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Developers describe their most memorable game moments of 2016

In a year full of great games, we all have one or two indelible gameplay moments that stand out for us. We asked several designers to tell us about their most memorable game moments of the year.

Joel Couture, Contributor

December 29, 2016

28 Min Read

In a year full of great games, we all have one or two indelible gameplay moments that stand out for us.

We asked several designers to tell us about their most memorable game moments of the year.

Brenda Romero (Wizardry, Jagged Alliance)

The most impactful moment was taking a photo of Babak in 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. I wanted to take a perfect pic, but it was blurry...and I felt a mix of loss, regret and remorse all at once, and I had to leave. Powerfully designed scene.

Most surprising and fun moment? The last 15% or so of Inside. It was incredible. Still talking about it with friends.

Also--The attention to detail and sheer quantity of NPCs in Hitman and the variety of possibilities.

Teddy Diefenbach (Hyper Light Drifter)

The Firewatch intro sequence is everything I love about  videogames today - powerful, scope-smart, and honest. I don't understand how anyone could put this game down after its first 15 minutes. Once you start living as Henry, you care too goddamn much to stop.

Alexis Kennedy (Sunless Sea)

My moment was, unexpectedly, the elusive targets in Hitman. I've always enjoyed the Hitman series, despite some embarrassment  at the basic sociopathy of the whole endeavour, and they keep on getting cleverer. One of the fundamental design problems of the series has always been squaring the tension of a stealth assassination game with the repetition of a toybox game. They went a long  way towards toybox this time out - you're obviously expected to repeat levels and try different approaches.

But the Elusive Targets allowed them to bring some of the tension back without compromising that. You get one try at a unique target,  with mission-level permadeath, *but* in a familiar sandbox. So from the player's point of view it's tense as hell - mission-level permadeath! - but if you're familiar with the level, you still get to try creative or varied approaches. And from the dev point  of view, they get tremendous reuse out of their big clever level with a few more assets. Plus it's a timed event that gets players back into the game. I didn't have any idea how different the experience would feel, but it's the sweaty-palmed thrill of Dark  Souls without the need for a thirty-hour skill investment.

Thomas Happ (Axiom Verge)

The ending sequence to Inside was probably the thing I'm most likely to remember years from now, if only because of how strange it was.

Nina Freeman (Cibele)

When I started playing Final Fantasy XV, I took my first car ride and was completely overwhelmed. Especially after the opening, during which you push your car after it's broken down--I was so happy to start getting to know these characters through such ordinary life moments. Simply being around the car, and in it, with those characters made me want to play so much more of that game. Playing through ordinary life scenarios like that, especially when they're integrated in such a core way with the mechanics of the game, is super exciting to me.

Jonathan Burroughs (Virginia)

My gaming highlight of the year was probably experimental first person story game Moirai on Steam. To say too much about it would be to give away what makes it special. I came to it via an ambiguous Twitter recommendation and I’m very grateful the person recommending it kept back what was so unique about it. Ten minutes well spent. And one of the more ingenious and thoughtful game experiences of recent memory. Don’t spoil it for others.

Paul Franzen (The Beard in the Mirror)

I really enjoyed that like two-week span when Pokemon GO was a thing, and you'd see roving packs of teens and college kids, jacked into portable power supplies that were strapped around their waists, like they were going into the Matrix. That, and the turtle in Firewatch. ...I never found the turtle, and I'm still upset about it nearly a year later.

Giada Zavarise (Selling Sunlight)

I have a dark secret: I'm obsessed with Harvest Moon games.But Stardew Valley? I was skeptical. It didn't feel right, to pick up crops with a mouse.  And then I played it, and picked up my first crops with a mouse, and everything was well except for the part where I played too much. I'm so glad that this game exists. Not only because it's lovely, but also because it has made the farming genre hip and cool for a whole new audience. I'm already seeing some new farming-related pc games, and can't wait to plow more fields in 2017. (Now, if they would just announce Rune Factory 5...)

Honorable mention: the Seeking content in Fallen London, a new special storyline that requires you to sacrifice everything (item, exp, your own mental sanity) in order to proceed. It started with me reducing a stat from 160 to 1, undoing months of leveling up with a few misguided clicks.  And it was exhilarating! I mean, you're not usually ALLOWED to do this in a game. To throw your character out of a window, go against the concept of grinding itself.  I also loved the way the community reacted, from people urging the new players to AVOID SEEKING AT ALL COSTS to the ones helping the Seekers regain their stats - just to watch them lose everything again. Waking up one day to find countless invitations of random folks willing to help my character is one of my sweetest gaming memories of 2016. 

Chris Bryant (Super Rad Raygun)

I'd say that Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run are my most memorable moments in gaming.  The Pokemon Go launch was insane!  Seeing crowds of people gathering in the streets, interacting with total strangers, and bonding over a video game was something we've never seen before and might never see again.  Plus, it introduced the world to Augmented Reality.  We've had the technology for years, but for the first time, everyone understood it and it was at their fingertips.  With Super Mario Run, Nintendo is redefining mobile gaming.  In a sea of crappy free-to-play and $0.99 games, Nintendo launches a quality product for $9.99 and the numbers are staggering.  And it had over 40 million downloads in the first 4 days!

Eric Rossman (Get Me Outta Here)

Part of what made those sequences between Nathan Drake and his brother climbing across rooftops special (there were two in the game Uncharted 4) is that I am a younger brother who as a kid really looked up to my older brother as Nathan does his. That accompanied with with video games being a big part of me and my brother's relationship growing up (and we now make games together as Rossman Bros Games) made that sequence really stick out playing a video game about brothers with a significant relationship (I remember playing a co-op NES game as a kid with my brother called Ninja Bros or something like that and thinking it was really cool going on an adventure as bros) Combine all that with the fact the Uncharted 4 has amazing visuals with great gameplay and a compelling story and it was an awesome experience.

Sam Beddoes (Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures)

Just when I was becoming concerned that Doom 2016 was heading towards becoming a Serious Sam game, treating the plot like a joke so an uncaring,  overpowered player can casually mow down thousands of weak enemies (boring!), the character stepped into an elevator, and a small amount of story exposition came over the radio. The marine showed concern by glancing at the desecrated corpse in the corner (contrary to what some people might say, "DoomGuy" is not Kratos, he does care). The moment I had enough plot information to be motivated, and not a nanosecond later, the marine smashed the radio in anger, and in came the Doom logo over it's epic theme song. Cut back to the first person view of the game, elevator opens up to Mars, and in sync with the theme music, he pumps his shotgun. *Click clack*.

Perfection! id Software won my trust and 'made me their bitch' for the rest of the game! There was enough story for those who care, that the plot itself, whilst pretty ridiculous, wasn't treated as a joke, but also that what was more important was the gameplay. It set up the protagonist's personality without a single spoken line, and it communicated exactly what the game was going to be. Doom has a huge amount of optional lore you can read in unlockable logs and documents, but the core game feeds you with just enough information to move on, and the character's impatience embodies the player's desire to hit a button and skip the dialogue vs their fear of missing out on something important. Amazing, and presented in a way that is metal as hell.

Nathalie Lawhead (Armagad)

I watched David O’Reilly play Everything, live, at this year's Fantastic Arcade. I think it lasted for an hour. To me this is probably going to be one of the most memorable moments for the next five years. :)
The game is amazing, but watching him play it for everyone was really amazing... ok I just used the word "amazing" twice in the same sentence, but you have to understand he was putting giant animals in space and making street lights dance. It was pretty spectacular.

Linda Strazdina (Bearslayer)

I enjoyed Samarost 3. The most memorable moment was meeting with composer Tomáš Dvořák at Game On (Vilnius). I admire his music and listen to it oftenly when designing my games.

Camila Gormaz (Long Gone Days)

As a JRPG fan, this year was great since both Square Enix and ATLUS released games I had been waiting for years, and somehow both of them (Persona 5 and FFXV) managed to exceed my expectations. Persona 5 in general has been the most surprising, with its gorgeous design.

I'll try not to spoil since it hasn't been released in English yet, but it made me really happy to see demon negotiations back in Persona 5. This is a feature that was removed in Persona 3 and 4, and it lets you win battles through dialogue (this feature was a big inspiration for Undertale, and for my game too).

Laura Shigihara (Rakuen)

I have a soft spot for when a game does a good job of making you feel like you're part of its culture (like when you're basically living at the Glitz Pit in Paper Mario). I think I had a similar feeling of immersion in Undertale when Alphys upgrades your cell phone and begins constantly updating her UnderNet status. Everything she wrote was so hilarious, and it made both Alphys as well as the culture of that world feel very real to me.

Gillian Smith (Threadsteading)

I'm going with a moment while playing No Man's Sky that really got me thinking about how PCG supports player storytelling and how the real world context you're playing in important to overall experience. I'd just started playing the game and it was a rough start in every sense. I could only find time to play when my then 8-month-old was napping while laying on top of me (which was the only way he'd nap), so I'm in kind of an awkward position, totally in the dark except for the light from the TV, and trying to stay calm so he doesn't wake up. In the game, I'm in toxic environment with radiation damage when I'm exposed to the sun, trying to navigate to a resource, marveling at how beautiful the world is despite its harshness. Being a new parent is rewarding but also can be very isolating, and the lonely but beautiful world I'm exploring is really resonating with me. The slow pace of exploration in the game is giving me space to think and reflect. My shields are super low when my son wakes up and starts batting at the controller. I'm trying to make sure he's secure on the couch but also get the controller out of his reach so I can get to safety in the game, and there's this brief moment of tension that's almost palpable where I'm almost dead and the baby is getting cranky and then suddenly relief when I reach a cave and my shields recharge and I can put the controller down. The baby has become transfixed by the TV, so I start talking to him about what he's seeing on the screen. As a designer I'd mostly thought about gameplay inhabiting a space that's separate from the real world, but this one brief moment really changed that perception for me.


Adrian Bauer (Owlboy)

It feels weird to just say the most memorable parts of 2016 were just launching this project and everything leading up to it since we nailed down a release date. I haven't been able to play too many games or do a whole lot. Life outside of games has just been wake up, work on Owlboy, go to work, work on Owlboy, sleep, repeat. My buddies are all releasing their games next year while a number of them released in 2015. Maybe I'll be more involved in all of this come 2017.

Gabe Telepak (Butt Sniffin Pugs)

Before That Dragon, Cancer released, I remember chatting with creator Ryan Green and him mentioning how there's a pug at the end of the game. About how he was initially against that decision (out of all dog breeds, a pug?!) but in the end, how surprisingly perfect the pug fit into the last scene. And I'll never forget playing through that game with my wife and finally getting to that last scene. I won't spoil the ending, but it left us in tears hugging our pugs, thankful for the life we'd been given. And I'll never forget that moment.

Emma Maassen (MidBoss)

I'd been following Overwatch's fandom for a while, but I didn't own or play it, since I haven't enjoyed competitive games like that in a long time. Then a free weekend came and I gave it a try, not expecting much, but to my surprise I really enjoyed myself! It reminds me of when I used to play Doom on LANs way back in the day, it's made FPS fun again for me by recapturing something that I felt FPS lost for a long time. (Can I add to this that the gay Tracer thing is totally rad and important, especially in an FPS? Cause it is.)

Adriel Wallick (Press X to be Okay)

My absolute favorite moment from a video game this year was at the very end of Final Fantasy 15 (serious spoiler alert ahead). 

All throughout the game, as you were traveling around with your three closest friends, one of the nightly rituals performed was to go through every photos that was taken that day and pick a few that you like to save for later. These photos would range from silly selfies to action shots to just out of focus/thumb in the way/accidental shots. I didn't think about it too much, other than enjoying picking out my favorite moments from the day, or giggling at the funny selfies Prompto would take, but ultimately, the moment came that these photos meant something. Right before the final battle, after being away from your friends for 10 years and coming to terms with the fact that you need to sacrifice yourself to save your kingdom, you take one last look through all of the photos. You need to pick just one photo to bring with you into your final fight.

I spent *so* much time looking through the photos I had saved over the previous 60+ hours of gameplay. These photos were all memories of things we did together, places we had been, little stories that had been told - the journey me and my friends had gone on together. It was a real testimate to how well Square had done at making me feel something for these characters and for their friendship. It was almost impossible for me to choose just one photo that summed up our friendship and our time together, and I cried the entire time. It was a very well done moment the truly made me feel that sense of friendship, loss, and longing for the 'good ol days'.

Aleksi Sirvio (Gloom)

Having not played any Harvest Moon games before, Stardew Valley was a completely new format for me that I didn't even think I would enjoy at first. Soon I found out how addicting the gameplay loop and progression system was while being blown away by how different the game was from most mainstream games and how it evoked different emotions than a lot of games traditionally do. Having gaming be a relaxing experience was quite new for me. Also the fact that it was made by a single person was one of the triggers that motivated me to make a game just by myself too.

Rob the Sky Games (Alkanaur)

In contrast to the tumultuous year we've had, Stardew Valley was a tiny beacon of simplicity and cheerfulness.  It sounds kind of cheesy, I know, but it just hits all the right notes for a fun, relaxing experience. My wife isn't much of a PC gamer, but she's been enthralled by the game. And as an indie game dev myself, it's inspiring to see how one person was able to bring some joy and calm to so many. He put in all the extra details to make the simple gameplay mechanics something special.

Tanya Short (Moon Hunters)

I don't like platformers, and especially not linear puzzle platformers, as a general rule. So when my partner and I started playing Inside, passing the controller back and forth, I was more tolerant than excited. But it won me over with increasing surreality and expertly crafted anticipation, which paid out in a moment that absolutely thrilled and intrigued me. I don't want to spoil the moment itself, but rather than the shock of a 'twist', it stuck with me because my partner and I would notice different elements of the environment as the game progressed, all leading to this new understanding of the world. Well done, Playdead.

Rail Slave Games (Selfie: Sisters of the Amniotic Lens)

No Man's Sky. The late 60's warp effects, lens flares. One particular standout moment was when I landed on a largely reddish, wooded moon and looked up to see it's absolutely colossal, murky green planet fill the horizon. I really love the whole random element, how it can all come together and make you feel so small but also so important as it's only witness. (@NoMansPics is maybe one of the best thing's I've followed, the combinations of elements people find never fail to inspire me.)

Anthony Swinnich (Shutshimi)

It was during the summer and Pokemon Go was all the rage. People were congregating in large numbers at the Erie Basin Marina for a couple of weeks already to collect their digital pets. It was probably about five minutes to midnight -- we were charging our phones in the car when the ground started to shake. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- was running in one direction. It was a literal stampede. At first we thought there was some kind of emergency until we rolled down the window and heard someone scream "Cloyster! CLOYSTER!!!", at which point we jumped out of the car to join the mob, running with our phones out and our hopes high.

Alain Puget (Drifting Lands)

I was enjoying Dark Souls III from the start, not sure how it was connected with previous episodes. Then you arrive in a section of roofs with armored archers firing giant arrows... Surely a ref to DS, i think.. The most painfull passage for me and a lot of other Players :)

And then you discover a rotating elevator... The intensity builds up ! And at the top: The familiar view of a huge stair leading to a cathedral. Finally with the name of the area appears barring the screen with the familiar sound "Anor Londo"...

Dark Souls fan orgasm... Ultra obvious fan service but soooooo good!

Gaeel (The Last Soul)

So yeah, there's multiple levels to this, and they all kind of feed into each other. First, I'm a sucker for some good action game, I love simple controls that, when combined, allow the player to express themselves and pull off awesome moves, and this is exactly how pretty much every Overwatch character plays. They have a limited set of abilities, but you combine them and combo them up to pull off sweet moves, and each character has a very specific feel, which gives them all a very unique way of making the player feel awesome at a specific job

Second, the story remains politely in the background, just popping up every now and then to give us a glimpse of who all these characters are, but trust the fans to fill in all the blanks in their own imaginations. One might argue that this just means the writers have less work to do, which, to an extent, is true, but in reality, it means the story elements mirror the gameplay's "lean and mean" approach to achieving a lot with very little. Hearing Ana ask Reaper what happened to him with despair in her voice is so much stronger than having exposition dumps that might ruin it all. And it's so nice to see all these different personalities, from the excited pride of Reinhardt to the apologetic Mei, it's obvious a lot of love and care has gone into making these. And a cherry on top: I do believe Overwatch is the only AAA game in recent years to have a playable character who is a mother...

Lucy Blundell (One Night Stand)

When Pokémon Go released, I went for Poké walks with my friends. We walked through parks, town squares and nearby rivers. I hadn’t been so active in such a long time! The best bit was even non-gamers were doing it, and the community felt closer again. It was a really special time.

Mystic Messenger: Chatting to the members of the RFA through the app felt super immersive on your phone. I had to remind myself many times that these people weren’t real, but they kept chatting to me in such a life-like way! When I got a bad ending, the members started to doubt their own existence and say “all of us were robots saying programmed things. lololol” It hit me real hard, despite the fact I’d been telling myself that all along. I felt sorry for the make-believe characters, that’s how close I felt to them.

FFXV: On the roof of the motel, Prompto opens up to Noctis about his doubts, being a member of their group. It was a really touching moment that I don’t feel I’ve really seen in games, between two men anyway. It helped flesh out both characters and make them feel human.

Florencia Minuzzi (Dialogue: A Writer's Story)

Zero Time Dilemma: There was a part in Q's branch where you have a choice (via text input) of who to shoot. I had tried the name of everyone in the room a while back, but was coming back to this scene because I was stuck. I tried a name I had heard once but wasn't sure was relevant: Delta. It actually accepted the input (rather than giving me a 'that person isn't in the room' message), the character turned... Then shot the 'screen'. Was it the player? Are you Delta? Are you seeing from the point of view of Delta? Who is Delta, even? 

It was one of those things where I probably wasn't meant to try this until I knew more about Delta, but it worked and it was freaky/exciting. (The revelations around Delta in a later scene were also exciting, so it wasn't a let-down).

In the case of Zero Time Dilemma, it was a convergence of things that made it work. There was the mystery and intrigue of what was going on, mixed with acknowledging the player exists (by literally shooting the fourth wall), and it was only possible because of the game's mechanics (the game branches and uses that to give you information at varying times, and the fact that you type in the choice rather than choosing from presets). These came together in a very strong, shocking moment, leaving me with more questions than answers, and really exceeded my expectations.

ALSO: Bravely Second: In order to progress the story, you have to make a New Game +, then use a mechanic in the unwinnable tutorial battle (that you didn't originally have) without a prompt - just pressing Start to trigger it.

The other one was that the final boss, acknowledging that the player is 'controlling' the characters, takes over your actions... By making you delete your save file (Almost-- But it makes you take ten or so uncontrollable steps towards it, and pretends it has erased it. Then the characters take letters from the title screen (S and P) to restore their SP and cast that Start move again)
Bravely Second acknowledged the player's journey as being separate but complementary to the character's journeys. 

In the first instance, they use a unique mechanic (SP) and a genre fixture (New Game +) together to give the player an opportunity to break the normal game boundaries and let you help the characters (as 'yourself', the player, with your knowledge). 

In the second instance, the reverse is true. The seemingly-omnipotent boss who is already breaking down the typical boundaries of what is allowed in games (by controlling your actions) assaults you directly by attacking something you care about (your save data). The characters then break out of their moulds, their game-perscribed roles and boundaries, to save 'you'. Both of these moments created a powerful feeling of connection, as though 'you' are the fifth party member, or that these are real characters whose paths crossed yours.

Pehesse (Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire)

I loved how AM2R, the Metroid 2: Return of Samus fan remake, managed to replicate a feeling of dread I had over 20 years ago even while using clearer maps and "streamlined" design. Thinking back on it, I don't think it was nostalgia at play, since the presentation was so different in AM2R: it's that it really managed to capture this feeling of going down -of plunging deeper into an unsettling unknown - which was what the game was about.)

James Earl Cox III (You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter)

Knowing that atmospheric games like Inside can continue to thrive and that powerful experiences like 1979 Revolution: Black Friday are able to reach audiences. I have high hopes for meaningful games to further saturate mainstream audiences in 2017 and beyond.

Zhenghua Yang (Loving Life)

A Good Bundle made me realize that despite gamers always being in the spotlight as violent, hateful, or rejects of our society, the truth is that we care for others and the well-being of our culture. We're passionate for others and we love one another. The bundle raised over $160k within a week to support ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Despite the fact that it only cost 2 dollars to buy most of the games, the average purchase price ended up being over $20. I'm grateful to be able to donate our games into the bundle for the cause and I think it's one of the best things that happened in the gaming world this year.

Andrea Ayres (The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne)

The most memorable moment for me occurred at GeekGirlCon. I spoke with a young woman after a talk I gave about mental health and game development and she shared her story with me. She cried and I did as well. And it was a moment of shared pain and vulnerability but we were total strangers, initially united by only a shared interest in games. It can be so easy to walk around cons and just see the throngs of people as well, throngs of people. But this was a moment that reminded me of the depths of each of our personal stories, and how we all walk around carrying their weight. More than anything, I guess, it reminded me of the importance of listening.

Rami Ismail (Nuclear Throne, Luftrausers)

There is not a game I’ve played more than Bungie’s Destiny. When my partner and I moved apartments years ago, Trainjam organizer Adriel Wallick and I had one wish for our living room: to two televisions with two PlayStation 4’s, so we could play our two copies of the not-quite-MMO. For years, we have savored the rare days both of us were at home in the Netherlands, partially because it’d allow us to work our way through all the new Destiny content that came out. When important timed events would occur, we would bring our PlayStations with us.

But throughout all the hours we’ve played Destiny, one rule stood fast: we never played without each other - whether we were sitting in our living room, or oceans’ apart, Destiny has been part of our relationship pretty much from the start.

Our characters, our Guardians, have been the only characters’ we’ve played - we don’t have multiple characters to switch between. She’s a Nightstalker Hunter - a fierce, bow-and-arrow-wielding character than can decimate entire fields of enemies in seconds. I’m a Defender Titan, a stubborn support character that can create domes for my friends to shield under. Together, as players, we’ve walked through pretty much every room Bungie has created in the game. Together, as developers, we’ve geeked out at how Bungie has created and crafted their game pretty much every time we find something new.

In October, we returned from one of our many trips around the world, and The Rise of Iron expansion had released weeks earlier. While Adriel was excited to get to the game, I decided to do some chores and go to bed. Disappointed, she made me promise to at least play the next morning. We tried that, but when we tried to log in, we found PSN was down due to a DDOS of an unprecedented scale. When the servers came back up, I decided to finish writing an article explaining “what a DDOS is” in layman’s terms.

When Destiny finally booted up, we went to the Tower - the central social space in the game - to see if we had received any messages or gifts during our absence. In it, I found a bunch of weapons, some color customization shaders, and some sort of commemorative ring. I retrieved all of them, and was left with one strange item.

The item was a custom-created item called “A Letter From Adriel”, and in it was a marriage proposal. The ring was a custom-created marriage ring. And as I recovered from the surprise on her TV, her Guardian kneeled and proposed to mine. Adriel, with the help of Bungie, had spent months secretly preparing the proposal, motion-capturing the ‘Proposal’ emote, and sneaking the files into the game without being found by data-miners.

After about a minute of me giving her a big hug, she asked “And?”. Realizing I hadn’t responded yet, I hurriedly stammered “yes, yeah, yeah, yeah, yes”. Hey, it’s not a perfect romantic response, but it sure was a ‘yes’.

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