I’d be lying if I said 2012 wasn't a good year for me.
For one, I got to keep my President. This was very important, as I distinctly remember one of Mitt Romney’s campaign promises being to force anyone earning less than $50k a year into labor camps. Also rebuilt my computer, and my knee, in that order. And while my recuperation involved riding out an Oxycontin induced haze more than playing video games in the end both worked out alright. I’ll never have to worry about my kneecap popping out again, and I can now play Legend of Grimrock.
So when I say 2012 was a bad year, I should be clear that this comes with two qualifications:
- It was a bad year for fans of sixty dollar boxed video game releases.
- It was a bad year for developers of sixty dollar boxed video game releases.
THQ practically no longer exists. As of this writing their bankruptcy proceedings have hit what may become a fatal snag. Square-Enix is in dire financial straits despite the inexplicable success of Eidos. Bioware’s attempts to save Star Wars: The Old Republic proved futile - not only was TOR relegated to a free to play model before the summer ended, but the damage done to Mass Effect 3 by pulling its writers during development was incalculable.
For everyone else though, 2012 ranged from great-to-weird.
Great for indie devs, who between Greenlight and Kickstarters were given the tools to bypass the boxed publisher model entirely. Great for TellTale Games, who may well have revolutionized the way stories in videogames will forever be told thanks to The Walking Dead. Great for Doublefine, who are in the enviable position of trying to find stuff to do with 3.3 million dollars of kickstarter funding for a video game that only really needed four hundred thousand dollars to produce.
It was a weird year for fans of Japanese videogames. Capcom, Konami and Sega proved they had no plan at all for a post-HD future, as Nintendo of all maneuvered itself into an attempt to save the entire Japanese gaming industry. To wit, we’re going to get a sequel to Bayonetta, but wholly owned by Nintendo-- Sega simply could not fund a sequel to the greatest action game ever crafted. Konami managed to produce worse HD revisions of their beloved Silent Hill classics, and Capcom proceeded to systematically ruin every single classic franchise at its disposal. Meanwhile Capcom pulled off something remarkable and rare-- the built upon the future with Asura’s Wrath and Dragon’s Dogma. And we saw the reveal of about a half dozen new Metal Gear Solid games.
The Vita bombed. Waggle died. Most of the hardcore gaming audience was revealed to be horrible misogynistic troglodytes. NeoGAF users patched Dark Souls PC. Justin Wong was proven, at long last, to be human.
The following is everything else. Mostly.
January was something of a harbinger for the rest of the year. Sure, January is traditionally slow, considering most publishers push for a Holiday release whenever possible-- But January 2012 was historically dry on quality video games. Here’s the previous five years of January video games as compared to 2012:
2007: Lost Planet, WarioWare Smooth Moves, Ace Attorney Justice For All, Hotel Dusk. That’s a solid list of quality Japanese weirdness combined with the high point of the Xbox 360’s second wave of game releases.
2008: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Burnout Paradise (probably still the best arcade racing game not developed by Sega), No More Heroes (shut up. I will not hear bad things regarding Suda51 games, regardless of if I played them or not) and Disgaea 3.
2009: Okay so 2009 was also bad. But at least Namco had everyone fooled that Afro Samurai might be a good game for a couple weeks.
2010: Effing Bayonetta. Done. End of list.
(however if I were inclined to keep listing games, I’d include Darksiders, Army of 2: 40th Day, Mass Effect 2, Tatsunoko vs Capcom and No More Heroes 2. January 2010 is a strong contender for Best Month Ever provided you weren’t living in Hati at the time. It should also be noted that the gods of gaming karma were forced to re-balance the scales the very next month, where we were faced with the terrible prospects of playing Heavy Rain, Bioshock 2, Dante’s Inferno and Deadly Premonition)
2011: Ghost Trick, Little Big Planet 2, the PS2 release of Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2. Not an amazing list (although Dead Space 2 is a modern classic), but any of these games would be sweet water as compared to 2012’s list, which consisted of:
2012: Dust Force. Final Fantasy XIII-2. Neverdead. Soul Calibur V. Okay so maybe Final Fantasy 13 Part 2 was a decent game; people seemed to like it. Dust Force was a fun trifle, but not something you’d want an entire month to rest upon. There are at least thirteen recorded cases of reviewers contracting syphilis from playing Neverdead, directly resulting in every single positive review Mass Effect 3 would receive two months later. Soul Calibur V is notable for the inclusion of Ezio from Assassin’s Creed 2 and the exclusion of Sophitia and her boobs.
VIDEO GAME YOU SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT IN JANUARY 2012 BUT DIDN'T:
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 via Steam. As a result of your selfishness Sega was unable to buy enough discs to print Anarchy Reigns. I hope you're happy.
VIDEO GAME YOU BOUGHT IN JANUARY 2012 INSTEAD BECAUSE YOU’RE A HORRIBLE PERSON
Every copy of Final Fantasy 13-2 sold simply reinforced Squeenix’s bad habits.
The Vita Launch: Remember E3 2011? The best and most powerful handheld system ever created, a library of AAA Console-caliber titles, the most gorgeous screen ever seen on a non-apple handheld device, all for $250? Remember when Sony’s competitor was Nintendo and not Google and Amazon and Apple? Remember when Sony was, for a brief, shining moment, not the butt of jokes?
Yeah, a shame about that.
Asura’s Wrath: Our hobby is still trying to come to grasp with what exactly we experienced with Asura’s Wrath. Was it a sixty dollar anime? This seems absurd, as who pays good money for anime? Was it a modern version of Dragon’s Lair, with the added twist that it was actually impossible to fail any input sequence? Was it a version of Heavy Rain that wasn’t up it’s own ass?
Here’s what I think is happening with Asura’s Wrath and it’s are-we-sure-that’s-even-a-game sibling The Walking Dead: Developers have finally admitted that it’s difficult-- if not impossible-- to tell a coherent story inside a conventional action game. Devs want to tell good stories and they don’t want to be stuck within the confines of an RPG to do so. The only real way to fix this issue is to change the way gamers think about action games, or perhaps even create a new genre entirely.
We saw this same issue pop up in post Modern-Warfare Call of Duty games: The developers have a mindblowing Hollywood-style set piece to show off, the only problem being that gamers rarely cooperate with the storytelling-- So vast swaths of the game are secretly on rails, largely non-interactive and completely impossible to fail. Only now that idea has jumped the tracks from the power fantasies of 14 year old boys and into something the core gamer market is actually interested in playing.
Is this good? Bad? I don’t know, we simply don’t have enough data points. People loved Asura’s Wrath, and The Walking Dead is walking away with a slew of GOTY awards, so for now it’s working.
So while it’s too early to pass judgement on the movement, I will say that I hope the movement is still evolving. If indeed it does turn out that on-rails gameplay is the best (and perhaps only) way to tell a good story in an action game, we’re going to have to take a hard look at games like Bioshock and ask ourselves what we’re willing to give up in return.
Snake Eater 3D: I like to think Snake Eater 3D was the point where the entire gaming public realized at once that porting PS2-era classics was not the best use for the 3DS. This was also around the same time as the rise of the Frankenstick and around when everyone started paying attention to Pushmo. It took a long time for Nintendo to convince gamers that they absolutely were not ever going to release a new 3DS with a second analog stick, and I’m not sure I myself believed it until the 3DS XL was released with only one stick, thus signifying it was finally safe to buy a 3DS. In retrospect Nintendo probably would have saved a lot of money just bankrolling a new 3DS specific MGS game from Konami.
VIDEO GAME YOU SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT IN FEBRUARY 2012 BUT DIDN'T
Every Single Vita Game: It’s because of you that the handheld game industry will be dominated by endless runner games for the next five years.
VIDEO GAME YOU BOUGHT IN FEBRUARY 2012 INSTEAD BECAUSE YOU’RE A HORRIBLE PERSON
Every Single Vita Game: On the other hand, if Sony sold no Vita games at all, maybe they’d have been convinced to quietly dump every Vita produced in a large hole in the Arizona desert and focus on the PSP instead.
March was the exact point where everything fell to shit.
Bioshock Infinite was not released. Admittedly BI was delayed back in Fall of 2011, but still. In a perfect universe (marked by the continued solvency of Sega, a functional left kneecap and gay sex tapes involving Tad Romney), I’m playing through Bioshock Infinite for like the fourth time right now and the rest of the year was salvaged.
Mass Effect 3. Look, I’m not going to belabor this.
Okay I lied. I will, for a little bit. Mass Effect 3 is a classic example of a project’s fans being more invested than the creators themselves. Same thing happened to Star Wars, which is ironic.
And I can understand the financial necessities the current economic climate forced upon Bioware. Your publisher demands that you shoehorn in a multiplayer component into your game, you gotta do it. Your primary project requires that you pull creative people off your secondary project, you gotta do it, especially if that primary project is as important to the company’s future as was Star Wars Galaxy. And at the end of the day, Bioware did the base level of what they were supposed to do-- they produced a good video game.
But I’m never going to trust them again.
Ninja Gaiden 3, Street Fighter X Tekken, Silent Hill HD Collection: I’m sure you can worse examples of a franchise shitting the bed, but that franchise would have to be Fat Elvis after a cocaine bender and he’d have to literally shit the bed.
Doublefine Adventure’s Kickstarter campaign closed with a record $3.3 million dollars raised. To say this was a record for Kickstarter at the time is perhaps an understatement-- the project met it’s $400k funding goal on the same day it was revealed, and broke the two million dollar mark inside of two weeks-- that that time there was only one other million-dollar project in Kickstarter history, and that project didn’t break seven figures until the final hours.
Kickstarter is either the savior of the industry or a funnel for a thousand conmen-- it’s too early to tell yet. However we do now know that between Kickstarter and projects like Steam Greenlight, developers have the tools to shortwire the entire retail publishing model. In a year dominated by studio closings and publisher bankruptcies, Doublefine Adventure heralded a way out for developers.
VIDEO GAME YOU SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT IN MARCH 2012 BUT DIDN'T:
Journey. Admit it, you were playing X Tekken instead. Look, no one’s going to judge you-- well okay, I guess I’m judging you, but that’s not the point.
VIDEO GAME YOU BOUGHT IN MARCH 2012 INSTEAD BECAUSE YOU’RE A HORRIBLE PERSON:
Blades of Time. Specifically I’m speaking to Albert J Fredstien of Millhaven Road, Monroe Louisiana, the only person in America go buy Blades of Time.
Fuck you, Albert.
TOMORROW (possibly tuesday) Part Two: Spring, Broken Knees, The Walking Dead and Prometheus.