Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Year in Review: Year-end superlatives

Above: A winner is you, everyone.

All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: year-end superlatives.

Welcome Trend: Critical Non-Consensus

With the annual "Year in Swooning" quiz, I'm trying to point out how carried away game sites often get when it comes to the flavor of the week. But there is some progress in this regard. This year, I felt like there actually was legitimate, respectful disagreement about some of the highest-profile games, both indie and major-label.

I think it's a sign that gamers are feeling more self-confident that we don't have to band together all the time. This is a good thing!

PR Knuckleheads of the Year: Gabe and Tycho

Count me among those who thought the original comic was not only hilarious, but took aim at a worthy target. But the followup was a disaster. When some readers objected, Gabe and Tycho could have taken the criticisms in the spirit they were intended. A simple apology would have done nicely. At the very least, acknowledge the complaints respectfully and move on. Hell, ignoring them would have been better than what actually happened.

Instead, Gabe and Tycho doubled down with a comic that not only mischaracterized the complaints, but essentially said that the people who were offended are stupid. And then followed that up by selling Dickwolves merch.

All this was uncharacteristic for two guys who are so generous and inclusive, both with PAX and with Child's Play. These are the guys who banned booth babes from PAX, with the blessing of a majority of their readership. So I certainly don't doubt their motives. To their minds, a joke is a joke, but a bunch of their readers disagreed and I think they they did real damage to their brand by assuming a defensive posture instead of listening. To this day I don't think anything approaching an apology has come out, not for the first comic or for the followup.

For myself, I don't think they would have needed to apologize for the original strip, but they could have dealt with it in a better way than becoming the latest and most ironic exemplars of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory.

Game Blog of the Year: Gamer Melodico

Barely one year into it, Kirk Hamilton and company have already made a big impact with Gamer Melodico. They did it all: good-natured jabs at obnoxious game design; satire; finding inventive ways to comment on topical subjects; round-table discussions that make you feel like you're sitting in a coffee shop with the writers.

All of it's done with a good attitude, a healthy sense of humor, and keen minds. I can't sum up the site any better than they did themselves: "Gamer Melodico is a blog about games, written by friendly people who like to play."

(And, what the hell, an honorable mention for Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits. Paddon's not on-target all the time, but, in the words of Han Solo, "I must have hit real close to the mark to get her all riled up like this, huh kid?")

Developers of the Year: Ex-LucasArts dudes

No big-budget studio jumped out at me this year. Rockstar San Diego did great work with Red Dead Redemption. Retro Studios successfully rebooted Donkey Kong Country. Quantic Dream accomplished most of its very ambitious goals with Heavy Rain. 2K Marin not only stunned me by releasing a worthy followup to BioShock, but by all accounts the "Minerva's Den" DLC was even better (unfortunately, I didn't play it).

But I have to give a shout-out here to two people that I am always rooting for, who found their voices this year with downloadable games. Ron Gilbert, via Hothead Games, brought us the hilarious DeathSpank, which was followed almost immediately by a surprise sequel. And Tim Shafer's DoubleFine Productions rebounded after the disappointing Brutal Legend to release Costume Quest, a funny and light downloadable game that's gotten plaudits from a lot of people whose opinions I value. 2010 was a good year for both of these guys, and they're two of the best we've got.

Publisher of the Year: Nintendo

Even though I still struggle a bit with a lot of the newer Nintendo games, it's hard to argue that Nintendo isn't the big-name publisher that is consistently putting out the highest-quality products. On the Wii, Super Mario Galaxy and Donkey Kong Country Returns were both worthy of their names, and Metroid: Other M was respectable. On the DS, a little game called Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! was my biggest surprise of the year. Maybe sales of the Wii are flagging, but year in and year out, Nintendo never disappoints on the software side.

Game Console of the Year: Xbox 360

We've long since reached the point at which everybody has made up their minds on this generation of game consoles. Five years into it, the Wii's star has started to fall a bit, the PlayStation 3 has never gotten on track, and the Xbox 360 has almost defaulted to the head of the pack, massive hardware failure rates notwithstanding.

So why choose the Xbox 360 as the game console of the year? For one thing, the only hardware this year that even approached the level of buzzworthy was Kinect. The jury's still out, but it's got a lot of potential. It was the Xbox that once again had the lion's share of big exclusives, both in retail and download. And, price hike or not, Xbox Live continues to be the best online gaming option around. That's why I bought my second Xbox 360 this year.

That, and my first one red-ringed after almost five years. It was like the death of the last living World War 1 veteran.

Tomorrow: Honorable mentions.


Unknown said...

Interesting list, although I feel like your comment that the PS3 "has never gotten on track" is a little disingenuous. As far as I can see - and to be fair, I'm not claiming to have my finger on the pulse of the industry - Sony has been doing quite well since the price drop and their string of quality exclusives. I guess this whole "X console is better than Y" debate tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth in general, so it's probably more about me than anything else.

And I agree, Gamer Melodico is a breath of fresh air.

Mitch Krpata said...

I agree with the sentiment. I'm quite happy with my PS3. Mostly I'm talking about sales. The PS3 continues to lag and lag, and Move seems to have zero buzz around it. By contrast, Kinect really captured people's imaginations, which surprised me.

Unknown said...

Very true...I have friends who really like Kinect, but so far neither of the new motion-control things have gotten me excited. Maybe playing theirs will make me a convert, I don't know.

As far as Move goes, I guess I just don't know who their audience is. It's obviously almost exactly like the Wii, albeit more precise, but buying all the components costs almost as much as buying an entire Wii console. I know I can't see myself doing that for the current software lineup, and I also don't think my dad, for instance - who loves Wii Sports/Fit/Resort - would want to pay that kind of premium just to play similar games with shinier (but less charming) graphics. It's just in a weird place right now. I had hoped, being a fan of Resident Evil 4 on Wii, that the RE5 Move patch would pique my interests, but even that got some pretty lukewarm reviews. The whole thing is kind of a mess (he says, literally minutes after defending the PS3).

Jad said...

I have to disagree with you regarding the whole Penny Arcade "fiasco". I thought the original comic was hilarious, and I thought the followup was even funnier. But when I read the original, as Tycho said, it was a return to form; I never would've thought that it would cause outrage any more than their comics normally do.

Their mischaracterization of the complaints was intentional, and if you read their news post alongside the comic, you'll see their real point real complaint: what about this comic is so bad, compared to their other stuff?

As far as I'm concerned, this one wasn't even that bad because dickwolves aren't even real. Why didn't the comic about Tycho killing his own wife cause a fallout? Spousal abuse isn't cool. What about the child slavery ones? What is it about *dickwolves* that made people get angry?

Personally, I don't think they feel the complaints are hugely valid, and neither do I. I'm sure they never meant to genuinely hurt anybody, but I personally feel that anybody genuinely hurt by this needs to look at it in context, and think about it in a broader sense: there's a lot of real injustice out there, getting actually angry about this is silly and ridiculous.

There's a line, and I know they crossed the line for a lot of people, but that's what comedians do. IMO, that's what makes a certain type of comedy funny, is finding that line and pushing it and nudging it. They weren't advocating rape or saying it's fun or anything dumb like that, they were using it as an extreme to show the callousness of a typical Warcraft hero.

So worst PR of the year? I don't think so; off-hand, I'd have to go with Gran Turismo 5 for being constantly delayed, then all the hubbub about unlockable damage, damage being patched in, whatever. I'll have to think about it.

Most surprising PR incident of the year? Maybe.

That said, otherwise really enjoyed your post, Mitch. Agreed 100% with your publisher of the year, and same with the honourable mention to the GameJournos blog.

Carlos Danger said...

Thanks, Mitch, for the amazing shout out. We're humbled beyond belief! Here's looking forward to another great year.

Cecil J. Farquhar said...

I agree with your take on the Penny Arcade fiasco. I actually thought the first comic was hilarious, but I found Gabe and Tycho's reaction to the outcry to be pretty obnoxious. You can disagree with the reaction, but mocking it is pretty shitty. And to then go and sell the dickwolves merchandise is just childish. Especially when the objection was that trivialization of rape contributes to the re-victimization of victims. (as a sidenote, often when a rape victim is "genuinely hurt" by rape references that means a PTSD attack, which is pretty awful - thats one of the reasons why reactions to this type of thing are so strong).