順便說下,《塞爾達傳說:曠野之息》應該參考下Golf Story的裝備欄系統。

·Gorogoa

用一個最合適的詞語來形容這個遊戲——藝術。Gorogoa是一款讓人驚豔的遊戲,畫面精美,整體連貫性非常強。謎題設計十分巧妙,但實際上都遵循着同一種邏輯。Gorogoa的解謎部分非常出色,但是有些謎題出現了典型的“朦朧(obscurity)”問題,就是你完全不知道下一步該怎麼辦,只能把所有東西都試一遍直到你發現了正確的方法。這一切都是爲了向玩家呈現出主人公對生命、死亡以及記憶的思考,會讓人聯想到Edith Finch。剛玩不久的時候我還擔心這遊戲的發展有些過於單一了,然而我玩到第三個果實的時候我就不這麼想了。Gorogoa還讓我想起了Mac的經典老遊戲The Fool’s Errand。這遊戲也是今年我最喜歡的五個遊戲之一。

·Gravity Rush 2(《重力異想世界2》)

又一個對我胃口的冷門遊戲,而且我沒有玩第一部。遊戲開場令人熟悉,首先就是催促主角快點行動,然後開始教程,你需要學會用地圖進行探索(這部分比較無聊),接着就正式開始遊戲了——這一款以基於重力操作的遊戲,操作方式古怪但是挺有意思的。角色塑造出色,美術方面也很棒。但是關卡設計方面就有些差勁了,而且制服造型(主要是因爲顏色、形狀)增加了尋找角色的難度,玩家在做這些任務的時候可能會覺得挺惱火的。即使如此,在我看來這個日式RPG遊戲還是有些獨到之處。Gravity Rush 2算是一個“例外”的遊戲,我會想要回到遊戲中繼續玩下去。

gravity rush 2(from gamasutra.com)

gravity rush 2(from gamasutra.com)

·Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice(《地獄之刃:蘇紐爾的獻祭》)

把這遊戲跟另一種風格的RiME比較是一件相當有趣的事情。二者都是第三人稱視角的線性冒險解謎遊戲。兩個遊戲都有自己獨有的機制:《地獄之刃:蘇紐爾的獻祭》可以戰鬥,RiME可以跟動物互動。從核心構架來看,它們其實有些相似。但最終結局還是不同的,這還要多虧了《地獄之刃》用了這麼逼真的畫面呈現出這麼玄乎的劇情——這是一個精神疾病患者的冒險之旅,主角的腦中有揮之不去的聲音,會產生幻覺以及其它相關症狀。玩家在遊戲中可以體驗到什麼叫做“陷入瘋狂”,你能看見到處都是被木樁釘死的屍體以及其它恐怖的場景。遊戲環境極其逼真,甚至精準地還原了皮克特人以及諾斯人。遊戲中的精神病症狀還出現了meta元素——其中有個聲音就在提醒女主角有玩家在操縱遊戲。無論是在流程還是情感上《地獄之刃》都是一個非常具有挑戰性的遊戲,你可以玩玩這個遊戲,賞析它的劇情手法,看看設計師是如何利用聲音進一步提升整個遊戲的效果。

·Horizon Zero Dawn(《地平線:零之曙光》)

毫無疑問,這是2017年的一部傑出遊戲。遊戲機制豐富,主角探索開放世界的方式並不比我玩過經典遊戲(比如《古墓麗影》)有絲毫遜色。它同樣也是一部有趣的IP作品,角色魅力十足。如果說遊戲的製作目標就是將各個部分完美地協調在一起,那麼它就是我在這段時間內玩過的最好的遊戲之一。《地平線:零之曙光》的過人之處在於它的新意——全新的遊戲世界、有趣新鮮的潛行機制、種類豐富的武器以及新特效……這種創新不是像本文所列的其它新遊戲是帶有實驗性質的,而是像《神祕海域:失落的遺產》和《超級馬里奧:奧德賽》那樣意在突破傳統框架,“僅僅”是個挑戰大衆設計的成功產物。當然我們不能小看這種成功,不只是在亞洲市場,在歐美市場它同樣也是一個難得的優秀作品。

·Nidhogg 2

這遊戲贊啊!像素畫面漂亮、遊戲控制精準、武器設定豐富又不會過於複雜。我很喜歡長劍,但是它很難擋住投擲過來的武器或者射過來的弓箭。區域機制結合關卡場景設計(門、平臺、高度落差、陷阱等等)還有豐富的武器獎勵、多人模式策略,玩家可以選擇各種風格玩法,看你要攻還是守,它能讓人從直觀上感受到遊戲的出色設計。我覺得Nidhogg 2要玩多人模式你才能感受到它的亮點。2017年有各種各樣的格鬥遊戲,不用考慮,我覺得Nidhogg 2就是最好的那一個。

·Night in the Woods

有些人就是不願意跟着熱度走,像Doki Doki Literature Club還有這個遊戲都是Tumblr的熱門話題。但是你最好別錯過Night in the Woods。平臺遊戲、節奏遊戲以及冒險遊戲三者合一, Night in the Woods的成功在於它的劇情——小鎮的設定十分詳細,有一堆迷人的角色,兼具幽默和感染力,而且他們對自己的性格有非常清晰的認識。遊戲在執行方面之所以能這麼出色還要歸功於對話氣泡的處理方式。如果有不滿的地方可能就是對話背後藏着太多有趣的笑話,至少要對話三次才能把笑話都講完,這樣就有點囉嗦了。IP設計是吸引年輕玩家的重要元素之一:每個玩家幾乎都能在Night in the Woods中找到自己認同的角色。開發者們真的需要多關注下這個方面,在競爭如此激烈的市場中,如果你能讓玩家和角色建立起某種情感聯繫,那麼你的產品就有了一個至關重要的優勢。沒有多少遊戲可以像Night in the Woods這樣讓玩家對某個角色愛到心坎裏去。

·Old Man’s Journey(《老人之旅》)

2017年的遊戲還有個共同之處就是它們都對於失去和死亡作了解讀。《老人之旅》是一個非常具有詩意的遊戲,它主要依靠的是精美而且頗具感染力的遊戲畫面,謎題雖然簡單,但是玩起來並不乏味。它跟Circles的謎題設計類似,只由直線和曲線構成,玩家很容易就能通過。一般來說,這種謎題很快就會讓人覺得沒有繼續玩下去的慾望了。作爲一個設計師,你應該玩玩這個遊戲,學習如何才能利用豐富的情感內容把抽象、單一的機制包裝起來。

·Super Mario Odyssey(《超級馬里奧:奧德賽》)

近期的馬里奧遊戲我都覺得不怎麼好玩,但是這一部:1)非常吸引人 2)支線任務、謎題豐富 3)附身設定玩出了很多新花樣。對於它獲得的那些榮譽,絕對是實至名歸!但是在我看來,《塞爾達傳說:曠野之息》在設計和遊戲的整體體驗方面還是略勝一籌,這要歸功於其豐富的玩法。《超級馬里奧:奧德賽》主要還是經典的跳躍式謎題和簡單的攻擊方式,不需要資源管理。相較於《馬里奧》明顯的線性特徵,《塞爾達》在遊戲體驗上更具有挑戰性,但這也是一種藝術表現形式。雙人模式也是一個加分項,而且它很有可能會成爲馬里奧遊戲中的最大亮點。

Super Mario Odyssey(from gamasutra.com)

Super Mario Odyssey(from gamasutra.com)

·The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild(《塞爾達傳說:曠野之息》)

一個可以任意探索的開放世界,但是你永遠都不會迷路。遊戲面面俱到,從基本動作到AI都不乏細節,擁有十分精密的模擬系統。簡單的細節設定(比如耐力、聲量、烹飪、服裝)增加了遊戲的深度。相比那些槍戰類的開放世界遊戲,《塞爾達傳說:曠野之息》可以做到系統更加豐富但遊戲整體精煉。我在上文有發了下牢騷,遊戲的物品欄有點難用(真的,去看看 Golf Story是怎麼設計的!),但是跟核心玩法比起來算是很小的問題了。最重要的是它給3A遊戲的未來發展指出了一條可行之道——不要執着於原生內容,往模擬方向發展,讓遊戲更爲貼近玩家。

·Uncharted: The Lost Legacy(《神祕海域:失落的遺產》)

近乎完美!畫面精美、遊戲指導幾乎是無可挑剔、劇情也十分精彩。缺點就是:玩法上沒什麼特別之處,就跟這段時間玩過的遊戲差不多。新的系統在陸地上發揮受限,在突發事件上跟其它類似的遊戲(比如《塞爾達》)相形見絀。角色塑造飽滿,對話也有挺多笑點,但不知道爲什麼我覺得West of Loathing中的火柴人有時候比這個遊戲的情感渲染力更強。遊戲的序幕緩緩拉開,呈現在玩家眼前的是城市中的集市,這時候你就能感受到3A遊戲的場景製作技術已經發展到了如此高超的程度,還有高端遊戲的發展趨勢不再是充滿槍炮與硝煙,而是會有更多“安靜”的場景(指的是角色會在遊戲中吐露心聲),同時保持着高水準劇情。《神祕海域》的精華所在並不是解密或者是平臺機制,更不是格鬥部分,而是那些“安靜”的表現手法。很少有人願意去嘗試打造這種體驗,就算有,也比不上《神祕海域》。在一些設計圈子裏,人們可能會對這種安靜舒緩的體驗不屑一顧,因爲這些場景對開發者技術的要求並不高,這是妥妥的偏見。

·Universal Paperclips

如果我要對這篇文章附上免責聲明,那麼大概有一半的遊戲我都需要標註,因爲我認識它們的創作團隊。這個遊戲也是如此,出自我的朋友Frank Lantz之手。這是一個放置類遊戲,你做的不是手工餅乾,而是回形針。這也是一個AI主宰宇宙的故事。遊戲的解鎖、平衡方式比同類遊戲複雜很多,在敘事方面也是頗具顛覆性。玩家們應該可以感覺到市場中的新式點擊類遊戲逐漸增多,Universal Paperclips的設計在這類遊戲中算是相當前衛的。至於遊戲體驗,還是有不少地方需要改進,手遊版本跟網頁版本並沒有多大區別。我希望有更多人來借鑑Frank的遊戲,做出更新鮮、更有創意、用戶體驗更好的遊戲。然而,如果你是爲了賺錢而去開發這類遊戲,那麼我估計你是達不到Frank Lantz的這種哲學深度。

·West of Loathing

遊戲基本上也是通過一系列任務和支線劇情展開,但它也是2017年最天馬行空的遊戲之一。遊戲中有很多荒誕的地方——菜單中純屬擺設的“色盲模式”、收集糞便的工作、傻乎乎的行走復活節蛋、礦場關卡,甚至你選擇的馬都會對遊戲產生戲劇性的影響,但是West of Loathing還是在一定程度上引起了人們對西部世界的共鳴。牧場主人的故事太感人了,後來出現的醫生也是。這遊戲對我來說是個大大的驚喜,遊戲世界構建和劇情方面達到了《超級馬里奧:奧德賽》的水準。

其它

顯然還有很多優秀的遊戲我沒有說到。出於某些原因,我覺得這些遊戲不是我的菜,而且我也打不打算花時間去抨擊其他開發者的工作成果,所以我能做的就是把一些酷東西列出來,吸引大家的注意力。還有些具體的遊戲特色其實是值得挑出來說一說,但是放在這篇文章中可能不太合適。

總的來說,我建議遊戲設計師們去試一下這些遊戲(遊戲邦注:按字母順序):

·Aaero,節奏遊戲的旋律運用方式。

·Cat Quest(《喵咪鬥惡龍》),借鑑手遊設計特點,運用到PC平臺。

·Cinco Paus,因爲它是Michael Brough的新遊戲。

·Cuphead(《茶杯頭》),一款非常美麗的遊戲,不僅僅在視覺方面。

·Death Coming(《死神來了》),“主動式的解謎找物遊戲”,笑點清奇。

·For Honor,如何設計混戰。

·Golf Clash,它大概是當下最佳設計手遊。

·Hollow Knight(《空洞騎士》),類銀河戰士惡魔城(Metroidvania)遊戲,非常具有衝擊力。

·Knowledge is Power(《知識就是力量》),PSN嘗試利用手機代替手柄玩主機遊戲。

·同一系列的還有Hidden Agenda,有很多隱藏劇情,多人模式下需要進行匿名投票選擇劇情走向。我覺得這個遊戲並沒有很成功,但是能感覺到製作團隊有在嘗試創新。

·很多人都喜歡Nioh(《仁王》),我覺得它給人的感覺太壓抑了,有點令人絕望,但遊戲的戰鬥機制確實做的相當出色。

·Persona 5(《女神異聞錄5》),主要是因爲它的敘事方式,比如說場景切換、視角等等。

·RiME,悠閒但是值得回味解謎遊戲,畫風唯美。

·Space Pirate Trainer,混合型遊戲,能玩得很過癮,場景設計也很酷。

·SteamWorld Dig 2(《蒸汽世界2》),登上Switch平臺的又一大作,遊戲體驗非常好。

·The Sexy Brutale,以一種全新的方式經歷時間回溯。

·Tooth and Tail(《尾牙》),即時戰略遊戲還能這樣設計。

·Walden(《瓦爾登湖》),如何改編小說,如何創造出貼近生活的遊戲體驗。

未來的主要趨勢:

·包含元小說(metafiction)要素

·以失去和死亡爲主題的劇情

·製作後期的高超“打磨”技術,絞盡腦汁讓遊戲變得更加有趣

·借鑑手遊,不要把遊戲做得那麼“高大上”

· 學《黑暗靈魂》的難度設定,讓玩家燒腦,很多人認爲這是一種優勢(聲明一下,我個人不這麼覺得)

總之,接下去你就有事情可幹了,玩得開心!

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

I already posted about my favorite game of last year — What Remains of Edith Finch — but I liked a lot of other games last year too, so here are some recommendations and why I liked them.

I play well over a hundred games a year, for varying lengths of time, usually mostly right at the end of the year when I have time off and can devote it to sitting in front of a screen and playing for eight hours a day. Even the games I really enjoy, I often never get to go back to. My completion rate is terrible. Though this year, I did finish Gorogoa, Edith Finch, and Old Man’s Journey, mostly because they are short. So bear in mind that for me, “favorite” usually means “intrigued me from a design perspective” and not necessarily “had the most fun playing.” Think of this list as “games designers should play,” in my opinion.

These are just in alphabetical order, by the way, not ranked in any way.

Circles

I ended up considering this one of my favorite examples of pure design this year. The game takes on the challenge of defining a system – based on mouse movements – wherein circles grow and shrink. Sometimes they get bigger when you move up and smaller when you move down. Sometimes they grow and shrink based on your mousing speed. Your goal is to mouse a cursor around to reach an exit. There is little visual language tying the behavior of obstacles to the movement of the mouse, so you must approach each puzzle as learning a new system, yet one which is internally consistent with the ones you have learned previously. The game itself is then framed in its own visual language that encompasses all elements of the UI and basic structural stuff (level exits, etc). The extreme minimalist approach may turn off some, but I see it as a tough design challenge that was met excellently, and the way in which the game gradually teaches its own framework is actually quite reminiscent of and resonant with what Gorogoa is doing, without the narrative scaffolding.

Doki Doki Literature Club

This game is subversive. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get to the twists that make it so, and I almost gave up before getting to them. The entire first third of the game is a pretty bog standard flirty visual novel thing, that I basically was clicking through as fast as possible, bored out of my skull. Then (spoilers!) a character suicide, glitching, and the metafictional aspects kicked in, and it got a lot more interesting. I hesitate to describe it more, because it really is more powerful when you encounter the twists yourself. Suffice to say, it blows up visual novel design in interesting ways, while critiquing the form itself (and its content preoccupations).

Everything

This is obviously a game as artistic statement, and it’s quite a powerful one. In this game, you play… everything. Embodying everything from virii to lizards to trees to continents to galaxies, you explore, and switch bodies, and you dance and sing. You can be a wedding ring or a quark or a herd of deer or superheated gas, and in doing so, feel the commonalities across everything there is. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the total collection available, but I managed to cycle through what I think are all scales from the elemental to the cosmic. It’s mesmerizing and beautiful, and there are philosophy recordings as collectibles that add a lot. All in all, this felt like something beyond “game” to me, in that it’s not really systemically that fascinating despite its innovation; what systems are there are not intended as challenges really so much as conceptual notions that help you explore what is in the end a giant loop of connected content. This is really great game direction, hampered only by what feels like time and budget. I could quibble with the pacing at first, and the challenge of navigation once you are in 1d space, but all in all this delivers an experience that only our medium can really deliver. Don’t miss this one, it was definitely in my top five.

Gang Beasts

Here’s the thing… there’s a lot of Gang Beasts that is TERRIBLE. No controls explanations, not even good guidance on the menus. You can launch a multiplayer melee game with only you in it and be unable to really do anything. And yet… when you play this with other people it totally comes alive, with truly fresh brawl mechanics around grabbing hold, throws, climbing, and more. You play these doughy, floppy, goofy figures in an arena brawler. It’s basically a game where the awkwardness of the controls and physics themselves generate the humor. Interesting to contrast to plenty of recent fighting games, which takes themselves so so seriously and yet feel shallower (!) and to Nidhogg 2, where everything works together. Easily some of the most fun I’ve had in multiplayer recently.

Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy

Fundamentally, a game about frustration – and therefore about games. Maybe even about Cuphead. Foddy wrings a lot out of the deliberately challenging control mechanic (a design signature of Foddy’s, see QWOP), and the level design is really carefully tuned, rather exquisite actually. As a player, it maybe means I shelve the game after a while feeling like I got the point, because, well, I suck. But there’s an active speedrun community out there accomplishing what looks like the impossible. Play this to get a sense of the way in which some players can make a cult of perfect play execution. And I can’t shake the feeling that I should go back to it and try to get better…. Not to mention, the game itself talks to you (well, Foddy does through the game) telling you it’s quite OK to give up. As a meta-commentary, that works for me rather well.

Golf Story

A lot of attention went towards Zelda and Mario this year, but I think I have sunk just as many hours into Golf Story. (And can I say that the Switch first year line-up is astonishingly good, perhaps the best since the Dreamcast’s fabled library?). A real charmer that was a bit of a sleeper, this game manages to execute golf just about as well as hit mobile games like Golf Clash do, but wraps it in an RPG. The RPG is engaging and solid, the pacing is great, the challenges are fun and very different from typical RPG exercises… all in all, a sleeper for me, with some fun and engaging game design. The golf is fairly standard overall, swing meters and the like, but it does have stuff like gophers that steal the ball and even advanced controls, to add some depth. Also, Zelda: Breath of the Wild should have used this inventory system.

Gorogoa

It’s art, in the best sense. The overall experience is mesmerizing, consistent, and gorgeous. The puzzles are clever yet proceed from inexorable logic. I give it a bit of a knock on the design side if only because it is basically a really amazing puzzle collection, and some of the puzzles end up vulnerable to the classic “obscurity” problem where you just have to try every possible combination before you notice something that you hadn’t tried in combination with something else. But it’s all in service of delivering a lovely meditation on life, mortality, and memory that resonates beautifully in connection with Edith Finch. At first I was concerned that it was overly linear as well, but around the third fruit it opened up. It reminded me of the old Mac classic The Fool’s Errand a bit. Also one of my top five for the year.

Gravity Rush 2

A sleeper for me – I didn’t play the original. We get an evocative opening, followed by a tense rush and movement tutorial, and after a moderately dull “learn the map” exploration sequence, the game unveils a really fun and weird gravity-based control scheme set in an world that draws from some of the better choices for anime inspiration. The characters are great, the art is very good. Level design is somewhat punishing, and harmed a lot by the uniform palette of colors and shapes which make “find the character” challenges and quests an exercise in annoyance. Even so, there’s a freshness here that most JRPGs simply don’t hit for me. This is one of the games out of the set that I’d be inclined to come back to, on a personal level, because I found it engaging.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

It’s interesting to contrast this to the very very different RiME. Both are fundamentally linear 3rd person adventure puzzlers. Each has a feature or two the other doesn’t (combat, herding), but at formalist heart, they aren’t that different. But they do end up different, thanks to Hellblade’s focus on unreliable narration grounded in an extremely realistic presentation — it’s a game where you feel the challenges of mental illness (voices in your head, hallucinations, and other symptoms of psychosis) whilst traversing a landscape that is exactly what we mean when we use the hackneyed phrase “a descent into madness,” full of corpses on spikes and horrific scenes. In the process, it deconstructs that phrase, grounding the environment in realism including fairly accurate depictions of the Picts and Norse. There’s even a metafictional element to the portrayal of the psychosis, with one of the voices aware that there is in fact a player playing the game. Intense and emotionally challenging, this is one to look at in order to appreciate the ways in which a narrative layer can massively reinforce and reframe mechanics, aided by stellar voice acting.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Unquestionably a standout for the year. Rich gameplay mechanics, and a stellar job of unveiling an open world environment that rivals the best I’ve seen from more established series like Tomb Raider. A very interesting IP as well, with appealing characters. Basically, if game direction is about everything working together, this is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. It gets boosted by its freshness – a new world, interesting and fresh stealth mechanics, diverse weapon types with new effects, etc. It’s not as experimental as most of the titles on this list — it, like Uncharted: Lost Legacy and Super Mario Odyssey, are basically “just” triumphs of development execution against mostly familiar game design challenges. But we shouldn’t minimize what an achievement that is, when it’s pulled off as well as it is here.

Nidhogg 2

This game rocks. The pixel art is gorgeous. The controls are tuned to precision. The weapons mechanics are deep and diverse, with a rock-paper-scissors depth that is really elegant (I love the rapier, but boy, it is harder to block thrown weapons or bow shots with it!). The territory mechanic combined with the level structure (doors, platforms, varying height, traps, etc) and weapon variety reward multiple play strategies, from aggressive to extremely careful ranged play. Just really great design here that clicks intuitively. I suspect it has to be played multiplayer to really be appreciated. Out of the various head to head fighting games this year, this was easily the best.

Night in the Woods

Sometimes, as with Doki Doki Literature Club or this title, there’s a reluctance to hop on the bandwagon of Tumblr popularity. Don’t let that stop you from trying out Night in the Woods. A blend of platformer, rhythm game (!), and straight-up narrative adventure game, Night in the Woods succeeds on the strength of its writing, which evokes a very specific small town and a host of fascinating characters, with humor and affection, and a keen cognizance of their personality flaws. The execution is excellent all the way down the care taken with chat bubbles; it says something when your top complaint about a title’s polish is that too many unmissable jokes are hidden behind having to talk to every character three times (it gets a tad tedious). The IP design is an object lesson in appeal to a modern younger audience: a broad cast of characters in which almost anyone can find someone to identify with, practically designed to be doodled in fan art. This is an area that more developers need to pay attention to, as that sort of emotional connection to characters is going to vital for standing out in crowded markets. NitW nails that gushing “Oh, I love her” affectionate reaction from a cosplayer in a way that few titles do.

Old Man’s Journey

Another commonality across games this year was meditations on loss and mortality. Old Man’s Journey is a poetic game, heavily reliant on quiet mood-setting and stunningly beautiful visuals, that also offers up some relatively lightweight but interesting puzzle play. Taken in the abstract, the puzzle could easily have been done in a manner akin to Circles (only with lines and arcs), and would likely have lost its charm pretty quickly. As a designer whose puzzle designs often lean abstract, this was an object lesson in how to infuse dry mechanics with rich emotional content.

Super Mario Odyssey

Here’s the thing – I haven’t enjoyed a lot of the more recent Mario titles, but this one is just a) super inviting b) full of side tasks and puzzles and quests, and c) so varied thanks to the possession mechanic. It deserves the accolades it is getting. Zelda: Breath of the Wild edges it out for me in both design and overall experience, thanks to the variety in play – fundamentally, this is still mostly jumping puzzles and simple attacks, with no real resource management. And Zelda just attempts a tougher challenge in terms of the UX, given Mario’s stronger linearity. But this is simply state of the art anyway, for what it is doing. The co-op play is a great addition, and it’s probably the best secrets/collection system in a Mario game in years.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

An open world that is highly explorable yet you never feel truly lost. Deep deep systems at a simulation level, from AI to even basic movement. Such simple and elegant little touches that add such depth, like the fatigue management and the sound meter. Cooking things. The clothing. Somehow this is managing to pack in more depth into its systems than many an open world game with ammo and guns and set pieces and the like, and yet it is so clean, so straightforward. I might quibble about the slight clunkiness in the interfaces for inventory and the like (they could have taken a tip or two from Golf Story, actually!) but compared to the core gameplay, it’s really a minor quibble. Most importantly, this shows a path forward for AAA games, away from raw content generation and towards simulation, in a way that isn’t dry and numbers-heavy or hopelessly obscure and invisible to players.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Just about flawless. Stunning visuals, near-perfect guidance, great writing. Oh, there are weaknesses: gameplay was by and large the same stuff we’ve seen for quite some time, new systems were thin on the ground, and when compared to the emergent characteristics of a game like Zelda, it starts to suffer. The banter and characterization were excellent, but somehow the stick figures in West of Loathing were occasionally more emotionally affecting. And yet… when you first see the bazaar in the opening city, you get a sense for how far AAA has come in presenting immersive locales, and start to see a future in which high-end games have less bang-bang and more quiet moments that are still strong storytelling. Those quieter moments have always been the strength of the Uncharted series, more so than the puzzling or platforming, and definitely more so than the combat sequences. It’s still rarely done, and just about never as well as it’s done here. In some design circles there may be disdain for the sort of craftsmanship that goes into this sort of experiential achievement, but there shouldn’t be.

Universal Paperclips

If I had stuck disclaimers all through this list, I’d probably have to label at least half the games as having been worked on by people I know. This one is no exception, as it was made by my friend Frank Lantz. It’s an idle game where you make paperclips instead of cookies. It’s also a parable about AI taking over the universe. The unlocks and balancing act here are a lot more intricate than most idle games, and the subversive narrative commentary is nicely done. Pretty innovative clicker gameplay starts to show up, and for the genre it is pretty cutting edge design. But for an experience, it’s of course lacking, with the mobile version presenting much like the web version did previously. I look forward to Frank getting ripped off like other text-based idle games were, and fresh versions of his many innovative design elements in here showing up in far slicker formats. However, it’s unlikely more commercial endeavors will serve up quite the same wit and philosophical depth.

West of Loathing

The game proceeds as basically a set of familiar errands and quests, with basic branching, closed off doors, etc. But it also has one of the clearest and strongest visions of anything this year, and total commitment to it. From the throwaway “colorblind mode” gag in the options menu, to the job collecting manure, to the silly walks Easter egg, to the way in which you can dramatically affect the course of the game through your choice of horse, mine level, or companion, it revels in its goofy world while still managing somehow to capture the pathos of the better Westerns. The storyline for the rancher is genuinely emotionally affecting, as is the doctor later into the game. A really pleasant surprise overall – in many ways as big a feast of coherent worldbuilding and storytelling as Mario Odyssey.

On stuff that isn’t on this list

There were a lot of other really good games that I’m not mentioning here, obviously. In some cases, I just didn’t like them, and I’m not going to spend my time bashing other developers’ hard work when instead I can put my effort towards calling attention to cool stuff instead. In other cases, there were specific features that are worth checking out but they just didn’t fit on the list above.

So, in no particular order, I’d also suggest designers check out:

Aaero, for applying melody into a rhythm game.

Cat Quest, for applying mobile game accessibility lessons to a PC RPG.

Cinco Paus, because it’s Michael Brough’s new game.

Cuphead, for beautiful game direction and visual design.

Death Coming, for creating an “active hidden object” game with quirky humor.

For Honor, tackling the challenge of melee combat.

Golf Clash, probably the current pinnacle of expert mobile game design.

Hollow Knight, a tremendously evocative Metroidvania game.

Knowledge is Power, part of a series of experiments on PSN in using mobile phones as control devices for hidden information in console games.

From the same series, Hidden Agenda explores ways to use that hidden info in the service of group narrative choice. I didn’t think it was hugely successful, but it was trying to break new ground.

A lot of people really like Nioh. I found it too grimdark to personally enjoy, but can’t deny the depth in the combat.

Persona 5, mostly for methods of storytelling, such as scene cuts between characters, uses of camera angles, and the like.

RiME, a peaceful puzzle explorer with gorgeous visuals.

Space Pirate Trainer, which offered a mix of genres in an expansive feeling world.

SteamWorld Dig 2, another stellar Switch title with really strong experience design.

The Sexy Brutale, which plays with time and rewinds in a fresh way.

Tooth and Tail, for a fresh take on the RTS.

Walden, for a view into ways in which literary adaptations and non-fiction experiences can be created using the games medium.

Big trends

Metafiction

Stories about loss and mortality

Insanely high levels of polish

Slick accessibility paths strongly inspired by mobile games

Completely opaque difficulty curves inspired by Dark Souls and seen as a virtue (for the record, I don’t see this as a virtue personally)

Anyway, now you have something to do for the rest of the week. Have fun!(source:gamasutra.com