As we shuffle quickly to the end of one of the busiest, newsiest, highest-quality years the gaming industry has ever seen in its short existence, now might be the opportune time, before having turkey dinner in front of the Christmas tree, to do some retrospecting and some dissecting.
Bust out the eggnog and take a seat beside the towering pile of presents. I’ve brought some friends over to help shoot the gaming shit, and they’ve already made themselves comfortable.
Consider the following a stocking filler from all of us to you.
Marc N. Kleinhenz, humble and gracious host:
This marks not only the end of the year, but also of the generation. The 3DS was released, the Vita was unveiled, the Wii U was announced, and we had a steady slew of high-quality games, from Dead Space and L.A. Noire to Arkham City and Skyward Sword. Was this a good year for journos as well as for gamers? Was this a particularly juicy year to end the generation on?
Douglass C. Perry, grizzled industry vet:
A good year for journos? Not sure how to answer that in one big swath; however, I can say 2011 has seen incredible highs and lows for game journalists and publications in general.
On the high side, I have been very impressed with the investigative reporting from Kotaku. I’m not always fond of the site, for its ruthlessness in its pursuit of news (both a positive and a negative thing). It doesn’t always give credit to the original source when it breaks news, and it often breaks simple embargoes by calling embargoed knowledge rumors. (This I know from first-hand knowledge and competing sites.) On the flip side, Kotaku has broken legit news stories this year. It broke the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare story, with facts and details to back it up– substantial amounts. It broke a similar story on Rainbow Six: Patriots. Along with a staff that includes smart journalism and think-pieces from Stephen Totilo, Brian Crecente and team have stepped up the quality of game writing in the business that usually whips my alma mater, IGN.
On the downside, a lot of excessive reviews have shown up, with journalists throwing out tens left and right– and 99% are overscored. I didn’t like that IGN scored GTA IV a ten back in 2008, and when it’s done now, it looks just as lazy and complicit as it did then. On the whole, if the publication’s scoring system is based on a 100-point scale, scoring a ten is a dangerous, stupid thing to do. It generally means a writer hasn’t really thought through their review, and it also means their editor isn’t doing his/her job, either. I haven’t played the latest Zelda, so I can’t comment on that, but the tens given to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception were all just silly. Uncharted 2 was as close to a ten as that series will get, and 3 just didn’t out-do or break free from its litany of tropes to warrant a perfect ten. Similarly, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a vastly buggy game– like all Bethesda titles– and games that blue-screen freeze on you, destroy your data, and enable enemies to smash you thousands of feet into the atmosphere don’t deserve tens.
As for publications, it’s been a terrible financial year. Future Publications was down 60% in profits from 2010, and the 22-year-old game institution GamePro just folded. I don’t even like GamePro— never have. But it sucks to see a publication shuttered. On another note, when I saw that Game Informer had the new Transformers on its cover, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. I thought, “Did GI, the leading game magazine in the business that debuts all kinds of great games on its cover, just put effing Transformers on its cover????” It’s just sad GI resorted to the Transformers for one of its mere 12 cover stories for the year.
I am realizing now, having written the above paragraphs, that you actually didn’t ask about the year in game journalism. So sorry. Cut that part if you don’t want it. Must be the last remnants of coffee fueling some lingering something inside me…
As for it being a particularly juicy year for gamers and journalists– with regard to the seemingly endless stream of quality games that never stopped– well, 2011 has been something. It’s been the year of refinement as opposed to innovation. But the refinement has been extremely fine, to the point of exquisiteness. Portal 2 is a brilliant game, one whose design is bafflingly smart, whose dialogue is hilarious, intelligent, and unlike anything else we’ve ever seen in the business. It’s a shooter with no guns, no violence to people, no foul language– no way for Jack Thompson to stifle it. (Still, it’s no ten!)
WB had a knockout year with Mortal Kombat and its new flagship title, Batman: Arkham City. Arkham City is a juicy comic book fiend’s dream that’s so fully fleshed out and well-crafted, it’s years ahead of 90% other action-adventure games, and decades ahead of any other comic-book game. (What the hell did Beenox do to Spider-Man this year? Gawd.)
Even when games were questionably good, like with L.A. Noire, they brought leaps in technology and visuals. Then there’s Rayman: Origins, a game that fits into an old, established genre, and just kills it. Is that not one of the prettiest, kookiest, most-beautifully-animated games ever?
Dead Space 2? The 3D space aspects turned the franchise into a bonafide AAA action game (and not just a Resident Evil-in-space rip-off), with top-of-the-line art direction. And Dead Island! Cripes almighty! Dead Island gave us the best game video, probably, ever. Not to mention a gift to zombie fans, who are now permitted to like a new legit zombie franchise outside of Resident Evil.
And, heck, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, another well-known quantity, didn’t break any new ground, but it did break its own damned preposterously high sales records from the past two years with a game that still sets the bar for thrill ride experiences. Finally, dear friends, the year 2011 brought us the weapon of the year, the purple dildo bat. Thanks, Saints Row: The Third— your lows know no bottom. So, yes, this was a particularly juicy year, especially if you owned multiple systems; if you just owned a Wii, well, not so much. Did Zelda make up for all those effing Just Dance copies?
The year 2011 was a triple dip: it felt like we got three times the amount of quality games as an average year, ending with an unbeatable walloping combo punch in the fall. But this isn’t the end of a generation– yet. Next year, 2012, will give us Wii U, but– and maybe you know something that I don’t– the new PS3 and Xbox aren’t arriving.
First, at the VGAs this Saturday, we’ll see a handful of new titles announced. This new list, whatever it may include, probably won’t altogether suck and will no doubt be added to an already solid list of games, including Rainbow Six: Patriots, Halo 4, BioShock: Infinite, Far Cry 3, The Darkness II, SSX, Mass Effect 3, Street Fighter X Tekken, Max Payne 3, GTA V, Prototype 2, and Borderlands 2, Hitman: Absolution, Darksiders 2, Tomb Raider, The Last Guardian, Prey 2, and Metal Gear Solid, to name a few.
Phew. I can probably spout off another 1,000 words, but it’s best I quit now and let someone else have a turn… [wipes sweat off brow]
It’s true that the Xbox Next and PS4 won’t arrive until ’13 (my guess) or ’14 (Sir Gordon’s guess, which– obviously– is so very wrong), and it’s equally true that the Wii U won’t truly bring next-generation graphics or raw processing power (or, just possibly, even game design, even if it’s just relegated to motion control-centric titles [or is that genres?]), but, in my anal, obsessive-compulsive little mind, it officially heralds the end of one gaming epoch and the start of another– just like the Dreamcast 12 years ago, actually.
(There. Doug may be able to spew out a great deal of [incredibly insightful and quite colorful] paragraphs at a moment’s notice on one particular subject, but ain’t none of all y’all can beat me on single-sentence paragraphs. ;P)
As far as the major gaming publications have gone, I haven’t been very happy with IGN this past year, either, but that’s more to do with my personal experiences with and opinions of them contaminating the view from my pretty peepers (for the same reasons I find myself visiting Gamasutra more and more often =D). I, of course, still listen to all of their podcasts religiously and skim the site everyday. So there ya go.
I’m still playing through Arkham City, which is a game that has possessed me like few others (as previously noted). I’ve found myself enjoying Modern Warfare 3 much, much more than I thought I would (and this coming from a primarily single-player-driven gamer). Equally surprising is the fact that I’m still only one hour, at most, into Rage. I guess the title just doesn’t really do it for me.
Noah Ward, Nintendojo podcast host extraordinaire:
Doug and Marc have covered the journalism side quite nicely, so I’ll focus more on the Nintendo fan angle.
2011 has been a fantastic year for gamers– perhaps too fantastic if you’re cash-strapped. But as Doug notes, this is more true for gamers on systems other than Wii. Skyward Sword is terrific, but one must-have exclusive for me doesn’t stack up against the half-dozen Wii exclusive titles I had to have last year. Looking back at my favorite and most-anticipated titles of the year, I was happy to remember Wii won my 2010, but this year belonged to other systems, and Wii couldn’t be winding down any faster.
Fortunately, there hasn’t been a year without several must-have games on DS, and as of the last couple months has shown, 3DS is finally starting to match that excitement, though its ability to do so for nearly as long as DS did is still questionable. I also don’t want to short-shrift the great third-party games that still come over to Wii, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Rayman: Origins, but for every one of those, there’s a Portal 2, Battlefield 3, Catherine, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or Batman: Arkham City Nintendo fans don’t see. I hope that Wii U changes this imbalanced ratio, but that’s an entire other investment that everyone’s likely to spend a lot of time debating when they already have a PS3 or 360 (or can buy one new at a great discount), and new Xboxes and PlayStations are coming soon after.
I only wish Wii was seeing just as many fantastically refined (again, thank you, Doug) games. Historically, the fifth year of a console cycle has always been a wind-down year, when great games slow down to a trickle as developers ramp up work on launch titles for new systems. We’re definitely seeing that with Wii and DS, but not necessarily because great new titles are being created for Wii U and 3DS. Instead, third-party developers are shifting their focuses almost exclusively to PS3 and 360, and the owners of those systems are seeing something we seldom see: a prolific number of extremely polished, captivating games that can only come with five (or six) years’ worth of experience in finessing a console’s abilities and game design paradigms. Next year is sure to provide only more AAA experiences for those with the right systems. Wii owners, on the other hand, can look forward to Xenoblade Chronicles and… maybe something else? Forking out a bunch of cash for a competing system or a launch library Wii U? That’s not encouraging.
Here’s to hoping that Wii U makes an incredible showing at E3 ’11 and 3DS continues to release a string of must-have games well into 2011. Otherwise, I can’t blame some for reallocating their gaming time to other consoles, if not smartphone and tablet fare.
Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for over a dozen publications, including Gamasutra and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor. He also likes mittens.