Jacob Ela wubr.net

Thoughts on gaming in 2015 and beyond

2015 really was a great year for games. All year it seemed like there was something new out that was worth the investment of time and money. This year I didn’t quite have the time I used to for gaming - our son arrived in October and it meant I haven’t yet gotten to everything I’m interested in, but my gaming habit didn’t let it all get away:

In computer games, I was happy to find Cities: Skylines rescuing me from SimCity. I was one of the people in the class where the new SimCity taught us that even time-honored, almost sacred triple-A series weren’t immune to pre-order burns, and it was a hard lesson to swallow. But Cities: Skylines released and as word got around that our city building savior had arrived the title arrived in my Steam library. I’ve not gotten anywhere close to building cities that could compete with the cities I’ve seen on the internet in beautiful city tour videos and screenshots, but the magic is there in a way that the latest SimCity failed to capture.

I gave myself a choice between Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin during the Steam summer sale, and went with the latter on the strength of a co-workers recommendation. I bought two so that my wife and I had an RPG to share on date night, and though we haven’t gotten far - pregancy made sitting at the computer too uncomfortable - we’ve had a lot of laughs and memorable party wipes already, with a lot more game to go. It did take us some time to figure out how to play multiplayer without missing story, and it took us a session or two to realize we could arrange who played which characters, but the problems are small and have been overshadowed by the amount of fun we have playing it.

One of my favorites this year was Undertale. I’d heard a lot about it online and decided to pick it up a few days after we came home from the hospital with our baby. It was great timing - the kid would fall asleep in one arm, and i could balance my laptop on my lap and play one-handed without much trouble. What a quirky, brilliant game! It does a lot of surprising, interesting things for those who let it in. A good story and writing as well as a great soundtrack to go along with it, and it’s one of the most memorable games I’ve played. (There’s also a metal remix of the soundtrack I’ve really enjoyed)

Big shoutout to Steam streaming here - I run linux on my laptop and it works fantastically for games like Undertale that don’t have a lot going on at one time graphically and don’t require controllers or precision mousing. What gaming I’ve managed to get in during the first three months of being a Dad can largely be attributed to having either linux-compatible games or streaming them from my desktop.

The game that I’ve put the most time into this year doesn’t owe it to Steam streaming, though. When I’ve found or made some free time to sit at my desk, it’s been extremely hard not to put a call out to friends for teammates and start up Rocket League.

I picked up my first graphics card - a Voodoo3 - in high school, and was immediately swept up into playing Starsiege: Tribes competitively. This was a capture the flag game with 10-man teams equipped with jetpacks and guns. Tribes’s signature mechanic, ‘skiing,’ was originally a quirk of the physics engine - a player could slide down an incline by continuously jumping, and paired with the jetpack this unlocked incredible speeds to skilled players that could find and run specific routes across a map’s hills and valleys without losing their momentum.

Rocket League’s standard mode is a 3v3 game of soccer (or maybe hockey) but players drive cars with rocket engines sticking out the back of the vehicle. As you gain skill you find you can jump and use the rocket to fly and play the ball in mid-air, and doing so in a productive way takes practice and skill - the same sort of skill that Tribes demanded of its top players. In both games, watching players that have that skill is an absolute joy. Tribes is the closest I’ve been to being involved with e-Sports, it having been equipped with a good observer mode, saved game replay features, and a thriving competitive community. I see Rocket League on that same trajectory, though I’d like to see the game replay files easier to identify and share with others - sharing replays was common practice in Tribes’s community for things like teaching strategy or verifying the integrity of ladder matches.

Nothing this past year has beaten the amount of feeling and fist-pumping Rocket League can inspire. The feeling when your team comes together to barely get in front of a shot on your goal, set up a centering pass in the transition to offense, and race across the field, rockets blazing, tumbling into the ball to smash it through the goal. The feeling when you’ve stopped the other team’s shots every which way you could manage, but that one goal they scored when you got careless sneers at you from the top of the screen while you struggle to get control of the ball. Feeling betrayed because your match-made team wants to forfeit after a minute of playing because you’re down three points, and how can you possibly forfeit a ranked game, theres SO MUCH TIME LEFT. It’s good. Rocket League is so, so good, and I think/hope it’s going to be relevant for a long time yet.

In cardboard and table gaming it was a year I went hard into D&D’s 5th edition, playing in games and running one of my own. Setting up Pandemic: Legacy for the first time after anticipating it for a month reduced me into a giggling mess in front of our neighbors. Android: Netrunner continues to be strong and I continue to not play as much of it as I’d like.

I’ve been real happy with the games in 2015, but there’s already so much on the horizon for this next year that I’m having a hard time remembering all of the ones that I’m interested in. Jonathan Blow’s The Witness releases late this month, and as a Myst fan I can’t wait to sink my teeth in to it. As a Myst fan, I’m also excited Cyan has Obduction coming sometime soon(?). Firewatch looks excellent and is arriving in early Feburary. No Man’s Sky is this summer. Star Citizen continues to be interesting behind the dust its kicking up about funding and development progress, although I’m worried I won’t be able to wrap my head around flying any of its ships.

There’s plenty I still want to get to from this and past years, as well. I’ve got to make some progress on the Witcher series so I feel like I can pick up the third installment. I’ve got a wishlist on the PS4 I want to delve into, but I need to stop sitting on The Last of Us before I’ll let myself buy full-price titles like Bloodborne lest they suffer the same fate.

My free time has never been at the premium it is now that our family is bigger, and figuring out where I can find time to work through my lists will probably be the game I play most this coming year. That said, when the time is there, it’s looking like this year I’m going to have a ton of good options.