Charles Pratt, curator of the No Quarter arcade, once explained to me that game design is an exercise in problem solving. Essentially, if something is wrong, or missing, a good game is created to fix that. This hasn't always been the case, but in 2014 it may just be. Developers have more creative control than ever, and perhaps some felt games were becoming too solitary, easy or uninspired. These are the solutions to those problems. Sure, Watch Dogs, Titanfall, Destiny and Assassin's Creed VI-XIV: Still Killin' will be huge, but here is a guide to the stranger, immediate future.
The New Arcade
An emerging concept, inspired by Pratt's own work is the "new arcade." Major publishers have a perverse interest in vastness between people playing together; Batttlefield on its way to million-player online matches and split-screen multiplayer on the endangered species list. Worse, arcades are already extinct, aside from some boutique caverns. The new arcade is a manifestation of what players' lost, but instead of dimly lit quarter-eating dens, they're festivals, game jams and in 2014, your house.
For definition's sake, a new arcade game is one that focuses on local-multiplayer, competitiveness and spectatorship, which usually manifests as something conceptually simple but exceptionally goofy. 2013 saw its fair share, Canadian-made hits Mount Your Friends and TowerFall (which has a PlayStation-bound sequel TowerFall Ascension) wrangling cult followings. The year was also capped off by Samurai Gunn but all this was foundation for a 2014 hustle.
Later this month, best-kept-secret of the game world, Nidhogg, a surreal glitched out fencing duel, is coming out after years underground. The game, so addictive and elusive that some local fans had to recreate their own just to play it, having abruptly announced a release, has made everyone appropriately excited as hell. Likewise, the high-concept wonderchild of the festival circuit, Johann Sebastian Joust (a screen-less, competitive waltzing brawl) is coming bundled with three other gems (one made by QWOP guy and ex-Cut Copy member Bennett Foddy) in Sportsfriends.
Because many of these games brew from game jams and festivals, lots of these will pop in casually. Expect Canadian games Huskerball and Starwhal to drop whenever they're ready. All you need to do in preparation is gather a few more controllers and maybe invest in a comfier couch.
So Many Roguelikes
What the hell is a roguelike, the reoccurring fever dream for many small developers? Well, like "whipped cream," the answer is in the name. It is like-Rogue, a vintage, brutally hard and brutally ugly dungeon crawl, which has inspired everything from Diablo to Demon's Souls to Dwarf Fortress. With the concept more pronounced (high difficulty, permanent death, randomized maps, near-zero instructions), many self-publishers have begun idolizing the sub-genre. And it's showing.
Again, 2012 and 2013 set up the death traps and dark hallways, from the bigger titles Torchlight, DayZ and Dark Souls to word-of-mouthed FTL: Faster Than Light, Spelunky and Binding Of Isaac, Risk of Rain and Eldritch just slipping under 2013's door. 2014 is when the roguelike shall become insufferably ubiquitous.
Two of the most coveted indie developers, Vlambeer and Toronto-based Capybara have their own cavernous adventures coming along, Nuclear Throne and Below. Rogue Legacy will be hopping onto PlayStation this year (and Don't Starve hopping onto PSN this week), while Crypt Of The NecroDancer will have you awkwardly hopping on your old Dance Dance Revolution pad trying to kill a bunch of slimes.
They will be hard. You will die. We'll keep playing and we'll always wonder why we do it to ourselves.
Those Kickstarter Games
You've gone deaf to the email updates on those Kickstarter projects you backed eons ago, but after big dollars thrown at a variety of niche, nostalgia baiting game proposals (5 of the 10 most funded projects are video games, plus an estimated $1 out of every $5 spent on the site is game related), many are actually expected to exist in 2014. Maybe.
Stylish send-ups a plenty, like the psych fantasy Hyper Light Drifter, the Scott Pilgrim game's team's Metal Slug tribute, Mercenary Kings, and Banjo-Kazooie inspired A Hat In Time will come to fruition. Not all retro-trips are necessarily homage. Wasteland 2, an official sequel to Fallout's inspiration, will make some PC gaming old guards swoon. Neverhood and Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel will be releasing Armikrog, which is more than you can say about the Boogerman revival.
Two of Kickstarter's biggest success stories will show what graciously given millions can do. Baldur's Gate successor Pillars Of Eternity is aiming for release this year, and Tim Schafer's long, long awaited return to adventure games, Broken Age, begins a two-part debut in the near-future. Both projects raised over $3 million in donations, which is a very promising start so long before the game's release. But then again the Ouya raised over $8 million, and, well, we all have one of those don't we?