I ran an impromptu Twitter poll the other day, asking my followers what were their favorite pieces of games writing & criticism of this year. I got a number of responses. They’re all good, so let’s list them down here off of Twitter for future reference. This listing is not complete at all, especially when avenues like Patreon and Medium have continued to flourish with a glut of great writing.
I’ve been thinking of throwing my hat back in the ring myself, having ceased games writing three years ago.
To be honest, I haven’t been able to pay as much attention to games writing as I wish I had, being so mentally dug into making Chambara happen, though I did discover the wonderful long-form videos of Noah Caldwell-Gervais, who is one of the smartest new cookies around. I think this was a good year for smart games writing.
Heather Robertson puts forward this long form critique of Fallout 3.
Jocelyn Kim suggests two videos and two essays. One by the amazing Mark Brown, who runs Game Maker’s Toolkit, one of the best new YouTube shows of the year, and another by Dan Floyd from Extra Credits.
There’s also a good article about the surrealist art roots of “walking sim” games, which goes back to stuff like derive, as well as Robert Yang’s piece on VR’s potential as a haven for queer & fringe artists. Its all good.
@Wirehead2501 suggests Enjoying It: Candy Crush & Capitalism, which seems to be in the same thematic vein as Games of Empire, which was a formative book for me on imperialist politics in games.
@20xxJester puts forward a Waypoint article (Waypoint’s fantastic, you should read their stuff) about a secret door in an MMO that could only be opened by players who reached an absurd level of experience. One player made it through, and the mystery of what’s behind that door remains only known by them. Wow. Mystery like that which arouses the imagination is stuff I live for.
@TheGreatDarkOne suggests Cara Ellison’s amazing article about this year’s Kentucky Route Zero episode and what it meant to her, as well as Jason Yu’s examination of the musical storytelling of Undertale.
Colin Horgan suggests this article about culture & gender as expressed in Final Fantasy XIII’s last episode, and these videos.
A longform video-examination of Bloodborne in relation to From Software’s other Soulsbourne games.
And Matthewmatosis’ longform analysis of Devil May Cry on a beat-by-beat level. Its a curious video and its interesting to see Resident Evil’s design approaches mutate into the action-game it ended up being.
Patrick Scarborough suggests this retrospective by Philip Kollar on WoW’s evolution from expansion-to-expansion.
Abhishek Biswas brings up The Game Design Forum, which has this series of “reverse-design” analyses which deconstruct JRPGs on a design level.
Mike Effenberger suggests this video by John Romero, where he plays through a level he built for Doom. Its a nice piece of creator commentary, and I love stuff like this.
@TacticalMullign suggests this haunting Waypoint piece about Dark Souls II and Walter Benjamin’s idea of historical teleology and a certain relativity to modernist narratives about “progress”.
While I was in Scotland two years ago, this video about Phil Fish and the impact of attention and notoriety made the rounds. @gayanimegirl suggests this video about Davey Wreden and The Beginner’s Guide by that same person.
@Warstub suggests Electron Dance’s video about The Witness, its curious structure and progression, and where it stands as JoBlow’s Bizarre Adventure. It goes into great detail about its pacing, with its aspirational goal of creating a meditative rhythm of play.
@OnyxOblivion suggests Patrick Klepek’s piece about the opaque systems that govern the “Poise” stat in Dark Souls 3.
@tfeatherson12 puts forward Jason Schrier’s review of Final Fantasy XV, which has a nice, nostalgic rhythm to it with considerations to the multiplicity of things people want out of a Final Fantasy game. I can’t wait to play it.
@StefanSterber1 appreciates Mark Brown’s Boss Key series on Zelda level design. Its a fun series since you get to see his ideas, theses, and language evolve as the series goes on.
That’s what I have from 2016. What are your favorite bits of criticism & writing?
I’m not a curator or critic by any means, but if you’re looking for good writing, you might want to consider checking out Critical Distance for more nuanced craft.