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Best Games Writing of 2016

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This year was the first where I had a This Week In Gaming article posted each week (a weekly article for industry and game news, crowdfunding news, esports new, as well as the best writing and videos I find on games that week), for the end of the year I've compiled some of the best and most interesting game's writing I've seen throughout 2016.

Each of the ten listings might include a single article, articles by one person split into multiple parts, or articles by different people that focus on the same kind of subject. I didn't use the numbers to signify better or worse quality just as a way to separate this year's subjects.




1: Gaming Company History

"We had a meeting," McCormack recalls. "We'd not seen him in weeks because he had other things on. He opened the door, walked in and goes, the hero has a dog, and it dies. And then he left and we didn't see him again for another month. We were like, what the fuck? That was it. That was the direction."

Lionhead: The inside story
Working on Fable destroyed my life, but I don't regret it
Ex-Lionhead Employee Tells Wild Story About Threatening Teenage "Trolls"
Blizzard turns 25! A theme week celebration
Their future is Epic: The evolution of a gaming giant

Lionhead is no more, and with that comes a look at the history of the studio and stories from former employees that would likely not have been told if they were still around. Wesley Yin-Poole at Eurogamer does an excellent and detailed write up of the rise and fall of Lionhead. A look at how they worked, highs, lows, corporate culture, strange stories, and the final days. Polygon interviewed a former employee about working on Fable and another former employee talks about a time they tracked someone down who was threatening to release early screenshots of the original Fable. Blizzard turned 25 and PC Gamer wrote articles every day of the week focusing on a different part of their history from the games themselves, the ideas and people behind the games, links and quotes from videos and interviews with the designers, the origin of Battle.net, where their name came from, etc. Brian Crecente looks at the history of Epic in a seven page story covering the founders, what they are doing now, their games, their engine, etc, with links to many other relevant articles.


2: Video Game History

"Bringing on more staff bolstered the studio's ranks, but muddied its culture. New recruits came in with opinions and ways of working that clashed with how veterans who had been around since before Lara Croft was a glimmer in Toby Gard's eye had done things. Cliques sprang up. Developers who refused to talk to one another adversely affected development processes that required input from individuals on opposite sides of political fences. Long-standing traditions faded. Back in the early '90s, the tightly knit band of Core staffers went pub crawling together every Thursday night. By the early 2000s, the company was so large that many developers failed to recognize colleagues in the hall."

20 Years of Tomb Raider: Starring Lara Croft
Fifa: the video game that changed football
Starcraft: Ghost: What Went Wrong
Why Some Video Games Are In Danger of Disappearing Forever

David Craddock looks at 20 years of Tomb Raider history. From the the creation of the series, disagreements in the direction of the original studio, and the changes over time that lead to the version of Lara Croft we have today. Simon Parkin writes about the history and creation of EA's FIFA, the Chinese Canadian immigrant whose work laid the foundations for the series, and the effects it has had on the sport itself. For those following gaming news in the early 2000s you likely remember there being a lot of hype around the game Starcraft Ghost, with the name disappearing and reappearing a few times over the years and talk about it never officially being cancelled, Patrick Stafford tells the story of what happened during the development of the game. Heather Alexandra talks to game archivists about the need to preserve games, early builds, and gaming history.


3: Game Industry Abroad

"I would even argue that the piracy that allowed us to play so many different things actually enabled a different, more inclusive gaming culture, an inverse of the exclusive and discriminatory religious culture of Saudi Arabia. Piracy allowed almost anyone—no matter their family's income—in our school to get games on the cheap. Everyone, it seemed, played video games, so no one was excluded from group discussions."

The Game Industry of Iran
The Game Industry of South Africa
How Games, Piracy, and Religion Come Together in Saudi Arabia
Sandstorms, Segregation, And Other Challenges Of Running A Women's Video Game Convention In Saudi Arabia
A look at the indie game development scene in Saudi Arabia

"Cuba's First Indie Game" Wants To Be Much More Than That

Most of my favorite game writing involves gaming in other countries and cultures and how it can be used to bring people together. As more and more people start to play video games, the tools to create become easier to acquire, and the ways to distribute become more varied and simple the people participating in the game's industry will continue to get more diverse as will the types of games that can be created, which will lead us not just to having more games but to having more games with interesting new ideas and perspectives. Here are articles talking about the game industry and development in countries that we don't typically hear about or associate with the games industry and how people can be effected by them.


4: Game Design

"How game design practice is shaped by business, technology and culture."

How We Design Games Now and Why

Developer Katharine Neilf writes about the changes that have occurred in the industry over the years, different design ideologies, the industry being kept kept artificially young, games education sector, and how things might change in the future.


5: Working In The Games Industry

"This is not unique to videogames, but often in games, life and work become one thing. It’s not uncommon to sleep in the office, lose touch with friends, or forget what day it is. The attitude of “you’re lucky to be here” is the reward."

The Videogame Industry’s Invisible Workforce: Part 1: How A Conspiracy Of Silence Erased A Medium’s Humanity
The Videogame Industry’s Invisible Workforce: Part 2: Self-Destructive Management, the Exploitation of Passion, and Eviction Rooms: The Harsh Reality of Working in Videogames
The Videogame Industry’s Invisible Workforce: Part 3: Videogames Aren’t Bigger than Hollywood, But Their Labor Issues Are
Dark Side of the Sun
The game industry's disposable workers

Bioware cofounder Dr. Greg Zeschuk talks about working in games industry in a three part blog. Problems with employers treating game development as software development while the media treats them as entertainment. How the industry compares to other industries when it comes to unions, priding itself on moving fast while being slow to protect legacies and professions, how being related to the tech industry helps lead to exploitative working conditions. Poor management mixed with exploiting passion for crunch time. Other good pieces and information are also linked throughout his blogs. John Szczepaniak, author of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, talks about the history of Japanese developers that he learned through interviews. Colin Campbell writes about game industry contractors.


6: Connections Through Games

"My Nonna grew up the oldest of six kids in rural Italy and, as the oldest girl in the house, her formal schooling stopped in the third grade so that she could help raise her siblings and take care of the house. She grew up in a region of the country that was heavily bombed during World War II, further limiting her already restricted academic possibilities. Like so many young Italian women from her generation, she married young, moved to America to pursue a better life, and largely stayed within Italian social circles. With all of that, she was never really required or encouraged to strengthen her reading and writing skills. Her daily tasks didn’t necessitate a verbose vocabulary; and soon after her immigration, my father was old enough to translate whenever issues did arise. And so, here we were, sitting in front of a PlayStation, struggling against decades of unspoken game design rules and academic disenfranchisement."

Guest Column: Teaching My Nonna to Read Through Games
How 1979 Revolution: Black Friday Let Me Relive My Father's History

Video games can help you to connect and to better understand others, be it with the people you meet online while playing or in the memories made with your your family and friends. Gino Grieco learns about language barriers while teaching his grandma how to play video games. Chloi Rad writes about how 1979 Revolution allowed her to see where her father grew up and playing through it with him was the highlight of her year.


7: Open World Game Design

"Fallout 4 funnels you into violence, The Witcher 3 invites you to dance."

On the failure of Fallout 4 at the hands of The Witcher 3
Fallout 4 proved bigger isn't always better
In praise of travelling slowly in Shadow of the Colossus

Articles on open world game design, the kind of words the designers create with their mechanics and locations in their world. Tauriq Moosa writes about two open world games, Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3, and how the world of The Witcher 3 feels more alive and offers more nuanced storytelling through its design and approach to dealing with other characters. Holly Green talks about Fallout 4 and scale vs blandness in world design. Miguel Penabella praises the design of Shadow of the Colossus, in having slow reflective travel rather than a world filled with junk or out of place side missions to increase value.


8: Life and Loss

"But, as someone who is currently sitting in a hospital room watching his grandfather fight for his life, I’m rarely provided any useful references on what it’s like to be in this situation by video games. They don’t tell me how to comfort someone without healing them. They don’t tell me how to continue my life without missing what could be precious, final moments with a loved one. Video games provide escape, not sustenance. It’s because of these narrative trends that I pay attention whenever a game seriously examines mortality. It’s because of these narrative trends that I still replay Final Fantasy IX."

Guest Column: Learning About Life and Death From a Little Black Mage
Saving Kate and Saving Myself in Life is Strange
Fragments of Him offered me catharsis after the shock of losing someone
Guest Column: My Mother's Games

Games can teach us about and highlight issues of loss or mental health while potentially offering a cathartic experience helping people to cope. Gino Grieco talks about finding solace in Final Fantasy in the face of a familial struggle, Holly Green writes about seeing herself in the character Kate from Life Is Strange, and Allegra Frank writes about how Fragments of Him helped her deal with a recent loss. Janine Hawkins loads up her late mother's saved games to reminisce on her life.


9: Writing On Games

"There's a particular image from Dark Souls that haunts me, as if it bled out from the screen and into my life. I see it everywhere. I am reminded of it daily."

How 'Dark Souls II' Reflects Our Historical and Political Anxieties
Guest Column: Digging a Little Deeper: Dwarf Fortress, Fantasy Tropes, and World Building
How Firewatch Illustrates The Tragedy Of Inconvenient Love
Valkyria Chronicles Is A Different Kind of War Story

Brendan Vance writes about how Dark Souls reflects modern life and history. Gita Jackson talks about how Dwarf Fortress allows you to create your own stories. Holly Green writes about how Firewatch deals with the part of a relationship not often explored, its ending. Alexander Kriss writes about how Valkyria Chronicles reconstructs the WWII story through the lens of humanism.


10: Writing In Games

“The unbelievably difficult part was, say I'm Batman, and I put down an ice bomb trap, and a guy hits the trap," said Bissell. "You have to communicate to the player, 'oh that was my ice bomb trap' without being so obvious...and  figure out things for these guys in their various state of alarm, to say "Ice bomb! He got me with an ice bomb! It's cold!" so the player knows it happened. Then you have to do that 10-15 different ways. And that's just an ice bomb. I thought it would be fun working on a game franchise I loved for a dude I loved and admired, and at the end of it I can say I never regretted my decision to be a game writer more than that. When it's Christmas morning, and it's like, 'Ice Bomb, I dunno,' it gets pretty grim.”

Do you want to write video games?
Blood, Sweat, and Dialogue Trees: How Games Writing Has Evolved

Being Edited
Leveling Up the Story: Rhianna Pratchett On the Changing World of Writing For Videogames
Honest tales from the trenches of AAA game writing (throwing in one from 2015, because it's a good article, I didn't do this last year, and because I thought it was from this year and it took a long time to find)
Why We Write About Games
Why I Play

I've shared a lot of writing on games but what about writing in the games industry, these articles by industry professionals talk about what the job really involves, having an editor, companies using internal or freelance writers, the difficulty of writing ambient dialogue, and how games writing continues to evolve. Gita Jackson interviews some other game critics about why they write about video games and Keza MacDonald talks about why she plays and writes about games and the reactions it brings from people.

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