January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, 2007 is now officially over and my break is only a few days from completion. It's been a great, completely relaxing break. I originally had the intention to keep the blog pretty up-to-date and to work on some other projects for my portfolio, but its probably obvious that I didn't do a great job with the first, and with only a few days left it seems unlikely I'll get around to the second in any real capacity. My friends and family think this is totally reasonable and tell me everyone needs some time off now and then, so I'm going to go with that. I may still play with making an RTS map, as I think that would be fun, I just need to pick the game.

Well, 2007 was an interesting year for games as well as me personally. This same time a year ago I was still working at Capital One with no plan to get into the games industry. I had the goal or desire, but no real plan. Now, here I am two terms into my education and only a year away from my dream job. 2007 may also go down as one of the best years for games, at least of those in recent memory. Call of Duty 4, Mass Effect, Bioshock, World in Conflict, Super Mario Galaxy, Supreme Commander, Uncharted, and Rock Band just to name a few. Also, 2007 saw a few notable events for the industry like the merger of Activision and Vivendi into Activision Blizzard (now the largest videogame publisher) and Bungie and Microsoft's parting of ways.

In a year with so many great games it really is hard to pick a favorite. For me, I'd say my favorite game of the year was Mass Effect, but with great games like Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock competing against it, it's a really tough call. What does it for me, I think, is the depth and breadth of the universe Bioware created in Mass Effect, in addition to the gameplay and storyline innovations the game offers. As for the gameplay, Mass Effect is one of the first times I can remember having "fun" while playing an RPG.

Now before you all start sending the hate mail, don't get me wrong I love RPGs, they are probably my second favorite genre (RTS being #1) and I think almost every game can use RPG elements, but I wouldn't typically describe them is fun. They are engaging, immersive, and they typically have the best storylines around, but the gameplay isn't usually the focus, and if it is, its almost always because some other part of the game (typically the story) has been neglected. This isn't the case with Mass Effect, the gameplay and storyline are both really good. I will admit that the gameplay of Mass Effect is unpolished in some places, but I think it's some of the most fun I've had playing and RPG, and in that context I think it really excels.

Add a great storyline and new, more immersive conversation system to the mix and that makes it my game of the year. Mass Effect's conversation ring has been a subject of much discussion among those who have played it, and while that difference is probably more subtle than some might posit, I think the effect is actually pretty substantial. By focusing on tone and paraphrase instead of requiring the player to read all possible dialog choices, Mass Effect managed to achieve a level of conversation flow that hadn't yet happened.

While still stiff in some areas, conversations ultimately feel more organic, and are thus much more enjoyable to participate in. I'm one of those people that uses every dialog option on every person I can talk to, because I love knowing everything I can about the universe, but this is the most fun I've had doing it. By including many conversation that flow in only one direction and several difficult choices that you character has to make, I think Mass Effect really is a step forward for interactive storytelling, even if it's only a very small one.

Ultimately, 2007 was a great year for games, and it's amazing how much things have changed in just the few short years I've been alive. My hope is that 2008 will be just as good, and that games will continue to evolve at this exponential pace. I can't wait to see where we are in 2017 or even 2027. Until then, I hope developers keep making great games like Call of Duty 4, Bioshock, and Mass Effect, and I hope that by the end of this year I'll have a job with one of them ;-). Alright, well this post is plenty long enough, and my breakfast is getting cold, so Happy New Year everyone, take care!

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