The Year That Was: 2016

Ugh.

I just don’t have it in me, you guys.  It was all I could do to recover from George Michael, and then it was Carrie Fisher.  And these celebrity deaths, while temporarily distracting, still can’t thwart the nightmare that is the impending Trump presidency.

And yet:  all things considered, 2016 wasn’t that terrible for me, personally speaking.  Yes, I am a bit more in debt than I’d like to be, and I’ve put on a few pounds (the “Suburban 15”, as I’m calling them).  But life in the ‘burbs is quite nice, and my kid loves it there, and my wife and I are as happy together as we’ve ever been.  My office moved downtown which makes my commute a thousand times easier (even if it makes the rest of Manhattan a bit less accessible); and my day job itself is a thousand times less stressful (for a variety of reasons that I can’t get into in this space).  If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t finish my album.  At some point I will have to figure out how to get into a creative routine.  But that’s for another post (or blog, possibly).


As per usual, I can’t crown a Best Film, because I hardly saw anything beyond the big blockbusters that lingered in theaters long after their opening weekends.  I can say that Dr. Strange, while not my favorite Marvel movie, is certainly the most spectacular 3D experience I’ve ever had this side of Avatar, if only because 3D filmmakers have finally figured out that interior depth is more intriguing than random shit flying into your face.  Rogue One is terrific enough to seriously upend my wife’s desired viewing order for our son, when he’s old enough to start watching Star Wars.  Hell or High Water was great – and did quite a lot to show a side of America that us liberal elites in our cultural bubbles don’t often get to see.  I have not yet seen Arrival (though I did read the short story it’s based on); nor have I seen Moonlight or La La Land or any of the other likely Best Picture nominees.


I listened to a ton of terrific music this year, and for that I have Spotify’s Discovery Playlist to thank.  I have a lot of issues with internet-based algorithms, especially as the ones on social media tend to ignore the concept of linear time, but Spotify knows what I like and gives me a lot of it.  I don’t know if I could properly order a Top 10 list of albums, but I know they’d include A Tribe Called Quest‘s “We Got It From Here…”, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s “Nonagon Infinity”, Steve Gunn‘s “Eyes on the Lines”.  I have custom playlists for my Favorite Songs of 2016, my Favorite Songs from The Discovery Playlist, and I also have Spotify’s curated Top 100 Songs which is a pleasing mix of both of the above, plus a few songs we listened to in the car that my son likes.


As for books:  I did read quite a lot this year, though as said elsewhere in this blog I feel that the number of books doesn’t reflect their inherent quality; I read a lot of short genre fiction because I was feeling pressured to hit my Goodreads number, and so while I enjoyed a lot of what I read, I don’t know that I read good stuff.  I’m not going to be doing a Favorite Sentences of 2016 post, in other words, because page-turners don’t often include beautiful turns of phrase.  That said, I’m looking at my spreadsheet, and I gave high marks to a rather fair amount of stuff.  The best of the best would include:

  • John Wray, The Lost Time Accidents
  • Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • Daniel O’Malley, Stilleto
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World And Me
  • Paul Tremblay, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
  • Ted ChiangStories of Your Life
  • Nathan Hill, The Nix
  • Tana French, The Trespasser
  • J.M.R. Higgs, K.L.F.: Chaos Magic Music Money
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate

Special credit to Drew Magary’s The Hike, which was an enjoyable enough read but whose last 2 pages provided one of the most stunning endings to a book I’ve ever read in my life.


And as for games:  boy oh boy, I have no idea how to write about this year.  I felt relatively unengaged with what I played throughout most of it – even as I finished a lot more games than usual – and then, probably brought on by a big of self-directed depression around my birthday in early December, I went on (and am still somewhat in the middle of) a gigantic spending spree primarily in an effort to boost my Xbox Achievement score past 100K.  The difference in my gaming attitude before this spree and after cannot be overstated.  I stopped keeping track of it in my spreadsheet, because it simply became too much to handle.

I don’t even know how to break this down, but here goes.  I’m going to separate the games I finished from those I did not, and I’ll leave some room at the end for all the shit I accumulated in December that I simply haven’t had time to finish/start/digest.

GAMES LEFT UNFINISHED, in roughly chronological order:

  • The Witness (ps4) – I’m just not smart enough to get very far into it.
  • Klaus (ps4) – I bought this because of a Kotaku recommendation, I think, and never got past the 2nd or 3rd level.
  • Broforce (ps4) – picked this up as a PS+ freebie and couldn’t make it past the first level.
  • Far Cry Primal (ps4/xb1) – I’d rented this earlier in the year and found it intriguing but also wishing it was freed from having to be a “Far Cry” game; then it was on sale for Xbox for a stupidly-low price and I decided to give it another shot.  It’s pretty good!  Still working my way through it.  I should also add that I also bought Far Cry 4 at the same time, also on Xbox, and I like that game a lot better the 2nd time around than I originally did.
  • Hitman (xb1) – I have played the first episode and liked what I played, but haven’t gone back to it at all since then.  I should also note that I finished the first episode with a walkthrough, because that is the only way I can play Hitman games.
  • Unravel (xb1) – a very charming but also fiendishly difficult platformer that became frustrating.  My kid loves watching it, though.
  • Ori Blind Forest DE (xb1) – I have every intention of finishing this at some point; I think I put it down right only because a bunch of stuff that will appear in the next category suddenly showed up.
  • Dirt Rally (ps4) – I love the Dirt games; it might very well be my 2nd favorite racing franchise behind Forza Horizon.  But this one did absolutely nothing for me, and I’m not even sure I finished the very first race.
  • Dangerous Golf (xb1) – possibly the most disappointing game I played this year, if only because it’s made by ex-Burnout people and there was a lot of fun potential.  The game simply feels like an unfinished and unpolished tech demo, with endless loading screens and finicky controls and cameras.
  • The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – possibly my greatest regret of the year, that I haven’t finished this.  I actually went out and bought the complete Witcher 3 on Xbox One (even though I already own it on PS4) just so that I could replay the entire game again and then approach this specific bit of DLC with a fully-levelled and customized Geralt.
  • Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst –  I rented this on PS4 and found it dull and inspired; I downloaded it for free on XB1 and am willing to give it a few minutes here and there.
  • The Magic Circle – I’d heard interesting things about this when it came out for PC; the xbox port is kinda shitty and I lost interest.
  • Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens – this might very well be the last Lego game I attempt to play, sadly, at least until my kid is old enough to play without assistance.  I’m getting very tired of how broken these games are, always in the same ways.
  • I am Sestuna (ps4) – I would’ve played this more, I bet, if there’d been a Vita port.
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – I made it almost to the end before realizing that I had to make a decision that I couldn’t have cared less about.  I think I want to give it another shot, though.
  • The Turing Test – I made it pretty far into this one before hitting the proverbial wall, sadly.  A pretty good puzzler, though, even if the narrative flails a bit.
  • Gears of War 4
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Mafia 3
  • Battlefield 1
  • XCOM 2
  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • Dishonored 2
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Steep
  • The Last Guardian
  • Stardew Valley
  • Dead Rising 4

That last bunch is all stuff that seemed to piled up all at the same time, most of which I’m still poking around with.  (I did send Dead Rising 4 back, though, because I don’t give enough of a shit.)  I’m not far enough into any of them to feel comfortable giving them a review, though I have every intention of giving all of them a fair shot.

I should note here that I still do not own a Playstation VR, and I’ve been checking every major retailer’s site at least once every few hours.  I need it.

I should also note that I did rent but did not enjoy Overwatch, and I will also note that my lack of enjoyment is simply a matter of personal taste – I suck at team-based multiplayer shooters, and I have no desire to learn how to play them better, and it is what it is.  I gather that it’s at the top of the lists for most other critics, and that’s fine.

GAMES THAT I DID ACTUALLY FINISH, also in roughly chronological order, including my informal scores from the spreadsheet:

  • Lego Marvel Avengers: C+
  • Firewatch: B+, and it’s only grown on me since I finished it
  • Superhot: B, and I would LOVE to play this again in VR
  • The Division: B, and I liked it a lot better than I expected to.  Never got into the PvP stuff, but that’s par for the course around here.
  • Quantum Break: C, the perfect justification for having a Gamefly account.  Spectacular to look at, and some of the time manipulation stuff is actually quite fun, but the overall experience was dreadfully shallow, the TV show half of the thing was super-dumb, and the final boss battle is one of the most frustrating I’ve played in years.
  • Ratchet and Clank: C-
  • Uncharted 4: A.  I understand there’s something of a critical backlash about this game at the moment, but I think that’s kinda shitty; I had a blast with this game, and if this is indeed Naughty Dog’s last run with it, they left on a very high note.
  • Doom: A.  I’ll confess that I finished this on easy mode, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of it one bit; I want to go back and play it on every difficulty, all the time.  This one’s stuck with me much more than I expected it to.
  • Trials of the Blood Dragon: C+.  I like the Trials games quite a lot, but the on-foot stuff was super dumb and broken and the whole thing felt rather uninspired.
  • INSIDE: A-/B+.  I gave this high marks after I finished it, but as time goes on I find the ending more and more… dumb.  That said, it’s still an engrossing experience, and one of the more engaging games I played all year.
  • Headlander: B.  Loved this game, and I should get back to it and try to 100% it (I’m currently at 88%).
  • ABZU: ?  I don’t know how to grade this.  I was not as smitten with it as I’d thought I’d be, nor did I find it as gorgeous as other people did.
  • Valley: B-.  There was an onslaught of intriguing indie games this summer, as you can see, and this one had some positive word-of-mouth.  It was… OK.
  • Picross 3D Round 2: A+, and one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played.  Has to be in my top 3 for the year; I couldn’t put my 3DS down for the entire time I was playing it.
  • Virginia: ?  I suspect I’ll need to replay this again and see if anything changes.
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: B.  The grade is just for the campaign, of course, because that’s all I care about, and I’ll be goddamned if this isn’t one of the most fun Call of Duty games I’ve played since, well, Modern Warfare.  Had a blast with this, although it’s overshadowed by…
  • Titanfall 2: B+, and this would be the shooter of the year if not for Doom.  Hell, I might have to replay them both and see if this one gets the nod.

NOTABLE iOS GAMES:

  • Swapperoo
  • Train Conductor World
  • Solitarica
  • Reigns
  • Mini Metro
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Loop Mania
  • Sky Force Reloaded
  • Microsoft Solitaire (yes, really)

comfort food

Some random observations on a super-chilly Monday morning:

1. So yeah, I’m not gonna be finishing my 2016 Year In Review post any time soon.  There’s too much going on, there’s too little time in which to do it, and then there’s stuff like, well, how in the world am I going to have played enough of The Last GuardianFinal Fantasy XVDishonored 2 and the rest of it in order to know how I feel about them?

2. To that last point, let me talk about The Last Guardian for a second.  This is, for me, an exceedingly difficult game to discuss.  On the one hand, it’s totally up my alley; exploration and puzzle solving and a non-combative focus are exactly the sorts of things I like spending time with.  On the other hand, the controls are mind-bogglingly frustrating, the camera is among the worst I’ve experienced in years, and while I’m not necessarily one to complain about frame rate dips all that much, it’s so distracting in TLG that it completely takes me out of the experience.

And yet there was a moment last night that totally blew me away.  I’m still very early in the game, and I’d learned that my giant dog/cat/beast/friend likes eating these glowing blue barrels.  I’d found one tucked away in a corner, and I brought it over to the beast.  And then I watched the beast examine it, sniff it, approach the barrel with its paw, accidentally hit the barrel and then, very convincingly, react to the barrel’s movements (based on the ground’s physics – this was a completely unscripted moment).  It was breathtaking.  I’ve never seen something like that before, and due to the nature of how the moment played out, I may not see it again in this game.  Indeed, had I been looking the other way, I’d have missed it completely; there was no reason for me to look at what happened other than simple curiosity.

And then, shortly after that, I died about a dozen times trying to jump from a ledge to another ledge.  For a game to have been this long in development… I mean, to create the moment that happened in the previous paragraph, I get it – that’s the sort of programming work that would absolutely take years, especially if you want the player to believe it.  But the camera and the controls are so unbelievably and frustratingly broken… it defies belief.  I’m tempted to walk away from it until it gets patched, frankly, because I very much want to continue playing it without all this janky bullshit that’s getting in the way.

On the flip side, I don’t know if FFXV is something I can allow myself to care about.  I finished the very first mission series – I’d made it to the garage, I killed some bug things, I returned, I got my car back, I drove to the next place to return something; it’s all a bit… silly?  Its narrative tone is literally all over the place and I have no idea if I’m supposed to take it seriously or just enjoy the campiness (such as it is) or what.  I’m not a huge Final Fantasy fan, for that matter, so in this specific case I don’t necessarily feel like I’d be missing out if I skipped it.  And yet there’s something about it that’s compelling enough for me to hold on to it a little big longer.  It might be silly, but it’s 100% committed to whatever it is that it’s trying to do, and I kinda find that admirable.

3. To elaborate on my last post – I have finally crossed the 100K Achievement barrier.  The game in question that finally got me there was, of all things, the Sleeping Dogs remaster (which was a free download, and which I’ve already played on 360, PC, and a tiny bit on PS4).

4. As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve got a ton of games on my to-play list; I also went on a bit of a retail therapy binge on Black Friday/Cyber Monday and bought even more stuff, some of which I’ve already played on other systems; I also went and upgraded my hard drive capacity on both of my consoles.  What this essentially means, now, is that when I head down into the basement for gaming purposes, I am able to feed my wandering attention span at a moment’s notice without having to move.  And sometimes, this means I get to scratch some older itches.  So it’s true that I purposefully picked the Sleeping Dogs remaster in order to crash the 100K gate, because I knew there were ‘cheevos in the early going of that game; but it’s also true that I kinda like that game a lot, and I was in the mood to play it.  Similarly, even though I’ve got that aforementioned ton of new stuff to play, I’ve had a rather strange urge to play through Far Cry 4 again, and who am I to say no, when it’s sitting right there on my hard drive?

5. I truly can’t believe that it’s the week before Christmas.  This is good and bad; on the one hand, time is flying wildly out of control and it’s scary as hell; on the other, well, 2016 was a shitty year and good riddance to it.  But more to the point, I’m basically shit out of luck on scoring a PSVR any time before the end of the year, and that’s totally my fault for not staying on top of it when I had the chance.  (In fairness to myself, I didn’t actually get to try it out until last week, long after it had disappeared off of every shelf; that said, it’s still annoying to want something and not be able to have it.)

 

overwhelmed by it all

First -“The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year“, from the New Yorker:

There is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet, and there’s no easy way to properly calibrate it—no guidebook for how to expand your heart to accommodate these simultaneous scales of human experience; no way to train your heart to separate the banal from the profound. Our ability to change things is not increasing at the same rate as our ability to know about them. No, 2016 is not the worst year ever, but it’s the year I started feeling like the Internet would only ever induce the sense of powerlessness that comes when the sphere of what a person can influence remains static, while the sphere of what can influence us seems to expand without limit, allowing no respite at all.

Second, also from the New Yorker – Patti Smith on her Nobel performance:

Words of kindness continued through the day, and in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?

When my husband, Fred, died, my father told me that time does not heal all wounds but gives us the tools to endure them.

Third – it is becoming increasingly unlikely that I will be able to publish my ridiculously overlong year in review any time soon.  I have suddenly become overwhelmed by my to-play list, I have a recording project that I’ve become intimidated by (which, incidentally, is supposed to help me jumpstart my other recording project), and – last but certainly not least – I have finally gotten the change to try out a PSVR unit, and it is a literal game-changer.

I want to get into the details of the paragraph above, because it’s a doozy.

My birthday was on the 8th, and for the last few years I’ve become increasingly weird about it.  Like:  I refuse to celebrate it, I don’t want any presents, I would prefer to curl up into a ball and stay under the covers all day.  (I would have stayed home this year, except I ran out of vacation AND sick days and had no choice but to come in to work; as it happens, I ended up crawling into bed at, like, 8:30pm.)  I appreciate and am grateful for the Facebook mentions, but even then I feel a little silly.

So what I did, instead, was go on a game-buying rampage.  As I believe I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I recently installed new (and gigantic) hard drives on both my Xbox One and my PS4, and so I’m re-downloading my entire digital libraries on both systems.  I’m also in an arbitrary but still frantic rush to hit the 100K mark in Xbox Achievements before years’ end.  And so, to that end, I’ve been playing a ton of shit – I’m going back and forth between so many different games that I feel like I’m having whiplash.  I suppose I’m primarily focused on Watch Dogs 2 and Dishonored 2, but I’m also spending time with Gears 4FFXVSteepDead Rising 4Battlefield 1Stardew ValleyThe Last GuardianMirror’s Edge CatalystMafia 3, and I’m dabbling with the idea of replaying Witcher 3 on XB1 as well.  As you might imagine, this is insane.

And now, also, I’ve finally gotten a chance to use PSVR.  There’s some sort of Wired Magazine expo happening in the lobby of my office, and they happen to have a PSVR demo unit, and I’ve been sneaking down there during lulls and checking it out.  I’ve been very curious about VR for a while now, and I knew that because my PC was basically dead, PSVR was the only way I’d be able to experience it.  And, I mean… I don’t know how to describe it.  It’s the sort of thing that really has to be experienced first-hand in order to properly understand it.  And now that I’ve finally experienced it… I need it, urgently.  It is astonishing.  I want my whole entire family to try it over the holidays – even my mom, whose experience with videogames does not venture all that far beyond Solitaire on her iPad.

I’ve only tried a few things – one was a shark tank demo, and then I played a few minutes of both Rez Infinite and Thumper.  The latter two games are simply jaw dropping; indeed,  Thumper might very well be the most intense gaming experience I’ve had in years, which is saying something considering it’s essentially a rhythm/QTE game.  (It also helps that the headphones on the demo unit were amazing.)

How can I possibly talk about 2016, then, when there’s still so much I haven’t tried yet?

And, of course, there’s the recording projects.  This is not the right venue to discuss what’s going on there – I might post that on my secret blog, later – but the short version is that there’s simply not enough time in the day to get everything done.  I’ve done a lot of prep work, but I haven’t yet laid down any tracks.  I don’t necessarily have a deadline on this, but I do want to finish it soon… but unless I take some time off from work – which I can’t – I don’t know when it’s gonna happen.  It’s GOING to happen, though.

everyone has to start somewhere

As the oldest child and the son of two classical musicians, I didn’t get a lot of exposure to rock music.  My first exposure to Bob Dylan was, in all likelihood, Edie Brickell’s cover of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, from the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack – a movie I don’t think I’ve ever seen, actually.  (My second exposure to Dylan was most likely PJ Harvey’s overlooked cover of “Highway 61 Revisited“, and then there was whatever bullshit U2 did on Rattle and Hum, and then Hendrix, and then finally Dylan himself.)

I happened to hear Edie’s cover on the radio, back in those endless teen-aged days when I would carve out weekend afternoons specifically to tape songs onto my boombox, and it floored me.  That waltzing rhythm, that suspended chord with the bass staying on the root, the slow build in the devastating final verse; it all killed me.  Plus, I must admit that I had a bit of a crush on Edie back in the day, and this might’ve been the last “big” song she had before she and the Bohemians parted ways and she shacked up with Paul Simon.

And so anyway, when it emerged that Patti Smith sang the same song at Dylan’s Nobel ceremony, and fucking killed it – even in spite of a hiccup here or there, which, let’s be honest, would happen to anyone in that situation – it made my heart happy in a very specific and meaningful way.

I won’t pretend to know Dylan’s discography as well as I should – I have my favorite albums, and I have my favorite songs from those albums, as well as alternative versions not formally recorded, but there are large gaps that I suspect I’ll never get to – but in any event, this particular song has a special place in my heart if only because it was the first Dylan song that personally affected me, that made me say, holy shit, I get it, I should probably buy some of his albums.

And let me say, again, that Patti’s version is just straight-up astounding.  And the song is arguably even more resonant right now than ever before.

 

some scattered mid-week ramblings

Thought exercise:  play some first-person shooters immediately following the viewing of a few Westworld episodes and see if you don’t react somewhat differently to the deaths of enemy soldiers.  I did this during the campaigns of both Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and experienced a rather wide gamut of emotions, from (a) suddenly not giving a shit about tactics and becoming a lot more aggressive, because nothing’s real, to (b) halfway-stoned musings about, well, what if the AI in videogames were real?

I recently added more storage to both of my consoles.  Per Major Nelson’s recommendation, I picked up an 8TB external hard drive for my XB1 which took literally no time to set up; I also got a 2TB internal hard drive for my PS4 which required some quick disassembly, some pre-downloaded software on a USB stick, and then a slightly nerve-wracking re-boot/re-set process.  There’s no question that the XB1 solution is the best, especially since you can play games off the external drive; but there’s also something to be said for the burst of adrenaline after the successful swapping out of internal computer parts that makes me feel like fucking MacGyver.

On that note, I should add that I currently have the fullest plate I think I’ve ever had, gaming-wise.  I went a little nuts on Black Friday, is the thing.  And in my quest to hit the 100K mark in Achievements, I’ve been mostly focused on Xbox stuff, and I bought a ton of shit on sale, some of which I’ve already played on the PS4.

To wit, I am currently engaged with:

  • Dishonored 2 (ps4)
  • Watch Dogs 2 (xb1)
  • Mafia 3 (xb1)
  • FFXV (ps4)
  • Far Cry Primal (xb1)
  • Witcher 3 (xb1 replay)
  • Battlefield 1 (xb1)
  • Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (xb1)

I have yet to compile any year-end best-of lists, or even start compiling their respective templates.  Part of this is simple procrastination; but it’s also that in light of recent political events, it’s much harder for me to give a shit about the arbitrary rankings of various entertainments.  You’d think i’d want to stick my head in the sand and make this stuff important, but I can’t seem to allow myself to go there.

As far as music goes, I mostly listen to custom playlists these days – it’s very rare that a whole album will suck me in (though there were one or two this year that did).  My “favorite songs of 2016” playlist is also mostly just the best stuff I learned about from my “favorite songs from the Spotify Discovery playlist”.

In terms of books, I’m about to finish reading my 50th book of 2016; of those, most of them were short and and relatively decent genre fiction, but with few exceptions I didn’t read anything truly mind-blowing.

And in terms of games… well, I look at my spreadsheet and I have trouble putting a solid top 10 together that I can stand behind.  (There appears to be a critical backlash against Uncharted 4, at least among the critics I follow on Twitter; I still had a blast with that game, though I find I don’t often think about it.)  In any event, there are a few more games I want to spend at least some time with before I start putting that particular list together.  But I can say that, if nothing else, I finished more games this year than I have in a long time.

You guys OK?  Everything all right out there?  I’ve been feeling somewhat isolated from people lately, what with my day job’s prohibition of social media and my iPhone suddenly shitting the bed and making it impossible for me to keep up with notifications and emails and texts and whatnot.

My birthday is tomorrow and I’m trying to not think about it.

Predicting Tonight’s Game Awards

Tonight are the Game Awards, a show that I will not watch nor livetweet nor pay attention to in any way beyond reading tomorrow’s recaps.  But as I start to examine 2016 and put my own list together, I thought it might be useful – for myself, at any rate – to examine what the category leaders are as decided by whomever Geoff Keighley’s judges are.   The categories/nominees below are cut/pasted from Polygon, so all links below are theirs.  You will notice that I elected not to include or discuss the “Trending Gamer”, “Fan Creation”, or eSports categories here, and that’s simply because I don’t give a shit.

GAME OF THE YEAR

“For a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields.”

I actually played all of these games.  I must confess – and I’ll get to this later, in my own year-end wrap-up – that Overwatch does nothing for me.  This should not come as a surprise, given that I don’t really go for multiplayer shooters; that said, I suspect that Overwatch will more than likely be tonight’s big winner.  My personal choice out of these nominees is probably Uncharted 4, though I’d find no real fault with any of them as the winner (except for INSIDE, which, while having a number of wonderful qualities, I wouldn’t put anywhere near a top 5 list, especially in light of Firewatch.)

BEST GAME DIRECTION

“Recognizing a game studio for outstanding creative vision, game direction and design.”

  • Blizzard Entertainment (for Overwatch)
  • EA DICE (for Battlefield 1)
  • id Software (for Doom)
  • Naughty Dog (for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End)
  • Respawn Entertainment (for Titanfall 2)

 Again, hard to see how Blizzard doesn’t win this one – though every studio in this category is certainly deserving.  I am a bit surprised that Dishonored 2 isn’t on this list

BEST NARRATIVE

“For outstanding storytelling and narrative development in a game.”

  • Firewatch (Campo Santo)
  • Inside (Playdead)
  • Mafia 3 (Hangar 13/2K Games)
  • Oxenfree (Night School Studio)
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

 I did not play Oxenfree, which I’d like to correct at some point; I played the first 30 minutes of Mafia 3 and found it super-janky and buggy.  For me, then, I’d be choosing between Firewatch and Uncharted 4, and while I’d love to see Firewatch win this, I’d expect U4 to take the prize.

BEST ART DIRECTION

“For outstanding creative and technical achievement in artistic design and animation.”

  • Abzu (Giant Squid/505 Games)
  • Firewatch (Campo Santo)
  • Inside (Playdead)
  • Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment)
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

I’d love to see Firewatch win this – my interest was first piqued in this game specifically because Olly Moss was doing the art direction – but it’s hard to see how Uncharted 4 doesn’t win this (unless Overwatch is going for a sweep).  Say what you will about U4, but it’s a staggering technological achievement and I’ve never seen anything else like it.

BEST MUSIC/SOUND DESIGN

“For outstanding audio, inclusive of score, original song, licensed soundtrack and sound design.”

  • Battlefield 1 (EA DICE/Electronic Arts)
  • Doom (id Software/Bethesda Softworks)
  • Inside (Playdead)
  • Rez Infinite (Enhance Games)
  • Thumper (Drool)

I didn’t play Rez Infinite or Thumper – I don’t yet have a PSVR, which is a topic for another post – but it wouldn’t surprise me to see either of these win, considering some of the hyperbole used to describe playing them.

BEST PERFORMANCE

“Awarded to an individual for voice-over acting, motion and/or performance capture.”

  • Alex Hernandez as Lincoln Clay, Mafia 3
  • Cissy Jones as Delilah, Firewatch
  • Emily Rose as Elena, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Nolan North as Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Rich Sommer as Henry, Firewatch
  • Troy Baker as Sam Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Boy oh boy, how to choose.  The three leads in Uncharted 4, or the two unseen voices of Firewatch?  I might give this to Cissy Jones; of all the nominees here, she had the highest degree of difficulty given that she’s purely a disembodied voice that we, as the player, are meant to empathize with and perhaps even develop a bit of a hopeless crush on.

GAMES FOR IMPACT

“Honoring exemplary games that take on real-world issues and advocate for social change.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to see That Dragon, Cancer pick this one up.  I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t played any of the games in this category, though I know an awful lot about TDC.  I also have a 3 1/2-year-old son, and I don’t see how I’d be physically able to play through TDC, given the subject matter.

BEST INDEPENDENT GAME

“For outstanding achievement in a game made outside the traditional publisher system.”

Obviously I’d love to see Firewatch pick this up, but I suspect this might go to Stardew Valley.  I’ve not yet played it, though I’ve already pre-ordered it for its console debut.

BEST MOBILE/HANDHELD

“For the best game playable on mobile phones and dedicated gaming handhelds.”

No idea how this is going to go.  My personal choice for handheld game of the year is probably Swapperoo for the iPhone.  EDIT:  no, I’m an idiot, the winner here is Picross 3D Round 2 for the 3DS.  That game is MAGIC and it’s in my top 5 for the year, no questions asked.  Can’t believe I forgot about this.

BEST VR GAME

“For the best game experience playable in virtual reality.”

  • Batman: Arkham VR (Rocksteady Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
  • Eve: Valkyrie (CCP Games)
  • Job Simulator (Owlchemy Labs)
  • Rez Infinite (Enhance Games)
  • Thumper (Drool)

Again – totally unqualified to pass judgment on this, but the way I hear people talk about Area X in Rez Infinite makes me think it’s the one.

BEST ACTION GAME

“For the best game experience focused around first or third person combat.”

  • Battlefield 1 (EA DICE/Electronic Arts)
  • Doom (id Software/Bethesda Softworks)
  • Gears of War 4 (The Coalition/Microsoft Studios)
  • Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment)
  • Titanfall 2 (Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts)

For me, this is a toss-up between Doom and Titanfall 2.  I suspect Overwatch wins.

BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE GAME

“For the best game experience that combines combat with traversal and puzzle solving.”

  • Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
  • Hitman (IO Interactive/Square Enix)
  • Hyper Light Drifter (Heart Machine)
  • Ratchet & Clank (Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

just got to the Clockwork Tower in Dishonored 2, which might as well be called “Level Of the Year” for all I’ve heard/read about it.  Still, I think Uncharted 4 wins this one

BEST RPG

“The best game designed for rich player character customization and progression, both offline and online, including massively multiplayer.”

Would they really give this to Blood and Wine, a DLC pack for Witcher 3?  I don’t know.  I might see this going to Dark Souls 3.  I would not give it to Deus Ex.

BEST FIGHTING GAME

“For a game designed primarily around head-to-head combat.”

No idea.  I played none of these; I’m not even gonna pretend to guess.

BEST STRATEGY GAME

“Best game focused on real time or turn-based strategy.”

My PC basically shit the bed earlier this year and so I have been unable to play Civ 6, which I suspect might win this.  I’ve played the first few levels of XCOM 2 on console and it’s great, and also still really intimidating, which is why I haven’t played more of it.

BEST FAMILY GAME

“Best game for family play, including toys-to-life, rhythm/music/dance, and other genres.”

I found Lego Star Wars: TFA to be dreadful.  Also found Ratchet & Clank to be forgettable and tedious (even if it’s charming and beautiful in certain spots).  I downloaded and played Pokemon Go for about 5 minutes just to see what the fuss was about; it did nothing for me beyond drain my phone’s battery.  I like what I’ve played of Dragon Quest Builders, though I haven’t played very much of it.

BEST SPORTS/RACING

“For traditional and non-traditional sports and racing games.”

  • FIFA 17 (EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts)
  • Forza Horizon 3 (Playground Games/Microsoft Studios)
  • MLB The Show 16 (SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • NBA 2K17 (Visual Concepts/2K Sports)
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 (PES Productions/Konami)

Even if it’s weird to me that these two genres would get combined like this, the clear winner is Forza Horizon 3, arguably my favorite driving game of all time.  (Sorry, Burnout.  I love you, but you disappeared.)

BEST MULTIPLAYER

“For outstanding online multiplayer gameplay and design, including co-op and massively multiplayer experiences.”

  • Battlefield 1 (EA DICE/Electronic Arts)
  • Gears of War 4 (The Coalition/Microsoft Studios)
  • Overcooked (Ghost Town Games/Team17)
  • Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment)
  • Titanfall 2 (Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts)
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)

If Overwatch doesn’t win, I’ll be very surprised.

MOST ANTICIPATED GAME

“An upcoming game that has shown significant ambition and promise in moving the gaming medium forward.”

This is a meaningless and stupid and pointless category, based solely on preview information and manufactured hype.  But obviously this goes to Red Dead Redemption 2, with Mass Effect: Andromeda a close second.  I don’t really give a shit about Zelda just yet.  Fight me.