Super Jump Year in Review
Reflecting on all our highlights from 2019
I know it’s a cliché, but boy, this year went by fast, didn’t it? The video game industry moves at a relentless pace, of course. This is the time of year when all of us are putting together our lists of the best games of 2019 (don’t worry, you’ll see our big song and dance on 2019’s games in mid-January); in doing so, it’s natural to conjure thoughts of the games that were released in just the last couple of months. But it can be easy to forget that titles like Resident Evil 2 remake or Apex Legends came out this year.
Maybe 2019 didn’t bring us a Breath of the Wild or a Red Dead Redemption 2, but nobody can argue that it was a quiet — or boring — year for games. Like every year before it, the trouble for many of us (especially those of us who write about games) is simply that it’s impossible to play everything. There are so many releases every year —a great many of them utterly fantastic — that one can’t avoid being aware of game after game slipping through our fingers every month. This is, of course, a wonderful problem to have. And it’s a reflection of the fact that developers around the world, large and small, are continuously working unbelievably hard to take us to new places; to worlds unknown, where we can explore destinations and partake in experiences that are only otherwise available to us in our dreams.
This is also officially the fourth year that Super Jump has been in existence. After some fits and starts in 2016, we kicked into more regular content production in 2017. Since then, we have been incredibly fortunate to publish a wide range of utterly remarkable work. It’s not just that we have been able to showcase great writing, it’s that we’ve provided space and attention to writing you won’t see anywhere else in the world.
If you are a regular reader of Super Jump, then you may already know that much of our content is evergreen in nature. Although we certainly cover events at specific points in time, we aim as much as possible to craft something that can be picked up and enjoyed at any time — in that sense, we’re more like a library than a magazine stand. In addition, our writers are highly diverse folks; some are established game journalists. Others are UX designers, technical writers, product designers, architects — the list goes on. What they all have in common is a deep passion for video games, and in particular, a commitment to celebrating games and their creators.
With all of that said, I’d like to close the year for Super Jump by revisiting numerous highlights from the wonderful stories we published throughout 2019. I do this to honour the talented writers; I am their biggest fan, and it brings me such joy to edit, publish, and promote their work at Super Jump. I’m also hoping this is a great opportunity for you, dear reader, to discover (or re-discover) some of the best writing about video games you will see anywhere. Let’s get started.
Chris Bam Harrison dove into the UX around Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He tackled the thorny problem of how to effectively manage a rather unwieldy list of 75 selectable characters. Not only was the venture a successful one, but Chris’ Armchair VGUX piece helped to establish Super Jump as a unique voice for video game UX in general.
Oh, and I rounded out the month with some Akihabara shopping tips for gamers.
Early in February, we were joined by the legendary James O'Connor, who wrote a stunningly beautiful — and deeply personal — story that both explores the unfathomable depths of grief and reminds us that even in the darkest moments, there is unbelievable beauty and love in the world. James also demonstrated that Red Dead Redemption 2’s slow pace isn’t about realism; that there is, in fact, a far more nuanced and character-driven explanation for so many of the menial moment-to-moment mechanics that permeate the experience.
February was also a month where we continued to peel back layer after layer of abstraction in game design to explore — and explain — some of the most fundamental aspects of how game experiences are crafted. Joe Hubbard expertly broke down Hitman’s system-driven level design, and Josh Bycer lifted the veil on one of gaming’s most horrifying villains in recent memory.
My attempt to continue collecting my favourite games writers hit another milestone in March, with the ultra-talented Daryl Baxter joining the Super Jump train. He kicked off March with a fantastic retrospective on the launch of the PlayStation 2 (I love reading console launch stories — the PS2’s debut was legendary, and Daryl really did it justice here). It turns out that March was a bit of a retro month for Super Jump, actually.
Josh Bycer reminded us just how bloody good Advance Wars is, especially in terms of its mastery of turn-based combat. Josh also took another look at Resident Evil 2, which continued to wow us through the year.
March marked the arrival of our first big Super Jump documentary, too. I presented an in-depth “making of” on Super Castlevania IV (featuring its legendary creator, Masahiro Ueno).
We ended the month with one of the most raw and heartfelt gaming stories I’ve ever read. It was written by Ben Calvitto — my partner — whose path out of depression and anxiety was aided, in part, by Breath of the Wild.
You might remember a little game called Sekiro, and all the controversy that followed it. Super Jump was not immune to the whirlwind, but we avoided the casual hot take. Instead, we considered the game — and surrounding conversation — with care, diligence, and patience. Josh Bycer cast a critical eye on Sekiro’s combat in a way that really did justice to the topic. And Joshua Bernstein directly tackled the question of easy modes and accessibility that had sprung up around the game.
It wasn’t all Sekiro for us, though.
As the month came to a close, we were treated to a gorgeous exploration of “the sympathetic villain” by Cameron Morris (his piece is, in fact, one of the most beautifully-articulated explorations of a Legend of Zelda character I’ve ever read).
And, in keeping with our theme of celebrating games and their creators, Kamil Mozel rightly evangelised the potentially revolutionary nature of Dreams, while I explained how Mortal Kombat 11 dragged me kicking and screaming back to a franchise I’d left in the dust years ago.
Josh Bycer took us on the video game equivalent of a dark tourist journey in May, as he lifted the lid on “kaizo” games. And then, Lauren Entwistle offered timely relief from the endless kaizo death traps with a meditative — almost mindful, perhaps — Animal Crossing journey.
Joshua Bernstein raised the flag on the important — but perhaps not widely discussed — question of video game literacy (which is certainly timely, given the increasing analysis and discussion of games as a medium).
Super Jump newcomer Dan Owen continued the theme by discussing his very first — and very recent — Resident Evil experience. Yes, it’s never too late to discover a classic!
As a fairly recent fan of Stranger Things, I was delighted with James O'Connor’s exclusive interview with Jeremy Crawford from Wizards of the Coast, where he discussed the Stranger Things Starter Set for Dungeons & Dragons.
Victoria Zelvin presented a comprehensive piece on telling a story with gameplay alone; I found this piece especially useful because it gave me a vocabulary for a phenomenon that I had witnessed time and time again, but had sometimes struggled to explain.
June was, of course, E3 month. Mitchell F Wolfe attended the show and presented numerous hands-on pieces, including a breakdown of his annual favourite, Indiecade. In typical Super Jump style, we took a slightly different approach to E3 content —this piece by James O'Connor, for example, discussed the massive potential of Breath of the Wild 2 to be a genuinely hopeful experience (especially if we end up in a position to rebuild Hyrule).
As the middle of the year rolled around, Super Jump kicked into high gear. We began publishing even more frequently, with an ever-wider range of topics covered. The month started with my tips for creating better courses in Super Mario Maker 2.
Bennat Berger gave us hope in the wake of the Notre Dame fire with a piece that examined how Assassin’s Creed Unity might assist us to rebuild the iconic cathedral.
Upon reflection, August was perhaps our biggest month of 2019. We began by publishing a piece that had been in the works for months, and involved collaboration between myself, James O'Connor, and Glenn Pereire of Pixel Crib: an extensive, in-depth interview with legendary game designer, Al Lowe. This interview came close to never seeing the light of day, so it was an enormous honour to be involved in the project.
Right after this, Mitchell F Wolfe brought us an exclusive interview with Gavin Price, the studio director at Playtonic Games (you can listen to the full conversation in a Super Jump Podcast episode — highly recommended).
Wyatt Donigan gave us a full review of EVO 2019 and Josh Bycer ran through a full history of the Mortal Kombat series from a game design perspective. I took readers on a brief tour of Nintendo, which felt like something of a companion piece to my earlier Nintendo pilgrimage in Kyoto.
Victoria Zelvin continued our ongoing conversation about game design with a piece all about stealth mechanics. Speaking of game design, Josh Bycer kept the hits coming as he touched on keeping game development sustainable, and delved into the first big budget roguelike.
Chris Bam Harrison evolved the Armchair VGUX format into Games UX, a series that kicked off with a highly comprehensive look at Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
And, keeping with our theme of celebrating games and their creators, Mackenzie Ross explored the world of great desolate adventures, while I reflected on the power of Forza Horizon as a form of comfort food for car enthusiasts.
Not content to end the month on a whimper, we wrapped up with an extensive documentary all about Grezzo and its fascinating relationship with Nintendo. Just how did a small Tokyo upstart (founded by a legendary RPG designer) become Nintendo’s right-hand? Well, folks, read on to find out.
August may have been huge, but September was no slouch. We were joined by Taylor Welling, who produced our second Games UX feature — this time, it was all about World of Warcraft Classic. It feels like there are endless angles from which to explore and discuss game design, as demonstrated by Josh Bycer, who explained the importance of video game onboarding and differentiated accessibility from playability.
Geena Hardy gave us what I think is the single best game review I’ve ever read, about Man of Medan. It combines a genuinely insightful review with a fascinating discussion of the historical basis for the game’s core themes.
We also continued to publish in-depth documentaries. This time, it was Omar Rabbolini bringing us a retrospective on the PC Engine.
As 2019 rolled on, Super Jump extended its reach — for the first time, we attended Gamescom and we came away with several interesting stories, beginning with a behind-the-scenes look at Death Stranding (which was still utterly impenetrable at the time). Thanks to Jordan Oloman for braving the crowds for us.
Chris Bam Harrison returned with another entry in the incredible Games UX series. This time, he focused entirely on subtitles, which is very timely, given the increasing awareness around accessibility in games at the moment. We were very fortunate to have industry experts like Ian Hamilton, Meredith Hall, and Jozef Kulik assist with the piece.
Our collective love of video games often has a thread that ties various conversations together — it’s about how games can be a genuinely positive influence on our lives. We demonstrated this again thanks to Jeffrey Rousseau, who wrote a lovely piece on Kind Words.
We also continued to explore video games from unique perspectives. Christian Waldo, himself an architect, challenged us to understand game design from new perspectives — in this case, he focused on the incredible brutalist architecture in Control.
Oh, and like everyone else, we couldn’t help but take a look at Untitled Goose Game. I absolutely love that Joe Hubbard compared it to Hitman.
One of the things we don’t often do at Super Jump is actual game reviews. Surprisingly, we did two in October: Mitchell F Wolfe reviewed Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair (given Mitchell’s love of Playtonic, I was especially eager to read that one). And Omar Rabbolini treated us to an in-depth review of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I’m still undecided on whether or not we should do any reviews at all — but if we do, I’d be happy for them to of the calibre of these two.
Although we are all about celebrating games and their creators, it doesn’t hurt to cast a critical eye over the art form we so adore. Geoffrey Bunting did just that with his fascinating piece on “Kojima’s women” — a critical piece, yes, but one that also attempted to articulate “what good looks like” in the hope that developers will pay attention.
I attended PAX Australia, and was honoured to spend some time with Reuben M, a Super Jump writer who now manages a growing — and successful — game studio based in Sydney. At PAX, I was able to take a closer look at all the fascinating things No Moss Studios are building.
Josh Bycer also followed up his earlier piece on accessibility vs playability with a more specific discussion around playability. Choosing to build a series of articles based on this topic, he kicked off with a look at “quality of life”.
The month ended with another celebration — this time, a reflection on The Outer Worlds, which came along at just the right time for me.
As the year came to a close, the pace of articles slowed down a little. And yet, the quality and passion of our writers continued impress.
Jeffrey Rousseau really led the charge for Super Jump in November. His first piece was about Indivisible, especially its significance as perhaps the most diverse game released in 2019. Jeffrey’s analysis of the game from this perspective is incredibly detailed and well worth reading. Again, this is a piece that I hope developers will read, especially if they want to understand how to establish meaningful diversity rather than mere tokenism.
Jeffrey followed up this remarkable story with another that wasn’t simply about diversity as a topic; this time, he discussed the very real — and very personal — impact that Pokémon Sword and Shield had on him, thanks in large part to Game Freak’s attempt to build a more diverse cast of characters.
Benny Ong wrote a remarkable piece about Freebird Games (with special reference to its creator, Kan Gao). This is a story about the rise of indie game development, at least in part. But it’s also a wonderful introduction to Kan Gao and his personal story in games development, as well as the impact his games have had on others.
I produced what was — at least, I think — the best article I’ve ever written. It was a piece about Death Stranding, especially its role as a real-world “kindness tutorial”. One of the reasons I’m proud of this piece is because I think it articulates — maybe even more than our manifesto — the true heart of Super Jump.
2019 closed with a diverse range of articles touching on numerous aspects of games and game culture.
Josh Bycer explained the importance of Steam’s Remote Couch Play feature, and how it could be a game-changer for indie developers. He also produced the second part of his Playability in Game Design series, this time focused on dynamic difficulty.
Daniel J. Ware has been playing a lot of Death Stranding, and his first piece on the game reflects on the concept of “the environment as the enemy”.
December also saw the publication of one of the most enjoyable articles I’ve worked on: a huge celebration of the last 25 years of PlayStation. This was a collaboration with Daryl Baxter, Josh Bycer, Jozef Kulik, and Daniel J. Ware.
2019 has flown by, but what a year it’s been! I continue to be humbled by the outstanding contributions of the folks who take the time to write for Super Jump. And I am forever grateful for you, our readers, who not only enjoy what we producing, but who regularly comment or send us lovely feedback through our various channels. Thank you so much. We are all here because we adore the magic of video games, and we honour the hard-working people who create them for us to enjoy. It’s such a privilege to share this journey with you.
Before I sail off into the sunset (or rather, continue preparing for 2020, which will be bigger than ever for Super Jump), I want to take a moment to remind you about the Super Jump Podcast. We recorded our final episode this year after a full three seasons. What a ride it’s been! There are many people to thank (you can listen to a wonderful summary in our finale episode), but I must really pause here to acknowledge Mitchell F Wolfe — he’s the man who launched the show, hosted it so professionally for three seasons, and ensured that it was always awesome to listen to.
Here’s to a bigger, better, and brighter 2020!