Feature

Top 5 Games of 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Each year I play an unhealthy amount of familiar and different games. By now, I know what another Battlefield or Gears of War offers, so I avoid them. I acknowledge their quality, but I find more enjoyment from weirder, new games. I don’t hate shooters; it means one game fills the void for the duration of year. Until something knocks Halo 5: Guardians out of my Xbox, I bounce off other multiplayer shooters.

The exploration of new genres leads to unknown, uncomfortable experiences. Experimentation led me to games like Deus Ex and Mirror’s Edge, so finding their sequels on my 2016 list makes sense. My top five of 2016 lists some well known games in an unorthodox order.

2016 brought us Overwatch, Watch_Dogs 2 and other awesome games throughout the year, but you won’t find those games on my list. You’ll find what I played and loved, and games that left me disappointed.

 

Five Favourite Games from 2016

5. Inside

Insidewon’t challenge or confuse you with its puzzles, but it leaves you thinking at the end of it all. Inside’s short journey from, well, the inside, pushes you to escape from the pit of a prisonlike complex. Without any dialogue or direction, the platformer’s familiarity of “move right” provides all the information needed.

Inside

The manipulation of walking, jumping and grabbing brings the depth to exploring the dystopic world. While Inside expands on simple ideas, your character limitations stay the same. As a little boy, dogs hurt, bullets kill and falls paralyze. The controllable character stays vulnerable despite the surrounding conditions worsening closer to the outside. Inside aims for a minimalistic platformer with a predefined ruleset, yet it surprises with every new area until the very end.

 

PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio not Upgrading Consoles as Expected

Once every week I push my red lawn mower around my yard. If I owned a riding lawn mower maybe I would use it, but it wouldn’t help. No matter what I use, the sun beams down and the trees block the way. But a farmer with a huge yard rides off into the sun, trimming the grass faster than any push mower available.

Like a riding mower, the PS4 Pro targets a very specific buyer. The hardware touts improved visuals on 4K televisions and allows for people to play in virtual reality (VR). But the rest of us, the ones sweating over our grass patches, wonder if the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio improves how we play.

Video Games Journalism Isn't Worth It, Especially for Canadians

The video games press operates in a doomed state. As the video game industry grows, the rate for writers shrinks. On average, a writer earns $150 per article. A feature length article with interviews takes days or weeks to complete. Interview transcription alone takes hours to sift through. If a writer somehow manages to publish one feature article every other business day, the rate means an annual salary of $19,500. You can compare the near poverty rates of many press outlets with this crowdsourced Google Doc spreadsheet.

One well edited spreadsheet later, I've decided to abandon a career in games press. It's a scary, uncomfortable decision I never wanted to make. I worked for years to become a permanent member of the press, yet industry circumstance forces me to adapt. Writers accept the criminal rates for the experience and hope for a better opportunity. But as the spreadsheet shows, a better opportunity doesn't mean a sustainable career choice. 

Ontario atop Leaderboards for Independent Video Game Development

On August 29, 2012, just after 1 p.m., Miguel Sternberg stared obsessively at his computer in his Toronto home office. He had not slept in days. Sleepless and exhausted, Sternberg finally completed the final touches for the launch of his PC video game, They Bleed Pixels. After submitting the final game build, he watched in haze as the sales figures refreshed throughout the afternoon. He waited to find out if the countless hours, savings and government funds would pay off.

 

Years later, things aren't much calmer for the independent developer as he juggles a new They Bleed Pixels update with two other projects.  Sternberg works alongside programmer Andrij Pilkiw under the studio name, Spooky Squid Games Inc. They hope to hire another employee this year and dedicate time to working on newer projects. "I think at this point we'd like to grow a bit," Sternberg says, "and that takes more money than we have."

Spooky Squid Games and other Canadian developers can expand studios with help from government tax credits and creative grants. Canada's early establishment of video game tax credits helped it become the third largest country for video game development. Quebec and British Columbia now house the world's largest studios and created multimillion dollar franchises such Assassin's Creed and FIFA soccer. Each of Canada's successful video games combined to contribute $2.3 billion to Canada's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014. With most of the large studios in other provinces, Ontario's grants and business incentives transformed the province into the destination for independent game development.

Shawn McGrath Interview - Developing Dyad

This interview with Shawn McGrath was conducted in early 2014. The feature was written for a university assignment and I'm publishing it now for easier access. 

One-year-old John (real name changed for privacy) sits in his playpen looking up at his father as he points the spray bottle in his direction."Pewsh, you're dead," Shawn McGrath says and John laughs as the mist lands on his perfectly round face. McGrath heads back to the kitchen where the tea water boils where he continues explaining his trip to Toronto to help develop N++.

McGrath spent the last few days working on N++, the next game from his friend's studio, Metanet Software Inc. But McGrath only helps with the development of N++ and prefers to work alone on his games. At age 31, McGrath knows he can't work a normal office job - he tried many times before.
 

Upstairs in his Mississauga home, power tools lie on the exposed wood floor leading to his office. McGrath, his wife Kuini and son John moved in a few months ago to live closer to Kuini's parents. In his office, textbooks on graphical rendering pile up on the corner of the desk beside the PlayStation 4 controllers plugged into his development computer. On the furthest desk corner, a Macbook sits on another pile of textbooks. He's anticipating an email from Sony representatives.

"I have a great relationship with Sony. I love the people there," McGrath says. His most recent game, Dyad - a tunnel racing game - released in July 2012 for the PlayStation 3. Throughout the development of Dyad, Sony helped in every way they could. If McGrath ever needs specialized help, Sony would easily fly someone to his home.

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