Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
The great thing about time-travel games is, they have to. The player gets to choose what happens, so the developer has to be able to answer every awkward question he could possibly ask – and even design puzzles that demand your players to understand time travel better than most film-makers seem to. Braid does that, and goes so far beyond; to fringes of twisted thinking and backflips of magical logic I’d never considered.
And yet, so long as you don’t force yourself to solve every puzzle first time, it’s surprisingly doable. It invites incredible thoughts, rather than trains them like Portal. For some, that’s why Portal’s better. For me, that’s why it’s worse.
I play a lot of first-person games, but in the rest I’m a hovering disembodied gun turret, which really doesn’t have much to do with the experience of being a real person anywhere. The soundscape of Mirror’s Edge is your footsteps and your breath, and your scampering, scrambling gait is the most excitingly tactile way to interface with a virtual world I’ve played. It says something when you can start the trailer for your game with a minute of someone playing your game, on an ordinary level, without fighting anyone, set to the game’s music.
I’ve never really played anything like this, but more to the point, I wish I had. I wish shooters felt like this, I wish we had art this chic, places this cool, music this good and this sense of embodiment in virtually everything we played. Instead, I’ve got an uncertain wait till the next one.
Nathan Hardisty: Pretty interesting list. I like that you didn't do titles strictly released in 2009.
Not so sure with Mirror's Edge being at No 1, no matter how good it is.
I'd do my list but it'd go on and on.
I also think you speak terrible truth by saying Arkham Asylum was the best fighting game of 2009. If it was without anything Batman or any detective stuff, it'd be a great fighting game on its own legs.
I just thank god they actually included Batman and not someone like the Green Lantern. He's for girls.
Jazmeister: And there was me thinking I was bored of top 10 games of 2009 lists. Even the name of the article is better. Mirror's Edge ftw!
Upsilon: Personally, I didn't think Prototype was that good.
Dragon Age, however, was much better in my opinion.
Noc: I picked up Braid just a few days ago, when it was (and still is, I think) $2.50 on Steam.
It was an extremely well spent two-fitty. Though between it and my other purchases (Audiosurf, Mount&Blade), I think I'm lagging almost exactly one year behind the curve.
Pansyfaust: I almost agree, excepting that I probably would have put Dragon Age on the list somewhere.
nine: I forgt how beautiful Mirror's Edge was. You've successfully piqued my interest enough to play through it again!
I'm interested Dragon Age doesn't even show up there. Just not your kind of scene?
Bandit451: Mirrors edge ranks that high? I'll buy it on steam then, you've never led me wrong before.
@Noc: Mount&Blade, that's a good one. The game diddn't have a lot of stuff to do in it, and the best parts were rare (besieging cities) but it was very fun. You should check out Taleworld's website, that game has an incredible amount of fun mods. They really increase the value and replayability.
Rasmus Widengård: I LOVE
Rasmus Widengård: Allow me to finish that comment;
I LOVE you for acknowledging Mirror's Ege in this fashion.
The forced-upon combat sequences were something of a frustration (and the only parts of the game where I found myself genuinely lost) and the throwaway intrigue didn't exactly tickle my fancy.
But that really doesn't matter when the rest of the experience is so...ethereal.
It's a commercially pitched original.
Those are far and few between.
SenatorPalpatine: I haven't played most of those but I should finish three of them in the next two weeks. (Batman, Braid, and Mirror's Edge) I've found that with Mirror's Edge, contrary to my usually preferred difficulty, easy works best. The shooting on normal or hard distracts from the running and the running is the core of the game.
Braid so far is challenging but rewarding and I haven't started Batman.
@Noc, Audiosurf is one of my favorites; I can always come back to it.
Rei Onryou: The images for Mirror's Edge reminded me of the blog post you made after playing, with dozens of beautiful screenshots. I don't think there's been another game that was able to be so effortlessly breathtaking throughout, just by the use of colour. It's a shame that its juxtaposed against the game's premise as it is. Running so fast, looking for where to go, you miss out on so much beauty. This is furthered by the damn enemies (I played it without using a gun throughout). No time to stop and enjoy.
Most particularly, the bluest image above. I love that image. I wanted to stop and explore it. But no, lots of nice people wanted to kill me.
I still think that Mirror's Edge is more of a tech demo than a game. This is how future first-person games should implement the protagonist. I can't wait to see the next game to evolve this idea, and from the looks of things, it will be Brink (yay for Splash Damage!)
Sean D. Sandsky: I agree with Mirror's Edge as No.1, but I don't think that "sense of embodiment" plays very important role in it. Maybe I've played too much FPSes, I dunno. "Sense of embodiment" was implemented in some of the epic games of the past, for example Operation Flashpoint (the only game where you can shoot yourself in the foot :) ).
IMHO, the most important part of Mirror's Edge is simplicity and sketchiness, combined with solid and conceptual art style. That places it to the same level as Quake 3 or Portal.
Chris: Hooray for Mirror's Edge! Any of its flaws are overshadowed by how ambitious it is and how surprisingly well it succeeded. I've played through it four times or so now, and it's always fun (especially with Runner Vision off).
And I'm glad you mentioned Prototype, because I really enjoyed that this year as well (though I don't think I could play through the story again).
But, all that being said, I guess I'm the only one who liked the new Wolfenstein, aren't I?
Sean D. Sandsky: add: ...in terms of game design, of course :)
Sean D. Sandsky: Maybe, I should correct myself. The sense of embodiment is not really about "seeing my hands and legs". It's about feeling the motion in a proper way. Quake, which I mentioned above, Painkiller, HL 1 (not 2) and many other FPSes have that feeling and freedom of motion whithout showing you the hands or legs. Actually, the sense of embodiment for skilled Quake or CS player is far more better than for Mirror's Edge.
Tom Francis: For me it's about that sense of motion matching up to the way it feels to run around in real life. Quake and Half-Life give you swift and agile movement, it's not much like actual running. It's about the way you accelerate naturally to a top speed, clamber on things and skid around. Op Flash is a better example, but I don't really want to be a heavily burdened man in a big flat field - Mirror's Edge is special for putting that fidelity of movement in an arena where it's fun to use.
Dragon Age I just can't get excited about, I'm afraid. The one game BioWare keep remaking is only interesting to me when there's a twist that makes it fresh or exotic: Chinese mythology or space. When it's just a traditional fantasy world with traditional fantasy stereotypes, however richly backstoried, I just can't find anything to like.
The ridiculous amount of gallingly time-consuming combat didn't help. It's fun if you spend twenty minutes meticulously choreographing one tough fight, but the game throws so many identical opponents at you that you can't afford to if you want to get anything else done in the next twelve months.
Anonymous: @ Pentadact
> Quake and Half-Life give you swift and agile movement, it's not much like actual running.
For skilled ones, it is more like dancing than running :) Watch some CPMA, Warsow and DeFRaG trick movies. Strafe jumping, advanced tricks and some inertia do the job, allowing player to smoothly accelerate, keep the desired speed and get the visual feedback. And the more you understanding of game grows, the more you sense the movement. That's one of the reasons why Quake and similar fast-paced shooters become so popular long ago. It isn't just straight gliding ahead with some head bobbing.
Maybe, this is a Mirror's Edge's advantage, because its skill requirements for sensing the motion is pretty low, probably zero. Other games require much more of it.
Devenger: I have to disagree with putting Mirror's Edge up there in 1st, even though it's the game I'm personally most yearning for a sequel to. The issues were just too great. The combat was clunky and frustrating, in contrast with the simplicity and fluidity of Faith's movement. The moment I started getting immersed in the game, dying horribly would snap me back into cold, hard reality, especially when it was because of 4 riflemen in one room for whom I did not understand the hidden ruleset.
Mirror's Edge is a rough diamond. Rough diamonds can't be #1 when there's cut gems that can be socketed in your weapon for much better bonuses. (Torchlight isn't my #1 either, but I love it.) I'd happily bump up your #2 though - Braid was spectacular.
Sean D. Sandsky: And yes, here is the example of "running" in Q3 DeFRaG: http://www.youtube.c... ...5ZGpPZX6dU
While getting through this map is not seem as "running" by observer, it *feels* almost exactly as Mirror's Edge flow. Note that o3j-velocity is very tough for non-hardcore player.
Tom Francis: That's a line of argument I get a lot during our Top 100 debates each year at PC Gamer, because most of my favourites are indeed rough diamonds: Deus Ex, Hitman: Blood Money, Oblivion, Gal Civ 2. I think instead of actually getting better at a game, I get better at avoiding, ignoring or bypassing its flaws. Consequently, I'm always more excited by ambition than polish.
Tom Francis: Sean - yeah, I think we're disagreeing about definitions more than anything. I certainly appreciate the elegance and momentum of stuff like that, but it doesn't relate much to what I imagine it would be like to really be in that place, running around as a normal human being. That's what I mean by a sense of embodiment.
Joe!: I honestly didn't think the combat of Mirror's Edge was too bad. You have some slow-mo you can utilise, and once you get a vague idea of the animations, you can pretty much disarm anyone.
But I do wish the guns were stronger, so you could finish a fight quickly. In fact, the original concept art for ME had Faith carrying a pistol with her. If you could have pulled this out to kill a guy or two, the combat would have been fine. Most levels actually give you the option to run past the baddies.
James: This Steam sale is amazing and killing me. So far I've picked up Braid, Osmos, Mirror's Edge, the Oddworld bundle, and the Max Payne Bundle, ALL for $5 or less. And today the Multiwinia bundle looks really tempting and the Crysis bundle is a steal. My student budget generally just can't afford new games - when I break down and buy them I end up feeling guilty which takes away from the enjoyment. Fortunately, it looks like I'll be more than satisfied for 2010!
Lack_26: I'm a fan of Mirror's edge, I played on easy and loved almost every minute of it (I didn't like the forced fighting bit in the underground car-park, but I quickly found my rhythm. Run left, slide + disarm, right through door, slide + disarm, run up stairs, jump cop car, jump + disarm, down the ramp, turn left, slide + disarm machine gunner, and then run around and loop to the elevator. It's so ingrained into my memory that I can remember every second of it). But I generally found it easy enough to run past most of the battles.
I forgive it it's foibles simply for it's use of colour and movement. If any game is art, it's ME, it's looks fantastic, it has stylistic direction, a vague political statement and you could argue that it's broken game mechanics (with the combat) renders it close enough to not having a proper use for it to be considered art.
1stGear: A bold choice for GotY. I don't necessarily agree, but I'm glad you didn't go for Baldur's Gate 17: Dragon Age like some of your colleagues did.
????? ?? ?? ????? » ?????? ????? » 2009: ????? ??? - ??????: [...] James: ?? ????, ?????? ???? ??? ?? ?????? ?????? ???? ?? Gamespot ?- Gamespy, ??? ?? ????? ?? ??? ?? ???? ??????? ??? ???, ?? ??? ??? ?????? ????. ?? ??????, ???? ?? James: ????? ?? ??? ???????, ??? ????? ???? ?- PC Gamer. ?????? ???, ??? ?????? ????? ???? ????, ????? ?????? ??? ????? ????? ?- 2009, ?????? ?????? ??? ???? Mirror’s Edge. ???… ????. ??? ??? ???? ?? ??? ???? ????? ????? ???? ?? ????? ???. [...]
DoctorDisaster: Mirror's Edge got so frustrating that for the first time in my life, I actually rage-deleted a game. (I think I actually yelled something cathartic as I did so; "You will now CEASE TO EXIST ON MY COMPUTER" or some such.) After cooling off for a weekend, then spending another evening re-downloading the game, I did finally finish it off, but I won't pretend to have enjoyed the experience for more than thirty seconds at a stretch.
HOWEVER, after that first playthrough, I found that replaying disjointed segments could be a real treat, even in game modes that still had enemies. I can see why Rei describes it as a tech demo more than a game. I think there are two reasons why Mirror's Edge works better as a toy than a game:
1) The story is laughable and shoddy in every way possible. The presentation is crap, the plot is cliched, the evil empire is about as threatening as a golden retriever puppy, and the characters are flimsy little smoke-blossoms of empty stylization. Unlike, say, Deus Ex, where the story was so idiosyncratically bonkers that you liked it in spite of yourself, this thing feels focus-tested within an inch of its soulless, hollow little life.
2) The game has two or three incredibly stupid bottlenecks where there is ONE EXACT THING that will allow you to continue. I don't mean "get the red key" or "kill this person" -- I mean "use this exact move on this target to initiate this specific enemy animation which will allow you to initiate a particular counter-attack which FOR NO APPARENT REASON is the one and only way to drop yourself into a cutscene that concludes the confrontation."
So in an actual playthrough, the awful plot forces you into the frustrating bottlenecks which are only justified by the awful plot and it just feeds on itself. When you're replaying, however, you can skip the bottlenecks, and the combat sequences aren't as onerous because you aren't actually trying to get anywhere. The farther I get from the first playthrough, the more I like the game, and I think the sequel could be an all-time great. But the flaws really overshadowed the inventiveness here, at least for me.
And, sadly, the only other game on this entire list that I've actually played is Braid. Which is awesome! But, wow.
Octaeder: I agree with DoctorDisaster in that I found the game more enjoyable after the first playthrough. I didn't help myself by trying to confirm the developers claim that you could finish the game without ever firing a bullet (you can, but it probably isn't worth trying given how frustrating it became.)
Throughout the first playthrough it was a game I wanted to love but just couldn't. On subsequently playing the time trial and speedrun modes it became a game I genuinely did love.
Jason L: It's been said before, but it seems Mirror's Edge would have been so much better with no plot whatsoever. You are a courier in a totalitarian city. Go. Go fast.
Tom Francis: I don't know, I find that immaculate but disused city, and the heroine's practical but hip get-up, make me interested in what the story of that place could be. Not what they went with, obviously, but I don't think no story has as universal an appeal as good story, in a 7-hour linear game. The music, too, makes me wanna feel ways about stuff. I think I have the beginnings of a rewrite in my drafts folder somewhere, in fact.
Repeat playthroughs are definitely where it shines, not just so you can skip stuff, but because the levels really transform once you're fluent in the game's movement. And also because turning Runner Vision off makes the game look a lot better.
Pepelusky: Mirror's edge is the kind of game wich leaves you waiting for a sequel or something that will fill the emptyness of playing something that innovative. Kinda sad actually.
DoctorDisaster: I think a ranking is in order. (By definition?)
1. A good story (per Tom)
2. An unelaborated premise (per Jason)
3. Having my kneecaps broken with a crowbar
4. The Mirror's Edge story
The thing is, a good story may be the best option, but it's a lot tougher to pull off than the second-place finisher. Since the focus of the development was so obviously elsewhere, I wouldn't have minded saving any storytelling attempts for the sequel.
And certainly the city is what they call in my graphic design textbooks "FUCKING GORGEOUS." I guess that's why I wouldn't mind the lack of an explicit story if I could just immerse myself in the world. You could see it as a throwback to the days before cutscenes, where a game's whole narrative was communicated implicitly through game mechanics and visual design.
Of course, if that were the case, you'd have to get rid of the "and then I picked up a machine gun and mowed down half a dozen police officers" moments. Not only do they more than justify the city government trying to crack down on runners, they shatter the relationship that the rest of the game builds between the player and the world. It should never have been easier to go all Gordon Freeman on the metrocops than to escape without a fight, and you definitely should never have seen your little 100-pound teenage girl avatar running around blasting dudes with a TRIPOD-MOUNTED MACHINE GUN.
I actually didn't mind the mechanics of the cop fights, but from a story perspective they really screwed everything up.
Tom Francis: I was okay with that - shooting people is pretty easy, and your decision to do it doesn't mean all runners did it. As an innocent, if someone's shooting at you and you get hold of their gun, it makes story sense to have the option to use it. For me Mirror's fight or flight problem wasn't when fighting was easier, it was when flight was impossible - thanks to some slow valve, unclear directions, tricky jumping puzzle or tall drainpipe.
DoctorDisaster: Well, if a dozen police officers were murdered in a rooftop shootout with an illegal courier, I wouldn't be suprised at a crackdown, isolated incident or not. And if it's unusual behavior, shouldn't earpiece guy have more of a reaction than "OK, that's the last one"?
In fact, making shooting vs disarming a consequential decision would have improved the game a lot. If you shoot the police, you face more as the game goes on. Not necessarily a different number of shootouts, but squads of different sizes. People who like the shooting get more challenging battles, and people who prefer to escape have a better chance at that drainpipe when they're only being targeted by one or two cops.
Plumberduck: I have to wonder, what didn't you like about the Joker in Arkham's Asylum? Maybe I'm just conditioned to love him after years of the animated series to love Mark Hamill in the role, but I thought he was perfect. His mixture of laughing madness and deadly threat felt like "classic" Joker to me. I was especially glad they didn't try to use any of the notes Heath Ledger used in The Dark Knight; Ledger's performance was amazing, but at least part of the joy of it was that he made the Joker seem like he belonged -horrible and aberrant though he was - in the real world. But Arkham Asylum is a much more "cartoonish" environment, and I thought Hamill was the perfect way to go.
Which isn't to say that the final boss fight shouldn't have kept the game off your list entirely. Christ, that was awful.
Jason L: Werl, though this was entirely unintentional, I think I'll seize on the fact that I used the word 'plot' rather than 'story'. ME seems like an ideal candidate for a halfhearted implementation of Clint Hocking's concept of 'story as texture'. Have the missions dip in and out of various other people's stories in progress, have those sotries connect to each other a little bit - not a lot - and you get to texture the city to arbitrary depth and discover new things over the course of the game without having to write a character epic.
Jason L: Correction, that's Patrick Reading's quote. Grabbed from Idle Thumbs 16, from which I've learned anew that Chris Remo was actually applying it to Mirror's Edge. Apparently I am just one of the Intertubes.