Tuesday, January 14, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: adventure plus

We come to the last post. Maybe it should have been the first post. These are the games that are closest in shape to the classic adventure game... at first glance. But each one of these games climbs out of that shape and strikes out for the horizon. We'll see explorations of dialogue structure, explorations of narrative variation, fourth-wall games, interactivity tricks, topics far beyond the golden-age puzzle-hunt.
I'll confess that most of my favorite games of the IGF fall into this group. Then again, I've already said that the groups are a bit arbitrary.
  • Observation
  • Sunless Skies
  • Jenny LeClue - DetectivĂș
  • Afterparty
  • Mutazione
  • Over the Alps
  • Heaven's Vault
By the way, as I wrap up this review series, remember that I didn't play everything. I've commented on 29 games this week (!) but there are still scads of narrative nominees that I'm interested in trying. Night Call, Tales from Off-Peak City, Falcon Age, Guildlings, ... I could keep flipping through the list. And I will. Except more games keep coming out...
(Note once again: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of most of these games. I bought Sunless Skies, Heaven's Vault, and Observation. I played Over the Alps in my free trial month of Apple Arcade.)

Monday, January 13, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: interactive storybooks

Ever since Device 6, we've had this notion of a game category, but there hasn't been a label for it. I've started saying "interactive storybook"; I doubt that will catch on, but it's what I've got. It's characterized by text with whimsical interactions. No full simulated environment. Often puzzles.
Then there was Gorogoa, which is the same thing except wordless. So I say "interactive picturebook". That's broader, of course -- you could count Plug & Play, maybe even Hidden Folks. I'm willing to be fuzzy about it.
Quite a few of these this year! Here are my favorites:
  • Arrog
  • Song of Bloom
  • Alt-Frequencies
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of these games. Except Alt-Frequencies, which I bought and reviewed earlier in the year.)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: topical games

For your consideration: games that are engaged with the times. An arbitrary boundary, yes? Every narrative game is about something or it wouldn't have an audience.
These four games raise their social issues more explicitly. So I declare them a group. But, understand, the groups are somewhat arbitrary and I did a lot of juggling. Lionkiller and Divination almost wound up in this post -- they're certainly both political and politically aware. Go back and read about those games in the context of these four.
  • Eliza
  • Adventures With Anxiety!
  • Forgotten
  • American Election
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of these games. Except Eliza, which I bought earlier in the year.)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: puzzles

Now a quick break from narrative games. I enjoy puzzlers as well as story-based games. Of course plenty (most?) story games have some kind of puzzle element, but there's also the Portal-ish genre -- puzzle games with some kind of story element.
Both evolved from an era where we didn't distinguish the two genres so much. Didn't treat them as ends of an "adventure game" spectrum, anyway. Yes, I oversimplify; there have been pure-puzzle and pure-narrative/hypertext games since videogames began. But now we can talk about a cohesive Portal-like category: long sequences of puzzles iterating on a rich mechanic, depicting an immersive first-person environment but not much relying on the physicality or history of that world as a place. Think Talos Principle, Xing, that sort of game.
(I won't get into The Witness, which plays coy about the physicality and history of its island world! It rather deliberately walks both sides of this category boundary.)
Anyway, we got a fine selection of puzzle-focused games. Here are some notable examples.
  • Manifold Garden
  • Alucinod
  • The Sojourn
  • Kine
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played a free review copy of Kine. The others I bought and played on my own.)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: Shakespeare

A short list today: it's games about Shakespeare and his world.
  • Elsinore
  • Astrologaster
(Note: I was on the narrative jury, but I bought these two games before IGF judging began.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: hit and miss

My next group of games are the ones that interested me, but didn't really work for me. I have to emphasize "for me"; each of these games had enthusiastic defenders in the judging discussion. So I want to point them out. But I will necessarily have more to say about what I disliked than about what I admire! So you might want to read more people's comments than just mine.
  • Ord.
  • DARQ
  • Divination
  • LIONKILLER
  • Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of these games. Except DARQ, which I bought earlier in the year.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 IGF nominees: a good mood

The IGF finalists have been announced. 2019 was a heck of a game year, folks. There were so many brilliant narrative games rolling around jostling for attention like fuzzy puppies in a sandbox. Okay, some of them were grim and bitter fuzzy puppies, but we take all sorts.
My habit is to post reviews of the narrative finalists. This year that's spilling over into finalists for other categories. And entrants that weren't finalists but I still want to talk about them. And... It's going to take a while! I have reviews cued up; I'll do a post a day for the coming week. Or maybe a post every couple of days; we'll see how life runs.
It's no use trying to structure these reviews into a numbered countdown. Spoiler: my top-favorite games of 2019 were Baba Is You, Outer Wilds, and Heaven's Vault. Baba and OW won IGF awards during development (2018 and 2015 respectively) and weren't eligible this year. So my "top nominees" post would be "why Heaven's Vault is amazing", and I already wrote that review, right?
(A couple people have asked about Disco Elysium and Pathologic 2. Those games weren't on the entrant list either. I don't have any information on why not; I'd guess they just weren't submitted.)
Anyhow, this year, I'm breaking my list up into rough categories of form, subject, or style. First up: fuzzy puppies!
No, seriously. I played several games which were just good-natured, honestly and sincerely. They left me feeling good about myself and my life. This is a feeling which 2019 was desperately short on -- and 2020 looks to be headed downhill fast. So it's worth calling out the games that stood against the tide.
  • Eastshade
  • A Short Hike
  • We Met In May
  • Wide Ocean, Big Jacket
(Note: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of WOBJ and We Met In May. I bought Eastshade and A Short Hike earlier in the year.)