2015 in Review: Things to highlight
Following on from my previous post, a look some of the IF and IF-adjacent games that came up this year which I thought were important enough to bring up.
Pillars of Eternity (Obsidian)
Confession time, here’s what I got: I didn’t finish this game. It sits in my Steam library like a coiled snake, terrifying in length and threatening to swallow me. And with an expansion recently released, actually finishing it feels like an enormous task I may or may not get to, ever.
But it’s still great to see a return to the min-maxing-and-reams-of-text style of role-playing game, with many of the annoyances and warts of that genre streamlined away. The 20-odd hours of it that I did play (without getting very far!) were enjoyable and fascinating. I do hope I’ll find the time, eventually, to get back to that world.
80 Days (Inkle)
80 Days frustrated me, then fascinated me; I didn’t spend nearly as much time with it as others did, though the new PC version is a tempting purchase for the laptop. The volume and quality of content, alongside Meg Jayanth’s beautiful delineation of a post-colonialist revision of the Verne story made it one of the highlights of the year for me, though I ultimately found the real-time components of it too stressful to make it the perfect mobile game for me.
Sunless Sea (Failbetter)
I got pretty damn far into Sunless Sea. One day, inevitably, I’ll go back to Zee again. Until then, I’ll have memories of wearing masques in Visage, pushing tigers towards colonial revolt, and fighting giant urchins in the pitch darkness.
Her Story (Sam Barlow)
Her Story is my favourite category-smasher of the year, maybe of all time. A film-game-story-device-toy that captures the feeling of playing detective (or, in my mind, documentarist) better than anything else. Her Story only barely acknowledges your success at finding its secrets, and it’s all the better for it.
Emily is Away (Kyle Seeley)
…and I don’t recommend it. I wrote an extensive review explaining why that is. Emily is Away’s breakout success and praise from various quarters continues to make me uncomfortable; you can get a more visceral glimpse into that particular abyss by reading the steam reviews of it, though I don’t recommend doing that, either.
Lime Ergot (Caleb Wilson)
Caleb Wilson’s classic of hallucinatory, paralysing horror; reprinted on sub-Q Magazine recently. It didn’t come out in 2015, but given Chandler Grover’s recent success and his professed love for it, it’s one of the foundational texts of what 2015 was in IF. It’s very short and very much required reading, I believe. I’m also very fond of Caleb’s Six Grey Rats Crawl Up the Pillow, which did come out this year, and which I helped test.
Invasion (Cat Manning)
I viewed Invasion as the IF version of the inevitable horror genre. It’s a short piece full of depth and promise and well-observed detail. It’s well-written, strong horror without quotation marks.
Sun Dogs (Nic Tringali / Rebecca McCarthy)
I love hard science fiction at the edge of extreme transhumanist weirdness, and Sun Dogs hit that mark for me with perfectly spare prose and a beautiful interface. It’s also a grand [inversion] of the normal tropes of death and dying in games. I’m not done with the weird, deathless solar system yet, and I really hope for both DLC and a mobile version of this (God, do I want a mobile version of this).
The Annals of the Parrigues (Emily Short)
While the main text of this is a fascinating procedural travelogue, I have to bring it up both for the discussion of procedural generation and for the genius system of symbolic elements that envelops the text: Salt, Venom, Mushroom, Beeswax, and Egg. It’s an impossibly fascinating text, a human-machine collaboration that began with the author writing her own coauthor, and which works as discourse on itself and on procedural generation as well as a travelling route through a fictional landscape. I look forward to the Parrigues Tarot, Parrigues tabletop RPG, Parrigues ARG, Parrigues collectible card game, Parrigues cookbook…
There are, surely, other important 2015 games; many of them I’ll be talking about when I do a Xyzzy roundup post next week. But this is a more personal list of items that occupied a lot of my attention this year.
TOMORROW: I make my thank-you post for the year, and then the year ends.