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Unsung games of 2015: Code Name: STEAM

The dangers of a game that could have been made for you.

As we wind down towards the end of the year, we get in a reflective mood and inevitably start thinking back to some of the best games of 2015. Eurogamer will be running through its favourite games of 2015 shortly, but before then we thought we'd highlight some of the more interesting games you may have missed this year.

When I was at university, which is suddenly a terrifyingly long time ago, there was a lot of buzz about something called The Daily Me. The Daily Me was where media was going, apparently, and it was a destination that appalled everyone. It was media dictated purely by the desires of the individual. Each person's Daily Me was unique, because each person's fate is to be unique. When you picked your Daily Me up in the morning, it would show you only what you wanted to see.

I know, right? The chatter about the dark side of this was prescient. My dear old ma used to tell me that every day you should read something you disagree with. Partly, I think, this was because she had grown tired of explaining she bought the Telegraph for the gardening section, but nonetheless it's one of the wiser things I've picked up over the years. It's weird to focus only on the stuff you already like - or more dangerously, the stuff you already believe. Have you been on Twitter lately? Aren't the arguments especially vicious, the positions especially entrenched? Welcome to the world created by the Daily Me.

Here's the thing, though: what if you pick up somebody else's Daily Me? How weird and disorienting would that be? Total immersion in somebody else's concerns and predilections. A glimpse inside somebody else's head. Hard to imagine probably. No matter. Just have a go on Code Name: STEAM and you'll understand.

I was not involved in the development of Code Name: STEAM, but I sometimes wonder how the people who were involved with it managed to get into my house and look through all my stuff. Here is a list of the things that Code Name: STEAM and I both hold in high regard: Intelligent Systems games. Turn-based games. Insane American political iconography. Melville. The Wizard of Oz. The origin of the name California. Being confused. Losing.

Cover image for YouTube videoNintendo 3DS - Code Name S.T.E.A.M. Trailer

In other words, the moment I first saw Code Name: STEAM, on an E3 stream a while back, it was clear to me that it was comprehensively doomed. A game so perfectly targeted - even unwittingly - at a demographic this niche would always be doomed. Code Name: STEAM wasn't the Advance Wars follow-up everyone was after. It was that car Homer Simpson designed. The one with all the cup holders and the horn that played La Cucaracha.

Inevitably, I loved it. I loved the cramped maps with secret sightlines that allowed for astonishingly risky strategies. I loved the fact that information was the ultimate resource - that you were stuck in a maze, at ground level, and with no map to consult. I loved the frosty Lovecraftian baddies, and I loved the lurid, stompy Jack Kirby bulkiness of everything, that made perfect sense when you realised that each mission was essentially superhero version of the NFL.

More than anything, though, I simply loved the fact that Code Name: STEAM shouldn't exist. Abraham Lincoln teaming up with the straw man from The Wizard of Oz? In an era of design by committee, here was design by a committee that had gone insane. They'd doubled down on the stuff they liked, and they absolutely hadn't market-tested it to find out if anyone else liked it either.

Almost nobody else did, as it happens. But the few people who willingly got on board? We got the game of our dreams.