Sea of Thieves (PC + Xbox)
Sea of Thieves is the poster-game for the diagetic & manual/tactile UX design movement (Blendo Games, Campo Santo). You and your friends are shanty singing, beer gulping pirates in a world of X-marked treasure maps and mystical sea demons. Drive its ships by tugging the ropes of its sails and spinning its wheel, but not simultaneously. Navigate with map and compass, but you can only hold one of them in front of your face at a time. Row your boat with left and right oars independently controlled with your analog triggers. Carry a single crate of goods, by hand, from your cargo hold to a merchant on shore, then return for the next crate. Bail water from the belly of your ship and patch individual holes in its hull. Sea of Thieves has full confidence that the sloppy entropy of full simulation is the richest play space; they are correct. Most of it is the serenity of sailing: trimming sails to shifting winds, turning your bow into heavy waves, scanning the horizon for predators and prey. This is the best designed game of the year and one of the greatest games I have ever played.
Bomber Crew (PC + Console)
Bomber Crew is the game I wanted FTL to be. Adorable, brutal WWII bomber captaining. The only aspect of WWII bombing this cartoon doesn't address is the psychological toll on its crew. I lost my top engineer and top gunner moments before downing the enemy ace who killed them. A cabin fire disabled my front four crew and my plane crashed deep behind enemy lines, yet quality survival gear saved five of seven of them. This is my Switch GOTY.
The Sokpop Collective Games (PC)
Four Dutch guys are collectively releasing a polished jam-scale game every two weeks. The smallest of these games dig into a single mechanic, the largest have been functional simulation game demakes: soko loko (railroad tycoon), kraken's curse (Sea of Thieves), Rimworld (Similand), llama villa (The Sims), Zoo Packs (XCOM). The Sokpop boys are producing at a pace that I worry will harm their health or their studies (some of them are in school). They are amazing creators, and their creative direction and ability to manage scope and hone their toolsets is the future of video game design.
Renegade Sector Bundle (PC)
A single guy is pumping out a pulpy action shooter every couple months in a shared universe he calls The Renegade Sector. These 3D action games are admirable meditations on designs a couple generations old, and you can pound through them in a night-a-piece. The Renegade Sector series inspires me to rethink what my own games need and ought to be.
Star Fox 2 (SNES Classic)
Star Fox 2 is a SNES masterpiece - a 3D console flight sim clearly inspired by the state-of-the-art being released on home computers. It is more ambitious in flight model, mission structure, characters and narrative than its predecessor. The game featured a permadeath strategy layer to its campaign in which players must select missions that balance the health of their home world with the resources available to the assaulting enemy force. With the Nintendo and Star Fox brands behind it, Star Fox 2 certainly would have sold well, and its standing as one of the most ambitious releases on the SNES would have inspired creators to keep the dream of console flight simulation alive. I first played this game a week ago, and I have been mourning its lost potential ever since.
Great Mobile Games I Played this Year (iOS & Android)
A bit Spelunky and a lot Threes. I scored a couple great runs early and I'm forever grasping at their promise.
Move like a snake, squawk like a bird. A relentlessly hard puzzle game that wants you to giggle when you fail. Snakebird changes the way you view geometry. Snakebird never mocks me when I'm wrong, and because of that I think I'll go back to it for a long time.
The dumbest name for the best mobile multiplayer mobile game I have ever touched. The good of Battle Royale and MOBAs with none of the senseless complexities or gimmicks of either genre. Seamless teaming with friends for a 2 min match, painless to take a break for real life - all online games should have a mode as quick as Brawl Stars. Play this free game.
Evergarden got me back into puzzle games - a genre I had ignored because math typically bores me. Comfortable, elegant, kind, calming, and made by a team I deeply care for. Evergarden is a love letter to Forest and Aaron's mother; we need to make more video games about our moms.
Great Flight Sims
2018 was the year I got back into PC flight simulation (I'm building a simple flight sim with Flippfly). I could be happy playing nothing but flight sims for the rest of my life.
Take On: Helicopters
You are the son in a family helicopter business that's down and out. Dad just died, and your pilot brother just crashed in the bay. You, without a pilot license, take over as head pilot. The game alternates between civilian missions for the family business and flashbacks to your injured brother's military service in the Middle East. Take a documentary filmmaker whale watching, scout golf courses for a wealthy client, get shot down in the highlands and escape on foot, sign a deal to have your dad's business absorbed by a private mercenary force. This is a wild, beautiful game; I will make a game like this someday soon.
Arma 3 Helicopters DLC
All video games are Arma mods. I cannot wrap my head around how the premier first-person military tactics simulator is also the premier helicopter flight sim, premier tank and APC sim, premier go-kart sim, PUBG, and Day-Z. If you haven't played Arma, you must. I suggest you try the Helicopters DLC - it is the package that will give you the most appreciation for the breadth of gameplay that Bohemia has constructed.
DCS - Gazelle Helicopter Module
My re-entry into serious flight simulation; I built a head-tracking kit just for this module. Gorgeous interactive cockpit, stunning flight model, and a generous online community - I received a real helicopter flight lesson from an active Chinook pilot over voice chat. If you have considered diving back into serious flight sims, there has never been a better time, and there is probably a DCS module for you. (https://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/modules/gazelle/ buy through their website - avoid Steam)
IL2 Battle of Moscow
Fly WWII war machines from fully articulating virtual cockpits over a crisp Russian winter landscape (one that is surprisingly Midwestern). Stunningly lit frosted prairies that glare and glimmer off the odd angles of your varying cockpit glasses, this is the most beautiful game I have ever played. (https://il2sturmovik.com/store/battle-of-moscow/ buy through their website - avoid Steam)
Great PC & Console Games
Stormworks should be in the curriculum of every freshman engineering degree. Make a fleet of vehicles block by block to save people stranded on the high seas. The Pinnacle of my experience was adding a variable-angle underwater spoiler to keep the hull of my 3 engine speedboat level at all throttle settings. This game, more than any other I have played, rewards mechanical design and control systems design.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 (PC & Console)
Star Wars video games are the real Star Wars; the movies are trash, but thank God for the extended universe they established :) This video game is digital popcorn. When I play it the stench of Chewbacca's wet hair floods my nostrils, the tang of droid flesh curls my tongue, the florescent bloom of blaster rounds burn my corneas. I do not like Star Wars but I love this big, stupid Star Wars game.
Dirt Rally VR (PC & PSVR)
Whip around ice-covered single lane roads on a Norwegian cliff at 120 mph with a copilot calmly ticking through turn commands in your ear; Dirt Rally is intense, visceral, punishing racing. Rally racing seems more about instinct and spatial awareness than other disciplines, and VR gives you a real sense of spatial awareness. The people who drive these cars in real life are suicidal. Dirt Rally is exhilarating to the point of being meditative; I love this game.
Wipeout VR (PSVR)
Another racing game that is more accessible in VR than on a regular screen. A future-cool techno utopia.
Forza Horizon 4 (PC & XBOX)
This is a very good, very pretty racing game. It has a lot of cars and a lot of things to do. If you like driving in video games, you should play this one.
Mafia III (PC & Console)
Mafia III is the smartest written video game I have played since 80 Days. I want to live in the alternate world where our industry focuses on the triumph of the Mafia III narrative rather than its padded gameplay.
Overcooked 2 (PC & Console)
More Overcooked, and I love Overcooked.
Astro Bears Party (Switch)
One of the most accessible multiplayer games I have ever played. $1 for a game that will entertain 2+ people for hours of simple, geometric competition.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds (PS4)
I fought a polar bear robot dinosaur.
Lumines Remastered (Switch)
Wow! This Switch game is a trip. The HD rumble, the sound, the sparkle - twenty minute games feel like two. I have no idea how the scoring works or how to assess its design as a competitive thing, but it is the most mesmerizing thing I played in 2018.