2023 is already over and I barely got to write any blogs this year. Whoops, my bad. That doesn't mean I didn't do anything though (rather, the opposite). Maybe next year will be better but I shouldn't be making promises :S
Anyways, this blog is the usual drill from me, I will go through cool new stuff/media/experiences/things from the year that I want to highlight in one way or another. I can only guarantee that you will not like all of it.
The Crew - Thomas Sing, KOSMOS (Board Game)
It is always a bit of a challenge to find a board game that fits both with friend-groups and family, but I love when I find that perfect blend of simplicity in rules explanation and complexity of play that keeps them all engaged and myself interested. The Crew is a cooperative trick-taking masterclass that is as simple as any standard 52-card-deck game and has just enough mechanical complexity and wrinkles that it exciting to play turn after turn. Teaching this to new players and have them slowly realize all the possible ways you can communicate through the simple act of playing a card is a blast.
Alice in Borderland Season 2 (TV Show, Netflix)
As the sequel to the Japanese post-apocalypse death-game simulator that might seem like a more violent Squid Game (how, you might say), yet is altogether quite different, I was quite excited for this one. Alice in Borderland is significantly more… anime than Squid Game (if that makes sense) yet its game design is fun and its world building so much more zany. It doesn’t all make sense but that’s not really the point, it's a good (albeit bloody) time.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Obsidian (Video Game)
I was… getting hyped about Baldur’s Gate 3, okay (we’ll get there). But I had some years ago tried to play Pillars of Eternity 1 and bounced off it so hard I avoided the sequel for a long time, thinking that this series was just a little too… old school for me.
Oh, was I wrong. PoE 2 fixes all the problems of the first game and then some. Long, narratively obtuse and overwritten intro? Gone. Every conversation feeling like an exposition dump? Whisked away. Instead you are almost immediately placed in an exciting pirate adventure with a dash a mythological mystery story. The fact that this game has added turn-based combat also helped me a ton as I have never been able to wrap my head around old-school CRPG combat and this was so much more enjoyable for me to get into. I fell of it (because, uh, there may have been another CRPG this year, dunno if you heard) but I had a blast during the time I played it.
Video Games Are Bad (YouTube Channel)
This is a fun little very british YouTube channel that does short and incisive video games crit and its just a good time. Had a blast watching through his stuff and highly recommend it if you're into clever short video games essays.
The Atlas Paradox - Olivie Blake (Book)
Book 2 in the Atlas series about gifted magical teenagers being groomed for the protection of the secret Library of Alexandria is a fun, spiraling continuation of the first book taking the story in unexpected directions while keeping the core of the insanely strong six personalities that clash and combine and explode in emotional, guttural punches.
NewJeans (Music (k-pop))
This is a year late to anyone who in the know but I just this year caught onto NewJeans, and was kinda obsessed with Attention for a while. NewJeans is a new k-pop group that showcases why k-pop is cool. Breaking in with a new breakbeat-inspired 90s lo-fi sound with impeccable production and style and just owning it. No popular music sounds like NewJeans and yet they became the one of the biggest names in k-pop last year (and continued into this year as well). This came right around the same time as I got kinda deep into breakbeat and breakcore (those Ditto drums), and, uh, so here’s a weird ouroboros of information. When I shared a break core-inspired track I was working on with friends one said it reminded them of the Powerpuff girls theme. Which might sound funny until you realize that the Powerpuff Girls theme uses the AMEN BREAK which is the fundamental building block of pretty much all breakbeat, DnB, and jungle music. That NewJeans then this year made a collaboration WITH the Powerpuff Girls and theming their song around them was so funny to me. Just, wow, snake truly eating itself here and I don’t mind it.
Oh, and that they made the League of Legends Worlds theme “GODS” this year was just icing. It’s not a NewJeans song at all really and more just a League production they are singing on but it’s a fun time.
The Last of Us (TV Show, HBO)
I believe I said as this was airing that, if nothing else, it is fun to have a way to talk to people who never play video games about video games through this show. Several members of my family and friends who’d never play The Last of Us saw the show and we could have conversations about the story of Joel and Ellie (which I’ve written about prior if you’re interested wink wink) without needing to be comfortable with 3D joystick movement or owning a PlayStation. I don’t think the show is quite as good as the game (especially the ending is too rushed) but it is still a very well-made show and I can’t help love being able to share it with more people. Very curious to see how they'll do Season 2, though. They can't do the same thing the video game did, can they? Should they?
The Trojan Horse Affair (Podcast, Serial)
I’m a year behind (at least) on my Serial-produced podcasts! But hey. This one is a banger. Telling the story of a fake letter warning of muslim extremism in British schools, this story starts as a simple detective story and unfolds into nationwide uncovering of structural and persistent racism that switches the entire conversation on what the letter was about. It reveals so much about how our world is about the stories we tell rather than what actually happened. The slow unraveling into deeper and deeper depths starting from this single letter is fascinating at every turn.
Double Fine PsychOdyssey - Two Player Productions (YouTube documentary)
AAAA this shouldn't exist!!!
This is a documentary series about game development. However, that is selling so, so short how MUCH this show is about game development. This is recordings of seven years of embedded documentation of the video game creation process—how people start from making a game concept to how it is being crafted, iterated on, polished, changed, discussed, and shipped.
This might sound dull, or esoteric. It is anything but. The very real drama on display here is palpable as creative disagreements turn into office politics which turns into conflict and creative outbursts of joy and agony alike. It is wonderful and terrible and it most importantly feels honest. While the story naturally cannot tell the entire and whole story of six years even in its +30-hour long runtime, it gets so much in that you see how many little decisions and conversations bloom into so much more over time. You see failure and personalities clash and very real interpersonal conflict in ways that the outside world almost never get to see (for good reason). This show is something special. Had it been aired on anything other than YouTube it would have won awards, I am sure of it. It deserves it. It is a spectacular documentary show of collaborative creative processes and how they (don’t) work. If you have any interest in video game development, this is a Must Watch. If you have any interest in creative collaboration and how people make art together this is a Must Watch. I cannot get over how good this show was and I savored each episode.
Destiny 2: Lightfall - Bungie (Video Game Expansion)
Destiny once again continues to be the most complicated thing to recommend. This year had some of the highest highs and lowest lows. I honestly enjoyed my time with Lightfall a lot, despite its storytelling mishaps, but the story of the whole year has been great and it is a shame it is happening amidst everything around the game melting down. I am still playing it (for literal research) and still having a good time when it is at its best but I have played the game significantly less than any other year before.
Quest for Fire - Skrillex (Music)
This was the year I got into Skrillex? I’m as surprised as you are.
Look. I’ve always known Skrillex has made good stuff but it has always been mired in the whole stereotype of it, of the “bro-step” of his earlier stuff. This is how he became so derided by “proper electronic music fans”, and this is all largely bullshit. In my k-pop article I talked about how popularity should not disqualify you from appreciating its quality as popular music, and so I will now fully say that Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites is still an incredible melody and Bangarang has one of the most fun guitar samples in the world. But it was really when I last year gave “Summit” a proper listen that I fully accepted that Skrillex is just an impeccable producer.
And then, this year, Skrillex grew up. Finally rising out of the ashes of his boy-emo dupstep roots and releasing two whole albums of varied, eclectic yet throughout impeccably produced music. “Quest for Fire” and "Don't Get Too Close" deserve a listen just because I am sure there is at least one song in there for everyone. I don’t like all of it but I can wholly accept that he is one of the best electronic music producers of our time. Listen to XENA’s phenomenal drum work and sampling of Nai Barghuti or the viral bass of Rumble or one of my favourites Tears’s hilarious-yet-perfectly-placed Ocarina of Time sample, or the surprisingly addictive juxtaposition of drums samples on Still Here (with the ones that I came with) (which has a Porter Robinson credit and I'm pretty sure he made those other drums). While every song is different than the next on the entire album(s) every sound is so carefully weighted, every snare hit feels precisely as it should, no sound is out of place, not a single frequency out of line. Skrillex is truly showing here how much of a master he is.
OMG TBA - Skrillex x Four Tet x Fred Again… (Coachella DJ Set)
That’s a lotta letters. And they have some backstory of which I am going to give the shortest version possible. Frank Ocean was meant to play as the headliner at this year’s Coachella (the biggest electronic music festival) but after a horrid and lacklustre first performance, the show was cancelled for their second weekend. And so, the festival was there, one week away and without their closing act. So what do you do? You write TBA on the shedule and invite the dynamic trio of Skrillex, Four Tet, and Fred Again… to do… whatever they want.
And so the show “OMG TBA” was born. A magical happenstance surprise concert that the three men in charge had no idea they would be doing a week prior, on the biggest electronic music stage in the world. And this is not the most pristine, perfectly executed and technically impressive DJ set in the world. But it might be the best live show ever put on by Coachella? From moment one, where they play a recording of themselves being surprised that they are about to do this, and throughout its 90 minute runtime, they are having so much fun and it is infectious and they play with each other and the audience and weave in and out of songs they all love and put on such a show. The most magical moments are those you didn’t expect and this is one such event, and its was a joy to experience live (on a live-stream, I was not at Coachella). I made a joke to a friend this sounds like three guys playing Fuser and I mean that still in the best way possible.
King of the Castle - Tributary Games (Video Game)
King of the Castle is a unique little game that is best played on Twitch, with the streamer(s) being single characters in a kingdom of nobles each represented by a Twitch viewer. Viewers vote on new laws to enact to try to complete their teams’ agenda and the streamers working for or (as the Monarch) against them. Had a blast watching Waypoint and Friends at the Table play this.
Shrieking Shack (Podcast)
A “Harry Potter re-read podcast for lapsed fans” and one of the best ways to reflect on harry potter for anyone who grew up with it. As two millenials with the same childhood obsession with Harry Potter as almost anyone my age, they re-read the entire book series as adults and discuss its merits and its flaws with a modern sensibility and critical analysis of its themes and storytelling. They read the books in 2018-2020 and thus are also actively discussing JK Rowling’s public meltdown(s) and bigotry and legacy through her books. It’s insightful, funny and a great way to work through the huge and complicated legacy of Harry Potter and its deeply problematic author in this day and age.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker - Square Enix (Video Game)
I said last year, when I played Shadowbringers that I “got” Final Fantasy XIV now. It is still true that Shadowbringers is a great story on its own merits but Endwalker is truly where I get the Totality of Final Fantasy XIV. Rather than a remarkable single story, Endwalker manages to tie all the ends from the past 10 years of Final Fantasy XIV storytelling into a single moment and makes it all work, not just well, but perfectly.
There is a moment in this expansion that revolves around a song they played for the Introduction cinematic to Final Fantasy XIV which aired 10 years ago (!!) and yet it feels like the payoff happens RIGHT NOW as you are watching a character do the most dramatic speech you have ever seen put on screens which both creates a beautiful thematic cohesion across a 10 year-old story and also makes the title “Endwalker” crystallise into focus. Truly, a character telling others to walk has never been so impactful. Describing why that is so powerful would take a lot more words than I have here but if you played it, you know. One of the best moments of the year for me.
And Answers, the song that plays, is such a song.
Everything Is Going to Be OK - GoGo Penguin (Music)
GoGo Penguin delivers another great album of their signature modern rhythmic jazz with a little electronic flair. The title track is such a melody, it hits every time.
Honkai Star Rail - Mihoyo (Video Game)
I was ready to love this game. The style of Genshin married with Persona-style turn-based combat? Sign me up. And I did enjoy it for a little bit until it got too… gacha, I guess. And it’s not even like I think the gacha elements are terrible by definition. The idea of a more randomly party you have to work with is actually kinda interesting to me. The problem is that the solution to that randomisation is a lot of grinding. So I kinda stopped playing it pretty quickly, and I still say I wanna get back to it but I just never did.
Succession (TV Series, HBO)
After The Last of Us I was about to unsubscribe from HBO when they did the classic “how about you stay on at 50% off for 3 more months?” and I said, sure... I guess I’ll watch Succession, as that was just airing in its 4th season.
And Succession is just a really well-made TV show. Sharp, witty dialogue and scathing satire on top of toe-curling situations that makes you want to squirm about how rich people can be. But what I love about it most is its commitment to a sense of place. The episodes that all take place in the same location are typically the best ones, highlighting the strengths of the theater-like production. There’s an episode in a funeral that, despite the over-the-top wealth on display and grandiosity of that funeral—is the closest I’ve seen to any media depicting what it actually feels like to be at a funeral. The staggered arrivals, the awkward conversations where you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself, the processions and the lingering, the meeting of old family. This show is phenomenal at showing all the little details that make up any social situation no matter its primacy and it makes everything feel much more real. Everything else said the show is also true and had a blast watching it.
The "This Is How You Lose the Time War" Bigolas Dickolas" Saga (Book? But really twitter)
This is either going to make complete sense or be utter nonsense. But this saga was truly a spectacular swan song for Twitter, a reminder why the internet is sometimes a piece of magic. An unhinged recommendation of a book by "Bigolas Dickolas" on Twitter spread virally and turned a four-year-old niche critical darling time-travel story into an amazon bestseller overnight. Following the authors and friends on twitter during this time was truly a delight.
The book is pretty great, too.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Video Game, Switch)
It is beyond belief, honestly, that they could take the foundation of Breath of the Wild and turn it into this. Not because it is a surprising change: It is the same map and the same design philosophies, but where it would have been expected and even accepted if they had played it safe and built on the same kinds of powers that BotW offered, providing the same verbs and aesthetics, they instead decided that the best option was to completely reinvent themselves and throw in an unhinged crafting system and an entire physics-tool-building engine into their existing, very competent framework, and what is unbelievable is that it works.
Remap (Radio) (and the end of Waypoint) (Website)
There was dramatic irony to me that Waypoint, a website about video games I have been a huge fan of, was going to shut down on the same day as my PhD advancement. It was bittersweet, a moment of personal satisfaction harmonizing with a tinge of sadness. Turns out, the sadness was going to be the gut-punch that Blaseball was ending instead, but Waypoint? They relaunched as “Remap” and are doing essentially what they did before but with less admin oversight and more freedom to get weird. And I’m so here for it. Check them out if you are into incisive video game criticism with a leftist bent. After Giant Bomb is no longer the same (and no shade to the folks in charge now, it is just not the same) Remap is my new favorite destination to listen to video game chatter.
Diablo IV - Blizzard (Video Game)
My favorite moment with Diablo IV was, surprisingly, in the open beta, which I played right after GDC, in a delirious completely tired state after 3 days of intense socialising, and the mindless-yet-rewarding loop of Diablo was exactly what my brain could handle. Sadly, the full game kinda disappointed me and I never finished it as I kind of felt it ran out of steam before the end, and there was not enough new abilities and variety to keep me interested. I’ve never been a huge Diablo person, either so I’m not surprised, but the whiplash from my excitement in the beta to how little I actually engaged with the full game was a surprising.
MyHouse.wad (Doom Mod but also YouTube Video)
Just… watch this YouTube video. If you like anything like House of Leaves or good creepypastas or that viral 3D house tour from 2020 or fourth wall-breaking media. This is that… all wrapped inside a… Doom Mod.
I have never actually played it (and I don’t think I need to) as the YouTube video goes through the whole experience from barely knowing anything about what it is to discovering the slow rabbit hole alongside the viewer. It is masterfully told and conveys the experience of playing the mod just as well (if not better the mod does rely on the player understanding how Doom and Doom mods work).
Shelved by Genre (Podcast)
I’ve missed Austin Walker’s voice on a podcast since he left Waypoint (and A More Civilized Age doesn’t do it for me, I’m not enough of a Star Wars fan, sorry), so when Ranged Touch—a terrific podcast series—announced they were doing a book podcast with Austin, I was in before they said anything else.
The fact that they’re reading dense genre fiction and digging into it with critical fervour and excitement is all the better. I would have never read The Book of the New Sun (a book series described by Cameron essentially as “Dark Souls of Fantasy books”, unironically) if it wasn’t for the fact that they are able to decipher and decode the dense and multilayered and intentionally obscure fiction that takes place. And it is such a wonderful book series when you are able to parse that that I am thankful for the experience.
I will admit, I only saw Barbie after it was out of cinemas. I’m sorry! But the media event was the media event regardless and it made both movies more fun that they were part of it.
I was already a huge Nolan fan (surprise), and this one might be my favorite of his. Oppenheimer is so good I was antsy about having to wait until NOVEMBER to be able to see it again. I have listened to the soundtrack so much this year (it is amazing writing music, seriously). It is such a densely packed marathon of a movie that is 3 stories in one, all masterfully told and with Nolan showing a metaphorical side he rarely shows (that speech scene, damn).
The Barbie movie is pretty good too! That Greta Gerwig was allowed to make this movie by Mattel is kind of crazy. And yet it manages to straddle an incredible line between criticizing what Barbie is and celebrating it, being at an ironic distance and being an incredibly personal and warm story.
Baldur’s Gate 3 - Larian (Video Game)
What more is there to say about Baldur’s Gate 3 at this point. This was my most anticipated game this year after Divinity 2 showed how great Larian is at making these kinds of RPGs. With the expertise and financial success of that game this was bound to be a hit. But THIS MUCH of a hit? A mainstream, Game of the Year-Winner hit? I had no doubt it was going to be a wonderful, rich narrative RPG, but THIS MUCH of one?
And outside of that, what an absolute triumph of a game. Just Larian knocking out home run after home run in the densest-and-somehow-also-most-sprawling RPG ever made. Every little incidental event feels like it has the same care as the biggest of battles. Every character feels present and alive. Every quest feels like it could unfold in five other ways than how you did it. And everything feels considered and hand-made and masterfully crafted.
Baldur’s Gate 3 was almost the only game I played between July and October and I enjoyed every moment of it, and I still want to jump right back in and do a second playthrough (but I am waiting for more updates and/or giving myself a chance to… play other games haha).
The Witcher Season 3 (Netflix)
I continue to be a Witcher fanboy and watching this show and overall enjoying it for the vibes if nothing else. I think they handled the big party pretty well in this season (and that really was the stand-out moment of the book) but otherwise it felt like a weaker season, and I'm worried about the future after Cavill's public departure. I'll probably still be watching until Netflix inevitably cancels it because I can't help myself enjoy Witcher, even when its less great.
Led by Ancient Light - KOAN Sound (Music)
HOW DID THIS ALBUM COME TO BE. KOAN Sound used to make technical D&B-infused albums with ridiculous bass sounds called “Funk Blaster”. How did we get here.
This is my favourite album of the year. Bar none. One of my favourite albums in a long, long time. It is majestic and wonderful and cinematic and lush and spectacular.
The thing is, I kinda suspected they had it in them. Songs like View from Above and Starlite showed what KOAN Sound were capable of when they were not so busy making the most intricate soundscape in the world and just used some of those skills to make… music. Polychrome was good but didn't stick for me. Well, turned out what they needed was a little bit of thematic cohesion. The story told about this album was how they wrote a narrative first and then fitted the music to it, each track telling a chapter of that story (already targeting me here). They then recorded piano and cello (haha, please, as if they weren’t making an album only for me already) playing and used those recordings as samples to build upon, creating everything from brash DnB to complex electronic to cinematic scores (stop) to soothing cyberpunk jazz (ok, curveball). This album is a tour de force of sounds and emotions, carrying an entire science fiction story without a single word. Although you can read the story if you want, I have never felt the need to. The music tells it entirely and perfectly. It still has all of KOAN Sound's absolutely mind-flaying (see what I did there) production that they have always had but now it has been married to an emotional core that shatters me. I do not think this album is for everyone (because it is for me, exclusively) and it is somewhat a demanding listen. But if you can get into it, it is one of the most rewarding listening experiences you can have, I promise.
Tracks to check: Really, this is a “concept” album in the purest sense. You should listen to it in full and only in full. That said try Ascension or Temple of Fervor which work well as standalone tracks. Or listen to Voices of Dissent, a track made entirely out of the recordings of a cello—which is unbelievable. I mean literally I cannot believe that is a true fact.
The Bear (TV Series, Hulu)
The greatest thing about The Bear, outside of its much-lauded visual storytelling, naturalistic dialogue and spectacular depictions of work in a kitchen and the service industry, is its immaculate pacing. The Bear, while often intensely stressful and heart-achingly tense in its kitchen sequences with constant cross-talk and shouting, knows the power of contrasting that to equally intense yet entirely quiet, somber conversations between two people without a single cut. There’s a moment in one of the first episodes where, after a big fight, it lingers on a guy talking on the phone in his car for at least 3 minutes, uncut, as we watch half a conversation we intensely feel we are not supposed to be listening to. If you feel that a show like this is too stressful for you know that the stress is there for a reason and it will pay off. And when it does it works so, so well.
I also cannot add anything new to the heaps of praise at the duo of episodes in Season 2 "Fishes" and "Forks" which stand as some of the finest pieces of individual television episodes ever shown on screen---and the contrast between them is so immaculate, showcasing that exact ability to pace between the most stressful family drama to the most heartwarming quiet conversations.
Andor (TV Series, Disney+)
The combined hulu+disney+ subscription to watch The Bear and Andor might be the best 2 months of any subscription service I have done in a while.
A few year late to the party on this one, but what a show. I got so turned off from Star Wars after Rise of Skywalker and the tv explosion that I had no interest in watching Andor for a while. It’s a good thing that Andor can be watched entirely without caring about Star Wars. It is just one of the best sci-fi shows in recent memory, a show about rebellion, radicalisation, and the complacency and contradictory nature of empire. The prison arc in the middle of the show is such a spectacular story arc, and the ending is so good. I will admit I was a little less excited in the beginning as I'd heard so much hype about it and didn't quite see the fullness of that praise, but the further I got and the more I’ve sat on it, this show has only risen in my estimations (and listening to AMCA’s episode series about Andor afterwards was a treat).
The Last Express - Jordan Mechner, Broderbund (Video Game)
I’ve been doing some, uh, train research (for a thing I’m making, I won’t talk about too much, yet) and this is a game I’ve known about for a long time. Now I had a solid excuse I went to go check it out despite it being an obscure, difficult-to-play 90s adventure game. And yet, what a cool game. Running entirely in real-time in a simulated journey of the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul in 1914 where characters move in and out of their cars to eat dinner at respective times and have one-time conversations you can listen in on if you’re in the right place at the right time. Ambitious, not always for the better, but impressive and very cool.
Also late to the party on this one but what a great sequel to an amazing movie. Still upholding the same quality and style and not just expanding on the story in predictable ways (but also doing that) but also creating a new story within that framework that feels earned and believable. The focus on Gwen in this movie served it greatly as it really in many ways was her movie, and this is also why the ending is totally fine with me: Her story ended in this movie. The third one is for Miles (or maybe it'll actually be for Miguel). And truly, the last 20 minutes of this movie is a masterclass in setup and payoff. I don’t care that I have to wait 2 years to find out what happens next.
Pretty Lights Live Streams (Concert Live streams)
Pretty Lights made Color Map of the Sun in 2013, one of the best sample-based funk/hiphop albums of the last 10 years, and then… vanished off the map. I’m not super privy to the reasons but I know it was not a great time for him. So I had half expected to never hear anything from him again until I suddenly got a YouTube recommendation for a recorded live show he’d done… a few months ago? I click into the YouTube channel and find at least twenty other live shows from the past months. And a link to a twitch stream where he contiues to do them?! Turns out, the whole year Pretty Lights is back, touring with a band, doing DJ sets with live instrumentation across the United States AND streaming every single one live to twitch, and they’re all being recorded and archived. How cool. They are great funky background music for any kind of activity, and there's so many of them you can always listen to a new mix.
A second good website about video games spawned in the same year?! Unbelievable. Aftermath is an entirely worker-owned games media website publishing high quality articles and criticism about games and the industry, run by some of the veterans of the business. Great stuff.
Teamfight Tactics: Remix Rumble - Riot (Video Game)
Ever since I realized how much my brain likes drafting I have been kinda wanting to get into Teamfight Tactics more, as it is essentially a drafting game I have really been enjoying it. But then, when they announced this new set is all music themed with dynamic music changing based on who is on the board and you basically are pinpointing your game at me, the Fuser enjoyer. This set has been so much fun to learn that I started watching streams of the game too, culminating in me watching the Vegas Open tournament, and I honestly did not expect TFT to be much of a spectator sport but that finals was so much fun, with the grand final turning and twisting and leading to several super close games.
Runback City - Zaid Tabani, AlexV & Mega Ran (Song)
I’M TOO RISKY TO LET THE COMEBACK HIT ME
this is the most hype song I’ve heard in ever
A brilliant loveletter to the FGC. It was played at EVO before the Street Fighter VI finals and apparently people stood up and cheered when the Bison speech and Guile drop hit. I believe it.
The Devil’s Plan - Jung Jong-Yeon (Korean Reality Game Show, Netflix)
I never thought this would happen. The Korean TV show The Genius ended in 2014. The greatest reality tv game show of all time, required viewing for anyone into game design and an amazing run of 4 seasons, and that was it. Nothing else has felt the same like it.
So when a friend casually drops a link to the fact that Netflix has produced a new reality show with a similar premise made by the same creator I lost my shit. I was so excited I had to very deliberately pace myself to one episode per day to contain it. I had to physically move around after some of these episodes with how excited I was. It's SOO GOOD. The Devil’s Plan is right on Netflix, its 12 episodes of exciting games played by clever people. The game design is, like The Genius, fantastic and it is a joy to see these people work through learning a new ruleset on the fly to immediately find the best way to break it, using political metagames for their advantage.
Read this if you want more of a description of The Genius which will give you a good idea of why The Devil’s Plan is so cool. But, unlike The Genius, The Devil's Plan is also possible to watch without jumping through hoops, and it gives me hope that something like this can exist on Netflix.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty - CD Projekt RED (Video Game Expansion)
Cyberpunk is a complicated video game. So much potential and some of it lives up to it, but even the functioning version of the original game had its flaws. They fixed many things over the years but I never quite had the energy to go back until now. I still didn’t play through the whole game but it is now a much more cohesive game if nothing else. The Phantom Liberty story takes a little while to get truly interesting but when it gets there it’s great stuff. Enjoyed my time with it a lot. Some of the later missions have incredible cyberpunk setups and deliver on them. It also helped the combat is much more fun now and I had a fast-moving knife-throwing ninja build that made me a little sad I wasn’t playing through the whole game just to do more of it.
The Finals - Embark Studios (Video Game)
Throughout the year, The Finals has been teased in small closed and open beta periods where, each time, me and my friends would go feral playing it as much as we could. The Finals is the most exciting shooter experience since I got into Siege. The combination of tactical teamplay and large-scale map movements that echo just enough of a Battle Royale with a fraction of the downtime, combined with the intense 3v3 shootouts filled with the utter chaos caused by the complete destructibility of the environment. Truly a blast to play.
One Piece (TV Show, Netflix)
Managed to sneak this in in the same month I had subscribed for Devil's Plan. The live-actor adaptation, that is. I knew little about the original anime but this show was a pretty good time! Fun pirate adventure story with some great gags and surprisingly effective storytelling.
Chants of Sennaar - Rundisc (Video Game)
I’m not very far into this but I already know this is a video game for me. A logical deduction game about reading languages that is a surprisingly functional mix of Return of the Obra Dinn and Heaven’s Vault — if that makes sense at all. Looking forward to playing more of this.
The Old Oak (Movie)
Last minute addition! Went to see this movie yesterday and it's great. Real, nuanced look at an old British mining town when immigrants arrive and the tensions that bring when they already have nothing left in the town to live for, all through the perspective of a pub-owner caught in the middle. Wonderfully honest, brutal, sad and heartwarming all at the same time.
And that's it! The whole year. Damn, that went fast. I wrote so little for this blog but it's not because I didn't do anything. I advanced my PhD! I went to Narrascope in Pittsburgh, CHI PLAY in Canada, and ICIDS in Japan! I went to Yosemite! I went skiing! I started working on the most exciting game project I've worked on in a long time and I cannot wait to talk about it. And I wrote a bunch of papers for said conferences and made much progress on my PhD which is all why there has been so much less activity on this blog.
I should try to get back it blog next year, but again, we'll see what I actually get to. It'll be a busy year once again, so let's see. But hopefully an all right one.
I also really got into making music this year and actually produced a number of tracks I'm quite proud of yet I haven't shared them anywhere because I keep wanting to make a proper music section on this website and not getting around to it... Hopefully that'll happen soon, because a whole bunch of my creative energy this year has been going to that and I've really been enjoying it.
Top Artwork from the album Led by Ancient Light by KOAN Sound, made by Eelco Siebring.