Auriea’s Top 9 Games of the Decade

Decided to take the difficult step of listing what I feel were my most worthwhile gaming experiences of the past 10 years. (Inspired by the top 12 list compiled by Gamasutra)
All the games on this list had to fit several criteria: a) I had to have played it all the way through. Indeed, most of these I’ve played multiple times. b) They had to have changed my life in some way. Either in the “ah, I wish I could make that” inspirational kind of way. Or by virtue of having added some meaning to my existence and stuck with me even though I played them long ago… (games can do that.) So…

10. Neverwinter Nights (played 2002-2004)
The only RPG in 10 years that I’ve played all the way through, multiple times, obsessively. (And all the official expansion packs, plus many adventures that were created in the player community.) I got very involved with this game. I became fascinated by how it was made, the character design, how the authoring tools worked, how its multiplayer worked. I guess this was the first game-with-an-editor I really looked to for insight of how big games are put together. The minimal GUI, that right click radial menu, sweet design decisions. NWN and A Tale in The Desert were big for me in imagining how navigation could work for The Endless Forest.

9. Shadow of Memories (played 2001)
A “choose your own adventure” type story with the character going backwards and forwards through time to figure out his own murder. One of the more complex plots of any game I played the last 10 years, actually. One of the only games I’ve ever played multiple times just to find out what all the alternate endings were. I wish there were more games like THIS… now, today, with contemporary graphics and less cut scenes. sigh.

8. Kessen II (played 2002)
At the time I was totally blown away by the aesthetics of this one. Kind of a cheesy plot (even if it is _based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms) but still, very engaging. I remember that I loved the over the top character design and the magic effects when spellcasting. I wanted to think up a game that needed such elaborate stuff as that! And while it is an RTS, it wasn’t so very much of an RTS to turn me off. I enjoyed winning the game and then starting it over playing from the “bad guy” point of view. But yeah, for me it was all about the particle effects!

7. there is no number 7. I WOULD put The Path here… but that would just be weird 😉 … Gotta admit though, I love it best and the game changed my life more than any other…

6. Silent Hill 3 (played 2003)
SH3 was one of those games I anticipated for months, scouring game sites for screenshots and shaky conference videos. Every time I found something new, it showed me how beautiful game graphics could be. Amazing character design and even the plot worked… maybe a bit too much. The main character of Heather was truly unique. A teenage girl. The soundtrack was absolutely perfect blend of mall pop and creepy Yamaoka standards. I credit this game with, what is for me, the scariest and eeriest put-down-the-controller-and-back-away moment in gaming. (I’m not gonna spoil it for you… have a “Making of” video instead.)

5. Black & White (played 2001-2002)
Peter Molyneux is an idiot for having listened to critics of this game. It is the most amazing game he has ever made. He had such an awe-inspiring team of programers and the freedom to execute some unique ideas! For all the flaws, it’s a work of genius. I lost entire days! Lost in being a god over those little worlds. The zooming in to see the tiny details and then backing out and being the master of all I surveyed! Training my animal to mimic me. Miracles! No other game swept me away like that. And you bet it influenced us a wee bit when making the ABIOGENESIS feature in The Endless Forest. Biggest disappointment of the decade was when Black & White 2 turned out to be completely different and more of an RTS than a god game.

4. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (played 2004)
ah man… I just love love lovelove love this game <3 <3 <3

3. Animal Crossing (played 2004-ongoing)
The whole family played this game for a solid year on Gamecube. It was the must-have reason I bought a Nintendo DS. We got it for the Wii and it is STILL the only game we play with any regularity. Relaxing, bonding, creative. I admire it for actually trying to trigger nostalgia, and succeeding! Memories of my AC town on a sunny fall afternoon with the cicadas chirping and I, at the waterfall, fishing for Coelacanth… If we ever make a simulation game, this will be the reason why.

2. Silent Hill 2 (played 2001)
I can credit this game as the reason why when Michael suggested we should try our hand at making video games, I said YES absolutely. Before playing SH2 I had no idea a game could get to me like that. SH2 didn’t seem to make any concessions; confusing, ruthless, imperfect. I wanted to make something like that. YES.
This, is my #1 favorite cutscene in any game, ever.

1. Ico (played 2002)
We were working on the scenario of 8 and making the first demos. Michael found a news item on some game site about Ico. We were astounded at the description, in that it had a lot in common with our designs for 8. We kept the game on our radar and bought it the day it came out. Like no other game played this decade, with Ico I was moved, I was inspired to tears of joy and sorrow. If you ask me, THIS is Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece. When seeing a character’s idle motion carries with it so much meaning. When I long to go back to the sundrenched grassy knoll just to chase the birds. To hold Yorda’s hand, listen to the waterfall and stare at the view. When I cannot wait to meet the “boss” because I know it is the coolest moment in the game. It has to be my favorite game of the decade.

Now look at this list.
Isn’t it odd that the games I loved most were all in the years 2001-2004. And nothing after 2004.
I guess the “Next Gen” has been a total disaster for the gamer in me. There has not been one game that’s really done it for me since 2004! A few have tried to worm their way under my skin. I could list the short stint I did in Guild Wars or the myriad DS games I played (like the Phoenix Wright series or Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!) that I thoroughly enjoyed. I regret that I couldn’t play Portal… I bet I would have liked that one. I’ve played some great indie games lately too. And on PS3 there’s been smaller games like flOw and Flower, and my Game of The Year is Noby Noby Boy. That one, yes, I found it refreshing!

Perhaps I’ve gotten harder to please as I get more analytical about what goes on in the industry or maybe it’s, as Michael believes, that creativity has lost ground to technology and pandering for cash. I have gotten older, my interests have changed, I am busier maybe. Loads of reasons why I have not found the joy in many games lately…. still its too bad. I miss the good old days.

Six of these years we’ve been making games, hardly a surprise that I had more fun with games before it became my “job” so to speak. I guess because I could take things more for granted, and everything seemed so much more like magic. I’m of course hoping that in this shiny new decade I will find games that have that certain something, and I can game, once again, like its 2002.

My selection for the IGF


Our invitation to judge in the Independent Games Festival was withdrawn when we said we were submitting an entry ourselves. As it turns out, that was probably a smart move. Because when I had a look at each of the 301 entries in the festival, I couldn’t resist the urge to compare them with our own. And, frankly, FATALE beats them all, in every category. :) This is why I have only selected 4 games for each prize in the festival. The fifth game -and clear winner- of each category is our own FATALE. I’m sorry, I just can’t be objective about this. :)

I have based my selection on the information available on the IGF website, the game developers’ own websites, videos and screenshots. I have played demos and games when they were publicly available. But I must admit that some of my choices were based on very little data. So I reserve a margin of error. I could have missed a really great project. And I could have included a rather lousy one. Apologies ahead of time.

Apart from simply choosing the most interesting projects in each category, I have tried to limit the amount of overlap between the different categories. Which wasn’t always easy because interesting entries tend to be good in several categories simultaneously. such as our own wonderful FATALE, for instance

Despite of the high quality of some, I have rejected games created by DigiPen students because I don’t consider them serious contenders. The IGF has a separate competition for student work. I hope they use this category in the future.

Seumas McNally Grand Prize

Fig. 8
Fig. 8
Amnesia: The dark descent

I make no secret about the fact that the thing I like most about the games industry is its girlfriend its potential. There are many videogames that are fine games as such, even on the independent scene. If you want to play a game, there’s an enormous amount on offer. But I know this computer of ours can do a lot more. I even believe that it can bring us a new medium, a medium as relevant and important to our times as cinema was to the previous century and printing to the centuries before. But the developers who strive for such greatness are few and far between. Even on the independent scene, where one would expect them in larger numbers than in the so-called mainstream industry.

If I had to make an absolute judgment, I’d probably send each and every game in the IGF back to the drawing board (including our own amazing FATALE). Luckily I can suffice with a relative selection. So I have chosen games that give me hope for the future of the medium. Games that are ambitious, that try to explore interesting terrain and/or allow us to do so while playing.

Windosill brings back fond memories of computer-based entertainment’s early days, when an interactive piece could just be called a “CD Rom” instead of getting labeled “GAME”. I think we could do much worse than reconnect with that time and pick up what was so rudely interrupted: playful interaction without the need to compete or achieve. Fig. 8 is equally whimsical but more challenging. But its challenge reminds of the real-world challenge of trying to ride a bicycle as a child, so it feels a lot more natural than in most games. It’s also a wonderful illustration of how a videogame can simply be a journey. Amnesia: The dark descent is probably the most ambitious game in the festival. Its scope and aesthetic rival -and exceed- many of the productions in the commercial industry, even. This is the kind of game I would like to see more of on the independent scene: uncompromising exploration of the narrative potential of high tech. Trauma re-invents the idea of an interactive movie in a spectacular and exciting way. It combines an intuitive and beautiful control system with an intimate engaging story (expressed by means of superb voice acting).

Excellence In Visual Art

A New Zero
A New Zero
Saturated Dreamers
Saturated Dreamers

I was pleasantly surprised by the care that independent developers are starting to put in the aesthetic presentation of their games. The “faux amateur” style seems to no longer be a badge of honour. Good riddance, too. Because there’s a lot of work to be done.

I was also glad to see that, next to some excellent examples of traditional 3D aesthetics, several developers are starting to explore real-time 3D aesthetics in an experimental way. In A New Zero all shapes are reduced to their bare minimum covered with a seductive colour palette, that can almost make you forget you’re playing a relatively banal war game. Doppelscope adds to its simplification of shapes a new kind of sensory experience that affects the entire environment and doesn’t shy away from a bit of glossy spectacle here and there. Many entries in this year’s festival feature silhouettes as their main graphical element. But aesthetically, Limbo, is the superior game of the entire lot. Saturated Dreamers surprised me. The characters that seem to carry the story are naive art at best, and actual typography has been carefully avoided, but the playing reveals an interesting generative canvas of unlikely combinations of shapes and colours. I like the aesthetic connection it suggests between computer-based geometry and walllpaper and textile patterns.

Excellence In Audio

Broken Brothers
Broken Brothers
microsia - molecular tunes
microsia – molecular tunes

I was not very impressed with the sound in most entries this year. Sound still seems to be very much an afterthought for most independent developers. Which is a real shame, considering how powerful its effect can be on the player.

There’s a lot of music games out there. Many use the music to structure simple gameplay (last year’s audio category winner Audio Surf seems to have influenced a lot of designers) and others allow you to create some kind of music-like soundscape through interaction. Microsia stands out by successfully combining amusing interaction with actual composition. Broken Brothers didn’t fall into the tired trap of adding soft piano music to a war game but opted for a menacing oppressive soundtrack through minimal and almost humoristic means on top of melancholic music that actually helps you concentrate on your strategies of destruction rather than making you feel oh so bad about killing the enemy. Demonica‘s musical wall of sound is probably the most atmospheric entry in the festival. Doppelscope confronts electronic sounds with human interaction in analogy with how it expresses its theme of nature preservation through a very synthetic stylized look. Makes playing with computers feel hip again, without the need to resort to retro aesthetics.

Excellence in Design

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!
Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!
Galcon Fusion
Galcon Fusion

I don’t think videogames need to be games as such. But for this category, I selected videogames that I find well designed as games in the strict sense of the word. The fact that two of them are dressed up as space conquest games only illustrates how irrelevant story and meaning are when it comes to pure game design. Both Galcon and Constellation are wonderfully simple-yet-complex systems that are fascinating to interact with. Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! does have a story. Quite an extensive one, even. But it feels so much like a board game that I couldn’t resist putting it in this category. Windosill is probably the only game I selected for this category that is undisputedly at home on the computer. And in an irresistibly charming way at that. Games this playful are too rare.

Nuovo Award

hell is other people
hell is other people
A Slow Year
A Slow Year

I’m considering this category as the place for art works. Not necessarily “art games” but simply artistic pieces that use game concepts or technology. Lose/Lose reminds me a lot of the some of the of the 90s we used to be involved in, especially the work of Jodi. I may not be the world’s greatest fan of modern art, but I like seeing it become part of independent game development. If only because game distribution would offer media artists an alternative venue for showing their work. A venue that is more appropriate for the digital medium, in my opinion. The other games are more interesting as experiences, rather than simple conceptual statements. There’s something very melancholic about playing with people who have been playing before you but are not at the moment (hell is other people). Wait may be ugly but it has a very inspiring game mechanic (which is rare in indie games). And A Slow Year simply appeals to me because of its references to traditional painting and the link that it makes between nature and machines.

Technical Excellence

Heroes of Newerth
Heroes of Newerth
Amnesia: The dark descent
7 Nights
7 Nights

All videogames are small miracles. Contrary to popular belief, computer hardware is still incredibly slow, unwieldy and inaccessible. But of all software that one can make with a computer, real-time 3D games must be the most complicated and technically impressive. There’s a tendency on the independent developers scene to look down on 3D games. But I think that’s just a self defense reflex that should not impair our judgment.
With the exception of Amnesia: The dark descent, none of the games I selected in this category are games that I would play myself. But I want to pay tribute to the effort that the developers are doing to, independently, create such technically ambitious projects. Hopefully their work encourages other indie developers and artists not to shy away in their comfortable flat platformer and shooter zones.

A bad year for dreams

2009 Was another triumphant year for the Wii and DS. Nintendo has successfully introduced the general public to playing games on computer hardware. But this is far from a triumph for the medium of videogames.

Refusing to grow up keeps you small
Source: VGChartz

People like playing games

Nintendo didn’t do much. But they were smart about it. Rather than trying to start a revolution with a brand new medium, they had a good look at the way people play today and made digital versions of those activities. They basically made it possible for people to play the kinds of games they were already enjoying, on their television sets.

Some may celebrate this as the breakthrough of videogames into the mainstream. I don’t. I hope this is just a temporary setback in the evolution of the medium. I’m not a big fan of huge corporations, but I do share, to some extent, the dreams that Sony and Microsoft have about the interactive medium. With them, I see videogames as the great new art form of the new century. Videogames as the cinema, television and pop music of the young millennium.

It’s not about getting as many people as possible to play games (they were already playing games, have been doing that since the dawn of time, there’s nothing new here). It’s about giving our times, our cultures a medium that we can find ourselves in, that we can express ourselves in. A medium that can help us understand our world, and that can help define it. Just as literature and cinema have done in the past.

Nintendo does not share this dream. They never have. Mario and Zelda and Pokemon are nothing like Scarlett O’Hara, Jean-Luc Picard or Romeo and Juliet. Nintendo makes games. It’s what they do. And they’re successful at it.

But the dream of Sony and Microsoft reaches a lot further. They want to be part of your life style, part of your culture, embedded in your society. They want the experiences you have on their systems to be meaningful and dramatic. They’re not selling fun. They’re selling mystery and wonder, spectacle and discovery, experiences you have never had before.

And they failed. Massively. So much so that they are hurrying to try and pick some crumbs left behind by Nintendo by quickly introducing some motion sensing hardware to their systems. The irony of the cats following the mouse would be amusing if it weren’t so sad.

The failure of the nerds

Nintendo got one thing right. It’s an extremely obvious thing. But Sony and Microsoft continuously fail at recognizing it. Nintendo realized that the mainstream audience does not consist of nerds -in fact, one could argue that that is the very definition of a mainstream audience. As soon as they did, they were instantly successful.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. The “hardcore industry” has always insisted that games were great just as they were, that it was just a matter of time before the masses would start playing them. They were basically expecting that everyone would become a nerd. Obviously this did not happen. And it never will. If only because language doesn’t allow it. Nerd and mainstream are polar opposites.

The games themselves were not the problem. Any expert will point out that there is not a lot of difference between Tic Tac Toe and Gears of War, or between Super Mario and Devil May Cry. But Nintendo -finally- realized that people don’t play games for the pretty characters or the great stories but for the systems of interaction that they allow us to engage in. And those systems are far better served by simple graphics and sounds than by elaborate theatrical displays.

The games that Sony and Microsoft have been promoting were basically the digital equivalent of chess sets with pieces made to look like characters from Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Only 1337 H4x0rz would actually believe they were attacking the Death Star while playing a match with such a set. Most people simply prefer to play a straight-up game with traditional pieces.

Games and… something else?

So now we’re at a crossroads. Do we give up the dream of a new medium for a new century and follow Nintendo’s example of simply giving people what they expect? Or do we strive for greatness and realize the potential of this marvellous new technology?

Nintendo has made one thing clear: people want to play games. But only if the games are simple and straightforward. They don’t want pretty pictures on their games or sweeping stories. They just want to have fun. However, the same people who are having fun with the Wii, also enjoy a visit to the cinema. They also love reading books. Their eyes fill with tears when listening to their favourite pop tune. And they’re hooked on several television shows. These people are not insensitive to narrative, emotion or meaning. They just don’t want to mix those experiences with playing games.

So the solution seems clear. If we want to realize the dream, if we want to give the new century the medium it deserves, the medium it needs, the medium it is sorely lacking, we need to stop wasting this technology on games!

It’s a difficult step to take. Because we love our games. We love battling our giant demons and riding our fire breathing dragons. We love planning our global wars and feeling the rush of victory against improbable odds. But let’s face it: we’re nerds. And only nerds like this kind of stuff. In the clear light of day, a sober eye quickly recognizes these videogames as the superb kitsch they are. Such videogames appeal exclusively to an educated elite and/or marginal ghetto.

This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to create interactive entertainment for people outside of the core niche. People still love their stories, and they still need fiction to help them deal with reality. And people also love to interact with their machines. That has ceased to be a geek exclusive a long time ago -if it ever was one. We just need to work a bit harder.

Instead of simply skinning ancient game routines with high tech spectacle, we need to sit down and have a good look at our medium-to-be and understand what is so uniquely interesting about it. Instead of trying to use new technology to do old tricks, we need to figure out what it is exactly that we find so fascinating about playing on a computer. And translate this to new audiences. This is not an easy thing to do, and it will take a lot of trial and error. But the rewards are great and the accomplishment will completely overshadow any of Nintendo’s current successes.

Down or up?

Will Sony and Microsoft realize this any time soon? I doubt it. The fight seems to have moved from the living room to the play room, from the media store to the toy store. And they will battle it out right there, on the brightly coloured carpet, in between the Barbie dolls and plastic machine guns, while the rest of the world is aching for a new medium, a medium that can deal with the complexities of today’s society, a fiction that can help us cope with our confusing realities.

I feel we have a responsibility here. A duty, even. We have a choice. We can continue to make geek kitsch for the niche audience of hardcore gamers. We can follow Nintendo and make simple games with pixels and code instead of cardboard and plastic. Or we can do something important, something meaningful, something that actually makes a difference.

Let’s end with a long picture:
Sources: VGChartz, Worldmapper, Wikipedia

The Path now available in Russian, Danish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish

The Path, in Russian

Last week, 1C released a full translation of The Path in Russian. So now our friends in Russia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan no longer need to fiddle with badly made torrents. They can simply get the game here.

And thanks to the help of many volunteers, you can also play The Path in Danish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish, next to the English and Dutch available in the normal release. A patch that translates the game to any of these languages can be downloaded here. Credits for the translations can be found here.

Oh, and there’s also the Polish version, of course, published by Topware. We still have a few copies available in our store.
More languages will be added later. We’re working on Arabic, Czech, Japanese and Korean at the moment.

“Making of Fatale” interview

The ever eloquent Bruno de Figueiredo picked our brains when we were working on Fatale and has now published the result with a bunch of work-in-progress pictures. Enjoy!

To a large extent, FATALE is about looking. We follow Wilde’s version of the story in this. You start as John the Baptist in a situation where you’re being looked at – by Salome – against your will. Then because of the looking of another person – King Herod at Salome – you are put to death. And finally you meet Salome who claims that if you would have looked at her, you would have loved her. And, presumably, none of this would have happened.

Tale of Tales is 6!

That means discounts! :)

Six years ago, on a freezing snowy day like today (at least that’s how I remember it), the document that founded “Tale of Tales BVBA” was officially published. To celebrate our anniversary, we’re discounting our three commercially available downloads for the week. As a lucky coincidence, this means you can still get a quick and cheap and very original Christmas gift for your loved ones! :)

From now until next Saturday, you can get The Path for 6.66 US Dollars (30% off).
Available from the regular page.

Plus, The Graveyard and FATALE are bundled together for 6 US Dollars (50% off!).
Available only through these links:
FATALE/The Graveyard bundle for 6$ PC version
FATALE/The Graveyard bundle for 6$ Mac version

These offers are valid until 26 December.

Interviewed by Play as Life

D. Yvette Wohn sent us a bunch of interesting questions to which we hopefully gave some enlightening answers. The resulting big interview is here

Unlike most games, which put you on a roller-coaster ride away from your own life, our games act as pause buttons. Take a moment and allow yourself to breathe. That’s why their slowness might come as a kind of shock when you start up the game. Like a speeding truck coming to a sudden halt.

FATALE in Wired UK and loved in Italy

Giochi (Games) Magazine of Italy has written a rather extensive review of FATALE this month, in which they give the game a perfect 10/10. We don’t read Italian but we can feel the love. Thank you!

GIOCHI Dicembre 2009 (Italy)

Also a short article about us and FATALE appears in this month’s issue of Wired UK Magazine:

WIRED UK - December 2009

And has published more of the complete interview with us at their site.
Edit: journalist Daniel Nye Griffiths posted even more on his blog.

Tale of Sales, last minute edition!

(Just a quick note, because we are experiencing some Internet fail at home today :p)

Can’t believe I never blogged this until now! (>.<) BUT In our recently revamped online store you will find we have the Polish Collectors CD Edition of The Path (playable in Polish or English, with great extras!), The Endless Forest postcards and the usual assortment of posters and USB drive games (which we’ve marked back down to 25 EUR.)

If you order by Friday I can still send things out this week. Will probably reach you in time for Xmas.

That is all. xo.