This year has been chalked full of phenomenal games, maybe more than any other. There’s no doubt that the game industry will be iterating on what was delivered in 2023 for years to come. Behind these great games are talented developers who poured their heart and soul into executing an experience like no other. I wanted to take some time and recognize just a few of these game design innovations and praise the hard-working team behind them. This is just my personal list from what I played, please let us know in the comments any games that blew you away!
Atomic Heart and its Connection with Music
While maybe not a masterpiece or obvious choice, Atomic Heart does audio design right. The soundtrack doesn’t simply play but intertwines itself into the gameplay. When in combat the music syncs with your gameplay and chooses different music tracks based on what you do. The beat of a track will drop just as an enemy explodes or fizzles out while you hide. The player has an active role in how the soundtrack sounds without even knowing it.
This system shines most in how Mundfish created their boss fights or staged encounters. Having each note of the music playing bend seamlessly at the whims of players is something to be praised. The developers, with Mick Gordon’s amazing music, implemented one of the most creative soundtracks of all time.
Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Reinventing Level Design
You can’t talk about 2023 without talking about Tear of the Kingdom, it blew open the industry at launch and sold gangbusters. A whole article could be written purely about everything Zelda did to push the bounds of the game design. Its biggest and best innovation in my eyes is how the developers designed levels to be broken. Traditionally in game design, you have a set path for players to follow, but not so in Zelda. The systems given to the player simply won’t allow for straightforward level design, so levels are designed to be broken.
In Zelda when you are given a puzzle to solve, there’s no correct way to complete it. If you think something might work, chances are you can do it. Every single puzzle, dungeon, or shrine may have a suggested solution but in no way do the developers force it. This design mentality is something I would love to see carried over to other open-ended games. If Breath of the Wild’s Influence on the game industry repeats with Tears of the Kingdom I have no doubt we will.
Beating the Rhythm in Hi-Fi Rush
An early and delightful surprise to this year was Hi-Fi Rush, and we loved it here at LOGNET. Rhythm action games are a genre that gamers are no stranger to, but Hi-Fi Rush took it to another level. The rhythm is something that tangibly presents itself to the player and asks them to synchronize with it. It’s not just about button combos but actually keeping with the beat.
Ghostwire Games went all in with this idea and designed each system around the music, the soundtrack is gameplay. The levels, characters, enemies, etc. all move to the beat creating this beautiful flow between every system. It’s a game that has never been done before and we in 2023 got to play something truly original.
Starfield Redefining what New Game+ is
Arguably one of the most anticipated games not only for Xbox but gamers in general, Starfield had lofty expectations. Everyone was looking for something in the game and many were equally delighted and disappointed. One thing no one expected was for Starfield to integrate a New Game Plus so deeply into its design. The entire experience hinges on the New game Plus and the discourse around Starfield was deeply rooted in it.
It takes a roguelike to approach to each playthrough, asking you to start this massive RPG over and over. If you do, you’ll discover an even deeper narrative than initially presented but at the cost of all your progress. Bethesda interweaved the new game plus into the narrative, progression, etc. a bold and risky choice for a game this big. It may not have worked for everyone, but it did do something innovative and new for New Game Plus.
Dead Island 2 and Making Gore Good
More of a fun one but still an impressive tech showcase is Dead Island’s Flesh system. In an IGN article David Stenton, the game director defined it as “Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids”. The system has each body model be fully detailed inside and out while allowing complete destruction of the model. You can take off any limb and find every body part, each zombie is a life-size gusher waiting to be popped.
Yes, its gross and not something you’d traditionally think to call innovative but nonetheless it is. The developers at Dambuster Studios deserve their flowers for how detailed the system is. They are a talented team that not only finished the long-in-the-works Dead Island 2. But also created a system that all zombie games need going forward.
2023: A year made possible by Hardworking Developers
It’s been one of the best years for gamers, which wouldn’t have been possible if not for the people behind them. Unfortunately, this year has not been amazing for developers, the industry hit a low point with layoffs. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the work they do and take nothing for granted.
We as a game industry need to take a stand for each and every person who devotes themselves to making games. Nothing can replace the hard work, creativity, and passion that a person can put into a game. This year and the innovations it brought would be nonexistent if not for people, and that’s something we can’t forget.