I often fill this space with complaints against the gaming industry. DRM sucks! Forced grouping is lame! Evony ads are like herpes on the face of the internet! Filler content is a killjoy! DRM still sucks! Games are too expensive! Clustering releases around Christmas is self-defeating! The writing in Champions Online is embarrassingly bad! It's enough to make people wonder why I even bother with videogames at all if I hate them so much. Why not just give up and go watch TV if games make me so miserable?
But of course I don't hate gaming. It's just that talking about things that work right is a tough way to fill a column:
"You know how some games let you save whenever you like? That's really cool when they do that. Anyway, see you next week!"
I like to think of this column as cathartic (and occasionally constructive) criticism. Barring that, I strive to convey my love for gaming. To that end, here are the good trends and announcements from 2009. These stories were the happy news that I never got a chance to mention because I was too busy bitching and moaning about the stuff that got on my nerves:
1. Decline of DRM
In 2007 and 2008, hard DRM driven by SecuROM and online activation limits was all the rage. This year we saw far fewer titles saddled by that sort of stupidity. The idea isn't dead yet, but it's slowly going the way of VHS tapes. Good riddance.
2. Return of E3
In 2008, people realized that having a press-only E3 was like holding a concert in an empty stadium. It might be more comfortable, but it's also lifeless and kind of defeats the purpose. Like New Coke, it might have made sense on paper but in reality it was a disappointment to almost everyone. 2009 saw the return of E3 Classic, and all of its wonderful chaos.
3. PlayStation 3 got its act together
The two big complaints about the PS3 was that it was too expensive and that it just didn't have enough solid titles. At the end of 2008 Little Big Planet and Resistance 2 gave the platform a much-needed pre-holiday shot in the arm. In 2009 they dropped they price yet again, bringing it in line with rival Xbox 360. This took the price tag out of the equation and now deciding between the two is a matter of taste instead of an economic decision. To make things even better, inFamous, Killzone 2, and (especially) Uncharted 2 all arrived in 2009 and made a strong case for the platform.
4. The Escapist had a great year
Actually, The Escapist had a really great year. There are over 50% more of us reading the site now than there were a year ago. Add to that the fact that in 2009 we got more cool stuff to watch like Unskippable, ENN, and MovieBob. And yet despite the staff's unwavering dedication to quality, they didn't cancel my webcomic.
So, it's been a good year for all of us.
5. Announcement of motion controllers for PS3 and Xbox 360
Xbox 360 and PS3 fans have been sneering at the Wii as a "dumb gimmick," and now they're each getting a dumb gimmick of their own. It's true that unconventional controllers shouldn't be an end in themselves. Maybe Project Natal and the PlayStation Motion Controller will follow the same trajectory as the Wii controller: An expensive but fun new toy with a narrow set of appropriate uses, which is unwisely shoehorned into every game possible in a short-sighted effort to justify its existence. Maybe these efforts will suffer the same fate as Tony Hawk: Ride. Or maybe we'll end up with something like the next Guitar Hero. Either way, it's nice that they're trying to innovate something besides the graphics.
6. Strong titles
Aion, Assassin's Creed II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Borderlands, Brütal Legend, Dragon Age, Killzone 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Uncharted 2, Modern Warfare 2. It's been quite a year.
Some years are better than other for releases. 1998, 1999, and 2004 were years that gave us one legendary title after another. It's too soon to tell if the releases for 2009 will stack up in the long run, but it's been a really, really good year to be a gamer.
7. Record-breaking year
The titles of 2009 weren't just fun, they broke records. Batman: Arkham Asylum holds a Guinness World Record for 'Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever'. The game FUEL holds a Guinness World Record for 'Largest playable area in a console game'. And Modern Warfare 2 broke every sales record of everything ever.
8. Duke Nukem was canceled
Finally we can stop obsessing over this thing and move on, and we won't have the game appearing on everyone's end-of-year list.
Ah well. Maybe next year. Happy new year everyone.