We’ve already provided our favourite games of 2014, as have dozens of video game news sites.
But what do game designers themselves think?
We asked a selection of game makers about the titles that grabbed them this year, and why they worked.
Co-founder, Revolution Software
I am going to choose Monument Valley because it is so utterly charming. It plays with perspective in such a novel way, and the game’s ghostly characters remind me of Ico and Journey.
Writer and designer, Mediatonic
Dragon Age: Inquisition is exquisite, offering Skyrim-levels of content but coupled with a main quest that’s actually interesting. Bioware has finally converted me into a believer - I want to play this game forever.
But my game of the year is Drakengard 3 – a game that does its very best to defy any kind of description. It’s a technical mess, often dropping to a single-digit frame rate. Its story and world are slightly under-baked. The teenage obsession with sex is just... odd. But I can’t say I’ve ever played a game so strong in tone and yet so dissonant. When 99% of games fail to even register on the tonal oscilloscope, this game ping-pongs between positive and negative infinity in the blink of an eye.
One minute you’ll be laughing at a perfectly-judged piece of slapstick, the next moment you’ll be covering your mouth at a display of violence so grotesque it actually made me feel slightly ill. It breaks the fourth-wall with utter glee. It knows its own faults and actually apologises for them. It’s a game that I find extremely hard to recommend, and yet, I really wish everyone in the world would play it; it deserves to scrawl “I was here! I existed! I was me!” on the collective unconscious of gamekind.
Independent illustrator and game designer, co-creator of SimAntics
2014 was the year that I created more games than I played, but there are two that stood out right away. The first is the co-op puzzle game, ibb & obb. What drew me in was its charm and endearing characters. What made me keep playing was the rewarding, fun and clever level design. You can just play around by jumping on each other and through portals, drawing weird things with the coloured lines while at the same time searching for the boundaries of the game. This reminded me of discovering secrets in Mario games.
The other game is Hohokum, because it made me feel at ease and relaxed when I needed it. I found it refreshing that creativity, playfulness and imagination were the main focus.
Oh man I almost forgot about Oquonie! It is one of the most confusing, haunting but ultimately most satisfying puzzle games I ever played. There is no helping hand or tutorial, you find it all out by yourself, by just walking around and making sense of the gorgeous world. When I was not playing I was unraveling its mysteries and logic. The game is what it is - consistent and alive.
Co-founder of Dutch games studio, Vlambeer
My choice would be Destiny. I’m not sure why, to be honest, but it just feels really nice. I find it extremely telling that my favorite game of 2014 has feelings of doubt attached to it. It just wasn’t a really exciting year in games - a lot were rather good instead of exceptional. It’s been a pretty solid year for handhelds and mobile phones, though: Tomodachi Life and Threes were major timesinks for me.
Founder of Size Five Games, currently working on The Swindle
Three games really stand out for me as thoroughly enjoyable experiences from start to finish. As someone who has had his fill of adventure games (making two of them killed off any enjoyment I have for the genre), coupled with my general distaste of one-click adventures, I was worried about Broken Age. But it’s a joy the whole way through. The tree being a particular highlight.
SuperTimeForce makes my brain hurt. I still don’t really ‘get’ how it works, but it’s such hilariously good fun, if a little mind bending. And Desert Golfing is perfect. I love the absolute lack of fanfare for any achievement. Hole 100? Move on, no different. Hole in one! Zero fanfare. I love it.
Co-founder of Lucky Frame
Threes, because I usually hate number games but it totally isn’t a number game. Desert Golfing, because it had such wonderfully subversive game design. Sports Friends because Pole Riders.
Independent game designer, creator of Death Ray Manta and War Twat
TxK. No question, no competition. Look, I don’t make any bones about being a Jeff Minter fan and up until Space Giraffe I’d have said that T2k was his crowning glory. But TxK is everything T2k could have been. It’s modern, it’s got an intimate sense of what Tempest needs to be, you can play it like Tempest. But it’s also slick, it’s the game that has Minter saying, “if you give me the time, the space and the freedom, I can make stuff like this in my sleep” and it shows and I’m so insanely jealous of that ability.
Independent game designer, creator of Canabalt, Hundreds and Overland
I really loved the sense of place and atmosphere in Kentucky Route Zero Act III and Monument Valley and Hohokum. Alcazar is confoundingly brilliant. I still think Desert Golfing is maybe the punkest game ever made. 80 Days did some really smart things, and Hitman GO was a lovely little surprise. Pair Solitaire is very clever, Threes! was quite good, and Framed is just too great. ALONE was exciting and Sailor’s Dream was lovely. Fantasy Life is under-rated, and Shovel Knight was really fun. The game I played the most was Ascension again though...
Game designer and lecturer, creator of the Kick Off series
Elite: Dangerous - because it’s a beautifully-crafted traditional video game that puts the art of gameplay design front and centre. Very few games survive for more than a few hours for me; I play E:D with an enthusiasm I have not felt for a long, long time.
Independent game designer, creator of Qwop, Girp and Get On Top
One of the most significant things that happened this year was the resurgence of interesting mobile games. I played a lot of Helix by Michael Brough, a shooter without bullets. I played Hoplite, an ultra-elegant tactics game, and Crossy Road, the first infinite-Frogger game.
But the most significant release for me was Desert Golfing, a one-finger golf game that is a radical, almost shocking departure from the culture of conceptual and aesthetic detailing in indie games. Desert Golfing marks the return of the game-as-appliance, something that just switches on and is played, with no ceremony, no menus, no button prompts or tutorials. This is something I’ve been pursuing in my own work for some time, and it was inspiring to see that when you really get it right, it will resonate with people.
Independent game designer, currently working on Mimic
My husband and I derived considerable enjoyment from Space Engineers. Although we sometimes fell foul of early access bugs, we spent many a happy hour building up a space station together, and taking it in turns to hijack passing freight and military craft. Between that and welding buckled hulls into perfectly straight lines again, Space Engineers allowed us to be most orderly criminal couple the galaxy has yet seen.
I’d also have to tip my hat to Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro - a game I desperately wish I’d thought of. It’s an expression of commuter transit across a variety of international cities - a subject I’m already fascinated by - and it’s so pure in its mechanics and aesthetic that I’d wind up simply entranced, for hours on end.
Byron Atkinson Jones
Independent game designer
There were two standout games this year. Alien Isolation is the closest anybody has ever got to reproducing the atmosphere and feeling of Alien. I’ve never been so scared playing a video game before. In fact, I’ve spent most of the game hiding in lockers. I just love it.
Monument Valley is a work of art - fantastic in every way and a benchmark for mobile games going forward. I would have loved to work on this game. I just love the artwork, the puzzles and audio, it’s just simply stunning.
Game designer and author, Denki
My favourite games of 2014 were... unexpected. Anything I was hoping would be worthwhile turned out to be a disappointment for one reason or another - GTA V, Destiny, Shadow of Mordor and Sunset Overdrive in particular.
My only phone and browser highlight was 2048, which is much tighter and more joyful than Threes (which is far too clever for its own good). I also love the way 2048 was made accessible to all and remixed beyond belief for a deeper community involvement.
As for the more traditional gaming platforms, two extremes emphasise the value of post-production and editing. Alien: Isolation was 51% remarkable, which was enough to keep me engaged to the bitter end, but it was far too long and jarringly patronising in play at times. It doesn’t rely on darkness and jump shocks for its thrills; it had me doing things I haven’t ever done in 40 years of playing computer and video games, like freezing in panic, hiding in (virtual) corners looking at the floor and hoping not to be seen, and generally giving into the joy of being scared; partly because of an appreciation for the source material, but not least because the use of music is particularly effective.
I haven’t enjoyed Mario Kart since its original SNES outing but then along came Mario Kart 8, which has been so beautifully and considerately nipped, tucked and buffed to near-perfection. The vehicle handling’s a tactile triumph; the tracks are aesthetically and functionally exceptional - and it all runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second. The result is racing experience way ahead of any other.
Independent game designer, creator of How Do You Do It
Kentucky Route Zero Act III was by far one of the most beautiful and interesting games this year. It’s a subtle experience that feels almost like a T. S. Eliot poem with its layers of influences drawn from other mediums like theatre, poetry and music. It’s a game that, with each act, grows more and more mature as the gaps in the story and characters are filled. It’s almost like looking into a crystal – each facet is brilliant on its own, but the full experience is unforgettable. I was especially struck by the concert scene in the run-down bar. I cannot wait to see what comes next for the upcoming acts of this game.
It’s also impossible to ignore a game as successful as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. I didn’t actually start playing it myself until I saw on the screen of every teenage girls phone walking down the street. The game struck a nerve amongst young girls that I haven’t yet seen in mobile games, and I think it bodes well for the future of games in general. Successful games can be about all different kinds of things, and marketed towards people in diverse walks of life. I recommend reading this article about Kardashian, and why we should be paying attention to her game and her brand: she’s a good example of the way in which the internet is rapidly changing how we understand and achieve fame and success.
Tomorrow: the game designers choose their most anticipated games of 2015
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