By Alex Kierkegaard / April 3, 2017
Most men represent pieces and fragments of man: one has to add them up for a complete man to appear. Whole ages, whole peoples are in this sense somewhat fragmentary; it is perhaps part of the economy of human evolution that man should evolve piece by piece. But that should not make one forget for a moment that the real issue is the production of the synthetic man; that lower men, the tremendous majority, are merely preludes and rehearsals out of whose medley the whole man appears here and there, the milestone man who indicates how far humanity has advanced so far.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power
It was time Insomnia got into the list-making racket. After all, it was inevitable. Everyone else does such a bad job of it, that the artform has been screaming for years for someone to come in and correct this. Things weren't always so bad, by the way. Computer Gaming World's Hall of Fame, to mention the greatest example, was my favorite such list when I was growing up, and it still holds up admirably well today (as it should, given that it was made by yesteryear's hardcore gamers as opposed to today's greedy casuals). But all of that belongs to the distant past now. To understand the kind of competition I am facing today, consider that the last PC Gamer top 100 list I bothered to look at had Papers, Please higher than Planescape: Torment. In other words, there is no competition. No one else makes these kinds of lists anymore, they only make parodies of them.
One thing I need to make clear before we proceed with the main event is that this list is, and will always remain, a work in progress, quite simply because I have not played all the games ever made, and I never will. This means that, unlike everyone else's choices, mine are all provisional, and will remain so until I am dead, at which point people will have to "fork" my list, in the language of computer programmers, and fight over who is my worthiest successor, and hence whose list is the worthiest. Until then, there is not the slightest chance that any other similar list will outreach this, or even come anywhere near its unprecedented breadth and scope, and its immeasurable value. It would in fact not be too much of an overstatement to say that, for all intents and purposes, there are no other such lists besides mine.
Another thing to note is that there is a bias on this list towards new experiences (new and at the same time better, not "new" as in "gimmicky", which is the way scammer developers employ the term. So yes, a walking-forward simulator might indeed be a "new" experience in a way, but it is a retarded one, so there's no question of it being on the same level, never mind better, than existing ones). So Age of Empires II, to give an example, may indeed be a much better game than the original, but it's not going to knock Shenmue, Alpha Centauri or Torment off the list for that year, considering I had already played the original by the time the sequel came out, and given a choice between playing the sequel (which is merely a slightly improved version of the original, like most good sequels) or any of the three aforementioned games, I would choose the latter any day over the former, which is the principle on which this list is being made. Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, when a sequel does indeed offer a tremendously improved experience, as in e.g. the case of Far Cry and Far Cry 2, but these are extremely rare cases and so extremely outstanding. If you see original games AND their sequels on the list it is a sure sign we are talking about a truly outstanding series.
Also, please understand this is NOT a best-games-ever list. MGS2 for example is better than most other top entries, but it came out the same year with GTA3, Max Payne and Halo, all of which are superior to it, so it's tough out of luck and failed to make the cut. It's a brutal fight up in here, and history takes no prisoners. Some years are simply better than others (because years are no more equal in this respect, or in any other, than anything else in existence), so 2001 is the best single year gaming has had so far, while for say 2011 I racked my brain for hours to come up with decent runner-ups (though the GOTY was never under any doubt). So the best-games-of-all-time top 100 list is a very different beast, and that is also coming (as is the landmark games list, which is yet another thing: precisely what the Videogame Art essays are all about). This will be a much harder list to make, which is why I left it for later, because for every spot on it you are considering every game ever released. By year it's simple, in comparison, since you only have to consider each year's games (simple for me, that is, for everyone else it is impossible because y'all lack the expertise, the depth, the breadth, the aesthetic sense and critical judgment required. So dudes who only play a few genres — like basically all of you — are utterly incapable of devising a list that isn't instantly laughable: fragments of men can only make fragments of a list — you need a complete man for a complete one).
The final question to answer in this brief introduction is why this list is even useful at all, since it's neither about the landmark games (Videogame Art) nor about the best games ever (top 100 list). It's a good question, and I have to say the main answer I have to offer you will seem petty, at first glance. The main reason I am making this list is to trash everyone else's. It is to show how vast the chasm is between me and everyone else. To ridicule the idea that the garbage-tier "indie" crapfests like the Flowers and the Witnesses, or the bloated, ugly snorefests like the BioShocks and the Skyrims, or the stupid meme games likes the Dooms and Tetrises and StarCrafts, or loljrpgs like the Fagot Fantasies and melody-less blip-blop OST "best music ever!" Chrono Triggers, or lolnintendo mediocrities like the Links to the Pasts, Super Mario 64s and GoldenEyes apotheosized by people who have never owned a system without the Nintendo logo on it that dominate everyone else's lists are LAUGHABLY INADEQUATE TO COME ANYWHERE NEAR A BEST GAME OF THE MONTH LIST, NEVER MIND GAME OF THE YEAR, NEVER MIND BEST GAMES EVER LOL SO FUCK YOU RETARDED FAGS AND ASPIES AND INDUSTRY SHILLS WHO SPEND YOUR WRETCHED LITTLE LIVES TRYING TO BURY THE ULTIMATE ARTFORM UNDER A MOUNTAIN OF YOUR RETARDED LIES AND BULLSHIT AND BRAIN VOMIT, THAT'S WHY I MADE THIS LIST; get it? Beyond that, it's good as a critical exercise, helping to expand our knowledge of each year's major releases, all the way back to the beginning, and hence our grasp of the history of the artform, which is itself an important aspect of developing good taste and critical acumen, as I have demonstrated countless times in my essays, and will go on to demonstrate countless more times, I am sure. And hey, we are all nerds here, and nerds love making lists, so it's a no-brainer. It's yet one more means of showing to the world who I am and what I believe in, it will attract tremendous attention to the site and to all the inimitable work being done here over the years, so all things told it is an extremely useful project that I vow to pursue until the end of my days.
The list will be bumped on the frontpage at least once a year, to add the new year's slot if nothing else, but smaller updates will be made continually, with date stamps at the top so you know when it has been last updated, and all updates documented in the forum thread [ > ] in detail, along with detailed justifications for the changes, so keep an eye on that if you wish to follow the progress of the list as I build it up and modify and refine it over the coming months and years. Like I said, I haven't played everything, but I do have a very detailed list of significant and interesting-looking games that I have not played, which I will again be sharing with you in the forum thread, and you are welcome to add to it by suggesting titles I ought to try, or even outright replacements of existing choices. (If your remarks are brief, post them in the list's thread, if they are extensive post them in the games' respective threads — or start new ones, for games that have no thread yet — and, finally, if you feel like reviewing your suggested titles at length, post the reviews in the Submissions forum, as usual. You are also welcome to link and quote other people's reviews that support your case in each game's respective thread). And it should go without saying that the choices for the running year are made from titles released up to the date of the last update and are being continually re-evaluated as more titles are released throughout the year.
All that said, the preamble is over, and I am finally proud to present to you The Official Insomnia Game of the Year Awards (1962-2017)!
[Last updated: April 5, 2017]
2016 - TIGER KNIGHT: EMPIRE WAR
Runner-ups: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun & Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
2015 - DYING LIGHT
2014 - PLANETARY ANNIHILATION
Runner-ups: The Last of Us & Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist
2012 - PLANETSIDE 2
2011 - HARD CORPS: UPRISING
Runner-ups: Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Total War: Shogun 2
2010 - LOST PLANET 2
Runner-ups: Vanquish & Red Seeds Profile
2009 - DEMON'S SOULS
Runner-ups: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves & Batman: Arkham Asylum
2008 - FAR CRY 2
Runner-ups: Sins of a Solar Empire & Senjou no Valkyria
2007 - SUPREME COMMANDER
Runner-ups: Crysis & Operation Darkness
2006 - GEARS OF WAR
Runner-ups: Dead Rising & Gokumakaimura
2005 - WANDA TO KYOZOU
Runner-ups: Biohazard 4 & Killer 7
2004 - FAR CRY
Runner-ups: Ninja Gaiden & Mushihime-sama
2003 - PLANETSIDE
2002 - GUNVALKYRIE
Runner-ups: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem & Tekki
2001 - GRAND THEFT AUTO III
Runner-ups: Max Payne & Halo: Combat Evolved
2000 - DEUS EX
Runner-ups: Jet Set Radio & Hitman: Codename 47
1999 - SHENMUE ISSHOU: YOKOSUKA
Runner-ups: Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri & Planescape: Torment
1998 - METAL GEAR SOLID
Runner-ups: Baldur's Gate & Rittai Ninja Katsugeki Tenchu
1997 - AGE OF EMPIRES
Runner-ups: Fallout & Total Annihilation
1996 - BIOHAZARD
Runner-ups: Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu & Command & Conquer: Red Alert
1995 - PHANTASMAGORIA
Runner-ups: Heroes of Might & Magic & Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
1994 - MASTER OF MAGIC
Runner-ups: UFO: Enemy Unknown & Jagged Alliance
1993 - SAMURAI SPIRITS
Runner-ups: Merchant Prince & NBA Jam
1992 - DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY
Runner-ups: Dune & Super Mario Kart
1991 - SID MEIER'S CIVILIZATION
Runner-ups: Street Fighter II: The World Warrior & Sonic the Hedgehog
1990 - WING COMMANDER
Runner-ups: Super Mario World & The Secret of Monkey Island
1989 - THE SUPER SHINOBI
1988 - POOL OF RADIANCE
Runner-ups: Daimakaimura & Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
1987 - SID MEIER'S PIRATES!
Runner-ups: Double Dragon & R-Type
1986 - DEFENDER OF THE CROWN
Runner-ups: Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun & OutRun
1985 - THE BARD'S TALE
Runner-ups: Green Beret & Super Mario Bros.
1984 - THE LORDS OF MIDNIGHT
Runner-ups: King's Quest & The Ancient Art of War
1983 - ULTIMA III: EXODUS
Runner-ups: M.U.L.E. & Hyper Olympic
1982 - FOOTBALL MANAGER
Runner-ups: Utopia & Zaxxon
1981 - ULTIMA
Runner-ups: Wizardry & Galaga
1980 - MYSTERY HOUSE
Runner-ups: Rogue & Pac-Man
1979 - AKALABETH
Runner-ups: Galaxian & Flight Simulator
1978 - SPACE INVADERS
1977 - ZORK
1976 - ADVENTURE
1975 - PEDIT5
1974 - DND
1973 - MAZE WAR
1972 - STAR TREK
1971 - CIVILIZATION
1970 - COMPUTER SPACE
1969 - SPACE TRAVEL
1968 - HAMURABI
1967 - N/A
1966 - N/A
1965 - N/A
1964 - N/A
1963 - N/A
1962 - SPACEWAR!
-The notes will be updated too, so scroll all the way down every time you check back on the list's progress.
-Interesting to observe, chronologically, how genres are born, evolve, dominate and die. The list helps us do that as we observe 2D giving way to 3D, linear to free-roaming, offline to online, and so on. Obviously none of this is observable in journalists' random, arbitrary lists because the criterion those are made with is not quality but the attempt to please as many and as large demographics of readers as possible, and that's why you see this repulsive hotchpotch nature of their lists where it seems like a schizophrenic made them, praising in the same breath "mane streem" games and the "indie" titles that claim to have been made as a reaction to them.
-Size of dev teams and budgets escalate as we go up the list proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the best games are made with the most money and biggest teams on the most powerful hardware and whoever doesn't think so is a smelly retarded granola-eating compost-making lazy bum communist hippie.
-Also, the list ridicules the pseudo-intellectual propaganda that there's no more good games coming out, whereas a single great game released this year is better and more fun than every single game released in the '60s, '70 and '80s put together, it's just that pseuds are too busy refreshing forums and posting their vomit to find and play good games (and to play them PROPERLY in the rare instances when they do somehow manage to play a decent game for a change).
-1994 was the year of the PC strategy/tactics game. Astonishing games that have hardly been improved upon since then.
-Where's the "indie" love? All over the list, since every last game was made by an independent game developer, as per Jim Jarmusch's definition quoted in my "Myth of Independence" essay. If, on the other hand, by "indie" you mean my definition, then of course scammer games by students preying on the public's lack of knowledge of the artform and bad taste have no place on the list. Show me a game of theirs that's worth even 3/5, and we'll talk about the subject again (I and my crew of top critics have been searching for such a game for nearly a decade, and still nothing).
-The Chris Taylor story: from being kicked out by AOE team, to making his triumphant comeback with Total Annihilation, to his RTS design philosophy utterly dominating in 2014 with Planetary Annihilation, which is the spiritual successor and ultimate culmination to all of his ideals. See "indie" bums? That's what happens when you devote your whole life to a single genre instead of jumping around a dozen of them like ADHD retards "innovating" all over the place: excellence happens. But of course for such a level or perseverance and commitment one needs a comparable level of love, and love is the precise opposite reason to why "indie" bums got into game dev in the first place (except if we are talking love of money and fame, that is).
-2D brawlers get close, but never quite manage to snag a top spot.
-3D fighters, at least as traditionally defined, are nowhere on the list. Wonder why? Wait for my Power Stone essay and all will become clear.
-Only one designer managed to get his name three times on the list (or to get his name on it at all). The one and only, Him.
-Everything Troika made is either on the list, or in consideration for it. Smilebit and Platinum are close to this too (Oh Scalebound where art thou!), but then again they made a lot more games.
-2001 was the most grounbreaking year in the history of the artform: a real videogame odyssey. No other year comes close to that top 3. Top games from other years would have struggled to get even the fourth spot if they had released in 2001 and been against such competition. I believe this is due to a combination of 3D techniques starting to realize some of their potential while the principles of hardcore design philosophies from the arcade culture of the early eras was still alive in developers' minds, and popular. It was a tremendous year and I lived through it and played everything, and you will hear all about it in great detail in due course.
-No id or Valve and barely any Blizzard. Sorry, they make mediocre to above-average games at best despite the hype.
-No rhythm and no sports games after a certain point: sorry, these are games for people who don't like games.
-Two Biohazard games on the list, and I would have added Veronica too if the 2000 spots were not locked down by three even better masterpieces already.
-1985 is when things start heating up in terms of aesthetics, and by 1986 the race is in full force, and hasn't let up since, not even for a second (it was the point at which all serious companies definitively moved beyond programmer graphics and started hiring real artists). I know you morons will have trouble grasping why, but for me the paramount importance of aesthetics in an artform is a no-brainer. And of course the concept graphics is included in the concept aesthetics. Great aesthetics with bad graphics is a concept only a retard could devise.
-No DMC on the list is a crime, but unavoidable seeing the onslaught of masterpieces in 2001. Same with Onimusha.
-Computer games completely dominate console and arcades until 1989, the launch of the Mega Drive, because the computer is the only system that can fulfill the stringent input-output device requirements of the strategy, adventure and CRPG genres that, at that time, were the most immersive genres available. And even after '89, the console and arcade influences are short-lived, until the 32-bit console era, in which consoles leave arcades in the dust due to 3D graphics and optical drives, and finally a few years later GTA3 arrives in which action games reach their full potential and leave turn-based PC games and short attention span arcade games completely in the dust (but you still need a PC for the best version of the console-inspired games). We are still in that era, and will remain there until the End of Hardware, which is coming sooner than you think (I'll have an essay about it in Videogame Culture: Volume II).
-Japanese games are no more numerous in past decades than in this one, and pretty much none of them are at the genre-creating level of creativity that the best Western designers operate on. The Japanese have never been innovators, but they are the best damn students and copiers and refiners around, and this hasn't changed since the beginning of the artform (the very latest example being the GTA Zelda, which is basically a GTA ripoff for kids — and a great ripoff, at that, which is why there's no reason for us to use such nasty words like ripoff, and which I am only using here to drive home the fact that innovation, by and large, happens in the West and refinement in Japan). So that's that with the interminable doomsaying of the Japan-bashers — you know who y'all are.
-It's fascinating to me that, as I scroll up and down the list, memories bubble up into my consciousness from both my general life and my gaming life from every year almost all the way back to the beginning. Because I was born in '78, a few months before Space Invaders' release, pretty much right at the beginning of the artform. Moreover, releases were so few back then, and hardware upgrades so rare, that games took half a decade or more to fall out of fashion and become outdated. So you could be playing Space Invaders well into the '80s and still feel like it was cutting edge technology and game design. That's how I got to experience all those games years later, but still pretty much the same way that older people, who were adults in the '70s, experienced them at the time of their release. And when I play now an old game that I skipped back then, all I have to do is flick a switch in my brain and I am back in the '80s, perfectly capable of appreciating and evaluating it according to the standards of the time, neither trashing it because it's not 4K, nor cutting it more slack than it deserves because it "has pixels" and, as we all know, all pixels are adorable and beautiful and equal. What other critic do you know who can say the same? I don't read professional reviewers anymore, but the last time I checked they all sounded as if they had begun gaming with the Xbox 360. Setting aside intelligence and aesthetic sensibility for a moment, even in terms of birthdate I was born to be the ultimate game critic.