Ah, it’s time for another games I played list. Getting to this before the middle of the year this year. I’m using a different structure. New games get their own slots, and returning favorites I won’t say extra time played, just total if that number exist. We’ll end with my qualitative awards for the year. I won’t mention the games played before the awards so you’re surprised!
I consider my “Games played this year” list to be a way of keeping myself honest about my influences when it comes to game design. It’s an important opportunity for me to learn and reflect on what captured my attention to make me think about what games I make and why.
One thing I will say about this year: it was the year of Xbox Game Pass. I’m not somebody who cares much about “owning” games. I own my experiences with games, so I’m fine with a subscription based model for the games I play. It got me to try out a lot of games and find games that I really liked.
New Games Played A Lot
These were games that I tried this year and played a lot in 2022.
Monster Train (67 hours)
I played a lot of Banners of Ruin, and Monster Train is a game in that same genre of strategic turn-based deckbuilder progressive rouge-like that is just really fun to play again and again when the numbers are tweaked just right. The kind of game where you struggle for a while, but once you understand how to make a build and progress it gets more and more fun as you handle the cards you’ve been dealt with elegance.
This game has a lot of interesting features that bring back playability, like a…multiplayer mode? What a wild addition for a deckbuilder rouge-like, but it’s really interesting to feel like you’re playing along with others and trying to get the best score live.
Bloons TD 6 (49.5 Hours)
I remember hearing from someone that the entire NinjaKiwi old flash archive is available for free on steam. Lots of great classics there, and yes it’s all free. I decided to try out osme of the old Bloons TD games and decided I would give it a try. Then I thought “Hm, maybe I’ll just buy their latest game to support them.”
Turns out I get really obsessed with tower defense games. My favorite part was the “board” mode where you joined a team to complete challenges and take over hexes. There were just so many different challenges and especially highlighted user-created content. They’ve done a great job cultivating their community around this game. This game is worth the money, as there’s no overly-intrusive free-to-play mechanics involved here. If you want to play, you can just play. Isn’t that what games are supposed to be?
Monster Sanctuary (23 hours)
Oh, why look what just happens to be right next to “Monster Train” in the Xbox game pass library…
I had been looking at Monster Sanctuary for a while, but hadn’t tried it until I got it on Game Pass. This is the game Pokémon-naysayers actually want to be playing when they gripe that Pokémon’s mechanics are too simplistic. Metroidvania creature raiser with a team-based battle system where complementary abilities will get you the victory, but you can also grind a little if you get stuck. I only had to do some level ups at two points in the game. There’s a lot more to this game than the 23 hours it took me to beat the main game, but after that the game gets much harder, so it is for the dedicated.
New Games Played A Little
These were games I played for under 10 hours.
No Man’s Sky
I played a little bit of this with my brother. We had trouble finding time to meet up to play it with each other, and I felt bad just progressing on my own. It’s an intriguing game. I think I’d play it if I started on my own.
Niche – a genetics survival game
This game has a ton of depth in the genetics system. There’s so many different ways to raise your tribe to have a collection of abilities that allow you to adapt to a variety of scenarios. I struggled to get my long-term plan into gear in the game, but there’s settings to make it easier.
(Note: Runner-up for the “Heartbreaker” award this year for how attached I got to my characters only to have them die terribly unfair deaths constantly due to my mismanagement)
Super Auto Pets
This game fits in the genre of “Games I like to watch, but not really to play for some reason.” I got really into watching Mario Maker Streamers RaysFire and RedFalcon and loved seeing the creative levels they encountered. YouTube deigned to recommend Skootie’s channel to me and for some reason it’s really entertaining to watch someone who is really good at this game and the combos that they can come up with. You would think this would translate to me being good at the game. I’ve only one the game once with a turkey summon build though.
I decided to use this separate category to catalog games I’ve talked about in the past but played again. See previous blog posts if you want the full details of what made these games great.
Stellaris (346 hours, +106)
They came out with a “Toxicity” expansion pack and I got it immediately and played a bunch. I mean, how could I not?
Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord (367 hours, +90)
I got back into this after thinking “you know, I should try it again and see what they’ve updated.” They updated a lot. They recently did their official release, but I haven’t tried it since then.
Fallout 76 (43 hours but new?)
I played Fallout 76 when it first came out on the PS4. I had fun with it, and as usual with games got to a pretty high level and never won the main quest. I got stuck at trying to shoot the drone out of the sky part.
I decided to pick it up again (xbox game pass…) and start from the beginning. I can say I was definitely surprised to see AI NPCs wander around, a lot of stuff had updated since I last played. I just had fun wandering around discovering things. I think I’m almost up to the point I was when I stopped playing for the PS4.
Gunfire Reborn (113 hours, +38)
I watched the trailer for this game at the June Xbox showcase and went “Wha? Wait, oh yeah they’re probably still updating that.” I tried it out again and rebooted my entire account and unlocked everything again. This game is just really good.
Banners of Ruin (147 hours, +33)
Yes I went back and unlocked all the upgrades again how could I not.
Battletech (100 hours, +28)
As usual, I got to the mid-game and chickened out because the game started getting really hard.
XCom: Chimera Squad (144 hours, +26)
Every time I open up this game I go “Oh, there’s an update!” Then I see it’s just for the 2K Launcher. This game is such a well-composed little gem full of interesting experiences that creates a really fun loop. If there’s one game I really want to learn how to mod, it would be this one, just to add more varied content to the game.
Fellow Designer Props
This section is for games I played/am excited for playing by developers that I know.
Every once in a while, I get nostalgic for Star Wars: Droidworks. Then I remember because of the architecture of that game it can’t run on modern computers, even emulated, without a ton of fiddly work.
RoboCo is the game Droidworks promised to be, without any game dev shortcuts to robot building. It’s meant to emulate building real robots. The mechanics of the raw robot-building are so incredibly serious, combined with the settings and animation style that is infinitely humorous, it’s a great game, and one I think could be played well with other people, all contributing ideas on what the robot should do and trying things out.
One Steam review says “No fight, no violence, just good mood.” That captures my emotions around this game for me, better than I could ever describe.
What is Zorpon?
This game is an adventure, a collection of concepts that challenges the minigame collection format in really exciting ways. This is best played late at night without anyone to disturb you, a chance to be patient with the game and see what you come away with.
The Sand Knight
Twin-stick shooter with a great visual aesthetic and a lot of juicy punch to it. Looking forward to seeing it come out soon!
The categories are…
Late-December Time Sink
Every year, there’s a game where I pick it up in late-December out of nowhere and it consumes my life. In 2020, this award went to Angels With Scaly Wings. In 2021, this award went to Sovereign Tea. Both were games that I just got and played until an unhealthy hour because I just had to win the game and there was nothing that would stop me.
(Spoiler alert: it’s another indie game this year because of course it is.)
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I can’t play games with moral dilemmas well. I just hurts too much to have to decide, which is why I couldn’t make it past the intro of Outer Worlds. This category is for games that forced me to make hard decisions and rather than making them I just turned the game off.
I can’t believe this exists
Why does this game exist? The fact that it exists raises so many questions that my soul just sort of breaks without any change of contemplating how it came into existence.
Most Impactful Game
The MIG category goes to the game that I think influenced me most as a designer. It may or may not be a game that I enjoyed, but it was one that made me think about game design concepts in an involved way.
2020’s winner was Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, while 2021’s winner was Stellaris.
Without further ado, the awards!
“Late-December Time Sink”
Before We Leave (45 hours)
This year’s winner is Before We Leave, for causing me to spend one day playing it for 17 hours straight. You heard that right. I just…kept played and said “I’m going to win this game. And I played it from 8 AM one day until 3 AM the next day. Why?
This game scratched that perfect itch for me in terms of “single-player RTS”, which is a genre that I’ve seen that I have fallen in love with from my time playing Surviving Mars. I think that if I’m going to do an experimental game project, I’d like to try making a single-player RTS game. My problem with RTS games usually is I’m not a very competitive person. Either I don’t make the right decisions and lose because I feel bad about beating my opponents into submission, or I beat my opponents into submission and feel bad. I like the idea of managing resources, but I don’t want to balance building an offensive army against making resources and providing for my civilization.
I knew it was something special the minute I thought “Hm, this run isn’t going so well. Instead of putting the game down, I’m going to start a completely new game with the information I know now because I could be more effective.”
Spiritfarer (30 hours) / Cult of the Lamb (3 hours)
…it’s a tie! For two games that absolutely broke my heart. Spoiler alert for Spiritfarer. Highlight to see what happened that broke my heart.
The game involves getting people to go through the final door and move on from the afterlife, after coming to terms with their lives. I decided I wanted to 100% this game, so I figured I would get every character to go through. Then, the game decides to heckin’ 180 me. There’s one character who has decided just not to leave, then says “Oh, but actually it’s your time to go.”
No. You can’t do that to me. I turned off the game. I couldn’t make my character go through the final door. It broke my heart in a completely unfair way.
For Cult of the Lamb, I was really enamored with the art style, the action rouge-like gameplay, and the base-building progression system.
…then, I got to the crux of the game. I was treating one of my villagers really nice, raising their level. Then they say “I don’t like it here, I’m going to leave!” How, how could you do this to me? And I knew what the game mechanics were telling me to do next. Gently nudging me into the crux of the game.
It was time to sacrifice the villager that I cared about more than anything else in the game. Why raise the level of a villager if not to get more rewards from slaughtering them?
I couldn’t handle it. I turned the game off and haven’t opened it since.
“I Can’t Believe This Game Exists”
I had what I thought was a simple assignment in one of the classes I teach. “Tell me about a game that has a serious message.” I was used to the usual suspects, games based on real events or ones that had important messages in them. Then one student brings up Island Saver completely out of left field. Never heard of this. Tell me about it!
“You’re a person sent to clean up a polluted island…”
“…and you have to save the animals, which are called Bankimals…”
“…by putting coins into them to give them back their color…”
“…but don’t forget you have to pay taxes, too! Then when you need to invest in infrastructure you can use the tax money by talking to the tax machine… “
“…all the while the game teaches you about personal finance tips…”
“…by requiring you to put your money in a bank and make a pin because the entire game is sponsored by National Westminster Bank“
This is a game. I don’t know how to describe it. At some point I’m going to do a deep dive blog post into the history of this game and how on earth it came to be. I thought I had seen all sorts of daring cross-genre games, but none of them hold a single Island Saver dubloon to an Environmentalism/Personal Finance serious game crossover. How on earth did this come to be? As I played through I was continually thinking “how far are they really going to take this?” only for it go even MORE in depth on the metaphor of the game. Congratulations to Island Saver for offering me more surprises within one sitting in a play session than I’ve seen in every other game I played this year.
Most Impactful Game
Dragon Quest Builders 2 (41 hours)
This game is a really complicated mixed bag. It’s the type of game I could talk about for hours, going into detail on how impressed I was with the mechanical systems, while also seeing those systems struggle as they are tied in with narrative weights. One of my personal problems with my games I make is they are too mechanic-centric, and don’t provide enough important context for the story and the world of the game. I focus on the fun first, and just forget about the story.
This game has some really long story elements that are important for developing the story and world, and relate to the game’s mechanics, without always feeling embedded in the game’s mechanics. It’s one of the reasons at some point I want to go in-depth about “sequence-breaking” in games. In the middle of this game about building and construction, there’s a 2-3 hour stretch where all of your building abilities are taken away and it’s now a stealth game. Why is that there? What does that mean for the design? Why was that choice made?
My analysis of this game deserves multiple parts, each building on the other to weave in what this game is, and the amazing ingenuity of its underlying systems along with the struggle to embed those systems properly with appropriate narrative weight in a meaningful weight. But that’s a blog post for another time.
My gameplay last year was permeated with a lot of trying out things and finding games I liked playing. I really ended up trying things simply because of Xbox Game Pass, whatever piqued my interest there, along with the fact I finally got an Xbox Series X this year.
I didn’t do as much direct creation of personal projects this year. With Give the People What They Want winding down, I’m looking forward to whatever my next exciting adventure is.