It is that time again. Time to take a look back at what interested us in 2018 and to look forward to what is on the horizon in 2019. Grab a warm drink and settle in for my annual recap post.
My gaming habits in 2018 continued to change from previous years. I think it's fair to say that I likely spent less time gaming in 2018 than I have in any year of recent memory. While I think this is mainly due to time constraints I also think that the experience I'm looking for from games is changing and that has been interesting to reflect on.
I recently tweeted an article from Ars Technica that evaluated why gamers start to drift away from their hobby as they get older. I thought the article did a great job of recounting an experience similar to my own and then diving into research as to why that may happen. If you're interested in gaming habits, or in the types of games that people gravitate toward as they age, it is worth a read.
This is a great article about gaming and aging. It is full of interesting info for gamers and developers. https://t.co/VgzqQqBpBZ
What I have found over the last year is that I am spending much less time playing large single-player focused games and much more time in local co-op or multiplayer games. Gaming for me is transitioning from a solitary experience to a shared activity with friends and family. Most of my gaming time is now spent with my kids and my picks for the best games of 2018 will reflect that.
While I may not have played a ton of games this year here are some of the ones I enjoyed the most in 2018.
Best of 2018
Mobile Games I enjoyed - None
Such is the state of mobile gaming that I literally did not spent any significant amount of time with any game this year. I feel that the industry trend toward free to play mechanics has made most mobile games all feel the same, or feel pointless. Hopefully F5 Games can help to address this in a small way in 2019.
Best Hardcore Games I Played in 2018 - Bloodborne and Dark Souls: Remastered
After hearing so many great things about the Souls games, specifically Bloodborne, I decided to pick it up on sale in February. While it took a while for me to get used to the difficulty of Bloodborne I completely feel in love with the gameplay and dark horror setting. The world of Bloodborne sunk its talons into me and made me spend many a night fighting horrible creatures in our dark living room.
Once Dark Souls: Remastered was released for the Switch I dove into it as well and really appreciated the ability to play in handheld mode whenever I could find a spare moment. I'm currently stuck in Blightown but I expect I'll be playing both Dark Souls and Bloodborne well into the new year.
Best Co-op Gaming Experience - Fortnite
Fortnite was the gaming phenomena of 2018 so I'm sure you already either love it or hate it. And while I'm not one to sit down and play Fortnite on my own, it has been a blast to play with my son. Thanks to the Switch he can play in handheld mode while I play on the PS4 and we can run around together helping him complete challenges. It may not be for everyone, but it has been a great gaming experience for our family this year.
Best Downloadable Game - Bloodstained : Curse of the Moon
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was a very welcome surprise for me this year. I haven't followed the Bloodstained Kickstarter all that closely but when they announced they were releasing an NES style Castlevania throwback game I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Thankfully it delivered a great gaming experience that only gets better the more you play. While the initial game may seem short there is plenty to unlock with additional play-throughs and I've enjoyed trying to find all the secrets it has in store.
If you played any of the old Castlevania games on the NES you should definitely give Curse of the Moon a try.
Game of the Year - Puyo Puyo Tetris
While it may seem to be a strange choice for 'Game of the Year' Puyo Puyo Tetris was, by far, the game I played the most in 2018. There were many nights that my friends and I stayed up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM playing, 'just one more' round of Swap Mode to see who would come out on top. The combination of Tetris and Puyo Puyo in a 4-player single screen game is just fantastic. It's one of the best examples of a 'fighting puzzle game' I've ever seen and I know it will continue to be played throughout 2019.
My son received Super Smash Bros Ultimate for Christmas and we have had a blast playing it together. Other fun games I played this year include Celeste, Hollow Knight, and Towerfall. This year has really been dominated by the Switch in our home.
Looking Ahead to an Exciting 2019
While the Switch has been the gaming system of choice in 2018 there are a few upcoming games on other systems that I'm excited to try. Metro: Exodus, Days Gone, and Rage 2 are all games I'm excited to pick up for the PS4 this spring. I'm also hopeful that we may see Doom Eternal before the end of the year, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that one. There are also likely to be some great Switch releases this year with Bayonetta 3 and Metroid Prime 4 topping my wishlist.
We do have some game development plans in motion at F5 that I'll share more information on as the year progresses. This year we are learning some new technologies so that we can launch our games on more platforms and explore new styles of games. We're also currently working on an update to our website that I'm excited to roll out. Stay tuned to our blog and Twitter account for updates throughout 2019.
I hope you had a great 2018 and an even better 2019 is waiting for you. Thanks for reading!
If you're like us then you absolutely love playing games on the Nintendo Switch. We have been playing the Switch since its release and because of that we are always on the lookout for great new games to play. To help others find games that they may not have played yet, we've put together this list of the Best RPG Games on the Switch. We have a collection of Western RPGs as well as more traditional Japanese RPGs (JRPGs), and we even have a couple games that you may not immediately think of as 'role playing' but we'll do our best to explain our choices.
Take a look and let us know if you think we missed something.
Switch RPG Games Coming Later this Year
Before we dive into our list of the Top 5 Best Switch RPGs currently available we thought we would highlight a couple Switch games that will probably earn a spot on this list in the coming months. If you don't have these games on your radar, or your pre-order list, pick them up now so you can be there on release day.
Just mentioning the name Dark Souls can stir up emotions. For those who have played it and been driven away by its sharp difficulty curve and lack of hand-holding just thinking about it can boil over their temper. But for those who have unlocked its secrets, mentioning Dark Souls will bring back thoughts of victories achieved and challenges overcome like almost no other game in history.
In Dark Souls you can build your character however you'd like, as a strength based heavy weapon master, a lithe archer, or a magic slinging wizard. Exploring this wide open and interconnected world will make your head spin, and leave you holding your breath as you try to reach the next bonfire and create a checkpoint with your health running low. Secret items, secret pathways, and even secret worlds await the adventures who explore every nook and cranny or who can decipher the clues strew around the ruined landscape. It may not be for everyone but, if it sounds like something you'd like, Dark Souls will probably sink its claws in you and not let go.
The upcoming Dark Souls Remastered for Switch looks to be an incredible version of this classic action RPG. With enhanced graphics and a stable frame rate in both docked and portable modes you might find it hard to pull yourself away from this one. While it was originally slated to release in May it looks like the developers are now shooting for a late summer release, so we shouldn't have to wait too long before we get to die again and again.
Octopath Traveler is a highly anticipated Switch RPG that is scheduled to release in July 2018. Described as a '2D-HD' game it has a very distinct visual style that blends together high quality pixel art with interesting scaling and 3D effects. The game itself centers around eight distinct characters, each with their own job, skills, and personality. By switching between these characters you will be able to approach the quests in the game in different ways, which should give the game massive replayability.
Combat in Octopath Traveler is based on the classic Final Fantasy - 'Active Time Battle System' but with some interesting additions from the recent Bravely Default games. These new abilities allow you to 'Break' an enemy's defense by using the correct weapon or magic against them. Once an enemy's defense is broken you can stun them to deal extra damage until they can recover. You also have the option of saving up attacks throughout turns and then spending them all at once to add power to skill attacks or score numerous hits on an enemy at precisely the right moment.
Needless to say, pretty much every Switch RPG fan is looking forward to Octopath, so if you haven't pre-ordered it yet now is the time. Octopath Traveler is set to release on July 13th and there is a demo available on the Nintendo eShop if you'd like to try it out before that.
Alright now that we have the challengers listed, it's time for the main event. Here is our list of the Top 5 Switch RPGs available in 2018!
I know that some people get apprehensive when a game is described as retro, but that shouldn’t worry you here. While the style and feel of the game is a deliberate 90s throwback to games like Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, the developers of Lost Sphear have also learned a lot from the last 20 years of evolution in game development.
The story of Lost Sphear centers around the player restoring 'lost' sections of the game world through the recovery of memories. This is not only an interesting mechanic to expand the game world but it is also accompanied by a cool visual effect that fades in parts of the world as your progress. Once you recover an area that was previously missing you can then enter it and interact with NPCs, raid dungeons, or explore new towns.
The visual style of Lost Sphear is also very striking. It combines the classic pixel art RPGs from the SNES era, such as Final Fantasy IV and VI, with the low-poly 3D style of Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Cross. This style is also enhanced with full HD resolutions and all the latest graphical effects, and it looks great running on the Switch in both TV and handheld mode.
Another area where Lost Sphear compares with classics like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy is through the use of a similar ‘Active Time Battle’ system. This system is augmented with the ability to unlock special attacks and to gain better control over the battlefield based on your player's positioning. As you progress through the game, you also unlock combo moves that allow you to incorporate multiple character's abilities simultaneously for joint attacks that deliver big damage and awesome visuals.
One of the ways that Lost Sphear evolves from its classic roots is by banishing the random enemy encounter that could often feel punishing in older games. There is also no combat on the over-world map so you can freely make it from one region of the world to another without being constantly stopped.
Lost Sphear is a great game that expertly captures the feeling of the RPGs of my youth. If you have fond memories of the SNES era then you should let this game recover your memories and give it a try.
Okay, hang with me for a second. I know that Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle probably isn't what you immediately think of when you hear the term RPG, but I'm going to try and convince you otherwise. M+R (as Mario + Rabbids will now be known) has a party of characters, who progress through multiple worlds and battle foes in highly tactical and strategic battles. It also has player progression through leveling up and a skill tree for selecting different attacks and abilities. Those all sound like RPG elements to me!
Besides this game is such a great mashup of styles, game types, and universes that it deserves to be enjoyed by as many players as possible.
In case you aren't familiar with the game, M+R is a tactical 'RPG' where you build a party of characters from both the Mario and Rabbids universes in an attempt to save the Mushroom Kingdom. You'll progress through multiple worlds that are all beautifully rendered and presented. In fact, the visuals on this game are outstanding. It's almost as if Pixar got ahold of the Mario assets and started working on an awesome new movie but then the Rabbids showed up and everything got tossed out the window.
While the exploration and zany story in M+R are all great it is the combat encounters that really stand out. While at first the tactical combat may seem like a poor-man's XCOM you will quickly be introduced to a deep tactical game that will keep you on your toes. Between multiple weapons, character specific abilities, and varied enemies there is almost always something new to take in to account in each battle.
On top of everything else you can also utilize the position of your party to great advantage. Your characters can take cover behind obstacles, some of which are destructible, and they can then be used as a vault point for other characters so they can reach previously inaccessible locations. This lends gravity to every move of each turn in a way that really satisfies.
I could go on and on heaping praise on Mario + Rabbids but if you haven't taken this wild trip yet then you really just need to give it a try for yourself.
If I didn't convince you that Mario + Rabbids belongs on a list of RPGs, and you like your RPGs a little more on the 'traditional' side, then this next entry is for you. It doesn't get more hardcore JRPG than Xenoblade Chronicles 2! This epic game can easily clock in at over 100 hours of game time in a sprawling open world that will see you soaring through the skies and exploring the backs of massive titans.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes the classic JRPG story and combat styles, and places them in a huge open-world environment that is constantly pulling you to explore and encounter new characters, enemies, and quests. One unique aspect of this series are the Blades, which are living weapons that make up your arsenal as well as drive the story forward. Blades come in different types, some that absorb damage, others that focus on dealing damage, and some that heal. There are also rare blades that can open up new skills, quests, and locations in the game world.
Battles in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feel different from many other RPGs of this type. Instead of being a strictly turn-based affair there are multiple elements of timing to your attacks and abilities that almost inject a combat rhythm to each battle. In addition to this you will need to adjust your tactics depending on each enemy you face as well as consider the positioning of your characters and their blades. While it can be a lot to grasp at times it creates a very deep and rewarding battle system.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also has a well told and engrossing story, littered with lengthy cutscenes, that will take you on a roller-coaster of twists, turns, and emotions. If you're a fan of the drama found in traditional Japanese RPGs then you're in the right place. In addition to all of the incredible gameplay that comes in the main game there will soon be a large expansion for the game that will open up the world even further. You can check out this recent E3 trailer for more details on the expansion.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a fantastic example of taking the traditional elements of a classic JRPG and infusing it with the great advances that have been made in open-world game design over the last several years. If you're looking to really get lost in a grand story and fantastic battles then don't miss this one.
I assume that if you are interested in a list of RPGs then you have probably played Skyrim, if not feel free to just skip down to the purchase button and get ready for the ride of your life. Skyrim is one of the greatest, and most well known, RPGs in gaming and it earns every one of the accolades it has received. From its grand open world, both above and below ground, to its hundreds of characters there is perhaps no better game to allow you to actually Role Play than Skyrim.
Very few, if any, games offer you the freedom that Skyrim provides. The ability to make your own choices, and have those choices impact you and the world is very engrossing. The world of Skyrim is also one of the best to ever be rendered for the screen. And with its focus on allowing you to visit every location you can see there are thousands of incredible vistas for you to discover during your adventures.
So what makes the Switch version of Skyrim different from all the others? First, and most obviously, you can play it on the go! Not only does the Switch make Skyrim portable but it also allows you to pick up and play the game in a way that has never really been possible before. The Switch version also includes all the DLC that was ever released, making an already huge game even more massive. In addition to that you get Switch specific motion controls and special gear drops by tapping your Amiibo during game play. If you have a Link Amiibo you even get a chance to acquire Link's outfit from Breath of the Wild, the Hylian Shield, and the Master Sword!
Whether you missed out on playing Skyrim at its original release or you want to take another stroll through Tamriel to experience all these great new features; the Switch version is definitely the way to play.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, in my opinion, the best game ever made. So not only would it appear at the top of my list of the Best Switch RPGs but it would also sit at the top of my list of Best Switch Games, period. Breath of the Wild is a revelation, it has an open and enchanting world that can be explored in any order you wish. In every direction adventure awaits, and if you can see it you can not only go there and explore it, but you can probably climb it as well.
Not only does Breath of the Wild embrace and enhance the existing open-world style of game but it also upends the existing Zelda formulas that had become so entrenched over the last 20+ years. These changes enable such enormous freedom for the player that Hyrule finally feels like the living and breathing world it has always been only in our imaginations.
Combat in Breath of the Wild is fast and fluid, and thanks to the breakable weapons you are constantly juggling your options to determine how to handle each situation. Exploration is constantly rewarded with new shrines to challenge, new enemies to battle, or ancient Hyrulian secrets to unearth.
In addition to the fantastic main-line story there are dozens of side quests to complete and now several DLC expansions that extend the story and add new treasures to discover. In short, this is a game you could play for years to come.
In the off-chance that you don't already have a copy of Breath of the Wild you should definitely pick it up, it's one game that needs to be in every gamer's library.
There you have it, our list of the Best Switch RPGs Available in 2018. If you think we missed something, or you want to refute our rankings, let us know on Twitter @f5games. Until next time, happy questing!
It is once again time for our annual recap post. This time we'll take a quick look at my gaming thoughts from 2017 and then spend some time discussing what we hope to accomplish in the new year.
Best of 2017
I continue to find it difficult to play a lot of games in a year. Each year I seem to have more and more demands on my time that push gaming on to the back burner. However, I did play several great games this year and I would like to highlight a few of them and explain why they resonated with me.
Mobile Games I spent the most time with - Darkest Dungeon and Fire Emblem Heroes
If you read our 'year in review' post for 2016 you may remember that Clash Royale had sunk its claws into me and never really let go all through 2016. I am happy to say that I was able to shake that particular addiction and put Clash behind me in 2017.
This year I have really enjoyed playing Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone. It has really fun characters and a great battle system that isn't overly complex but still allows for strategy to prevail. There is a grinding aspect to it, and I think its Free to Play mechanics can grate somewhat but I've still had a ton of fun collecting heroes and playing through the missions.
Darkest Dungeon is another mobile game that I have really enjoyed this year and it has become my go-to for iPad gaming. DD is a fantastic melding of party based role-playing, rogue-like difficulty and randomness, and oppressive Eldritch Horror. Darkest Dungeon not only delivers on the gameplay front but it also has a tremendous art style that I really love. In a lot of ways I have become very tired of the 'rogue-like' genre but Darkest Dungeon, as well as another game on my list this year, have transcended the genres problems for me and really delighted.
If you do check out Darkest Dungeon I definitely recommend playing on the Radiant difficulty first. I started my first game on the standard difficulty and found myself in a dark and foreboding pit of despair that I couldn't escape. My second play-through on Radiant is going much better and just seems to have better pacing thanks to the more generous drops.
Game I Started Playing in December 2016 and I'm still playing - DOOM
Since I mentioned in last year's post that I had just started playing the DOOM reboot, and really loved it, I wanted to follow up and say that it's still fantastic. I have played through the campaign and started a second play through on Ultra Violence difficulty and it is still just non-stop fun. I'm really hopeful that we'll see some news about a DOOM 2 reboot sometime this year!
Best Hardware - Nintendo Switch
I was optimistic on the Switch in last year's note and I have to say I was justified. 2017 was absolutely the year of the Switch. Nintendo has once again cleared a new path in the gaming landscape and put themselves in a position to dominate console gaming in the years to come. I am continually amazed at how well Nintendo is able to adapt and excel with an approach that 'common wisdom' would say is a mistaken path.
The Switch fits into my life in a way that no other console ever has. It can do everything, from playing Mario on the go, to awesome party gaming with Puyo Puyo Tetris, or large-screen epic adventures with Zelda or Skyrim. I can grab the console and play a quick level at my desk or slide it back into its dock and enjoy gaming on the big screen. It really is one of those 'magical' products that tend to come along far to infrequently.
Because of the Switch's versatility, and the fantastic game lineup so far, I have been able to enjoy console gaming in a way that I haven't for several years. It has also been a great way to experience a lot of indie games that I would normally miss since the eShop continues to have great releases week after week. Therefore the last few games that I want to highlight this year are Switch games, or at least games that I played on the Switch.
Best Co-op Gaming Experience - Enter the Gungeon
Along with Darkest Dungeon, Enter the Gungeon is the game that brought me back into the Rogue-like genre this year. This is such a fantastic game with tons of humor, great control and shooting action, and a tremendous co-op experience. While I have definitely played this solo, and it's great for a quick 'pick up and play' gaming fix, I have had an absolute blast playing this co-op with my son and brother-in-law. This game is a Steam gem that I would have missed if it hadn't come to the Switch and I am so glad that it did. Hopefully we'll continue to get more and more great indie hits with co-op capability on the Switch this year.
Game of the Year - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I'm not sure what else can be said about Breath of the Wild that hasn't already been covered in thousands of reviews and game design deep dives on YouTube. For me this is as close as we have come to a perfect adventure game. Breath of the Wild is a challenging and moving epic that perfectly encapsulates what Zelda has always meant for me. It is a high mark for all gaming and a game that I will continue to play for years and years to come. Bravo Nintendo!
I have only just started to play Super Mario Odyssey but it also appears to be an absolutely fantastic game. I don't know how Nintendo continues to do this year after year but it's spectacular
I have really enjoyed following Noclip and Mark Brown's Game Makers Toolkit on Youtube this year for their excellent gaming focused documentaries. If you aren't watching these guys yet I would recommend that you start this year.
Looking Ahead to 2018
I am hopeful that 2018 will be another great year for gaming. I'm confident that Nintendo will continue to push the Switch forward and I'm sure much of the gaming around our house will happen there.
I'm also very happy to see that Apple has started to highlight more indie developers, especially developers with premium games, on the new App Store. I hope this will continue and that it will give indies who don't want to travel down the F2P road an outlet to find success.
I am very much looking forward to Monster Hunter: World later this month and I can't wait to sink into another large screen Monster Hunter game. If you are intrigued by Monster Hunter but have never given it try I think this could be the game to bring you into the fold.
Here's To a Great New Year!
I had planned to elaborate a little on our plans for 2018 in this post but it is already far too long. I'll follow this up with a new post next week about F5's plans for 2018 and what you can expect from our next game release!
I hope you had a great year and I wish you an even better New Year in 2018. Thank you to all of our players and fans!
Today we are going to take a look at the third level in our Mario Maker Challenge, Overgrown Tunnels! This level was released a little behind schedule because of Christmas, and the fact that my wife and I were blessed with a new baby girl on December 27th! It took a few days for things to settle down enough for me to get back in the level design swing after that.
For this level I wanted to do something different from the previous two weeks. Both of my previous levels were in the New Super Mario Bros style so this week we are back to old school Super Mario. I decided to place this level underground since both of our previous levels took place in the standard over world. The final change was to make a more 'traditional' Mario level instead of trying to theme the level around something specific like I have in the last couple weeks. So this is my first take at making a standard Mario level, let's see how it went.
If you haven't played Overgrown Tunnels yet, and you want to give it a shot before I dissect it, you can click this link to check out the Mario Maker Bookmark page for the level or you can use the code in the image below to find it in Course World.
Check out my complete playthrough below, with locations for all 3 1-Ups, and then we'll take a look at some of the different design aspects that went into this level.
My favorite parts of the old underground levels was busting through blocks and making it to the top of the stage, so I had to include that in this level. Jumping up through the ceiling not only gets you a nice coin haul but it also gets you access to a secret room that is packed full of Piranha Plants. Making it through this nightmare will net you one of the 3 hidden 1-Ups in the level.
Another aspect of the underground levels that always sticks in my mind is tricky jumps on moving platforms. The latter half of the map plays with this concept and forces the player to time their jumps over a bottomless pit. My goal wasn't to make anything that was too challenging but to make the player feel that they needed to be careful.
I wasn't trying to create a challenging level for this week but the completion numbers ended up being much lower than I expected. There also were just fewer overall plays and no stars for this level. I'm not sure why that is the case, it could be an aspect of not building the level around a theme, or perhaps traditional Mario levels are less appealing to players. We'll have to get more results from other levels as we more forward to see.
This was my first stab at making a standard retro Mario level, and I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure exactly why it didn't seem to be as well received by the Mario Maker community so if you have any feedback for me let me know on Twitter @f5games.
It's that time again. We've made it through 2016 and now it's time to reflect on last year and think about what we can expect in the next. If you're interested, read on for my thoughts on 2016 and hopes for 2017.
Best of 2016
2016 was a strange gaming year for me. As a father, husband, and business owner I have less and less time to sit down and enjoy gaming like I could in the past. Because of that I don't know that I can say what the 'Best Game of 2016' really was, because I may not have played it. Instead I'm going to talk about a few games that I did play this year that I enjoyed or made an impact on me.
Game I Played The Most (and kinda wish I hadn't) - Clash Royale
Clash Royale took hold of me early in 2016 and never really let go. Based on my number of games played I have logged at least 350 hours in Clash Royale since it's launch, and that boggles my mind.
Don't get me wrong, Clash Royale has some fantastic gameplay elements in it, but overall the game is a grind and at this point it really feels more like a compulsion than a good time. This is the first time a Free-to-Play Gacha mechanic game has pulled me in and I don't know that I'm happy with the outcome.
The matches are fun, the interplay between the units is very well thought-out, the skill of placing units in the correct place and time is real, and it's perfectly suited for mobile. It's really a great game, but it's missing something in the later stages as the monetization really starts to kick in that makes it feel more like work than I would like.
One of my resolutions for 2017 is to play less Clash, we'll see if it sticks.
Game I Didn't Start Playing Until a Week Ago But Really Love - DOOM
Confession: I'm a huge fan of the original Doom. When Doom was released I didn't have a PC that could run it but somehow I got ahold of a strategy guide for the game that had maps for every level with all the tips and tricks. I would actually read through that book and imagine that I was playing the game, that's how much I wanted to play Doom! I begged my parents for 4 Mb of Ram to upgrade my PC so I can play Doom. Months later when my birthday rolled around I finally got my Ram and started my journey into Doom and all the mods, multiplayer, coop, and map making that came with it. Doom was a huge part of my early teen years.
But, for some reason, when I first started to see trailers for the new Doom I wasn't all that interested. I think the 'Glory Kills' turned me off to it. It seemed like senseless gore for no reason, which fits right in with the vibe of Doom but because of the high-def graphics and the fact that I'm not 13 anymore it seemed un-necessary to me. So this summer Doom was released, and it got pretty good reviews, and I thought I might rent it, but I never did.
What I did instead was go back and play through the original Doom on my iMac. I was blown away all over again! After more than 20 years Doom is still incredible. Coming back to it after all these years with more experience in game design makes it even better. The level design is incredible, the action is fast and fun, the arsenal is perfect, the puzzles and secrets are great. Doom is absolutely one of the greatest games ever made, and I got to experience all of that again this year. That made me give Doom 2016 another chance and after playing through the first few levels I have to say, it doesn't disappoint!
Doom 2016 captures the fast action, exploration, and attitude of the original Doom and layers newer game mechanics on top of it in a way that enhances the original material. You can tell that every decision Id made while making Doom 2016 was looked at through the lens of the original Doom games. The fat has almost all be cut off of this game in a way that just doesn't happen in modern shooters anymore. Those 'Glory Kills' that turned me off in trailers? They are actually a brilliant addition to the game because they reward you with health each time you execute one. This make you constantly push forward from enemy to enemy in an attempt to keep your health full and clear out all the demons that are breathing down your neck. There was one point in the second level where I was in a large room with, I kid you not, 6 different paths that I could take to move forward, that never happens in modern shooters anymore. I looked from one doorway to another and thought 'This is Doom!'.
Doom 2016 is an absolute blast to play and I am really enjoying my time with it so far. If you have any affection for the Doom of old you should give this new Doom a try.
Best Mobile Game - Super Mario Run
You can play Mario on your iPhone with one hand. Those are not words I thought I would be able to write when 2016 started. Super Mario Run is a great game and an important release for several reasons. Maybe the most important reason is; in 2016 it became clear that mobile gaming is now so large that even Nintendo can no longer afford to ignore it.
Another aspect that I find really impressive about Super Mario Run is that Nintendo's designers were able to completely recreate the 'Mario Experience' after changing nearly every aspect about how players interact with the game. What is most impressive about this is that it's done so expertly that as you play the game it doesn't seem like that much has changed. You make Mario jump, just like you always have, and you move left to right to complete levels. It wasn't until I tried to create a Super Mario Run style level in Mario Maker that I realized how perfectly the level designers had to craft each of the levels in Super Mario Run to make this game feel like a Mario game.
Super Mario Run is a great game in it's own right, it could be better, but I have really enjoyed all the time I have spent with it. It's also great to see Nintendo bringing their un-beatable game design to Mobile and helping push the entire industry forward as a result.
I'm still playing The Witcher 3, my best game of 2015, and it's still incredible. Maybe by my end of year 2017 post I'll have finished it.
I've been slowly putting time into Uncharted 4 and it has that same level of game development mastery that we come to expect from Naughty Dog each and every time they release something. I'm only about a quarter of the way through the campaign at this point but it's been a fun ride.
I received No Man's Sky as a gift at Christmas and have really enjoyed the first 3 hours or so that I've played it. It is something that I can play with my kids and they have enjoyed finding new creatures and flying to new planets quite a bit.
I've decided that I'm done with 'Rogue-likes'. One of our best received games, House of the Lost, is a rogue-like and I have been all about playing them over the last couple years; but I just can't do it any more. After playing Doom (classic) and Teleglitch this year at nearly the same time I realized that I just enjoy a level based campaign progression much better than a game that forces you to play through random levels with permadeath. If I put permadeath in a game again it will only be as a super-hardcode difficulty level that you unlock after completing the game.
Looking Ahead to 2017
I think that 2017 is going to be another fantastic year for gaming, with mobile gaming in particular. The market for mobile games just continues to grow and there are more and more players available each and every day. I'm also very excited about jumping back into game development and releasing a new title for mobile this year!
I am very excited about the Nintendo Switch, and I can't wait to see the full reveal that Nintendo has planned for us in a couple weeks. I'm hoping that Nintendo will do a better job of marketing and reaching out to lapsed gamers to let them know what the Switch is, and based on what I've seen so far it looks like they will.
VR will continue to not be nearly as huge as everyone thinks it's going to be in 2017. In fact 2017 may be the year when people finally realize that it's not the next big thing and start to sour on it. There will probably be a few interesting titles but the market isn't there, the tech isn't there, and not enough people want to play games like that. It's a dead-end for mainstream gaming.
I hope we see something real from Magic Leap and that their AR tech can actually deliver what they have shown in demo form. Augmented Reality that can fit seamlessly into the real world could absolutely be the 'Next Big Thing' in a way that VR can't be and I hope we can start to make some progress toward that this year.
Here's To a Great New Year!
That's all I've got for now. Keep checking in on our Mario Maker Challenge over the next few months and be on the lookout for an announcement of our next game around the time that challenge comes to an end.
I hope you had a great 2016 and I wish you an even better New Year in 2017. Thank you to all of our players and fans and I hope to give you something new to enjoy later this year!
It's time to review the second level in our Mario Maker Challenge, Mario Maker Run! Even though we are only in the second week of this challenge things have already become difficult. In this post I'll take you through some of the aspects of this level design that made this an especially tough one to complete
Mario Maker Run!
Because of the world-wide release of Super Mario Run last week I decided to base this level on that style of fast paced gameplay. In Super Mario Run you are constantly being driven forward to the right and you must time your jumps just right to collect all the coins spread around the level. To try and accomplish this I went through several false starts of levels that just didn't work for one reason or another. In the end I had to settle for a level that moved at a fast pace like Super Mario Run but that didn't stick as closely to the restrictions as I had hoped.
If you haven't played Mario Maker Run yet, and you want to give it a shot before I dissect it, you can click this link to check out the Mario Maker Bookmark page for the level or you can use the code in the image below to find it in Course World.
This level moves fast! I added in key coins to take the place of the collectable coins in a Super Mario Run level and also placed my usual 3 1-Ups. If you want to grab it all in one run you have to quickly jump around the level like a jack-rabbit. Check out my run below and then I'll explain all the aspects of how this level failed to really capture my plans for this week.
My first struggles with this level design were because of the constant movement requirement. Originally I tried to build a level where the ground was covered with conveyor belts that were constantly moving the player forward. That worked in small sections but as you jumped from one conveyor to another your speed continued to increase. After a few jumps you were nearly flying off the edge of the screen. Another problem with the conveyor belt world is that enemies can't traverse the terrain correctly. This meant that I would either have to rely solely on flying enemies or build my level without enemies at all.
After a few failed attempts at making the conveyor belt level work I decided to go with an auto scroll level. While this doesn't completely match the limitations I was going for it seemed like the best I could do with the tools I had available.
Another aspect of the level design that stems from the constant forward movement is the spacing of elements within the level. If you are going to force the player to be in constant motion you have to space out the level so that they have time to identify what action they need to take. I originally spaced the level with this concept in mind but then filled it up with collectable coins and 1-Ups mushrooms that made the level feel too small. Once all the elements of the level were placed it felt like some of the sections are almost stacked on top of each other.
To combat this in the future I'm going to try and do a better job of 'blocking' out the level and placing all the level elements to make sure they have the room they need before adding in enemies, coins, and collectables.
One of my goals for this level was to make sure that it had a higher completion rate than my last level. I wanted to offer an easy path to the flag but still provide challenge in collecting the coins and 1-Ups. I think the stats reflect that I was successful in that but I honestly would like to have seen the percentage in the 40s or 50s.
The Genius of Super Mario Run
Trying to make this level made me really appreciate how incredible the level design is in Super Mario Run. Because everything in the levels is placed in a way that makes it a power-up or boost for the player to reach different areas. That they were able to transform how the levels work to that degree and still make it feel like a Mario game is really a testament to the brilliant level designers working at Nintendo.
This was a very difficult level to complete and I don't really feel like it lived up to my initial expectations. Because of that this design theme may be something I try to revisit at a later date in this challenge. In the end I just don't know that Mario Maker has the tools, or that I have the level design talent with Mario Maker, to pull off a level of this type. Hopefully as we move forward in the challenge I will get a better understanding of what Mario Maker is capable of and I will also improve my skills so I can give it another shot.
The first week of our Mario Maker Challenge has been completed! That means it's time for a review post that talks about the level design as well as what when wrong and what went right with it out in the wild.
Super Mario Boy!
Our first level was inspired by the awesome indie game Super Meat Boy. Super Meat Boy is a tough as nails platformer that countered it's insane difficulty with almost instant respawns and the incredible payoff of seeing all your failed attempts at a level when you finally completed it. The gameplay elements that stick out in my mind most about Super Meat Boy are one hit deaths, wall jumps, and spinning saw blades; so those are the elements I built my first level around.
If you haven't played Super Mario Boy yet, and you want to give it a shot before I dissect it, you can click this link to check out the Mario Maker Bookmark page for the level or you can use the code in the image below to find it in Course World.
One of my goals for the level was to make it challenging, just like Super Meat Boy, but honestly I may have taken it a little too far. When I went back to record a play-through video last night it took me at least a dozen tries before I could get a clean run. While that is par for the course in a Super Meat Boy level it's probably not what the majority of Mario Maker players are looking for if they run into this level during a 100 Mario Challenge. Check out my clean play-through below and they we can discuss some of the design elements in the sections below.
Part of the extreme challenge in Super Meat Boy comes from the fact that it only takes one mistake to end your run. If I wanted to re-create that challenge in a Mario level it meant that I couldn't include power-ups of any kind. That means tiny Mario is the only Mario you get. The major threat in the level comes from the many Saw Blades placed in your path. While the placement of coins can help you understand where safe passage resides threading the needle can still be very difficult.
The other requirement for a Super Meat Boy homage was Wall Jumps, and wall jumping is only available in Mario Maker with the Super Mario U play style. My plan with the level was to initially give the player a stable area to comes to terms with wall jumping around the blades and then put them in situations where they had to use the wall jump because there was no floor below them. As you progress through the level there are fewer and fewer safe areas to stand on and more and more instances that require precision wall jumps to make it through.
Another aspect of all my levels in this challenge is that I will place 3 1-Up mushrooms around the level as a collectable and added challenge. Since the challenge was already so high in this level I didn't go out of my way to hide them but the second 1-Up requires a very precise wall jump to reach.
The level stats reflect that I've built a very challenging level. With only around 1% of players able to complete it, and most of the deaths occurring in the first screen, I have really limited the number of people that can play and enjoy the level all the way through to the end.
I have thought about going back and tuning some of the elements in the level since I uploaded it. There are a few small changes I could make to the opening of the level that I think would greatly increase the number of people who can make it into the level's second half. For now though, I think I'm going to leave it as is. I want to be able to track my progress during this challenge by going back and playing my earlier work and if I'm constantly tweaking levels after they are uploaded it is likely to muddy the waters when you look at all the levels in relation to each other.
After reviewing the level I feel like I did a good job of capturing the play style of Super Meat Boy. I also feel that the difficulty is much too high. In the future I am going to try and do a better job of creating levels that can be completed by a much larger number of players and then use the 1-Ups and other collectables as a way to add a greater challenge for those that seek it out.
That's it for Week 1! I am already working on next week's level and it should be out on Course World this weekend. Because of the huge launch of Super Mario Run this week I'll be using that play style as my inspiration for Week 2.
It has been a slow year for game development here at F5, other projects have taken much of my time and left very little to devote to new games. While I have a couple concepts in the prototyping stage, which I'll try to write about in the future, we don't have any new releases on the horizon. However, I do want to continue to improve my skills and I decided that a fun way to do that could be to use Mario Maker as a game design learning experience. From that idea I have created the 'Mario Maker Challenge'; and it goes a little something like this.
Mario Maker Challenge Rules
I will create and upload one new Mario Maker Level each week for the next six months
Each level will be built around a specific theme or inspiration which I will discuss in a post on this blog after the level has been uploaded.
I will also discuss my thoughts during the level creation process and if the final product met my expectations.
Level stats, times played, likes, completion percentages, will be posted here in the review post
At the end of each month I will take a snapshot of the levels from that month and how the levels stats have changed over time.
I will also keep a running tally of the highest 'rated' levels from the entire batch
What is the purpose of this challenge?
My hope for this challenge is that I will be able to greatly improve my level design abilities by consistently releasing new levels and then allowing the response from the Mario Maker community to guide my hand in future levels. There is a saying in the Game Development community that 'Your first 10 games will be awful', and I think it's pretty true. While I don't feel that all of our previous games have been awful there are definitely a lot of things that I would have done differently if I could go back and do it again. There is nothing wrong with that, this is a learning process just like any other, and I'm not embarrassed by any of the work that we have done. However, through this challenge I hope to make some of those level design mistakes quickly and out in the open so that I can get immediate feedback. With the final goal that when our next game is released the level design will be vastly better than it would have been otherwise.
Why Mario Maker?
If my goal is to quickly create games and learn from the experience there are other ways to go about it. I could actually create very small and quick games that I launch on this website, or Pico-8, or even on the app store, why use Mario Maker?
After reading this post about the Lessons of Game Design learned from Mario Maker I realized that Mario Maker is set up to be a great level design 'classroom' for a few reasons. The first is because you can design and develop a level very quickly, which is what makes a weekly challenge possible. With the time I have available there is no way I could great a new game start to finish each week, which would mean that the number of times I go through the whole design, prototype, polish process would be greatly reduced and I wouldn't learn as much.
Another main reason for choosing Mario Maker is because of the community that already exists to play and rate levels. By creating levels for Mario Maker I can upload them and know that dozens or hundreds of people will play them and offer feedback in one form or another. If I was trying to release new games every week and get the same effect I would probably spend as much time 'marketing' my learning experiments as I did developing them. While that would also be a highly valuable learning lesson, it probably deserves a 'Challenge' all it's own.
So that is my thought process. Use Mario Maker as a tool to improve my game development skills while I'm in-between game development projects. I have actually already uploaded the first level for the challenge and I'll write a review post for it on Friday. I hope you'll check back each week and come on this game development journey with me. Thanks for reading!
The recent report from Eurogamer about the next Nintendo console, the NX, has resulted in a lot of different opinions online. If you haven't heard the news already, the NX is expected to be a completely mobile console, more like a PS Vita than a 3DS, that has detachable controllers on either side of the screen. The reason for the detachable controllers is because the NX is also a 'home console', by docking the NX to your HDTV you can detach the controllers and play games from the couch just like you would with a PS4 or Xbox One.
In addition to the interesting form factor the NX also has another large break from conventional consoles, it is expected to run on a system on a chip build by Nvidia for tablets and smartphones. Specifically, the rumors are that the NX will run on the current Tegra X1 or an, as yet, unreleased successor the X2.
As you might expect, responses from the gaming public have been all over the map. I am very excited and intrigued by this, especially because it likely means that all Nintendo franchises will now be available for one device. Being able to play all of Nintendo's new releases on one device, either on the go or at home, is like a dream come true.
The Future of Gaming circa 2011
After reading the news I quickly remembered an article that I had written on the F5 Games blog years ago, and I actually had to go to the Internet Wayback machine to find it. At the time I was trying to decide what the 'future of gaming' would look like. Based on trends in mobile and console game as of 2011 I envisioned a future where mobile gaming would take over, even more than it actually has I'll admit, and that you would be able to use your phone as your on-the-go gaming device and dock it with your TV when you got home to get your high-def home console experience. While the NX isn't a smartphone, if the rumors are true, not only will it fit this usage style but it will also use the exact same chip family that I predicted would make all of this possible 5 years ago!
I'll post a link to the full article on the Wayback Machine at the end of this post but I want to quote a few sections below that are most relevant to the NX announcement.
On closing the hardware gap between mobile devices and consoles
The real reason that smartphones will quickly move up to fill the role of home gaming consoles is parallelization, or multi-core chips.
Recently, at Mobile World Congress 2011, Nvidia revealed their newest mobile chipset codenamed ‘Kal-El’. This mobile processor, designed for smartphones and tablets, is not only a technological monster, it’s a quad-core chip. This chip, which is planned to hit in products before the end of the year, enables not just 1080p video but 1440p, it has support for 3D video, and it has a 12 core Geforce GPU that will run circles around just about every existing mobile graphics chip on the market. Never content to rest on their heels, Nvidia also showed their roadmap for Tegra over the next few years which displays even larger performance enhancements coming on yearly cycles all the way through 2014.
The Nvidia Tegra X1 that is rumored to be in NX development kits has 8 CPU cores, 256 GPU cores, and can display 4K video at 60FPS. If Nintendo uses a newer version, the X2, it is possible that it could reach Xbox One levels of performance when the device is docked and not worried about draining a battery.
On the power of the dock
The second reason it’s hard to think of your smartphone as a home gaming console is precisely because we’re talking about a phone. A phone is something you take with you on the go, it’s something you keep in your pocket and a device that you have a very personal connection with. Game consoles, however, are something that you bring home from the store, stick under your TV, and then sit down in front of when you want to relax and escape into another world. For the last 25 years, even with all the technological advancement, game consoles have stayed the same in one very important way; they plug into your TV and collect dust for 80%-90% of the day.
I think it is amazing that this standard view of consoles has persisted as long as it has. After buying my PS4 it sat under my TV for months just idling probably 90% of the day. Then in the evening I may get to spend an hour playing a game, or more likely, 2 hours watching a Blu-Ray. Why do we spend so much money for an expensive, hot, and power hungry brick to collect dust in our entertainment centers?
...the Dock doesn’t just have to be a dumb hub waiting for it’s brain to be plugged in. All of the media streaming functionalities that home consoles provide could be included in the hub itself and used when there is no phone plugged in at all. You could still stream movies, and music, and pictures, still watch Netflix and listen to Internet Radio all without needing to dock anything. Then when you plug in your phone you can tap into all that extra power for gaming and 3D movies, and video conferencing, the list goes on and on. Anything that you can do with a current home console you’ll be able to do with a smartphone and an HD dock in the next couple years.
This is all still true of mobile phones, but instead of a unified 'TV' interface appearing when our phones are connected we have settled on streaming content to our TVs on an app by app basis.
The Future ( predicted in 2011)
Imagine a near future where you bring home your new smartphone with 4, or maybe 8, processor cores and a multi-core graphics chip and you dock it with your HDTV. Beyond just providing a new media browsing interface the dock also connects your phone to a power source so it can really crank up the performance and not worry about battery life. That could mean that some of the cores on your phone only activate when docked, or just that the phone overclocks into a performance mode and offers better graphics, sound, and AI when it’s connected to your home system. The dock also acts as a hub for your wireless gamepads, so you can kick your feet up on the couch and start playing your favorite first person shooter, online with your friends. When a call comes in, or you get a text, you can see a little alert in the upper corner of the screen and either accept the call or ignore it until later. If you choose to take the call it could transmit it to your bluetooth headset while you continue to rack up kills in Call of Duty 6. When you’re done gaming you still have access to all of the features of your smartphone, just through a larger screen. You can watch movies, listen to music, check your email, send a tweet, etc. etc. And when you’re done you just pick up your phone and walk away, and you don’t have to leave $400 worth of gaming technology sitting on a shelf not being used 90% of the time.
So there you have it. I'm obviously excited about the NX because I predicted this style of gaming taking over the world more than 5 years ago. Here's hoping Nintendo and I had the right idea.
P.S. - Okay, okay, I'll admit that I missed the mark on what number Call of Duty we would be on by the time this happened. What is it now, 12?
The year is coming to a close and that always puts me in the mood to take a look back and to set some goals for the year to come. Today I'd like to do just that; take a look at some interesting things from 2015 and talk about where I'm planning to take F5 in 2016 and beyond.
Best of 2015
While there is no limit to the number of 'Best of' lists out there I thought this would be a good space to add my own two cents. While I honestly didn't play as many games this year as I have in the past I still feel pretty confident that I saw the best 2015 had to offer. My choice for 'Best Game of 2015' goes to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The Witcher 3 has been winning awards all over the Internet for the last few weeks so you've likely already read about how great this game is. In short, the Witcher 3 is fantastic. The combat is fun and deep, the story is engrossing, the characters are interesting, there is very little of the open-world 'busy work' that you often find in RPGs, and the technology is incredible which makes this one of the most visually impressive games I've ever seen.
In addition to all of those points I feel like the game really excels at telling a deep and adult story. Not adult in that there is violence, nudity and sex but adult in that it shows a world that isn't idealized, and that reflects our own in ways many people may be afraid to admit. Your choices matter in the Witcher 3. They matter in determining what happens in your version of the story and also in determining who lives and who dies. They matter in determining who will be allied with you later on and who will be out in the world, either fighting for your enemies or dead at the hands of some other character. They also matter in how you interact with your adopted daughter Ciri in ways that few games have ever managed.
With all that said, there is one problem that I have with the Witcher 3 which is informing how I make my own games in the coming year. The Witcher 3 is BIG! It's such a hugely massive game that I've been playing it since release and still haven't finished it! I have three small children in the house running around and doing wonderful kid things all day, which means I don't have much time to sit down and engross myself in a game like the Witcher. I have to steal hours at night when everyone else is asleep so that I can live through the adventures of Geralt, and I think that is actually a pretty big problem, not just for me but for gaming in general.
If The Witcher 3 is the best game of the year, and it does have this incredibly deep and engrossing story that resonates with an adult audience, then I want the largest number of people possible to be able to enjoy it. But The Witcher is limited in the audience it can capture, both by it being released on consoles, it being a 'difficult to play' RPG ( in that it is intimidating for many people to try and play games of this type ), and that even after you jump those hurdles you then have to dedicate dozens of hours to the game to see it through.
I'm not trying to fault anyone for this, CD Projekt Red made the game they wanted to make, and it's fantastic. But as I think more and more about it I'm afraid that the traditional 'gamer' game is getting in it's own way and not allowing itself to expand to a broader audience. This is something that I want to try and explore at F5 in 2016.
My Game of the Year Runner-up is Super Mario Maker by Nintendo. I don't think any other game has been played more at our house this year than Mario Maker. Nintendo has done the impossible with this one, they turned a 'productivity app' into one of the most entertaining games of the year. Nintendo literally released a level editor as a game and it's a blast to play with. My 6 year old son has created dozens of levels and loves to see how many people have played or stared them online. He has also played hundreds of levels made by other users and it is incredible to see the inventiveness and imagination that people have come up with.
Mario Maker is obviously a very different kind of game than The Witcher but it excels at being easy to pick up and play either in short bursts or over longer periods of level design. It's depth comes from the constant discovery of new things you see in the levels of other or in trying to accomplish something that the tools don't quite allow and then being wowed at the outcome. It's absolutely a must play.
What's next for F5 in 2016
I'm very excited for 2016 as it will see the release of our next game, and our first release in over a year! As I mentioned above, this year I am very interested in trying to create a mobile game that has the ability to reach a massive audience but that can also communicate something more to them than just mindless or time-wasting action. To accomplish that we are currently working on a new RPG for mobile that will combine a tactical combat system with a story that I hope will resonate with players and engage them on a level that they don't usually see in a mobile game.
As this is a mobile game you'll be able to play it in short bursts whenever you have a couple free minutes but I'm hopeful that the story and character elements will stick with you in between sessions and not only entice you to play more but also give you something to think about and discuss with your friends.
It's a tall order, but I've decided that if I am going to continue making games they need to have more weight than the games I have created before. We'll see how it turns out, but hopefully at the end of 2016 I'll be writing a very different kind of year in review post.
Happy New Year! And thank you to all of our fans and player, I think you'll really love what we have in store for you this year.