Bard Rock Cafe Bonus: Dark Horse Part 1
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Time for something a bit different! I’ve been planning a colossal project this year.
Ever since I started seriously writing about video games, I took a big interest in the indie scene. While many of these guys don’t have the budget and reach of bigger companies, there are amazing products to be had. The independent gaming industry as well as smaller studios have continued to grow in recent years, especially regarding certain problems with the AAA industry. Controversies such as Anthem, Fallout 76, Battlefield, Cyberpunk 2077, and the GTA ‘remasters’ are only a few to scrape the bucket, and that’s just counting launch disasters. These problems aren’t solely with the AAA industry of course: I can think of many indie messes as well. However, I want to use this opportunity to give people insight into the best of the best. My own experience working in a AA studio in 2019-2020 helped give me some insight.
This project will cover the best indie/AA games on the market today. A resource sheet where people can check out the additions and see if it is worth their time and money. Of course, this is a subjective list. Just because I think it’s one of the best games doesn’t mean that someone else will. Opinions are like asses. We all have them.
I’ll try and be as objective as possible when covering these games. There are several games included in this project which I cannot get into. For example, Celeste. I’ve tried it, and personally, it does nothing for me. That doesn’t mean it’s not great. It just means the game isn’t for me. I will also take into account flaws. Every game has them, even the ‘best’ ones. Take Kenshi for example. That game ranks highly on my list, but it would be absurd calling it flawless. It has an ancient, buggy engine and has real problems with optimization which drags it down, even if it’s one of the most unique games in the world. This project isn’t just to gush about the best games. I want to give readers an unbiased and fair overview of them, pros and cons.
One fun thing I’ll be doing is creating ranks. Once again, this will just be my opinion. Perhaps you won’t agree with my decision to place a certain game in an S-Tier. That’s fine. The ranking system I have won’t be for everyone. It’s just something enjoyable for me to do. I love thinking about these things. Every game included in this project is fantastic in its way. Just because a game is in my B category doesn’t make it bad! These games won’t be ranked as in a Top 10 or anything like that, but just grouped in overall ‘quality’. For example, I have Outer Wilds in the top rank for its incredible game design. I might not have enjoyed playing it much due to its requirement for ‘no error’ gameplay to finish certain parts, but it’s an amazing game and one of the best made.
My primary list will consist of fifty ‘best of the best games which are fully released titles. By that, I mean they are ‘complete’ without being in Early Access, alpha, or anything like that. That won’t mean they’ve finished content: in this era of game development, video games rarely finish. There are patches and support for years, which is a good thing. Right now, I have four categories:
1) The Top 50. The meat in the sandwich, so to speak.
2) Honorable Mentions/On the Bubble. When creating this project I had nearly 100 games. Narrowing them down to just fifty entries was a difficult task: just a testament to the strength of the indie market.
3) The best of Early Access. I’ll be covering plenty of games in this category that have their ranking system. Some amazing games need to be mentioned but otherwise would have been omitted from my project due to them being ‘incomplete’. Many gamers will not buy these because them not being complete, which is reasonable. I prefer my games to be complete as well!
4) Timeless Classics. The reason I’m making this category isn’t necessarily for indie games. Many games in this list will be old AAA giants of the 2000s but have stood the test of time due to years of development and mod support, often by the fan communities. Modding support is going to be a big factor in this project, and I will cover it best I can. My criteria for this category is the game in question has to be at least 10 years old, and cannot be part of a AAA studio now. For example, Skyrim won’t be on this list, but Rollercoaster Tycoon will be.
Every game in this project will be covered with the following criteria.
Overview: I will give a basic summary of the game. If people don’t want to go through the different criteria, this will suffice.
Price/Value for Money: A simple criteria. How much is the game? How often does it go on sale? Is there any DLC or Expansions we need to be aware of? What is the value of money? The final criteria are the hardest to judge as we all have different opinions on what that involves. It’s not just game length either. For example, Rimworld is a 30USD title with two 20 USD expansions. I’ve had over 500 hours of enjoyment with it and it has endless content with its sandbox game design and mod support. Cloudpunk is a 20USD game with an average run time of 6-8 hours. Much shorter to play, but it’s a story-oriented experience which I greatly enjoyed. Both games are well worth their base price tag in my eyes. I never got into the ‘1 hour of gameplay equals 1 dollar” philosophy, but it’s understandable to see why others use it.
Game Design: An overview of what kind of game it is. Fairly simple. What to do in the game, is there a story, etc etc.
Content and Replayability: How much meat is there in the game. Many of the titles in the top category are virtually endless experiences, with hundreds to thousands of hours of content. A lot of this ties into the next category.
Mod Support and Developer Support: It’s hard to understate how important mod support is to games. Some of course cannot support it due to technical/copyright reasons, but the longevity of a game can be extended forever with the ability to modify and customize the experience. Games like Rimworld, Factorio, Kenshi, Stardew Valley, and Starsector all have massive, dedicated modding communities which further support their games with additional content and features. Having a developer who actively supports and encourages mods is even more of a benefit. Developer support is just that; how long has it been supported with patches, has it continued updates even after full release, you know the drill.
Technical Footprint: How easy or difficult the game is to run on modern systems. Are there any big bugs to think about? How does modding affect the game? How big is it to install? Those are the simple questions I’ll try to answer.
Pros: Does what it says on the tin. What are the game’s strengths?
Cons: The exact opposite. Is there anything to look out for?
As I intend this to be a community project, this is where you guys come in. I want this to be as comprehensive and helpful as possible. Naturally, there will be some games on this list I don’t have as much experience with. Take Celeste for example. I probably won’t be able to review/cover it as well as someone else who has mastered the game. If anyone is interested in contributing to the project on a volunteer basis, I would love to hear from them. As long as contributions follow my criteria and are as objective as possible, I’m perfectly happy. I’m still working out how this works, so I’ll make a direct call on my Twitter profile when I’ve worked out the logistics.
Additionally, if there are any games people think should belong to this project, feel free to let your voices be heard. I’m willing to listen to requests.
For now, this is just an introduction. I expect this project to take many months to complete, but it’s going to be something fantastic. I guarantee it. Until next time.