Jamison Moore's Obligatory Presence

It's not just FFmpeg and REAPER. I also bake cookies.

Pony Island is my Game of the Year

Did you know you have to vacuum under the sofa in the studio? I didn’t, but that’s how slow things are. It’s doldrums, at least until the restored panic of January. Anyway, I’ve been looking back at the games I played in 2017 and none of my favorites are from 2017. What can I say, I’m bad at the indie game zeitgeist or something. Here are a few stands outs, and then we’ll talk about ‘Pony Island’. Also, go play ‘Pony Island’. Don’t read about it. Skip reviews. Just go play it. ‘Wolfenstein: The New Order’ – Not ‘The Old Colossus’, the first one. Well, the first new new one, not ‘Wolfenstein’ or ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein’ or one of the dozen other ones. In advance of Waypoint 101 tackling the game, I played the entire thing over a couple weekends. I… how did I miss this? Fantastic, and the best part isn’t the shooting, but the characters. In a shooter! Also you go to the moon, so ya know, pretty great. BJ’s internal monologue is my favorite bit, but what would you expect from a dialogue nerd? That, and double assault rifles I saw that Mark Brown had covered  ‘Her Story’ on his brilliant Game Maker’s Toolkit, and I hadn’t played it, so I watched the first 10 seconds of his video then bought the game on Steam. My wife commented that she’d heard about it, and was curious to see what I thought, “I want to watch you play it, and lose your shit.” That made me a bit self conscious, but then I was out sick for a couple days. My wife was right. The entire game takes place on an Win95 desktop, watching video interviews recorded years earlier. The mechanics are trivially simple, but the depth is uncanny. ‘Her Story’ handles the gap in knowledge between the player and the player character, who presumably knows the broad story, in a way no other game I’ve played does. It’s brilliant design, and one of the best dialogue focused games… ever? It would’ve been my favorite game I played this year, except for… I’m only going to say two things about ‘Pony Island’: it is a game about making video games, and it’s the best thing I played in 2017. Go play it. Now, an unrelated note not at all about ‘Pony Island’ unless you’ve played it, in which case… When you play a game with the creator watching, it’s a very different experience, and one that can be nerve wracking, especially if you’re seeing an early prototype. Some completed games can give you that feeling even, of having someone watching, listening, waiting to jump in and offer a suggestion. Valve’s developer commentary is a rough example, with dry descriptions of how things were accomplished paired with insight. The Uncharted games do this too, but more in how seamless the design is. As for a more general sense of playing with the game’s maker, Russ Frushtick describes this on the November/December 2017 episode of the Bestie’s podcast from Polygon (when describing ‘Getting Over’), and ‘Pony Island’ gives you the same feeling. It knows what you’re thinking, and knows how it got you to that place. Hang out on Reddit or any Facebook indie dev group long enough and you’ll see frustration, anxiety, and rage at not “making it” as a game developer. All of that is present in ‘Pony Island’, whose creator is a struggling and foiled indie game developer who just happens to be…kinda… sorta the devil? Did I mention it’s a game about ponies jumping over fences? There are also some light puzzle elements, a few really clever challenges, and eternal damnation. If you have any interest in game design, clever narrative tricks, and ponies, you owe it to yourself to play ‘Pony Island’. 2017 was a great year for games. ‘Breath of the Wild’ is still knocking around in my head, as is ‘Dead Cells’ (very good, rage inducing) and ‘Heat Signature’ (games with wrenches are the best), but ‘Pony Island’ is what stuck with me. ‘Her Story’ almost did it, but not quite. Outside of games, the cyberpunk role playing podcast ‘COUNTER/Weight’ dominates, and that’s in a year with ‘Blade Runner 2049’, which is very much my jam, but missed in some important ways. It should be an interesting 2018, especially when I get a chance to play everything else that came out in 2017…]]>