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Jan 04 2017

Stuff of the Year 2016

A long list of stuff I liked in 2016

You miiight notice an odd word out there in that title. The last two years I’ve written up some Game of the Year articles around this time.

This year, I’m not doing that.

For two reasons.
First off, I simply didn’t play that many games that came out in 2016 this year. It’s weird, but I listed them up and I have barely finished any of them and the rest didn’t come out this year, so ranking them like usual felt off.
So I decided that fuck it, I’m not doing that. Instead I’ll just talk about the good ones I played.
The second reason is that this year has been… phoof. You know. So I wanted to hopefully bring some happiness by sharing the great things I found or that happened during 2016.

And more stuff happened than just games. And I want to talk about more than just games. So let’s do it.

Rules: I won’t stay long on each, and probably barely describe most. There are too many things to cover for that to make sense. I’ll just mention them, provide a link and maybe share a tidbit or so about what it is and what I think.

It’ll no doubt be an eclectic mix of a lot of disparate things, and I can’t guarantee you’ll like all of it. But everything on here is something I consider amazing, otherwise I’d have cut it. It’s my list. If anything sounds appealing, give it a go (or a listen, or a play, or a nice pat or something). You are also welcome to skip around if you are not interested in a category or item. You're reading it.

Sound good?

Let’s get on with it.
(oh yeah, also, within the categories, everything is roughly presented chronologically of when I discovered it, so you can follow my year in a strange way.)


MUSIC

Escape Artist - Zoe Keating [SONG. On "Into the Trees"]
A solo cellist making really wonderful soundscapes. I found it from The Witness Trailer [LINK], and immediately dug up the album. The whole album is great, but this song is spectacular.

program music II - Kashiwa Daisuke

Waters of Megalovania - BotanicSage (Toby Fox & Justice) [SONG]
A mash-up of Megalovania from Undertale and Justice’s Waters of Nazareth, and by far my favorite version of Megalovania. I love the repeats (uh, music terminology lacking) at 0:52.

program music II - Kashiwa Daisuke - [ALBUM]
Already wrote about this guy extensively here, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. This album is neoclassical electronica without the electronica. Songs to give a listen: City in the lake, Subaru.

Do Lab Coachella Mix - The Glitch Mob [DJ MIX]
Also wrote about these guys before, but a while ago. I’ve continued to listen to this mix all year, and it’s a magnificent return with remixes of their best songs from the first album “Drink the Sea”. Especially the last marathon starting at 52’ish of Animus Vox, Fly by Night, Warrior Concerto, Fortune Days (best version of Fortune Days!), and We Can Make the World Stop, is just so, so good.

Witcher 3: Blood and Wine Soundtrack - Marcin Przybylowicz, Mikolai Stroinski & Piotr Musial [ALBUM]
If you read last year’s Game of the Year, it’s no secret that I love The Witcher, and its soundtrack. And “Blood and Wine”’s expansion soundtrack is similarly amazing. There’s a climax in “On the Champs-Désolés” at 1:15 that just guts me every time.

Light of the Seven - Ramin Djawadi [SONG. On "Game of Thrones Season 6 Soundtrack"]
Yep, just that one song. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones, it’s the piano song that plays when Cersei… does her thing in the end of this season. Really nice piano track that complimented the action amazingly.

Seeing What's Next (Kevin Frey Remix) - Kevin Frey [SONG] (and a bunch of other stuff on the Rocket League Soundtrack.)
This song accompanied the “Neo Tokyo” trailer for Rocket League, and marked me starting to pay more attention to the music in Rocket League. And hey, this song is still really good.

Skin - Flume [ALBUM]
I continue to have a completely mixed relationship with Flume. Some of his stuff is fantastic, the rest is… a bit bland. This album is the same. The three tracks I’ll recommend are Numb and Getting Colder, Wall Fuck, and Helix, for having, potentially, the best intro I have ever heard. Seriously, if nothing else, listen to the first 1:30 minutes of this.

No Man's Sky Soundtrack: Music for an Infinite Universe – 65daysofstatic

No Man's Sky Soundtrack: Music for an Infinite Universe – 65daysofstatic [ALBUM]
The one thing I dislike about all the talk about No Man’s Sky is how quickly everyone forgot how amazing the soundtrack is. This is the reason to pay attention to this game, in my opinion, regardless what you feel about any other part of it. Songs: Supermoon, Red Parallax, Blueprint to an Old Machine.

Dayvan Cowboy – Boards of Canada [SONG]
I’ve heard the name Boards of Canada for ages (a side effect of hanging around electronic music subreddits for a while), so I knew this was a band with a lot of merit, but I never really caught onto them. This song, though, is phenomenal. The guitars coming in at 2:06 are just spectacular and round and wonderful.

Strobe - Deadmau5 [SONG]
Huh. Betcha that one seems out of left-field. Also, it’s a kinda old song by now. But I’d never really given it a listen until now. Heard some of the Radio version before and didn’t get what the fuss was about (and man, there is a lot of fuss about this song, so much is has its own subreddit). But the full version is actually fantastic. That slow, slow buildup.

Epoch – Tycho [ALBUM]
Tycho strikes again with his newest album, following similar sounds as Awake, but with both a more electronic and raw feel. It’s great. Phenomenal work music.

Mafia III soundtrack – Jesse Harlin and Jim Bonney [ALBUM]
A game set in 60’s New Orleans and nailing it with the music. Both the licensed soundtrack (which is star-studded to the brim) and the original score is spectacular at nailing the aesthetic. It’s old school Blues written for a video game.

signs from the past - films [ALBUM]
I described this as "dark fantasy melancholic Japanese electronica" in a tweet. Despite it's Kashiwa Daisuke mastering props, it came out of nowhere for me, and I really like it. Tracks to give a listen: snow in midsummer, kumioto, gentle rain.

Good Times Roll - GRiZ [SONG]
This one caught me like a whirlwind. A happy, soul-y glitch hop song that I’ve listened to a ton these past few months. And editing a video with it sure makes me listen to it a lot, too. And still liking a song after editing to it is a testament to a good song.

Watch Dogs 2 Soundtrack - Hudson Mohawke [ALBUM]
Another video game soundtrack to a game I haven’t played. When I saw this was created by Hudson Mohawke, I knew this could be special. And boy, just listen to the opening of the first track, Shanghaied. That choir.

The DOOM Soundtrack - Mick Gordon [ALBUM]
I’m not a big fan of metal, so I wouldn’t think this soundtrack would appeal to me. And parts of it are too metal, but when it goes and mixes it with the industrial grimy stuff it becomes wonderfully powerful. And seeing how it works in-game is just spectacular.


GAMES

(platform indicates what I played it on)

Rocket League – Psyonix [PC]
Breaking my rules to include this. Yeah, I’m still playing it. Obsessively. And they’ve continued to support it with fantastic (free) content over the year. This is my “I’ve got 5 minutes to kill”-game and my multiplayer focus at the moment. It’s practically taken over StarCraft as the game I play beside other games—even though I’m definitely worse at it than StarCraft.

I spent a lot of time bumping into a ball with cars.

Undertale – Toby Fox [PC]
Almost forgot about this one, played it so early in the year. But of course I liked Undertale. After all the crazy talk around this game I doubt I liked it as much as I could have had I played it in a vacuum—but I’d probably never given it a shot without. And I didn’t get the true ending but watched it on YouTube. That game does some really cool things, and I really admire it. However, I’m not sure I love it in the way other people do.

The Witness – Thekla, Inc. [PC]
Fantastic puzzle design, great visuals, wonderful atmosphere. A game I was playing intensely for a very short period of time. I still want to go back to it, but I never did. Had a magical moment where I printed out some of the puzzles and showed them to my parents and we solved them together.

Rise of the Tomb Raider – Crystal Dynamics [PC]
There’s something about the movement in these new Tomb Raiders that I really enjoy. Wish they were less Uncharted and more, you know, “Tomb Raiding”, but this one’s more of this than the previous one. So, Good. Really hope they’re ready to tackle some longer quiet sections in the next one. But that can be said about a lot of games.

Sunless Sea – Failbetter [PC]
Pair up “Fallen London”’s phenomenal writing and tone with a methodically paced sailing rogue-like and you’ve got a good combo. In this game I helped a group of rats take over an island and sold sunlight on the black market. If that doesn’t sell it, I can’t help you.

The Black Watchmen – Alice & Smith [PC]
An offline ARG spawned from the best parts of “The Secret World”. I wish I’d played this more, but the puzzles are not super well optimized for single-person play (by design, probably, since they were ARG puzzles), which makes it a tough game to keep coming back to.

The Beginner's Guide

The Beginner's Guide – Everything Unlimited Ltd. [PC]
This game blew me away. A game about someone exploring a friend’s games, and discovering uncomfortable truths. It’s possibly my favourite game I played this year. If you haven’t played already, it’s only 2 hours long or so, and well, well worth your time. Especially if you’re any kind of creative. I’m still thinking about it to this day.

Overwatch – Blizzard [PC]
Blizzard’s positive, bright team shooter. It’s solid, well made, and generally a really good game… that I didn’t play much. Not sure why, I just never fully clicked with it, and saw plenty others lose themselves to it in a way I just didn’t. I guess I was still too busy playing Rocket League.

Dark Souls III – From Software [PC]
It’s more Dark Souls. And that’s a-ok. It has one of the best “oh, I’ve been here before”-moments I’ve seen. Got stuck in a rut with it earlier this year, but now I’m finally starting to near the end and loving it again.

No Man's Sky – Hello Games [PC]
I mention this here not because the game is amazing but because the soundtrack is. You might say I already put that in the music section but seriously... Would I have wanted more? Sure. But if this game delivers on one thing, it is tone—and that’s not an easy thing to pull off.

Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – CD Projekt Red [PC]
Surprise! No. This might actually be my Game of the Year. And it’s an expansion. But with a playtime of 20 hours, full characters, plenty of sidequests and a region that’s plenty large to explore, this would have been accepted as a full game if it had released as such.

Fallout 4 – Bethesda Softworks [PC]
I already shared ample thoughts on this here and here. This game was made infinitely better by playing on Survival and not caring about the main quest. I had a great 30 hours or so like that, before mods began acting up and I moved country and then I couldn’t get all my mods working again.

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma – Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. [PC]
The conclusion of the strangest rollercoaster ride of a game series and a game I never thought I’d actually play (because it got cancelled a couple of year ago). If you’re interested, wait for 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward (the first two games in the series) to come out on PC (which I believe they were announced to be), and play those. These games must be played in order.

HITMAN – IO Interactive [PC]
I only played the first level so far, as I haven’t bought the full thing. But from this and Giant Bomb’s absolute glee and excellent coverage over this game, I’m already aware this is a good Hitman game. Excited to play through the rest. (I have since bought and played 1 more mission. It continues.)

HITMAN

Reigns – Nerial [Mobile]
Tiny mobile game about tiny decisions that govern a kingdom. You’ll reign, die, and become a new king in minutes, each year over in a single swipe. It’s effective.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate – Ubisoft [PC]
Playing this game while in London had a special appeal. Trudging around 1868 London while being able to walk around the exact same square the day after was a neat experience. Other than that, this is a competent Ubisoft Open World game.

Stardew Valley – ConcernedApe [PC]
I wish I got into this game more. I just haven’t been able to. I understand its appeal. I understand why some people love it. I just don’t think I’m the right type of person.

Firewatch - Campo Santo [Playstation 4]*
The star here is that I only played the first hour or two at a friends’, and haven’t actually played it through (yet!). But I’m already aware that I love what this game is doing, and really want to see the end.

Thumper and Overcooked – Drool and Ghost Town Games [Playstation 4][Playstation 4]*
In the same vein, I also only tried these briefly, but they are both fantastic.

Time Run, The Celestial Chain (Escape Room) – Time Run [Escape Room]
Said to be one of the best Escape Rooms in London, and I can see why. The production values in here are phenomenal and the puzzles are really great.

Leo’s Path & Kill M.A.D - Archimedes Inspiration [Escape Rooms]
Two phenomenal Escape Rooms I played this year. These ones (especially Leo’s Path) are very different from most Escape Rooms. They manage to tell a story throughout the game in a far more effective way than most Escape Rooms, and patter it through the mechanics. Leo’s Path is also a far more relaxed environment despite being a timed puzzle challenge, and Kill MAD has a really solid, twisted story and some excellent puzzles.

Bad News – James Ryan, Ben Samuel and others [Uhhhh.... Interactive Theatre?]
Huge caveat, I didn’t play this game at all. But since most of you can’t anyway, I’ll mention it regardless. Because this game is super cool. A social town simulation coupled with a real life actor, and you’re a mortician’s assistant tasked with informing the next of kin that a person died. It’s powerful, unique, and a great prospect for the future of Interactive Storytelling.


BOOKS

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
A classic by all accounts. Doubt I have to give this one much introduction. But I really enjoyed it. A book that is as in-depth about its murder mystery as it is its discussion of the ethics of laughter. Wonderful stuff.

American Gods – Neil Gaiman
I understand why everyone likes Neil Gaiman now. With Ocean at the end of the Lane last year, this and Neverwhere (further down), I can absolutely understand. American Gods is a fascinating depiction of mythology and America.

Empires of EVE – Andrew Groen
A book about stories that happened inside the revelatory, scary, insane game “Eve Online”. It has stories about the rise and fall of empires, leaders, juggernauts and individuals. It’s stories about war and diplomacy, about propaganda and leisure. It’s almost scary how well virtual wars reflect real ones.

Sword of Destiny and The Tower of Swallows – Andrzej Sapkowski
Witcher Books! More Witcher! I’ll leave it at that. Don’t read these first, as this is the second short story collection and book 4. But I will say that I really enjoyed both of them. Only one Witcher book left now…

Planetfall - Emma Newman
Recommended to me by a podcast, I bought this on a whim after hearing the premise. And what a premise it is: The first people to leave earth have colonized a new planet and they have found God’s City—which they now live at the foot of. What’s in there? No one has found out, and no one is willing to.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Of course I read this. It’s a fan-service-y add-on story that is mostly fun because it’s just… more Harry Potter. The story itself is a kinda bland and leans upon one of the weaker elements of the series, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t gobble this up.

Dresden Files 3: Grave Peril – Jim Butcher
I have tried getting into The Dresden files for about two years now. I read the first book, and didn’t really get it. Then I read the second after a while and still didn’t really get it. Then I read the third book. And now I’m starting to get it.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
I had bought this on sale about six months before I actually read it and had almost forgotten about it. But when I did I was in London and I realized that this book literally takes place in London. And it uses London fantastically, and is a joyous book well worth reading, even if you’re not in London.

Ghost Talkers - Mary Robinette Kowal
(She’s the one who recommended Planetfall). A book about spiritual mediums in WWI, using dead soldiers to inform them about the enemy strategy by talking about how they died. A clever premise and a great story.

Dresden Files 4: Summer Knight – Jim Butcher
Then I read book four. Now I get it.


FILMS AND TV SHOWS

(these are smashed together because I don't watch a lot of either. Also these things are impossible to credit inclusively, so I'll just be writing the creator/director :/)

Orange is the New Black.

Orange Is the New Black Season 4 – Jenji Kohan [TV SERIES, NETFLIX]
Holy mother of those last two episodes. Some of the best TV I have seen in… ever. A wonderful, deep, respectful look at race, women, prisons, and criminals. Also shoutout to Muddy Waters from LP (song) for its use in the final episode. Damn, that was effective. Whatever last season lacked, this one makes up for and then some. Best season by far.

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater [FILM]
Finally finished this trilogy. I watched it super slowly, but I really enjoyed all three of them. I was recommended them for the dialogue, and that is absolutely why you should watch. Clever, insightful, real dialogue between two people, following them through the better part of their adult lives, through three key snapshots.

Mr Robot season 2 – Sam Esmail [TV SERIES]
Mr Robot continues to be great—after a bit of a slow start to this new season, it finally started to pick up momentum again at the end and pull its wonderfully surprising twists and turns. One of the greatest single-track suspense cuts (I don’t know what to call it, the intercutting between different scenes to the same track of music. Cristopher Nolan does it a lot) I’ve seen.

The World’s End – Edgar Wright [FILM]
At first glance, not my typical movie, I thought. But I watched this because of Movies with Mikey (see below), and it surprised me how on point it was. If you don’t know anything about it, good. Watch it without spoilers. This movie goes places.

Stranger Things - The Duffer Brothers [TV SERIES, NETFLIX]
Yes. all the things are accurate. This is pretty darn great. An homage beyond just an homage to the 80’s, or at least, how we view the 80’s today.

Exit Through the Giftshop – Banksy [DOCUMENTARY FILM]
Another movie you should watch basically without spoilers. It’s a movie about Banksy—but not at all. It’s a movie about art and artists, about documentaries and creativity, about street art and the people who make it. And about the guy who decided to point a camera at them.


OTHER GOOD STUFF

(impossible to categorize stuff that nonetheless has shaped my year for the better)

Movies With Mikey – Mikey Neumann [YOUTUBE SHOW]

Hooh boy. This is the greatest thing on YouTube. Ok, maybe slight hyperbole, but this is the one thing you have to watch. And it’s only getting better. It’s a clever, insightful, groundbreaking show about movies that above all decides to be positive and celebrate what’s good. He only looks at movies he likes and only talks about what makes them great. And that is so, so refreshing in a culture where most movie shows on YouTube is about how many mistakes they make. Go watch this episode about The Force Awakens, or The Dark Knight, or Interstellar (which made me appreciate that movie a lot more), or read this article as it describes it far better. This is a must watch if you like movies (and I don’t especially watch that many movies, so go watch even if you don’t.

Monster Factory – Justin and Griffin McElroy [YOUTUBE SHOW]
Another YouTube show, this one about creating lovable monsters in video games, using the in-built character creation menus—and occasionally a little console hacking. However, the magic comes in in how the McElroy brothers create characters and stories through their creations, often intentionally breaking or subverting what the game wants them to do. It’s delightful.

Noclip – Danny O'Dwyer [YOUTUBE DOCUMENTARIES]
When Danny O’Dwyer left Gamespot I got a bit sad, as I had really enjoyed what he brought to the site (and Giant Bomb). But when I saw that this was what he started instead, all my worries went away. Noclip is a channel devoted to making in-depth documentaries about video games. And seeing the first two he’s put up, he’s setting a really high bar for himself. Can’t wait to see what he’ll bring in 2017.

London – British People [CITY]
It's a city. I like it.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology [MUSEUM]
This is a museum in L.A. about the strangest things. And I mean that both literally and not. It’s a really difficult place to explain, but the basic gist is that it’s a museum of technology that is no longer “technology” because it’s too old. Some of the most ordinary stuff they have is old theatre mechanisms and Pepper’s Ghost illusions. And then far, far, far weirder stuff. It’s really unexplainable. Just, if you find yourself in L.A., take a look. It’s an experience worth having. Mink described this place as “no matter where in the world you place this, it’d probably still be the strangest thing there.”

The V&A [MUSEUM]
The “Victoria and Albert Museum” in London is a museum I didn’t know of (which is probably more my fault than anything else) but it might be my favourite museum in the city. It’s primarily an art and design museum, but they do really great events and cool things to both modernize and keep the history intact. For example, the first time I was there they did a music event where a musician was up on a stage doing an interview and they had and actual mixer set up with pre-recorded tracks so you could try mixing things yourself (among a lot of other things). And the other time was for a game mini-conference where the whole museum was littered with different games—all in rooms with Renaissance paintings and art from all over the world.
So I don’t know if recommending it actually makes sense, since I’m enamoured with it because of my exact experiences, but it’s still worth a visit. And, it’s huge, anyway, so you’re bound to find something you like in there.

Waypoint – Austin Walker, Patrick Klepek, Danielle Riendeau, Danika Harrod and other Vice staff [WEBSITE]
This is a new gaming website started by (what I know as) previous Giant Bomb staffers Austin Walker and Patrick Klepek, who are two fantastic news reporters, editors and journalists who talk about video games. Which is not to forget Danielle Riendeau, and Danika Harrod (whom I didn’t know before this), and you have a dream team of writers for that place. It’s intelligent, funny conversations and articles about video games, and it’s exactly what I felt was lacking since Austin left Giant Bomb.

Friends at the Table – Austin Walker and Friends [PODCAST]
Austin Walker gets to be on my list twice, that’s how good he is. Friends at the table is a role-playing podcast, and it’s so, so good. I’ve known about it for a while, but never dipped in until recently, and I’m very glad I did. It’s collaborative storytelling at a very high level, and the stories they tell are fantastic.



So there you have it! These are things I loved this year. I probably missed some, forgot some, or otherwise misplaced some. I've no idea if any of it makes any sense, but it was fun to gather for me.
Do with this as you will.



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