Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year in Review

In a word, 'phew'.

2008 was the year in which a number of things happened to me for the first time:

  • The realities of owning property sunk in for real (building work and numerous DIY projects throughout the year which I became more involved with than my inner ostrich felt comfortable with).
  • I was made redundant.
  • I started a company.
  • I turned 30.
  • I won a pub quiz (the marvellous Bigger Boat film quiz).

Despite all of the 'real stuff' above, it was also an excellent year for rectangles - my new catch-all term for games, books and DVDs (although strictly speaking, rectangles applies only to the physical forms of media, and it was also an excellent year for ethereal media too). Here are some of my favourite things of the year:

Favourite Video Games of 2008

  1. Left for Dead (Xbox & PC): The best co-op game ever? It has that most powerful of rules in co-op: if one person screws up, you all die. And then it does everything in its power to get you to work together so you can keep each other alive. And Expert mode is incredibly hard, and yet I still want the achievements for finishing. Oh. and being a Valve game, all the things about Valve games are also true (world-class animation, voice acting, art direction, sound design etc).
  2. Braid (XBLA). Because it made me think real hard (about playing it and about making games), and the art and music is lovely.
  3. Loco Roco 2 (PSP): Hurrah for Pikmin 2 style sequels - don't change anything of the essence, just make more of it and add a bunch of features. This game contains some of the highest quality nonsense ever, in any medium.
  4. Geometry Wars 2 (XBLA). A Super Pure game. I'm fairly rubbish at it, but that didn't stop me playing it repeatedly, trying to beat Ronny and Bambos.
  5. World of Warcraft (PC): Yep this is still here. I went through Burning Crusade early in the year, and a very happy few months I spent doing it. I plan on following the same pattern in '09 with Lich King (really didn't have the time for it this year).
  6. Professor Layton (DS): Fairly uncontroversial choice this. Is there anyone who doesn't like this game?
  7. Res HD (XBLA): I've owned every version of this, but this latest one made me very happy (or maybe it was just my tv is the best its ever been).
  8. Fl0w (PS3): I spent a delightful couple of hours collapsed on the sofa going through this in the early hours of the morning. An audio-visual treat, albeit a short one.
  9. World of Goo (PC): best game of its type - I reckon I enjoyed this more than Armadillo Run
  10. Boom Blox (Wii): Best use of a Wiimote so far.
  11. Castle Crashers (XBLA): yes, admittedly its just Golden Axe with funny pictures, but I kind of like Golden Axe, and the pictures are very funny.
Apologies to: Little Big Planet, Dead Space, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect for not having gotten around to playing you yet x

Biggest Gaming Disappointments of 2008

Fable 2 - fell deep into the uncanny valley and never came out, with its terrible Poser manniquins and dialogue ruined by ham and lag. Also the way you can just teleport around the map, or follow the idiot-pandering glowing trail around, neutering the whole 'wide open world' thing. Having said that, I will probably finish it nonetheless, cos it's actually not rotten to the core - in fact perfectly enjoyable if you switch off your brain and don't worry too much about the flaws.

Spore - I *loved* the first 2 chapters where you turn a cell into a tribe of walking, talking, dancing creatures. Then it became a third rate RTS game, EVEN if you made the pinkest, dancingest, fluffiest creatures you could. I never made it into space.

Favourite Music of 2008

Been a bit rubbish at music this year: my walks to work have largely been dominated by something else, and I've found it hard to listen while trying to concentrate on other things. Sorry music!

The Vampire Weekend album
The Fleet Foxes album
The David Cronenburg's Wife album
Estelle - American Boy
MIA - Paper Planes
MGMT - Kids
The Ting Tings
Nick Cave
Jens Lekman live at All Tomorrow's Parties
Metallica live at the O2 (thanks Ben)
Listening to 6Music (and discovering things like Chairlift, The Noisettes, Florence and the Machine and Ladyhawke)
Playing in Satan's Cock

Favourite Books of 2008

I didn't read that much in 2008, though the highlights are below. What I did do - and surprised myself in doing it - was get addicted to Harry Potter. I started listening to Stephen Fry reading the first book on a whim, but before I knew it I was hooked, and spent my (40 minute) walks to and from work gorging through the rest of them, until I finished the last one in November, whereupon I went right back and started again (you know - for some 'perspective').

The first 3 or 4 books are definitely guilty pleasures - the writing isn't fantastic and the plots are fairly formulaic. What JK Rowling does so well is write characters and build a coherant world around them. And she seems to know where the series is going from very early on, and sews a number of things into each book which seem irrevelevant within the context of that book, but become important later. This means that although the early books seem a bit slight, the series builds to a proper good climax - I'd describe the final book as a masterpiece of its genre. Harry's world was where I did most of my escapism in 2008, and I never suspected that would be the case.

The other books I enjoyed this year were:

Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Favourite Films of 2008

There Will Be Blood
Happy Go Lucky
Son of Rambow
Margot at the Wedding
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
In Search of a Midnight Kiss

Not seen yet but want to:
Wall-E, Ponyo on the Cliff, No Country for Old Men, Synechdoche, New York, Burn After Reading, Horton Hears a Who, In Bruges, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Man on Wire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Persepolis, Somers Town, Waltz with Bashir, The Wrestler

Terrible Rubbish that made me want the time back:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Faded Dreams,

Favourite Sport of 2008
Does walking to and from work every day count? If not, then Climbing, without a doubt. I think 2008 will be the year I finally abandon the gym forever.

Favourite Television of 2008

Not a big year for telly for me. Haven't dived into The Wire yet, but will in 09. Missed Dead Set. Hated Gavin and Stacy.

Survivors on the BBC was very good.

RIP Oliver Postgate

I love your television programmes.