How do you look back on a year of gaming and try to find a common thread? I tried to look for something that connected the stories that are presented here as being some of the best—or most interesting—investigations into different aspects of gaming and the surrounding culture. Some stories were obvious, others were more obscure, and many were controversial. There is little connective tissue outside of the subject: video games. These days, those words encompass many subjects, disciplines, and businesses.
When a writer stayed up for two days to watch teams create a complete game under a crushing deadline, we didn’t know what he would learn. When another writer began investigating the complex reality of game lengths, we learned a lot about how many people finish games and why shorter games may in fact be better… even if gamers don’t want to admit it. We had no idea what it took to create an accurate Super Nintendo emulator until we read the findings of the creator of what may be the best Super Nintendo emulator. What’s fun is that we had the time and resources to figure all this out, and present the stories to you.
The thing I love about these stories, and why I’m proud to have had a hand in them, is that each one began from a love of gaming, and a need to understand more about the art form. Let’s take a look at our favorite gaming stories of 2011.
I had already been a fan of Brendan Keogh’s work when he pitched me on the idea of staying up through as much of a 48-hour game jam as he could tolerate. I told him I would love to work with him on the story, and asked for around 2,500 words or so. What he turned in was 24,000 words describing what it looks like to stare deep into the eyes of obsession, and an amazing look at what creative people do when they’re given seemingly impossible limitations on a complex task. The resulting story was amazing, and it went a long way to prove how viable long-form content can be in the world of game reporting.
The conventional wisdom is that games are getting shorter, and this is a big problem. The issue with conventional wisdom is that it is rarely actual wisdom. After digging into the data, our writer found that many gamers did not finish the games that they buy, they expected games to stay the same price, and they wanted ever-increasing graphical fidelity and complexity. This is one of those situations where gamers ask for one thing, while their behavior points to gaming habits that support the industry’s model of shorter, more intense experiences.
We decided to cover Warco as something of a fluke, and I’m ashamed to admit it may have been a slow news day. Andrew Webster did a wonderful job with the story, and the number of readers who reacted positively to the story proves that gamers are interested in experiences that show war in different lights. The idea of interacting with others in a war zone with a camera instead of a gun is powerful. This is a game we’ll continue to follow.
This story came about because the creator of one of the most accurate Super Nintendo emulators wrote a comment about a quirk of coding in the Super Nintendo game Uniracers. A few people in our community recognized Byuu’s name, we contacted him to see if he wanted to talk about his work in emulation, and he turned in a long, detailed look at why it’s important to create an emulator that’s not just quick, but also accurate in terms of reproducing the original hardware. His work is harder than it looks, and it requires a pretty beefy system to run well, but if you want to play the games as they were originally written, he’s your man.
Why are so many ports of PC games—let’s be honest here—utter crap? We looked at the major mistakes that developers tend to make when porting their console games to the PC, and why they’re so annoying. After getting back into covering PC games in a major way this year, it seems like we saw the same problems pop up in game after game. We discussed the problems and why they’re terrible, hoping they can be avoided in the future.
It may be a vain hope, but I’m going to hold on to it.
The idea for this story popped into my head years ago, when I talked my way into a tour of what was at the time a major studio. We opened a door, and what might have been a group of artists looked up at the light and actually hissed. I also saw someone sleeping under a desk. This was the first time I began to think that creating video games may be something of a dark pursuit.
So I wanted to see how independent developers worked, and I contacted a series of developers and asked for pictures of their office space, or even just the space in their home they used to create games. The pictures that came in were amazing, and went from professional offices to a corner in a room. The thing I learned is that great games can come from anywhere, and you don’t need much in terms of creature comforts to make something special.Photo illustration by Aurich Lawson