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December 25, 2018 13 min read
Dan Teasdale and Panzer are the dynamic duo that make up independent video game development studio No Goblin, creators of Roundabout and 100 ft Robot Golf. They also run Sarge Club, an annual charity marathon of strange and/or terrible video games. Hit them up on Twitter @deliciousbees and @panzerskank, respectively.
Dan: A few days ago I found out that Windows Movie Maker still exists in Windows 10, but instead of being a separate program, it’s now a hidden feature of the Pictures viewer. In unrelated news, here’s a hastily-assembled family album of video game screenshots from 2018.
Panzer: Dan, what the hell is this video? Why did you make this? Now I have to explain this to our family and friends. Red Dead isn’t even on our list, you just like watching the horse eat total shit.
Dan: I’m verifying advertised features vis-á-vis dynamic horse balls. It’s called journalism, look it up.
Also: Looking at this list, it’s wild to me that three of the games on this list came out in the same week in mid-April. Also two came out in 2017, and another came out in 2013. Maybe we’re bad at judging time now we’re old and married.
Panzer: Being married is great but nobody tells you that you instantly age 20 years, everything becomes confusing and you don’t understand social media websites anymore.
Panzer: Man, what a nice little surprise Nintendo Labo turned out to be! Just a fun little activity set for building neat stuff. I don’t know if I have a lot to add to this honestly, it’s just so perfectly simple. I painted the race car to look like a tiny bug.
Dan: Yeah, I’m a 38-year-old man who still loves building LEGO sets and enjoys Nintendo’s charming oddball stuff, so Labo is pretty much tailor made for me. I love how bonkers some of the construction gets, like the cardboard springs on the perfectly balanced piano keys, or building a drum sequencer out of cardboard dots.
Panzer: My pick for number 9 is A Way Out! Pretty much the exact instant this game was announced last year, my good friend Kaubocks and I simultaneously messaged each other asking when we were going to play through it. So we did, and we even made a let’s play out of it! It was a super fun time!
This game starts off as a by the book prison escape story with neat camera work and fun co-op gameplay shenanigans, sure, but then the real beauty starts to come to the surface. A Way Out’s actual gameplay is when it plops you into set piece rooms that are just filled to the brim with stupid pointless actions you can make your character do, like a woodworking shop in the prison where you can endlessly file a board. It’s INCREDIBLE.
The highlight of the entire game for me was when we broke into an old couple’s house and the game let us eat their cookies, wash their dishes, use their bathroom, draw mustaches on their pictures, build card houses, watch their TV, try on their clothes, lie down in their bed. The list goes ON, BABY. Do yourself a favor and set aside a beautiful afternoon with a good friend to blast through this little treat.
Dan: Florence had a steep hill to climb with me at first glance: if you’re doing a linear narrative story without a traditional gameplay loop, then you have to execute it perfectly for me to get on board.
Florence executes beyond perfectly. Beautifully illustrated, it saves interactivity for the times where it’ll impact your experience with the narrative. It’s also a wonderful story about 20-something relationships that I don’t think I have anything to compare to in the gaming space. It’s very much an experience you should grab on your phone, put on some headphones, sit in a comfy chair, and set aside an hour or so to go through.
Dan: You know what has four seasons? Forza Horizon 4. The number of seasons are even in the name of the game. It does paint them into a corner for Forza Horizon 5, unless they include the Forbidden Seasons.
I thought I was done with Forza Horizon after 3 felt like it was stretching the formula thin. I’m still not a fan of the “we’ll just build a dynamic mission for the car you’re currently driving!” design since no challenge or change makes everything bland, but everything else around it is way more fun to interact with. Separate perk trees for cars is fantastic, and I appreciate that I don’t have to deal with an unskippable horny intro cutscene when I boot the game.
Panzer: I’m pretty sure I had regular ol’ vanilla Stardew Valley on my list in a previous year, but THIS year they finally pushed out the update for Stardew Valley Multiplayer. If you were a fan of Stardew and you’ve been putting off trying out a multiplayer farm, this is your official notice to go do that right now. It’s everything I loved about Stardew originally, just a super chill farming sim, but now my buddies are there! We’ve got the extremely good 2 Weed 2 Farm where Weedboy and Smokerella grow our illegal gains (vegetables).
Splitting the manual labor of the farm work is extremely rewarding and you can get your fields very large very fast. Money is shared between all active players on the farm, but honestly this stops being a problem almost immediately due to how much work two or more people can get done. You can choose to work towards goals together, or just sort of chill and do your own thing. It’s farming, there’s no pressure. It’s the exact relaxing thing I really needed this year.
Panzer: So, back in our 2017 list I cautiously put Life is Strange: Before the Storm as my number 10. It only had one episode out, I was feeling kind of optimistic about it. Here’s the 2018 update for you: it’s BAD. I was WRONG. You should play Life is Strange 2 instead, which came out this year and is incredible.
Life is Strange 2 is a new story with new characters, set in the same universe as the original game. We’re only one episode in but it hits all the right notes: the characters are believable and well written, the story is heart-wrenching, and the game itself has mechanical improvements that are slam dunks. It has the first AI partner system I’ve ever seen that feels natural and intelligent. Also, the music choices so far have been really poignant and great, and it turns out that’s a critical part of the LiS experience for me. Episode 2 is due in January, I think! I’m excited!
Dan: What’s up, fellow kids! Let’s do the floss and open L.O.L. Surprises together while we talk about popular new video games! My #7 is Fortnite: Battle Royale’s 25 and 50 person team limited time modes.
I suck at the intended Fortnite BR gameplay experience as much as I sucked at PUBG. Actually, moreso, since the idea of building anything in a high tension environment is the exact opposite of either my skillset or the things that bring me joy in life.
However, the 25 and 50 person team modes are the only time that I’ve felt attached to a team in a BR game, and also the only time since Minecraft that I’ve felt like we were a group that was building a fort together in a game.
I think it’s a crime that these big modes aren’t available all the time, and as much as I have grown respect for him over our shared industry times, I will gladly be the first to testify against Nick Chester when he’s brought in front of the Gaming War Crime Commission to answer for his misdeeds.
Dan: I beat Minit in an hour and a half, and platinumed it (my second ever!) in around three hours. It was worth every dollar. It’s a game with no fat on all fronts and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’ve heard it called “speedrunning for normal people”, which is true, but it’s also a game that maintains a real great sense of personality while you’re rushing everywhere in 40-to-60 second segments.
I’m not saying anything else since it’s so short. Just buy it already, it’s probably 40% off or something while you’re reading this.
Panzer: I spent pretty much the entire summer playing through the Shadow of the Colossus PS4 remake over and over. I think I’m like one trophy away from platinum. This is an incredible remake of one of my favorite games of all time. Seriously, the level of respect they treated this game with is unbelievable. There isn’t much I can add here, it’s just more of what I already loved and they totally crushed it.
Dan: Hitman 2. It’s more Hitman. Done. No more justification needed. Don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe to our Cheffo Elusive Target streams.
Panzer: Yeah I think I kind of having a running theme in this year’s list of “more of what I already loved” and Hitman 2 is like a defining entry in that category. More levels, more stuff to whip at people’s heads, more really amazingly stupid opportunity kills. It’s just fuckin’ great.
Dan: It’s more Hitman. You just have to buy the game, reader. It doesn’t get better than this! Unlock the door and it’s all there!
Panzer: Yakuza 0 has opened the Yakuza DOORS for us. Since putting it on our list last year, we played Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Yakuza 6 this year. We really burned down the Yakuza house with this Yakuza party.
Dan: For Panzer’s birthday we went to Gyu-Kaku. I booked us a table thinking that this place sounded great, and didn’t even realise until a few hours beforehand that it was probably because we’d engorged Kiryu there multiple times and the food in the game looked great. The food is great in real life too, and the staff don’t look at you weird at all when you make the Kiryu eating vocalizations after taking each bite of your meal.
Panzer: The Yakuza series is such a wild fucking ride. Very dramatic and serious story juxtaposed right up next to some of the most dumb fun mini-games ever and a very silly brawler combat system where you beat people to death with trash cans and bikes.
Dan: I assure you that we know what math is. We realised that our #2 game was the other’s #3 game. In list math, that means it’s a tie! Also both these games are so great that neither of us wanted to cede the #2 spot.)
Panzer: At PAX Prime in September this year, we got to meet up with our good friend Matt Kessler. I was complaining to him pretty loudly about how bad the newest WoW expansion pack was turning out, and how my poor MMO addict brain was shriveling and dying as a result. “You should try Final Fantasy XIV,” said Kessler, the genius. “The end game is entirely fashion dress up and finding good furniture for your house.” I was sold.
To be honest, I’d tried FFXIV like two or three times previously, but I could never get it to stick. I’m an experienced MMO nerd, and the start of Final Fantasy is geared toward complete newbies. It’s very VERY slow, and I’d never been able to get past it to the meat of the game. I decided to formulate a plan with my friends. There are certain servers in Final Fantasy that give you a very large XP bonus for your first 90 days playing there. I decided to buy 90 days and roll on one of those preferred servers, with the single intention of getting past the new baby content. At the end I’d either have a new MMO I’d love, or I’d be done for good.
I’m currently on day 85-ish, and I’ll be real as hell with you here: I don’t know if I’m going to play WoW again. Final Fantasy is real, real good. The fashion is fun and cool, and the combat classes get complex and spicy! I’ve reached some raid content and good goddamn I love it. I’m real big into complex class rotations and I am spoiled for choice. The jobs system is like a banquet of mechanics laid out for me to gorge myself on. So many things in this game are smoothed out and made user friendly in ways I’d never even knew I’d wanted from WoW. It’s honestly a delight to play and dig into. My character is a 17 foot tall muscley amazon lady and I am So Satisfied.
I’ve gotten nearly every class to level 60, which is as far as the XP bonus covers on my low population server (the level cap in Final Fantasy is 70). In a short time, when my bonus runs out, I’m going to transfer my character to a busy server packed full of my friends. I’ve been having such a blast, even all alone, I can’t wait to smash my giant huge muscle lady into my friend group and dance emote until they are sick of me.
Dan: Final Fantasy XIV is an amazing MMO hidden behind the blandest first 20 levels of the most generic-ass fantasy gaming ever. I’m not joking. It’s 19 levels of made up fantasy terms while killing garbage in a forest, then as soon as you hit level 20--BAM!--here’s your pirate town and game show casino, also the villains are space fashionistas that apparently couldn’t decide whether they were stormtroopers or waiting to hit the runway in Milan. Man, I wish I could play as the bad guys in FFXIV so much.
For me, FFXIV is the Trackmania of MMOs. It’s full of incomprehensible nomenclature, has a very weird UI, is perfect as a podcast game, playable on the couch, and provides an experience that I can’t find anywhere else. It has a bunch of design choices that seem crazy on paper (your character can switch classes at any time! Trade skills are full classes! Your bank is actually made out of people, and you customize those people! The Bard class comes with a dozen instruments that you can play actual music on in front of people!) but for some reason meshes and works together.
Here’s my starting tip for new players: get the demo, which lets you play free until level 35. Find a preferred server to get that sweet double XP, and only do main story, “plus” quests, and class quests until you hit the level cap. You’ll blast to level 20 in no time, at which point the actual fun version of FFXIV begins, and you’ll have 15 levels to decide on whether to go all in or not.
Dan: My number #2 goes to the wombo combo of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Assassin’s Creed Origins. I am slow to this greatness, unlike Panzer who had Origins on her list last year.
I got Origins as a Christmas present, and then subsequently lost January to Aya’s madcap assassination adventures featuring Bayek. I 100%’ed the first DLC, which reminded me of Burnout Paradise’s Big Surf Island--my high water mark for DLC in scope, scale, and enjoyment. After beating the second DLC, I felt like I’d had my fill of New Assassin’s Creed for the meantime, and was pretty skeptical about Odyssey coming out this holiday.
Holy crap was I wrong. AC: Odyssey is the Mass Effect 2 of the New Assassin’s Creed universe. A ton of system and story design has been boiled down, and it instantly feels like the more “refined” version that Origins should have been. Exploration Mode is how all open world quests need to work from now on, and it makes “follow me” markers feel quaint and old. The light conversation system works fantastically and isn’t a boring dialogue tree exploration.
I have a lot of stuff, so here’s a second paragraph of praise: Kassandra is my new leading Assassin’s Creed fave character, and the way they handle the Kassandra/Alexios choice through the game narrative is a masterstroke idea. The “Minotaur Pre-Trials” questline is inspired writing, and Ubisoft needs to let whoever wrote that helm a whole game. Remember my Big Surf Island comment one paragraph ago? The Greek islands replicate that feeling a dozen times over, and they’re ACTUAL ISLANDS.
When I think about how I’d make it better, it’s all subtractions and no additions. I’d cut the town square generated bounties, because they’re bland as hell and you’re already ahead of the XP curve if you do story missions, cultists and mercenaries. The ship combat is a bit of a slog and I’d keep the character crafting from Origins over the ship crafting from Odyssey. But, there’s so much goddamn content in this thing that you can kinda ignore it and not feel like you’re missing a thing.
The last Assassin’s Creed I finished was 3. The last I even played for more than half an hour was Black Flag. Odyssey was my third ever game platinumed, at 84 hours and change played. I’m more than ready for the DLC. Congratulations, Yves Guillemot and/or Eric Pope.
Panzer: I’ve been watching Dan play this game for the last 700 hours and I have been greatly enjoying Kassandra’s Big Time Murder/Sex Adventures. The writing is top god damn tier to be honest and the game is stunningly beautiful. I can’t believe they fixed the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise??
Panzer: I have never played a game as incredibly satisfying as the new God of War. Every weapon strike, every puzzle solving stone push, every treasure chest smash. It’s all just so weighted and chunky and feels so, so good. They really managed to nail the way the original God of War games feel in my memory, it’s actually amazing.
On top of the perfectly executed combat and exploration mechanics, this game is a cinematic masterpiece. The way they pulled off the one long camera shot for the entire game blew my mind once I realized what was happening. Also, bizarrely for a God of War game, the writing here was really top notch. I love my little cranky son????? I love him. He’s small and mad and I’m Big and Mad and it’s perfect.
Dan: This year, we spent a chunk of time pitching No Goblin Game 3 to publishers. It’s an emotionally draining process, doubly so when the precious incomplete baby you’re pitching to business executives at the peak of the 2018 pitch season is the exact opposite of the early access large multiplayer game they’re almost all incredibly horny for instead.
I mention this because at the absolute emotional valley of that process, when I was the most jaded about how this industry works, playing God of War rejuvenated my desire to make video games. It did it in a way that I think only GDC has done previously. It caught me off guard, since usually my second reaction after playing a big game I loved is “oh god, the amount of blood and tears in this product is intimidating”.
The Leviathan Axe may be the most perfectly tuned element in a video game this generation. The time in the air, the thunk on return, the arc it takes, it’s like staring at the internals of a Swiss watch. Upon staring at it though, I don’t get that stomach sinking feeling of “oh god this thing is a nightmare of cogs”, but instead just feel warm inside and happy at what’s essentially a work of art in audio and configuration form.
At the end of the day, it’s not about how many meta systems are interacting on top, or how much post launch engagement you’re incentivizing, or how early you can monetize your incomplete game. It’s about the feel of Agent 47 lobbing a Dr. Popp at someone’s head, or Kiryu landing a heat action. The deep satisfying warmth you get when the Leviathan Axe slaps back in your hand is the peak of all of this. No matter how brutal things get in our industry, that feeling makes me want to keep making games.
Also the rest of the game is pretty good too.
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