Category: Culture

Of 2016: The GameLuv Report

Of 2016: The GameLuv Report

GameLuv’s stats were a real surprise in 2016! I only managed to make 72 posts, an all time low, but we almost had a 4-year high with 10,149 views. Once again, lots of views (1,834) were to the homepage which makes me happy to think that at least a few hundred of you come directly to GameLuv.com. For that I apologize, I really should have more posts going up throughout the year. Between OSV and Delisted Games the site is suffering from some neglect.

Beyond the homepage our top views were again from years past but this time most were just from 2015. The KPop Dance Festival news saw another 1,625 views in 2016, the most for a single post on the site. As Submerged went on sale and was ported to iOS more people came looking for meaning behind the game’s made-up language. That brought another 830 views to my post Decoding the Language and Story of Submerged. I’m happy to see more posts from 2016 pop up in the top ten as well.

Of 2016: The GameLuv Report

When Miyamoto appeared on The Tonight Show the internet had a bit of a freak-out over his shirt featuring Mario dressed up as a samurai. It immediately reminded me of the last Club Nintendo calendar that features Mario and friends dressed up for various Japanese holidays. I scanned the calendar and it brought in 253 views just in the last few weeks of 2016. My post recounting some new tidbits on Metal Gear Survive garnered 224 views and my March Update on Spelunker World grabbed another 104 views.

In search we had the same results as usual. Of our 4,329 search referrals, 3,898 were from Google. The next highest referrer was Reddit where I’d shared some posts about the Nintendo Switch, Spelunker World and Earth Defense Force. The search terms that brought people to the site couldn’t have been much more varied from last year, though.

While “luv game” and “just dance kpop” prevailed we had more people come our way thanks to Spelunker World and Metal Gear Survive than anything else. I’m also especially proud that someone’s search for “goat farting in zoo” landed them on this post, even though it wasn’t what they were looking for. Finally, I’m not sure what “kyar game” is but I don’t think it was someone looking for an early augmented reality experience at Disney World, which is what I posted about in 2007.

Visits from every country: Gotta Catch 'em All

Globally, we had the same kind of split as usual. 5,467 visitors from North America, 458 from Canada, 433 from the UK and a few hundred each from the remaining European countries. Pretty much all of the numbers were increases as well, although that includes the Eastern European ones where the spammers and scammers come from.

It was a surprisingly good year for the site and I think the only thing I can honestly attribute it to is something changing with Google’s algorithm. I did add an SEO plugin to the site but I’ve only made the metadata changes on the most recent posts. Unless it’s doing some real magic I think it’s really to do with search rank and all that Google stuff. I’m no SEO expert, not even a novice really, so I’m happy enough to see the numbers go up on the graphs.

Looking ahead, I’ll probably end up doing the Top Twenty of the IGF again, although I may take more time with it this year instead of rushing to put a bow on it. I hope to do some more cross-posting from my YouTube channel to the site and at least do a recap of my work on OSV. And of course, I’ll be throwing all kinds of random thoughts, pick-ups and links as they pop up. I’ll be updating the Play-Asia sidebar for a new look in 2017 instead of cluttering up the joint with their random product images. I’ve also begun doing some A/B testing with the few ad banners on the site so you may not see the same 3 ads for mobile games that I feel have been running forever. Also, I might as well ask if you’d turn off your ad blocker for us? It really does help and I promise I don’t have any pop-ups or pop-overs waiting to annoy you.

 

Thanks for all the visits, 2016!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks goes to everyone who stopped by GameLuv in 2016. I hope you found something entertaining, informative or completely new! Cheers to the best in 2017!

Of 2016: My Top Five Games

Here's my five favorite, most special games of 2016!

Even making an unordered list of my five top games of 2016 feels really hard this year. I don’t have a thread to tie them all together or any point to make. Maybe it’s the Retro Effect, spending a lot of meaningful time playing, recording, sharing and investigating old stuff. Nevertheless, here are my Top Five most special games of 2016, meticulously ranked… in alphabetical order.

Dragon Quest Builders (PlayStation 4)
I played the Japanese demo early in 2016 but it was Katy who actually picked this one up. After she bounced off I got totally sucked in by the combination of Minecraft with a Quest Log. There are still some glaring oversights that will hopefully be smoothed out in a sequel but giving purpose to the block-placing and crafting was ingenious.

With the NPCs requesting new rooms and personal favors it almost felt like Animal Crossing. Suddenly it wasn’t just “build this room out of dirt”, it was all about building and decorating a room and the town to feel like a real place. Pushing the game’s limits and trying to outsmart the frequent monster invasions only kept me building for hours and hours on end.

Inside (Xbox One)
It’s not flashy or loud or even very long but if you stop for a moment while playing Inside you can tell why it took nearly six years to make. Almost every step of the way has a unique mechanic that makes you feel like you’ve mastered its nuances by the time you move on.

It may look simple and flat shaded (the characters don’t even have faces, I hear you say) but there are so many miniscule details in the environments, the physics and the animations that subtly sucked me in. The final stretch was also a huge, shocking surprise that had me playing with one hand while the other clasped my gaping mouth below a wide eyed stare. All this without diary entries to explain the story or even spoken dialog.

The Last Guardian (PlayStation 4)
Had this come out on the same schedule as its predecessors (which would put it around 2009) it would’ve been my Game of the Year without doubt. But so far removed from its original time and place it’s hard to fall totally in love with it. The Last Guardian is exactly the combination of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus and nothing more. In fact, it’s missing a few things. There’s no villain which made ICO’s finale so memorable and what is here is more confusing than emotionally resonant.

Still, I found myself in love with Trico for most of the game, talking to it in the same way I would a pet. Questioning where it’s going, chiding it for making perilous jumps and giggling at its antics were all reactions I never expected to feel from a game. Not even my beloved Preston from Petz Hamsterz elicited a real reaction like this. What dulls these amazing moments with Trico are the times when you can practically see the AI routines running. I tried to convince myself it was acting naturally and that this was a “real” creature but I couldn’t help being resigned at times to wait for it to finish its equations.

I may sound down on it but The Last Guardian is absolutely a Top Five for me. Its luster may diminished after all the years in mothballs but it’s still totally unique, memorable and special to me.

Starbound (Steam)
Similarly long in development was Starbound, a spiritual expansion of Terraria which I already loved to pieces. There had been plenty of alpha and beta builds over the years but I really wanted to wait for a 1.0 release to jump in. Like so many other games I’ve enjoyed in the last few years, it’s the mystery of how Starbound works and what sights there are to discover that satisfied me so much. Now that I think of it, it’s also a little like Dragon Quest Builders in that it adds a loose structure to the otherwise directionless crafting that’s typical of the genre.

It was made all the more special by playing it with Katy at my side. There are a few quirks to it but the way Starbound manages everyone’s unique, randomly generated universes across multiplayer is downright elegant. We were able to establish a shared planet where we built a home and farmed our crops while venturing out on quests, delving deep into dangerous otherworldly depths. Hilariously, we found ourselves robbing these quest locations blind, “shopping” for new decorations and materials while rescuing NPCs and fighting bosses.

Being a cute and colorful “2D Minecraft” made the soundtrack hit even harder. Curtis Schweitzer’s score makes even mundane farming feel meaningful and while it looped a lot for the 90 hours we were playing I couldn’t bring myself to turn it off. It was my Soundtrack of the Year for good reason and makes the game feel even more alive.

The Witness (PlayStation 4)
It’s hard for me to call this one as I’m writing this almost exactly a year after I last played it. Right at this moment I can’t recall playing The Witness very clearly but I remember the way it made me feel. Smart! Sure, I stumbled at understanding plenty of its mechanics and had to look up hints and ultimately some naked solutions. But there are hundreds of puzzles to unravel in the game and I sussed out the majority of them on my own, with my own brain. Just like Jonathan Blow’s previous game, Braid, The Witness has a way of making your head feel swimmy in the most empowering way. It’s like turning your head sideways and seeing something that wasn’t there before.

One of the defining moments — which I really hope you’ve had for yourself if you don’t know where this is going — is realizing that the puzzles aren’t contained to the little panels where you draw lines and shapes. Perspective is the key to the game and it is almost narcotically mind altering the first time you see it. Like everyone else I was seeing shapes in real life for weeks and spent hours reading theories and explanations on reddit when I wasn’t able to play.

Who knows, maybe it really did expand my mind as 2016 has been enlightening for me in so many ways, in and out of gaming. I may not be able to recall a lot of it right now but those feelings haven’t left me and for that it deserves to be a Top Five.

Of 2016: The Bummers

Of 2016: The Bummers

I wrote down a bunch of games that I personally didn’t care for but it’s not like they were bad, broken or offensive, it just wasn’t my time to embrace them. Instead, my Bummers of 2016 are all about trends, both personally and industry-wide.

Playing Fewer Games
I miss my glory days when I was able to put my hands on hundreds of PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube and PC titles. Between press contacts, freelance writing, working at Blockbuster — and regrettably, piracy — I played through so many more games than I have in the past half-decade. Nowadays I seem to double down on a smaller assortment of endlessly replayable experiences. The kind with more mystery to their mechanics rather than an emphasis on story or the size of their worlds.

It’s not that I feel I’m wasting my time or am left unsatisfied — in a lot of ways these games are more personally rewarding than 12-hour single player campaigns — but there are still loads of games I’d like to have seen through first hand. See the Might’ve Been Cools for just a tiny list of games I intended to play, but still haven’t.

Oh, you mean the 360? Yeah that was great

Xbox, what’s that?
I really did love the Xbox, all the way back to the original. The 360 era was my favorite generation of gaming and most of it was thanks to that console. We even got an Xbox One around its launch and I fully expected it to be my platform of choice this generation. But the games, they did not come. Instead it was the PlayStation 4 that brought the most exclusives that I was personally excited about. With the PS4 always at the ready it became the place I preferred to play and watch just about everything in 2016.

  • After 7 years I let my Xbox Live Gold membership expire and I don’t feel even a pang of remorse about it.
  • Not even their offerings of “free” games were enough to keep me on the hook.
  • We still only own a single Xbox One controller.
  • Even Kinect, whose voice commands are the best way to navigate the kludgy Dashboard, was retired.

Maybe Scorpio will win me over or maybe I’ll build a new gaming PC and the Play Anywhere stuff will really take off. But outside of a precious few exclusives like Inside and FRU the whole Xbox experience in 2016 was a dusty, distant and dormant afterthought for me.

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Delisted Games and Delisted Games
I didn’t fall into a rabbit hole with delisted games so much as I dove into a labyrinthine ant nest with contorted tunnels sprawling out into the darkness. I launched DelistedGames.com in 2016 and spent the spring and early summer really drilling into things. It’s still very much console-focused but without the support I was hoping to find it’s going to be much longer before it grows to encompass PC and mobile delistings. Still, I have a pretty good base and I’ve done my best to keep up with shutdown notices and sudden disappearances throughout the year.

We lost even more games in 2016 due to licensing deals and studio consolidation. Just a very few include: Project Spark, Dead Star, Disney Infinity, The Beatles: Rock Band DLC, Xbox Fitness, Asteroids: Outpost, Asheron’s Call, SMASH+GRAB, Forza Horizon, Castle of Illusion, The Devil’s Third, Planetside, Legends of Norrath, DUST 514 and Nosgoth. Thankfully we got more advanced notices in 2016 so fans could temper their emotions and enjoy the last few days, weeks and months with these games.

It’s still sad to see a game go and it isn’t going to stop, ever. It’s also getting harder to dig up details after the fact as so much of the modern web lacks permanent URLs. Even the invaluable Archive.org can’t capture the current PlayStation Store leaving research to exhaustive data mining or forum heresay. Microsoft recently transitioned all their web stores over to a similar structure leaving a mess of URLs that may or may not be navigable in its wake.

Of 2016: The Most Played Games

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It’s getting harder to track playtime than it used to be. I feel like most games used to give you the full stats breakdown but this year I’m basing most of these on gut feelings. The biggest guestimation is for Dragon Quest Builders which I’ve pegged at 95+ hours. The only stat the game tracks is “days passed” which I timed out to be about 10 minutes. Time stops during dialog scenes though, as well as when you’re in any of the menus and at the beginning of each new chapter until you progress to a certain point. For a game with a restrictive inventory system there’s loads of time spent juggling items, using up materials and deciding what to throw away. What kept me going for 95 hours? Look for my Top Five of 2016 post coming up.

Ace Combat and Starbound, 2 very different games I spent 90+ hours with in 2016

Surprisingly, 2nd and 3rd place are tied at 91 hours between Ace Combat Infinity and Starbound. Having picked up a more reliable slim PlayStation 3 I felt like I could push the hardware with months of non-stop, repeatable Ace Combat action. It’s a free-to-play amalgamation of the series’ greatest hits and it became my new Spelunker World for most of 2016. I checked in daily to use up my free “fuel”, running missions and racking up rewards to pump into the gargantuan upgrade system. Aside from October when I was totally absorbed by Dragon Quest I think I kept at it almost every day from July through December.

Starbound’s time was much more concentrated around its launch in late July. After 4+ years in the making I was ready to dive into the spiritual follow-up to Terraria with Katy at my side, crafting and exploring our randomly generated galaxies. One of the few games I played on Xbox this year was Dead Rising 3 (ironically, in the same year they announced and released a brand new sequel) in which I racked up a reasonable 40 hours. It was a good balance of traditional Dead Rising race-the-clock quests with some forgiving modern concessions. It was a fun and frivolous romp and most of those hours were spent hunting down the array of collectibles in the game.

I Let it Die so many times

Back on PlayStation 4 again is Let it Die with 36 hours, an impressive feat considering I only started it in December! It’s peculiar style, crafting system and punishing multiplayer invasions have me ready to throw myself against its challenges most evenings. A single run at the tower usually requires 60+ minutes and with only a sneaky way to “pause” the action it’s demanding and captivating. More often than not I come back down the Tower of Barbs with my heart racing but ready to do it all over again. It’s the most harrowing grind I’ve ever experienced in a game and it’ll probably last well into 2017.

Honorable Mentions go to Spelunker World which was still going strong through the end of May. It doesn’t have an hour counter though so there’s no way to tell how much time I really spent. My guess would be well over 10 hours, if not 20 or more. Also without a counter is Big City Stories, the free-to-play SimCity lite that I loaded up for between 5 and 30 minutes most days. It’s hard to tell if I put in a lot of time or just played it for a lot of days. The Witness also lacks a counter but I can’t even guess at this one. There were probably hours spent staring at the screen and doodling out solutions in a notebook. I even cut out little Tetris pieces to help brainstorm new solutions outside of the game. It probably makes it into the top five but when it was expanding my consciousness I definitely wasn’t thinking about the time.

Of 2016: The Game Music

Of 2016: The Game Music

For another year my top music post is housed over on Original Sound Version where I managed to write nearly 90 game music posts in 2016 (!). It’d be really great if you’d check out the full post with some very special honorable mentions but since you’re already here I’ll give you the highlights.

Game Soundtrack of the Year: Starbound by Curtis Schweitzer
There’s a tiny caveat with Starbound. Although the game was released in 2016 I’ve been sitting on this massive soundtrack collection since the backer rewards went out… three years ago. I can only give you my solemn Boy Scout promise that I really didn’t start listening (or playing) until the months leading up to the 1.0 release.

Like my pick for Metal Gear Solid V last year, Starbound has a soundtrack I still haven’t tired of even after hearing it on loop for dozens of hours. My wife and I clocked over 90 hours in the game, the majority of it spent farming on our starter world all set to the same few songs. Some of the 60+ tracks are faster or more dramatic but it’s the long, expansive symphonies that stretch for 8, 13, even 20+ minutes that continue to stir me. It’s shocking how much emotion this music whips up in me for a game that looks so simple.

Runner Up: The Flame in the Flood by: Chuck Ragan
Similarly stirring is Chuck Ragan’s original soundtrack to The Flame in the Flood. It’s short but so, so sweet and somber. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the torment of the roguelike gameplay that it accompanies. It’s also a rarity to hear acoustic folk music, heavy with lyrics, on a game’s soundtrack, even if some of these songs aren’t directly in the game. VGMO has a fantastic review of the album and you can listen for free on Chuck Ragan’s YouTube channel.

Arrangement Album of the Year: VGM NXC 001 by: Party Members
How did this April Fool’s joke that spiraled into an actual release become my favorite arranged album of the year? It’s choppy and frantic in all the right EDM/dub/trap ways that speak to me on top of featuring familiar video game themes. It’s the one remix album I’ve come back to the most and the one I desperately wish was longer. You can call me the April fool but I still call this one my favorite!

Runner Up: Fire Pro M: Volume One by: Sonny Bone (and the FP Community)
I’ve only observed a little bit of the Fire Pro wrestling series from afar so when I saw this community remix album pop up on Bandcamp I tentatively clicked to check it out. I did grow up watching the WWF so the samples from early promos and Beyond the Mat were welcome additions to the variety of remixes from the Fire Pro series. It’s another brash, slightly jarring EDM album that really stuck with me through the year.

Hey, that's me in graph form!

Along the same lines as my YouTube Stats post, here’s some data mining insights from Last.fm for 2016. It isn’t entirely accurate as I did some listening on Spotify, Youtube and other apps that I don’t scrobble from but I can’t argue with these figures. I “scrobbled” (meaning I listened to) over 5,182 songs with an average of 21 songs a day. Be it familiar favorites to accompany my daily drudgery or research for a review on OSV, that breaks down to 961 albums from 1,046 artists.

Last.fm gets even more in-depth, pointing out that I listened to music the most from 7:00am to 8:00am on Wednesdays. I apparently had a hot streak going from June 12th through June 30th, listening for 19 days in a row. It was one of the most heads-down periods at work where I frequently turned to Disasterpeace’s Famaze OST and Mindwipe Goes Sonic from Mindwipe for solace while checking out GaMetal V from the self-titled remixer. Appropriately enough, my top tags were Video game music,  Soundtrack,  Electronic, Japanese and Chiptune. Yup, that’s me.

I thought it’d be fun to dig a little deeper and see what the first and last video game related songs I listened to in 2016 were and I was surprised to find they were from the same artist, Shiryu. The first was his remix of Turrican on January 8th and the last on December 30th was from his most recent album, Deckard, B26354. He was one of my top twenty most listened to artists of the year but I didn’t expect it would line up quite so perfectly.