Everything Easy is Hard Again →

As someone who recently had to return to the world of frontend web design for the first time in ~10 years, my experience was not particularly great.

Here’s Frank Chimero:

That breaks my heart, because so much of my start on the web came from being able to see and easily make sense of any site I’d visit. I had view source, but each year that goes by, it becomes less and less helpful as a way to investigate other people’s work. Markup balloons in size and becomes illegible because computers are generating it without an eye for context. Styles become overly verbose and redundant to the point of confusion. Functionality gets obfuscated behind compressed Javascript.

This is one of the best things I’ve read about the current state of web design. It’s not really an old-man-yells-at-cloud nor a wistful reminiscence. It’s a manifesto for diligence.

Solo a Star Wars Story

You probably didn’t notice, but I deliberately avoided talking about The Last Jedi last year. And not because I didn’t have things to say about it (I do), but because there was too much noise around it and people seemed to be taking it all extremely personally, to the point where telling people you thought the film was fine was functionally equivalent to saying “it was the worst film in the world and you are a bad person for liking it”.

Now we’ve all calmed down a bit, let’s talk about The Last Jedi for a moment, shall we? I watched it again in Ireland over Christmas and stood by my assessment of “fine”. It’s got a great start and a great ending, but in between – the entire middle stretch of the film, basically from Finn waking up until the scene in the throne room1 – is extremely poor. It’s boring, it doesn’t do anything to advance the plot. In fact, at points, you can even detect a whiff of the prequels, which is not a favourable comparison.

I saw The Last Jedi twice and twice I came out feeling disappointed. Not because I’d seen a bad film (it was fine, remember?) but because I’d come out of a Star Wars film and wasn’t feeling giddy and excited. It didn’t give me that feeling of having seen something really great. The last time I remember walking out of a film feeling that sense of deflation was probably Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull2 - another film with all the basic ingredients of a thing I love with my whole heart but which just didn’t have that ineffable quality that worked for me.


The teaser trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story was released last week and I guess I should lower my expectations for what a “Star Wars” film means to me. I mean, I’m not saying it’s all bad. There are some amazing images in there – a Star Destroyer coming through a storm cloud, Han under the Millennium Falcon in a smokey haze – and you know what? All those reports about the studio hiring an acting coach for Alden Ehrenreich don’t worry me because that one little nod during the “It’s fine” moment in the trailer is such a perfect touch of Han Solo that I’m convinced the “acting coach” was probably more likely an “acting like Harrison Ford coach”.

But almost everything else about this trailer suggests a film that I could easily, happily skip and miss nothing. The whole “kicked out of flight academy” shit makes me think that there’s a solid chance the entire film might be an attempt to replicate the “Greedo shoots first” scene for providing unnecessary, shitty character motivation and, in doing so, make the character less cool.

I dunno, I’m sure the film will be fine.


  1. You like how spoiler-free I’m being here?
  2. There’s probably a deeper comparison to be made between The Last Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but that’s probably for another post.

Best Games I Played in 2017

Best Games I Played in 2017

As is customary with these posts (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), it’s worth mentioning that this is based on an incomplete sampling. There were so many games released in 2017 that I never even touched. For example, Horizon: Zero Dawn launched the same week as Zelda and there was no fuckin’ way I could handle two of basically the same game without putting a bit of distance between them1. With all that in mind, these are the best games I played in 2017.

Golf Story

To be perfectly honest, I spent a good portion of 2017 in a fairly shitty place. Not exactly a dark place, but it got pretty gloomy at times. Golf Story was exactly what I needed. A golf RPG that doesn’t care too much about either the golf or the RPG parts of its own game, it just wants to be entertaining. At one point in the game, the action pauses so that two groups can throw down in a rap battle. This game does everything it can to be fun and entertaining and that’s no bad thing. Also, let me tell you a little story: around 75% of the way through the game, I made a series of bad decisions and silly mistakes and ended up accidentally deleting my save game. I immediately started up a new game, no question or hesitation.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

I thought I was done with Assassin’s Creed games, but I guess not. Pretty early on in my game, I saw the pyramids off in the distance and decided that’s where I was going to go. I traveled across the desert, ignored all of the rest of the world and the game just to get to them. You know that bit in Lawrence of Arabia where Omar Sharif’s character makes his entrance? That’s what it felt like - like I was seeing that scene from Omar Sharif’s point of view. Because of this and thousands of other moments like it, Assassin’s Creed:Origins was more special than I ever expected or that it had any right to be.

What Remains of Edith Finch

There are some parts of Edith Finch that work better than others. The part with the scream-queen daughter was cute and I see what they were going for, but it felt a little too dorky for me. Having said that, when this game hits, it hits hard. Narrative and mechanical inventiveness are important qualities when making up lists like this, but more importantly, it’s the little moments that connect, that hit you in places you didn’t expect, in ways you didn’t expect. In Edith Finch, it was the bathtub section. Before it even started, I knew exactly what was going to happen and they handled it so perfectly that I was a mess of emotions after.

Stories Untold

Why aren’t there more games like this? Collections of short, idiosyncratic games based not around a theme as much as based around a feel. I started playing this thinking I’d give it a few minutes and ended up staying up waaaay too late just to see what it was going to throw at me next.

Everything

Like What Remains of Edith Finch, I think I was just in the right place — psychologically, emotionally, spiritually — to appreciate Everything, a game that tries to show the interconnectedness of, well, everything. Like if Alan Watts made a video game. If this sounds twee to you, I can totally understand giving it a wide berth. For me, it was the most ambitious game I played in 2017. And the one I needed most.

Gnog

Gnog is such a beautiful, hypersaturated, delightful toybox of a game that I played through it in one sitting, and had a great time. And then I immediately played through it again in VR and had another great time.

Super Mario Odyssey

I’d love to be all high-minded and talk about how this is a distillation of everything Nintendo has learned over the last 30-odd years of making Mario games. About how it’s the pinnacle of platform games. About how it reinvigorates Mario as a franchise in a way we haven’t seen since Mario 64.

But really, it was just Mario’s dance in New Donk City that did it for me. The moment I saw that, I knew I was in love with this game.

Doki Doki Literature Club

While I was playing this game, I was terrified someone would come into this room and see what I was playing. I was terrified they’d think I’d spent too much time on Tumblr and developed some new kink for anime waifus with ridiculous tits. But once I’d finished the game, I immediately wanted everyone else to play it too, ridiculous tits and all. It’s shockingly clever and cleverly shocking, pushing its engine (RenPy) to its limits and breaking the fourth wall like I’ve never seen it broken before. And it’s completely free, so give it a go.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If I even have to explain to you why this is on my list, then I guess we don’t know each other at all, do we? (Also, remember, Zelda is the name of the boy).


  1. I’m playing it now though, and I can say that, three hours in, it probably wouldn’t have made this list for 2017

The Polybius Conspiracy →

The Polybius Conspiracy is a series of podcasts from Radiotopia’s Showcase, and it managed to tickle so many of my pleasure-points all at once. It’s urban legend meets conspiracy theory meets creepypasta. And it’s terrifically well told.

I Love Spoilers →

I’m genuinely bothered by the rise of spoiler culture, where any talk about a piece of pop culture – even just mentioning the name – causes normally rational people to start shouting “no spoilers!” Personally speaking, I can think of at least three examples of where learning about a quote-unquote “spoiler” has caused me to actually check out something I otherwise wouldn’t (the most recent of these would be The Good Place, a show that hadn’t even hit my radar until I heard someone talking about the final episode of the first season, which made me want to watch the entire thing. And a good thing too because that’s one of the best shows on telly right now).

Although I almost choked on my cornflakes when I read this part:

Sebastian Starcevic, a journalist living in Australia, has written about his passion for spoilers as well. “I was actually sitting in the movie theater the other day watching a horror movie. I initially decided I wouldn’t spoil the movie for myself so I could enjoy it the way it was intended,” he told me over email. “By the first jump scare, though, I was skimming the Wikipedia page to find out who the serial killer was.“

Good grief Sebastian. Using your phone in a cinema?! Haven’t you read the Wittertainment code of conduct?

David Foster Wallace on Attention

Here’s David Foster Wallace being interviewed on German TV in 2003

This sentence stood out for me:

It’s true that in the US, every year the culture gets more and more hostile — and I don’t mean hostile like angry — it becomes more and more difficult to ask people to read or to look at a piece of art for an hour or to listen to a piece of music that’s complicated and that takes work

Remember that DFW died shortly after the first iPhone debuted, before the birth of Twitter and Instagram and all that.

I have basically given up on going to the cinema at anything approaching what could generously be called a reasonable hour. Now I like to go to the cinema as early as possible — most recently, I went to see It at 12pm on a Sunday — not just because I’m a grumpy misanthrope, and not because I’m the father of a two year old and am exhausted in the evenings. I go at these stupid times because I don’t want to be surrounded by crowds when I see a film. Because, on the whole, multiplex cinema crowds are incapable of sitting through a two-hour film without checking their phones multiple times.

And I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get worse.

My Favourite Podcasts

I wanted to make a list of my favourite podcasts, but I realised that’s probably too much of a movable feast. So let’s just say these are my favourite podcasts right now.

And you know what? Fuck it, I’m opening the comments on this in case anyone has any recommendations for things I should be listening to.

Reply All
Podcasts about technology and the internet are a dime a dozen, but what makes Reply All special is that it seems to come from a place of genuine curiosity. They want to cover every corner of a story. Their most recent season-ender was a great example of this: one of the hosts received one of those Indian hoax “we are a Microsoft support partner and your computer has a virus” calls, and rather than just belittling the caller, they went to India to meet them and find out more about their business. This show jumps to the top of my to-play list every time it comes out.
Good place to start: The Cathedral. An episode about the background of the game That Dragon Cancer. It was first broadcast just days before my daughter was born and, not kidding, it almost broke me.

99% Invisible
99% Invisible is mostly about design and architecture, but you don’t have to be a design or architecture nerd to enjoy the podcast. Every single episode teaches me something cool I didn’t know about the world and gives me a dozen or so Wikipedia holes to fall down.
Good place to start: Ten Thousand Years, where they explore the various suggestions people have given for designing a warning sign that will last ten thousand years, not knowing if language or symbols as we understand them will be around.

S-Town
This was NPR’s semi-followup to Serial, released shortly after they realised that, actually, no-one really cared about the second season of that show. It’s about a rural town – Shittown – in Alabama and it has the most amazing, almost unbelievably eccentric cast of characters you’ll ever hear. Yes, it’s slightly problematic (and gets even more so towards the end), but it’s still a great piece of long-form radio storytelling.
Good place to start: The first episode, obviously.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review
There are a lot of film podcasts I could recommend (Filmspotting is good, I guess? The Slashfilmcast is okay?) but none of them have the unique blend of film reviews and hearing two men argue and banter like a couple who have been married for forty years. This is genuine comfort-listening.
Good place to start: Mark’s Sex and the City 2 review, in full flappy-handed glory.

Dan Carlin’s Common Sense/Hardcore History
I’m bunching these together because they’re both pretty essential. Dan Carlin is a really smart ex-newsman with a love of history. And this is what he channels into his Hardcore History shows - meticulously researched multi-hour, multi-part episodes dealing with historical periods or events. They’re as good as any audiobook and history text as you can find. His Common Sense show is about (American) politics, but again coming from a meticulously researched, erudite and insightful starting point.
Good place to start: Blueprint for Armageddon Pt 1. Part 1 of a six-part, twenty-five hour series of podcasts about the first world war. Move fast, because after a while, he pulls the episodes off the RSS feed and charges people for them (if you want to drop a few dollars, his series on Genghis Khan is amazing)

Til Death Do Us Blart
The podcast’s own description: “Once a year, every year at American Thanksgiving the five men will watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and record their thoughts, feelings and opinions. These personal expressions will be broadcast as a free, annual podcast. Should a member of the quintet pass away, protocol dictates that his baton must be passed to another, thus fulfilling the promise of five people watching and podcasting Paul Blart 2 from now till the end of linear time.” If this concept doesn’t immediately sound amazing to you then, yeah, maybe skip this one.
Good place to start: They started in 2015, so listen to that episode first, so you can really pick up and appreciate the subtle ways their spirits start to break in 2016.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect
Maybe it’s just me, but the most recent Radiolab episodes have been a little duff (“I prefer their earlier stuff” says the hipster dickhead). But that’s okay, because their recent limited-run series about the U.S. Supreme Court was fascinating. Now I’ll admit, this isn’t a subject I thought I’d ever give a shit about, but they brought along their great Radiolab storytelling ability and I binged the entire thing in a couple of days.
Good place to start: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. This is the story that inspired Radiolab to create More Perfect. And it’s one of the most heartbreaking podcast episodes I’ve heard.

The Daily
This is the New York Times daily news podcast. It’s a short podcast – about 15 minutes each – and it their format is usually to cover a single story in more depth than other news podcasts (e.g. NPR’s Up First, which is also pretty great). For example, while everyone was going on about how there’s some bad shit going down in Burma, The Daily actually went into a decent amount of detail, giving the entire background, laying out who the major players are etc.
Good place to start: It’s a daily news show - grab whatever is most recent?

Junk food cinema
I get it. There’s no shortage of podcasts where a group of friends sit around and watch films and talk about them later. It could be its own category in iTunes. But where most of these (e.g. The Flophouse) come from a place of detached irony, the guys behind Junkfood Cinema genuinely love the films they talk about. They recently did a “Summer of 87” season, covering films from, yep, the summer of 1987, and their enthusiasm for every single film was so strong, it made me want to watch the films too.
Good place to start: Pump Up the Volume is a perfect example of this happening. My wife and I listened to this episode on a drive home from her mother’s house and immediately settled in to watch the film when we got home.

My Brother, My Brother and Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fan. That’s good enough for me.
Good place to start: MBMBaM 369: Bro’s Better, Bro’s Best Ch. 122 - 133 - a collection of the best bits from the 10 most recent episodes.

How to decode the images on the Voyager Golden Record →

Ever fancied pretending you were an alien decoding this weird golden disc that’s travelled billions of miles of space to reach you? Well, with Audacity, you can! This is seriously cool.

The mysterious Voynich manuscript has finally been decoded →

After looking at the so-called code for a while, Gibbs realized he was seeing a common form of medieval Latin abbreviations, often used in medical treatises about herbs. … So this wasn’t a code at all; it was just shorthand. The text would have been very familiar to anyone at the time who was interested in medicine.

Yay for solving the mystery and all, but it’s such a mundane solution that I can’t help feel a little sad. Update: via MacDara Conroy on Twitter - Has a Mysterious Medieval Code Really Been Solved? (I’ll save you a click: no)

Dear David →

Comic artist David Ellis is in the process of creating an amazing twenty-first century ghost story. One that’s told across weeks of tweets and incorporating videos, soundcloud clips and audience participation. It’s so simple, so well done and I couldn’t be more impressed.