The lights are on
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Like the age-old line of Dickens’s own hand, the past year of 2013 was nothing if not twelve months of trial and tribulation. As tumultuous as it was momentous, it was a time that defined the next generation in gaming as much as it did the glorious last chapter of the current one now fading into what’s now called the past. Perhaps the best of both worlds, 2013 was again something special to everyone in its own different ways.
It’s as recent as it is a painful memory for many gamers still that too many of this past year’s games failed to launch in bigger way than just fan reception. In a time when games’ creativity is criticized more than ever, their functionality was unfortunately met with pain-inducing crashes worthy of the Death Star. Many a gamer was peppered by too little too late apology gifts by companies swamped in overloaded servers and left without a game to play for weeks if at all with patience wearing thin. Sim City, GTA Online, Batman: Arkham Origins, Battlefield 4 were just name a few that were casualties of enjoyment crippling bugs. No one lives in a world where “maybe fun” games have to be sold on a Russian Roulette of playability.
The Year of the 3DS
Nintendo might have struggled financially this year, but with all the glory of its software lineup, you’d hardly know it. The bulk of that success can easily be attributed to the smallest of its champions: the 3DS. While Fire Emblem Awakening fed the appetites of hard-core strategy game fans, Pokemon X & Y and Animal Crossing: New Leaf spoke to the power of the casual gaming market just as much as nostalgic throwbacks like Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon garnered well-deserved fun. Capping off the year with arguably one of the best Zelda titles to hit the series with Link Between Worlds and the impressive sales figures, Nintendo’s mighty handheld rued the day that handheld gaming’s ever to be considered irrelevant.
A Light in the Dark for the Wii U
The 3DS’s great success can’t be said to translate to its big brother, but there wasn’t all doom and gloom following the console. The Wii U may have lagged behind in the sales figures, but that may very well have been in spite of its admirable improvement in expanding its game library rather than because of it. Pikmin 3, Lego City: Undercover, Super Mario 3D World, an excellent remake of the The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, and great third party ports of Lego Marvel: Superheroes, Rayman Legends, and Assassin’s Creed IV made sure that Wii U owners were not without something great to play these past few months.
Yearly Gaming Gimmicks
From Crysis 3, The Last of Us, and Tomb Raider’s “Year of the Bow” hype to GTA V, Assassin’s Creed IV, and Injustice Gods Among Us’s shark usages, there were more than a few gaming themes amidst the Year of Luigi. I’d explain more about the sharks, but our own Executive editor Andrew Reiner has it more than covered.
Girls Just Wanna Have Game
It’s no secret that gaming’s been a boy’s club for longer than it’s ever deserved to be in more than a century after the American Suffrage movement and 2013 made more efforts at correcting it than possibly many years combined. Whether it was Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth or The Last of Us’s Ellie, gamers could finally find a female protagonist that wasn’t just another pretty face in the strip club and meant something to the world they live in. No matter if it was Lara Croft scraping tooth and nail to survive, Gone Home’s Sam, or Beyond Two Soul's Jodie, virtual women had an indelible onscreen presence this year even in spite of every botched attempt at marketing them.
The Terrible Game Epidemic
It’s really no surprise that terrible games came out this year, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a year without more extremes in the score department. Ten and nine games really did seem to be in a drought looking at any Metacritic or Game Rankings website and for every “Game of this Generation” hype, there was a Ride to Hell or Colonial Marines to quickly remind us what reputations some otherwise acclaimed game companies were capable of living down. Nonetheless, the former proved that bad games could be the funniest games if done comically bad enough and even a tad few of Arkham Origins and Assassin’s Creed IV’s glitches were a hilarious break from reality in their own strange ways.
EA’s Battlefield of Distrust
They may have Wallstreet banks and military contractors in line far more deserving of the “Worst Company in America” award, but Electronic Arts certainly didn’t do anyone any favors for delivering a mixed software experience at best this past year. From Sim City’s legendary crash to Battlefield 4’s legal ramifications, EA might very well have gotten a harsh kick-me-sign on their backs from fans that they didn’t do anything to disprove. Though making genuinely enjoyable titles in its stable like Dead Space 3 and Need for Speed, the bad business of micro-transactions and disastrous online launches can bring nothing but pessimism for the futures of potentially great titles like Mirror’s Edge 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront.
“That’s Not a Game”
The above is probably one of the most popular arguments of the year when it came to titles like Telltale’s or Gone Home and it’s ever more popular in an era where designers are pushing the definitions of what we think of as an interactive experience. With more and more games acting like movies or novels, it’s hard not to think of them as less of games. The question is, if it’s not a game, then what is it? No matter what choice you have over the story, the long held belief of this blogger’s is that if you have character control then you have a game, not just a show with remote prompts. No matter what the game, it’s just as important to know that it’s certainly not less to someone else.
The Episodic Revolution
Since Half-Life 2 and Sam & Max, episodic gaming’s nothing new at all, but 2012’s Walking Dead started something more than just a zombie contagion. Telltale may gain credit for rejuvenating the episodic formula to levels never seen in the mainstream. Splitting up its time between the equally astounding The Wolf Among Us and its upcoming mysteries of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones, it’ll be a fascinating year to see what they can do with Gearbox’s outrageous dark comedy and George R.R. Martin’s brutal fantasy epic. If I could nail down the artstyle for the latter, it’d be an oil-painting canvas, classical yet pragmatic for a studio not used to rendering photorealism. Whatever the case, Telltale has a lot to chew this year. A lot.
The Ballad of the Video-Game Awards Show
If anything was more evident about gaming, it was that playing them was far more successful than what amounted to honoring them this year. The painful years that gamers rolled their eyes at the mainstream’s “celebration” of gaming through the VGAs’ half-baked efforts were only fully realized through the VGX’s even worse attempts. Scripted lines were traded for awkward ad libbing and stellar game reveals for low key game updates, but in between the stale jokes and the gamer rant montages, the viewers could at least find solace that the more comfortably casual format was a breath of fresh air amidst the stale part of it. In light of it all, the hardest truth is that gamer’s respect for the companies and titles they love are already better celebrated elsewhere.
The Vita Comes Into Its Own
If the Wii U was the butt of jokes for having no games, then the Vita might’ve been in one and the same boat of game droughts. Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush didn’t move nearly as many American sold systems as one could hope and Japan still has its mitts held tightly on a bunch of import-only titles that weren’t Little Big Planet. It was a bright day for Vita owners when Tearaway could finally see the light of day to become the killer app that the system might have deserved for all its technology, granting the system the acclaim that could just help down the road to a better future.
Watch What You Say, Wear What You Should. . . In Front of That Camera
The year had no shortage of political fallout from the NSA’s surveillance programs in the rest for the world, but that didn’t mean it stopped its controversy and criminalized events from the gaming world too. Justin Carter’s gaming related Facebook comments and subsequent arrest for them brought the issue of freedom of speech versus virtual terrorism to light in a particularly strong light and the outrageous abuse of Twitch’s and other’s game streaming services led to the question of how free or how safe our social media really is controller included or not. It’s easy to say that joking about or seriously threatening murder is never something you can use an extra life for and keeping your “stuff” private is just common courtesy amidst a society just getting over foam fingers and wrecking balls.
The Year of the Indie
Thatgamecompany’s Journey may have been a game that won many new indie fans’ hearts for the first time (including mine), but 2013 definitely saw an expansion into their success unprecedented in their long run. To their credit, indies have gone on for a longer time than people remember back in the days of X-box’s first summers of arcade and even earlier PC downloads, but last year, we heard about them. A lot of them. If Gone Home was like reading a good book, The Stanley Parable like having a good daydream, and Papers Please like a day in the life of a customs agent, then indies’ true style proved to be no style at all. Rather, it was their experimental power that spoke to their creative freedom apart from the Triple A blockbusters.
The Next-Gen is Now: Consoles Are Here to Stay
“Next-Gen” might have been the “Fiscal Cliff” and “Twerk” for overused gamer lingo this last year, but it was nevertheless the event that made 2013. “Next-Gen” is pretty much a term that’s dead as a doornail with the release of all three generationally successive systems. System specs, horsepower, graphics, it doesn’t take much to qualify for simply succeeding your predecessor, but it takes guts to make a change. There was arguably more of a potential contest than immediate amazement between the newest systems, but maybe that’ll pay off in the “new-gen.”
The X-Box One and the PS4 were met with just about as opposite reactions from folks as you could ever measure and booing and cheering across the aisle was as loud as it was profitable in the most unprecedentedly high game hardware sales ever seen in 2013’s November across the board. Maybe more disc-drive and blue lights of death followed than many realized yet far fewer than any 2005 red rings of deaths, the launch kicked off to a fine start to what hopefully brings just as many great memories.
X-Box One, PS4, Wii U: three new consoles are out to make for another gaming generation that surely has the “One 4 U.” It’s companies and players move now.
What did the year of 2013 mean to you for video-games? What shortcomings and triumphs made your year more worthwhile? Write your thoughts down below and thanks for reading.