2012, like many years in the gaming industry, was pretty typical at first glance. January was the graveyard for post-Christmas games that didn’t make the cut, game releases slowed down over the summer, and most of the majorly hyped games came out at year’s end.
However, what makes the difference are the details. Not everything this past year was hunky-dorey, easy-peazy, same as always. To put it simply, some serious s**t went down.
Let’s take a look at the highlights and shames, the odd moments and the foreboding omens, of 2012.
Innovation, or at least change, was the name of game development this year. A little development firm called Fuseproject lent its talented founder, Yves Behar, to the little-known company Boxer8 to aid in creating the upcoming OUYA console. OUYA looks to be the next step for independent game developers as it promises consumers an open source console with its own marketplace of both independent and mainstream games at a $99 price point.
All that success – that is, all of the $8,596,475 backing the project – came from Kickstarter, an up-and-coming website dedicated to collecting funding for independent developers everywhere. You’re likely to have seen victories from the site everywhere – in fact, our own Opinionator brought one such project to our attention, the attempt of Greg Pabich to release the “fixed” version of Cheetahmen 2 on actual NES cartridges (though there’s a less pleasant story there that I’ll get to in a moment). Other successes on Kickstarter include new installments in the Elite and Wasteland series, as well as a new Tim Schafer project.
Then we come to the mainstream, which benefited at times from learning to accept the outliers of the industry into its midst. Everyone expected that a Walking Dead video game made by Telltale would at least be good, but I don’t think we expected it to win multiple awards at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards, included the ever-coveted Game of the Year Award. Seriously, though, The Walking Dead is a major victory for downloadable games, for storytelling in games, and for the industry in general; it means people and the industry are growing up a bit.
Other games didn’t just stagnate, either. XCOM: Enemy Unknown brought relevance back to the franchise and turn-based strategy games by incorporating just enough to make it recognizable while changing what kept it in the ’90s. The new IP from Bethesda, Dishonored, achieved critical and commercial success for bringing new life and evolution to stealth action games (though you have to admit, it’s easy to tell Harvey Smith worked on it – it smells of Deus Ex). Finally, and most unexpectedly, Call of Duty: Black Ops II brought a refreshing change to its series by focusing on telling an emotionally engaging story, giving the player meaningful choices, and varying up the pacing of its intense action.
Unfortunately, there were a few bumps on the road to transcendence and bliss. First, let’s address the Vita, Sony’s latest attempt to toss something into the next-gen ring. The touch-screen-sporting handheld suffered from a lack of quality games and poor sales in Japan as June approached. The most common complaint was, as expected, that the $300 price tag was a little steep. That said, not even a reasonable price can change the fact that an Uncharted Vita game received a mixed, if ultimately positive, reception.
There were also closures of some famed developers that tended to come out of nowhere and soured the air. For one, the partial downsizing of Radical Entertainment, longtime subsidiary of Activision-Blizzard, was viewed as the forerunner of the entire Vancouver gaming industry crash, which involved Rockstar Vancouver’s shutdown and left only EA Canada operating there. Then, adding to Activision’s bad rap, their UK-stationed subsidiary Eurocom was forced to layoff many of its employees and eventually was shut down entirely.
We also suffered losses in manpower from some unexpected places. The most surprising was the announcement from BioWare that founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk would be retiring after 17 years with the company. The reasoning is blurred, but an ex-BioWare employee theorized that their decision may have resulted from the reception of both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3 (more on the latter soon).
Now for the uncomfortable events. I mentioned earlier the Kickstarter project that Greg Pabich used to fund Cheetahmen 2: The Lost Levels, but the details that came to light over the summer are rather worrying to say the least. In August, Mike Matei, a producer for Cinemassacre.com, pulled a video where he, James “The Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe and even Pabich himself advertised the project. His reasoning was that the entire fund was a scam, since Pabich was asking for $65’000 to remake an NES game that already had “a fixed version…floating around” (as published by Original Gamer, August 9/12).
If that doesn’t seem questionable enough, turn to Square Enix for a moment. Twice this year, they have tested the patience and acceptance of gender rights movements everywhere. This series of awkward events began with the May release of a trailer for Hitman: Absolution entitled “Attack of the Saints”. The trailer, depicting the brutal demise of scantily-clad, gun-totting nuns, forced Square to apologize for the apparent “sexist portrayal of women”. Not long after, Square forced themselves into another corner when the project director for Tomb Raider tried to cover over what seemed to be an obvious portrayal of sexual assault in a trailer for the upcoming game.
Finally, we saved the lowest and most concerning for last: Mass Effect 3. All of it.
Mere days after the game released, a massive uproar could be heard among the gaming community over the ending, which they claimed was illogical, unsatisfying and utterly insulting (perhaps a bit of personal bias, but that’s the gist). For months, BioWare and EA suffered the brunt of society’s anger – which was displayed when several fans sent 402 slightly-different cupcakes to BioWare, funded the Child’s Play charity under false pretenses and even supported The Consumerist naming EA “The Worst Company in America” over Bank of America and AT&T.
The brutality was eventually brought to a peaceful resolution when BioWare announced the Extended Cut DLC that would improve Mass Effect 3‘s ending (which, subjectively, it did), but the damage was done and the message was clear. It’s astounding that people so loyal to a company and a franchise, myself included, could be turned into such savage cynics.
I want to say 2012 was worthwhile in the long run. I want to believe that DMC: Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance‘s initial impressions won’t define the final products, that Telltale can follow up The Walking Dead with something equally successful, that BioWare won’t crumble into despair and irrelevance.
But something about this year just won’t let me. In the end, all I can say is that 2012 was…okay. At least there was creativity. At least BioWare tried to make things right. At least we knew what to expect in general.
At least Gamer Codex is still around, still keeping its cool. That gives me hope.
This is the Codex Admin signing off. Keep reading, gamers.