Scattered among all of the amazing games of 2017, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite moments of 2017. As you’ll see, this is a mix of personal moments, moments in the industry, and moments from the games themselves.
Potential spoilers for the following games: What Remains of Edith Finch, Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Destiny 2
10. Death Squared with Friends
I think I first remember seeing Death Squared at PAX East 2016. As I recall, Brittney Brombacher and a couple others tweeted about it so I checked it out on the show floor. I then kept an eye out for it at subsequent shows and wrote about it enough that they reached out to offer me a review code. I just so happened to bring my PlayStation 4 with me when I visited my friends Joey Noelle Takegami, Lauren Wilson, and Ben Bellevue prior to the games’ launch for a Universal Studios trip to hang out at Harry Potter World.
The day before our Hogsmeade adventure, we played through some of the 4-player mode of Death Squared, slightly inebriated, in what was some of my most-fun local multiplayer gaming ever. That whole weekend (in which I drove from Phoenix to Los Angeles to hang out with some of my internet friends) is a testament to the bonds I’ve made in the last few years and our drunken Death Squared antics filled with hundreds of deaths is the epitome of what I miss by not having a lot of local friends to play alongside.
9. Taking Down a Thunderjaw/Stormbird/Rockbreaker
Horizon Zero Dawn is a fantastic game. One of my favorite elements of the game is its combat and specifically, I think it does a wonderful job handling its learning curve. The game starts you off by pitting you against more docile machine creatures in the early hours, teaching you its mechanics and introducing a wide array of weapon types. Eventually, you start easily taking down these monsters left and right. Then, you stumble across your first Thunderjaw, a fierce, relentless T-rex-like creature that will destroy you if you aren’t careful. Discovering, I could use my arrows to rip its disc launchers off its back and use them against it was an incredible moment and I definitely pumped my fist when taking it out for the first time.
Eventually, when I was basically a pro at taking out these Thunderjaws, Horizon continued to give me these intense combat puzzles to solve on the fly in the forms of the massive Stormbird - reigning lighting from above - and Rockbreaker - which would tunnel around the world and burst forth like a techno-future version of Tremors. Conquering these imposing beasts armed only with my bow and arrows never stopped making me feel like a badass.
For many, the best part of attending or watching E3 is the press conferences. I’ve had fun predicting and reporting on each of the major showcases for the past few years but when I flew out this year, I didn’t think I’d actually attend any. I don’t have that level of pull so I was resigned to watching them from my hotels Wi-Fi. Until my roommate for the week Dustin Furman of Handsome Phantom pointed out that Bethesda was opening up a few hundred tickets to fans willing to wait in line.
So we hung out for a few hours the next day, surrounded by a growing number of other fans and managed to snag wristbands for “Bethesdaland.” Little did we know, that would be getting us access that night to the makeshift theme park Bethesda’s PR team put together in the middle of Downtown LA. With a Ferris wheel, tons of free food and alcohol booths, and a variety of themed “lands” to coincide with the company’s various franchises, we had a blast! Attending the brief press conference portion showcasing all of their 2017 games (including the formally announced Wolfenstein II and Evil Within 2), was icing on the cake.
7. Lewis Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch didn’t quite hit me in the same way it hit so many other people in the industry. It was good and I enjoyed my time with it, but it didn’t quite blow me away. I adored many of the individual pieces, but - for whatever reason - the collected anthology just didn’t resonate as loudly with me. That said, you could probably create a full top ten list just from moments in that game.
The one that I find myself thinking about as the year winds down is actually one, I had forgotten about until a friend of mine just played it and we got to discussing our favorite bits. Originally, I might have considered including Molly (and her journey through the animal kingdom) or the tragic tale of baby Gregory here. But looking back on Lewis Finch’s story, it’s probably the one I (and I’m sure many others) can relate to the most.
Lewis’ tale has him going through the monotonous routine of sliding fish into an automated guillotine in order to cut off their heads. Eventually, Lewis’ minds begins to wander and we are torn between performing his day-to-day job on one hand and/or guiding him through a top down maze on the other. Lewis lets his mind wander, building out a more and more elaborate world for him to escape into; a world where he is a beloved ruler and cheered by the people. Compared to his life at the cannery (and the ever-tragic Finch household), he continues escaping into his fantasy world until he finally decides he can’t return to the real one anymore and places his head into the guillotine.
It’s a haunting tale, eerily reminiscent to anyone who might look to fantastic worlds as escapes from our reality and upon reflection, the one that scares me the most.
6. New Donk City Finale
Moving on to significantly lighter fare, we have the finale of the Metro Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey, commonly known as New Donk City. When we enter the Metro Kingdom, the power is out all across the city thanks to a big bad monster that we need to destroy. Doing so restores the town to its usual hustle and bustle but Mayor Pauline is missing her band. Reuniting her band members and restoring the last bit of the city’s power trigger’s a grand concert Pauline would like to perform, celebrating Mario and the city’s rich history.
What follows is the game’s most prolonged 8-bit sequence, a bright and peppy course across most of the city itself, set to the catchy “Jump Up, Super Star!” which I probably heard fifty times waiting in line to play the demo at E3…), culminating in an homage to Donkey Kong. As Mario climbs those all-too-familiar girders, dodging barrels on the way to saving Pauline, it’s just a purely joyous moment in a game that relishes in celebrating the history of gaming’s #1 mascot.
5. Confronting BJ Blazkowicz’s father
When Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was announced, in the current American political climate, I knew full-well that kicking some Nazi ass was going to provide some much needed catharsis in 2017. I did not expect that the most cathartic moment - in a game where you can kick Adolf Hitler in the face - would be a much more personal one for our protagonist BJ Blazkowicz.
Early on in the game, we are introduced to Rip Blazkowicz, BJ’s absolute piece of shit father who checks off pretty much all of the “worst of humanity” boxes. Abusive husband and father. Check. Racist. Check. Anti-Semitic (despite having married a Jewish woman for her father’s money). Check. Forcing you to shoot your childhood dog with a shotgun. Double-barreled check. After one scene with this guy, I had more anger toward him than any of the hundreds of nameless Nazis I would face throughout the game.
So imagine my delight when I got to confront him following BJ’s impromptu return to his Mesquite ranch to grab his mother’s engagement ring for Anya. Rip confirms he’s just continued to be a worst piece of shit since the Nazis took over so it took me all of zero seconds when the game gave me control of BJ before hatcheting that son of a bitch’s hand off and stabbing him where his heart should have been.
The most cathartic story-driven moment in any game I played this year.
4. Finally fucking beating Calus
While killing BJ’s dad was the most cathartic moment from a storytelling perspective, finally defeating the Destiny 2 Leviathan Raid Boss Calus, was the most cathartic on a personal/gameplay level. Together with my newfound ride-or-die Destiny 2 raid group (Alex, Tony, Cameron, Minna, and Connor), we spent over 17 hours over two separate days on our first attempt at the raid, before ultimately coming up short against Calus. If I recall correctly, in that attempt we only managed to even reach the damage phase of Calus once.
Fortunately, when we reunited a couple weeks later, we were able to make it all the way too Calus in a couple hours. And we even came close to beating him that night. But it wasn’t until we reconvened a couple days later that we were finally able to take the piece of shit out.
A lot of that victorious night is a blur, since we still died a whole bunch in the lead up to it, but I remember we came really close at one point but got screwed by some unfair glitch or something wiping us when he was nearly dead. But when we finally managed it, we were on our fourth pillar of the second damage phase and Tony needed orbs to hit his super. I just managed to hit mine and give him the orbs we needed. Then I think I blacked out for a couple seconds while shooting Calus because the next thing I remember, we were just all screaming out in joy at having finally beat him together.
I’m still hoping the six of us can get back together at some point for the new Destiny Raid Lairs. Timing has been bad for this Curse of Osiris one but maybe when the next expansion hits, we’ll reunite and try them both in 2018.
3. Davide Soliani crying as Miyamoto praises of Mario + Rabbids
My top three moments don’t come from any single game, but rather are just my favorite moments from gaming this year. While it’s easy to get hung up on hating nebulous companies for loot boxes and microtransactions, it’s always worth remember that there are people behind the games. Sometimes those people hijack the stage and undo all of Geoff Keighley’s work toward making them feel like a legitimate celebration of our medium and send us back ten years in a drunken tirade (yeah, I’m still fucking pissed about how much people “loved” Josef Fares disrespectful showing at The Game Awards).
But other times, the cameras catch a moment of pure pride and joy, as was the case during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference. Putting the emphasis on their people, Ubisoft celebrated many of their developers at E3 and kicked off their show with an extended look at the formally announced cross-over between Nintendo’s Mario and Ubisoft’s Rabbids. Shigeru Miyamoto himself came onstage to talk about the game and the cameras caught Ubisoft Milan’s Creative Director Davide Soliani holding back tears of joy and pride upon hearing this industry icon praise the work of him and his team.
I’m a snarky bastard, but that pure moment got through even to me.
2. Attending my first E3
My first distinct memory of E3 is when Ari Lawrence came back from Summer break to our Senior year of high school after attending E3. We weren’t the best of friends but we did some theatre and choir together and he knew I was a fellow gamer. He gave me a demo disk he got for .hack//Infection. He had attended the 2002 E3 and it suddenly became video game Mecca. But I didn’t ever really think I’d make the trip until I started actually getting involved a few years ago. Back when I was an aspiring Theatre Manager (live theatre, not movie theatre), gaming was just a hobby that I was very in tune with. I always tried to catch the recaps of the press conferences for the big news and then when they started getting streamed online, I’d watch along. I almost made the trip in 2016 but it came too close on the heels of other travel and I just couldn’t take the time off work.
But this year, I planned for it. I committed to the idea of going early on in the year, going so far as to eat the cost on an alternatively planned tripped to RTX Sydney just so I had the vacation days to spare. It became a little bit less special when the ESA announced they were opening up 15,000 tickets to the public to attend but I still was able to attend as Media, thanks to my friends at IGN and The Koalition, who actually both wound up pinging me about attending at about the same time.
Without better media contacts for appointments and such, I still basically experienced the show as if I was a public attendee but it was still crossing something off of my Bucket List. I don’t think I’ll dedicate the vacation time to returning this year (unless I get hired in the industry between now and then), but I was glad to have made this 15-year dream into a reality.
1. Irrational Passions Extra Life
In a bit of nice symmetry, this listed started with friends and it’s ending with them too.
As I touched on in a recent video, I got to do a lot of incredible travel this year but my trip to join a group of friends.for a weekend of gaming for a good cause topped the list. Nearly a year in the making, I first talked to Alex about flying out to join my friends at Irrational Passions over a dinner at PSX 2016. After doing my own thing the past two years, I wanted to branch out and be a part of something bigger. He graciously welcomed me with open arms.
Back at PAX East, a lot of us had a pre-PAX dinner and Greg Miller was kind enough to join us. Two seeds were planted that day: that Greg would fly out for IP Extra Life and that I’d probably be cutting my hair on the stream. Last year, they shaved Danny Juarez’s head on their stream and I was very ready to let mine go.
In the months leading up to the event, we started finalizing plans on who would be able to attend. Alex put together a Google doc where we could all put forth ideas (that’s where Hot Pepper Hot Takes was born, to my painful regret). We even considered renting out a hotel conference room for the weekend as an alternative to Alex’s house but ultimately stuck it out at his place there.
As many of us started arriving a day or two before the actual weekend stream, we reconnected with old friends or met many new ones for the first time and just had fun gaming, visiting, etc. A group of us saw Thor: Ragnarok Thursday night and had a blast. Genevieve Miller had graciously offered to cook for the 20+ people on hand during the event so a bunch of us went out Friday in order to purchase the laundry list of ingredients; with one car picking up the alcohol and another the food. As part of Team Food, we even split into three sub groups in order to divide and conquer. Jurge Cruz and I knew that store’s produce department inside and out by the time we filled our cart.
By Friday night, nearly all of the collected attendees arrived and we were just basically kicking off a two-day house party. Irrational Passions hosted a podcast and attendees tagged in and out as guests all night (I was actually a bit sad to realize recently that it was my only appearance on Irrational Passions this year). We also game up with a tentative gameplan for the event, figuring out the order of our various segments.
Eventually, we got in a bit of sleep before the long day ahead. The 24-hour stream feels like a blur and a half. I lost a little over a pound when we eventually shaved my head and probably gained it right back with Gen’s amazing feasts. I had a great time just hanging around and playing video games with friends, something I really haven’t experienced anywhere close to that degree since my high school days playing GoldenEye or No Mercy.
I didn’t take enough time to breathe and appreciate it while it was happening but we put on an amazing, fun event. Before we even wrapped I was thinking up ideas for next year.
After we wrapped, some folks left then and there and called it a weekend so we said our heartfelt goodbyes. The rest of us crashed for a few hours before a celebratory dinner at Cheesecake Factory. The next day, Alex and new friend Jazz drove me to the airport and Roger to the bus station and we sang the hell out of some Hamilton.
Friends and strangers from around the country (and even Ally from Canada) came together for a magical weekend and left a family.
It was a hell of a moment!