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Live Free Play Hard: Porpentine's Top 10 of 2013

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OBJECTIVELY SPEAKING

Hi here’s 10 games I like. 10 games that stuck in my head. On a different day they could have been 10 different games, but they happened to be these.

Room of 1000 Snakes by Ben Esposito and Yuliy Vigdorchik

The perfect game to watch someone else play. It makes me happy in a purer way than pretty much any other game this year. Pure snake injection.

Blues for Mittavinda by Jack King-Spooner

Zen Wild West surreal wander that intimately manifests the power of the author in a way few would dare. Not audacious because of intense content, but audacious because it asks us to regard the passage of time in relation to our bodies, these bodies made nervous by the pressure to stay productive, made nervous by the ambient fear of death.

In all the noise of gunfire and the shout of explosions, one of the best games about death in 2013 is very quiet.

Gods Will Be Watching by Deconstructeam

Narrative strategy game with lovely bleak art, about a party of scifi adventurers crashed on a planet infected by plague. Each has a set of actions emphasizing a particular strength, and together they form a fragile ecosystem. If the doctor dies, no more medicine. If a person dies and their corpse is infected, they’re no good for cannibalism. Etc.

I think it’s just a little too hard but tuning my strategy to survive slightly longer every time is satisfying and tense. The last time I wrote about it, I made a guide. I’m excited for the full version of this game. I hope it keeps the taut strategy without losing focus.

Composition 62 by Nuprahtor

“This is an Angels of Mons moment simulator.”

The most ephemera-oriented game I played in 2013, a structure designed to capture a wisp of a feeling, with the audacity to bring multiplayer into such a delicate space and make it part of the puzzle.

“Together we unwittingly created the perfect image: A weary soldier staring at the sky, lost in rapture, when a shot rings out, and that precious song snaps out of existence, and there’s only the dirt and death and corpses and flies.”

Zero by Artūrs Grebstelis

Artūrs was an interesting designer to me in 2013 because of his approach to the shmup/bullet hell genre. He does not care about deaths, which would end the game.  He cares about the patterns formed by the bullets, treating them as mantras to be hummed with your fingers until you attain enlightenment.

His games make me sweat.

Beat one pattern and you move to the next. The challenge is your own endurance, not lives or scrolling levels. Grebelis enhances this with warlike drums. They intensify as the loop nears completion, enemies disintegrating with the climax as if the drums were summoning them into existence.

Artūrs calls it a “bullet hell” and the hell part feels very literal to me. This is a war the Zero pilots did not win, and the blood red evening evokes this. A war ghost forced to perfectly reenact your violent death until you’re finally laid to rest.

86856527 by Michael Brough

He has a paid version of this out for iOS, but even the free version feels so complete. Takes the elegance of his earlier game Zaga-33 and expands it to a cyberpunk roguelike that makes “the numbers not so big and the grids not so wide, so their relationships reflect intrinsic beauty not cold engineering”, to quote Michael.

Incredibly lean design, with every floor taking up a single screen and presenting a glistening field of largely deterministic choices–but far from antiseptic, with the author’s voice filtered through the various monsters in alien barks and burbles.

86856527 seems hard at first. Then you master it. Then you realize where the real challenge is. Your own greed. All these juicy expensive programs. All these ways to get points.

For example, Robert Meyer pointed out the nature of the Score program, which is “most efficient at the same time that it’s at its riskiest and least convenient”, scoring points for every level remaining, but spawning terrifying amounts of enemies. The entire game is a delicious trap.

Candy Box! by aniwey

For reclaiming compulsive social game elements and turning them into a candy-coated world of discovery. Typical social games could never permit the uncertainty and wonder of Candy Box!

I’m fascinated to see how capitalist designs look when overgrown by nature. I love seeing numbers get bigger. When those numbers represent candy, nothing in the human soul can withstand it.

Reveal by Marie Lazar, Mike Prinke, Tim Liedel, Patrick O’Malley

There’s something deeply unsettling about architecture divorced from normal surroundings.

Reveal puts you inside a windowless exitless room. You see a mirror, but it’s clouded. No reflection. By clouding the mirror, the designers hint that the magazines on the wall are your true source of reflection–the mirrors that society provides for women, and any mirror of glass is just a place of private agony to contort yourself until you resemble those thin white cis depictions.

It’s like opening a puzzle box from the inside, claustrophobia married to catharsis.

000000052573743 by Jake Clover

Previously I wrote, “How many games about dystopias would be improved if you were just a working class drone…How can we criticize systems if we only play as two-dimensional hyper-escapist heroes, and not as people actually affected by the violence and injustice so common to many narratives?” 000000052573743 is all about that drone experience, and not just superficially, but in the psychological dynamic it creates.

Follow the yellow rat tyrant’s orders or die. This is scary not because you might fail to carry out those orders, but because following those orders might not be enough. And I like their ambiguity–how often in real life are we punished for a lack of knowledge, no matter how much we’d like to comply? Being tormented so callously, so brutally by a game was thrilling.

If you like this, his compilation Some Games gave me a lot of feelings about game design.

Bump! by Aaron Steed

Takes the reflex-punishing platformer and makes it turn-based. Get gems, knock spikes to make new paths, avoid death. The game goes as fast as you want, and as slow as you need to think. The screen scrolls as you move, cutting off possibility, forcing you to consider every dead end, every spike-infested cluster.

Bump! is very good at making me feel like my decisions matter. Every inch of the terrain is hugely meaningful, thanks in no small part to the harsh random generation, which makes me feel like I’m surviving a cruel, suffocating dirt world.

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Other mentions: Crypt World, 4-LUNG BOY, The River, My Favorite Island, Depression Quest, 2x0ng, A Dark RoomCésure…the fact that our lists are such a struggle to make is a good sign. OVERWHELMED BY PRECIOUS RICHES

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OH I MADE MORE LISTS

INTERACTIVE FICTION

A hugely experimental category. One of these games is so experimental it doesn’t even exist. Dialogue generated by Markov chain, fridge magnets, dream diaries interpolated with Google Streetview glimpses, self-aware NPC lovers, a gun that shoots words–this is where you go to play with language and experience avant-garde storytelling.

TWINE

To mention a few:

Unbreakable is one of the most underrated and moving Twines of the year, in my opinion. It’s about rehabilitating a surgical robot through musical therapy. The music you hear is the sum of your choices, each decision adding a layer to the song.

It requires close reading. Each paragraph is obliquely rich with world-building. I missed so much the first time I played it.

HORSEMASTER is a gritty, passionate exploration of raising a horse in a body horror dystopia. I don’t understand why Neopets hasn’t bought the license for this yet.

You Will Select a Decision, № 2: Cow Farming Activities on the Former West was the Twine game I laughed at the most this year. Sitting in bed with my partner and playing it with her is a good memory.

SABBAT is the most detailed sexy Satanic sacrifice simulator of 2013. A new version was released recently with cruelty-free options for those with qualms about sacrificing animals.

SEX

My sexuality? Anne Hathaway.

Six games encompassing a broad spectrum of sexuality. Some, like Fuck That Guy and Anne Hathaway’s Erotic Mouthscape, are joyful spurts of pure indulgence. Others go deeper–the valuable buried knowledge of Positive Space, the heterosexual deconstruction of Sacrilege and Sex with Men.

HORROR

Noticed a lot of good horrors by women this year. Who better to understand body horror than people forced to occupy contradictory bodies, told their bodies are disgusting, forced to turn their pain inward? Who better to understand pervasive fear and dread?

And the other editors made their own lists, well worth checking out. Something I like about figames is how the editors all have their particular strengths and areas they like to cover, so if your taste isn’t represented in this list, you might see it elsewhere.

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GAME PREDICTIONS FOR 2014

-Games about Atlantis will surge in popularity

-Roguelike-influenced design will continue to rise

-300% rise in femme aesthetic across all genres

-Princesspunk roguelike will unite these predictions in grand apotheosis

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Thanks for reading, and good luck in 2014.

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Porpentine

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