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Design ideas we love and want more of in 2015


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When dissected, our favorite games are usually composed of many ideas and designs that make the entire package worthy of our time.

In 2014, there were countless game ideas and design choices that we were enamored with: from the educational value of Never Alone to the co-op found within the crazy world of Bayonetta 2. In this feature, Team Joystiq recalls a handful of ideas that made 2014 a great year for gaming. Here are designs we hope to see more of in 2015.

Compact Co-op
Bayonetta 2's Tag Climax mode, beyond having the least subtle name of anything else in the game, is actually an impressive slice of co-op. The balletic, velvety action in the campaign is inherently personal, and difficult to translate into a shared experience. Tag Climax doesn't try, instead pitting you and one partner against limited foes in constrained arenas. It keeps the action coherent and intimate. Different as it is, though, it doesn't sacrifice the primary game's pleasures.

Using Bayonetta's absurd, versatile arsenal in cunning ways is still the path to success in Tag Climax. It's rare to see a game so effortlessly incorporate multiplayer without automatically resorting to some kind of versus battle mode or just plugging another character in the campaign. It would be nice to see this type of consideration in other single-player games that still need to include a multiplayer mode. – Anthony John Agnello

Unreliable narrators
As an audience, we take it for granted that what we experience in a video game is the Truth, at least insofar as that game world is concerned. Our ability to make decisions that will allow us to enjoy the game depends on the information we receive, and so we put our trust in the fact that seeing is believing. Several games this year played with that assumption to great benefit, however, highlighting how much fun an unreliable narrator can be. Both protagonists in Tales from the Borderlands are natural liars, so you're never quite sure if the adventure you're having actually happened or has been the recipient of some aggressive narrative embellishment, but it doesn't really matter. Rhys and Fiona get the important stuff right (mostly) and their fibs are wildly entertaining.

Escape from Dead Island's Cliff has a similarly tenuous relationship with reality, though not by choice; his delusions add a layer of mystery to the otherwise straightforward gameplay. You believe you got knocked out fighting off a bunch of zombies, but your friends say you lost consciousness trying to rescue your sinking boat - they wouldn't lie, would they? When used effectively, unreliable narrators can add an intriguing complexity to games and let us challenge our expectations, shaking up what we think we know about the characters we play. – Susan Arendt

We Do Need Some Education
As gaming continues to overdo its make-up, deck itself in heels and declare itself an adult, so the word "educational" has become an unfashionable companion. Not in 2014, though. Valiant Hearts: The Great War, a character-driven tour of World War 1, and Never Alone, a spiritual journey drawn from Alaska Native culture, have hopefully started to turn the tide. Both games were clearly thoughtfully crafted, overlaying established gaming tropes over stories, settings and themes with grounded value; Valiant Hearts carried the historical endorsement of Mission Centenaire 14-18, while Never Alone was developed in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

In a word, both games demanded authenticity and delivered it. The two adventures provided an educational emphasis that was wonderfully unashamed, but they were also unobtrusive with it. You didn't have to read the info-bits in Valiant Hearts or watch the documentaries in Never Alone. Where the games succeeded was making you want to, each and every time. It's a success I'd love to see more games build on this year. – Sinan Kubba

All the colors of the wind
When the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 made their debut, we collectively oo'd and ahh'd at the higher resolution games featuring sharper textures and smoother animations. Finally, we possessed consoles that could rival real life in terms of raw visuals! Only, as more and more games came out, it felt like we sank further into an age not of darkness, but of brown and gray. Now that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have made their debuts, I hope we leave those dull, dull color palettes in the past. Video games can provide us with so much more than that.

Sunset Overdrive for the Xbox One is a prime example of a developer focusing on solid, thoughtful art direction instead of gritty realism. There's no mistaking Sunset Overdrive for any other game, and that's largely thanks to its unique visual identity. And it's hardly the only game memorable for its style. World of Warcraft, WildStar, Ori and the Blind Forest, Gigantic ... all these games and more ooze style. A realistic-looking game is not necessarily a good one, and there will be plenty of those for people who want it. Me, though? I want this console generation, this year, to be the year the rainbow exploded. – Sam Prell

Get to the fun part!
One of my favorite trends in 2014 is seeing games that just drop players right into the action. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor drops players into its world with hardly an introduction at all, and it very quickly gets to the good stuff: Killing Uruks. Likewise, Bayonetta 2 also wastes little time before letting players lay into the forces of Heaven and Hell. The same goes for Shovel Knight, which introduces new mechanics and gadgets organically, rather than inundating players with tutorials. Of course, more complex games like Mordor and Bayonetta 2 have to have a few tutorials, but they prove that tutorials don't have to be boring. – Richard Mitchell

Local multiplayer getting plenty of love
I understand and appreciate the benefits of gaming online, but the majority of my multiplayer sessions take place at the beginning of a night with nearby friends. There have been moments where gaming consoles have felt like a "play online or play alone" experience, but 2014 consistently supplied us with great, room-inclusive games. Coaxing a group into a few rounds of Fibbage, Towerfall Ascension, Mario Kart 8, Fantasia: Music Evolved or Super Smash Bros. for Wii U before moving on with a night was effortless, and I'm hopeful that 2015 will match or exceed last year's local multiplayer-friendly selection. – Thomas Schulenberg​

Convincing Stalkers
Games have been lifting ideas from movies for decades, but it's only the recent Alien: Isolation where the industry has managed to convincingly recreate the ultimate horror movie trope: The relentless stalker. The concept has appeared in games before – most notably the titular antagonist of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – but Isolation is the first game that has created an enemy that is terrifying not only because it can't be killed, but because each of its movements, aggressive or benign, is filled with a methodical purpose that casts an ominous pall over any scene in which the creature is absent.

You're always forced to wonder where it is, where it's going and when it might punch a mandible through your skull. Jump scares are easy to create – just toss a zombie dog through a window and call it a day – but this kind of omnipresent floating dread is more difficult in a medium that allows anyone too frightened to simply turn the game off. Hopefully we see more of this in the future, as it's the closest the survival horror genre has come to tapping the dark, primal fear hardwired into each of our brains by generations of ancestors who were wise enough to realize that the shadows beyond the campfire often conceal something big and mean. – Earnest Cavalli

[Images: Sega, Gearbox, Matt Thorson, Monolith, Insomniac]

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