Game of the Year 2014

  1. Banner Saga

Stunningly beautiful visually and aurally, a fantastically grim (but not hopeless) plot and setting, and a fun and surprisingly deep combat system combined with a people management sim where good intentions count for nothing (except when they do) and you can’t save everyone no matter how you try (sometimes, you manage to save no one at all).  I’ve played through the Banner Saga close to ten times now, and I can’t get enough of it.  Easily one of my favourite games of all time.  I cannot wait for the sequel.

  1. Elite: Dangerous

A recent official release, and one that still feels somewhat like a beta.  Elite is an incredibly broad game, but not particularly deep at this stage.  Even though, I have never experienced immersion in a game quite like this one – everything from dogfighting to exploring to landing your ship in George Lucas Station looks, sounds, and feels amazing.  This is the closest gaming has come yet to achieving that totally immersive game “universe” (well, 500-billion solar system galaxy in this case) that you’d dream about as a kid.  Even with its flaws, I love it to bits, and the development roadmap is immensely exciting.

  1. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The Binding of Isaac was a fantastic games, and one of my favourites.  I’ve sunk more hours into it than I can count. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is that game, only reimagined with a great art style, and made bigger (embiggened?) and better that before with tonnes of new areas, monsters, bosses, characters and items.  Even better, the way items interact has been improved, leading to all sorts of wacky situations that can make you super powered or utterly useless. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is an amazing game improved in every way (barring the music, which has gone from memorable to just sort of there) over its original incarnation.

  1. Wolfenstein: The New Order

I don’t want to be that guy that writes a GotY list and says “Who would have thought that we’d be lauding a narrative-based action-stealth FPS in 2014 called ‘Wolfenstein?!” And yet, here we are.  Wolfenstein did just about everything right, turning the original meathead silent protagonist into a surprisingly deep and interesting character, and shaping the alternate-history setting of a Nazi-dominated 1960s into a world both horrifying and darkly humorous with a deftness no one could have expected.  Alongside an interesting plot and group of characters comes gameplay that manages stealth as gracefully as it does balls-out shooting.  It also proved that the Rage engine could actually be used to build a game that didn’t look like arse.  Definitely my biggest surprise of 2014.

  1. Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 “Zer0 Sum”

Another surprise one for me, although looking back on it I’m not entirely sure why the idea of combining the Borderlands setting of Pandora (poor, psycho-infested Pandora) with a Telltale-style adventure game was ever one I didn’t think would work.  Tales from the Borderlands is a fun, funny, and all around incredibly entertaining experience, and I can’t wait for the next episode to drop.

  1. Dragon Age: Inquisition

I wish this played like Dragon Age: Origins…but apart from that, Inquisition is great and I think represents an important step for the RPG template BioWare has been using since they got picked up by EA.  Huge in scale and about 75% filler quests, Inquisition still manages to be immensely satisfying to play through a combination of fun combat, a great fantasy setting, very sharply written characters and dialogue, and a plot that manages to move without overstaying its welcome.  BioWare’s character work is second to none, and I would be hard pressed to name a specific scene in a game that has impressed me more than the simple card game you can take part in, telling tall stories to your companions and simply existing in this world and this particular situation. I may not like the dumbing down of gameplay that most BioWare games have undergone in recent years, but I consider it a fair trade if they continue to improve the rest of the experience.  Plus, it is way better than DA2.

  1. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

The surprises keep on coming.  When I first heard this game announced, I just assumed it would be a budget-arse Assassin’s Creed-come-Batman game.  What it instead turned out to be is an incredibly good Assassin’s Creed-come-Batman game, with a fantastic innovation in the Nemesis system.  This has been spoken about ad nauseum elsewhere, but with the Nemesis system Monolith has come up with a game changer for open-world games. Now if they could just tell a decent story…

  1. Wasteland 2

I’ll confess that I haven’t finished Wasteland 2 due to encountering a REALLY irritating bug while transitioning through a massive area that essentially means I need to replay quite a bit of progress.  Said bug has since been fixed, but unfortunately my save game is post-the effect, so I’m stuffed and have struggled to want to go back since.  Caveats aside, however, Wasteland 2 is amazing.  Playing (and looking) like both a modern follow-up to the original Wasteland and the original Fallouts, Wasteland 2 is a gloriously old-school isometric RPG with XCOM-style combat, immense customisability, and multiple pathways to doing just about everything. Even better, the post-apocalyptic Wild West setting is brilliantly realised and provides the perfect venue for telling some brilliantly written stories.  With the bugs now firmly squashed, Wasteland 2 is a game well worth playing, and one I am planning to go back to very soon.

  1. Dungeon of the Endless

A strangely tactical RPG and beautifully pixel-arty Rogue-like-like-like where you are leading several characters out of a sci-fi dungeon whilst also resource managing and playing a tower defence game?  Sign me the hell up! Dungeon of the Endless is another big surprise for me, and has become something of an obsession currently.  Everything about this game is slick as hell, and it somehow manages to be a game of planning and strategy and frenetic action at the same time.  A brilliant short play session game, and a current on the train favourite.

  1. Far Cry 4

After all those surprises, here’s the exact opposite.  Far Cry 4 is the culmination of the formula begun in Far Cry 2 and evolved in Far Cry 3.  While I still personally feel that FC2 is the best game in the series, 4 is definitely the most outright fun.  Is it essentially the exact same game as FC3, only slightly improved in every way?  Yep.  Do the story missions still suck?  Yep.  Does any of that matter when you’re landing a gyrocopter on a ridge, sniping an outpost below, only to get attacked by another bastard eagle? Nope.  Play Far Cry 4: it is fun, pretty, and will leave you with a big stupid grin on your face pretty much constantly.  Hard to ask for more than that, really.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Jazzpunk

Funniest game I’ve ever played.

  • FTL: Advanced Edition

Everything I said about BoI:Rebirth, only FTL

  • Nidhogg

One of the best couch-multi games ever made.  Prince of Persia as a duelling game.

  • Transistor

Supergiant’s follow up to Bastion is equally beautiful, but nowhere near as fun to play.

  • Titanfall

Most fun I had with a new multiplayer FPS in years, but ultimately not enough content to keep my interest in a year where multiplayer fell off my radar

  • Luftrausers

Simple but awesome arcade-style shmup.  Amazing dynamic soundtrack.

  • Goat Simulator

So, so stupid.

  • Sportsfriends

I am the Super Pole Riders champion.  Amazing game to play with non-gamers.

  • Divinity: Original Sin

Seems like the kind of game I will love, but have not had enough time to sink into it.

  • Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake

Incredibly charming puzzle game on the phone.  Well worth it.

  • The Wolf Among Us: Episodes 2 – 5

Quality did not quite live up to the first Episode, but the season was still the strongest thing Telltale had accomplished to date.

  • Endless Legend

Similar to Divinity, this fantasy/sci-fi Civilisation-style game seems absolutely amazing, but I just have not had the time to sink into it yet.  I am looking forward to spending more time with it.

CTHULHU: DEEP DOWN UNDER

So one of the super secret projects I have been involved with has now gone public:

CTHULHU: DEEP DOWN UNDER is an amazing project featuring 24 stories by Australian writers (myself included) set in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, as well as full colour art by 24 different artists.

I am incredibly proud to be involved with this book – every story and piece of art is uniquely awesome, and the whole package has come together fantastically and is almost finished.

Now we need your help getting us across the finish line.

Today (18/10) marks the official launch of our campaign to get the book into the hands of readers, and we are launching with a bang at Booth 74 all weekend at Armageddon Expo in Melbourne (I unfortunately wasn’t able to be in Melbourne for the event, but several other contributors will be there).

If you’d like to learn more, please follow this link to our indiegogo page where you can read about the project in greater depth and reserve your copy now (starting at $10 for the ebook).

I’ll be posting up some more info about my own story ‘Where the Madmen Meet‘ in coming days, and may even include an excerpt or two.

It has truly been an honour to be involved with this project, and it is humbling for a novice author like myself to be standing alongside such an extraordinarily talented group of people.  This is the kind of book that comes along very rarely, and is something amazing.  I truly believe that any fans of horror and dark fantasy, Australian or not, will love this collection.

Thank you in advance for your support! Happy to field any questions anyone might have about the book via the usual channels.

Cheers,

T.S.P.Sweeney

Short and Sharp

A common criticism of inexperienced writers is that they confuse big words, chunks of extraneous detail, and overly long sentences with quality.

For myself, I’m blessed enough that I have a good friend willing to act as an editor for me with my work, and his most common comments when he marks my stuff up are “too wordy” or “this could be punchier” or whatnot.  This has the effect of making me go back and really work on the pace of my stories, which inevitably leads to a marked improvement in quality once I lose the commas, add a few periods, and drop several dozen adjectives.

That isn’t to say that longer sentences or paragraphs don’t have a place; indeed, in the right circumstances, a beautifully crafted and complex sentence can be exactly what you are after, and can add a lyrical quality or a particular feel to a piece that is perfect in that context.

A great deal of the time, however, brevity is an author’s best friend.

Short, sharp sentences help to ratchet up tension, provide a sense of movement or action, and can bring across a feeling of breathless passion that no amount of page-long belaboured metaphors will ever quite match.

Ask yourself what has more impact:

“Excellent,” I replied. My hand dropped to my side, fingers wrapping around the grip of the shotgun that hung from my belt, jerking it upwards as I squeezed the trigger and shot him in the face.

Versus:

“Excellent,” I replied, shooting him in the face. 

The above example comes from my first draft of my short story Nephilim, versus the end result six drafts later that wound up getting published.

The first is detailed, and perhaps better shows off the minutiae of the scene (how his hand moves, the position of the shotgun, etc), but it takes a scene intended to be surprising to the reader and instead belabours it (and is incredibly, embarrassingly clunkily written, but that’s a first draft for you).

The second version (hopefully) comes as a shock to the reader, and immediately throws the scene into chaos; a tense, but peaceful conversation between the protagonist and his opposite is suddenly rendered sharply violent by the protagonist himself, and the detail of the moment is instead scattered across the next couple of paragraphs.

Next time you are writing something, whether it is a fantasy novel or a travel article, have a think about the way you are structuring your scenes. Have a look at the length of your sentences and what words you are using in them, and whether all of that serves the purpose of the scene itself.

Don’t be afraid to lose detail to increase impact; after all, that shotgun hanging from your protagonist’s hip can just be mentioned somewhere else.

Update

So it seems that every time I attempt to make a concerted effort to blog regularly something in my life explodes into a million pieces.

In the past, it has been leaving a job, family issues, whatever.  This time, unfortunately, it has been the end of my marriage.

It has been a whirlwind of emotion these past few months, not a single one of them positive, but at the end of the day, all you can do in adversity is pick up the pieces and move on.

So with that in mind, I’m recommitting to my writing career and to becoming a more consistent writer on this oft-neglected corner of the web that I call my own.

 

Writing News:

I’ve had another short story picked up, yay! Both this and the one referred to in my previous blog post are, unfortunately, still under wraps, but rest assured that news on both fast approaches.

I can reveal a few little morsels about my own stories, if nothing else:

The one most likely to be published first is a horror story in a setting I have never written in before, and represents a number of other firsts for me as well (I’ll talk about that a bit more when I am allowed to discuss it publicly).

The second story also represents a first for me, as it is a historical mystery, and thus way, WAY outside of my usual genres.  Again, I can’t speak to this one too much except to say that it was very fun to write, and made me feel a lot more confident as an author.

In addition to the above, I also have a fantasy short currently with Tristan for editing, and I am also once again endeavouring to play with an old, oft-rejected short that is in search of the right home.

Finally, I am part way through the first edit of my NaNoWriMo 2012 post-apocalyptic spy novel (tentatively titled ‘Blackburn’), which I think I’ll actually finish this time.

Which is all my long-winded way of saying yay, exciting times!

 

Blog News: 

I am planning on writing a series of entries on this blog looking at things to do with writing, both from a personal perspective, but also examining the work of other authors, technical aspects of the craft, and any other topic that happens to take my fancy.

I freely acknowledge that I am no expert at the craft, but I think it could be a bit of fun and if I can encourage even one person to take the plunge on writing something themselves, I’ll consider it a success.

So keep an eye out for that. 

 

So that’s everything for now.  I’m going to try to update at least weekly, but I understand completely if people who have witnessed my existing posting habits have their doubts about that.

I just want to take this time to thank everyone for all their support to date, both professional and personal.  It means a lot and always will.

Cheers,

- Tim

All very hush hush

I’ve had some good news: a story (which I probably shouldn’t name) of mine had been accepted into an anthology (which I definitely am not allowed to name) for publication in the future!

It also contains a bunch of very talented authors that I can name:

  • David Kuraria
  • Rob Hood
  • Jason Franks
  • Kaaron Warren
  • Jason Fischer
  • William Tevelein
  • David Conyers
  • Steve Paulsen
  • Janeen Webb
  • Maurice Xanthos
  • B. Michael Radburn
  • Stephen Dedman
  • G.N. Braun
  • Don Boyd
  • Jan Scherpenhuizen
  • Jason Nahrung
  • Aaron Sterns
  • T S P Sweeney
  • Bill Congreve
  • Lucy Sussex
  • Francis Payne
  • As you can imagine I am super excited about this and I look forward to being able to share more delicious details soon.

    Game of the Year 2013

    Game of the Year 2013

    10. The Swapper

    A puzzle game that challenges the old noggin, I was at least able to finish the Swapper on my own…eventually.

    With a cool claymation aesthetic, interesting puzzles revolving around cloning yourself several times and swapping between them (shocking, I know), and a surprisingly interesting (and dark) science fiction storyline, the Swapper was a great game that, sadly, I don’t think too many people actually played.

    9. Antichamber

    This game taught me that my brain is not set up in a such a way as to deal with the crazy, reality-twisting puzzles of Antichamber. Indeed, I still haven’t finished this damn game and I doubt I ever will.

    The significant chunk I did play, however, left its mark on me and made me truly realise the kinds of unique games that can be made now with the rise of the indies and the ability for people to get their work out to large audiences via services like Steam, Desura, etc.

    There is nothing at all out there like Antichamber. It is a starkly gorgeous example of the kind of puzzle game that can break your mind.

    8. Saints Row IV

    It’s not as good as Saints Row the Third and feels like a glorified expansion pack.

    Now, with that out of the way, Saints Row IV was still a hilarious, fun romp where the levels of insanity started in SRIII were jacked all the way up.

    It was rare for me to play IV for more than a few minutes without finding something that either made me crack up or drop my jaw from how ludicrous or outright crazy it was. It also does a great deal of lampooning of other games with some very unique set-pieces, and plays with the concept of what exactly an open world game is.

    It may not have been as good as III, but god damn was it still amazing.

    7. Rogue Legacy

    Unlike Gunpoint, Rogue Legacy is easy to classify into the genres it straddles, but I’m not going to bore you by talking about ‘Metroidvanias’ or (ugh) ‘Rogue-like-likes.’

    Instead, know that Rogue Legacy’s fun mix of side-scrolling action with randomised dungeons, permanent death, and persistent levelling was incredibly enjoyable and kept me coming back pretty much non-stop for weeks to slap some skeletons around with my farting, swearing dwarf barbarian queen.

    6. Gunpoint

    It is hard to classify Gunpoint, so I won’t.  Instead, I will tell you to buy and play this quirky detective/hacking/rewiring/platforming/window-diving-and-punching-dudes-forever sim.

    Gunpoint is a unique beast, and one that lends itself to multiple playthroughs and experimentation.

    Plus the writing is really quite good and it is an absolute blast to play.

    5. Shadowrun Returns

    I have absolutely no experience with the Shadowrun games or the roleplaying system, which kind of surprises me since I really love cyberpunk as a rule, and fantasy-cyberpunk hybrids are a rare phenomenon indeed.

    Shadowrun Returns was a Kickstarter game done run and a great deal of fun in its own right, bringing back the isometric RPG stylings of old and combining it with a fun little plot and interesting, XCOM-esque turn-based strategy.

    While the included campaign was  a tad underwhelming in scope, it served as just a taster for the wealth of fan-made campaigns now featured on the Steam workshop.

    4. The Wolf Among Us

    A new release, and an incomplete one to boot (being episodic), The Wolf Among Us nonetheless claws (heh) its way onto my list through being a refinement of what made me love Telltale’s The Walking Dead game in a far more unique, and frankly, far more interesting setting.

    The Wolf Among Us features a strong setting, an interesting cast of characters, a little bit more freedom (at least in the first episode) than one typically expects in these games, and all wrapped up in a gloriously 80s, noir-ish fairy tale.  Just superb, and I cannot wait for the next episode.

    3. Bioshock: Infinite

    Releasing to near universal acclaim and then suddenly turned upon by seemingly everyone, Bioshock: Infinite has remained a firm favourite for me since release.

    Beautiful to look at and a joy to play, I loved everything about Infinite’s mind-bending journey to the city in the clouds.

    2. XCOM: Enemy Within

    Enemy Within improved upon one of my favourite games of recent times in some fairly huge ways, expanding the complexity of options available to you while adding several interesting wrinkles to the typical XCOM game.

    While it didn’t all mesh perfectly together from a narrative or gameplay perspective, it was still amazingly fun and improved an already amazing game to even greater heights.  I hope XCOM gets the Civilisation treatment from Firaxis and we see more expansions to the base game released in the future.

    1. Mass Effect 3: Citadel

    DLC in first and an Expansion Pack in second, what will the neighbours think?

    This could be seen as either a huge compliment to the work of BioWare or a damning indictment of the overall quality of games released in 2013. Me, I prefer to think of it as the former.

    Citadel was everything I could have wanted from the ending of what has been my favourite series in gaming. It lacked the self-seriousness that typified Mass Effect 3, as well as the disappointment brought about by the lacklustre ending.  Instead, Citadel was a fun last hurrah with beloved characters that felt like the true swansong for the Shepard trilogy and gave you strong final moments with the characters that had become near and dear over the course of three games and several years.

    It was also hilarious.

     

    Honourable Mentions: Tomb Raider (good, but not quite good enough), Battlefield 4 (excellent on those rare occasions when it works), Divekick (too much Lang Zone)
    Wish I’d played: Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, The Stanley Parable, Civilisation V: Brave New World

    Long time between drinks

    I’ve been rather quiet the last couple of months.

    Part of that is because I am extremely good at neglecting this blog, of course, but it has also been due to a rather uncomfortable level of busyness. Through a combo of work, writing deadlines, and personal stuff, the poor old blog hasn’t registered too high on my radar of things that need doing.

    With the coming of the new year, I’ve decided to change all that. I will be posting up a few bits and bobs over the next few weeks, beginning with my 2013 Top Ten Games of the Year. 

    To those of you that read this thing, I hope you had a great Christmas (or equivalent) break and enjoyed a wonderful New Years Eve filled with excess and promises to never do that again come January 1st!

    More soon.

    - Tim

    The C Word

    My friend Shay, who only recently took Sam and I for a tour of some interesting little bars in Melbourne, has just been diagnosed with his second bout of cancer in five years.

    As horrible as this news is (and it is), something amazing has come out of it: Shay, in a truly humbling display of selflessness, has decided to blog about his experiences with cancer and the subsequent tests and treatment, as a way of giving some insight into what he is dealing with.

    He hopes that his writing might help people who are going through their own experiences with cancer.

    I hope everyone reads his blog, regardless.

    http://shaysemmens.wordpress.com

    Manifesto: UF (featuring my short story ‘Nephilim’) is live!

    20130901-213753.jpg

    That’s right folks, Manifesto: UF has dropped a month early and is now available in ebook form on Amazon! (details on print copies and other vendors forthcoming).

    Published by Angelic Knight Press and edited by Tyson Mauermann and the awesome Tim Marquitz, Manifesto features 23 rollicking urban fantasy stories from a huge array of talented authors both established and new, and I am honoured that my own story – ‘Nephilim’ – shares the page with such esteemed company.

    I will update in the near future when further details are available, but in the meantime head on over to Amazon and, if you read the book, please let me know what you think!

    Cheers,

    TSPSweeney

    20130815-182119.jpg

    My wife and I lost a dear friend and family member today in our beagle Zac.

    I’m not one for long, sad goodbyes, and Sam has already written something far more fitting than anything I could manage.

    I keep going to write about how stubborn he was, or how loving and affectionate, or tell one of the endless funny stories. I keep trying, but I just don’t have it in me.

    He lived a long and happy life surrounded by people that loved him right until the very end.

    I love you buddy. You will be missed.

    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 172 other followers