2011: The Year in Review
IGN takes a look at the changes 2011 brought to gamers.
In the next few weeks, IGN will be detailing the big events from the past year; the games, the people, the mistakes, the stories. To begin our analysis of one of gaming's most important years, read this analysis from our Head of News & Features
on why 2011 really mattered...
It was a year of mastery. Again and again, games thrumming with wizardry came to us delivering all that they had promised, and more. The disappointing misfits fade in our memory as we recall marvelous creations of game design that shined, clicked, whirled and ticked in joyful harmonies of software engineering.
Portal 2, FIFA 12, Skyrim, Zelda: Skyward Sword, Uncharted 3, Minecraft, Infinity Blade II, Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, Gears of War 3. All of them were feats of incredible design, examples of minute attention to the sacred art of making fine entertainment. Ye Gods. Such an age that we live in!
And yet within that list of excellence, lurking in plain sight, is a great ugly wrench. Every single game therein, bar one, is a sequel or a new iteration of a long line of titles stretching deep into the last century. Here we are in the spangled future-verse of 2011, playing franchises that are as old as dirt.
For this console generation, the great wheel turns relentlessly towards end-time, the oblivion of our era. So it is natural and proper that the builders of our games know their craft and are able to bring half a decade's experience to Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3. Cliff Blezinski said it true, "We're now at the point where it's not about learning how to use the hardware, it's about learning to trick the hardware into doing what we want it to do."
But CliffyB and his peers at the pinnacle of game design must now surely be turning their gaze towards the next generation, setting bold ambitions around new technologies.
It may be that 2011 was the creative zenith of this generation, a moment when its greatest talents produced their very best work. Already, this generation leans slightly too hard on the phenom of 'HD remakes,' things that are old, dressed up to look like things that are young.
This is not to suggest that 2012 will be a bad year. Things fall apart, usually slowly and by degrees.
Nor are the games consoles the only ways to play games. PC gaming operates on its own generational loop and although its 2011 roster of great games is heavily influenced by console cross-overs, it can point toward Terraria, The Witcher 2, Frozen Synapse, Star Wars: The Old Republic, as well as the petri dish of innovation that lives on Steam, in turn influencing smart, likeable games available to us via Xbox Live and PSN.
People also do play games, in their millions, on Facebook and via social networks. Although our primary interest here is in the things that cut edges, we must not forget this milieu of Mafia Wars and Bejeweled and whatever else Mom plays. By necessity, these games are evolving at a faster rate than console games, albeit from a position a long way down the tree of life.
And then there are the mobiles...
It's not every year that a new games machine is launched, let alone two new systems. 3DS arrived in Japan last February while Vita arrives any day now. And yet these two spanking new machines are not the big news in mobile gaming. That honor belongs, indisputably, to iPhone, the work of a genius, sadly gone.
There are 150 million of these things in circulation - compared to 3DS, which is still well shy of 10 million. If Vita ever hits 10 million sales, it would surprise many critics who believe the world has no call for an expensive, dedicated handheld gaming system. No, the world of mobile gaming belongs to Apple.
It's true that not every iPhone owner plays games, merely 93 percent of the ones who download apps. It's also indisputable that iPhone games cannot compare with the best 3DS or Vita titles, like Super Mario 3D Land or Uncharted: Golden Abyss. But Infinity Blade II ($7) has shown that iPhone games are not so far behind on quality. There's no doubt that games almost matching the quality and fidelity of dedicated handheld games are coming to iPhone, and will flourish in a commercial environment way more attractive than Sony and Nintendo's cozy little eco-systems.
In 2011 the biggest games for mobile are the ones that really make use of the platform's unique capabilities for collaborative social gameplay. Titles like Quarrel beg, borrow and scrape from everything that has come before, to appeal to our need interact with people. Gaming has become less a diversion from human contact, than a conduit through which we connect with one another.
The game is not up for 3DS though. Nintendo has had a bad year for sure, and true killer apps were slow to emerge. But a massive price cut, some late-year big releases like Mario Kart 7 and a good marketing campaign may yet pull this machine through. Much of what we like about mobile games finds its true inspiration in DS and Game Boy. Mobile gaming is not the same without Nintendo.
And Vita, although a latecomer in terms of this 2011 retrospective, plays to Sony's strengths of technical and design excellence. iPhone may be winning, but it has not won yet.
More to the point, in 2011 gaming is everywhere. Sit on a train and look around you. People are not reading newspapers. They are playing.
This being IGN, we enjoy the rough and tumble of Sony vs. Microsoft vs. Nintendo vs. whomever else is foolhardy enough to step into the eternal brawl. When we talk about 'hardware', we don't just mean chips and plastic and cables, but corporations and people and power.
It's true that 2011 was not as noisy as years gone by, nor as messy as the years to come. We are between a fading generation, and one yet to bloom. But that will change as PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 (or whatever they are called) arrive.
The current generation is settled, there are no more surprises. Sony's price cut for PlayStation 3 has added some vim to the contest. Meanwhile, Xbox 360 sales continue strongly, as the system enjoyed its strongest week ever at the end of November.
If the less-than-awe-inspiring E3 presentations were to be believed, Sony and Microsoft's obsession continues to focus on their motion devices, Kinect and Move. Set in context with the tawdry history of console peripherals, these have performed comparatively extremely well, but they remain curiosities to most of us, toys for children, hooks for overly cheerful ad campaigns. It is rare indeed for the IGN office to explode in excitement at the arrival of a Kinect or Move game.
The two companies continue to war on all fronts, favoring die-hards with exclusives, investing in games and DLC for their online services. But there was little in 2011 which sealed the argument about which console is best, one way or the other. This is probably a good thing.
Wii is all but dead, and yet Nintendo blessed us all this year with a genuine classic game, in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It comes perhaps a year too late. Nintendo's lack of support for its one-time star is a case of near-scandalous neglect, yet more proof, if you ever needed it, that the feelings we have for these companies is reciprocated in strange ways. But when a game like this arrives, all sins are forgiven.
And yet..the beloved company may have compounded what appears to be uncharacteristic confusion in its ranks with the fluffed announcement of Wii U. It's a new piece of hardware from Nintendo so we should all be extremely excited. Right? Well, the jury's out. Certainly, the current buzz does not match that which greeted Wii, but a this is more than a mere screen-in-a-controller and we must anticipate an 'aha' moment at some point in the next few months.
But if we are on the subject of console wars, it was not loathing of one another that prompted these companies to lock and load in 2011, it was the brutal economy. Months after month NPD numbers came back that told of diminishing sales of hardware and software. This ought to have been a year of bounty, but it was a time of struggle. The ranks of unemployed games professionals mournfully touring their services on LinkedIn, a testament to the grim realities of a deep recession.
It was only five years ago that editorials on the outrageously high price of gaming were extremely common. Few people then predicted that the most common price in 2011 would be...free.
On iPhone, Facebook, in the world of MMOs, game developers are on their knees begging you to just spend some time with their games. In return, they expect a tiny percentage of players to pitch in with coin for in-game items or personalization or extra services.
The watchword is loyalty. See how Activision's biggest roll-out of the year was not a game, so much as a game service. Elite offered new and extra ways to enjoy Modern Warfare 3, for a modest price.
There are fewer and fewer games coming to you, but there are more and more different ways to pay for them. As boxed games decline, DLC was the biggest area of growth of traditional publishers this year, so much so that resources are being pulled from new IPs and also-ran projects, to make sure a steady flow of extra content is readily available for the mega-franchise faithful.
On XBLA and PSN, games of every stripe and color vie for your attention, at a bewildering array of prices. Demos are offered up deeper and ever-more hopeful. On PC, Steam reveals the future of games retailing by price-cutting anything and everything at crazy rates for little pockets of time, a recognition that this whole thing is never about boxes, but about experiences and opportunities to have fun.
Brick and mortar stores, operating under the long shadow of Blockbuster's demise and a general decline in entertainment retailing, scramble to move their business online, even so far as partnering with games websites, like yours truly.
Games has had a tough year but it remains the most exciting sector in entertainment, and so the boxes on which we play games become ever more attractive for providers of sports, comedies and other standards of modern life. Microsoft, Sony, Apple, have all failed to turn their boxes into the de facto home entertainment hub, but they inch ever-closer to eliminating the cable box, as Netflix, ESPN and Hulu line up to provide content streams to gamers.
Of course, in any environment of rapid change, there are risks of exploitation and skullduggery. Steam, home of some of the smartest technophiles in the world, found itself hacked in 2011. And so too, notoriously, did another major player in the games business...
This business creates colorful fantasy worlds, it allows ordinary people to pretend to be super-humans, kings, children. And yet, in the eyes of many, the games industry remains a villainous and irresponsible entity.
Of course, the games industry isn't even a real thing. It does not exist as a unit moving forward through time and space. Only occasionally does it shimmer into view, usually when it's under extreme attack from self-serving media and loathsome politicians.
In 2011, there were a few such occasions, and usually there was no-one to blame but ourselves.
Take Sony. It enters into a squalid disagreement with a hacker called Hotz, an unpleasant episode that represented a company trying to protect itself, but coming across as heavy-handed. Then Sony was attacked by hackers, bringing its online service to a deathly silence. Now the company looked downright neglectful in its responsibilities to the consumer, not helped by a slow-footed PR response, culminating in a humiliating public apology.
The games industry had previously been known for media-storm f**k-ups like Hot Coffee, but images of a pixelly guy pleasuring some floppy female mannequin are tame compared to the theft of identities, credit-card data, passwords. People get upset about sex, sure, but they get really crazy about their money.
The games industry's promotion from peddlers of filth to destroyers of global wealth did not stop companies from engaging in old-fashioned scandals. The tiresome public spat between Bobby Kotick and his former employees at Infinity Ward springs to mind as well as Activision's appalling decision to feature fantasy footage of a small child about to be killed, violently. The only reason Activision features so prominently is because of its enormous success. This year it announced that Black Ops had become the best-selling game in U.S. history. Credit, where it is due.
In truth, these events were mostly diversions for newspapers and Tweeters. Gaming in 2011 was mostly about you and me spending way too much time playing Skyrim, or taunting each other via Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Madden NFL 12. It was about playing Batman: Arkham City together or dusting off the Wii to introduce a whole new generation to the magic of Zelda. It was about endless hours playing CityVille or Words With Friends with the people we love.
Gaming changes all the time, but being part of one another's lives and fantasies and play-time...this is the real story of gaming in 2011.
Re: 2011: The Year in Review
nice to see they mentioned great games such as Portal 2, Witcher 2, Batman Arkham, Skyrim, Gears 3, UC 3 etc ......... one of them should be GOTY ...... but why they wrote so much abt digital distribution ....... its not that it came in this year.
Another IGN Feature
The Year in Sex 2011
Nudity, nightmares, and incest, a survey of the biggest taboo in video games.
Try not to think about this: the act that creates us all is one of the most stigmatized subjects in America. When sex arises in culture it is either draped in euphemism, or else cordoned off as pornography. On other subjects--political discussion, or new scientific discoveries--explicitness is a virtue, but sex has a way or warping our virtues, convincing us they are embarrassments.
This problem is doubly vexing with video games, where we must not only witness the sexual act but become virtual participants in it. In 2011 video game sex was mostly defined by coyness, melodrama, slapstick fantasies, but there was also brief and promising crackles of life, suggestive hints that there is more to making whoopee than mechanical action.
Catherine was the year's most interesting and directly sexual game. The story is about a wobbly man called Vincent who prefers drinking with his friends to getting closer with his girlfriend Katherine. One night at the bar, our hero gets blackout drunk and wakes up in bed with Catherine, a blonde-haired sex python who anesthetizes all the commitment fears he has about Katherine. Over the course of a week, Vincent's Freudian psychodrama plays out in a nightmare version of Q*bert, where he climbs up massive puzzle towers in his underpants, chased by psychotic sheep and titan-sized women who want to eat him. The game is sprung from the schizophrenic indulgence in sex without any thought of the people it is connecting. Charles Manson once observed that sex is a reflection--men, here is a sad little reflection of our brains warped by the dissociative effects of pornography, strip clubs, and chauvinism.
In contrast, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a tonic to defog the murk of straight male sex fantasies. Nathan and Elena have decided they can never be together and trying to live apart from one another. When Nate stumbles back into her life in Yemen, gets beat up, and begins to question himself after having recklessly endangered the lives of literally everyone who loves him, Elena is there with a forgiving lap. There is a beautifully ironic subtext to this act, with Nathan's head literally inches from Elena's sex organs and yet nothing explicitly sexual appears to be on either of their minds. They love each other.
The Witcher 2 attempts to bridge the gap between dysphoric prurience and coy minimalism with female nudity. In the pubescent tradition of late-night cable television, The Witcher 2 is sexy because it shows women's nipples and pubic thatches, a sight that prompts a montage of single-entendre sex, all moans, arched backs, and over-reactions. Depictions of sexuality like this confuse anatomic detail for honest. Sex in The Witcher 2 is as fantastic and supernatural as its world, a magical possession of a person's nerve endings triggered by nudity and little else.
Dragon Age II expands the medieval fantasy to include homosexuality in the lip-biting melodrama. The game is averse to nudity, but makes relationship-building a precursor to all of its sexual encounters. Players can choose to control either a man or woman and over the course of dozens of hours building a team, listening to backstories, and surviving adventures together form their own romantic interest in one of their teammates. The culminating sex scene is a boring erotica vignette, but the game's insistence that sex have a role in all of its main actions, either as a major dramatic element--betray your mage lover by siding with another faction--or as a subtle background element--the incremental details of a person's history slowly makes them more and more desirable--is remarkable. It's a view of sex as the gradual culmination of interest based on shared experiences, trust, attraction, and timing.
L.A. Noire had a strange mix of sexually-charged violence, with several crime scene investigations focused on naked corpses, women who've been brutally beaten and cut, the result of the city's fetid underculture. These scenes almost like shock therapy compared to the more traditional uses of nudity in other games, meant solely to bait male arousal. It's a cruel reminder that naked women are not simply prompts for the male sexual imagination, but human beings for whom sexuality is only one small puzzle piece. Later in the game, Cole loses his job on the police force when it's discovered he's been having an affair with a German expatriate, a sad reminder of the parochial piety that has been an inseparable backdrop to sexuality for generations. It is the opposite face of the same impulse to control women's sexuality, either by defiling those who have some libidinal independence or by scoring those who selfishly lead the virtuous astray.
2011 was also a year where players could experience first person incest in the vainglorious Duke Nukem Forever. For years straight men have snickered and high-fived imagining the possibility of sleeping with twins or triplets, without stopping to think that twins and triplets are related to each other. Duke Nukem Forever is a tribute to all of the stupid affects of popular entertainment for men: violence, fast food, beer with everything, and regular pit stops for sex, sex, sex. The opening act takes us into Duke's Las Vegas penthouse where he's playing a video game based on his own life while blonde twins perform oral sex on him. Whichever degraded beast of a mammal this is meant to arouse, let it not be homo sapiens.
Sex is an impossible subject in most ways, an act that is nearly universal and yet intimately dependent on the people having it. We cannot broach the subject without revealing something about ourselves, a prospect that reliably causes over-compensation and dishonesty. The ghoulish cartoonery of video game sex in 2011 was a reminder that we still can't let go of the familiar lies that cover over our most shameful parts. Sex is the one subject sure to draw the most attention in video games and, for the most part, it remains the one area where there's the least to actually see.
Thanks, man... I'll definately play those games :S
There were other adult games that came along too , forgot to mention about those.
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