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Chris_Watters Blog

My Personal Top Ten Games of 2015

There are some things I expect from video games these days. I expect that they will tell intriguing new stories. I expect that they will create bigger, better, and more beautiful worlds for me to explore. I expect that they will deliver new spins on familiar thrills. My top ten games of 2015 fulfilled my expectations gloriously and were full of delightful discoveries and cunning innovations. But my favorite game this year was unexpected, coming out of a genre that I rarely play and achieving something I think very few games can claim. Here's hoping your favorites delivered this year, too!

10. Splatoon

So few games in the shooter genre have style, but it wasn't until I played Splatoon that I realized how hungry I've been for a change from the self-serious aesthetics of most shooters. Not only does this game exude an energy and panache that is incredibly alluring, its novel adaptations of shooter mechanics create a competitive landscape that feels vibrant, challenging, and, it must be said, fresh!

Gotta have that purple HUD.
Gotta have that purple HUD.

9. Fallout 4

When I chose to play a charisma build in order to complement the choices of my coworkers, I needed a role model. So I chose one of the most charismatic people to ever walk the earth: Grace Jones. She takes no shit. She wears what she wants. And she can sell a crate of RadAway to a Feral Ghoul. Playing a role this great needs a great role-playing game to match, and that game is Fallout 4.

8. Sunless Sea

Can you imagine the excitement of striking out into an unknown sea to seek your fortune? What cultures and lands and treasures could await! But the flip side of that excitement is the sheer terror of the dangers the mysterious fathoms might hold. Sunless Sea is both exhilarating and frightening, a game in which your own ambition and greed can be your undoing as quickly as a pirate fleet or a hungry leviathan.

7. Rainbow Six Siege

As much as I appreciate shooters in which the mechanics and the rules are rigid, clearly defined, and consistent, there's something too neat about them. Rainbow Six Siege isn't afraid to get messy, and though I might occasionally roll my eyes at a death I perceive to be unjust, I'm more often captivated by all of the possible ways I can thwart my enemies. Whether well-planned and executed or desperately improvised, victory in Siege is sweeter than most.

6. Bloodborne

I'm not a big fan of scary games. They get in my head and invade my dreams and generally make me sleep poorly. But when they are as good as Bloodborne, I'll make an exception. Though I had to watch or read a palate cleanser after every evening session, I kept going back to that combat. That creature design. That world. The imaginative genius and technical prowess of the Souls series lives in this game, as it hopefully will in many more to come.

5. Ori and the Blind Forest

I have enjoyed some Metroidvanias in the past, but I've never been compelled to 100% completion until I met Ori. The art design is lovely and the music is a treat, but the thing that goaded me onward was that it was just such a pleasure to move. Leaping, dashing, launching, and rolling my way through the world felt so good that I was happy to backtrack hither and yon, searching out every last secret and lingering as long as I could.

4. Evolve

I like how this picture really makes my eyes pop.
I like how this picture really makes my eyes pop.

In the asymmetrical competition of Evolve, there is magic. It doesn't come on strong in every match, but it's there. It's the magic of knowing your role and knowing that there are three people depending on you as dearly as you depend on them. It's the magic of feeling like prey and then slowly turning into a predator. This magic makes the thrilling moments of Evolve so intense that I would leap from my seat and roar at the heavens in triumph, and even remembering those moments now, I can feel the adrenaline, and the hunger for more.

3. Her Story

For all the times I've played at being a detective in video games, Her Story is the first time I actually felt like one. Watching interviews, following threads, reaching dead ends, looping back around to established facts... from simple search commands grows a complex mental web of leads and hunches that never quite resolves into certainty. It's a fascinating sensation, and though it sometimes made me feel smart and intuitive, in the end I was left wondering if we can ever know the full truth about anyone.

2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

What a tremendous game! Geralt and his world already had my interested, but in Wild Hunt, they captured my imagination. Such a marvelously rich land brought to life is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, but to fill it with so many creatures and characters and intrigues is just incredible. This is a game I was often hesitant to start because I knew I would become engrossed to the detriment of other important things in my life. But I still played it, I still play it, and I still love it.

1. Rocket League

So what game could tear me away from The Witcher 3? What game could regularly keep me at work long past quitting time? What game do I want to tell everyone about and get everyone to play? Rocket League. It's a tremendous feat to replicate a sport in a video game, but Rocket League does the EA Sports oeuvre one better. It deftly captures the sensation of actually playing a sport. It's just a bunch of cars in an arena with a ball, but in its simplicity is a purity that is shared by the best, most enduring sports in our world. Rocket League is a game that is so perfectly dialed in to what it does and so immensely, endlessly replayable that it feels like a paragon. An icon. An apotheosis of video games that doesn't just make me excited to play it, but makes me excited for play.

No Problem.
No Problem.

My Personal Top Ten Games of 2014

Here at the end of 2014, I feel like I've done more explaining of my top five and top ten personal games of the year than I ever have before, both at work and elsewhere. Was is just that kind of year? Seems to me that we (the collective gaming "we") all haven't really rallied around one outstanding release, but instead have chosen our own multiplatform favorites, our own innovators, our own expectedly awesomes to top our lists. And that's a good thing! A broad spread of contenders for end-of-the-year honors is a sign of a healthy artistic medium, if you ask me. So here are some of the many games that delighted me in 2014.

10. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I love games that teach me how to play them, and Shadow of Mordor's lesson was a harsh one: you are weak and you will die. It was after one particularly glorious undoing that this one finally hit home. I had tamed a Caragor and was riding up to bite the head off the bastard who just killed me, and in my moment of chomptacular glory, he nonchalantly slays my ride and skewers me. Immune to Beast Finishers, apparently. I never quite found the perfect groove for combat or exploration or nemesis system-scheming, but this uncertainty kept me on my toes and kept me interested.

9. Threes

This game was the cause of some missed transit stops and way too many irresponsibly long bathroom breaks. Clean presentation, simple gimmick, but oh, the depths of strategizing and prognosticating and bet-hedging and flat-out praying it took me too. I'm still not that good at it, but damn if I don't want to get in a quick round right now.

8. Transistor

I could praise the beautiful, melancholy art in which the flair of Red's hair burns as both a beacon of hope and a flame of regret. I could talk about the combat system that encouraged me to experiment while keeping me on edge. I could write about my affinity for a world that presents itself to you as if you belong there and have pre-existing knowledge of it, goading you to assimilate yourself and build your own worldview. Or I could just say that Transistor has a button dedicated to singing, and it is my favorite single thing in all of video gaming this year.

No Caption Provided

7. Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

Civvin' ain't easy, especially when you're doing it on an unknown planet full of aliens. I loved the way Beyond Earth reinvented the early game in Civ. Exploration was intriguing and rewarding, not to mention possible very early on with embarkation. The quest system helped start the story of each playthrough by kindling my imagination with inventive scenarios. And the aliens required a more subtle approach than the simple kill-'em-all barbarian tactics of previous games. Plus, there's a late-game unit that is a huge floating octopus with an orbital death laser and that is just space metal as hell.

6. Nidhogg

Whether it was in the office, in my home, or at PAX, Nidhogg was a spectacular way to make friends by pitting yourself against them. Easy to pick up and get the hang of and practically built for talking smack while playing, this is the kind of game that draws people in to give it a shot even if they aren't super confident gamers. The cartoonish blood spurts and the vicious sacrifice to a flying flesh-colored demon worm set the tone just right.

No Caption Provided

5. Wolfenstein: The New Order

Blasting the hell out of video game enemies is a pastime I enjoy immensely, dear reader, as you may have guessed. But it's so much better when the game makes your enemies villainous and your allies sympathetic. The gunplay in The New Order was brisk, brash, and challenging, which I really liked, but the characters were interesting, multifaceted, and charismatic, which I loved. The romance of BJ and Anya, the "romance" of the Frau and Bubi, the fatherly love of Max and Kalus, and the troubled, cynical brilliance of Tekla all gave this game life and vigor and purpose and heart.

4. Destiny

I was hyped for this game. It did not live up to the hype. But such is the peril of hype; the weight of expectation can set us up to dislike something we thought we'd be into, and it's tough to shift that disappointment back into balance. But that's exactly what I managed to do with Destiny. As my coworkers and I pushed on towards level 30, slowly but surely, we banded together for strikes, crucible runs, and raids. This camaraderie not only made my time with the game more enjoyable, it enhanced my appreciation of it significantly. The shooting mechanics, the environments, the enemy design, the gear and weapons, and the dancing (yes, the dancing) all ended up distilling into socially-fueled fun that I'm still enjoying.

3. Dragon Age: Inquisition

The Chantry. The Mages. The Templars. The Fade. The Circle. The Maker. Ever notice how terms from fantasy universes can sound so bland and disconnected until you actually start caring about the world? That's how I felt about Dragon Age until I became The Herald of Andraste (there's another one!). As I explored the world and met new people and figured out what kind of character i wanted to be, I became engrossed. Now I travel to distant corners of Orlais and Ferelden to learn more about these places and to learn more about my traveling companions. I may not be taking the most direct path through the game, but it's my path, and it means more to me each time I play it.

2. Titanfall

I was hyped for this game. It lived up to the hype. Double-jumping and wall-running are fairly well-trodden video game tropes, but in a first-person shooter? No one has done it like Titanfall. Map knowledge has always been important in competitive shooters, but this game had me keeping my eye on the curves and corners of each and every building in the hopes of exploiting them to my advantage. Nailing a long run to flank, evade, or hunt down opponents is so, so satisfying. Throwing grunts and spectres into the mix made these 6v6 battles punch above their weight, and speaking of punching, those titans. Tactical and brutal, yet well-balanced against pilots, these things were an absolute treat. There may not have been a lot going on outside of the core competitive action, but that action was superb.

1. The Last of Us: Left Behind

Human relationships are often built, in part, through the shared experience of play. One of the marvelous things about video games as a medium is that they allow us to share in play with the characters that developers create. This can be used as a powerful tool to cultivate not just player engagement, but also empathy, respect, and love. These three sentiments aren't the most frequently addressed in video games, but they are among the most important. The way that Left Behind uses captivating character performances and subtle writing to engage with these things is wonderful, but it's the way that it uses gameplay mechanics to do so that makes it brilliant. Left Behind is the essential game of 2014, the one that speaks powerfully about my love of video games and leads boldly into the future.

No Caption Provided

Mourning the Fire Emblem Fallen: Vaike

It's been a few weeks since my initial post mourning my first casualty, Sumia, but I haven't stopped playing Fire Emblem: Awakening in many of my free moments. On the train, on the toilet, in bed while my wife is reading, on airplanes... there's been a lot of Embleming. I think I'm on Chapter 22 or something, but I'm in the middle of a battle now so I can't check.

I've been spending a lot of time pairing up characters so that they get married and then I get to meet their time-traveling  progeny. It's fun to see what characteristics the parents pass on to their kids and get an extra perspective on this doom-and-gloom future everyone is ranting on about. It's also rewarding to fill out my party with new blood; the excitement of new life offers a soothing counter to the anguish of life lost.

Today I mourn Vaike.




Look at this cocky bastard. Weird chains dangling off his neck collar like so much Ylissian bling. Can't be bothered to keep track of his axes. Refers to himself not just in the third-person, but makes himself into a proper noun: "The Vaike." No shirt, no helmet, no problem. 

But what a soldier! When he torqued those practice-hardened muscles back and uncorked a ferocious axe strike, the Risen rose no more. He was a fierce fighter and a trustworthy ally, lending unbending support and an easy smile to all his compatriots. We'll all remember "Teach" sharing his strategies and tips freely, solicited or no. His confidence, his self-assurance, and his gusto made us all better soldiers, better allies, and better friends. 

Vaike, for your rockin' hair, your rockin' bod, your rockin' attitude, and your rockin' axe, we salute you. Rock in peace.



Mourning the Fire Emblem Fallen: Sumia

So I've been playing a lot of Fire Emblem: Awakening on my 3DS. I am really, really enjoying the game, and grabbing every spare minute to play it (aside from beating BioShock Infinite so I could script a Gun Show and be on the spoilercast before the internet could spoil it for me). I'm playing on Classic Normal mode, which means when my squad members die in combat, they stay dead. Because the characters are nicely fleshed out with distinct personalities, attributes, and relationships with others, I find myself getting attached to them, even the ones I'm not particularly keen on. When they die, I feel the sting of loss, and this sting stays with me for a while (despite the few things the game does to muddle up the mourning process, which I'll get into in a later post). So I decided to give write up blog eulogies for each member of my team that perishes under my command.

My first casualty was Sumia.


In the ranks of the Shepherds, Sumia did not tower above others. A diligent soldier, she worked at her craft with earnestness and dedication, and though she was not the most skilled or daring of the bunch, she pursued doggedly, ever striving to be worthy of her post. On that lovely spring day when we came upon a pegasus in the field, she alone approached the proud beast while others were filled with trepidation. Whether it was her humility, her gentleness, or some other, deeper virtue that soothed the beast, all we knew was that the next time we saw her, she was resplendent on the back of her new friend, her new ally.

Watching the two of them in battle was a delight. Soaring and diving, swooping and feinting, the two moved as if they had been companions from the cradle. I remember with startling clarity the moments of stillness when, perched like a peregrine above their prey, motionless at the fulcrum between shining ascent and dire descent, Sumia and her steed made time itself stop and stare. For a fleeting instant, they blazed incandescently, the winged paragon of freedom, comradeship, and love. In those moments, I thought to myself, "There! There is an angel for us Shepherds!"

She was the first to fall. The first of us to fall upon the battlefield. The brave foray that saved her fellow Shepherd from certain death brought her within range of a fell archer. The arrow that pierced those hearts pierced us all, and we have never been the same since. To this day, as I marshall my troops for yet another skirmish in the struggle to preserve our precious Ylisse, I command with extra caution my winged brethren. The sight of those wings folded in a final plummet is never far from my mind, and it is with bitter regret that I tell you now it was not the last time I saw such a sight. 

Oh Sumia, your life was short and hard, but you were unafraid. We fight here in your name. You will not die in vain. You will not be betrayed. 

Hybrid Live Stream (Archived)

Yesterday saw the release (well, sort of) of Hybrid on Xbox Live Arcade. It's a third-person shooter from 5th Cell, the creative development studio known for Lock's Quest, Scribblenauts, and other games that totally aren't third-person shooters. There were server troubles yesterday, so the game wasn't available for a lot of the day. I managed to get into some games, fortunately, and decided to live stream some gameplay for interested parties.

Six hours later, I stopped.

That's a lot of live streaming and a lot of gun shooting! If you're interested in checking some of it out, the archive is up on Commentary gets started in earnest around the five minute mark, and there's a great close match starting around 18 minutes.

Late Night Gaming Tweets: Vol. 1 - Spelunky Boss Runs

I just spent an hour or two wrapping up my night with some Spelunky on XBLA, attempting to beat the boss in level 4-4. During this stretch, I tweeted some musings on my exploits, as I often do when playing games late at night. With Twitter being such an ephemeral and limited source, I figured I'd try to make a habit of collecting tweets from such sessions in a blog post so that they don't vanish into the ether as quickly as they otherwise might. Here goes!


1. Now seems like as good a time as any to try to beat Spelunky, by which I mean die from mummies and mind beams for the next 45 minutes.
2. Starting off with Dora the Builder. Her Mona Lisa smile and big yellow hat seem to convey the proper spirit for kamikaze platforming.
....which garnered a sort-of/not-really encouraging response from Carolyn Petit (@carolynmichelle): In the words of the Dora the Builder theme song, "Can she beat it? YES! SHE! CAN!" #ButSheProbablyWont#VayaConDiosAmiga
3. In the oh-so-mortal words of @smcinnis, "Oops I died."
4. Dora's shiny yellow hat is no match for the mighty Olmec's shiny yellow self. Total deaths: 421
5. Favorite Spelunky tactic of the moment: Stun a caveman/birdman/bug and whip it's dazed body into the creeping mind beams of death.
6. Spelunky breakthrough! Have managed to trap myself in a single square surround by walls on all sides!
8. Me and my Mattock had a date with Golddome. He was the perfect gentleman right up until he ended it with A MURDER-SUICIDE AAAAASO CLOSE!!!
9. Okay, 5 more lives, then bed. Smashed by Olmec. Impaled. Impaled. Brain fried by the jackal-headed god Anubis. Crushed. G'night, everybody!
So, mission not accomplished. Ah well. Probably a bit incomprehensible to those who don't know much about Spelunky, but hey, there you have it! If you fancy getting this stuff in the first-run edition, you can follow me on Twitter.

Reactions to the End of Mass Effect 3

The following entry appeared in a series of tweets a few moments ago, but I thought this would be a good place to post these thoughts as well and see what you all think. There are no story spoilers, but obviously if you are totally averse to finding out even the vaguest structural details of the ending, you probably should wait to read until you're done.


Mass Effect 3 is a game about death, and viewing it as such provides an illuminating way to interpret the reactions to the ending.

The end of the game is like the end of the trilogy, like the end of a life. Consider, then, The Five Stages of Grief.

1. Denial - "This can't be the real ending, there must be DLC." "If you analyze it deeper, the symbolism points to a truer, better ending!"

2. Anger - "BioWare has betrayed me! How could you distill the long hours I spent in Mass Effect to one stupid choice! CHANGE IT!!"

3. Bargaining - "Look, I'm not bitter. I respect BioWare. But, please, I'll donate thousands of dollars to charity to support a new ending."

4. Depression - "Nothing I ever did in Mass Effect 3 even mattered in the end. It was all just sound and fury, signifying nothing."

5. Acceptance - "I may not like the way it ended, but I loved the time I spent with the Mass Effect series, and I'm thankful for that."

When I finished the game, I wasn't thrilled. I wasn't angry. I just kind of sat there thinking, "Huh. So that was it." Did I think that maybe something more elaborate would be more satisfying? Yes. Did I feel like I wanted to know more? For sure. But we've all experienced endings that were unsatisfactory, whether in books, film, television series, or whatever. The only thing we can control is how we choose to deal with it.

Personally, I strive for acceptance. The measure of a life is not taken in its waning hours, after all. A few minutes at the end of the road does not make all that I experienced any less wondrous, exhilarating, heartbreaking, and fascinating. I love this series, and I loved Mass Effect 3. And there were some moments in that ending that I really loved as well.

So how do you deal with it when something you love doesn't end in a way you love?

A Viewer's Guide to That Crazy Joust Video

Last Thursday evening, a dozen GameSpot editors gathered in our office arena to joust. Johann Sebastian Joust, to be specific. For an hour and half we stalked, hid, scurried, and leapt around the room while projectiles filled the air and PlayStation Move controllers glowed brightly. There was triumph, agony, near-injuries, and unintentional groping, and both participants and spectators alike left with the feeling that they had just experienced something highly unusual, but incontrovertibly awesome.

This vigorous endeavor, coordinated by the estimable Tom Mc Shea, is chronicled in the short video below, deftly distilled by the talented GS video producer, Werhner Von Goff. Each time I watch it (up to about 5 or 6 now) I see new things, remember unseen details, and chuckle aloud. However, I'm guessing that it might not make a whole lot of sense to folks who are unfamiliar with the game. With that in mind, I've written a companion of sorts to contextualize some of the crazy stuff you're seeing and help you get more out of the video. The basic premise is below, followed by the video and then some timestamps that highlight strategies, calamities, and favorite moments. Enjoy!

The Basics

Each player grabs a PlayStation Move controller (we had 5). The Moves are linked via Bluetooth to a laptop in the corner of the room, which runs the game. The laptop plays classical music at varying speeds and monitors the accelerometers in the Move controllers. The tempo of the music corresponds to the maximum speed you can move your Move; fast music means fast motions are okay, slow music means you must be very careful. If you move your controller too fast, it blinks red, vibrates, and you are out. A flashing light indicates you are getting close to the limit. Pulling the trigger (supposedly) gives you temporary invulnerability. The object is to make the other players move their controllers too fast while keeping your movements in check. Games generally last less than a few minutes, some are over in seconds.

The Video


The Breakdown

0:19 - You don't actually have to move in time with the music, Mc Shea! I went into this game thinking I'd have to be waving the Move like a conductor's wand, which is clearly not the case. Fortunately, this was the extent of Tom's disinformation campaign.

0:33 - Two back-to-back instances of verbal tactics. I begin advancing on Shaun McInnis with, "Hey Shaun. Hey Shaun. Hey Shaun." Then it sounds like Mc Shea says to Kurtis Seid, "What's Magrino doing?", in an effort to distract him into worrying about Tom Magrino. Not sure how either of those encounters ended up.

0:39 - My goon-walking phase (I'm the dude in the white t-shirt). While it was enough to make Giancarlo Varanini smile, it didn't pan out to be much of a strategy.

0:43 - Kurtis takes an lazy shot at Ryan Schubert with a small foam soccer ball. We stocked the room with a bunch of soft, throwable things to make projectile jousting a possibility for all. See if you can spot a stuffed football, a little pony, a Sonic the Hedgehog hat, a blue UFO, and Blinky from Pac-Man

0:52 - The devious and innovative Maxwell McGee grabs a desk chair, to Mc Shea's vocal dismay. This item will later be used as a defensive barrier, an offensive weapon, and a vehicle that at least one foolhardy editor (Mc Shea) tries to ride around (while using a broken fan cage as a shield).

1:10 - Carolyn Petit moves in on Marko Djordjevic for some slow-motion close-quarters jousting. One of the tamest violations of personal space you are bound to see.

1:16 - Out come a few extra props for prodding!

1:23 - Tom Mc Shea's offensive gambit backfires when Shaun stabilizies his controller and totally kicks Mc Shea in the nuts.

1:26 - The resilient Carolyn weathers a fake kick and a chair to the leg before succumbing to another fake kick (1:32) as Aron Vietti closes in from the other side. The crash noise you hear is emitted by the computer to let you know someone has been knocked out.

1:40 - Despite a nice block, Ryan succumbs to a lunge from Janmeja Heir. But take a look to the left and you'll notice that I am laid out on the floor, curled up like a bug. During a scuffle with Maxwell, I received a sharp strike to the back that resulted in some intense, albeit short-lived, discomfort. Was it his bony elbow? Was it that television lurking in the background? All we truly know is that Johann Sebastian Joust is not a game with its own perils. And that Maxwell is a total gentleman once he's eliminated you from competition (as evidenced at 3:15 and 3:21).

1:43 - I snuck The Claw into play by sticking it into the back of my pants, and Marko was the first person I tangled with. Though I manage to deftly parry his lunge with my children's toy, he gets the best of that encounter as my Move fizzles out.

1:46 - Maxwell kicks Mc Shea into a beanbag (the dude is ruthless!), but at what cost?

1:48 - A projectile montage that features three of my best throws of the night. The first never actually hits Tom, but whizzes so close to his face that his involuntary startled jerk knocks him out. The other two are direct hits, but my favorite throw of the night was when, from across the room, I bounced the foam soccer ball off of the glowing tip of Carolyn's controller and eliminated her. Headshot! (My worst one, incidentally, was when I chucked a stuffed pony directly into Maxwell's face. He spectating at the time.)

1:56 - Here we see Tom implementing a tactic I like to call, The Bum Rush. Because your controller can never move too slowly, Tom has placed it on the ground and darted after his opponents. If he can get to them all before they find his idle controller, victory shall be his! Anytime you see someone moving MUCH faster than anyone else, odds are it's a Bum Rush in action.

1:58 - Kurtis saves John Davison the indignity of being Bum Rushed by drilling him in the face with a pillow. How thoughtful!

2:10 - Giancarlo gets in a sneaky, cheeky slap on Maxwell, but as we see in the next scene, knocks himself out in the process. There are many other instances of such jousting hubris in the video, where the aggressors end up knocking themselves out as well. There's some sort of zen observation to be made here, I'm sure.

2:16 - This face-off ends with Marko falling onto a big white beanbag, much to everyone's delight. Unfortunately for him, that big dark cloth is covering a dangerous nest of music game peripherals. Having covered this hazard myself, I can confidently deduce that at 2:20, Marko hits his head on the upright leg of a drumset without the drum pads attached. Ouch!

2:22 - Mc Shea gets Bum Rush-happy! Seeing him coming for me with that hideous Sonic scalp, I instinctively set my controller down and went in for the tackle. I knew bowling him over and finding his controller was my only chance, but I only succeeded at the first part (this may also have involved some inadvertant crotch trauma for the beleaguered Mc Shea).

2:30 - Tyler Winegarner had been lying on the floor for a good 30 seconds at this point. No one messed with him and he just lay there with a huge grin on his face. Huge! Then Marko decided the free ride was over, and dropped a beanbag on him. C'est la joust!

2:34 - "Zee bubble wrap, it does nah-sing!" John is happy to demonstrate to Shaun that this is not an Egg Drop contest by bludgeoning him with an inflatable tommy gun.

2:44 - Kevin VanOrd leads Maxwell on a merry chase that comes to an abrupt halt with a quick slap from Marko. Ever the good sportsman, Kevin has the composure to accept defeat in his best Alvin and the Chipmunksvoice (thanks for that, Wernher!).

3:01 - Mc Shea puts a roaring spin on the Bum Rush, and Erick Tay isn't able to stop himself from smiling (or getting eliminated).

3:12 - Marko and Jan demonstrate the grace, elegance, and athletic prowess required to be a GameSpot employee.

3:25 - WHOMP!

3:35 - Many thanks indeed, Doug Wilson!

3:39 - He didn't *technically* get decked that round, but I did go on to claim the night's final victory (as least that's how I remember it).

The End

And there you have it. Spot anything funny that I missed? Who seemed like the most formidable competitor? Favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

My Top Ten Gaming Experiences of 2011

You may have glimpsed this list as part of our Personal Perspectives: The Top Ten of 2011 feature, but I thought I'd repost it here for posterity's sake. Also, I intend to use this blog business a little more frequently in the coming year, and I figured posting something I've already written would be a decent way (okay, maybe just a passable way) to ease back into things.

I had a great time writing this list, and really enjoyed taking a slightly different approach than is customary for end-of-the-year lists. Hope you enjoy it too!


The end of the year here at GameSpot always involves some careful measuring. As we debate the best this year had to offer, we must consider games in their entirety, weighing and balancing each part in order to catalog, compare, and choose the nominees and winners across a broad range of categories. My favorite part of this process is always when my compatriots diverge from calculation and describe the moments that made a given game special for them. Seeing their eyes light up as they recount the experiences that delighted them over the past year is always a treat, and it reminds me why I (and countless others) have so much love for video games. And so my top ten list does not document what I reckon to be the best games of the year, but rather chronicles my favorite gaming experiences from this year.

10. Surprised with emotions (Gears of War 3)

I've played Gears. I like Gears a lot. But if you'd have told me that Gears of War 3 would make me feel strongly about the Gears characters, I would have been skeptical. I regarded Delta Squad as gruffly charismatic in their way, but outside of some nicely scored trailers, I never really thought of them as sympathetic characters. But then Cole Train walked into a grocery store and caught a glimpse of his past life. Then Dom got behind the wheel of a tanker. Then Marcus was left in a world that his brother-in-arms and his father both chose to leave. For all the groan-worthy quips and action movie cliches, Gears of War 3 delivered moments of genuine pathos that surpassed any shooter storytelling in recent memory.

9. Honoring the past (Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D)

How many times have you gone back to that game/movie/ TV show/book/8-track/zoetrope you enjoyed as a younger person and thought, "Man, time has not been kind to this thing that I once esteemed"? Well, thanks to the wizards at 343 Industries and Grezzo, the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia aren't just a figure of speech anymore. The extensive visual overhauls granted to these two classic games did a fantastic job of preserving the original aesthetics while bring the presentation values into the modern era. Sure, some gameplay joints were a little creaky, but playing through these loving remakes of two of my favorite games ever was an awesome experience that honored and revitalized my fond memories. (Honorable Mention: Beyond Good & Evil HD -- A wonderful game given a great visual treatment, but alas! The poorly-rigged camera controls!)

8. A new hope (Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP)

2011 will forever live in history as the year Chris Watters got himself an iPhone, a landmark that is utterly insignificant to people who aren't my family, close friends, or Twitter followers (no, @CTWatters is not above shameless self-promotion). After playing just an absurd amount of Boggle, I reached for unfamiliar fare, enjoying both Continuum 2 and Jetpack Joyride. These relatively casual endeavors delighted me for a time, but when I first played Sword & Sworcery, I was entranced. The art style, the music, the characters -- this game had atmosphere in a way I'd never expected. And it wasn't just the novelty of seeing it on a mobile device, it was the thrill of realizing that I hadn't played anything quite like this at all. If this is possible, what could the future hold? It's an oft-repeated observation, but there's nothing like having a game open your eyes to the joyful uncertainty of new possibilities.

7. Watch me soar (Capsized)

We've all seen astronauts, right? Lumbering around in those unwieldy suits like so many Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men? It's hard to imagine them making good action heroes, but then there's Capsized. Crash-landed on a verdant alien planet teeming with lovely flora and deadly fauna, you must navigate each level with only a few tools at your disposal. You can jump. You have a jetpack. You have an elastic grapnel hook. And you have a gun that shoots a jet of force that will either propel you, the thing next to you, or both. From this modest suite of locomotive mechanics blossoms a versatile and liberating capacity for movement. Swinging, slingshotting, and rocketing around levels is a joy, whether they be claustrophobic or spacious. Capsized may drop you into an alien habitat, but before too long you are moving through it with the grace of a native.

6. Cult of personality (Portal 2 and Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective)

"Oh good. My slow clap processor made it into this thing." - GLaDOS

"You ask: Why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: Why not marry safe science if you love it so much?" - Cave Johnson

"Finally, a nemesis worthy of my vast intellect. Holmes versus Moriarty. Aristotle versus MASHY SPIKE PLATE!" - Wheatley

"The square root of rope is string." - Fact Core

The personalities in Portal 2 have quickly passed into the pantheon of video game writing, so I'll just leave those few quotes up there to offer a few chuckles. The other character highlight for me this year was Missile, an adorable little Pomeranian who starts off as a cute pet and becomes a character of significant importance. He looks charming as he bounces along on screen, but it's his dialogue that really won me over. Not many of his lines approached the quote-ability of Portal 2, but with judicious use of capital letters and some well-timed screen-shaking, I was utterly enamored by this pup's buoyant devotion to saving his master.

(Honorable mention: Forty Five, SOCOM 4 -- This Korean Spec Ops soldier is more charismatic, expressive, and hard-nosed than her male counterparts, offering a great example of how to lend authenticity to the portrayal of female soldiers.)

5. Now that's what I call action (Resistance 3)

Some video game arsenals are good; the guns are fun to shoot and there's some decent variety. Some are great; the guns have real impact and make you feel powerful. And some inspire GameSpot editors to create a new video feature (The Gun Show) and a new Special Achievement category for their Best of 2011 awards (Best Arsenal); that's Resistance 3. But the diverse and deadly guns are only the half of it. It's also the lack of regenerating health, which forces you to move when your instincts are to stay put. It's the tenacious enemies, who come at you in aggressive waves and force you to aim sharply. It's the prevalence of ammunition, which is great enough that you rarely run out but not so great that you can rely on your few favorite weapons. In the best parts of Resistance 3's campaign, these elements combine to create an exhilarating strain of action that is unmatched in the current shooterscape.

4. Fun with magnets (Red Faction: Armageddon)

For all the hilarious lines in Portal 2 and wacky situations in Saints Row: The Third, it was Red Faction: Armageddon that made me laugh out loud the most this year. Specifically, it was the magnet gun. By firing an attractor and then a magnet, you could take advantage of the robust destructibility and amusing ragdoll physics to wreak all sorts of merry havoc. I liked sending the side of a building across the room to blindside an enemy that was intently shooting me. And bringing the ceiling down on an enemy's head. And bouncing enemies off of the ceiling. Or dragging enemies from the ceiling down to splatter on the floor in front of me (and if they don't die, punching them to death on the one-hop.) Enemies into other enemies, buildings into other buildings, explosives tanks into bridges I clearly need to traverse -- all of this mayhem delighted me to no end, and I'm laughing right now just writing about it.

3. Survival instinct (Dark Souls)

Okay, so Dark Souls is hard. The environments are deadly and the enemies moreso. Progress is difficult to win and easily lost. Gaining small victories in the face of ever-looming death is certainly satisfying, but Dark Souls didn't really invade my mind until I realized it was teaching me how to survive. Sure, every game does this to some extent, but I reached a point hours into Dark Souls when it occurred to me that my successful evasions and desperate escapes were fueled by instinct. I wasn't actively thinking, "Careful! There are lizards here. Okay, I'll be safe if I head over this way." I was thinking, "OH CRAP THE CURSE LIZARDS AAAHHHH THEY ARE BEHIND ME NONONO!!" while I was somehow avoiding, outmaneuvering, and slaying them. Realizing that I could inhabit Dark Souls on a significantly deeper level than I could most games was more than a little startling, but immensely cool.

2. Keepin' it classy (Killzone 3 and Battlefield 3)

What can I say? I'm a sucker for class-based multiplayer. Virtual battlefields where players have different roles and abilities are more diverse and exciting, and I love being a part of them. From Killzone 3's snowy shootouts to Battlefield 3's dusty destructibility, these two games consumed a significant portion of my personal gaming time this year. I mostly went Medic in Killzone 3, zapping people with my little health gun and standing back up to murder my enemies when they had written me off as down for the count. For Battlefield 3, I mixed it up in order to make the most of the Engineer's anti-vehicle capabilities and Support's endless streams o' bullets (being a pest with mortars is pretty fun too). Knowing that I could jump into these competitive multiplayer matches and play a variety of different roles kept these games fresh for me and gave me something to strive for. And the fact that they both looked stellar certainly didn't hurt.

1. Part of your world (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

I harvested a plant down by the river, which I knew to be Nirnroot from its pale leaves. I reforged a legendary amulet that scores of men died to protect. I read protracted theological debates in a quiet room. I killed a frost-spewing dragon. I mined gold, smelted ore, crafted necklaces, sold them to a merchant, and went furniture shopping. I slew a cave full of trolls. I tried to cross a river and fell down a small waterfall. I possess a powerful gift unseen for decades. I play hide and seek with kids. This juxtaposition of epic deeds and everyday endeavors is what draws me into Skyrim and grabs a hold of me. The staggering abundance of people, places and things creates the sense that there is a world here, an ecosystem of which I am a part. A unique part, yes, but not so special as to be above cooking a hearty stew or gathering some flowers in my travels. Skyrim deftly incorporates the exceptional and the mundane in one expansive world, and perhaps its most impressive accomplishment isn't that it makes me feel like a hero, it's that it makes me feel like an ordinary man.

Chris and Shaun Get into the Restaurant Business

You ever reach that point in the afternoon when you just need a break? Something to lighten the mood? A brief mental vacation from the stresses and worries of the workaday week? Well, this afternoon Shaun McInnis and I reached such a point. The following instant message conversation is what transpired. It started off when I inquired if he had any margaritas. He responded that I should check down the street at Chevy's, our local national Mexican food chain with a penchant for creative naming and excitable promotions. I ventured the following:



...and it was on:


















Yes, it was in ALL CAPS. Yes, it got a little weird. And yes, it made me hungry. But we got a hearty laugh out of it and went on with our day. It's amazing what a good laugh can do to your mood. So get laughing, commenters! What TASTY DELICIOUS SPECTACULAR FOOD DISH DRINK DEAL SPECIAL EXTRAVAGANZA can you come up with?