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Out with the old: It seems that in the past year, a big number of independent game developers have switched focus from downloadable console games to iOS, Android, and Steam. The general perception seems to be that it's just too expensive, risky, and difficult to focus on consoles; that's a pretty big shift in thinking from just two years ago for many people.
These kinds of things don't make me happy or sad; they just are what they are. Platforms are cyclical things; at some point consoles will become attractive to indies again -- that is, assuming consoles as we know them today actually survive the transition this industry is currently going through!
In with the new: Kickstarter! While I don't think it will work for the majority of indies, I'm really excited to see that for at least a subsegment of highly accomplished long-time game developers, it has been a brilliant way to raise cash to develop games that publishers simply aren't interested in funding (or that they would fund, but demand a disproportionate return in exchange for their funding). Excited to see where this all leads.
Shout-outs: I've put a disproportionate amount of my personal game-playing time into Robot Entertainment's games this year. Hero Academy and Orcs Must Die! 2 have both kept me up for way more late nights than I'm comfortable quantifying! I'm impressed by how deftly the guys at Robot have tackled different platforms (PC, mobile) without much help and without simply copying a proven formula, unlike so many other developers.
I told you so: Everything coming to mind is negative, and I'd rather not rub salt in anybody's wound. Hey, I knew Minecraft was going to kill it on XBLA. Of course, so did everybody else, so I can't exactly brag about this. ;-)
One-sentence review: Back to hunting for the next great game platform.
Out with the old: At the beginning of the year, social games were still The Big Idea. Now we talk about games that are social, no matter what platform they are on. I like that idea much better.
Shout-outs: Spry Fox continually impresses me with their creative, whimsical game designs.
I told you so: Graphics fidelity continues rising in mobile games, leading to rising development costs. Add to that a very crowded marketplace and developers are starting to ask, "How do we improve discoverability? How can we make our game stand out?" Enter Publisher 2.0.
One-sentence review: 2012 was tumultuous and full of opportunity.
Out with the old: Proprietary audio engines and tools in game audio are dying off like the dinosaurs. The closing of Radical Entertainment saw the loss of its 10-years-in-the-making audio toolset. When a studio closes and takes its technology to the grave, the community feels its loss.
In the wake of this, the development of proprietary tools seems to have slowed in comparison to publicly available audio tools. Where once proprietary tools may have been the bleeding edge, the atrophy and evolution of game audio has superseded most general-use in-house tools in favor of audio middleware.
In with the new: Middleware -- everyone's using it! Powering up your development with existing libraries is nothing new, but the widespread adoption of middleware has lowered game development's barriers to entry. It's not just a trend among new developers either; the power of middleware in games has firmly taken root and enabled the creation of wildly diverse game types through a combination of accessibility and power.
Shout-outs: Nu retro and sublime beatitude. The audio work in games like Fez and Dustforce tapped the nostalgia vein while simultaneously projecting an aural vision of the future. Meanwhile, the Botanicula soundtrack and audio aesthetic aligned perfectly with its gameplay's sense of childlike glee. The sound for Journey also shone brightly for its understated and minimal reflection of a truly inspiring experience.
I told you so: Dyad, Sound Shapes, and PixelJunk 4am subversively pushed the confines of interactive audio into real-time music creation. The winning combination of pure joy and the mastery of craft made these games the fruition of music games in the post-Rock Band landscape. Expressive musical instruments in their own right? You betcha!
One-sentence review: Developers seem comfortable with the tools at their disposal and confident in their ideas of the kind of experiences they want to create.
Out with the old: I can't think of any things that the industry has grown out of this year. However, the number-one thing I wish the industry would grow out of is manipulative freemium practices. The freemium model is not bad in and of itself, but the practice of designing games specifically to addict the weak-willed in an attempt to encourage them to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars needs to stop.
In with the new: One thing that I'm extremely excited about is the combination of traditional controls with new forms of control in the same game. We started to see this in the DS and the Wii, but I expect the use of traditional controls being supplemented by alternate controls to really come into its own with the Vita and the Wii U.
We've already seen some great examples with some of the early Vita games -- using gyro controls to fine-tune your aim and camera in various 3D action games, having the UI double as additional commands in Silent Hill: Book of Memories, and fast menu controls in many games. You get the precision and speed of traditional controls combined with the intuitiveness and versatility of touch- and motion-based controls -- the best of both setups.
Shout-outs: Keiichiro Toyama's work on Gravity Rush. We already knew that he was a talented horror game director thanks to his work on Silent Hill and the Siren series, and with Gravity Rush, he's cemented his status as one of the top video game creators of our time. Gravity Rush is extremely creative in every aspect -- from its vertically oriented floating cities, to its unique art palette and unorthodox soundtrack, to its exhilarating gravity-based combat and exploration. And it's a great showcase of how to combine traditional and nontraditional controls to increase the player's immersion.
I told you so: Gonna have to go with the obvious one -- the fall of Zynga. It should have been clear to everyone that Zynga's business practices were not sustainable -- they were engaging in the video game equivalent of strip-mining.
One-sentence review: With more and more quality games coming out every year, visibility is going to become the number-one challenge for developers.