Another year, more stuff! If you’re just joining me for the first time, this is the 5th Stuff of the Year, a collection of everything I saw, played, read etc. throughout the year that I had a good time with. If there’s stuff I missed, it’s either because I forgot, didn’t care for it, or had nothing much to say about it.
This year, also known as 2020 the 2nd, was a strange year. Amidst both a move towards further opening and closing of the world, I had a remote six months in Santa Cruz and a (more) in-person six months in Santa Clara, which I’ve already shared writing about in other places. It was less turbulent and more alive, just as confusing but in different ways. I leave the house now, but never without a mask. I am around people, but rarely see their mouth.
But this piece is not about that! It’s about the great things I, regardless, experienced in 2021. The list is presented rough chronological order, so you can follow my year along with it.
The Expanse [TV Series]
What a banger of a Sci-fi show. Had heard good things
and had even tried to watch it a while back but didn’t get through the slow,
plotting pace of the first (and first half of the second) season, but this time
around, my roommates at the time were also interested in watching it and we
began watching it through together from season 2 on, and what a fantastic show.
Absolutely stellar political sci-fi with great characters and fantastic premises (the whole latter half of season 3 is just absolute top-shelf sci-fi).
Season 6 came out at the end of this year, but this is on here first as I watched first 5 in the early parts of the year and have not finished season 6 yet.
Isles - Bicep [Album]
I had two singles from this on my previous year list and the whole album did not disappoint. It’s a powerful breakbeat electronica record that feels more directed and purposeful than their previous one. The singles Apricots and Atlas are still among my top songs there, but there are other standouts too. The interlude track “Lido” as a leadup into my favorite song “X”, which is just, so strong. The synth in X is what I live for. I love how the drums feel so chaotic, almost comical, in the beginning, but once that synth kicks it, the entire track focuses into crystal clarity.
Loop Hero - Four Quarters [Game]
A neat little game that’s more difficult to explain than it appears. A traditional RPG that plays itself on a loop and you’re affecting it by changing the landscape around it, with more wrinkles to that formula than it appears. It’s a cool concept and it works, with many secrets to find and a subtle yet affecting narrative about how history is constructed by the people who live it. I never finished it (a trend you will see recur on this list), but I had a good time with it when I played it.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon - Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio [Game]
Ugh, I’m sad I never got around to finishing this one. I still want to get back to it. What a bold move to redo Yakuza’s action combat into a turn-based JRPG, and equally crazy how well that translation just works. The parody of a Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy-esque RPG laid onto a modern urban world, with the exact same hijinks and crime drama and tonal shifts as the other Yakuza games? Yes, please. It’s just a joy, and absolute joy from top to bottom. The new main character and the refocus on a group of people works wonders and fits right in with the zaniness of Yakuza’s storytelling.
It’s my own fault I didn’t finish it. Note to self, don’t try to play 3 big JRPGs in the same year.
A Desolation Called Peace - Arkady Martine [Book]
As the sequel to my favorite book from last year, I
was looking very much forward to this, and how it would make good on the
promises of the first.
I’m not… in love with it the way I was the first one, though. It feels a little… I’m not quite sure what, slightly lacking? And also oddly similar to Arrival, in a way that I don’t feel like it earns fully and it feels like quite the departure from what the previous book was.
That said, this also concludes and explodes Mahit and Three Seagrass’ relationship, and it is still a really well-written and enjoyable trip, so I will still recommend it if you enjoyed the first book.
Come to Grips - edIT [Album]
edIT, also known as 1/3 of The Glitch Mob, released his second solo album. His first (“Crying over Pros For No Reason”) has long been a stable of my background listening routine, whenever I needed something slightly glitch yet chill.
Come To Grips is decidedly less chill, but still just as glitch and just as strong sonically as Crying Over Pros and edIT’s work in The Glitch Mob, but here with a laser sharp production that both feels influenced by TGMs recent developments and yet also entirely edIT’s own. This quickly also became a work album, but for when I needed something more upbeat and detailed. One criticism might be that the songs do tend to blend together, and there are only a handful that I remember based on titles alone. Yet, those are among edITs best work to date, so that is a worthy trade. Tracks like Only Believed, That’s Me Baby, and Find You absolutely work by themselves, but this album feels like it flows best as a whole.
Valheim - Iron Gate [Game]
2021s first surprise hit came from a genre you thought had run out of tricks two years ago. And, hey, Valheim isn’t the most original or groundbreaking survival game out there. But I had a great month or two, playing this game regularly with friends, slowly exploring its secrets and getting into multiplayer hijinks, getting lost halfway across the map, planning and executing daring rescue missions after someone died in an unfortunate spot.
I don’t know that it’s a better survival game than many of the others out there, or why it blew up the way it did, but it was a fun little time for a while there.
Oscillate - pg.lost [Album]
I’ve had pg.lost on my radar a little bit before this as someone who makes some great post rock, and this new album really solidifies them for me. This is just a great instrumental post rock album, top to bottom. It’s noisy, rhythmical, melodic, and powerful without becoming too math-rock-y, or technical, it always stays on the side of building towards something. And boy is Eraser a good post-rock song, just a powerpiece as it halfway through switches up into that simple, driving rhythm.
World Famous Tour - WAVEDASH [Album]
WAVEDASH’s (spelled all caps) debut album is named brashly and that sure fits the music they are making. It sounds like 100 gecs' little brother played a lot of Smash Bros and has deep opinions about sidechaining. It’s loud, in-your-face EDM with enough flair and style to make it interesting, but this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. I love the vocal samples on the first track, leading into Dummo Loop and you’ll know by then whether this is for you or now. But my favorite track on here is no doubt Stallions, which has these incredible horn-synth-stabs and a great fake drop into a build to a real chorus. Not all of the album works for me, but I’ve returned a fair few times to get amped up in this very specific 2000s-video-game way.
And yes, I am 90% sure the name is a Smash Bros reference.
Dota: Dragon’s Blood [TV Series]
Netflix released a show about
Lea—Dota 2?? The
game with, checks notes, no-bad
lore? As an example, the show is about “Dragon Knight” the… Dragon Knight. What’s
his backstory? He kills dragons. He also IS a dragon. And he’s a knight. That’s
Huh. Valve has money, sure. But this was not the first
current game I’d have been on to make a TV show (but rather the other one that
came out later, can’t believe Dota got there first. I guess Dota was always there first, hah). And it’s pretty good? It’s
not bad for sure, it has some problems, it’s slightly weirdly paced and feels
oddly safe. But enjoyable nonetheless.
It DID get me back into playing Dota a bit again, with first some and then another friend that I’ve managed to bamboozle into it despite its complete hostility towards new players (which I still am?) but I’ve had a great time.
Final Fantasy XIV - Square Enix [Game]
Uh. So that thing I mentioned about not starting several big JRPGs in one year? Yep. This was the other major one.
I kinda knew
what I was getting into? A lot of people I know have been raving about this game for years now, and along with my continuing
research on ongoing storytelling I thought I had to check it out at this point.
And, surprising no one, this is a really, really good MMO.
The closest I’ve felt to playing World of Warcraft back in the day. That feeling of an expansive, ever-mysterious world with more to explore. The feeling of community with strangers, of being there, together. The story (when it gets going) is good. The dungeons are great. The classes are all interesting, and it has made a lot of smart choices on how you can play as those classes interchangeably. I’ve been playing this game quite slowly but enjoying my time doing so.
And, perhaps most importantly, it is so refreshing to
play an online game where the community genuinely, at all times, is nice and loves the game they’re playing. That this is such a rarity you can
blame on the internet, but damn, FFXIV shows that it is possible and it isn’t
an inherent trait of online games to be dragged into toxicity. With some
considerate design, a vulnerable developer who shows deep care, and a community
that invests into the well-being of the game, and some heavily enforced social
behavior policies, every social interaction I’ve had with a stranger in this
game has at minimum been acceptable, and more often than not outright
enjoyable. What a treat.
I'm still only through the post-Heavensward quests, and got two more expansions to go before I get to the ACTUAL new one that released this year, but I'm plucking away at it here and there and having a good time.
Nurture - Porter Robinson [Album]
(Did I really put this right after FFXIV? Oh boy, get
ready for another wall of text)
Ok, so, I have a lot to say here, strap in.
This album surprised me, twice.
Porter Robinson’s previous album, Worlds, was a breakthrough moment for me, partly in how it fused EDM with a sense of 90s and early 2000s nostalgia (notably, not 80s), harkening back to early 3D games, soundfonts, anime and internet culture. It was so clearly Porter’s own influences worn on its skin, him breaking with his earlier electro history and making music he wanted to, and that music was about virtual worlds. That you could make popular music about that was a crazy thing to me at the time. Porter is about my age. He grew up on the same things I did, and it was clear through his music. He didn’t ask whether it was “cool”. He just did it.
And then he took a long, extended (depression-filled,
as he has spoken on lengths about after) break until he was ready to
release Nurture, his (to me) second album. And the singles came out over the
last year, and they were… good.
Not great. Good. Still Porter, but. More singer-songwriter-y, more mellow, more focused on the lyrics, less so on the epic, escapist soundscapes that was on Worlds.
So I became more and more apprehensive about this album, unsure it was what I wanted from Porter. It was very clearly what he wanted, that was obvious, but I thought maybe this was going to be a disappointment for me.
And then it came out. And I listened to it.
And it was all of those things. It is more focused on the lyrics. It is more pop. It is more singable and easy-going. It is softer, lighter. If Worlds enraptured you in digital space, this album feels like landing in a (synthetic) meadow (the cover is very apt).
And yet, there is also the other side. Because
listening to this album from beginning to end, he weaves all the soft songs in
and out with experimental, glitchy tracks like Wind Tempos and dullscythe,
which are both incredible. I was pleasantly surprised to see the old Porter
wasn’t gone, and he had in fact turned more
machine, more glitch. The juxtaposition was great.
And YET. I have to come to terms with the fact that I like the pop-y stuff on here too. In context, as a whole album, it is… impeccable. This album is the first time, perhaps in my life ever, that I feel the pull of the lyrics. I want to sing along, I want to shout these songs from rooftops, lie in the blissful meadow, forget for a bit. The songs here, like Look at the Sky and Something Comforting, are hopeful, joyous, idealist to the point of almost being corny, yet they just work. If you think about the lyrics too long, they seem silly, yet in the context of the songs, in the context of the album, in the context of what Porter is saying, it all works. It is not great lyricism, but it doesn’t have to be. Nurture is about the simple joy of screaming at the top of your lungs that you’re alive, and you remember happiness. It is corny, and that is its strength, because it is tethered by just enough reality that it remains genuine. Porter Robinson is so good at wielding nostalgia like a weapon and he knows exactly what it is and how it hurts. It is moored in just enough haunting sadness that the joy, despite its silliness, feels real.
And, man, can I also just talk about Unfold. Unfold is
one of those rare, rare songs that washes me away. The pitched vocals. The
cacophony, the absolute WALL of sound in the chorus, that great drum rhythm. The
lyrics that feel like they should be SCREAMED every time and are yet vulnerable. That feel impactful
to say out loud.
I was first surprised by what this album was. And then I was even more surprised that I liked it still, and yet, and because. I really thought I would not like this album. I’m very happy to be wrong, even if it was not in the way I expected.
Fuser - Harmonix [Game]
I’m breaking a rule here since I had Fuser on my last
year list, too, but it was such a late addition and I had a rather different
relationship to Fuser in 2021.
See, Fuser became almost a kind of creative outlet for me during the first half of 2021. I don’t play it “normally”, really, I just booted up Free Play with a random set of songs, and just… jammed for 20-30 minutes, with Audacity recording everything. I’ve ended up with 30 or so of these types of recordings, and I… like them. Like, I don’t know how I feel about this, it almost feels slightly narcissist to admit it, but I’ve put them on as background music, and enjoyed it. I’ve always enjoyed working to DJ mixes anyway, so this was just a sort of… self-curated mix. I made it sure, but really, all I did was put it all together.
It was both fun as a creative outlet to do, but also fun to listen back to while working.
Maybe I should do something with these mixes, maybe release them somehow. They’re just all, quite… messy, often. But maybe that’s fine. I dunno.
The future of Fuser is very uncertain now, with Harmonix being bought by Epic to do “musical experiences in Fortnite”, so maybe Fuser was just a lightning in a bottle even though it so desperately deserves the honing and iteration a sequel could give it.
Giant Bomb and Nextlander and Waypoint+ [Websites]
Also known as the Great Duder-shuffle (uh, no, no one calls it that), seeing 3 members leave Giant Bomb and start their own thing (Nextlander) at the same time as another set of Giant Bomb alums finally started Waypoint+, a subscription service to allow them to do the kinds of streams I’ve wanted them to do for years. All in the meantime, Giant Bomb has been reinventing itself into a new kind of video game website once again.
I’ve still not made my mind up about it. Nostalgic me still longs for the time when everyone was together back then (which, uh, never happened actually), but another part is also happy that there is so many ways to see these people now, and far too much for me to ever follow in one lifetime. Gonna miss Austin leaving Waypoint, though. Godspeed.
Dark [TV Series]
I had the weirdest, and yet perhaps the most perfect, viewing experience of Dark. If you don’t know Dark is a time-travel show about a highly nonlinear, intertwined plot that you’re discovering in several time periods that overlap and interconnect. And this is if you watch it in order. I watched it… nonlinearly.
My roommates started watching the show, and I didn’t
start watching with them at first, as I was busy at the time. Yet, one day I
was so done with work I just needed to go sit down and watch anything so I joined them in watching
the… 6th episode of Dark Season 1.
And then I skipped another episode and joined for episode 8, I think. Meanwhile, they were attempting to fill in gaps for me, being nice about explaining things as well as they could. And I had the fun interaction of them gasping or reacting strongly to the entrance of a character, and I could just say “uh, have we met this guy?” and they were going “what’s he doing HERE?!”
But by then, I was hooked, so I started watching with
them from season 2 onwards, and meanwhile, on my own time, went back to catch
what I missed from season 1. It fit oddly
well to watch it like this, and I don’t think my experience has been much
lessened by it. (Probably, don't start with season 3, though... That might be too much.)
Watching this show with friends is a great idea. We had a great time after every episode spending another 20 minutes talking it through and discussing what just happened and how it fit what we understood of the timeline. My favorite moment was when we freeze-framed the show on a giant family tree (you know the one) and just… categorically went through it, discussing all the implications.
Empires of Eve Vol II - Andrew Groen [Book]
I almost didn’t even realize the second volume to Andrew Groen’s spectacular recounting of the real histories of Eve Online had come out, but when I did I was very happy to.
The first book was a great start, recounting the early years of Eve’s expansion, where people were coming to grips with what kind of game you even could play when given an entire galaxy as your playground.
But this book is where things really start to take off, and we see the true beginnings of the stories that has since made Eve famous: Of huge, 1000-player battles across all time zones, historical grudges and personal betrayals with very real consequences. The second volume has some tremendous stories that both could only happen in Eve and yet feel like I’m reading the script of a political HBO sci-fi thriller.
Inside - Bo Burnham [Comedy Special]
I kinda already shared my opinions on this here. Most thoughts from that are still true, All Eyes On Me is still my absolute favorite moment. It is an existential horror show more so than a comedy special, and while most of the songs and bits I appreciate more than like, I still must admit that it’s a very good show that is an absolutely recommended watch for anyone who’s lived in quarantine for the past 2 years (which, uh, yeah). And, despite all my reservations, I still think regularly about “This Funny Feeling” and “All Eyes On Me”.
Euros [Football Tournament]
The Return of Physical Sports was heralded with the European championship in Football (real football) and it was, all in all, a pretty great tournament.
The Danish team had a special harrowing start with the horrifying collapse of our star player mid-match, and then a team that, after the initial shock, just shined regardless. The best football our national team has played since 1992, with a bunch of new, young players that will be a joy to watch going forward.
The Olympics also happened! They maybe shouldn’t have! But they did!
And I was very happy to find a Japanese TV website where, with a Japanese VPN, you could see all the sports, even those they didn’t air on live TV, and even somehow with English Commentary(?!). So I got to see a bunch of esoteric sports and matches that they’d never have the viewership for elsewhere, like 3x3 Basketball, Fencing, and the inaugural Climbing, and Skateboarding competitions (an absolute joy, just so many athletes who were just so happy to be there, regardless of outcome). The time zones made it all a little strange, but Olympics was still a great time as it is every time.
Stranger [TV Series]
Stranger is the best TV show you haven’t heard of. Ok, maybe that’s an overstatement, I don’t think it’s for everyone, but I love this show. It’s a slightly melodramatic yet earnest Korean crime show about corruption and backboard dealings, with a main character lawyer who’s too pure to even understand the concept.
It is slightly meandering in the beginning until halfway through the first season, where the main character is given a surprising (to him, and us) amount of power and agency. It’s a twisty tale with some conceits you have to accept to enjoy it, but if you can, it’s one of the most fun shows I’ve watched in a while. Absolute Bjarke-catnip.
The Great Ace Attorney
Chronicles - Capcom [Game]
I needed a game to play on my switch during my travels
and The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles released right on cue.
A reimagining of Phoenix Wright into an 19th century tale about law students visiting Great Britain, and uncovering the pomp and empire and corruption present. It’s very much still a Phoenix Wright game at heart, with the caricatures and the at-times frustrating deductive gameplay, yet with heard and care and joy in its presentation. It has a phenomenal and mildly infamous reimagining of
Sher--excuse me, uh, Herlock Sholmes as a bumbling
accidental genius that needs some serious
guiding to make his (oddly true) instincts make logical sense. Every time he’s
on screen it’s a joy.
Cold War Museum at
Stevns Klint [History Museum]
During my visit home to Denmark over the summer, we went to a Cold War museum that was pretty cool. An unopened bunker, that had been operational by the military and secret to everyone else until 2004, has now been opened for the public to see. You get to go into it, see all the hallways and equipment and spaces they lived and worked in, and it all is incredibly real because it was just 15 years ago. You can look out over the sea they were watching from that bunker and look at what they were watching too, spying for Russian warships coming in and out of the Baltic Sea, ready, at all times, to barricade them inside if they had to.
Remix) (DokeV Trailer Song) - Galactika, LUENA, TAK [Song]
Every once in a while, a trailer for a video game or movie comes along that you can’t take your eyes off. That, when it shows, the collective audience just pauses and asks what the hell they just watched. The trailer for “DokeV”, a strange-looking Korean… Pokemon? open world? breath of the wild? With middle schoolers…? Look, I have no idea what the game is because the trailer, while showing exclusively gameplay, didn’t actually tell me much because I and everyone else was too distracted by the song.
The song, later revealed to be “Rockstar” by Galactika * and LUENA, and more specifically the “TAK Remix”, which I believe has been specifically made for the trailer, is the most addictive K-pop song of the year, possibly the most addictive SONG of the year. It feels almost like an accident, a misassembled bop, and there’s nothing inherently original about it, but the bouncy production coupled with the faux-real-but-colorful visuals of the trailer just makes it, and I can’t even describe how. It needs to be experienced to be believed. Let the trailer take you on the ride that it is.
The Forgotten City - Modern Storyteller [Game]
A great year for time loop games! And this, a fanfavorite Skyrim mod turned into a fully-fledged game is no exception. Indies and AAAs alike have really discovered the power of looping stories and how well they work for games, and this was an interesting experiment in that vein (that was originally made before all the current ones, to be fair). I ended up being less enthused about it than some people, as it feels a bit more clunky than other time loops and the ending was outright disappointing, but the journey was still worth it and it has some great moments and revelations throughout.
Revisions - The Glitch Mob [Album]
Tired of not touring, I must assume, The Glitch Mob dropped a surprise album! And it basically feels like a live album too, just not played live. It is, as the name hints, a revision of their previous work, a mashup compilation, where they intentionally play with, reorder and mess around with their catalogue.
And I love a good mashup, so this is so perfect for me. And the straight mashups are cool, but there are some special highlights here where they go crazy, like the Mind of a Beast Remix and Skullclub X Bad Wings breakdown (and how it’s reversed in Bad Wings X Skullclub immediately after), that I just love.
I’m not even sure I’d recommend this to a new listener, though. I’d say go listen to Drink the Sea and maybe See Without Eyes first, to understand what they’re playing with here. So much of the joy of this album comes from how they’re mixing existing material, and a lot of it would be lost without that context. This feels like a fan-service album, and it won’t convince anyone who doesn’t like The Glitch Mob already.
It is also absolutely a live concept album in the sense that it should be listened to in order, in full. Skipping songs here doesn’t work, as every song flows naturally to the next like a well-crafted DJ mix.
Squid Game [TV Series]
Look. This is very stupid, but Ima say it. I, somehow, watched Squid Game before it was cool. The first day it got on Netflix, as I was on my way to watch a different show, I saw an ad for Squid Game on the top banner, before I’d heard anything about it, and immediately knew it was a show I had to watch. As a fan of Alice in Borderland and The Genius many other Asian “trap-people-in-a-place-and-have-them-solve-games”-media I was immediately sold.
And I was a little surprised to see Squid Game blow up as much as it did, because most of these types of stories stay fairly niche. But I’m also not surprised because Squid Game is fucking great, and accessible, and does really smart character-building to show how and why people would want to play in a game like this, and who benefits from it. It’s a show not just for weirdoes like me, but also for everyone else living in the current times.
Outer Wilds: Echoes
of the Eye - Mobius Digital [Game]
An expansion for my game of the year 2019? For, probably one of my top 3 games of all time?? Yes, please.
And it’s good! Really good!
…Not quite base game “Outer Wilds” good, but that’s an impossible bar. It manages plenty of “HOLY SHIT” moments the first game was so good at too, and manages to tie an on-the-surface disconnected story into the main plot of the game in a satisfying way. It both introduces entirely new, incredible ideas and maintains the core of what is great about Outer Wilds.
Me and a friend were playing through this at the same time, constantly sharing ideas, suggestions, asking for advice and tips and theories, which is absolutely the best way to play this game if you can find someone to do it with (or have someone who’s already played it act as a “blind guide”!) as it helps a ton to ease the frustration that did crop up here a bit in the DLC (which they supposedly are fixing some of but I haven’t seen it). There are a couple puzzles we felt we had to do the “hard” way and struggled a while with doing so, but it was still all worth it in the end. If you like Outer Wilds, you need to play this, no question.
If you haven’t played Outer Wilds yet then, excuse me,
but uh, something is, uh, what’s this note I f---
~~~~~~ PLAY OUTER WILDS ~~~~~~
Huh, I don’t know what that was doing there. Apologies.
Kastanjemanden (The Chestnut Man) [TV Series]
A little surprise from Netflix. A well-produced Danish Nordic Noir thriller in the style of the shows that made the genre. It’s haunting and well told and sinister, with enough heart to pierce. Hess is just a masterstroke of a character, a perfect accompaniment to the classic heroine in the main role. And it was also a great little Danish treat in the middle of my Californian Fall (just, uh, delayed, never-ending summer).
Age of Empires IV - Relic Entertainment [Game]
It has been SO LONG since a new, good, well-produced RTS has been released. It literally has been since Starcraft 2, in 2010. Starcraft 2 was a foundational game to me, a game that taught me a lot, but I have since drifted away from it in recent years. But Age of Empires IV, while not from a series that I’ve ever played much of back when it was popular, has managed to scratch all those RTS itches I haven’t felt since Starcraft 2. It’s been so fun to learn an RTS again, to practice build orders and understand counters, review replays and theorycraft solutions. It was exactly what I hoped I’d get out of Age IV, and it very much lived up to that promise.
I haven’t gotten (or will get) as much time to play it as I did Starcraft back in high school, but it’s okay. It’s still a great RTS that’s already been a great time.
Arcane [TV Series]
Netflix is really betting big on the video game
adaptations, huh? BOTH a Dota and a League show in the same year?! Ludicrous.
Anyways, I must admit, that while I like Dota more than League as games, Arcane is… a much, much better show than Dragon’s Blood.
It is a show I’d recommend to anyone into stylized fantasy, regardless of whether you care about League of Legends (I don’t!).
And it’s not just
a great show, it’s a confident show.
It is so bold, brash and full of swagger, with the constant
drops of hiphop and super stylized visuals to tell a strong story about class
struggle and cycles of violence. It took a lot of work to make this show and it
When a show is able to explain, in a single minute, a backstory of a relationship between two characters without saying a single word while also showing you some of the most engaging animated visuals since Into the Spiderverse, you know it’s a banger. Very impressive stuff. A very high bar for Netflix to set for themselves.
A Deadly Education + The Last Graduate - Naomi Novik [Book]
I’m such a sucker for the magical school trope. Very
original, I know.
But “A Deadly Education” is a great spin on it. It is, essentially, imagining what would happen if Hogwarts was constantly trying to kill its students. Not intentionally, just by virtue of there being hundreds of creatures that live of the magical energies of people and kids who haven’t yet learned to defend themselves are much easier targets than anyone else. And the school is just rather ambivalent about it. It knows the odds and so does every person there.
The main character is a great, complicated mess of teenage frustration, arrogance and empathy, as she struggles with the fact that she might have the potential to become the greatest dark sorceress the world has ever seen but can’t allow herself to become one.
I’m in the middle of reading the sequel “The Last Graduate” and it’s just as good as the first one so far, perhaps even better.
[LATE EDIT: Ok, so I devoured The Last Graduate over Christmas and I think it might be incredible?? I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read it. Absolutely in love with this world now. I'm jittery just thinking about it.]
Neo Geo’s 7 Year
Album Project [Album Series]
Neo Geo did release an album this year, but I’m not really putting that album on the list but rather the entire series. You see, Neo Geo has released 1 album every year for 7 years, in a self-announced seven-album series that was planned from the start as a 7-album series. From the moment I found it (at the release of the second album, in 2016) I’ve thought it was a cool project. And while the music has gotten… less interesting over time, it has still been an album release I’ve looked forward to every year. I would recommend going to listen to the original two albums more so than the newer ones (and also a lot of the albums has unfortunately been removed from streaming services, for some reason, so you can only listen to them all on bandcamp).
Inscryption - Daniel Mullins [Game]
From the moment we all saw the E3 trailer, and realized it was a Daniel Mullins game (of Pony Island and The Hex fame), we knew there was something up with this game. It looked like a spooky card game with impeccable style, but then you also… got up from the table? And walked around a house? And there was some recorded real-life video? And more spookiness?
Just managed to finish this before the end of the year, and it generally doesn’t disappoint on those promises. A clever card game that is able to reinvents its own tricks over and over again, and also a nicely teased narrative (that does end a bit too soon) that feels rewarding to uncover.
50 Years of Text Games - Aaron Reed [Blog]
This technically took place over the whole year, and so I’m putting at the end? Aaron Reed, a UCSC alum and text game expert, has done a blog series on the last 50 years of text games, with one game highlighted from every year since 1970. On top of the great historical record at display, there are some fantastic, surprising and insightful stories I had never heard of like Silverwolf (seriously, read this) and Achaea, and some great deep dives into how and why well-known text games worked and were important for their time. A very impressive amount of research has gone into each of these articles and they have been great to read throughout. Looking forward to the physical version coming sometime next year (I hope!).
(Disclaimer: Aaron was my roommate for the first 6 months of 2021. But regardless, it was great fun to follow along with this project both from inside and outside.)
And that's it! All the good things from 2021!
Ok that's not true. I missed a great many things. I've been busy with a PhD and... the, you know, the *wild gestures at everything*. That.
I did a bunch of research on Destiny (yes! Destiny has still been trucking along and honestly this year has been possibly its best year yet but its mostly a bunch of small, rich improvements that didn't fit in the above list) and "Perennial games" and finally got a paper published on it, which can be seen here (DM me if you want a copy). I did some very interesting and insightful classes, and met and talked with many interesting people, despite the partly remote work.
In personal triumphs, I taught myself how to read sheet music, which I'm still doing slowly, but I can look at a piece of paper and know what keys to press on a piano now. With time. But I'm very happy about that :D
There's sure to be some other things I did that I'm forgetting, but all things considered, 2021 was an alright year.
Here's to the next one. Stay safe out there.