It’s January 1st and even though that’s an entirely arbitrary measurement of time that we came up with a few centuries ago, it means yesterday was a day of entirely arbitrary customs and celebrations. Real life mimics videogames sometimes, I guess. I’m not complaining, because to me, it’s a day of oliebollen, family, friends, reflecting on the year that has passed and celebrating the year to come. It also means I’m reflecting on 2015, and I’m just going to braindump everything I’m thinking right now into a giant blogpost, so that I can read this in seven years and wonder what the hell was up with 2015.
2015 was a long year. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting – it was fascinating in so many ways, but it was fascinating in so many ways. Such a ridiculous amount of stuff happened.
The apartment I’ve been working on with Adriel has finally coalesced into something that feels ‘home’, and appropriately, this was the first year since 2011 I felt a strong longing for home a few times. That doesn’t mean I didn’t travel a lot – I circumnavigated the globe like in 2014, but I also flew a ridiculous Seattle, Argentina, Helsinki, Johannesburg, Portland trip in ten days. I think I’ve grown a fondness for the stillness of the world up in the sky – the suspension of everything but this little cabin in the middle of nothing but air for miles in any direction, and I don’t think it’s a feeling I can recreate on the ground. Space, maybe. Things are looking better and better for space travel in our lifetime.
Destiny: The Taken King takes the honor of most played game this year – again. The Taken King shows Bungie coming to an understanding of what Destiny is, and how their abilities and experience can tie into that experience. After the somewhat unnatural motions of the narrative and level re-use, The Taken King offers Bungie’s trademark action sequences and a tremendous example of re-use of existing content with new content to create all-new feeling content. My favorite conversation about the game was with budding designer Lisa Brown, with whom I talked about how clever the Taken as a construct are to allow for never before seen enemy combinations. The Oryx raid also makes for exceptional time with friends, and beating it for the first time is a great feeling.
The double jump is also still really good.
I spent quite some time racing around the bizarre United States of The Crew: Wild Run, and spent a lot of time playing Rocket League and slowly mastering my first ‘dunk’ goal. I went back to play a lot of games series that have been around for at least five years, trying to catch subtle evolutions of mechanics and understandings of design. I ran through The Master Chief Collection and the Nathan Drake Collection, and had a great time looking at how they changed. I can’t wait for (more) Mass Effect and Gears of War remasters.
There was a lot to see in 2015 in games. A lot of experiments in structure that were fascinating, from indie games like Undertale’s ‘Save The Date’-esque persistence both in the gameworld and outside of it, to AAA games like Black Ops 3 allowing you to play its campaign in any order, or Sunless Sea playing with the idea of legacy.
One of Eric Pope’s last achievements at Harmonix must have been that he finally convinced me to buy Rock Band 4, so I did, and I tried playing the drums and never stopped since. I play for an hour every day, trying to gain the elusive skill of limb independence, and after a few weeks I’m slowly getting there. My sense of rhythm is still nothing close to good, but that’s slowly getting there too.
I am also super excited to see the evolution of design to account for Twitch spectatorship, especially after games like Jackbox Party Pack and Party Hard are paving the way for more thought-out integrations. It has been fascinating seeing Free to Play mechanics and structures slowly working their way into paid games. Thanks to both of those, crafting and procedural generation are very 2015, even though they’ve been around for a bit.
Sadly, with that, open-world games also finally stepped over the line for me in terms of investment against what I get out of it. Fallout 4 didn’t grab me despite clearly having a lot of love poured into it, Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Menace is lovingly designed and intricately crafted, and also not for me. The Witcher 3 has my favorite games moment of the year in the Bloody Baron quest, but immediately loses its sense of pacing after that. Dying Light never got a second chance from me after early pacing issues (I should give it a second chance). Just Cause 3 is the closest to open world I saw, and I enjoyed that immensely.
Snakebird was lovely. ICBM was lovely. Her Story was lovely. SOMA was lovely. Prune was lovely. There was a lot of lovely in independent games. I wrote a thing over at Giant Bomb about my favorite games.
And that’s just games. There was so much this year! I didn’t have too much time to delve into movies deeper than the blockbuster layer this year, but I’m looking forward to spending some time seeing what else happened in 2015 in cinema – based on their AAA stuff, though, it was a great year. Mad Max: Fury Road was great, Inside Out was sublime and The Martian was brilliant. Beyond that, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a start-to-finish grin, Furious 7 was a lovely movie and a worthy send-off, Ex Machina was fascinating (and a great movie to argue over). The Force Awakens was a worthy successor to a series I fondly remember.
I listened to the Spotify Global Top 100 the other night, and I was surprised by how much music on there I thoroughly enjoyed. I got my own ‘Marioke’ song earlier this year, a variation of Sia’s Chandelier. I built up a tradition with CHVRCHES, them being at every games event I skip, and me being in cities they’re playing at days before or after they go there.
I didn’t read too much exceptional stuff this year, but I did read a reasonable amount. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mindset for it in 2015. My most recent reads were Death by Video Game by Simon Parkin and Embed With Games by Cara Ellison. I also re-read Ventus by Karl Schroeder, which remains one of my favorite books after it got recommended to me by a friend a few years ago.
It was a strange year in gadgets. I was amazed by the HTC Vive, bought a DJI drone for my birthday and crashed it immediately (luckily only destroying the majority of the propellers, which thankfully can be replaced). I was thoroughly impressed by the Hue Tap working without batteries or electricity (it gets its charge through the interaction!). I kind of fell out of love with the iPad Air, but I did get a iPad Pro for testing and surpisingly liked it.
For travel, I bought a HORI Playstation 4 monitor that has become a travel mainstay, and got a Casio Solar Edifice Black watch that is not a smart watch, but does automatically adjust to my time zone – which is lovely. I switched out the Parrot Zik 2 for a Bang & Olufsen H8 early on in the year, and by the end of year switched to a Sennheiser Momentum Wireless set because, while lovely, the touchpad on the H8 kept messing me up. The Momentum Wireless has enough battery to last the DL201 flight and a transfer, which is really all I need.
My old trusty Samsonite Pillow backpack, the one I bought after my identical one was stolen at E3 a few years ago, finally gave up on my trip to Hong Kong, and was replaced by a Samsonite Pro-DLX 4 17” backpack. They don’t make the Pillow anymore. I carried it home, and it sits in a cabinet full of memorabilia from my life (I also can’t bring myself to throw out the leather jackets I own).
As for what I carry in it, my old MSI laptop died within the year, and their customer support was the least pleasant experience I’ve had with customer support on this side of cheap ISP’s. Buying a new one, the HP Omen won out over the Razer Blade. It looks pretty silly, but it’s a powerful laptop that is both useful for work and entertainment. I’m pretty happy with it, but the battery life is awful, so I still have to carry my trusty Macbook Air. I can’t wait until they properly figure out the Microsoft Surface Book series.
The Samsung S6 Edge+ was my phone upgrade this year, and it works pretty well if you’re carrying a multitude of portable USB batteries around. Did you know the majority of the planet doesn’t carry portable batteries around? I do now, after spending an hour in the cold in Philadelphia outside a door without any charge in my phone, unable to get the people inside to look for me.
I saw a lot of the world this year! Hong Kong was a personal favorite, with a lovely and growing indie community. This year’s A MAZE Johannesburg was so, so lovely as usual. I had a great time in Skövde, Sweden and spent some time in Dundee, Scotland with YoYo Games. My return to Buenos Aires was an amazing trip that led to my favorite memory of 2015: singing a Dutch song during an impromptu improvised karaoke in the cellar of a bar – with two dozen variably inebriated Argentians trying to sing Dutch along with me.
In terms of people and experiences and memories, 2015 was lovely. There was Train Jam again, or a great night at a silent disco in Philadelphia at the Forbes 30 under 30, playing The Beginners Guide as a full game after discussing an earlier version with months earlier, having friends over with their Xbox One’s because supported or not, we will play the Halo 5 campaign together. Adriel and I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles with Adam Boyes in the back of our car hours before his E3 stage performance. I ate a ridiculously hot habanero pepper on a YouTube show together with The Future Host Of The Star Wars Premiere and Shuhei Yoshida. I spent a lot of time with people that inspire me, veteran developers whose work I’ve played since I was a kid, spent a lot of time with developers all over the world making amazing stuff, went to magic shows with close friends, and wandered fields and mountains alike. I spent a few days in a little cabin in the middle of nowhere with Adriel, near a giant crater lake, just doing nothing.
I’ve spent time with old friends, and met a lot of wonderful new people.
In terms of my talks, I think I’ve given some of the best ones I’ve done this year. I noticed that I’ve slowly transitioned my talks a bit – I used to be of the mindset that I’d rather be slightly over-optimistic than scare off potentially great designers, but I realize my words is rather unlikely to scare away somebody that’ll do great work. Instead, I focused more on the challenges and realities of independent game development, giving practical advice and reality checks. A last-minute talk in the Netherlands in that style was extremely well received, although it might’ve shattered some dreams here and there. I’m still not sure where the tone of my talks will evolve to, but I’m still enjoying doing them a lot. My audiences seem happy, so that seems like a good deal.
gamedev.world is still on hold, while I wrap up on my final responsibilities on other projects. I’m extremely excited to start working on it after the announcement earlier this year, and most of the pieces are in place, but after two false starts, we’ve decided to take more time to think through the project. The project comes with a lot of responsibility, and we intend to do it right rather than fast.
distribute() finally gained steam, after investing a reasonable amount of money and working on it for over a year with fellow developer Martijn Frazer. presskit() obviously has way more reach, being free and self-hosted, but distribute() fills a void that no one had filled yet. I’m seeing different services pop up that offer the same services for a small fee, and I hope distribute() being free indefinitely will force those other prices to stay affordable for independent developers.
Finally, and obviously, we released Nuclear Throne. I am so extremely proud of what we’ve achieved in the two and a half years we’ve been working on it. It was such a long stretch, and we could’ve not gotten this far without support from Steam, Twitch, Humble, YoYo Games and SONY. We spent so much time working with lovely people. The sales figures are wonderful, the support we’ve had from new and old fans alike has been overwhelming, and people’s patience with the problems the game had on launch was heartwarming. Nuclear Throne is sitting on a 9.0 score average, and we’re receiving enormous amounts of fanart and love. We’re currently working on ensuring the game is stable, works well on all configurations, and getting a patch out for Playstation platforms.
There are quite some lessons to be learned from the development of Nuclear Throne, but that’s a story for another day, when we have some more distance and perspective.
It’s never going to ‘click’ for me that I have an opportunity to have a positive impact for creators worldwide in this medium, but I’m slowly learning to deal with things like the responsibility of having a 100,000 Twitter followers, or getting recognized at events (or even in public sometimes). It’s odd, but I’ve been on the other side of that so often that I’m extremely grateful to anyone who decides to come over and say ‘hi’ despite nerves or hesitations. If you ran into me in 2015, but didn’t say ‘hi’, please do so next time we run into each other. If we don’t run into each other in real life, maybe come hang out in one of the livestreams. I intend to do them a bit more frequent – and a bit more scheduled – this year.
For now, I continue to be so grateful for the fantastic people around me, and the people I interact with and run into around the world that continue to grant me more hospitality and friendliness than a traveler like myself could possibly hope for. I hope to travel, learn and make so much more, and to share those stories with you.