>Guessing At Future Games: Valve

>I can’t help but feel that Valve is up to something big.

I’m going to come right out and argue that Portal and Left 4 Dead are experiments and tech demos for something bigger, as much as they are self-contained gaming experiences. The technology that makes the Portal gun work and the “Director” AI program that governs the L4D pacing and spawning are both somewhat radical and yet also totally seamless; you’re never “aware” of the complicated math that makes it possible, you’re simply swept up in the experience.

More to that last point – the storytelling method and the notion of narrative in both Portal and L4D is incredibly unique for modern FPSs… it’s never explicit, but rather subtle and environmental. Rather than throwing in a long opening cutscene full of exposition that means nothing to you and giving your player character a backstory, they simply drop you into a strange world and you learn about the world (and yourself) as you progress, and they manage to do this without succumbing to the worn-out “amnesia” cliche. The gameplay is incredibly tight and the pacing is perfect, so even if you’re not paying attention to the story you’re still having a good time; but if you take the time to explore, you are rewarded with all these clever little details that fill out the world without beating you over the head. Seeing “The cake is a lie” scrawled on the walls of a hidden room reveals far more about the Apeture Testing Facility than any voice recording or cutscene could ever accomplish.

I would expect to see some of this stuff used in HL2 Episode 3 – the last level of Portal certainly posits a link between the Portal universe and the Half-Life universe, so it seems pretty likely that Gordon Freeman will get his hands on a Portal gun at some point – but it wouldn’t surprise me AT ALL to see Valve working on a totally new IP that uses all these technologies and methods (as well as other stuff we don’t know about, and I’m sure they’re going to beef up the rapidly-aging Source engine) to some other, grander purpose. Let’s face it – Half-Life 1 had an unconventional narrative method but as the sequels have borne themselves out, the overall story arc isn’t terribly absorbing, and they certainly couldn’t start using these new techniques in a sequel without messing up Half-Life’s DNA.

It also needs to be said that having Erik Wolpaw on Valve’s payroll ensures that future Valve games will have, at the very least, a very twisted sense of humor.

I couldn’t possibly begin to guess where Valve is going, but Valve keeps very close tabs on what people do in (and with) their games, and I suspect that they’ll be very curious indeed to see how the public responds.

>Best of 2008: Inventory

>There’s something about this time of year – and it seems to happen earlier and earlier – that just gets me revved up. Obviously, I’m talking about making Best-Of-The-Year lists.

2008 was a notable year for me in the gaming category. This was my first year owning all major systems, and I spent quite a lot of money in the process. As a result, I’ve got a lot more ground to cover, and since it’s a slow Tuesday morning in mid-November, I figure now is as good a time as any to figure out what the hell it was that I actually played this year.

Also: The year in Points: I started the year at 28788; I am currently at 37403. There’s still 6 weeks left in the year, so I still have time to make it to an even 10,000 point swing. I could put a serious dent in that if I get the new Scene It? game, and I just might; I really enjoyed the last one.

And some notes, before we get into the business:

  • This list simply reflects everything I played this year, not just what I bought.
  • This is going to be as chronological as I can make it.
  • It will also probably omit XBLA and PSN titles, because I can’t keep track of all of them. (But I have not forgotten about Braid.) EDIT: Added at bottom.
  • All titles were played on the 360 unless otherwise indicated.
  • These are only the games that came out in 2008; I also bought up a bunch of 2007’s best titles for the Wii and PS3, but those will not be reflected in this list.

OK, on to the madness.

  1. Burnout Paradise
  2. Devil May Cry 4
  3. Lost Odyssey
  4. Professor Layton (DS)
  5. MLB2K8
  6. Bully
  7. Condemned 2
  8. Flatout: Ultimate Carnage
  9. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 (PSP)
  10. God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP)
  11. MLB08 (PSP)
  12. Okami (Wii)
  13. Grand Theft Auto 4
  14. Boom Blox (Wii)
  15. CrossworDS (DS)
  16. MLB08: The Show (PS3)
  17. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds (PS3)
  18. Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 (PSP)
  19. Lego Indiana Jones
  20. Ninja Gaiden 2
  21. GRID
  22. Dark Sector
  23. The World Ends with You (DS)
  24. Mario Kart (Wii)
  25. Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3)
  26. Alone in the Dark
  27. Unreal Tournament 3
  28. Battlefield: Bad Company
  29. Frontlines: Fuel of War
  30. Tiger Woods 09
  31. Civilization Revolution
  32. Civilization Revolution (DS)
  33. Tales of Vesperia
  34. Mercenaries 2
  35. Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
  36. Infinite Undiscovery
  37. Pure
  38. Too Human
  39. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  40. Silent Hill: Homecoming
  41. Sonic Chronicles: Dark Brotherhood (DS)
  42. Fable 2
  43. Saints Row 2
  44. Dead Space
  45. Little Big Planet (PS3)
  46. Motorstorm: Pacific Rift (PS3)
  47. Fallout 3
  48. Rock Band 2
  49. Gears of War 2
  50. Mirror’s Edge
  51. Bond 007: Quantum of Solace
  52. Left 4 Dead (not yet released)
  53. Tomb Raider: Underworld (not yet released)
  54. Prince of Persia (not yet released)
  55. Last Remnant (not yet released)
  56. Chrono Trigger (DS) (not yet released)

XBLA titles

  1. Rez HD
  2. Poker Smash
  3. N+
  4. Penny Arcade 1
  5. Geometry Wars 2
  6. Braid
  7. Bionic Commando Rearmed
  8. Fable 2 Pub Games
  9. Duke Nukem 3D
  10. Portal: Still Alive
  11. Penny Arcade 2
  12. Kingdom for Keflings