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 and videos that I've seen throughout 2016.
These videos cover topics involving game design, developer history, effects of games on wider popular culture, the culture of the industry itself, why games are important, how games can better evoke certain emotions when compared to films or literature, and essays on the games themselves.
Each of the ten listings might include a single video, a single video series, or videos that might be from different people but focus on a similar idea or subject, I didn't use the numbers to signify better or worse quality.
1: Satchbag's Goods
"Firewatch, Gone Home, and That Dragon Cancer are, right now, the trifecta of titles that place their greatest ask in the conversations had after the game is done."
Satchbag's Goods talks about why Firewatch is one of the most memorable titles he has played this year. His essay covers player choice, art design, the game's music, and mentions a trifecta of titles whose greatest strength can be in the conversations had after they are finished. One of those three games mentioned is That Dragon, Cancer which he has also made an excellent video of, talking about what he feels the win state of the game is, how video games allow you to linger in spaces, faith, purpose, significance, and insignificance.
2: Story Beats
"I'm being told stories in ways I've never been told them before. These are tools, and they're tools that don't exist anywhere else."
Innuendo Studios takes a look at a different game in each episode of this four part series. The games include Dear Esther, Limbo, Ben There Dan That, and Bastion. In the videos he talks about what games can do narratively that books and film can't. The sound, animation, timing, and programming that creates the feel of games and how it engages you. How film can make you feel sympathy, or happy, or proud of a character but a game can make you feel guilty or take pride in your own fictional act of heroism.
3: Play Conditioning
"You play games in the manner dictated by the experience of the game itself, and sometimes that manner isn't great."
hbomberguy takes an in depth and entertaining look at the Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Fallout games. Talking about what he feels works and what doesn't when it comes to story, lore, world design, themes, and gameplay. The videos are both informative and funny to watch, but the strand that connects the two is in how games can condition people to play them, sometimes in ways that aren't enjoyable.
4: A Thorough Look At
"It's probable that games will come later that will depict race with the same unflinching straightforwardness as Mafia 3 while preserving a more compassionate outlook. But, for 2016, the best video games can manage is Ras the Destroyer, come upon his black horse with guns and fire."
Noah Caldwell-Gervais has been making detailed videos taking a look at games and game series for years, including titles like Fallout, Skyrim, Postal, Arcanum, Vampire Bloodlines, Warcraft, and others that are all well worth watching. This year he has taken a look at three game franchises in his A Through Look at series, Mafia, Baldur's Gate, and Wolfenstein. Out of those, I found his look at Mafia to be the most interesting but if this didn't exist the other two would easily take a spot in this list and they and his other videos should be looked at by anyone who enjoys the above video.
His look at the Mafia series starts with the first game, which is a more linear and grounded crime story when compared to the other open world crime game of the time, GTA 3, and a focuses on the setting rather than player empowerment. The realistic nature of the cars in the first game and how the commute style gameplay has been one of the biggest barriers to entry. A sequence with an odd design choice that developers later felt should be patched out of the game. The game's ambitions for presentation compared to the realities of what it could do and disconnects between the serious progression of the story when compared to the mechanical situations.
He moves onto Mafia 2 that he feels uses many of the same ideas of the first but with greater sophistication. He compares the similar but situationaly different backstory of being an immigrant in America in Mafia 2 to GTA 4. How you get to know the character of Vito, can see what leads him to make the choices he makes by exploring his upbringing, his recent life, American culture, and how those choices lead to his rise and fall. How the gendered cliches of Vito, your friend Joe, and the game's female characters ends up being smartly written. How it reaches for political themes and takes an artistic viewpoint on them, exploring crime, identity, gender, and race. How writing choices in the first two games can be due to the game being s a Czech production looking at American culture through an outside lens and how the game says and does what the developers wanted. He ends Mafia 2 by talking about the DLC and how it feels at odds with the narrative and design choices of the game, like it's trying to be more like GTA 3 than Mafia, which brings him to Mafia 3.
His critique of Mafia 3 focuses on the game being more about a time and a place rather than a character, how that time and place molded the development of the character, the shift in development priorities that could have been brought on by review complaints of Mafia 2, the feel of the combat, the villains being the embodiment of the emotional infant-hood described as the driving force behind KKK and similar group recruitment, and the ways the society is portrayed as only a game can show. How consumerist approach of video games usually sees deviation as a bad thing, how doing something more daring can create more compelling artistic results, and how the worst parts of the game come from the areas where they played it safe. How it tells a deeply American story.
"She would let me sleep while she pressed this button."
"What would happen if she didn't press the button?"
"The servers would go down."
I used to be a member at Gamespot with Danny O'Dwyer, I later joined a site he created called Citizen Game, followed his work after he started working at Gamespot where he worked on another excellent video series The Point. This year I think game's writing gained something special with the creation of the site Waypoint and I think game videos got the same with the creation of Noclip. This Rocket League documentary is the first of what will hopefully be many interesting, entertaining, and high quality looks at game development and culture (the end of the year saw the release of another great look into the creation of DOOM with extended interviews of that series releasing into this month).
Where is games coverage falling short? What's a sustainable audience? Why does diversity matter? Danny sits down with Cool Ghosts' Matt Less and Kahlief Adams & Cicero Holmes of Spawn on Me Podcast to discuss these questions and more.
This was a good additional watch that ties in with the first video shared here about the creation of Noclip. This is from an episode of The Lobby, which Danny hosted shortly before leaving Gamespot to start Noclip.
6: Because Games Matter
"We believe that these stories can do some good and remind us, in this chaotic world, why games matter."
Extra Credits shares stories from their viewers of how games changed their lives or gave them hope. Hamish Black, Writing on Games, talks about why he feels that the commonly accepted legacy of Dark Souls is reductive and how the game is an uncompromising celebration of life, and how his experiences with Dark Souls and suffering from depression resonate with one another.
"Story in a game is like story in a porn movie, it's expected to be there, but it's not that important."
Ahoy talks about the Doom and Quake series, the choices made for their design and original ideas, effects on the developer, and how they influenced gaming culture. If you want to go back further he also did one on Wolfenstein, though that was from 2015, and Noah Caldwell-Gervais also went over the entire series this year which was mentioned on number 4 of this list. If you want to start with Ahoy's take on that, here is the link.
8: A Critique of SOMA
"And if you guessed all that, you are completely wrong, just like I was."
Joseph Anderson discusses the gameplay, story, and themes of SOMA.
9: The Witcher Expansions Discussion
"It seems like it's elevating the format of The Witcher to some kind of greater literary purpose. It's a genuine effort by the writers to explore the problems of an old morality play and reexamine them for a new age."
Super Bunnyhop looks at the expansions for The Witcher 3, where the ideas for the stories came from, the history of the original story Hearts of Stone takes inspiration from, and the themes in the content of Blood and Wine.
10: Dungeon Design
"I think these things are fascinating. They're these twisting, contorting, non-linear, maze-like, puzzle boxes, filled with enemies and traps. They have terrific boss fights and unique architecture, and the best ones are these giant mechanical riddles for you to solve."
Mark Brown, Game Maker's Toolkit, has spent months and multiple videos going over the dungeon design of the Legend of Zelda series, and for those that enjoy looking into level design or the Zelda series, they are a great watch. In a similar but more focused series of five videos, Extra Credits takes a look at the entrance and first floor of Durlag's Tower from Baldur's Gate Tales of the Sword Coast, which he considers to be one of the best teaching examples of dungeon design. He goes over how the dungeon of Durlag's Tower is introduced to the player, encounters design when it comes to monster and trap placement, and how the developers are teaching the player what they need to look out for in the early areas of the dungeon. Some of this being similar to what hbomberguy talks about in his videos on this list, where he mentions how developers get you to interact with a game's mechanics by training you to see them in a particular way.
Honorable Mention: Game Industry
"If more of us are less like this because we think about this stuff and try to communicate with each other about it effectively, everything can and will get better."
hbomberguy talks about Bethesda's anti-critic review policy, using Youtube fanboys as commercials for their products, and the need for critical reviews and discerning customers to help create better games and a better industry. Jim Sterling spends two of his Jimquisition episodes on something that will be relevant now, in the future, and that was definitely relevant in the past (hell we had someone here lose their mind over Watch Dogs). He talks about the people and fandoms that attach their entire identities to products, how game companies allow and often want that to happen, and how media both suffers from and can aid in the creation of the bad behaviors often expected from gaming communities.