Games of a decade

Towards the end of a year, it's customary for gaming publications to publish their Game of the Year, sometimes in the form of multiple awards and whatnot. I've often also participated in some form of GOTY selection process, but I have never really hosted my own GOTY.

And this one isn't really a GOTY either. Instead, I figured it was a good time to review an entire decade of good games, since the past decade has really been the most active part of my gaming life, and a lot of cool things have happened in that time.

Back in 2010 I made the switch to Linux with Ubuntu 10.04, arguably the best Linux distribution release of all time. I don't remember exactly when I popped that installation disc into my laptop, but I know it was before 10.10 was released, since I remember upgrading to that from my 10.04. By the end of 2010 my Windows Vista had committed seppuku and I've been only using Linux on my main computers ever since.

That's a pretty interesting way to start an article on gaming, but truth be told, I only really started widening my gaming horizons while on Linux. Before that I did play games, but mainly older titles from the bargain bin and I wasn't part of any gaming communities or kept up to date with any gaming media. All of these things changed during my time on Linux.

So, in this post I'd like to go over some of the gems of the past decade that I've enjoyed on Linux. The games listed here are not in any chronological order, or going from worst-to-best or best-to-worst. They are just listed vaguely in the order that I thought of them.

My games of a decade

Cube 2: Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten definitely deserves a mention, since I think it's a good representation of particularly the early years of Linux gaming for me. The first years of Linux gaming were mainly focused around playing open source titles, and out of those Sauerbraten was the one I spent most time on.

Nowadays Sauerbraten doesn't appear to be anything special. It's an open source arena shooter among many open source arena shooters. However, I found it to be an accessible and fun arena shooter, that I spent a lot of time on. Compared to the likes of Xonotic (then Nexuiz) or OpenArena, Sauerbraten had a relatively large community and intuitively simple gameplay mechanics. It also helped that the most popular gameplay modes were instagib modes, like instagib team or insta-CTF, which simplified the gameplay further and thus made it easier to get into than the alternatives.

Sauerbraten also had a big number of maps to keep me busy, although I think most of the time was spent on Venice shooting people with a rifle. Its neat level editing and scripting tools also provided me with additional fun, as I tried to sketch little singleplayer maps for myself.

Sauerbraten is a game I remember fondly, and I recently had a pleasure to revisit it after they released their 2020 Edition. I'd really suggest having a look at it.

http://sauerbraten.org/

Minecraft

Speaking of games I spent a lot of time on in the early years of Linux gaming, I would be lying by omission if I didn't mention Minecraft. Minecraft was probably the single most influential game in all of my years of gaming, with the possible exception of The Settlers IV, which introduced me to the entire concept.

Minecraft was the first paid game I played on Linux and I definitely played a lot of it throughout basically the entire beta phase of the game. Our entire class in secondary school got very much hooked into it for a few years. It was something entirely unlike everything I'd seen in gaming before with the way it gave you immense freedom to go anywhere and do anything.

Many an adventure was had, many farms were built, many houses constructed and many monsters slain. I also dabbled in creating various kinds of logical circuits and machinery, including TNT cannons, keycode based doors, mob farms etc.

Minecraft was also a starting point for me in the participation in gaming communities and the start to my online content creation. One of my classmates started up a Minecraft server, which became somewhat popular. This was followed up by us recording some videos of certain events on the server, which eventually lead to me making my Minecraft let's play series. Then I branched off to other games, recorded some videos for GamingOnLinux, started streaming, killed off my old YouTube channel, started a new YouTube channel, killed that off and now I'm here. That's basically my online presence in a nutshell.

I played a bunch of Minecraft for a number of years. So much so that I burned out on the game and other survival sandbox games like it for many many years. I mostly stopped playing when the game left beta, as I was unhappy with the direction the game was taking in the adventure release. I played it some time ago and it seems like it's pretty neat these days, but I doubt I would be able to fully recapture the experiences I had when I first played it. But regardless of how the game is today and how I feel playing it now, Minecraft was the cornerstone that largely defined my future relationship with video games.

Pyre

It's almost a joke how I recommend Pyre to people every time it's on sale. But I've never recommended it in jest and have been quite serious about how much I liked it. Pyre was also my game of the year pick the year it was released.

I've been a fan of Supergiant Games' work and the only game of theirs I haven't played is Hades, and even that only because it's not on Linux. Out of Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, I found Pyre to be the brightest among gems. It managed to combine the best aspects of the Supergiant formula: it had excellent music, its art was beautiful, its characters interesting and it had a nice narrator that reacted to your actions. But while Pyre did do many of the things that were kind of a Supergiant trademark, it didn't stagnate but instead innovated. The fact that Supergiant were able to up themselves twice in a row was quite an accomplishment.

Pyre was also a game I thought I would not have liked, yet ended up liking. It's core gameplay was a form of fantasy basketball, and I have next to no interest in sportsball games. But Pyre was able to pull that off with its interesting cast of main characters that all brought their own interesting twist to the gameplay. The matches on the other hand were interspersed with dialog between you and your party members, which created a connection with these well-written characters. Pyre also created a lot of tension and upped the stakes as I set out to liberate these friends I'd made along the way. When I played the game on the True Nightwing difficulty, I had probably the biggest adrenaline rush during a particularly tough and important match. The outcome of my True Nightwing playthrough I consider one of the greatest accomplishments I've made in gaming.

So all in all, I found Pyre to be an excellent game. Everything it set out to do, it did well and its world drew me in and really made me think about who needed to be liberated and when. Then it forced me to really work towards that goal. Pyre is a game I'll continue to remember fondly and, depending on what Supergiant does next, it may have been the crown jewel of the Supergiant Games' arsenal that I get to experience.

Undertale

Undertale had me quite skeptical for a good while when I was playing it. It was a game that I received as a gift and I ended up playing it on stream with basically no prior knowledge of what the game was like. I largely ignored it when it was released, since it didn't look like something I'd enjoy. The only vague recommendation I had was to not kill anyone.

Undertale definitely has a fun sense of humour. It had a bunch of interesting and wacky characters and its combat system was unique. But I also struggled with the game a fair bit and some of the boss fights made me quite mad. Battling against Mettaton had me pull a proper rage-quit. In the end I was pretty close to just giving up on the whole pacifist path to just get the thing over with and get another game to play. But I persisted thanks to support from livestream chat.

And the pay-off was really big. The pacifist path peeled off the top layer of the world and showed me how much more was hiding underneath. And in the end, it had me pretty much crying. It told a story in a way no other game had told one and once all the pieces were put together, it was a beautiful mosaic of character interactions, gameplay mechanics represented in the world, history and lore and the complex relationship between the player and the character they were controlling.

Simply put, Undertale changed the way I view games significantly. Despite the rough start, it pulled me in and then played on my emotions, taking me from laughing to raging to crying. It was an experience that I've been chasing since, but haven't quite found a substitute for. I have high hopes for Deltarune, and to some extent Underhero. But if I were to lose my memory of a game entirely to experience it again anew, I would probably need to pick Undertale.

The Talos Principle

In the theme of games making me think, The Talos Principle had that by the bucket loads. As a puzzle game, that's the goal, naturally, and it is an absolutely fantastic puzzle game. It has a set of mechanics that it takes advantage of to provide a nice set of puzzles that were challenging but not obtuse. I personally think it manages to be a better puzzle game than Portal and Portal 2. Add to that the beautiful and varied environments and even just walking around the world becomes a fun experience.

However, it's not just the puzzles in The Talos Principle that make you think. The Talos Principle tells and interesting and philosophical science fiction story about the meaning of humanity and if you are willing to put some time to reading the terminals in the game world, it engages you as the player in philosophical dialog on a multitude of topics, challenges your views and makes you rethink them. Honestly, the people that only experiences The Talos Principle as yet another puzzle game missed out on what I'd argue is possibly the best part of the game. Not that the puzzles are bad, obviously, it's just that the story The Talos Principle tells is so interesting and told in such a nice way that it would be a shame if you were to miss it.

The Road to Gehenna DLC also played further into the strengths of The Talos Principle, building a whole another world largely based on the terminals that explores the wider topic of society, and I would absolutely recommend it.

DUSK

Ah, DUSK. We get to move away from the games that make you think and feel and instead we get to indulge on my second favourite pastime: pure and unadulterated carnage.

I'm a really big fan of retro-FPS games. I thoroughly enjoy DOOM and Quake and usually when another retro-FPS makes it to the market, I am ready to give it a go. Thus, it was obvious I'd try my hand at DUSK and from the get-go it seemed like a very competent retro-FPS. It gives you a nice arsenal of meaty weapons to work with, a wide variety of enemies to slaughter and amazing levels to play.

The thing that particularly sets DUSK apart from its competition is how it manages to one-up itself all throughout the game. The early levels are good, if a bit standard. But as you get further and further into the game the levels start changing. What starts out as farms, sewers and factories turns into unholy sites of an eldritch cult, nightmarish machines fueled by blood, fever-dream lands where up and down are mere recommendations. The scale of the carnage grows as you slaughter larger and larger crowds of cultists and their creations, and meet incomprehensible monstrosities that hunt you through dark hallways. When you expect that the game has reached its peak, it maniacally laughs in your face and turns up the insanity even further all the way to the end.

Out of all the retro-FPS games I've played, DUSK is the one that provided the best and most consistently fun experience from start to finish. It manages to keep things fresh even as you have gotten very used to your arsenal many levels ago already through its ingenious use of its drip-feed of new gameplay mechanics and increasingly crazy level design. It combines all of this with a good understanding of what makes the genre work to provide a game that combines the old with the new to create an experience that is unique but with many of the best parts of the FPS games of old.

Caves of Qud

I like roguelikes, and when I say that I mean actual roguelikes. Caves of Qud is a roguelike, and I would argue it's one of the best at it. Many roguelikes are graphically unassuming, their controls are complex and unintuitive and the lore is a shallow copy of Dungeons & Dragons. Caves of Qud isn't like this at all.

Caves of Qud is quite accessible indeed. It uses neat tile-based graphics that don't require a dive into a manual to figure them out. It's controls are quite easy to learn, and it uses the Spacebar as a context-sensitive use key, that often gives you easy access to the functionality you need. But that is not to say Caves of Qud is a cut-down roguelike experience, because it most certainly is not. It has as many, if not more different gameplay mechanics to play with than other popular roguelikes. It simply smooths out the experience with various UX improvements to provide an experience that is easy to approach while allowing for advanced gameplay and quick keybindings to those willing to learn.

In the lore department Caves of Qud also stands out in the crowd. Instead of the typical fantasy setting, Caves of Qud is set in a rather interesting science fiction setting. I call it a post-post-apocalyptic world, one where massive scale devastation wiped the world practically back to stone age, but which has since begun to recover. Plants, animals and humans have mutated, and it's not unusual to run into a bear that tinkers with electronics in a cave, a talking plant operating a shop or a goat that throws explosives at you. It's a weird world of advanced technology meshing with clubs and swords. Some communities have managed to accumulate artifacts of the past, and run around with laser pistols and cybernetic enhancements. Others carry bows and arrows and trade scrap for a living. Some developed mental mutations that allow them to blow up other people's brains through mere power of concentration.

Additionally Caves of Qud takes the risk of having a fixed story-line to follow. Most of the dungeons are procedurally generated, but some locations like certain towns are designed in advance with certain NPCs that are associated with specific quests. While this fixed story-line sometimes means that you end up doing more or less the same things over and over again, the changing dungeons and gameplay variety keep things quite fresh. There is also enough procedurally generated content, such as some of the history of Qud and some of the towns, which means the stories of your characters end up being different even if some plot arcs are designed in advance.

And I haven't even touched the wonderful mutation and cybernetics systems, which allow you to create characters that can fly, can summon fire and ice, have spikes on their backs which they can fire in all directions, have extra pairs of arms and legs, two heads etc. On the cybernetics side you can have night-vision equipment embedded into your eyes, machinery attached to your muscles that increases your strength, tank tread replacements for your legs and much more.

All this makes Caves of Qud a fun game to have some fun and explore the wacky world, find some interesting artifacts and avoid being sucked into a spacetime vortex that sends you into the depths of the earth, where a gang of fungus-infected hyena people bash you to death and nibble on your corpse for sustenance.

RimWorld

Speaking of cannibalism, RimWorld is among my most played games and for a good reason. It took the Dwarf Fortress formula of a settlement management, simplified it for us mere mortals and set it out in a science fiction setting of crashing spaceships, automatic auto-cannon defense systems and cybernetic beings that want to ruin your day.

RimWorld is strikes a fantastic balance between accessibility and variety. It start you out with relatively few options and a decent hint system that make it easy to get into. It then surrounds you in a temporal acceleration field, and before you know it you've spent the entire day managing your formerly little colony, which has quickly become an industrialized producer of recreational drugs and organ transplants.

On your journey to establish a viable colony, you need to battle raiders, changing seasons and weather, wild animals and invasions of bugs and cybernetic beings. So, you need to establish sturdy defense systems, redundant electricity grids, backup power production facilities and batteries, surround your colony with walls that funnel your enemies into minefields and minigun crossfire. But defense systems are expensive, so you need to establish mining and refining industry to build all of those systems, walls and weapons. And then you need to solve the problem of how to keep your people fed through the winter seasons when nothing grows and the radioactive fallout has poisoned all the animals. You could establish vast cold storage and stock up during the summer months, or build green houses that allow you to farm potatoes year round.

There is simply so much to do in RimWorld, and when you solve one problem, you usually find more problems to solve in terms of logistics, defense planning, economy and trading or the various random events that the game throws at you to keep things interesting. The only real complaint I can levy against it is that it's very addictive and can suck you in for many many hours if you aren't careful.

Stellaris

Paradox have been producing and releasing a number of really good grand-strategy games on Linux over the years and I've enjoyed most of them. As such, Stellaris is largely just a stand-in for the all of those grand-strategy games, since I could pretty much just as easily put something like Hearts of Iron 4 in its place. But don't misunderstand, Stellaris is absolutely a fantastic game and deserves a mention here.

The thing that I particularly like about Stellaris is that it allows you to tell a story about a grand, galaxy-wide empire under your control. While it is a strategy game that has victory conditions and makes it possible for you to win through skill and cunning, I prefer to approach the game from a more role-playing perspective. I often let the game randomly generate a civilization for me and then I try to play the game from the perspective of that civilization. Sometimes I've lead empires of altruistic federation builders, sometimes I've waged honorable warfare of subjugation and conquest against those weaker than me, sometimes I've rejected the limitations of biology and ascended to a civilization of robotic beings, sometimes I've played civilizations of reclusive xenophobes that only interact with the galaxy through proxy wars.

I simply find it fun to imagine and then enact through the gameplay mechanics how a galactic empire might react to its neighbours and how they would deal with the various problems that arise. Sometimes that empire will be a dystopia, sometimes a utopia. But nevertheless, Stellaris provides fun gameplay mechanics that allow me to make those kinds of decisions. And over time it has only improved in that regard, providing more variety now than ever before. The full potential of the game is naturally unlocked by owning all of the DLC, which gets expensive, but even the base game is a pretty fun experience that doesn't really have any kind of an equivalent. The closest one might get is through games like Master of Orion, but Stellaris is in my opinion better than any of the games in the MoO series. Also, if you happen to have a richer friend that is also into Stellaris, you can simply enjoy the DLC through them in multiplayer, since Paradox kindly lets you access DLC features as long as the multiplayer host owns the DLC.

Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2 is one of the few full-blown RPG games I've managed to play through to the end. That's partially because I have trouble committing to very long singleplayer games, which is why I like to stream games to force me to better commit to a playthrough. But I've also found that Wasteland 2 is just a damn nice game. Something about the post-apocalypse is just very appealing to me, I guess.

Wasteland 2 does a lot of things right. It provides a number of useful skills you can spec your characters into, which then allow you to approach various problems in different kinds of ways. Because of this, problems often have a couple of different solutions and the actions you take affect the world in ways that make it seem like your actions have meaningful consequences, and those actions aren't just limited to "good guy options" and "bad guy option". And because problems have multiple solutions or ways to approach the problem, it pays off to have a party of specialists and even it's unlikely to have all of the options open to you over the course of a single playthrough, which facilitates replay value. I played the game through twice and the second playthrough allowed me to find and learn so much more about the world that it was almost as good the second time around than the first.

The world of Wasteland 2 is also definitely an interesting place. It's not just your dreary post-apocalypse of generic raiders hunting each other, but instead there are a number of communities that have interesting lore and customs, in addition to the usual raider scum that get gunned down for fun. The lore also doesn't take itself too seriously, but also doesn't stray too far into the land of absurdity and wackiness to not be possible to engage with. This means that every location you walk into is usually interesting and varied, and often facing some sort of a big problem that you get to try and resolve, either through stealth and diplomacy or simply through superior firepower. Usually it's helpful to prepare for both possibilities.

Wasteland 2 does have its share of bugs and problems, but usually they were minor enough to not be overly game breaking. And although technically a bit flawed, it manages to tell an interesting story about post-apocalyptic America that has a bunch of intriguing characters to meet and quests to complete.

Honorable time-wasters

Many of my game of the decade picks are games I've only spent relatively little time on, compared to some of the big time wasters on my Steam profile. So, to avoid someone questioning why something that I've spent a lot of time on didn't make it to the list, I figured I'd mention of a couple of games that took a lot of my time, but which I didn't necessarily find as memorable or meaningful as the other picks.

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 was the first Linux game I played on Steam. I managed to make it to one of the latter waves of Linux betas before Steam launched on Linux officially and back then the catalog of Linux games on Steam was quite tiny. This meant that I spent quite a few hours on Team Fortress 2, since that was one of the relatively few games available.

I don't think I ever got into Team Fortress 2 as much as some of the real fans I've seen, but that's because I am one of the later arrivals to the game. I've found it a fun time waster and definitely enjoyed it, but as of late I haven't really found a reason to go back. I'm not too big on multiplayer games (with some exceptions), so I typically steer towards other games given the choice.

In moderation and with some longer breaks, Team Fortress 2 has been a fun game to play every once in a while. Maybe I'll some day find some time to go back to it. We'll see.

War Thunder

I have a love-hate relationship with War Thunder, and it's kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. I have more hours in War Thunder than any other game and I have some mixed feelings about those hours. It's a very grindy game and it has some F2P mechanics that I have fundamental disagreements with and I don't think I would ever put any money towards it, but it's still a game I end up playing a fair bit. Usually I end up getting a spark to play it, end up putting a hundred or so hours into it, get annoyed, uninstall the game and then I don't play it for 6 months to a year.

It is the most competent and highest quality tank game on Linux, however. It's fun as long as you don't get sucked into the grind and the basic gameplay of it is usually excellent. Nowadays it even performs really well thanks to its switch to Vulkan. I still don't really know if it's something I'd openly recommend though.

If you do end up deciding to play it, I have a couple of recommendations. First of all, avoid the French tanks at higher tiers, they are a trap and will steal all your in-game money. Secondly, disable the game chat, with the possible exception of squad chat. As a F2P multiplayer game, it has some toxic people and I don't see any reason why you should subject yourself to them. Nobody uses the in-game chat for any tactically useful purpose, so it's best disabled. Thirdly, don't get suckered into any of the predatory nonsense the game is pulling. It's very easy to feel like you just need to unlock the next component/vehicle and your problems will be solved, but it practically never works that way. Instead focus on having fun with the vehicles you currently have and don't play to grind. You can and will end up unlocking new vehicles, but you shouldn't play purely to unlock a vehicle. Also, avoid all the lootboxes and premium unlocks, they are just psychological warfare. Only play for things in the game if you feel like supporting the game and keep tabs on your spending so as to not over-spend. Finally, high tiers in general are basically a scam and you'll probably have way more fun in low-tier to mid-tier battles.

Tank responsibly.

(Also, the game apparently has planes and boats too? But who cares about those?)

Hell is Other Demons

The number of hours I've racked up Hell is Other Demons is starting to get a bit ridiculous considering the kind of game it is. It's a very good game though and a game I could honestly and without reservations recommend. But most of the hours I've spent on it are because of the role it's taken in my entertainment habits.

I play Hell is Other Demons a lot because it's really quick to fire up for some mindless, short burst entertainment. I mainly play the Arcade mode, and usually it's just to pass the time. Sometimes when I'm watching (more like listening) to a video that I don't need to engage with carefully, I will boot up Hell is Other Demons and let the video play on the background. Alternatively I like to fire it up when I have a short before needing to start something else, because I can fire it up quickly and stop playing at any time without consequence.

I've also become a bit of a high-score junkie when it comes to Hell is Other Demons. With most of the characters I'm somewhere in the global top 10 of players and particularly with Cloak, my favourite character, I'm currently sitting at global second place.

Hell is Other Demons has just kind of become a default game when I just need a quick bit of entertainment. Luckily at this point I am slowly starting to get a bit bored of it, so hopefully I'll find a replacement for it soon. Something equally simple that doesn't require my full attention that I can start and stop pretty much whenever without having to commit too much resources towards an individual run. Email me if you have good suggestions.

What about 2020?

Since we are talking about best games of an entire decade, I figured it would also be a good opportunity to talk a bit about 2020 specifically too. 2020 has been quite wild and for some people it has definitely been the worst year of their lives that they'd like to leave behind them as fast as possible. It's kind of weird thinking that we're living though a historical times that historians of the future will want to ask about from us.

But even during such a crazy year, there have been some neat game releases that I wished to point out.

CARRION

If I had to pick a single GOTY, CARRION would be it. Labeling itself a "reverse horror game", it puts you in control of the sci-fi monstrosity a la The Thing. Your task to escape the research base in which you are confined, hunting the humans occupying that base along the way to and picking up new DNA along the way to grow stronger.

CARRION is a well-executed game that let's you throw around gore and guts as you stalk and ambush your enemies in the various sections of the facility. It doesn't let things get too samey and doesn't overstay its welcome. It's not a very long game, only about 4-5 hours, but I feel like that was the appropriate length for the game. During that time it manages to be exciting, occasionally difficult and just a joy to play.

Ziggurat 2

I was a fan of the original Ziggurat when it was released and Ziggurat 2 seems to improve upon it immensely. It's still in early access and lacks some variety in bosses, but otherwise it's already a quite competently made roguelite FPS. I was actually surprised how polished even the first released version of the game was.

Just like the original, it takes inspiration from Heretic and Hexen and manages to package it into a roguelite experience with procedurally generated levels and some permadeath mechanics. They've toned down the permadeath a bit for Ziggurat 2, where the game instead consists of shorter runs with permanent progression between those runs, so death isn't as big of a deal as previously. The upgrade system of Ziggurat 2 also means you accumulate more permanent power than in the original. The only thing it really needs is more enemy types and more interesting bosses, and I think it'll definitely be up there with my favourite roguelites. Certainly a game to keep tabs on.

Crusader Kings 3

Ah, the second entry from Paradox on this post. CK3 is a fantastic entry in the Crusader Kings series and exhibits some of the best game design Paradox Interactive can muster. They managed to take a very complex grand strategy game and give it such a nice and intuitive interface that it's possibly one of the most easily accessible games from Paradox now. And it's not just dumbed down, it actually houses some rather complex mechanics, it just doesn't overwhelm you like many of the previous games from Paradox.

So, if building kingdoms is your thing, CK3 is probably something you should have a look at. I haven't yet managed to put too much time into it, but from what I have played, it seems like a fun and somewhat difficult but not overly complex game.

Conclusion

So, that's the end of that. The past 10 years have been just amazing in terms of gaming and computing for me and there have been so many cool titles that I've played along the way. This was really just a snippet of the most memorable games for me and there's way more I could list, but at this point the post is already getting quite long.

But although cool games are important, I think one of the best things that has happened in gaming for me in the past 10 years is the communities I have participated in and the ones I've managed to create in that time. Particularly when it comes to streaming, my community has been one of the important reasons why I've managed to experience so many cool games. Some of them I probably would have never played without your recommendations and your viewership. So, in the spirit of the holidays I would like to extend a thank you and a wish for happy holidays to all of you who have participated in my communities over that decade of video gaming. May we have many more to come!