Psychonauts

Twitch has revealed the line-up of games that Twitch Prime members will receive as part of their subscription in May, including Psychonauts and Gone Home.

Neither of those headliners likely need much introduction but, as a refresher, Psychonauts is Double Fine's inimitable brain-probing 3D action platformer - a classic that still hasn't lost its power to amuse and delight, some 13 years after it first released.

Gone Home, meanwhile, is developer Fullbright's fiercely atmospheric, but unquestionably divisive, exploration of family life and family strife - as told in walking simulator form. That one didn't resonate with Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh back in 2013 as much as it did for others.

Read more…

Gone Home - Fullbright
Hi all! Just a quick note. We found that in the prior update we released, a graphical bug was introduced where a texture showed up as missing. We've submitted a small patch to address this issue. Everything else should be the same, but as usual, if you have any issues with this patch, please report it in the Technical Support subforum! Thank you! https://steamcommunity.com/app/232430/discussions/1/
Gone Home

 Where The Water Tastes Like Wine 

Story adventure game Where The Water Tastes Like Wine struggled critically and flopped commercially, lead developer Johnnemann Nordhagen said today in a post-mortem of the game, in which he argues that its difficulties don't bode well for experimental indie games. 

"Commercially, it’s a disaster," Nordhagen said. "I can’t discuss exact numbers, but in the first few weeks fewer people bought the game than I have Twitter followers, and I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers." (At the time of writing, Nordhagen has 4,272 followers.) 

Although Nordhagen received support from publisher Good Shepherd to complete and market the game, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine has yet to break even. "So far, I have made $0 from the game," he said. "That may look like a high number, but consider that it took four years to make — that works out to approximately $0/year … And then once you factor in the ~$140,000 I spent paying my contractors and collaborators for the game, you begin to see that maybe it wasn’t, financially speaking, worth it."

Where The Water Tastes Like Wine

"Joking aside — that’s dismal. And terrifying," Nordhagen said. "At the end of the day it’s astounding that a game that got this much attention from the press, that won awards, that had an all-star cast of writers and performers, that had a bizarre celebrity guest appearance(!) failed this hard. It scares me." 

I m not sure that games like this one can continue to be made in the current market.

Johnnemann Nordhagen

To Nordhagen, it's evidence of a growing trend for indie games: quality, acclaim, and attention aren't guarantees of success. "That last part should be worrying for anyone in the indie games industry," Nordhagen said. "[Where The Water Tastes Like Wine] could have been a non-commercial game, but it would have had to be very different. It would be far less polished, it wouldn’t have had the collaborators that it did, I could not have paid people who couldn’t afford to work for revenue share or for the love of the game (thus, I fear, cutting out some of the most valuable voices that this game was a platform for). I could have developed it as a side project, but it took me four years as is. Basically, I’m not sure that games like this one can continue to be made in the current market." 

Nordhagen also discussed the development factors he believes contributed to Where The Water Tastes Like Wine's uphill battle. For example, it received relatively little playtesting, especially close to launch, and it abruptly lost both of its main artists mid-development. "I didn’t originally have the knowledge I needed to tackle many of the issues I encountered during development," he said, adding that the game itself "was too much to take on as a solo dev, and especially too much to take on as a commercial product." 

Gone Home

Nordhagen previously worked as lead programmer on Gone Home, which was well-received when it released in 2014. Encouraged by Gone Home's success, Nordhagen was optimistic about Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. However, in 2018, he's unsure if creating games like these is even feasible.  

"In 2014, starting a similar project seemed like a good creative and financial risk," he said. "Four years later, making any commercial game at all seems like a bad idea, and taking on the risk of an experimental, ambitious game like Where the Water Tastes Like Wine sounds terrifying."  

2013 I think was a very different time for smaller indie games

Steve Gaynor

Writer and designer Steve Gaynor, who also worked on Gone Home, made a similar point about experimental games when we spoke to him following the release of Fullbright's Tacoma, a delightful narrative-driven game whose sales paled in comparison to Gone Home's at launch.

"I think there were a lot of things about Gone Home’s launch that were kind of 'lightning in a bottle,'" Gaynor said. "2013 I think was a very different time for smaller indie games coming out that were kind of reaching into the triple-A fidelity space. Also I think that we were lucky to be responding to what I think was a real desire for more games that were less violent or more focused on story or whatever. And so yeah, Tacoma’s release I think has been a much more realistic version of what launching a game is usually like."

Tacoma

Nordhagen's post-mortem focuses on the game's development and reception, but he's not the only member of the team to look back on Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. Lead editor Laura Michet wrote a lengthy analysis of the herculean task of coordinating the game's many writers, and several writers, like Emily Short, have explored how they wrote their individual characters. You can find more analyses in Nordhagen's post. 

Gone Home - Fullbright


We're excited to announce that at long last, we're updating the PC version of Gone Home with some extra features from our console release! First and foremost, Gone Home now includes official language support for:

French
Italian
German
Spanish
Japanese
Russian
Brazilian Portuguese
Simplified Chinese!

Of course, your favorite fan translations https://fullbright.company/localization/ will still work as well.

We've also added Steam Achievements, as well as Steam Cloud Saves, and a general engine upgrade to a newer version of Unity that should improve performance and compatibility. These updates, aside from specifically Steam-based features, will be coming to DRM-free platforms as well.

If you have any issues after applying the patch, please visit the Technical Support forum at http://steamcommunity.com/app/232430/discussions/1/ or email our partners at General Arcade at support@generalarcade.com

Known issues:

* Commentary subtitles and Achievements are not yet translated in Russian and Portuguese.

Thanks for playing!
Gone Home - Fullbright
Hi there! With the dust settled from shipping Tacoma, we're putting some time into updating Gone Home to carry over some features and improvements from the console release of the game. Specifically:

  • Official support for a number of languages (fan translations will still be usable as well)
  • Steam Achievements
  • Cloud saves
  • Unity version upgrade with improved performance and compatibility
  • Some minor bugfixes

While this work is ongoing, Achievements may be visible on Gone Home's Steam page, but they won't be obtainable until the update patch goes out for the game. So Achievement hunters, hold off for now! We do not yet have an ETA for when the update will be finished, as we're still working on integrating these features and have a number of bugs to fix, etc.-- but keep an eye out, and thanks for playing!
Gone Home

Tacoma is a marvellous piece of interactive fiction set onboard an abandoned space station. You play a mercenary on a mission to download important data from the vessel, but as the data slowly streams onto your neat futuristic hard drive you're free to wander the corridors and examine augmented reality recordings of the final days of the crew. We gave it a score of 84 in our Tacoma review

We recently caught up with Fullbright's Steve Gaynor to discuss launch, how the core AR recordings mechanic was developed, the changing state of the indie market, and the studio's future.

PC Gamer: Obviously Gone Home was massively successful for you, critically and commercially. There was always going to be a big element of expectation on you guys because you set the bar so high. It’s a different game, similar in the sense of non-combat, exploration and all that kind of stuff, but specifically compared to Gone Home, how has Tacoma been received critically and commercially? 

Steve Gaynor: Well I think it’s like you said, we only have one data point to compare it to. I think there were a lot of things about Gone Home’s launch that were kind of 'lightning in a bottle'. 2013 I think was a very different time for smaller indie games coming out that were kind of reaching into the triple-A fidelity space. Also I think that we were lucky to be responding to what I think was a real desire for more games that were less violent or more focused on story or whatever. And so yeah, Tacoma’s release I think has been a much more realistic version of what launching a game is usually like. 

It hasn’t been a massive runaway explosion in the way that Gone Home was. It was a successful game and got a lot of attention but on top of that it was just the four of us making a game in our basement, so now we’re actually a company as well so the stakes are different and everything. 

It’s been a very different experience between the two games, but I think that we're part of this landscape where there’s so much good stuff to play. Like, I am behind on my backlog of just stuff that's come out in 2017 and I guess I have an excuse because I was shipping a game for a lot of it, but everybody’s busy, right? I feel like I don’t know anybody who isn’t, "Oh yeah, that came out too and I still haven’t gotten around to this". I think that we’re part of a changing landscape where people play more stuff more slowly, like over time. [Tacoma's] had a really positive response from people who have gotten to play it so far, and hopefully that means it continues to do well on a different timescale than if we’d been in the landscape of three or four years ago.  

Isolation is a consistent theme across both games. Why do you think you and Fullbright are so drawn to isolation? Is it a design thing or is it a personal thing? What is it about creating isolation in games which can be so powerful?

Steve Gaynor: That’s a good question. I think that making being alone engaging, or having this isolated character being a compelling experience, is one thing that games can be uniquely good at, you know? When you try to think of other media especially, like film or television or something, there isn’t a lot of media that really focuses on someone being by themselves completely. I think that’s because it’s hard to express and make compelling in a lot of media, and games are really about the player’s individual experience. 

As at any small studio, but definitely with Fullbright, we need to do a lot with a little and being able to choose like “OK, our version of that is just you and the environment, and how can we explore every aspect of what you can do with that in a way that hopefully feels really full and complete and not kind of surface level but really making the most of the few elements that are there. It’s hopefully something that also plays to the strengths of, yeah a small studio to make an engaging experience without having to blow it out into a huge triple-A production.

How did the 3D AR recording system develop? 

When we first started working on the game, we had the AR character recordings, but they were much more isolated and they were much smaller scale and you could do less with them. They were really much more of visual audio diaries, and we’ve seen those in a lot of games where you sort of walk in and a hologram appears and it says some stuff and you watch it and then move on, and we got that into the game.

Once we arrived at that idea of all the characters are moving around you in this one big scene that exists in one area of the game, we had to change how we were writing those scenes and record with that in mind.

Steve Gaynor

As we started looking at it, seeing what we were doing with it, it really pushed us to make it a lot bigger and more complex and have the player be more directly involved, and led to the version of how we use them that you saw in the game, which is like—okay, this isn’t just like you come in and you click and you stand there and watch this animation and this character telling you something, you have to kind of think more broadly about the space you’re in and the scene that you’re in and what the timeline means in comparison to where all the different characters are. 

That meant that we really did have to change our production approach and consider how we were building these things, because once we arrived at that idea of all the characters are moving around you in this one big scene that exists in one area of the game, we had to change how we were writing those scenes and record with that in mind, and then build the fast forward and rewind system. 

But for us, I think that if we’re going to expand our scope in a game that we’re making, we think of that “do as much as you can with as few elements as possible” thing; if we’re going to invest in something by expanding it or increasing its feature set then focusing on something like Z-Recordings that give you access to moments in these characters’ lives, that’s the kind of thing that makes sense to say “Let’s build on that”. Let’s make that have as much to it as possible. 

And again it’s probably not fair to compare Gone Home and Tacoma but given it was so successful and it was you guys’ breakout hit it’s inevitably going to happen. I’m a big fan of Gone Home myself, but Tacoma for me is a better game. What do you think, do you think it’s a better game or is it fair to compare the two? 

Well, that’s the thing that’s been really interesting, you were talking about reception earlier and I mean Gone Home definitely in aggregate reviewed better than Tacoma. On some level I feel like it kind of doesn’t matter if Tacoma or Gone Home is a better game, depending on how you conceptualise that. So I guess what I would say is I think Tacoma is more interesting and has more going on in the mechanical gameplay space. You’re managing more things and I’m proud of the job that we were able to do of making what I think is a relatively complex way of thinking about these AR scenes pretty intuitive. We never really tutorialise it, we just kind of put the fast forward/rewind UI on screen and people just kind of get it.

I think is really good but I think the flipside of it is that Gone Home I think connected with more people on a more visceral, emotional level of personal identification. I think that it really is this big open question of what makes something a better game, you know? Is it the construction of it, or how well designed, or how well considered different elements of it are, or is it just the feeling that people walk away from the game with? 

I think that Gone Home isn’t a worse game, I think maybe it’s a simpler game. I think it has much less to it in a lot of ways but maybe that’s a strength, honestly.

You mentioned the landscape that Gone Home entered into in 2013, how do you think Tacoma would have fared entering into that landscape if Gone Home wasn’t there and Tacoma was your first game? 

I would think and I would hope that it would have done well. I also think that it’s a very strange place to come from to be making a follow up to something that is well known and was well received and to some degree I think has developed some amount of a cache or status around it in the intervening years, because it just means that Tacoma in a lot of ways couldn’t be judged on its own, you know? 

There was no review that didn’t start with talking about Gone Home for a while, and then talking about Tacoma. It’s a sort of unknowable mental exercise to be able to be like 'I wonder if someone just totally encountered this thing blind, how their feeling would be' versus 'I remember when I played Gone Home, so let me have that be my starting point and then start thinking about this thing.' 

That’s something that I think is actually more true of some players compared to journalists. There’s probably more people who are just running into Tacoma either for its first time or they’ve heard of Gone Home but not played it, or they played it but it was a while ago. It’s a very strange place to be, kind of like you were saying, to say 'what would people have thought of this if it didn’t have a precedent before it?' Well that means if it theoretically came out in a different year or under different circumstances, and that’s impossible to really judge but it’s certainly... it’s very much a factor, you know?

The term “indie” has changed quite drastically since Gone Home came out, do you think that the indie market at the moment is saturated?

Well, that’s hard to say. I think that’s there’s definitely much more in the market now, I don’t know that saturation is necessarily how I would think about it. There’s a lot more out there which means a lot more people can have their interests served by different titles. But it also means that fewer indie titles are going to be 'the thing' that literally everyone’s buying.  At some point, that means that the tide shifts and more people that are trying to release games are doing poorly than well—though that’s always true! 

If you look at the total number of games released on Steam or whatever, it’s gone up an enormous amount but I think also the number of good games that you might actually want to play has gone up a lot as well! I think that “market saturation” is certainly a bit extreme, but I also feel like we are at that point where for any given person who’s paying very much attention, there’s too much to play, so how do you become one of the things that people actually might believe in and put their valuable time into? The equation is, I think, way different. 

You’ve commented on Robert Yang’s blog on the past on social media, and one of his blog entries praised Tacoma but also touched upon its failings and I don’t necessarily agree with this myself but one of the things he raised was the fact that Tacoma has faceless characters that identified to players with colour and voice and things like that. Do you think that’s a fair criticism, that some players find it  difficult to relate to Tacoma’s cast because they’re faceless?

I’m not going to argue against anyone’s personal take on something like that, I think yeah if any given player feels like 'yeah, I couldn’t connect' for this that or the other reason, I think that’s totally valid. It’s a balancing act, right? I think there are people who are going to find Gone Home not to be engaging because it’s just 'well, nothing happens' or 'I never see this character, I only ever hear about them from others in this game.' I think in Tacoma, it’s definitely a different equation in terms of there are characters there, but they’re abstracted and simplified. I hope that our ability to project how we imagine the characters to be, our interpretation of those moments onto the characters, is more powerful than what would we could have put on screen as a team, even as a large scale, high-budget team.  

I think that there is the ability that players have to hear a voice and see body language and put themselves in that space. We have those abilities to see how that would be in our own head, hopefully in a way that, like reading a book, that bridges that gap in a way that’s unique to each of us as we’re playing.

What is the future for Fullbright, what’s the next big project? I know you might not know exactly or be able to tell me, but has Tacoma’s reception altered your outlook or are you guys looking to the future once the dust has settled on Tacoma? 

Yeah, I think that as a studio you always have to take it one step at a time. We definitely are not a studio where we have already started pre-production on our next thing or anything like that, we’re a single project studio. There’s a lot of post-release support that you end up doing, as far as patches and all that kind of stuff. Also when you’ve been working on a game for three years, you need to take the time afterwards to get some distance and not necessarily just dive straight back into production. 

We’re working on some stuff internally and keeping people busy, but only as busy as we need to be. We’re kind of trying to take the time we need to consider what the next thing that we want to do really is as opposed to diving in. There is definitely some danger, or can be some danger, to making big decisions too quickly after you’ve done something like shipped a game that you’ve been working on for a long time.

I was reading about The Chinese Room recently, and they’re taking a step back from game development at the minute. Dan Pinchbeck spoke about Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and he said that they stumbled upon the “Walking Simulator” for want of a less hackneyed term, and he insinuated he doesn’t necessarily want to be pigeon-holed into making games like that for the rest of his life. Are you worried about being typecast as the “walking sim developers” or do you think doing a “procedurally generated roguelike” or whatever is within your scope? 

I think and I hope  that we will continue making things that we feel excited about and that fit what we’re good at and what we’re interested in, and I don’t know if that will mean that it’s always a first person game or—like you’re saying—a game that’s about isolation or about discovering characters in an environment or whatever. Maybe yeah, maybe not.   

I think that what’s more important to us is what our team is invested in. I hope that if we make something that in and of itself is cool and exciting and that we believe in that there will be an audience for it. I don’t know how close to what we’ve done already that means we will do in the future. But I think that we do, that it is on us to surprise the audience and do stuff that, even if it feels close to or similar to or drawn from what we’ve done before, it also feels like its own new version of it.

Gone Home

Despite launching over four years ago, over 50 new Gone Home videos were uploaded to YouTube yesterday. That's according to distribution data site SteamSpy, who also reckons Fullbright's latest game—Tacoma, which was released just over two months ago—had just three

Fullbright's Steve Gaynor has now described Tacoma's reception as "a very different experience" from Gone Home's 2013 launch—one which has provided he and his team with "a much more realistic version of what launching a game is really like." Gaynor tells me that the videogame landscape has since shifted considerably, and that Gone Home's runaway success met the demands of a then shifting industry: away from violent videogames into more experimental territory.  

As our Andy explained in his review, Tacoma is a great game yet it's reception against its forerunner has been lacking—a fact underscored by Gone Home's 700,000+ sales, and Tacoma's ~10,000. Even considering the difference in age, this is a big gap, and while Gaynor acknowledges the evolving nature of the business, he also reckons Tacoma has been in some ways hamstrung by Fullbright's previous success. 

"I think it's a very strange place to come from to be making a follow-up to something that's well known and well received," says Gaynor. "To some degree I think it's developed some amount of cache or status around it in the intervening years. This means that Tacoma in a lot of ways couldn't be judged on its own. There was no review that didn't start about Gone Home for a while before then talking about Tacoma." [in Andy's defence, Gone Home is mentioned just twice, very briefly, in his review.]

Gaynor continues, suggesting that this singular datapoint outlook makes perspective difficult. He describes a Gone Home's launch as lightning in a bottle, and that personal identification played a huge part in its appeal.   

He adds: "It's an unknowable mental exercise: If someone just totally encountered this thing blind, how would they feel about it, versus, 'I remember playing Gone Home, let me have that as my starting point'. That's something that I think is more true of some players compared to journalists. There's probably more people who are running into Tacoma either for its first time, or they've heard of Gone Home but haven't played it, or they've played it or it was a while ago. 

"It's a very strange place to be like: well, what would people have thought of this if it didn't have a precedent? If it theoretically came out in a different year or under different circumstances, or whatever. That's impossible to judge, but it's very much a factor which is something that's inescapable.  

"I feel like it's a learning experience for us. I think that it is much harder to be one of the indie games that breaks through in a massive way now. Also, we have more overheads now and need to do more with the money that comes in so far as running a company is concerned. I would say that I would have loved for Tacoma to be make more of a massive runaway splash, but I also recognise that I'm also coming from a 2013 point of view on that. That's something that's really interesting—I think Steam both drives and responds to the game buying environment."

Our full interview with Steve Gaynor—wherein the Fullbright head honcho chats about the above in more detail, the challenges of creating Tacoma, and Gone Home's plumbing—will be live in the coming days. 

Gone Home

Gone Home and Tacoma creator Steve Gaynor reckons more first-person games should implement Fullbright's 'Pack Back' mechanic, so as to create less clutter. Is this news? Probably not but it's Friday so I hope you'll humour me either way. 

Seriously, though, what is the deal with first-person games that let you pick up and examine items, before having you discard them carelessly on the floor? Have you ever tried placing said items back where you found them, without them toppling or missing their target entirely? It's near impossible. I've lost count of the number of picture frames I've knocked off desks and books I've recklessly pulled from shelves.  

Gone Home and Tacoma's 'Put Back' feature sidesteps this ordeal by returning items from whence they first came. Simple, really.

"I will say I definitely miss it in some games, where I'm like: Oh, just let me just be nice about where I'm putting this object!" says Gaynor. "The thing is, it's a really low-tech solution for us. In a game engine there are trigger volumes that are like a 3D cube in space which, when you interact with it, does different things. 'Put Back' for us is where there's a volume around the place that the object started out."

Gaynor continues: "If you're aiming at it and click, it just puts it back nicely instead of throwing it. Because it is where the thing originally was, it's where you tend to be already aiming. It's the easy default thing. It takes more effort to throw something on the floor than it does not. 

"Anybody who wants to copy 'Put Back' into their game—I more than invite you to do so. I will be happy to have that feature when I play your game as a player." 

I suggest to Gaynor that if you acted the way most first-person games have us behaving in real life you'd get into trouble. Imagine picking up a mouse or a cup of coffee at work and then throwing it on the floor thereafter? You'd get fired on spot. 

"Right, exactly," adds Gaynor. "It's like: This guy's Put Back feature is broken. Okay, you're not going to get paid."

Okay so this definitely isn't news. But let's consider it a PSA. 

Look out for our full interview with Gone Home and Tacoma creator Steve Gaynor next week, wherein I promise we explore more sensible subjects.

Gone Home - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Jamie Wallace)

Humble Trove September 2017

For those who don’t know, Humble offers a subscription service, appropriately titled ‘Humble Monthly’. For $12 / 10 a month, you get access to a stack of Steam keys each month. The collection of games are only unveiled at the end of each month (save for one early unlock), but are usually valued at around $175, which ain’t too shabby. The Humble Trove is a nice added bonus that subscribers to the service have access to, adding a batch of DRM-free titles to the set of games given out each month.

(more…)

Dungeons of Dredmor

When we debuted our list of the best indie games in 2017, we said, "Consider this the beginning of a conversation, rather than the final word." We wanted the list to spark discussion among our readers and also to be something we continued thinking about. Great new indie games are arriving every month—by the time we published it Divinity: Original Sin 2 was already becoming a favorite among our writers. There were also plenty of games we voted for that narrowly missed out on the top 25, but which we thought deserved a mention regardless.

That's why we're updating our collection of the best indie games, and will continue to do so a few times a year from now on. The original 25 are still there if you page down, but at the top you'll find some personal favorites that missed out before, and the new hotness. This is supposed to be a list of the best indie games to play right now after all, and these are the games we recommend today. 

Into the Breach

Released: 2018 | Developer: Subset Games

Jody: Turn-based games don't always respect your time—opponents who take forever, entire turns where nothing happens, animations that feel like everyone's wading through stew. Into the Breach does not waste your time, which is apt because it's about time travel.

In the future giant bugs crawl out of the ground and ravage the world, and our only hope are mech pilots from an even more distant future who travel back to save us. As a band of three pilots in vehicles that would make cool toys, you're humanity's last hope. Fortunately, you can see what the bugs plan one turn ahead, and can dodge out of their way so they attack each other or dodge into their way to protect a building full of civilians they were about to demolish. It's a mech vs. monster dance-off.

And it's conveniently bite-sized. Maps are small, load fast, and only have to be protected for a few turns, so it feels worthwhile even if you've only got minutes. With hours to spare you can play a full run, save the day, then take your favorite pilot and leap back into a different timeline to do it all again.

Enter the Gungeon

Released: 2016 | Developer: Dodge Roll

Shaun: Enter the Gungeon is an arcade roguelite about shooting bullets with bullets. In other words, the enemies are ammunition. As one of four distinct characters, you'll dodge-roll, kick furniture and, most importantly, destroy bullets with bullets. There are hundreds of distinct weapons, ranging from a bow and arrow through to guns that shoot actual bees.

Enter the Gungeon exists in an absurdly busy genre: each week I write about a new roguelite. But Enter the Gungeon is special because not only does it nail the essentials (shooting, movement, sheer variety of weapons and items), but it also doesn't complicate things too much. Other arcade-centric roguelites like Flinthook and Rogue Legacy have had a good go at mixing compelling action with a simplified approach to the genre, and while each are great they end up feeling repetitive: like a jumble of the same rooms. But it's the weaponry that keeps Enter the Gungeon fresh. It's also really charming, somewhat against the odds.

Austin: I'd also like to add that there's a gun that shoots guns that shoot bullets.  

Frostpunk

Released: 2018 | Developer: 11 Bit Studios

Chris: It feels strange to play a city-builder that's not open-ended and doesn't let you tinker with your city forever. Also strange is that no matter how efficiently you design your city, your residents may kick your ass out of it due to events that take place elsewhere. But that Frostpunk does things differently is one of the things that makes it great.

Frostpunk is both grim and beautiful, a blend of survival and crisis management that leaves you facing tough choices, sometimes unthinkable ones, as you attempt to build a city that will protect your residents from a world gone cold. You're not just trying to keep them warm and fed, but keep them hopeful, and that's no simple matter when the only thing more bleak than the present is the future. In addition to building, gathering resources, and sending expeditions into the frozen world, you have to grapple with passing laws that may save your citizens' lives but at the same time may erode their freedom. There's rarely a moment that's free of tension and worry, and rarely a choice that isn't second-guessed.

Don't Starve / Don't Starve Together

Released: 2013 / 2016 | Developer: Klei

Jody: Klei's 2013 survival game is a playable Edward Gorey book where you'll probably get eaten by dogs or starve during the long winter—a possibility the name does warn you about, to be fair—while learning how the ecosystem of its unusual world works. You discover the importance of the wild beefalo herd, and the value of dealing with the Pig King. 

And then you do it again, with friends.

The survival games that followed Don't Starve filled their servers with desperate lummoxes all flailing at trees and rocks and each other. Don't Starve Together made multiplayer survival into something that's not as easy to make memes of, but a lot more fun. Sure, you can play it competitively but it's best as a co-operative village simulator where you start by pooling your rocks to make a firepit and eventually you're taking down bosses then crafting statues to commemorate your victory in the town square.

Celeste

Released: 2018 | Developer: Matt Makes Games

Shaun: Celeste is a tough 2D platformer with a 16-bit retro aesthetic. If I had a pixel for every time I’ve written about a game with those descriptors, I’d maybe have enough to render Crysis. So what makes Celeste special? The reasons are many and varied: firstly, it carries itself differently to other deliberately hard platformers like Super Meat Boy and N++. Studio Matt Makes Games wants everyone to finish this game, not just Kaizo Mario World speedrunners, so its pacing is careful and its attitude encouraging. While protagonist Madeline doesn’t have the most novel moveset in a platformer (she can grab certain walls and dash through the air), the action is precise, smooth, and unusually, you’ll actually care about her journey. 

Perhaps the variety is what really elevates Celeste: this is a game with set pieces that aren’t just saved for the boss battles, and while it is fundamentally a series of platform challenge rooms, it does feel like you’re navigating a world (in this case, the mountain Celeste). Not since Shovel Knight have we had a game that manages to cater for players who might not enjoy the irreverent, punishing veneer of most modern twitch platformers.

Rain World

Released: 2017 | Developer: Videocult

Shaun: You're going to hate Rain World if you approach it with the wrong attitude. Firstly, it looks like a platformer, but it's not: it's a punishing survival game. The first hour or so spent in the game also lacks promise: the controls are slightly fiddly because (by necessity—this is a survival game) they aren't as intuitive as most 2D games. You have to learn them (Rain World is all about learning, but you'll still sometimes get unlucky).

Once you surmount these prickly beginnings, Rain World is remarkable. You play as a slugcat one tier above the bottom of the food chain, and you must negotiate a labyrinthine and hideously broken open world in order to survive. Rain World is cryptic, uncompromising, and once given the chance one of the tensest and most atmospheric 2D games I've ever played. If you must make it easier, there have since been options added to the game to allow that. But I wouldn't if I were you. Rain World is determined to wrest empowerment from the player, determined to eschew any shred of the power fantasy so dominant in its medium. And yet it is logical, it's not "unfair", it’s not "poorly designed". It just doesn’t care about you.

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Released: 2017 | Developer: Larian Studios

Jody: My party includes a skeleton who has mastered poison magic, a dwarf pirate, and a fire-breathing lizard prince. By the end of the game, one of them will be a god. 

Plenty of developers have resurrected the bones of the isometric RPG and added modern skin to it, but only a couple of those games really work as both reminders of the old days and great RPGs worth recommending to people who don't have nostalgia goggles near at hand. 

Divinity: Original Sin 2 takes the traditional map-hopping fantasy quest structure and adds a mindbending array of abilities to fill multiple hotbars, sidequests that feel like tonal breaks from the storyline but also seem like they matter on their own, and a degree of characterization we expect from big-budget RPGs. Every party member has their own thing going on, their own plot to follow and life to live, and can replace your character if they die. They can even be selected to take the lead in conversations, although saying hi to people as the skeleton without a disguise on will raise some eyebrows.

Wes: Original Sin 2 has great writing, clever and creative quests, and strong characters with arcs that span a near-hundred hour quest, all substantial improvements over the first game, which was already a hell of an RPG. What I really love about Original Sin 2 is that anytime you ask yourself the question "Can I do this?" you probably can. Savescum to your heart's content to see what happens when you kill an NPC, or sneak somewhere you aren't supposed to be, or figure out how to jump over a wall instead of solving a puzzle. Larian built an insanely open-ended RPG that encourages you to play however the hell you want, and then had the audacity to put a great story and combat system in it, too. 

Devil Daggers

Released: 2016 | Developer: Sorath 

Jody: A one-level first-person shooter where the level is a hellish arena, and the enemies are skulls and flying snakes and other escapees from heavy metal album art. Devil Daggers takes the speed and circle-strafing of Quake and distills it into one perfect minute, or longer if you're better at it than I am. It almost takes longer to describe than it does to play—almost. 

Steamworld Dig 2

Released: 2017 | Developer: Image & Form 

Austin: SteamWorld Dig 2 is a 2D Metroidvania-style platformer about digging tunnels in a fully destructible world. You collect resources, haul them up to the surface, upgrade your gear, and dive back down. As you rack up upgrades, from your pickaxe to gadgets like the grappling hook, jackhammer and steam-powered grenade launcher, you unlock new areas to explore and new ways to explore them. 

It's this magical mix of Metroidvania exploration and the resource collecting that makes survival games so cathartic, and it works because it lets you go at your own pace. You don't just go a little deeper each time you upgrade your stuff; you get a little more adventurous. You start to experiment with different gadgets and use them in new ways, and this changes the way you dig tunnels, which act like scaffolding for getting around levels. And no matter what you do, you're always making progress. Everything feeds into everything else, so you're constantly motivated to dive deeper and discover new temples to ransack. 

Subnautica

Released: 2018 | Developer: Unknown Worlds

Jody: Depending how you feel about diving, Subnautica can be either a wonderful opportunity to explore an alien aquarium or a straight-up horrorshow. Even with the survival stuff turned off so you don't have to regularly grab fish and eat them as you swim past, its depths contain claustrophobic tunnels and beasts big enough to swallow you whole. The thing is, Subnautica works as both a tense survival game about making it day by day in a hostile alien ocean and a way to drift around meeting strange sea creatures (and eating them).

The list continues on page two.

Gone Home

Released: 2013 | Developer: Fullbright

Shaun: Video games aren’t always about mowing down aliens and nazis and trolls in fantasy/sci-fi/post-apocalyptic settings. But most of the time they are. Gone Home wasn’t the first meditative, narrative-driven game, but it arrived at a time when people were more receptive to their possibilities than ever before. Crucial to Gone Home’s success is that, rather than resting on the delivery tactics of film, Fullbright uses the more tactile nature of the videogame medium. Sure, it’s interactive in the sense that you’re wandering through a home and discovering its inhabitants’ stories, but it also asks of the player that they mull over the lives that they’re eavesdropping on. While there are plenty of “walking simulators” nowadays, Gone Home endures because the story it tells is enduringly affecting and important.

Proteus

Released: 2013 | Developer: David Kanaga

Jody: I like walking simulators, and I use the term affectionately, but sometimes I find it hard to get caught up in their stories. They can feel anticlimactic. Proteus doesn't because its story is one I tell myself. It dumps me on a procedurally generated island and lets me explore, climbing hills and chasing frogs. There is another story in it though, in the sense that there's a sequence of events that you can experience, but it's a subtle one. (I'll give you a hint: it involves the standing stones.) If you want it there's a build-up and climax there, but even without that the relaxing strolls over its islands gave me all the satisfaction I needed.

Papers, Please

Released: 2013 | Developer: Lucas Pope

Jody: Games are amazing at letting you experience someone else's life. To pick an extreme example, just like the wriggly controls of Snake Pass give you an insight into what it would be like to be a snake, the rubber stamps and bureaucracy of Papers, Please make you feel like a border guard under a totalitarian regime.Morality's a thing games don't often do well, but by letting you master increasingly complex regulations—Papers, Please has a great difficulty curve, which indie games sometimes struggle with—it gives you power over the hapless citizens who line up to present their documentation. It motivates you to judge them harshly because if you don't, the pay you need to support your family will be docked, but also because the detective work of uncovering fraud is shockingly fun. You discover a contradiction in someone's papers and feel great, then realize what that will mean for the human on the other side of the counter trying to get home and feel awful. Yeah, it's a game about paperwork, but it's so intense that when I was rewarded for my paper-pushing by being given the key to the gun cabinet I wanted to hand it back. I wanted to tell a video game I wasn't interested in its gun.

Austin: I still remember one of the many would-be citizens I turned away in Papers, Please—the old man who repeatedly submits ridiculously inaccurate papers. Sometimes his ID shows the wrong gender or expiration date, sometimes he even has a photo of someone else on ‘his’ passport. His errors get more and more obvious and egregious, but his cheery attitude never changes. Every time I turned him away, he’d just smile and say he’d be back, like I was a server at his favorite local restaurant. Papers, Please is a game about hard choices, but nothing in it made me feel guiltier than denying that old man so many times. 

N++

Released: 2016 | Developer: Metanet Software

Shaun: During my first ecstatic weeks spent with N++, I thought it might be the last platformer I’d ever need to play. The slippery, floaty physics are so expertly tuned, and the level design so varied (despite having upwards of 5,000) that I thought it could keep me busy forever. And while I’ve played probably dozens of different platformers since, N++ is the only one I feel compelled to regularly return to.

Even when you’re not winning, N++ just feels good, and its focus on precision and reflexes isn’t as potentially frustrating as it can be in, for example, Super Meat Boy. The whole game has a zen-like quality, from its austere minimalistic art style through to the experimental electronic soundtrack (one of the few, in a platformer, that I’ve never turned the volume down on). This is simply the best pure platformer you can get on PC, a museum-worthy distillation of the genre’s strengths.

West of Loathing

Released: 2017 | Developer: Asymmetric Publications

Chris: West of Loathing is just so wonderfully jam-packed with humor, clever writing, and charming characters that it's hard to stop playing even when you've finished the main story, solved all of the (sometimes quite devious) puzzles, and collected every hat (there are more than 50) in the game. Everywhere you turn there's some little bit of descriptive text that will make you smile, chuckle, or laugh, even the the settings menu. It's one of the only games that drove me to explore not for loot or experience, but for words.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

Released: 2015 | Developer: Brace Yourself Games

Bo: Crypt of the Necrodancer is a rhythm-based roguelike—a DDR-dungeon crawler, if you will. A head-scratching combination, to be sure, but that's exactly what it is. Dance your way through pixelated depths to the beat of an awesome, rhythmically complex soundtrack. Stay on beat to slay the dungeon's dancing denizens, and don't forget to spend some time with the opera-singing shopkeeper. 

Evan: Definitely give the metal version of the soundtrack by YouTuber FamilyJules (composed by Danny Baranowsky) a listen. It's right up there with the Doom 2016 soundtrack. 

Bastion

Released: 2011 | Developer: Supergiant Games

Jody: There's no game I've had better luck recommending to people than Bastion. Everybody loves its narration and its music, which would be cool independently but become truly outstanding because of how they're integrated. You think you're hearing a beautiful soundtrack and then you discover the musician in the level you're exploring. You think the narrator is a guy with a deep voice telling a story and then he reacts to how you play.

Bastion is an action RPG about a ruined sky-city that rebuilds itself under your feet, nothing beyond the screen existing until you walk toward it. Instead of playing inventory Tetris you choose two weapons from a growing catalogue, and are rewarded for choosing strange pairings with narration snippets and radically altered play. And if you don't like the combat then go into the options and pick a different control scheme. I'm not normally the kind of critic to sing the praises of an options menu but you can turn Bastion into Diablo if you want. Come on, that's awesome.

Her Story

Released: 2015 | Developer: Sam Barlow

Jody: I used to watch an English cop show called The Bill. Back when it was good they'd sometimes dedicate half an episode to an interrogation, a guest star stamping their mark on the show. That's Her Story, only instead of cops it's you, years after the recorded interview, searching through video clips by entering keywords. Her Story plays out in those videos and that search bar, but it's also played on note paper you inevitably fill with conspiracy scribbles like Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I didn't bother making notes during Fez (I probably should have), but for Her Story I scrawled pages. 

It spread even further after that, into an argument with friends about what really happened which I remain convinced I'm right about. Maybe I got obsessed? It's one of a handful of games I 100-percented on Steam and I don't regret it.

Wes: In tech, skeuomorphic design—making your music player in the form of a cassette tape, for example—is now quaint and frowned upon. But it's a rarely used concept in games, and Her Story uses it to great effect. I'd go so far to say that its dusty CRT computer interface is the best marriage of aesthetic and game design in anything I've ever played. It's immersive in a subtle, well-earned way that makes Her Story enrapturing from its first few moments.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Released: 2011 | Developer: Gaslamp Games

Chris: I'm not typically one for turn-based games, and roguelike RPGs often break my heart when I'm forced to start over from scratch, but Dungeons of Dredmor immediately drew me in with its style and comedy. I've never won a game, never beat or even met Lord Dredmor, never even gotten more than a few levels deep. It's still a joy to play for its writing, humor and surprisingly deep and amusing lore.

Evan: The absurdity goes so far to soften the blows of its difficulty. You can build a Vampire Communist who wields Egyptian Magic, Fungal Arts, or Emomancy to fight hordes of weird robots, carrots, genies, and whatever the hell diggles are.

Austin: I keep coming back to Dungeons of Dredmor because it’s a gamble I don’t mind losing. I’ve never beaten Dredmor either, but generating a random character and pushing the usefulness of absurd skills like Fleshsmithing, Killer Vegan and Paranormal Investigator is always a thrill, even when I die on the first or second floor. It’s a system that rewards inventiveness. You can manually select your skills, but rolling the die and making the best of random skills is far more satisfying, and like the optional but actually totally necessary permadeath, makes every round feel genuinely different.

Lovely Planet

Released: 2014 | Developer: QuickTequila

Shaun: You don’t need blood and exploding heads in a first-person shooter. Case in point: Lovely Planet, a first-person shooter where you run increasingly complex gauntlets while shooting cute pastel shapes in a floating pastel land. But how, you ask. How can a game about shooting cute pastel shapes (that don’t bleed!) be fun? Because this is basically a platformer—a more-ish precision-oriented runner combining the fluidity of a Quake speedrun with the one-more-try quick respawn loop of Super Meat Boy. 

DEFCON

Released: 2006 | Developer: Introversion Software

Tyler: DEFCON is one of those games I could play forever. It's a simple, morbid real-time strategy game in which global nuclear war is inevitable and 'winning' means losing fewer people than everyone else. In the early stages it's about placing missile silos (which double as missile defense systems), airfields, radar stations, and fleets of submarines, battleships, and aircraft carriers. As the war turns hot, the only option is to manage losses and inflict your own genocide, to make paranoid alliances and break them with bombs—ignoring that the fallout will kill everyone anyway. The brutality is rendered with War Games-style vectors, turning cities to dots and people to casualty numbers, emulating the calculated viciousness of modern drone wars.

Oikospiel

Released: 2017 | Developer: David Kanaga

James: Oikospiel is a dog opera game about dogs making an opera game. I think. Here’s the plot synopsis according to developer, composer, everything-er David Kanaga: “The Oikospielen Opera is developing an epic global-gaming festival called THE GEOSPIEL, scheduled for the year 2100. The opera's employees, organized by the Union of Animal Workers, are trying to integrate the game dev dogs of Koch Games into their group, but these loyal pups love their jobs and boss Donkey Koch too much! Will there be Unity, or will Multiplicity prevail?” 

It’s as strange as it sounds, and it sounds strange—literally—too. With a soundtrack that mimics its frenzied landscapes, Oikospiel is a touching, psychedelic trip through videogame history with a meaningful message about labor.

The Stanley Parable

Released: 2011 / 2013 | Developer: Galactic Cafe, William Pugh, Davey Wreden

Shaun: Are you playing the game, or is the game playing you? So much of our agency in modern games is illusory, or, more gratingly, reductive and binary. Are you going to go the nice path or the bad-arse path? The Stanley Parable is a meta-critique of gaming as a medium, but it’s also a trojan horse existential crisis (and we all love having those). When we don’t take the critical path, the one prescribed to us, what could possibly go wrong? And given the actual opportunity to do so—given the opportunity to deliberately stray from what a game (or The Stanley Parable’s narrator) is telling us to do, is there any point in playing the game at all? Hmmm. Makes you think.

Jody: First time I played The Stanley Parable I did everything I was told to. Knowing it would be meta-commentary, I rebelled by not rebelling. That’s a dumb way to experience The Stanley Parable for the first time. Don’t do that. Sabotage it, go the wrong way, hide in a closet and refuse to leave. It’s a better game if you break the rules other games have taught you rather than the first rule of The Stanley Parable, which is: don’t do what you’re told.

SOMA

Released: 2015 | Developer: Frictional Games

Shaun: Survival horror too often devolves into repetitive efforts to fend off undead with unwieldy weaponry, but Soma is different. There’s no combat on this underwater research facility, and enemy encounters are few and far between. Most of the time you’re just looking at stuff, but that’s ok in the hands of studio Frictional. They manage to wring an overwhelming sense of dread and despair from a mere dark corridor, not to mention the sprawling sub-aquatic outdoor areas peppered throughout. And the ending of Soma—even if you’re usually ambivalent towards low action horror—is worth the trip alone. It may be more contemplative and less jump scare-oriented than Amnesia, but it’s all the better for it.

James: I’d even recommend those typically averse to horror give SOMA a try. Install the teasingly named “Wuss Mode” mod from the Steam Workshop to make the monsters harmless without losing much horror in the process. Sure, you won’t have to hide, but that doesn’t make their appearance and origins any less terrifying. 

Thumper

Released: 2016 | Developer: Drool

Shaun: Thumper is like an ugly, loathsome, despair-inducing industrial techno song come to life. And that's a very good thing. In our Top 100 Evan described it as "a documentary about the path you take to heaven or hell when you die" which is just about the most alluring description for a video game I've ever read. Yes, it's a tough, precision-oriented rhythm game, but it's a precision-oriented rhythm game that feels like a collaboration between Gaspar Noe and Laibach.

The list concludes over the page.

Nidhogg 2

Released: 2017 | Developer: Messhof Games

Bo: I'm a sucker for local multiplayer games, and Nidhogg is one of the best. Somewhat of a cross between fencing and tug-of-war, Nidhogg's 1v1 matches play out over the course of many brief but violent clashes, resulting in a tense back-and-forth that's every bit a battle of wits as it is one of skill. And like all good local multiplayer games, it's easy to pick up and play but has a well of strategic depth that makes it difficult to master.

The recently-released Nidhogg 2 builds on its predecessor with a new grotesque claymation art style as well as a handful of new weapon types that mix combat up just enough to make things exciting without hampering the original's simplistic greatness. The result is a fantastic fighter we keep coming back to—especially if an office bet needs to be settled. 

Fez

Released: 2012 | Developer: Polytron Corp 

Shaun: Fez accumulates more poignancy with age. It’s a puzzle platformer tightly stuck between two dimensions, and harried by each of them. The protagonist is tasked with investigating and hopefully fixing the scourge of a newly arrived third dimension in a happily two-dimensional world, and this could read, from a fairly one-dimensional point of view, as an indictment on progress, a kind of luddite’s journey. 

But as time passes—as the world becomes more overtly hostile—Fez’s innocent take on the loss of innocence rings true. As time passes, each of us will realise that certain uncomfortable truths have always lingered just out of our sight, waiting to pounce. And others will persevere, dig deeper (whether wisely or otherwise), for conspiracies and better buried secrets (and boy does Fez have secrets). Fez is a game about the hidden regions of our world that are always there, always mysterious, usually forbidding. It’s a beautiful and serene and sad game, but also, as an aside, really fun to play too. Fez is timeless in the way it can convey a wealth of emotion and contemplation through its systems alone.

Wes: After its fairly simple introductory hours, every discovery and deduction I made in Fez felt like a hard earned victory, or the unraveling of an impossibly complex puzzle. I love the sensation of "this can't possibly be the solution" in a videogame, only to discover that my crazy hypothesis was correct. That's what Fez is all about. And I love how clearly you can feel the immense amount of thought and polish that went into it; it feels every bit the intricate, perfectly tuned puzzle someone spent half a decade slotting together, piece by piece, until everything was just so.

Night in the Woods

Released: 2017 | Developer: Infinite Fall

Shaun: Some of the most noteworthy indies from the last decade have been adventure games, but it took until 2017 for one of the highlights, Night in the Woods, to emerge. As endearing feline Mae Borowski, you’re returning to the sleepy rural town of your childhood after an unsuccessful college stint. The town is on the decline, and so too, it seems, is Mae’s future. Things haven’t quite turned out the way she (or her family) had hoped, and much of Night in the Woods is about dealing with this mild disappointment. Exploring the township of Possum Springs is a joy in itself, but it’s the way Night in the Woods weaves a universal coming of age tale around an otherwise straightforward puzzle-laden adventure game that is remarkable. 

Kentucky Route Zero

Released: 2013-ongoing | Developer: Cardboard Computer

Jody: I wanted to wait. I wanted all five episodes of Kentucky Route Zero to be complete before I climbed into it and drove off. That's how I played The Walking Dead, and rumbling through that in one week contributed to its effect. I caved in and played Kentucky Route Zero though because a poet recommended it to me, and that's not something that happens every day. It’s obvious why she thought I had to try it, unfinished as it was (and still is). Kentucky Route Zero’s writing is gorgeous, ornamental but also able to get right at the meat of a thing. It's there when someone calls an office bureaucracy "the paperclip labyrinth" or describes topology as "the science of continuous space".

Kentucky Route Zero is an adventure game of the modern kind, where decisions and dialogue rather than puzzles pace your progress. It's about finding a lost highway, but it quickly buries you in a kind of American mythology where mystery roads are the least strange thing. I'd hate to spoil what you'll find, but if you get in an elevator, see a button that says "third floor (bears)" and aren't tempted to press it, then I don't even know you.

Though it feels like being in a novel, Kentucky Route Zero pays homage to games. That explanation of topology takes place in "a twisty maze of passages", a reference to the classic text game Colossal Cave Adventure. So is the fact that the first item you pick up is a lamp. Some of the earliest PC games were about manipulating words because that was all they had. Kentucky Route Zero is about manipulating words because that's a fascinating thing to do. It's hard to explain why encountering its word-hoard has such a potent effect, but I'm just a journalist. They should have sent a poet.

Stardew Valley

Released: 2016 | Developer: Eric Barone

Bo: There are few games that delight me in the way that Stardew Valley does. I grew up loving the Harvest Moon series, and Stardew takes that formula and applies it to the PC space. Stardew strips away many of Nintendo's puritanical hangups—same-sex marriage and sexual innuendo aren't taboo inclusions, for example—but maintains the charm of tilling fields, planting seeds, and growing crops. There's also a vibrant town to get to know, mines to explore, and tons and tons of fish to fish. I've spent more than 80 hours in Stardew Valley, and I'm looking forward to my next trip to the country. 

James: Do you see me now, dad? You didn’t think my mayonnaise dreams would get me anywhere and look at me now.

Jody: Thank goodness I am not the only person making bank off mayonnaise. The quality eggs provided by my hens, Chickity and Nug, are the secret of my success.

Undertale

Released: 2015 | Developer: Toby Fox

Wes: A friend and I played Undertale in a single sitting. It first inspires curiosity at its quirkiness, then determination to solve its challenging combat without taking the easy way out, then admiration for the delivery of its jokes and the tight meshing of themes and RPG mechanics twisted sideways. Comparisons to Super Nintendo RPG Earthbound, while apt, don't do Undertale justice: it's incredibly smart in how it thinks about the way we play videogames and challenges and surprises with new ideas at every step.

It's a game I genuinely think everyone should play. You'll either appreciate the humor, or the challenge, or the freedom to play through in many different ways, or the painstaking one-off moments, or the ways creator Toby Fox bent engine Game Maker to his will, or the prospect of a "true" ending to earn. It looks simple, but there's so much under the surface.

Kerbal Space Program

Released: 2015 | Developer: Squad

Chris: Whether you're seriously into the science and simulation, or just looking for some fun sending adorable astronauts into space (or watching their rockets explode before they get there), Kerbal is a near-perfect physics sandbox. One of the reasons it's such a joy to play is that there's immense satisfaction in the successes, like the first time you reach orbit, or land on the Mun, or safely bring your astronauts home from a mission, but there's also pleasure to be had (as well as lessons to be learned) from your failures.

KSP is both easy and immensely challenging: rockets can be snapped together quickly, and tweaked or rebuilt in mere moments, but conquering the solar system requires precision and know-how. Its charming looks and its detailed physics simulation make it a game for just about anyone, from casual rocket tinkerers to passionate rocket scientists.

Hollow Knight

Released: 2017 | Developer: Team Cherry

Wes: The best Metroidvania in years, perhaps because developers Team Cherry didn't explicitly set out to make a game in the image of Metroid. They were making a 2D action game, sure, set in a gorgeous hand-drawn decaying bug civilization, but they were mainly concerned with building out an intricate and interesting world, and the rest followed. "The rest," in this case, is a game that feels fantastic to play, with a character who moves exactly as you want and a weapon that hits with a fast and brutal crack. Combat and traversal stay rooted in the basics of jump, dodge, hit, never scaling too far beyond the capabilities you have from the very beginning. It always favors skill over power-ups.

Hollow Knight rarely tells you where to go or what to do, making palpable the satisfaction and wonder of discovering new parts of the world and new abilities. And it just keeps going. The world is huge, more detailed than you ever expect it to be, and suddenly you're two dozen hours deep and wondering how much you still have to find. The Super Nintendo had Super Metroid; PlayStation had Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Hollow Knight may not be spoken of in the same breath, just yet, but before long I think its place in that lineage will be clear: the PC had Hollow Knight.

Darkest Dungeon

Released: 2016 | Developer: Red Hook Studios

Shaun: Ah, dread. It’s what you generally try to avoid in an RPG rogue-like: you want to try to mitigate dread, manage it out of existence. But dread is Darkest Dungeon’s default state. In vague terms it’s a dungeon crawler, but the dungeons aren’t miraculously swept chasms with the odd cobweb and exhumed grave—they’re dank and gross. Add to that, the need to manage your entourage’s sanity (not easy in a game that takes some small inspiration from Lovecraft) and you have an RPG that rarely offers respite. That could sound punishing, but Darkest Dungeon’s mood, and the way that you can invest your emotions in its variables, rather than just your brain and its ability to parse bigger and better numbers, makes for a gripping and bleak RPG.

Evan: I love how martial, not magical, most of the character archetypes are. Apart from the Vestal, there aren't true spellcasters—Darkest Dungeon is acted out in blood, iron, poison, bones, and crossbow bolts. That grounds the game as a whole and adds to its grittiness. The fights that play out, with the help of great 2D camera effects and sound design, feel physical and jarring as a result. It also creates good contrast with DD's monsters, a gang of blood-sucking, spore-sneezing, tentacle-having, spinal column-collecting abominations.

Spelunky

Released: 2008, 2013 | Developer: Mossmouth

Shaun: The first time I played Spelunky I deleted it off my hard drive within ten minutes. Then, later, at the behest of then-PC Gamer scribe Graham Smith’s review, I begrudgingly reinstalled it. I can still remember what hooked me this second time: I picked up a gold mask, a rumble filled the air, and then a massive boulder collapsed through the ceiling and crushed a nearby vendor to death. I laughed, it was funny, I woke my partner up. That’s when I became addicted to Spelunky. 

A lot has been written about the beauty of Spelunky’s interlocking systems, its propensity for creating stories, and its tough-but-fair difficulty. That’s all been said and written a hundred times before, and while Spelunky is still a relatively new game in the wide scheme of things, it feels like a classic. I often boot it up just to be inside of it, just to soak up its mood. It’s weird to seek the comfort of familiarity in a game that’s always throwing curveballs, but aside from the glory of its systems and stories, Spelunky is a really beautiful, heartwarming game. It also was the first to demonstrate to me, personally, that a small game that originated as freeware could contain so much: so many stories, so many events, so many countless, frankly embarrassing, hours.

Evan: I'm gonna use this opportunity to share this great cover of the Mines theme.

Wes: Even years later, Spelunky's spot on this list is well deserved. The way its hero and items and traps and enemies and random generation interact with one another is still peerless. Just as brilliant, though, is Spelunky's daily challenge, the perfect combination of old school arcade leaderboard and infinitely replayable randomized roguelike. The daily challenge added structure and permanence to a genre that prided itself on not having any, and it works; it's become a must-have feature in any similar roguelike ever since.

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