Social media, echo chambers, dominoes falling, riots in the streets, lies, wars, greed, greatness, gloom and doom. This was 2014.
This is Goat Simulator. It started off as physics demo posted to Youtube, because it looked funny. People liked it. People really liked it. And Coffee Stain Studios turned this stupid concept of goat based destruction combined with a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater scoring system into a game. One that wasn’t really all that better than the video. And it was successful. Amazingly successful. A crazy game for one of the craziest years in gaming.
A year that brought back a lot of franchises that seemed to be dead and buried at this point. Elite Dangerous rose through the magic of crowdfunding from decades of neglect and let people explore an entire galaxy, in an experience described by many as Eurotruck Simulator, but in space. I feel that I must apologist for omitting the truck driving genre in this video series so far. That very same crowdfunding magic brought back Wasteland, with inXile’s heartfelt, but somewhat lackluster attempt at reviving the series. But what was far from lackluster was Larian’s attempt at making a game they wanted, like they wanted, without interference from a publisher. The result: Divinity Original Sin. One of the finest roleplaying games ever conceived. A game created through hardship, much panic and a lot of pain. But one that set a new standard for turn based combat. Might and Magic X Legacy didn’t achieve as much, but at least it was made. Dreamfall Chapters finally continued the story of The Longest Journey. Tesla Effect came along, bringing back Tex Murphy and revitalizing the Full Motion Video game genre, now with actually good video quality, but with the same corny attitude that made the old ones endearing.
The indie sector was all a buzz with great titles like Shovel Knight, Xenonatus, Among the Sleep, Transistor and even that Five Nights at Freddy’s thing.
Wolfenstein came back, not with whatever the 2009 game was, but with something that, had style, had feel, and robot nazi dogs and a BJ Blasckowitz that looked like he could punch a wall with his chin. It was called The New Order, and it was a very well received game that a lot of people loved. Can’t say the same about the Thief game that was released in 2014 as well, since it was designed more like a nonsensical action game with contextual sneaking components. Also, the insistence of Square Enix to not hire the same voice actor as in the original series, for stupid reasons, didn’t help. Metal Gear was in a similar boat, the classic voice of Snake, David Hayter, being replaced by a big Hollywood name, Kiefer Sutherland. But that was the least of the game’s problems. The main one was that in 2014 all we got for it was the Ground Zeroes demo, which Konami was selling for 40$, instead of giving it away for free like it did with the Tanker portion of Metal Gear Solid 2. And this was because of the bloating budget of the main game, the increasing time it was taking to finish it, and a growing resentment of series creator Hideo Kojima, who had just announced a collaboration with famed director Guillermo del Torro to create a new Silent Hill game, which they presented to the world through the Playable Teaser, or PT, probably one of the best horror experiences ever made. People loved it, a lot. Which is going to make the future all that sadder.
And when the industry wasn’t rebuilding old things, it was into some really neat stuff. Well, relatively new stuff. A lot of games were being remastered for this new console generation, like The last of us and Grand Theft Auto 5, and even older ones, like Abe’s Odyssey turning into Oddworld New n’Tasty. Blizzard got into making card games, and for a few years conquered the genre with Hearthstone. The Stick of Truth was a Southpark episode turned into a game. Titanfall was an amazing multiplayer shooter, that Electronic Arts sold at way too big a price, almost like it never wanted it to succeed, which in retrospect may have been the plan all along. Alien Isolation made for a fantastic survival horror game, and had it been a bit shorter it would have been astonishing. Bungie, the creators of Halo, now free from the grip of Microsoft, was free to create whatever it wanted. But instead, it made Destiny, a very expensive and underdeveloped game that somewhat broke the studio, and yet was still a huge success, what with it being marketed by Activision until everyone and their dog’s flees had a copy. And yet, a free to play game that started out in a very rough shape, made by a studio that was going bankrupt, would just about drive it into the ground soon enough. Warframe had been public for a year, and by this time, and it was reaping up the looter shooter craze that Activision had build up, since it was for the most part, a superior game to Destiny, and it would only get better with time. Ubisoft was, at this point in time, realizing that maybe it had made a few mistakes. For one, it had backed the Wii U hard, promising ports for most of its games, and it was now realizing that there wasn’t that big of a user base, and that the hardware wasn’t all that great. Not just the hardware of the Wii U, all of them.
The new console generation was now in full swing, and suddenly a few limitations became apparent, as the new Assassin’s Creed game struggled to maintain a playable framerate, leading to a lot of desperation on behalf of developers pressured by Sony and Microsoft to not admit that the hardware is under-powered. It got worse with Watch Dogs, a game presented to the public looking significantly better than the actual version that was released. Apart from the PC version, that could still have some of the extra effects enabled by tweaking some files. Why weren’t they active from the get go? Considering it was a year into a new, under-powered, console generation, it was better to not highlight the problem. The industry was not really keen on making people expect, or even want higher resolutions and higher framerates, so we were getting all sorts of statements from various developers and in many articles around the web, about how 60 frames a second was a bad thing, and that 30 was more cinematic, in a failed attemt to gaslight the public. Ubisoft also brought me much personal disappointment with The Crew, a racing MMO that somehow managed to fit climbing towers to reveal a map into a game about cars, and little else of interest.
Disappointment was abound, actually, and not just from Ubisoft, that Thief game, Sacred 3, Civilization Beyond Earth, that Rambo thing that played and looked worse than Virtua Cop 1. It also came from things likes Middle of Earth Shadow of Mordor, which started out with an amazing concept for enemies that evolved based on your fights with them, but for the most part you were stuck in a lackluster Ubisoft game, even though this wasn’t a Ubisoft game. And it came from Broken Age, which wasn’t really all that great, in spite of it costing a ton of money. The Elder Scrolls Online promised to bring the classic singleplayer series into the realm of the MMO, but turned out to mostly be a 2008-era attempt at making a new World of Warcraft. And then came the other things. The events. The happenings. The incidents that seemed to overshadow the games themselves.
The biggest indie success of all time, Minecraft, was sold to Microsoft, after the media had bombarded the creator of the game with all sorts of accusations, even that he was trying to shut down community servers, when all he had done was stopping people that were milking kids for money. It was a 2 billion dollar deal, so it can be said that Notch actually won at video games.
And then Oculus, the company spearheading the VR revolution, was bought out by Facebook, leading many to believe that the revolution they had financed with their own money, through crowdfunding was just confiscated. It kinda was. And then there was the other thing. Well, other things. When Ubisoft revealed that the main character of their new Assassin’s Creed game, the one with the invisible faces, was male, a part of the internet went nuts, the media went nuts alongside it, the industry started dog-piling just so they could be in the spotlight and say that they’ve always had and will always have female characters. This lead to the famous “women are too hard to animate” fake narrative that was being peddled around, based on the misrepresentation of a Ubisoft dev saying that if they had two different playable characters they would need to make animations for both of them, and that wasn’t in the budget. There was blood in the water. A feast of clicks. And it would be just the beginning. An accusation of colluding between some of the media and a game developer turned from your average “what some people on the internet are angry about this week” into a full-blown culture war. Harassment from a small and insignificant portion of the gaming community was answered with by throwing the entire medium under the bus, accusing all gamers of being the worst, and not just on your average gaming websites, but in the mainstream media as well. For the first time in its long history of being demonized, it wasn’t an outer force doing it to gaming, it came from within. Victim culture became the norm, and the major gaming media sites, staffed by a tightly nit of writers that all know each-other, saw a golden opportunity to monetize outrage and air their frustration at their dwindling relevance in the age of Youtubers and Streamers. Simply put, people that should have known better, didn’t.
This giant quagmire would be known as Gamergate. Some see it as a harassment movement aimed to remove women from the gaming industry, which in same cases was a fair accusation, since it’s an internet movement that anyone can join and there are a lot of horrible, terrible, frightening people on this planet. Others see it as a movement to get the gaming media to be a bit more open about its ties to developers and especially to publishers. Which it also was, since as a direct consequence of it, a lot of websites started being really big on the whole disclosure thing, which they weren’t really comfortable with in the past. But at this point, everyone was stuck in their echo chamber, communication was impossible. Basic human discourse broke down. And as long as inflammatory articles kept fanning the flames, it would never stop, it would feed an outrage machine that would consume and destroy any hope for reason. Its legacy would spread, tainting people, websites, games, characters, memories, everything.
And all it was was a stupid internet spat between idiots that never experienced hardship in their lives. People so devoid of purpose that they actively made a hobby worse and harder to enjoy, for everyone, just so they can have a moment of glory. Compare this to the rest of the world. To the riots in the US caused by police shootings. Or, better yet, look to the east. Because at this very moment, after a revolution in Ukraine caused by the cancellation of talks with the European Union, Russia invaded Crimea. No real reason. No provocation. It did it because it could. Because no one would stop it, and because no one had any moral high ground to say “well, you can’t invade a country with no reason”, because they had done it themselves a decade earlier. Speaking of which, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS as it’s better known, was tearing through the middle east, putting ancient history sites to flame, and creating a wave of terror that has yet to end, and a migrant crisis that is tearing nations apart. It’s important to remember these details, these small, insignificant details.
So, what was the game of 2014? Goat Simulator. Because it was a game that wasn’t trying to push a narrative, it wasn’t trying to demonize anyone, it didn’t try drum up hatred, it didn’t try to cause conflict. It was just a game about a crazy goat. A simple idea that anyone could understand. Something everyone could enjoy. What better choice for this year could there be? For a year of strife, a year of sadness.
On December the 6th 2014, Ralph Baer, the father of the video game. The man who’s legacy we’ve been exploring through all these shows. The man that came up with the idea of a game device that you could play with in your on home, before consoles were a thing, before arcades were a thing, before video games were a thing...passed away It went from his brown box to an industry worth over 80 billion dollars, more than movies, more than any other form of entertainment. From a small square on a screen to huge, to sprawling worlds to explore, filled with characters, stories uncountable and endlessly diverse gameplay. Without him we wouldn’t have the games we do today.
But this story isn’t over. So come back next week for the finale of the series.
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