Monday, December 22, 2008

The confab of confabs

If you have any of the same Twitter friends and RSS subscriptions that I do, by now you've probably heard dozens of times about the latest Brainy Gamer podcast. Just in case: Have you heard about the latest Brainy Gamer podcast? Michael Abbott has assembled a super-confab for an epic three-part discussion of the best games of 2008. I shared microphone space with Dan Bruno, Corvus Elrod, and Spencer Greenwood, who must always be referred to by his full name.

All three had unexpected picks for their favorites of the year, a trend which extended across every discussion. Michael says he asked 20 different writers for their picks, and got 20 unique responses. That's unbelievable, and maybe unprecedented. We had a bit of a discussion about what the lack of a consensus pick means, if anything, and I'm not sure I said what I really meant about it.

Essentially, when everyone you know picks BioShock or Portal for their game of the year, I don't think that's indicative of a hive mentality or a lack of imagination among gamers -- I think it means that those games were seriously awesome. This year's best games still all seemed to suffer from one massive annoyance or another, and it's a matter of each person's individual breaking point how they responded to that. That may be what accounts for the divergent responses.

If, instead of asking everyone for their top pick, Michael had instead asked for our top 10 lists, and then compiled the results into one master list, you'd probably get something altogether more predictable. Fallout 3 or Grand Theft Auto IV would probably be the number 1 pick, and most of us would think, well, it's not my favorite, but it makes sense to be up there. But that's much less interesting than the way he actually did it! There were games of all types represented here, independent and big-budget, story-driven and wholly competitive, new IPs and sequels. It's fascinating stuff.

Here's that link again.


Michael Abbott said...

Say, some folks on Twitter are talking about the newest Brainy Gamer podcast. You should check it out!!

Seriously, It was great having you on the show. Now I'm tuned into your and Chris Dahlen's and Leigh Alexander's best-of lists to get me through my insatiable need for subjective and wholly indefensible but still fascinating GOTY parades. Woot.

BTW, I was very happy to see Lost Winds among your Honorable Mentions. I too wish the game were longer, but what we got is a very promising start, I think.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

To steal a line from Steve Gaynor, Rock Band can't be the best game of 2008 'cause it's the best game of every year. It bears repreating that all your rock band 1 songs made it into rock band 2, which was one of the best things ever. You're right, Harmonix just has a really good understanding of what the music game is about and they refined everything in RB2 with this in mind.

Ben Abraham said...

Bioshock was Rubbish. '07 was SOO Halo 3.

Iroquois Pliskin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iroquois Pliskin said...

You're cruising for a bruising with that kind of talk, Abraham! The serious games network of pretension rolls deep! Thank your lucky stars that you live on another continent, since this spares you a rivet to the domepiece.

PS Halo 3 is a fine game but the campaign is utterly forgettable.

Mitch Krpata said...

The way they're treating Rock Band as a platform continues to work really well. You're right, Iroquois, I've folded Rock Band 1 and the AC/DC track pack neatly into Rock Band 2. That's part of what I mean when I say how forward-thinking the game is. It's intended to evolve and grow.

I really don't get Halo's appeal at all. I never have. Very little about it works for me.

Spencer Greenwood said...

I guess I should go some way towards justifying what I said about the lack of consensus. I didn't mean to straw man your position as suggesting that a hive mentality is a good thing, so I'm sorry if I implied that.

I do want to question your suggestion that having one obvious pick means that that pick was seriously awesome, though. I worry that you might mean that a lack of consensus necessarily means that most of the year's best games were imperfect in some way. I know that you feel that way about this year, but I'd hope that you'd make room in your view for a year in which a lack of consensus was a direct result of having lots of seriously awesome games.

I don't know about you, but I have huge qualms with BioShock and many of 2007's other great games (though, admittedly, it's really hard to fault Portal) just as I do with 2008's best offerings. Maybe there was no Portal this year, but there were plenty of BioShocks - more, even, I feel, than in 2008.

Well, I hope that that goes some way towards justifying what I said.

Mitch Krpata said...

Well, it'd be easier for me if there had been any game this year that I had liked as unreservedly as several of last year's games. I could hardly contain myself when I put together my best of 2007 list. BioShock, Portal, Rock Band, The Darkness, Crackdown -- these are games that absolutely spoke to me, and that stick with me today. I don't think that's as true of this year's games, although Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 are the likeliest candidates. But even those both have some issues that are hard to overcome. I don't feel that way about the 2007 games I mentioned, not even BioShock.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

So, I wuz reading the Onion AV Club and there's a paralell with the year-in-film. Last year there were a few films-- No country for Old Men, There will be Blood-- where there was instant consensus on their greatness. I mean, personally I think those movies will be classics for years to come. No so much this year. There's a lot of fine movies out there, but nothing that gained that instant-classic status.

So anyway, Tasha Robinson said that last year was a good year for great films and this year was a great year for good films. And this seems right for games too. There were many, many good games (as the diversity of the confab selection attests) but nothing that stood out the way that Rock band and Bioshock and Portal did.

Still, a good year! A good time was had by all, and any year that contains the Who's greatest hits and Left4Dead can't be too shabby.

David Carlton said...

Just listened to your segment; I'm glad (but not surprised) that you chose Rock Band 2. If my 360 had lasted a couple more weeks before needing repairs, that probably would have been my choice: it really is a wonderful game in a wonderful series.