The Maxis Game Club letters are a short series of letters I wrote back and forth with fellow designer Matt Yang about our video game experiences in 2019.
Happy 2020! This is the start of an experiment to see if having more than one person write about their experiences and feelings with games ends up being more interesting than limiting the blathering to the babbling hum of my singular mind attempting to figure out what I liked or didn’t like about playing video games this past year.
This is also unabashedly modeled after the annual Slate Movie Club correspondences, of which I’ve always been secretly jealous. I want to have smart critical dialog about this media form and industry that we are all a part of! So let’s do it. Here we go.
As usual, I felt like there were too many games to play, so I didn’t get around to a few games that I am sure that I would have enjoyed to some degree. The main games that I felt sorry to have missed out on this past year – though I hope to circle back on them in the upcoming year – are Afterparty, Death Stranding, and Disco Elysium. I was also intrigued by Hypnospace Outlaw, Noita, The Outer Worlds, and Planet Zoo, though I’m less sure how much I’d actually enjoy them. I am curious if there were any games that either of you didn’t have time for in 2019 but will make an effort to tackle in 2020? Or do you let bygones be bygones, letting those games that didn’t carve out your time go as time marches on and new releases once again vie for attention?
As for those games that I did spend some time with in 2019, there are a few more that I am glad exist but didn’t quite make my top 10: Elsinore, The Outer Wilds, and Creature in the Well. They’re all doing very interesting things in the space – the first two even share a time-loop mechanic and Creature in the Well has a rogue-lite core loop as well, so maybe I’m just not as enamored with that repetitive feeling anymore? – and I am always eager for interesting games, even if their gameplay doesn’t quite satisfy me. Elsinore has the added advantage of inserting you as the character Ophelia in Hamlet and it’s very hard for me to pass up anything that could offhandedly be described as a Shakespeare game.
OK, enough teasing; here is my actual top 10 list for this past year:
- Baba is You
- Ape Out
- Assemble with Care
- Heaven’s Vault
- Untitled Goose Game
- A Short Hike
Looking back, one of the biggest gaming patterns that changed for me in 2019 was that I found myself playing on different platforms, driven primarily by navigating the multiple gaming subscriptions that I now have. Much like trying to see what streaming service I can find a particular movie on, I now have to run through the list of places where I may be able to play a game. I’m surprised at how many Epic Game Store exclusives – or timed exclusives – I have on my list (4 out of 10!), which just goes to show how successful they’ve been in grabbing market share, at least on my computer. A year ago, every PC game on my top list was on Steam; I didn’t think twice about where I went looking for a game to play, unless it was a console exclusive. Nowadays, I usually need to at least take a moment to see if I should be looking for it on Steam, Epic Game Store, Origin Premier, or turning on my TV to check Xbox Game Pass. And that’s forgetting that I check Apple Arcade every few weeks to see what’s released on there!
Is it less convenient? Maybe. But it also means that these services are actually competing to bring me a fresh variety of new games at an incredible value. Epic gave away so many free games this past year, including my second-favorite game of the year during the holiday season! Xbox Game Pass had both Outer Wilds and Outer Worlds on their release dates to ensure maximum confusion between the two! These services are helping smaller games get released because they want that precious share of the gaming attention market and I, for one, am happy to live in a time when the competition is between subscription services and not free-to-play forever-games.
Yes, I realize the irony of saying this while also putting Fortnite on my list. Maybe I can get into that next time, but for now, I’m curious what y’all think. What games made your top lists – no need to come up with an ordered list of 10 if that’s too daunting. As I’m not a big player of AAA games (they just take too long!), I’m eager to know if there were some really good ones this past year. Matt, I also know that you loved Outer Wilds, which I found a bit tiring after a while. What was it about that game that made you so happy? Do you have thoughts about the age of subscription services we seem to have found ourselves in? Where do you see it going?
Read the next letter here.