[Ahead of tomorrow's list of Gamasutra's 'Game Of The Decade', as voted and commented on by hundreds of our readers, we're publishing some of the most-voted on titles that didn't quite make the Top 12 list, from Katamari Damacy to Vagrant Story and beyond.]
Gamasutra has just completed its reader-specific Game Of The Decade vote -- allowing the game professionals reading the site to choose their best game of the last 10 years, with in-depth commentary.
Readers responded to the following question - anonymously, if they wished - naming a game released this
decade for any console, handheld, PC or online platform, and why they
believe it outdid any other:
"Gamasutra is asking its users to vote for their 'Game Of The Decade' -- the video game title that they think was the absolute best of the last ten years, from January 2000 to date. Name the game, and then explain why it mattered to you and what differentiates it from the multitude of others released in the last decade?"
The best responses are being compiled into this two-part article. First up, we're putting together some of the most notable games that didn't make the larger list, both in terms of them just missing the required amount of votes, and those that got particularly compelling write-ups.
Following that, we'll be counting down the Top 12 games of the last ten years (as opposed to a Top 10, thanks to a four-way tie for the game in 8th place on the countdown), including many of your comments that helped the chart end up as it did. Without further ado, here are the honorable mentions for the Game Of The Decade:
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC, 2000)
This epic PC RPG from the creators of Mass Effect and NeverWinter Nights debuted early in the decade, but it connected with much of our audience thanks to epic size and carefully plotted RPG goodness.
Chris Herborth, Arcane Dragon: "Possibly the best CRPG ever developed, it was the crowning achievement of BioWare's 2D development era. A huge amount of incredibly engaging story (something like 300 hours worth) and character development, it innovated many of the NPC-interaction features that people take for granted these days (like romances)."
Pallav Nawani, IronCode: "It was a role playing experience like none other. I had played some very good games (Nox, Diablo 2, Soulbringer etc) before playing Baldur's Gate 2. But when I started playing BG2, all the other games paled into insignificance. The voice acting was top notch, the writing was tight, the plot absorbing.
"And when you reached Ust Natha, it felt amazingly real. The city of drow was very well imagined and their culture was displayed beautifully by the events that happened there. The combat was so much fun, and the music was great. I still listen to BG2's music now and then. The NPC interactions were beautifully detailed & remain unmatched to this day. And after all that, the ending was suitably epic. No wonder I played this games for 3 months straight... something I never did before, nor after."
BioShock (Multiplatform, 2007)
The 2K Boston/Australia, Ken Levine-led first-person action game just missed out on a spot in the overall Top 12, and respondents praised its fully functioning, beautifully crafted game world.
Anonymous: "I've never seen such a beautiful art style used so effectively in a game before. Half my time was just spent staring at the beauty of Rapture. In a world with too many goddamned FPS clones.... Bioshock stands out as an FPS that retains fast paced shoot em up gameplay with a brilliant moral narrative, new kinds of AI and a beautiful art style."
Luis Guimarães: "Simply was bored of games from a long time and Bioshock brought the magic back like in the old days of Castlevania SotN and Super Mario World. The game plays well and smooth, is immersive and allows for skill, exploration and clever play."
Burnout Paradise (Multiplatform, 2008)
Criterion's fully formed open-world racing game attracted some notable eloquent fans, thanks to its expansive nature.
Marc Bell, UNSW: "There are very few games that - while performing a task in the world or just exploring for kicks - I will stop and look about and wonder, how the hell does this exist? Games where the comparisons between previous entries in the genre and it are so far apart that I sit and wonder at what I am experiencing. Reflect on how far gaming has come in such a short time.
"Burnout Paradise in one such game. Whether it's speeding down a highway at what seems like light speed weaving in and out of traffic whilst AI cars smash, bounce and swarm like wasps, flipping high off a ledge and careering through a sign sending splinters and poles in all directions. Or doing exactly the same thing down one of any number of other streets because, let's face it, Burnout Paradise isn't about a leisurely drive admiring the scenery. It's all about speed and the thousands of things it throws at you while your eyeballs redden and dry from a lack of blinking.
"But there are times when you can stop and ponder the big questions. Going online and teaming up with people all over the world to complete tasks is by comparison a very relaxed affair. Complete your task and go park up on a ledge under a tree and enjoy the show below as everyone else attempts to finish it as well. Watching such activities is almost like observing a ballet, the participants of metal and tires leaping over and through each other as music plays in the background.
"Burnout Paradise is the game that made me look at games in a different way. It may not have easily taken my vote for the best in the last 10 years, but it certainly wasn't a tough decision either. There simply wasn't any other game that gave me the sense of wonder and bewilderment similar to - before this last decade - the first time I played Test Drive II on the Commodore 64 and slowly began to realise that, wow, haven't we come a damn long way."
Diablo II (PC, 2000)
Just sneaking into the decade, the all-time classic third-person action title perfected addictive looting and powering up in ways that would be magnified in a certain Blizzard MMO, years later:
Anonymous: "The character class variation, the skill tree depth, and the variety of dropped items made it very VERY replayable... and it had great co-op play, not just PVP."
Baptiste Villain, MonteCristo: "Released in 2000, and now, 10 years after: - still the best hack n slash, the only reference in the genre, - still receiving updates and support, - no single error in any feature of the game."
Katamari Damacy (PlayStation 2, 2004)
Keita Takahashi and Namco Bandai's wildly successful gameplay experiment attracted some enthusiastic boosters attracted to its incredibly original concept:
Anonymous: "Some games seek to put forth an original concept, while others focus on well polished execution. Katamari Damacy does both beautifully.
"Specifically here are the main strengths of the game: 1. Fun and original - It's like no other game that has come before it, and it's hard to put down the moment you pick it up. 2. Gameplay - The gameplay is simply to learn yet difficult to master, a hallmark of great games. 3. Music - The music to Katamari Damacy is in itself arguably the best game music of the decade, not to mention fairly original for game music.
"4. Characters and story - The cutscenes with the king and the normal family and their story are funny and entertaining without being so long they detract from the normal game. 5. Few development resources - The fact that this game was developed with few development resources makes what they've accomplished even more impressive.
"Put all of these factors together and what you have is the game of the decade. The only possible negative of this game is that it was too short, but on the other hand it definitely left the player with the feeling of wanting more. Truly Katamari Damacy is an eternal classic."
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PlayStation 3, 2008)
Kojima Productions stepped things up with this PS3 exclusive, and one respondent in particular was enchanted by the way it brought the classic stealth action series forward.
Anonymous: "Can any game, ever produced, ever, match its perfection? The gameplay was the pinnacle of the series, allowing you more or less the option of stealth vs. shoot'em. The visuals (don't forget the live-action "tv" to start the game) were the best ever produced in a game.
"The story encompassed more twists and was more epic than the previous three games combined. Like watching Star Wars Episode 2, you thought to yourself 'This is how everyone else will be making games in the future.' And besides, it's like when they gave the Oscar to Return of the King, really you are rewarding the entire series. This is our Godfather."
Pac-Man Championship Edition (Xbox 360, 2007)
Namco Bandai and Toru Iwatani's clever revival of his seminal arcade title was so cunning that it motivated some to nominate it for the best game of the last ten years:
Robert Boyd: "It took a gaming icon and made it relevant today. It popularized the idea of timed score challenges & retro revivals. It showed that less is sometimes more when it comes to game design. It has a perfect difficulty curve (the better you do, the faster it gets).
"But most importantly, I think it deserves game of the decade because it's playable and fun for anybody - you could hand it to someone who has never played a video game before in their life and they'd have a blast, but at the same time, a veteran gamer could spend a lifetime mastering the game's intricacies. The same can't be said of most popular video games which are either tailored towards casual or hardcore gamers."
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (Multiplatform, 2007)
Mashing up the puzzle game and the RPG with much aplomb, Infinite Interactive's Puzzle Quest has dedicated fans advocating for it in the Games Of The Decade countdown:
Jeremy Glazman, Refuge Zero: "This is the game that brought the puzzle-RPG genre to the forefront, and it wasted my entire summer. This could arguably be said to have been Bookworm Adventures, which was released first by a few months, but Puzzle Quest brought in all of the best elements of hardcore RPGs and made them accessible to the casual puzzler crowd.
"In a decade of clones and sequels, Puzzle Quest was one of the few games which opened the doors to a whole new area of unexplored gameplay mechanics."
Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, 2005)
One of the titles to just miss out on the Top 12, Capcom and Shinji Mikami's evolution of the survival horror game impressed many for its fresh approach and carefully crafted suspense.
Robert Ericksen, InSpec Games: "Released in 2005, it was able to use elements from the first half of the decade (QTE from Shenmue for example) but also be an influence to other games in the last half of the decade (Gears of War's camera for example). So it is the GOTD because it really is a part of gaming history; it was made from games and is still making games, and the franchise itself will be making more games for the entire NEXT decade too."
Ted Brown, Buzz Monkey Software: "After going through graduate school at the Guildhall and shipping my first game, GUN, I had a bit of an existential crisis: I no longer enjoyed playing games. Or, more specifically, I could not identify a single game on the market that I wanted to play. Considering I had just joined the industry, this was a crushing revelation. It was possible that a switch had flipped and I had somehow become a regular person with no interest in gaming.
"Then I played Resident Evil 4, on the GameCube. My wife and daughter were out of town; I was sick and feverish. But I played it until I could no longer physically continue, then slept briefly and played again. The euphoria at finding myself in front of the next big push forward -- and loving it -- has never left my mind. I am honestly grateful for the experience."
Rock Band (Multiplatform, 2007)
Boston's Harmonix struck a chord with Game Of The Decade respondents thanks to the signature music game's beautiful melding of melody and gameplay.
Robert Marney, University of Virginia: "Rock Band started out as a very expensive video game, but it is also: A stealth education in music appreciation 101, like Civilization did for history; A way to bond with my game-loving brother and musician parents at the same time; A vortex into which all house parties are eventually drawn after the crowd leaves, like karaoke; A cooperative game that allows skilled players to take up the slack from unskilled players, like volleyball; An innovator in downloadable content; and a massive source of revenue from a largely untapped well. And that's just off the top of my head."
Zach Wilson, THQ Kaos: "It was the first and last game I will ever play with my mother (gaming newbie), my wife (plays games occasionally) and my brother (hardcore gamer) all at the same time. We all played the game simultaneously and everyone had a smashing good time.
"I played that game all winter and then the winter next with the other couple I hang out with that had a similar composition of gamers - we ate, we drank, we sang and we jammed. It was amazing. Rock Band is also the first game that I feel really made strong use of the promise of DLC and made the idea of paying for music that I downloaded not only make sense but also feel like I got my money's worth."
Team Fortress 2 (Multiplatform, 2007)
Another much-nominated title, Valve's expertly done evolution of the multiplayer shooter adds vital character and humor to an already much-polished gameplay mechanism.
Terence Lee: "An expertly crafted multiplayer experience that continues to be updated to this day. And not just simple updates, but whole new community-involving themes."
Anonymous: "The game is leaps and bounds above any other game of the decade in terms of player and developer support, balance, testing, art design, style, humor, fun, and replayability. The game is the gold standard by which all games should be measured for style, replay-ability, and competitive balance and support."
Nick Myers: "This game incorporated several key features that made it, if not the best, the epitome of this decade of video gaming. These are: simplicity and deeper mechanics of the gameplay, art style, good voice work and clever writing, digital distribution and content updates.
"It's not what makes this game different from the other games of this decade, but rather what this game utilized and did well, and can be seen in many other games. The simplicity of the game and the deeper mechanics involved allow this game to be playable by casual and hardcore gamers alike."
Uncharted 2 (PlayStation 3, 2009)
While it may be late to the party, at least some believed that Naughty Dog's lush filmic action game deserved to be included in the running for the best game of the last 10 years.
Paul Haban, 7 Studios: "This game had a level of cinematic immersion I have never found in a game to date. While there were many games that came to mind, few compared to this overall experience."
Bradford White: "It was an amazing experience from start to finish. The game was made with the highest quaility in all aspects."
Vagrant Story (PlayStation, 2000)
An impassioned plea for a cult, perhaps overlooked Japanese action RPG is noted in our Honorable Mentions, partly thanks to the strength of the write-up:
Meredith Katz, InLight Entertainment: "In some ways, I think this is a throw-away vote -- I know it won't end up anywhere on the top ten lists, because I highly doubt other people will happen to think of it as well. After all, it's a PlayStation 1 game and right from the beginning of 2000. [...] But Vagrant Story, back then, did things I have rarely or ever seen since, and it did lots of them in a single package.
"VS had one of the most cleverly put together simple stories. For all the assumed identities and disguises, it's not that complicated a story. But it's clever, and it does something that -- sadly -- I rarely see in other games: It trusts its players.
"At no point are things summarized or recapped for the protagonist and thus the player. You are invited to put the backstory together yourself from the details you are given, and if you don't, well, you still get the main details (the encounter with the cult, the corrupt church knights). You aren't obliged to consider the dates you're given for the Duke's reign and the Earthquake and so on, but you can. You're not spoonfed story, and at the same time, the story isn't too convoluted or too unnecessarily camp. It's just a little insight into the altercation.
"As well, it utilizes literary techniques that, by god, more works need to and don't. When people protest that there's no place for literary techniques in video games I point to this as an example of what works -- not 'lots of narration', which is what people tend to think of, but things like the unreliable narrator. Unanswered questions that cause the reader to react by attempting to fill them in -- unfinished questions. Perspective and paradigm shifts. Biased commentary from characters. Each character having their own motivation which changes their role in the story slightly regardless of what faction they're associated with. I haven't seen a game manage to use literary techniques so effectively since. [...]
"I feel like this is the game that opened doors, but so much of what came out right after it was a step backwards. It raised a bar that I've seen individual titles do right for parts of, but rarely had the complete package the way Vagrant Story did."
Here are some of the other reader write-ups for Game Of The Decade that may not have had strength in numbers, but make a case for particular, striking games released in the last decade:
Anonymous: "Dragon Age: Origins - Unparalleled storytelling of a cinematic quality seen in but very few games, coupled with solid, deep, varied and greatly enjoyable gameplay. The characters are rich and detailed, as are the locations the player visits. The graphics are very good (perhaps not compared to the latest games, but certainly when seen across the entire decade), the music is absolutely stunning and the voice talent is top-notch."
"And unlike most games this decade it is also exceedingly big, giving many, many hours of enjoyment, not boring for a moment. Besides, it's one of the very, very few games that managed to make me cry, showing the strength of its storytelling for those willing to get emotionally invested in the characters. For me undoubtedly the game of the century, let alone the decade."
Travis Jones: "Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal for PS2 - It was the first game in a long time - probably since the 16-bit console era - that made me feel like a kid playing a new game on Christmas morning. Insomniac was clearly not afraid to stick with a genre [action-platforming] that most developers had long abandoned. The game itself has a good amount of breadth to it, with several different game types, side-quests and mini-games. Yet, it was polished enough that no part of the game felt incomplete. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal is a great example of good, consistent design, beautiful art, and solid engineering."
Danny Pampel: "Gears of War was truly the first time that video games and movies seemed to blur for me. I've loved some of the cinematic storytelling that I've seen in other games but GoW nailed it. The scene where [SPOILER!]is amazing, more so because Epic kept you in the game engine so you didn't feel like it took you out of the experience."
Vince Dickinson, EA-Tiburon - "Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast, Gamecube). Random level generation made it infinitely replayable. Unlike the myriad Diablo clones that just let you click on things, PSO had actual gameplay featuring an engaging button timing-based combo system that kept combat fun from the first hour to the 500th. Perfect (and free!) online, while being able to use the same character online and offline, made it unbelievably addicting."
"PSO brought console gaming online in a big way - and did it perfectly over 56k dial-up which was quite an achievement. Gorgeous art and sound direction round out what is among my favorite games of all time, let alone the last decade. It may not be the biggest-selling game or have the biggest name, but it was the best all-around package."
Thomas Arnold, THQ: "Silent Hill 3. I missed Silent Hill 2, which might have been my pick, but I played SH3 first. This was the first game to use what I felt was a level allegory and metaphor usually reserved for literature. The sound design and visuals were first rate. This game basically inspired me to switch carriers from film to video games, which is what I did. Game of the Decade."
Dehron Hite-Benson: "Braid -- I have to say, my immediate urge was to say something like Bioshock or Prototype or Halo 3, but after stepping back and thinking about what game in the past decade actually rattled my assumptions about game-making, it has to be Braid. When you're playing the game and reading the story it seems like a fairly typical side-scrolling experience; a very sophisticated and fun experience, but still pretty typical. Then you play that last level! By the end of it I was shocked at what Jon Blow accomplished -- he made the first game that I truly can call art. Then, I played it again and realized all the little intricacies that he had inserted in the story; all the symbolism. This game is an inspiration for me."
Yannick Boucher, Ubisoft: "To me it has to be Shenmue (1&2, as a unit). The setting was so different from everything else: no elfs and orcs, no cyborgs and bombs or swords, just a regular teenager, living a regular life (more or less) in the '80s in Japan. It was also one of the most ambitious games ever (still ranks up there if you ask me), and it had something for everyone: fighting, adventure, mini-games...). I loved the open-endedness and realism too: all the mundane things of daily life were somehow fun: even driving a forklift at work (I found!). It had an awesome story, and even more awesome music, whether orchestral or all the other different styles...
I know there are naysayers out there, and it's been debated to death. I'm not saying it's perfect, but to me, it's the closest thing we've come to. Many have come very close (even perhaps surpassed to some extent), but Shenmue was the first game that, to me, managed to tell a truly engrossing, and emotional story, and made me feel for the characters. That's what made it stand apart, in the end. Its beautiful story-telling and the beautiful technology and art that conveyed it."
Quinton Klabon: "Final Fantasy IX (2000): I think Final Fantasy IX best embodies the franchise's artistic daring. A supposed side project-turned-inflection point for the series, the creators (unwittingly?) formed a moving meditation on the player's and the franchise's existences. Archetypal party members and their experiences, the spectacular final boss, the profoundly meaningful bookends - each slice uses the series' symbols, 19th century Russian novel-style, to examine the ways in which we define the self. Even the characters' instruction manual quotations ask, "How does one contextualize one's life?" The series, torn between 2 traditions, turned its questioning back on itself: "Does Final Fantasy's future sever it from its past?""
"Bangai-O Spirits (2008): It puts all biases to rest. Sometimes, Treasure ascends from ramshackle brilliance to dazzling perfection. Sometimes, the jack-of-all-trades is the master of all. Sometimes, user creation tools become a masterclass, not a diversion. Sometimes, a game mocks art because of its self-assured flawlessness, not because of its regressiveness. Bangai-O Spirits is Treasure's reward for years of diligent invention. Their reward, I should add, and ours."
Chris Valdez: "Cave Story. Developed independently over the course of 5 years by one developer, "Pixel," the game introduced a new generation of games to classic 2D platforming on Windows-based computers, and later ported to other OSes and platforms... all for free! (WiiWare version isn't out as of this nominattion.) Multiple endings, a wonderful soundtrack and endearing characters, Cave Story stands out as one of the best games I've played this decade."
Clinton Keith: "Battlefield 1942. The sense of freedom and discovery that emerged from this simple FPS was compelling. There seemed to be an infinite number of ways you could play those original maps online. Plus this game was so flawed that the exploitations became part of the mystique and entertainment. One time, I learned how to "fly the submarine" above Guadalcanal. I strafed the enemy airfield firing torpedoes at the forces on the ground while my two sons were laughing their heads off watching."
Matthew Blankenship: "Okami - This game was innovative in terms of art style, gameplay, and storytelling. The game's art style is based on Japenese watercolors, umi-e. It's a look that works great for video games, because lies between "cartoon" and realism. The animations were particularly impressive. The gameplay of Okami, expands upon the 3D platformer adventure genre by introducing the Celestial Brush system of interaction."
"Even the playing of a four legged character had a
significant effect on the gameplay. Based off of Japanese folklore, the
story is told through more than just cutscenes, but also through the
environments and the characters in them. It is not my favorite game,
but it has had perhaps the largest influence on me as a game developer."
Thomas Langston: "Bioware's Neverwinter Nights released in 2002. Neverwinter Nights is not the prettiest game around, even in its time. What it did have was a fully featured, mod-able, and immensely popular set of module design tools. It was the spawning point for a slew of professional episodic downloadable content and user created content including a community created expansion pack..."
"The game featured fully fleshed out storyline and dialog that Bioware became famous for, in many ways because of this game. Alone, that story would have been worth the price of admission. The authoring tools though transformed a novel of game writing into a never ending story told through a world of authors' and actors' voices."
Jason Johnson: "Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The dungeons are well thought out, never generic, and
some of them are real brain teasers. The battle system is simple yet
innovative. Fusing and leveling demons is very deep and rewarding. The
style and setting are dark, mature, and interesting, breaking most
every JRPG stigma. The story isn't mind-blowing but offers some decent
morality choices, and ultimately lets the player choose the outcome.
The graphics and character design are top-notch. The music is good.
There is tons of side-content. It's just all around superb, one of my
favorite games of all time."
Buck Hammerstein, EA: "Oblivion - I was immersed in the world for many hours and had the best game experience in my decades of gaming. It created believable characters and interesting quests within a well fleshed out world. It differentiated itself from other RPGs of the past with its ability to keep me engrossed from start to finish and still fills me with great memories of its colourful characters."
Anonymous: "Dreamfall: The Longest Journey portrayed a rich and lush series of environments and lore that could easily be adapted into other media without any sacrifice to any story element. Despite the sometimes gaping holes in consistency in the story, all the characters achieve a great depth of believability and emotional attachment. What makes Dreamfall different from other games is the dynamic and multi-threaded plot and character relationships. Out of all the games that I have fallen in love with over this decade, Dreamfall gives me the most influence and motivation towards my games."
Ricardo Silva: "Civilization IV
- The most perfect turn-based strategy game ever released. While it keeps
the basics of good old games in the series, it adds so much more that it will
be impossible for me to describe it here in short. It has very good
graphics, great animations,
completely extensible and moddable engine, perfect gameplay...
good netplay and best replay value ever in a game. In a decade where
dynamic, easy to play and fast games dominated, it kept the turn based
strategy game not only mainstream, but on top of sales charts."
Ed Alexander, Buzz Monkey Software: "Demon's Souls has managed to do what so many games have failed at: making difficulty fun. Back in the NES days many games were very, very difficult in comparison to today's games... But difficult games began to fall off because they weren't mainstream accessible. So for years games have been getting easier and easier to have a broader appeal, and that is fine... But the appeal for difficult games began to fade away."
"People got used to brute
forcing their way through a game, and if they couldn't brute force it,
they'd simply get frustrated and give up.
But Demon's Souls has changed that. A game where the fun is derived out
of not messing up. Out of paying attention and being careful... I want to see more games embrace Demon's Souls'
methods of teaching the player to be creative and observant, to
understand there are multiple paths to victory, they just need to be
open minded to experiment and try new things."
George Blott, Ubisoft: "Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Probably much more impact in Europe than in North America (where Counter-Strike quickly took over the multiplayer FPS mantle), but I likely put more time into ET than all other games combined over the last 10 years. The balance of team based objective gameplay, with arcadey duel based shooting mechanics, and the smoothness of quake engine movement through space... beautiful! Half-Life 2 made me want to make games. But W:ET is still my favorite thing to play."
Jon Folkers: "My Game of the Decade is "Buying games that look cool but which I will never play." As I get older, I have more money than time. As time goes by, the accumulated pile of "good games" is always growing, and each holiday season sees more titles released than I could ever hope to play. Games always get cheaper with time, but I never get more hours to play. So I accumulate. Like the classic, endless "stay-alive" games such as Space Invaders and Asteroids, this is a game I will never win. Maybe in the 2010's I will get smart enough to stop playing it."