GameDaily talked to a number of developers from triple-A, mid-tier, and indie studios about their favorite games of 2018.
As 2018 winds to a close, GameDaily chatted with a number of developers and game workers from a wide range of studios (and studio compositions) about what games they loved this year and why those games are special (to them and to the industry).
Farhan Noor, Senior Technical Artist at Treyarch
Two Point Hospital
While it seems remasters and retro throwbacks are more common nowadays, only a few manage to capture the original's flavour so well while expanding on it. At first glance, Two Point Hospital appears to be just Theme Hospital with a glossy paint over, but an updated UX and deeper gameplay mechanics really make this feel like a natural next step from the original. If you had told me this was a lost sequel, I'd have believed it.
It's also great to see some of the original Bullfrog folks behind Theme Hospital come back for this.
A great concept where it's all about building and managing a survival outpost in extremely cold conditions. It's a somewhat traditional management / simulation game that has you building around a large engine that provides warmth - having the player manage heat levels and power to keep people alive which really makes it feel like you're working to live just another day. While most games in the genre would stop there - Frostpunk adds more to it by often asking you to make difficult decisions for the greater good of survival or to keep people happy.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy*
A remaster that stays true to the original trilogy from the mid-90s. Beautifully remastered, but sticking true to the original design and layout - it's from a time where the concept of exploring a world in 3D space was still new and novel. Despite its age, the layouts still work to this day and are a testament to good level design. The worlds of Spyro may be small, but they play exceedingly well and it'll be interesting to see a new generation of players being reintroduced to a game of yesteryear.
*I currently work for Activision - but was not involved in any capacity with this project
Scott Rudi, Game Director of Rocket League at Psyonix
From a pure enjoyment viewpoint I think Destiny 2, Maelstrom, and Northgard stand out to me as my fun favorites in 2018.
I’ve always been impressed by Bungie’s ability to make their games feel so good, from movement to gunplay and even abilities, which I’ve always found to be tough to pull off. Destiny 2 is my favorite open world shooter with activities against AI and I am impressed with their ability to seed their worlds with many activities that players may partake in if they so choose, or pass by on the way to their chosen quest. The come and go grouping that happens with the open world events work out great - getting random players to work with each other at all is a challenge and they pull it off well. The thing I’m constantly studying with Destiny 2 is how they keep their gunplay engaging with an incredible amount of variety on weapon types, perks, mods, stats… everything. It’s always exciting to find new weapons and try them out.
I’m enjoying Maelstrom despite it being in an early access state. Gunpowder Games really got the core gameplay to feel good, which is difficult in any vehicle-based game and even more so with a sailing/ship game. The world has an incredible amount of lore baked in and it just FEELS bigger than it is. I like to study games that use elegant, simple systems and rules to create a feeling of nearly unlimited replayability; no two matches I’ve played felt the same. It is a great example of how fun a game is has little to do with the game’s budget; it’s the passion, talent, and discipline of the devs that lead to a fun game and Maelstrom is a great example of this.
I’ve recently gotten into Northgard. I’m a huge Civilization fan (and most other 4X games), but I’m not a big RTS fan (hard to top Warcraft III - still waiting), so Northgard was a pleasant surprise for me. I found that Shiro Games did an excellent job of capturing all the things I love about Civ and designed away most of the problems that have kept me from playing RTS for the past decade or so. I have to think and plan, I have to be crafty and resourceful, but I’m not overwhelmed or bored (many RTSs alternate between the two for me). Their design decisions on what to have the player deal with, and not deal with, feel like a lot of iteration was done to find the fun. Their economy balancing feels right for me - if I’m on top of things, I can prosper; if I’m not, I’m in big trouble.
Matias Myllyrinne, CEO Redhill Games
I want to give a shoutout Red Dead Redemption 2, a masterpiece by any measure. You can enjoy this game on so many levels, but for me just wandering the world and soaking in the landscapes is an incredible experience. The time I’ve spent with the story makes me appreciate the care Rockstar has taken in terms of dialogue and period detail. It boggles the mind to imagine the research and technical expertise that went into crafting something with such massive scope.
In terms of a 2018 title that is informing future game design, it is impossible to ignore Fortnite, a game that has been a positive disruptive force on many levels. All of a sudden, the future is here. Cross platform play, an unbelievably player-friendly monetization model, the concept of an evolving map as a core gameplay mechanic… all brilliant. And I don’t think the game gets the credit it deserves for its over-the-top world and visuals, it looks and feels surreal and perfect. The building mechanic is wildly original – no one has been able to emulate this in any meaningful way. Epic are the good guys, I love seeing them win!
Matthew Karch, CEO Saber Interactive
I love basketball and I love cars, so in 2018 the games I most enjoyed playing were NBA 2K19 and Forza Horizon 4. Neither franchise was radically revamped, but the improvements to each were worth the price of admission and the visuals are just jaw-dropping. It takes a lot for graphics to wow me these days and both these games look nearly perfect. As far as informing my own design knowledge, and probably everyone else in games, the top game is Fortnite. In particular, they’ve set the bar for how to treat players and how to evolve a game over time. I’m not sure it’s possible to look at developing any multiplayer game these days and not ask yourself, what would Epic do?
Jamie Jackson, co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Mythical Games
The top game I enjoyed playing in 2018 was PUBG! (I AM TOO OLD TO BE GOOD AT FORNITE!) I have really enjoyed that game for the fun it gave to me with my friends. I recall a beautiful moment that I had with my buddy while we were playing team of 2. I was steering us in a boat to the island, the sun was setting and we were talking about the joy we both felt at impending fatherhood, we had great weapons and so far had encountered no one. I took a photo, it was a moment i'll never forget, pure joy. We landed on the beach and got sniped immediately. We are not very good. But we had many fun times talking, trying to survive and laughing uncontrollably when we screwed up. My very simple take away from it all was this... we truly play together these days. We like to do it in the 100's and we are very happy if we can find ways to do things the designers never intended us to do. It’s an interesting concept to weave into a game design. To make a game that our players control and break. And be happy when they do.
Vincent Diamante, Composer and Audio Director, thatgamecompany
This year, I finally jumped into VR. There are still a lot of issues: growing pains of game design, hardware still getting refined, my own middle-aged eyes… but, I found a VR game that got me hooked. Tetris, after almost 3 decades of tempestuous relationship, got me again with its latest iteration: Tetris Effect on PS4. Even with the same essential gameplay from long ago and the trailing-edge specs of the hardware, the combination of beautiful narrative visuals and breathtaking musical effects make this my must-play game of the year. The single-player Journey Mode is as emotional a story I’ve ever experienced in a video game. Maybe not VR’s killer app, but it’s as convincing a case as any.
Michał Stawicki, Lead Game Designer, Creepy Jar
With a year of cut corners and delivering some low-quality AAA games, the games that took the time to be well crafted were the best for us.
God of War - As we all love The Last of Us, we were waiting to see what else God of War could bring to adult-child relations. And we were surprised how well it built up and expanded the team up gameplay. So many smart design choices were made for “boy” to be valuable in both combat and exploration elements that the player could use. The constant “using” of Atreus to shoot, solve puzzles and read collectibles made you feel dependent but in a good way — build up a relationship instead of simply escorting a talking NPC.
Red Dead Redemption 2 - It's just pure enjoyment to travel through a world with this amount of detail. Production values can be found in every step. From the design perspective, you don't need all these details (no one ever noticed that your horse didn't defecate in The Witcher 3) but here, it’s world building. It's great to see how players pick up the minor details and just immerse themselves in the world doing pointless activities with no need to be rewarded, just to be the part of the world. It reminds you that sometimes just a good immersive moment is the greater reward for the player than loot or a few XP points.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice - It's really inspiring to see a small game going in the opposite direction of many big titles — with trends of going big and giving players options and play style choices. In Hellblade, its largest focus was simply an intimate story of Senua. You don't level up or progress, you just have to learn and accept her limits and playstyle. Even exploration doesn't lead to any rewards, you are just pushing the story forward. It's refreshing to see a game that has its own identity and doesn't adds the hours of gameplay for no reason, even if you can complete it in one evening.
To sum up, we picked up games where good immersive moments were more satisfying than any typical game reward. I believe it's the right direction for 2019 to focus more on the immersive gameplay moments than follow typical design rules everyone's copying.
Konstanty Kalicki, Co-Founder, Thing Trunk (Book of Demons)
Assuming we are talking about 2018 releases? Into the Breach. We value concise and focused design above all and that’s where Into the Breach excels. It’s not a big game and really, it’s as minimalistic as possible while still pulling off captivating storytelling and tactics.
Pawel Miechowski (partnerships manager at 11 bit)
Mutant Year Zero and Hitman 2 - I'd praise both for great entertaining value and for having the addictive element.
Red Dead Redemption 2 - some team members at 11 bit chose this as the best game of the year thanks to its wholefully rich open universe that you can drown yourself in.
GRIS - maybe not spectacular gameplay-wise, but visually astonishing.
Mark Parker, Producer for The Bearded Ladies
God of War. Brilliant focus in the design, master in game story telling between Kratos and the boy, interesting enemy and encounter design. Awesome music.
Red Dead Redemption 2. An amazing immersive experience. The story telling is on point, good characters, great world-building.
Kingdom Two Crowns. is an interesting 2D kingdom builder with gorgeous visuals and a nice simple, almost tower defence like gameplay where you fortify your village to fend of waves of enemies.
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