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)

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.

2015: My Year in Games

It’s December 28 as I write these particular words, which means I’m beyond late in terms of getting this thing out the door.  And if I’m being honest, I should admit that I’ve barely started it.  Usually at this point I at least have my GoogleDoc template filled out with rough ideas of what I want to say, nominees for categories, etc., but it’s practically empty.  Indeed, it’s only because I’ve had to make some Top 10 lists for other people that I have even the slightest idea of what I might write here at all.

It’s hard for me to come to grips with this, but here it is:  my apathy towards games is starting to become less of an abstract threat and more like a very real thing.  I feel like I have more or less checked out in terms of keeping tabs on the “scene” as far as things like Twitter.  Nothing in my to-play pile is holding my interest.  I look at what I played this year and can only identify one true masterpiece, two better-than-expected games, two out-of-nowhere surprises, and the rest of my Top 10 is really just me scraping the barrel.  I look ahead to 2016 and while there’s certainly more than a few games I’m looking forward to, I can’t necessarily pick any that would cause me to call in sick.*


* For the record, the announced-for-2016 games that I’m looking forward to are as follows:

  • The Witness
  • XCOM 2 (especially if it eventually comes to consoles, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t)
  • Far Cry Primal (maybe?)
  • Uncharted 4 (though I worry that this game’s emphasis will be far more focused on action than exploration)
  • Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda (50/50 this comes out in 2016)
  • Crackdown 3 (see ME:A)
  • Dishonored 2
  • FF15 (50/50 for a 2016 release is very optimistic, I think)
  • Gears of War 4 (if only to give my Xbox One something to do)

What would I like to see in 2016?  I don’t even know.  I’d love to hear something about Red Dead Redemption 2, if only that it exists.  I’d obviously love to hear something about Portal 3, though that seems even less likely than Half Life 3.  I’m curious to know if the new Mass Effect will incorporate any save data from the original trilogy – if only in terms of the end-of-game state.  (This would also impact what platform I play it on, as I played the original trilogy twice on Xbox 360.)


In previous editions of this post, this would be the point where I’d spend a few thousand words recapping all the games I didn’t finish, all the games I barely started, all the games I consciously ignored; my favorite gameplay mechanic, my most irksome glitch.  But it’s too depressing to revisit some of that stuff, and in any event if I went through all the disappointments this post would be 10,000 words long, and not even I can bother with that sort of nonsense.  So I’m cutting to the chase.

I give 2015 a big fat “meh”, but – as with many things these days – I don’t know if that “meh” is directed at the games I played, or at myself for not getting into them.   In any event,  I humbly present my Top 10 Games of 2015.

10.  You Must Build A Boat (iOS)
An expansion on, and an excellent refinement of, the sliding-tile-based 10000000 from a few years back.  The recent addition of a new daily dungeon has brought this one back into my daily rotation.

9.  Alto’s Adventure (iOS)
I can’t speak for anyone else’s apathy as far as endless runners/scrollers go, but I’m still a fan of ’em; there’s a bunch more that came out this year that I still play regularly that didn’t make this list, actually.  Alto’s Adventure is a side-scrolling skiing game with an absolutely gorgeous graphical style and atmosphere, and I only wish I hadn’t gotten so terribly stuck on two of the three level goals at level 38; there’s still more to see and do, and I simply never got there.

8.  The Room Three (iOS)
I love the Room games; they’re magnificent showpieces for what mobile games are capable of.  More to the point, though, the puzzles are almost always fair; they might be tricky and obscure, but they ultimately make logical sense in order to proceed.  This edition is bigger and more complex than the previous two combined; I’ve only been able to solve one of the four endings, and the only reason why I’ve not been able to continue is that my iPhone’s low on available hard drive space.

7.  Lara Croft GO (iOS)
Yes, you read that correctly; this is the 4th iPhone game to appear in my top 10.  This is a puzzle game in the vein of Hitman GO, except that it’s a bit less frustrating to solve, and the art style is actually quite complementary to the Tomb Raider aesthetic.  I’m currently picking my way through the recently released DLC episode; it’s much trickier, but no less fun to work through.

6.  Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)
If this is the end of Rocksteady’s Batman run, they certainly did a bang-up job.  I’m not sure that anything will ever top their first one (Asylum), but I still had a great deal of fun with this one; I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I recall the common critical consensus indicated I would.  The introduction of the Batmobile was surprisingly great, even if I still preferred to grapple/wingsuit my way around the city.  And it looked absolutely stunning; the decision to stay current-gen only was clearly a good one.  (Well, maybe not as far as the PC was concerned, but that’s a different story.)  It was exhausting, eventually – I can’t claim to have come anywhere close to solving all of Riddler’s challenges, nor did I feel any desire to try – but everything else was quite satisfying.

5.  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4)
Here’s maybe the feel-good story of the year, as far as AAA development goes; fresh off the utter disaster of last year’s Unity, Syndicate turned out to be one of the best games in the whole franchise – and starred my favorite protagonist yet.  Evie Frye is a bad-ass, and more than redeemed her douchebag of a brother.  I should probably go back and check out that newly released Jack the Ripper DLC, actually…

4.  The Beginner’s Guide (PC)
I absolutely adored Davey Wedren’s Stanley Parable, and found this a uniquely compelling and emotionally involving follow-up.  To say more would spoil it; the game itself only takes about an hour or so to experience, and so I’d simply suggest you run out and pick it up.  (I’d also very strongly recommend picking up “Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist“, which is free and 20-minutes long and works as a very interesting companion piece to Beginner’s Guide, as it was created by one of the Stanley Parable’s other developers.  It too has quite a lot to say about game development, but from a much different angle.  Literally.)

3.  Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
Like a lot of people I was initially irked that this was an Xbox-only release, especially since at the time of that announcement I hadn’t yet bought one.  All that said, I’ve grown to appreciate that the decision to concentrate development on one console was the correct decision; this game looks fantastic and runs incredibly smooth, and is an excellent showcase for what the Xbox One is capable of… even if I have no doubts that the eventual PS4 release will look even better.  Deeper analyses of the game’s narrative might reveal some unfortunate developments in terms of Lara’s character arc, but as far as the moment-to-moment experience of playing it I found it quite wonderful.  It’s got everything I like in these sorts of 3rd person action/adventure/exploration games, especially with regards to the exploration/combat ratio; I spent far more time exploring than killing, which is exactly how I like it.  (And which, as noted earlier, is why I’m more than a little nervous about Uncharted 4.)

2.  Rocket League (PS4)
The feel-good story of the year, bar none; this little indie game came out of nowhere and became one of the most addictive multiplayer experiences I’ve had since the days of Burnout 3.  There was a stretch earlier this summer when I could do nothing but play Rocket League; it didn’t matter whether I was good or not, even just touching the ball was fun in and of itself.  It’s been so long since I picked it up that I’m probably too rusty to be an effective teammate… but a lack of skill didn’t stop me from having a blast earlier this summer, either, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go back as soon as possible.

1.  The Witcher 3 (PS4)
This was hands down the best game I played in 2015, and maybe one of the best games I’ve played in years.  Hell, I should probably revisit my all-time top 10 and see if I can’t fit this one in somewhere.  I’d dallied about in the first two Witchers but wasn’t at all familiar with the world or the lore, and it hardly mattered; each and every character was incredibly well-written and presented, and nearly every mission and side-quest was interesting, no matter how small or trivial; the attention to detail is second to none.  This game scratched all the itches I had from Red Dead Redemption, and so if we’re not getting Red Dead Redemption 2 any time soon, this is as worthy a substitute as we’re likely to get; and if anything I might’ve enjoyed this one even more.  An absolute masterpiece, and without a doubt my favorite game of 2015.

 

My Year In Reading: 2015

Way back in January – another life ago, it seems – I wrote that I’d hoped to read 30 books by year’s end.  As it turns out, I made it to 35 – and I’m working on 36 at the moment.  I gotta say – my new commute makes reading a hell of a lot more convenient, but it also helps when you’re really enjoying what you’re reading.  I’d like to say I could make it to 40 next year (which would be neat, given that I’ll also be 40 years old), but one never knows how these things go.

Still and all, here’s what I read in 2015, in something approximating chronological order:

The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber  A-
Technically I started this in late December, but the book is long.  I found it rather beautiful, but also quite heartbreaking.

The Martian, Andy Weir  B-
I still haven’t seen the movie, and my initial impulse was to leave it that way, since I found the book rather dry, overly technical, and surprisingly devoid of tension given the circumstances.  But hey, people seem to love the movie, so maybe it’s worth checking out.

The Egyptologist, Arthur Phillips  A
One of the best books that I read this year – at once funny, mysterious, and moving, and featuring one of the most dark, twisted and unexpected endings I’ve ever come across.  The less said, the better.

Your Face Tomorrow (trilogy), Javier Marias  B+ (combined)
I’d wanted to read these for a long time, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Kindle versions were made available; I promptly devoured them, or at least attempted to devour them – as interesting as they are, they can be slow and tedious at times, and his endless sentences, while deliberately stylistic, can be exhausting.  Of all the books I’ve read this year, these probably got under my skin the most – even if, during the reading, I found them slow-moving.  Still, when I put up my Favorite Sentences post, a great many excerpts will appear from this series; even though the people and places of the book couldn’t be further removed from my own experience, there were whole sections that felt ripped out of my own life (for better and/or worse).

Silver Screen Fiend, Patton Oswalt  B+
Patton is a tremendous writer – his best stand-up routines succeed in large part because of his ability to pick the perfect words – and I found this memoir of his early stand-up years to be rather affecting.  That said, it didn’t get nearly as dark as he kept insisting it would, and the last third of the book is simply a list of all the movies he watched during the relevant time frame, without providing any additional insight beyond the specific few he talks about in the book proper.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler  B+
I’ve been a Poehler fan for, what, nearly 20 years now, back when the UCB was a cancelled Comedy Central series and a free weekly improv show instead of the all-powerful comedian factory of today.  I was going to enjoy this no matter what.  I think certain sections are a little phoned in – her Parks & Rec chapter might as well be a multiple-choice quiz – but other sections are deeply powerful and resonant.

Orfeo, Richard Powers  B
As with games, I keep a spreadsheet of the books I read; it helps tremendously for posts like this, but also just to better remind myself of what I read and what I was thinking about at the time.  My comment this year’s spreadsheet, alongside this entry, simply says “remarkable prose, & remarkable grasp of the act of listening, but what did I actually read?”  I suppose I expected more of a plot that was advertised as some sort of hybrid between a technological thriller and a study of avant-garde classical music of the 20th Century.

I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes  B
One thing I need to do for these spreadsheets going forward is to figure out why I bought certain books; I have no memory of buying this (or the next two books on this list, for that matter), or what might have made me get it.  It’s a solid thriller, very much the sort of thing you’d buy at an airport, and I seem to recall enjoying it because it wasn’t trying to be something that it wasn’t; it’s an espionage thriller and that’s all it wanted to be, and to that end it’s a fun read.

Submergence, J.M. Ledgard  C
My spreadsheet comment:  “Beautiful writing, but what is the point of this book?”  Even now I have trouble remembering what happened here.

Skinner, Charlie Huston  B-
“Fast-moving technobabble”, I wrote, though in retrospect I do seem to recall liking this more than the B- I gave it at the time.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell  A
I’d bought this when it first came out, but was reluctant to start it given that I’m not really a big fan of historical fiction, especially during a time and place that I know literally nothing about.  But I’m glad I finally got around to it, because it’s beautiful and absorbing and has one of the best and most satisfying endings I’ve ever read.  I wrote a little more about it here.

The Disaster Artist, Greg Sistero and Tom Bissell B-
I’m a “fan” of the “movie”, and I’m also a huge fan of Tom Bissell, and so this seemed like a slam dunk – an insider’s account of not only being a part of one of the most legendarily terrible movies ever made, but as a close confidant of Tommy Wiseau, the film’s star, writer, director, bankroller, and all-around weirdo.  Alas, it’s not as illuminating as one would hope; Wiseau remains as opaque as ever, and the behind-the-scenes stuff mostly ends up being depressing.

VALIS, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick —?
I’m not sure how it happened, but I realized I’d never read any PKD before.  I’ve seen a bunch of film adaptations, and one of my favorite books from the last few years is The Cardboard Universe (which is a fake encyclopedia about the fictitious Phoebus K. Dank), but I’d never gotten around to the genuine article.  A good friend gave me a copy of Timothy Archer a few years back, and then Amazon apparently had some sort of PKD bonanza because I bought, like, a whole bunch of his stuff on the cheap.  To that end, I decided – for some reason – to start with the Valis trilogy.  Maybe not the best choice?  It’s paranoid and angry and feverishly written – although I suppose it’s a better place to start than the Exegesis, which I must admit I did not finish, or even really start.)  In 2016 I’m gonna try to read …Palmer Eldritch and Ubik, which I also picked up in that Amazon sale.  (And if you have other recommendations, I’m all ears.)

The Song is You, Arthur Phillips B-
As noted above, I loved the hell out of The Egyptologist and felt compelled to check out Phillips’ back catalog, and when I read this book’s synopsis – an unrequited love story told through music – I felt like this book was literally made for me (especially as I was trying to write lyrics about the same subject matter).  I suppose my expectations were too high, then, because I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I’d hoped – even if the writing is still excellent.  There’s some unintentionally creepy bits to the story, and there’s also some very unnecessary and distracting side-plots that add the wrong sort of tension.  I will get around to the rest of his stuff next year.

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu B+
Having never read Chinese science fiction before, I didn’t really know what to expect from this highly acclaimed first volume of an award-winning trilogy.  The prose is a bit dry – and it’s hard to tell if that’s the translation or just the source material – but it’s certainly very fascinating, and it’s quite a treat to read a familiar genre from a radically different socio-economic perspective.  I learned a lot about Chinese history, too, which helped flesh out Susan Barker’s The Incarnations (which I’ll get to shortly).

The Rabbit Back Literature Society, Pasi Jaaskelainen C+
So one of my projects this year was to tackle my ever-increasing backlog, which is the sort of thing that happens when you own a Kindle and have poor impulse control; you buy stuff and then forget you have it, because you can’t physically see it.  I don’t remember buying this, or why I might’ve bought it, but I felt obliged to read it for some reason; I don’t remember reading it.  My Google notes say:  “a ghost story with no ghost and very little story.”  And yet I gave it a C+, so I guess it had something appealing in its atmosphere.

Going Clear…, Lawrence Wright A
This had already been on my to-do list even before the HBO documentary came out; the documentary was stunning, and the book is even more exhaustive in its story-telling.  It’s riveting, meticulously researched, objective, and scary as hell.

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson A-
I’d worried a bit about Neal, frankly.  His previous book, Reamde, was rather dull and disappointing – I recall hearing that he’d intended it to be the sort of thriller you’d pick up at an airport, but it was still dreary and unexciting – and his recent foray into videogame development ended on a sad note.  I might’ve been hedging my bets heading into this one, but I came out feeling like he’s on top of his game yet again.  It’s hard (and occasionally dry) sci-fi, but it’s also truly thought provoking and interesting, and the meticulous attention to detail in the first two thirds of the book results in a final third that is simply breathtaking.

The Ghost Network, Catie Disabato B-
This book had a bit of hype surrounding it, as well as an intriguing set up – a Lady Gaga-esque singer suddenly goes missing, and the quest to find her reveals a whole bunch of secret-society-ish stuff within a hidden underground train system – and as such this ought to have been in my wheelhouse.  It’s an entertaining enough read but it doesn’t quite go anywhere, although the ending is pleasingly enigmatic.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz A
So glad I finally got around to this one.  It’s magnificently written; Diaz is enormously talented and the prose nearly leaps off the page.  Enthralling and intoxicating.

The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway A
And here began my obsession with Nick Harkaway; if I hadn’t read this book, I probably would’ve continued on my Arthur Phillips spree.  A good friend had raved about him for years and I finally gave it a go, and I’m really glad I started here, because this one is the best of the bunch.  Without question, the most fun I’ve had with a book in years; my Year In Sentences post could easily have been twice as long if I’d elected to quote everything I’d highlighted.

Angelmaker / Edie Investigates!, Nick Harkaway B, B-
Angelmaker is another fun romp, though reading it immediately on the heels of Gone-Away World probably did it a disservice; Edie Investigates is a very short side-story with one of Angelmaker’s characters which I finished in about 30 minutes.  It’s fun, but didn’t feel necessary.

The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes B
A fabulously intriguing premise (surviving victim hunts her time-travelling serial killer), not quite as well executed as I’d like.

My Struggle part 1, Karl Ove Knausgard B+
I’m not sure if I’m going to get around to the other volumes – there’s only so much navel-gazing I can take, and I already take quite a bit, and it’s not quite the earth-shatteringly brilliant thing I’d been expecting.  But as far as memoirs go, it’s absorbing and his descriptive abilities are really quite stunning; I remember this book visually more than anything else.

A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay B
A creepy little ghost story with a dark and horrific twist of a tableau at the end; it had been brought to my attention as something that a fan of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves might enjoy, and that’s certainly true, though the book’s structure might get in its own way a little bit.

Tigerman, Nick Harkaway B+
As with Angelmaker, it’s fun and well-written and with a gut-punch of character reveal and a heartbreaking ending; also as with Angelmaker, it’s not quite as magical as Gone-Away World.

The Rook, Daniel O’Malley B-
As with most of the B-minuses on this list, The Rook is a really interesting premise (an amnesiac soon discovers she has supernatural abilities and is part of a secret organization that battles other supernatural monsters and such), which isn’t quite well-executed as it could be.  I might stick around for the inevitable sequels, though; the world is pretty neat.

The Incarnations, Susan Barker B+
A Chinese taxi driver receives a series of anonymous letters documenting his previous lives and how they intersected with the letter-writer.  It’s a bit more heavy and dark than I expected it to be – which is not a knock on it at all, I just wasn’t prepared for how fucked up it is, emotionally speaking.  As noted in the entry for The Three-Body Problem, there’s a lot about China’s history that is also pretty fucked up.  (I’m also learning a bit more about it at the present moment, as I’m reading David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, which talks a bit more about 20th Century Chinese history and how deeply, deeply fucked up it was.)

Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir, Terry Gilliam B-
Entertaining but also a bit scatterbrained – much like his films.  Not nearly as detailed as I’d have liked it to be – for instance, I might’ve blinked and missed the part where he joined Monty Python.

Slade House, David Mitchell A-
This is a short novella, which I believe may have started as a Twitter experiment before turning into a rather haunting series of interconnected stories.  Hard to say if it’s necessary to have read The Bone Clocks before starting this one, but I can’t imagine anyone reading this who hasn’t read Bone Clocks, so take that as you will.  If nothing else, this also inspired me to start reading Mitchell’s complete works, in chronological order, because it’s become apparent that every single one of his books is connected to the other.  And considering that almost all of his books contain interconnected stories inside of themselves, I feel compelled to see just how far the rabbit hole goes.  (As noted above, I’m already 3 or 4 stories into Ghostwritten, and I’ve already seen brief glimpses of characters I know.)

City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg A-
THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, screamed the advance hype, in addition to the gigantic advance the author received and the subsequent bidding war over the film rights.  I’m happy to say that it does live up to the hype; this is a 900+ pager that never feels self-indulgent or overly clever.  It’s vivid and memorable and extraordinarily well-paced (which I believe I’ve mentioned here several times over, but it’s worth mentioning again if only because making a 900+ page book move quickly is a rather impressive feat).  Maybe it doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as it could, but I can’t hold that against it too much; the book itself is a wonder.

 

“It Is Time To Turn In Your Kazoo”: Favorite Sentences of 2015

In keeping with last year’s post, here are my favorite sentences/phrases/passages from the books I read this year.  (And I’ll get to those books in a separate post.)

from “The Book of Strange New Things”, Michel Faber:

“Some people go through heavy stuff. They fight in wars. They’re in jail. They start a business and it gets shut down by gangsters. They end up hustling their ass in a foreign country. It’s one long list of setbacks and humiliations. But it doesn’t touch them, not really. They’re having an adventure. It’s like: What’s next? And then there’s other people who are just trying to live quietly, they stay out of trouble, they’re maybe ten years old, or fourteen, and one Friday morning at 9:35 something happens to them, something private, something that breaks their heart. Forever.”

from “The Egyptologist”, Arthur Philips:

The following items will be irretrievably lost someday quite soon: Beethoven’s works. The beer you prefer. All record of your ancestry. The place you first kissed a girl. Toffee. Coffee. The landscape you associate with peace and liberty. Any evidence of your boyhood, real or just fondly recalled. The sensation that all that stands before you and your loved ones is a series of aspirations, accomplishments, setbacks, meals, ceremonies, loves, heartbreaks, recoveries, next acts.

 

from the “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy, Javier Marias: (the books are hard to recommend, and yet I could fill up an entire post with passages from them)

Part One:

…it’s shocking how easily we replace the people we lose in our lives, how we rush to cover any vacancies, how we can never resign ourselves to any reduction in the cast of characters without whom we can barely go on or survive, and how, at the same time, we all offer ourselves up to fill vicariously the empty places assigned to us, because we understand and partake of that continuous universal mechanism of substitution, which affects everyone and therefore us too, and so we accept our role as poor imitations and find ourselves surrounded by more and more of them.

* * *

…we forget what we say much more than what we hear, what we write much more than what we read, what we send much more than what we receive, that is why we barely count the insults we hand out to others, unlike those dealt out to us, which is why almost everyone harbours some grudge against someone.

* * *

…when someone withdraws their laughter from us, that is a sign that there is nothing more to be done.

* * *

The kind of people who, on the phone or at the door, say simply ‘It’s me’ and don’t even bother to give their name are those who forget that ‘me’ is never anyone, but they are also those who are quite sure of occupying a great deal or a fair part of the thoughts of the person they’re looking for.

Part Two:

“You never felt for me what I felt for you, nor wanted to; you kept me at a distance, not even caring if we never saw each other again, and I do not reproach you with that in the least; but you will regret my going and you will regret my death, because it pleases and contents one to know that one is loved.”

Part Three:

I want it to be known that I exist and have existed, and I want my deeds to be known, but that frightens me too, because it might ruin forever the picture I’m painting of myself.

* * *

Nostalgia, or missing some place or person, regardless of whether for reasons of absence or abandonment or death, is a very strange and contradictory business.

* * *

More time passes, and there comes a day, just before the last trace vanishes, when the mere idea of seeing the lost person suddenly seems burdensome to us. Even though we may not be happy and may still miss them, even though their remoteness and loss still occasionally wounds us—one night, lying in bed, we look at our shoes alone by the leg of a chair, and we’re filled with grief when we remember that her high heels once stood right next to them, year after year, telling us that we were two even in sleep, even in absence—it turns out that the people we most loved, and still love, have become people from another era, or have been lost along the way—along our way, for we each have our own—have become almost preterite beings to whom we do not want to return because we know them too well and the thread of continuity has been broken.

* * *

Luisa was for me one of those people whose company you seek out and are grateful for and which, almost in itself, makes up for all the heartaches, and which you look forward to all day—it’s our salvation—when you know you’ll be seeing her later that evening like a prize won with very little effort; one of those people you feel at ease with even when times are bad and about whom you have the sense that wherever they are, that’s where the party is, which is why it’s so hard to give them up or to be expelled from their society, because you feel then that you’re always missing out on something or—how can I put it—living on the margins.

* * *

‘Why do I tell you these things? You are not even here.’
(which, as it turns out, is actually from:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182860 )

 

from “Silver Screen Fiend”, Patton Oswalt:

Does anyone act more like an over-serious senior citizen with time running out on their chance for immortality than someone in their twenties?

* * *

There was comfort in preemptive disappointment. Because it was never your fault.

 

from “Yes Please”, Amy Poehler:

Apologies have nothing to do with you. They are balloons in the sky. They may never land. They may even choke a bird.

* * *

Getting older makes you somewhat invisible. This can be exciting. Now that you are better at observing a situation, you can use your sharpened skills to scan a room and navigate it before anyone even notices you are there. This can lead to your finding a comfortable couch at a party, or to the realization that you are at a terrible party and need to leave immediately.

* * *

It’s important to know when it’s time to turn in your kazoo.

from “Orfeo”, Richard Powers:

You want to live in a hermitage in Times Square, with a big sign pointing to you reading, hermit.

* * *

A friend says: “I just heard the strangest song ever.” Do you run away or toward?

from “Valis” (book 1), Philip K. Dick:

They ought to make it a binding clause that if you find God you get to keep him.

* * *

The gentle sounds of the choir singing “Amen, amen” are not to calm the congregation but to pacify the god.

from “The Song Is You”, Arthur Philips (a disappointing book, but which is endlessly quotable.)

he had the sensation that he might never be so happy again as long as he lived. This quake of joy, inspiring and crippling, was longing, but longing for what? True love? A wife? Wealth? Music was not so specific as that. “Love” was in most of these potent songs, of course, but they—the music, the light, the season—implied more than this, because, treacherously, Julian was swelling only with longing for longing.

* * *

He recognized his dumb urge never to think about her again even as he failed to stop thinking about her, perhaps because of the energy required to stop those other thoughts.

* * *

“You never know when you’re about to be too old for some things. You only know when suddenly you are too old.”

 

from “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer”, PKD:

I should stand up and ask Mr. Barefoot a meaningless question and then go home while he is phrasing the perfect answer. That way he wins and I get to leave. We both gain.

* * *

I would not want to make you unhappy by detailing pain, but there is a crucial sort of difference between pain and the narration of pain. I am telling you what happened. If there is vicarious pain in knowing, there is actual peril in not knowing. In aversion lies a colossal risk.

from “The Gone-Away World”, Nick Harkaway (I could quote this goddamned book all goddamned day):

There is a noise as of incoming mortars or a train crash or the steeple of the church falling into the vestry. It is a vast, tectonic, tearing noise which seems to come from everywhere. In truth, it is probably none of these things, but it is very loud, and I am a small boy.

* * *

From somewhere across the room comes the sound of a mime getting beaten up.  

//  

You have to worry about someone even mimes find creepy.

//

All the walls come down inside my head. I am betrayed, murdered, rescued, healed and bereft. I have saved the world and been rewarded with five shots in the chest, booted out to die in mid-air on a dusty road. I am toxic waste. I have known heaven, and now I am in hell, and there are mimes.

* * *

We all carry a multitude of ghosts around with us: impressions of other people, strong or weak, deep from long acquaintance or shallow with brevity. Those ghosts are maps, updated with each encounter, made detailed, judged, liked or disliked. They are, if you ask a philosopher, all we can ever really know of the other people in the world.

* * *

He has made his loathing of height into a definition. He is not so much short as antitall.

from “Submergence”, J.M. Ledgard:

She walked all the way to the Hotel Ostende and back and bumped into him when she came into the lobby. It was awkward. But then life is never neat, it is made up of doors and trapdoors. You move down baroque corridors, and even when you think you know which door to open, you still need to have the courage to choose.

* * *

If you talk about the acceleration that is in the world, you have to talk about the advances in computational power. There was a recent momentous day when a computer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico achieved petaflop speed. One thousand trillion calculations a second. How to conceive of such a rate? If everyone in the world were given a pocket calculator and ordered to tap out sums for six hours a day, it would take them until the twenty-fourth century to match the calculations a petaflop computer can perform in a day. The exaflop is the next step in the history of computing: one quintillion calculations a second. Then the zetraflop, yottaflop, and the xeraflop. The goal is nothing less than to slow down time and colonize it. Of course, a petaflop computer uses more electricity than the power grid of an African city. Then there is the problem of asking useful questions of it.

 

from “My Struggle, Volume 1”, Karl Ove Knausgaard:

…an enormous contradiction arose between the person he was, the person I knew him to be, and the person he presented himself as.

* * *

I remembered hardly anything from my childhood. That is, I remembered hardly any of the events in it. But I did remember the rooms where they took place. I could remember all the places I had been, all the rooms I had been in. Just not what happened there.

 

from “Tigerman”, Nick Harkaway:

He didn’t really have much of a temper. Hadn’t, until this moment. But here he was, alone in a garden, declaring a war of extinction on a field of tomatoes. It was so wasteful. That notion made him stop, bewildered, and he wondered at the idea that it was wasteful to chop down plants, but somehow not so much so to do the same with men.

* * *

“…Space. The place where British people do not go because the British space programme is, what, two guys with a really long stick?” “In that way, Jed, it is very much like U.S. healthcare.”

 

from “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”, David Mitchell:

Creation never ceased on the sixth evening, it occurs to the young man. Creation unfolds around us, despite us, and through us, at the speed of days and nights, and we like to call it “love.”

* * *

“The soul is a verb.” He impales a lit candle on a spike. “Not a noun.”

from “Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir”, Terry Gilliam:

Suddenly everything was being commodified, and once an act has to have a particular object attached to validate it, then it isn’t the same act any more. I think what it ultimately comes down to is not being able to be sure of the line between what you’re really experiencing and what has been programmed into you. These days I’d call this a ‘Philip K Dick moment’, but at that point I had yet to read any of the visionary books Dick was churning out at an astonishing pace just up the California coast in San Francisco. As it was, I’d just be walking along the beach in Venice or Santa Monica – hand in hand with the woman I loved, the waves lapping and gulls crying – not being sure if this seemed wonderful because it actually was wonderful, or because I had seen so many ads that said it was.

from “City on Fire”, Garth Risk Hallberg:

“…an artist is someone who combines a desperate need to be understood with the fiercest love of privacy. That his secrets may be obvious to others doesn’t mean he is ready to part with them.”

* * *

But why do they call you Sewer Girl?” “Nicky says I’m stuck on a lower level of consciousness. Because I’m from Shreveport, or whatever. It’s like, if you didn’t grow up in the city, it’s hard for dialectical materialism to be your bag. I still get sentimental about moms and deer and my horoscope and stuff.”

* * *

He feigned slumber for the couple hours it took to reach Altanta, and the ten minutes from there to the farm. When he opened his eyes, he was facing a plain, tin-roofed house, pale in the dusk. It might have been someone else’s except for the complicated things it did to his heart.

* * *

… Mercer looked around. There was no way anyone could hear. But the walls could, and the earth, and the ghosts of horses, and the state of Georgia.

 

2015 Resolutions and Anticipations

A Preface in Three Parts:

1:  I finished the Forza Horizon 2 Finale race last night.  I’ve apparently still got more to do, as the credits didn’t roll, but that was the big one.  If I were still keeping track of Achievements, and if I still had a category for “Favorite Achievement of the Year”, I suspect the 50 points I picked up for winning that 20-minute gauntlet would rank right up there with anything else I did this year.  After soaking in that victory for a bit, I then headed over to race in Storm Island, and WHOA, that shit is crazy.  Extreme weather, terrain, lighting and visibility – total madness, a complete 180 from the relatively calm and serene mainland campaign.  I’m not sure what the rest of the island is like, but that first race makes one hell of a first impression, and it shakes up the already-excellent formula enough to make it worth spending some more time in.

2:  I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should buy it; I’d already sunk in a fair amount of time, and felt like I’d seen what I needed to see even if I only got halfway through…. but I also felt like I needed to finish it for real.  And so, in the end, Alien Isolation was on sale for $30 on PSN, and I picked it up, and it remembered my last save point from October.  So that’s something to look forward to.

3: I want to join the chorus in wishing Patrick Klepek the best of luck in his future endeavors.  His is a necessary, vital voice in this business, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  On a purely personal level, he’s also single-handedly responsible for the biggest spike in traffic this site’s ever gotten (scroll down to #3), and so if nothing else I’m indebted to him for keeping this site visible, however marginally that visibility may be.


 

Pop Culture Consumption Resolutions for 2015:

  1. No more pre-ordering.  As you’ll see below, my “must-have” list of games for 2015 is relatively small, and given what we’ve been through in 2014 with nearly every significant AAA release bogged down by serious issues on release day, I don’t necessarily have any faith that these future releases will be released in an acceptable shape.  I can wait; I can rent.
  2. Along those lines, I’m going to try and beef up my commentary skills this year.  Maybe I’m being overly hard on myself, but most of my analysis is pretty superficial, and doesn’t necessarily get to the core of what’s actually going on.  Even this Cameron Kunzelman piece about how he doesn’t know how to describe Super Time Force Ultra still explains more about his experience playing it than I do on an average day.  I’m always aiming to be a better writer, but now I think I have a better idea of what “being a better writer” actually means (for the purposes of this blog, at least).
  3. I am going to stop.  playing.  Clicker Heroes.
  4. The backlogs are getting dealt with.  And if it means that I’m going to start keeping widgets on the sidebar to further shame myself into finishing stuff that needs finishing, then that’s what it means.
    • As far as my PC goes, I’m rapidly approaching the point where it’s not really capable of performing on par with my PS4 and XB1, but I still have a frighteningly large backlog to address on Steam that it can handle, and I’m gonna have to deal with that at some point.
    • And I still have a bunch of games on my PS4 that I haven’t finished – Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 4 perhaps being the largest omissions, though there’s also Transistor, Valiant Hearts, and Oddworld New & Tasty.  (And also Sunset Overdrive on the XB1.)
    • Regarding my Kindle backlog – I’m cutting myself off and not buying any more books until I finish my to-read pile, which at this point is probably 20+ titles deep.  (I did end up buying the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, but that’s it.)

I also further resolve to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT when stupid bullshit is happening out there in the world.  I can’t call myself an ally if I’m not doing anything to back that up.  I sincerely hope that 2015 provides less opportunities for shouting, but if it doesn’t, then I aim to shout as purposefully and effectively as I can.

Game Anticipations for 2015:  (with special assistance from this handy Game Informer page)
* denotes a game that I’m not 100% convinced will be coming out in 2015

THE MUST-HAVES

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Witcher 3
  • Uncharted 4 *
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider *
  • Firewatch *
  • Superhot
  • Below

THE RENTALS, AT THE VERY LEAST

  • PGA Tour Golf (EA’s first without Tiger, after a year-long hiatus)
  • Crackdown 3 *
  • Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
  • Final Fantasy XV *
  • Mad Max *
  • Inside (from the makers of Limbo)

THE CURIOSITIES

  • The Order 1886
  • Bloodborne
  • Halo 5
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain
  • Silent Hills *

Here’s hoping we all have a safe and happy New Year’s, and may 2015 be everything that 2014 wasn’t.  Cheers.

 

“You are a boat”: Favorite Sentences of 2014

Say what you will about e-books versus the real thing; I acquired a Kindle out of necessity because my wife and I simply ran out of apartment space.  Much as the iPod replaced my CD collection, the Kindle replaced my hardcover collection; I still read/listen as much as I ever did, and my apartment is a lot less claustrophobic as a result.

It took me a long time to allow myself to mark up the pages of a book, to underline, to highlight.  Dog-earing a page was as rough as I’d allow myself to be; I’d always prefer to leave scraps of napkins as placeholders.  And this sort of thing, even though it’s one of my favorite things on the internet, would be absolute blasphemy.

Anyway:  I don’t know to what extent other e-readers do this, but Kindle’s highlighting feature is awesome, and I use it all the time, and even though it doesn’t do a terrific job of syncing highlights across my various Kindle-enabled devices*, it does collect everything online, and so I figured this would be as good a reason as any to share my favorite sentences from what I read this year.

In no particular order (although this is roughly in the order in which I read them):

from Lexicon, by Max Barry:

He’d basically fallen in love with her on the spot. Well, no, that wasn’t accurate; that implied a binary state, a shifting from not-love to love, remaining static thereafter, and what he’d done with Brontë was fall and fall, increasingly faster the closer they drew, like planets drawn to each other’s gravitational force. Doomed, he guessed, the same way.

from The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch:

“I know that the only woman with the key to that peculiar heart of yours is a thousand miles away. And I know you’d rather be miserable over her than happy with anyone else.”

– – –

“…the more we do this, the more I learn about what I think Chains was really training us for. And this is it. He wasn’t training us for a calm and orderly world where we could pick and choose when we needed to be clever. He was training us for a situation that was fucked up on all sides. Well, we’re in it, and I say we’re equal to it. I don’t need to be reminded that we’re up to our heads in dark water. I just want you boys to remember that we’re the gods-damned sharks.”

from The Secret Place, by Tana French:

“…People are complicated. When you’re a little kid, you don’t realize, you think people are just one thing; but then you get older, and you realize it’s not that simple. Chris wasn’t that simple. He was cruel and he was kind. And he didn’t like realizing that. It bothered him, that he wasn’t just one thing. I think it made him feel . . .” She drifted for long enough that I wondered if she’d left the sentence behind, but Conway kept waiting. In the end, Selena said, “It made him feel fragile. Like he could break into pieces any time, because he didn’t know how to hold himself together. That was why he did that with those other girls, went with them and kept it secret: so he could try out being different things and see how it felt, and he’d be safe. He could be as lovely as he wanted or as horrible as he wanted, and it wouldn’t count, because no one else would ever know. I thought, at first, maybe I could show him how to hold the different bits together; how he could be OK. But it didn’t work out that way.”

from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by David Shafer:

There is a club for these people, the people who have waited outside the burning houses knowing that they will not go back in and knowing that the not-going-back-in will ruin them.

– – –

How long do you think a weak-minded addict will stay on the shelf? Because that day you walked in? That day I saw you? I swear, my heart slowed and my breath came easier. All that rabbiting I do—it just stopped. Not stopped by like magic, but stopped with reason. You are as strange and amazing as anything my stupid little brain has ever come up with, and you are from outside of it. You have no idea what great news that is. And I’m going to lift some copy here, but there is a time for everything, that day and night here you were the still point of the turning world, and I knew for sure that I had a place in it. That place is next to you.

I really am quite sure that there is something we’re supposed to do together, that there is more that is supposed to go on between us. Aren’t you? Isn’t there a held breath in your life right now? I’ve missed a few boats already, and I really don’t want to miss this one too. I realize that in that metaphor or analogy or whatever, you are a boat. That doesn’t really quite get what I mean, because I am also a boat. We are both boats and we are both passengers. We should not miss each other.

from Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle:

Grandma stayed on alone in the giant house where my dad and his brothers had grown up. When, eventually, the climb up the stairs got to be too much, she moved downstairs, and the second floor became an accidental museum commemorating the last day anybody’d lived there.

from The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (almost too many to count, really):

I consider how you don’t get to choose whom you’re attracted to, you only get to wonder about it, retrospectively.

– – –

She walks as if distrustful of floors, and sits down as if she’s had some bad experiences with chairs, too.

from Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer:

He wasn’t sure he knew the difference anymore between what he was meant to find and what he’d dug up on his own.

from Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer:

But, in truth, standing there with Lowry, looking out across his domain through a long plate of tinted glass, you feel more as if you’re staring at a movie set: a collection of objects that without the animation of Lowry’s paranoia and fear, his projection of a story upon them, are inert and pathetic. No, not even a movie set, you realize. More like a seaside carnival in the winter, in the off-season, when even the beach is a poem about loneliness.

– – –

Over time your memory of your mother faded, in the way of not knowing if an image or moment was something you’d experienced or seen going through the photographs your dad kept in a shoe box in the closet.

– – –

Writing, for me, is like trying to restart an engine that has rested for years, silent and rusting, in an empty lot—choked with water and dirt, infiltrated by ants and spiders and cockroaches. Vines and weeds shoved into it and sprouting out of it. A kind of coughing splutter, an eruption of leaves and dust, a voice that sounds a little like mine but is not the same as it was before; I use my actual voice rarely enough.

from The Confabulist, by Steven Galloway:

It’s inexplicable what causes a person to love someone. It is a feeling so irrational that it allows you to believe that the person you love has qualities they don’t actually possess. And when someone loves you back, it’s nearly impossible not to feel you must never let them see what you are really like, because you know deep inside that you are not worthy of their love.

– – –

We talked in a roundabout way about nothing in particular: school, people we knew, things we liked and didn’t like. It was the sort of conversation people who haven’t known each other long but understand they will have many more conversations have, uncomplicated and almost lazy but also anticipatory.

– – –

Being a parent is a monumental thing. You shape reality for another person. You cannot be an illusion. You cannot be paralyzed by the fear that you are an illusion. If you have done a bad job, or no job at all, what remains of you is proof that the world is an unfeeling place. If you have done a good job, what remains is the part of you that was magical.

from Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel:

No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.

– – –

He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light.

from The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber:

There was a red button on the wall labeled EMERGENCY, but no button labeled BEWILDERMENT.

– – –

He walked with increasing pace, turned corners with increasing resolution, and was met each time with the same rectangular passageways and rows of identical doors. In a place like this, you couldn’t even be sure if you were lost.


* I hate to sound like an Amazon infomercial, but: I just picked up the new Kindle Voyage, and it’s pretty fabulous.  But it didn’t save the highlights I’d saved on my Paperwhite, and the Paperwhite didn’t save anything that I’d featured on my 2nd-gen Kindle, and none of them save anything I might’ve noted on my iPhone or iPad.

DAI: It’s all over

DAI_fade

It’s all over.  At just over 50 hours, and with still tons more side-stuff to do, I have finished the Dragon Age Inquisition campaign.

If you want the short version:  it’s very good.   It’s the best BioWare console experience I’ve had since Mass Effect 2, that’s for sure.  Is it my Game of the Year?  That’s a tougher question.  I stand by its inclusion in my top 5, but I don’t know that it was the “best thing I played all year.”

For one thing, even though it ran pretty smoothly for me, there were a handful of times when the game locked up and crashed on me – including the literal moment before the final battle started, which meant I had to re-load the game and go through the opening cutscenes again, wondering if I’d lost any progress (since I hadn’t done a hard save before I started the mission).

And honestly?  I’m kinda glad it’s over, because holy shit it’s been a while since I sunk that much time into a game; even if, at the same time, it’s been a long time since I played a game that I enjoyed for that long without getting bored.  Sure, some things are tedious; I read the subtitles quicker than the voice actors say their lines; towards the end I opted to fast-travel instead of walk, because I don’t particularly care to inspect every single goddamned inch and harvest every single goddamned herb and mineral; but what would an RPG be if not slightly tedious at times?  The overall experience was far more enjoyable than any moment-to-moment tedium.


What to do now?  There’s something freeing about finishing a massive game like DAI; it’s like finally finishing a huge book, where you’re kinda sad to see it go, but also glad that you can move on to something new – or just take a little break altogether, now that you’re not shackled to anything in particular.

I may go back and finish some of DAI’s side-stuff – there are still a large number of small quests I never finished, and plenty of places I never fully explored, and that stuff can be dealt with in short bursts.

I may go back to Forza Horizon 2 (henceforth, “Forizon 2”) and might even get that new DLC island.

I may dip my toes back into Far Cry 4, or also Shadow of Mordor, and if Sony puts Alien Isolation on sale, I might buy it and try to finish it.

One thing I’m not going to do, though, is finish Assassin’s Creed Unity.  I gave it a quick go yesterday afternoon, once the latest patch was installed, and the simple fact that it took me almost 3 minutes of staring at the map to figure out where the hell the next story mission was located was all I needed to say, “I don’t have time for this shit.”

Speaking of which, one of the categories in my GOTY post that I didn’t get to this year was “A Once-Favorite Franchise That I’m More Or Less Ready To Give Up On”, and it should go without saying that the winner of that particular category would be Assassin’s Creed.  I’m done.  I don’t care about next year’s installment; I don’t believe it will fix the things that need fixing, nor do I have faith that it will be shipped in a working state.  And considering the current state of Ubisoft game design, why should I bother playing an Assassins Creed game when I could play Far Cry 5, or Watch Dogs 2, or whatever else they decide to rush out the door?


 

And speaking of the GOTY post, three other notable omissions:

1.  In the “Did Not Get To” pile, the biggest name on that list is Kentucky Route Zero.  I’ve been meaning to sit down and give KRZ a serious go for basically the whole year, and for whatever reason I never found myself in the right frame of mind and with enough time to give each episode a proper go.  (“Right frame of mind” doesn’t necessarily imply a state of sobriety, mind you; it simply means being open and un-distracted for a different sort of pace.)  I’ve heard nothing about raves about both Episode 3 and a Side Story thing, and I need to get on this soon.

2.  Also in the “Did Not Get To” pile, but with the caveat that I simply hadn’t bought it yet, is Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.  I was a big fan of the first game, and this appears to be more of the same; I just haven’t gotten around to pulling the trigger yet.

3.  I did end up playing the first 10 minutes of Danganronpa over the weekend, which is (obviously) not nearly enough time to figure out just what the hell is going on.  I would like to give it at least an hour or so to figure it out, and then decide whether I should push on with it or send it back.  I don’t necessarily regret buying the Vita, but I never have a proper opportunity to play it, and, so, there it is.

 

The Year In Games – 2014

For the first time in a long time, I find myself unable to fill out a top 10 list.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t 10 games worthy of consideration – we’ll get to what I didn’t play in a bit – but it means that, of the approximately 60 games I did play this year, I only really genuinely liked a small handful, and it feels weird to round out a list with stuff I didn’t care for.

And even if I still felt compelled to get to the magic number 10, then I’d have to get over my weird feelings about including games that I already played last year, but with more pixels per inch or whatever.  For example:  I think the PS4 versions of both The Last of Us and Diablo 3 are the definitive editions of both games, and my experience with both of them radically changed the way I’d previously viewed them, but… I’ve always tried to keep these posts focused on new games, and I can’t rightly call either of those two games “new”.

And this isn’t even taking into account stuff like P.T., which I don’t even know how to classify.  It’s a teaser for a new Silent Hill game, but it’s also an unsettling and thoroughly creepy experience in its own right, but as a game in and of itself, it’s awfully clumsy… I didn’t play anything like it all year, but does it belong in a Top 10 list?

All this navel-gazing is a bit meaningless, though.  Because when I look back on 2014 in a few years, I’m not going to remember any of this stuff.  I’m going to look at this year and think of two things:  (1) overhyped, broken blockbusters, and (2) Gamergate.

Regarding (1):  I’m not a developer, but I get it.  I get that 2014 was a transitional year in terms of new hardware and developers were trying to develop for two different console generations, which means four different systems (five if you count the Wii U, and most developers didn’t), and getting shit to work is tough.  But I am a consumer, and I spent a lot of money on games (and game systems) this year, and most of what I played required rather sizable day one patches before I could start playing, and even then some of the games still didn’t work.  As of 12/18, Assassin’s Creed Unity’s fourth significant patch has been released, weighing in at 6.7GB – although due to an error, the Xbox One version makes you re-download the entire 40+GB game; the multiplayer component of Halo Master Chief Collection, arguably the primary reason for this thing to exist in the first place is apparently still broken; and the PS+ edition of Driveclub may not ever come out.

Regarding (2):  I can’t even.  Nor will I pretend to be a good enough writer to articulate just how thoroughly disgusted and embarrassed I am to be a member of a community that allows this sort of thing to happen.  I am ashamed of myself that I didn’t do more to stop it.  I attempt to justify my inaction by saying that I’m not a good enough writer, that I have a very small audience at my blog, and less than 200 followers on Twitter:  I scream into a gaping void.  These “shouts from the couch” are just a miniscule part of the collective, deafening noise.  But that’s no excuse.  In this era of hashtag activism, I need to do more than simply RT someone else’s hard work.  I’m putting it upon myself to be more aware of these issues, to be more proactive in speaking out against it, and to be more supportive of the people whose lives are being turned upside down because of it.


Let me switch gears here for a moment, because this is all going to fall apart pretty quickly if I don’t.  Despite all the ugliness above, 2014 was a significantly positive year for me as a writer.  I got a piece featured in Unwinnable, which totally made my day; I put in some time at Gamemoir and hit the biggest traffic numbers I’ve ever gotten in my life; and I got a piece in Videodame, which subsequently got featured on Critical Distance – not a Blogs of the Round Table, but an actual honest-to-goodness weekly roundup.

I may still be a long ways off from being as good of a writer as I want to be, and considering the current state of the game journo industry it is probably very unlikely that I will ever be able to do it full-time, but I’m still here, and I’m trying to get better, and considering how many times over the last 2-3 years that I’ve considered folding up shop and walking away from the scene entirely, I guess that’s a good thing.

As far as actual gaming is concerned:

Last year I was something of a PC hermit, but this year I officially joined the new console generation.  I filled up my PS4’s hard drive; I bought a PS Vita during a moment of weakness and ended up loving the hell out of it (even if I don’t play it as much as I’d like); I went from being an Xbox One skeptic to a rather happy Xbox One owner.

My PS3 is currently in my bedroom where it ostensibly functions as a blu-ray player and a backup in case that TV’s Roku stops working, and my 360 is, sadly, no longer with us.

Regarding Nintendo: my 3DS has been collecting dust all year, and I still have no desire to get a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 notwithstanding.


THE RAW DATA:

My spreadsheet is a bit of a mess compared to past years, but it looks like I played 62 games between console, PC and handheld (Vita/3DS), and I finished 15 of them.  (I should’ve kept better track of what I played on my iPhone, but, alas, I didn’t.)

“Finishing” is, as always, a nebulous term; the only game I can claim to have finished to 100% completion is Infamous Second Son, and even then I didn’t play the DLC.  So let’s say I saw the credits roll 15 times.  I’ve put 40+ hours into Dragon Age Inquisition but haven’t yet finished it (as of 12/18), and I’d sunk 10-20 hours into Forza Horizon 2 before I got sucked into DAI.  That’s a significant amount of time to develop opinions on games I haven’t finished, all things considered.

I’ve often thought that games are weird, in that I can have these sorts of statistics to throw around.  When it comes to books, I finish at least 90% of what I start, and the remaining 10% is usually put down at the very beginning – I know pretty much right away if I’m going to remain engaged with something.   But with games?  I put a solid 10-12 hours into Alien Isolation before sending it back; I loved a lot about that game, but it would appear that I hit my final rage-quit moment at about the halfway point, which means there’s still at least 10 more hours to go.

More significantly, though, there are also 28 games that I’d consider “notable” that I did not play, at all; and I’d also say that of the 62 games I did play, there’s quite a few that I simply did not spend enough time with, either because I got distracted by something else, or because I bought a whole bunch of games during a Steam Sale without getting a chance to play any of them, or simply that the game in question just wasn’t clicking for me.  (Speaking of which – as I type these words, the latest holiday Steam Sale has gone live.  Goddammit.)

In the final analysis, I’m not sure I felt engaged with anything this year.  I got sucked into a fair share of games, and I was pleasantly surprised more than a few times, and I probably spent more money on games and hardware this year than in any other… but I can’t say I fell in love with anything.

I guess I should start this thing already.

The Year In Achievements: After obsessively tracking my Achievement progress for the last 6 years or so, I’ve decided to formally retire this category for several reasons.  Firstly, there was an 8-9 month gap between finishing South Park on the 360 and starting Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 on the XBO, so the number is pitifully small.  Secondly, spending 8-9 months with the PS4’s Trophy system pretty much rendered the entire purpose irrelevant; as much as I’ve enjoyed my PS4 experience, Trophies remain meaningless.  Finally, the PS4 is probably going to remain my primary console for the foreseeable future, so tracking my Achievement progress kinda feels like a waste of time.  All this being said, I have to admit that unlocking Achievements on the Xbox One is still a cool sensation, and the XBO’s Achievement tracking panel is really well done.  It’s not important enough any more for me to play multi-platform games on the XBO, but it’s still a pleasant feeling.

Kickstarters Funded:

  • Unwinnable Magazine
  • Treachery in Beatdown City
  • Superhot
  • Sunset
  • Epanalepsis
  • Elegy for a Dead World

Favorite Weekly Features:  In a year filled with mean-spirited misery at every turn, there were two always-reliable (and very different) features that put a smile on my face every time:

Best Mechanic / Favorite Moments:

  • Watch Dogs:  There’s a tremendous amount of stuff to dislike and/or actively hate in Watch Dogs, but using the phone hacking device to eliminate a gang hideout without ever firing a bullet is the best thing that game has going for it.
  • Desert Golfing: getting a hole-in-one after shanking a +20.
  • Alien Isolation: any time I can get from point A to point B without being killed by the Alien is a win for me, basically.  And yet maybe my favorite / most empowering moment came when I was backed into a corner, the Alien charging at me, and then I suddenly whipped out the flamethrower and startled it far enough away for me to successfully escape.

Games Where I Saw The Credits Roll:

  1. Broken Age Part 1
  2. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
  3. Jazzpunk
  4. South Park: Stick of Truth
  5. MGS: Ground Zeroes
  6. Infamous Second Son
  7. Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2
  8. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
  9. Wolfenstein
  10. Watch Dogs
  11. Murdered: Soul Suspect
  12. The Lego Movie Videogame
  13. A Story About My Uncle
  14. The Last of Us Remastered
  15. Destiny (original campaign, up to level 20)

Did Not Finish, Would Like To Finish Someday:

  • Dragon Age Inquisition (because I’m still playing it)
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Elegy for a Dead World
  • Final Fantasy X (Vita)
  • Transistor
  • Valiant Hearts
  • Oddworld New & Tasty

Will Probably Never Finish But Would At Least Like To Give Another Go:

  • Olli Olli
  • Lufttrausers
  • Mind: Path to Thalamus
  • The Talos Principle

Did Not Finish, Still Unsure About:

  • Far Cry 4
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity (I’m so close to the end, might as well try, but ugh)
  • Shadow of Mordor
  • Child of Light
  • Alien Isolation (debating whether to go back to it now that there’s a difficulty slider)

Did Not Finish, Will Never Finish:

  • Trials Fusion
  • Mario Golf: World Tour
  • Thief
  • Dark Souls II
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Vanishing of Ethan Carter (I was really looking forward to this one and finally bought it, and then found out that the main dev is a GamerGate supporter.  It shouldn’t matter – the game has nothing to do with it – and yet it makes my teeth itch.)

Not My Bag:

  • Hearthstone (never made it out of the tutorial, I don’t think.  CCGs just aren’t my thing.)

Games Played for 10 Minutes or Less:

  • Rune Factory 4 (3DS)
  • Sniper Elite III

Notable Games I Didn’t Play:  As noted above, this is a rather sizable list.  I’m only one man, a man with a day job and a small child to take care of.  These things happen; please don’t think less of me.

  • Nidhogg
  • Shovel Knight (I think I heard there’s a Vita version coming? That’ll get fixed right away, then.)
  • Octodad
  • FF14
  • Professor Layton and Azran Legacy (first Layton game I’ve missed.)
  • Titanfall (didn’t own an XB1 until way too late for me to be any good at this.)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (dare I admit I’m still kinda curious about the console version?)
  • MLB 14: the Show
  • Super Time Force
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Forza 5
  • Divinity: Original Sin (might pick this up in the Steam Holiday Sale.)
  • Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
  • Plants v Zombies Garden Warfare  (I did download the PS4 version for free a few weeks ago…)
  • Danganronpa (1, 2)  (D1 is in my Vita as I write this, where it’s been for the last 2 weeks, and I still haven’t turned it on)
  • Hatoful Boyfriend
  • Disney Infinity Marvel
  • 3DS Super Smash Bros.
  • Bayonetta 2
  • The Evil Within
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth (again, might pick this up in the Steam Holiday Sale)
  • Lords of the Fallen
  • D4
  • Assassin’s Creed Rogue
  • Little Big Planet 3
  • Captain Toad
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s
  • Never Alone  (Definitely on my to-get-to list at some point.)

Best HD Remake: a category that we’re going to be seeing a bit more of, at least for the next few years.  It’s not necesssarily the worst thing in the world; the developer gets to practice on the new console, and meanwhile the consumer gets to play a better version of something they might’ve missed the last time around.  To that end, I really enjoyed The Last of Us on PS4, far more than I did on the PS3.  The PS4 controller is such a better thing to hold in one’s hands, which made the gameplay far less frustrating to deal with; the photo mode was a ton of fun to play with; and the Left Behind DLC was absolutely gorgeous and beautiful and moving and important.  (Carolyn Petit wrote about it quite fantastically in her 2014 GOTY post.)

For the record, I also considered:

  • Tomb Raider (worth it)
  • Diablo III (so much more enjoyable than on the PC, for some reason)
  • Final Fantasy X (only gave this a few hours)
  • Oddworld: New & Tasty (still need to finish this, but this is a pretty remarkable remake)
  • GTA V
  • Halo Anniversary

While we’re talking HD remakes…

A List of Possible HD Remasters I’d Be Interested In Checking Out, as long as this is a thing:

  • we already know about Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle
  • Borderlands?
  • DmC and Devil May Cry 4
  • maybe we find out about Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus HD?  has Oddworld released sales figures from New & Tasty, the results of which would determine such a thing?
  • I bet we see a Bioshock HD bundle as TakeTwo figures out what they want to do with the IP in the wake of Irrational’s closure
  • Mass Effect 1-3?
  • I still desperately want a Rockstar “Orange Box” with Red Dead, Max Payne 3 and L.A. Noire (and/or one of the Midnight Clubs)
  • now that Disney controls Lucasarts IP, might we see older, classic Star Wars games get HD’d, in the leadup to Episode 7?
  • God, how I’d love to get an HD Burnout Paradise

Most Notable Voice Performance:  I don’t know that I can pinpoint a truly great voice performance this year, but I’m sure we can all agree that Peter Dinklage’s dialed-in, dead-eyed monotone for Destiny is certainly the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons.  I still maintain, though, that it isn’t totally his fault.

Most Disappointing:  In a year filled with one disappointment after another, it’s hard to even pick just one.  I could probably round out a Top 10 of Biggest Disappointments far easier and quicker than I can my actual Top 10 Favorite Games of the Year.  I had high hopes for Trials Fusion, the HD sequel to one of my favorite Xbox Live games, but it never quite felt as right in my hands as I wanted it to.  I had especially high hopes for Mario Golf: World Tour, as I’m a huge fan of arcade golf games and would’ve loved any excuse to keep my 3DS with me at all times, but there was literally nothing to that game at all.  But in the end, I have to hand this award to Watch Dogs, a game that not only failed to live up to its own excessive hype machine, but which was also profoundly stupid, terribly written, featured dumb characters in a lifeless city, and focused on all the wrong things.  The phone hacking – while absurd – is the only thing that’s worth holding onto for the inevitable sequel, and even then I’m setting my expectations very, very low indeed.

Best Podcast:  Hard to choose between them, so let me cop out:

  • Scoops and the Wolf
  • Idle Thumbs
  • Quality Control

Favorite Articles:  I didn’t stay on top of this as much as I’d like, as especially towards the end of the year everything turned into responses to Gamergate and I couldn’t take it anymore.  That said, nearly everything in this GoogleDoc is worth checking out.  Some highlights would include:

Best iOS Games of the Year:

  • Threes
  • Monument Valley
  • Crossy Road
  • Trials Frontier
  • Hitman Go
  • Desert Golfing

I haven’t yet had a chance to play Simogo’s “Sailor’s Dream”.  That’s a notable omission on my part.  I kinda want to play it on iPad, but I hardly use my iPad these days.

Games Of The Year:  We’re already just about at the 3000 word mark and I’m just not feeling it.  This is sad.  It’s been a sad year.  I enjoyed these five games a lot, even if I haven’t yet finished 2 of them.  I don’t know that I can rank one over the other.

  • Wolfenstein:  Without question, the biggest and most welcome surprise of the year.  a big-budget game that wasn’t broken, didn’t have an obligatory multiplayer mode, had a well-written supporting case of characters, and remained faithful to the source material while also having you shoot up Nazis on the goddamned moon?  Yes, yes, and yes.  I had an absolute blast with this one.
  • South Park: Stick of Truth: What this game had to go through just to get released is a pretty remarkable achievement in and of itself; that it turned out to be a really, really funny South Park experience is even better.  The RPG side of it is serviceable, if tedious, but the game’s aware of that, too.  It also features the single best argument against the tired trope of voice recorders as exposition dumps of all time.
  • Dragon Age Inquisition: I’m still in the middle of this one – well, does 45 hours count as “the middle”?  It’s a remarkable return to form for BioWare considering their recent stumbles, and I’m very much looking forward to finish this one.
  • Forza Horizon 2: At some point earlier this year I might have called this my new favorite driving game of all time.  I’ll need to get back to this once I’m done with DAI, and I’ll probably want to give Burnout Paradise another go to make sure, but I could live with this being my favorite driving game of all time.  It’s what sold me on the Xbox One, even if I bought the Sunset Overdrive bundle.
  • Jazzpunk:  This is a wild, extremely surreal and very funny indie adventure game, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  Highly worth checking out.

Is that enough?  Can we go now?  Let’s go now.  Let’s hope that 2014’s miseries are quickly put to bed, and that 2015 comes in and obliterates any lingering memory of this god-forsaken year.  Cheers.

Prelude to the 2014 GOTY Post

Ordinarily this is my favorite time of year, where I spend most of my free time preparing my Game of the Year post.  I compile thousands of words devoted to dozens of categories, in an attempt to single-handedly out-write all the GOTY posts from all the major sites, while also attempting to justify and rationalize the hundreds of dollars I spend on games (and the hundreds of hours I spend playing them).  SFTC is a one-man operation, after all, and since I’m operating in a vacuum, I try to be as comprehensive as I possibly can.  It’s a labor of love that I’ve always looked forward to.

Until this year.

This year sucked.

Between the increasingly toxic nature of the gaming community’s worst elements, and the fact that quite a lot of this year’s AAA blockbusters were either HD remasters of games I played last year or games that were straight-up broken, I’m looking at my Google spreadsheets and categories and I’m mostly just shaking my head.  I’m not even 100% sure that I can compile a rock-solid Top 10; I don’t know that there were 10 games that I enjoyed that much.  I have a pretty solid top 3, and after that it’s mostly just clutter.

So look forward to reading a few thousand words about sadness, coming maybe next week?


I’m 35 hours into Dragon Age Inquisition.  I’m around level 14 and kinda just biding my time, leveling up and grinding until I’m ready to take on the next main story mission.  I have successfully romanced Sera, so there’s that.

I still wish the game was clearer as to what the recommended level was for each area you enter; I’ve been spending the last few hours traipsing around the Emerald Graves, and for the most part I’ve been handling myself quite well although there are a few Fade Rifts that are straight up impossible, and I also stumbled across a gigantic dragon that happened to be looking the other way, and there were also some giants that were chasing me around for a bit.

You know what game it reminds me of, more than anything else?  I mean, besides other BioWare games?  Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the ill-fated action RPG from a few years back.  The writing in DAI is much better, of course, but the general vibe of the experience feels very much the same; the environments are similarly varied, the sidequests are stumbled upon in similar ways.  I liked KoA:R, too, even if it was beyond massive and I never came close to finishing it; indeed, I think I liked KoA’s combat system more than I do DAI.


Getting back to the GOTY post – I feel like I can’t start writing it in earnest until I finish a few more things, or at least spend some more time with them.  I’ve had Danganronpa in my Vita for a week and a half and I haven’t had a chance to even turn the thing on, let alone play it.  Meanwhile, now that there’s this new patch for Alien Isolation that tweaks the difficulty a bit, I’m wondering if I should go back to it and try to finish it.  I still want to give Shadow of Mordor the benefit of the doubt, though I suspect I’ve been away from it for too long; I also want to give Sunset Overdrive another go before I totally forget how to play it.  And I also want to go back and revisit some games from earlier this year, just to make sure I still feel as strongly about them now as I did then (i.e.Wolfenstein).  Will you notice the difference if I don’t?  Does anything matter?

To borrow from today’s AV Club article about Top 10 lists:

Sometimes, we get so focused on our lists and defining ourselves that we forget to take a moment and think about what all of these pieces of pop culture mean to us and to others. TV shows, films, video games, and books aren’t something to be categorized like manila envelopes at an insurance firm. They’re art; and art, at its best, is an experience, and it’s best shared with others.

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