Last month, someone in the Netflix marketing department had an epiphany: House of Cards andCards Against Humanity both contain the word "cards." When we got a phone call from Netflix, we enthusiastically agreed that the two products indeed contain the word "cards."
You know how Cards Against Humanity works, right? It's sort of like Apples to Apples. The black cards have sentences with blanks in them and the white cards have potential answers for those blanks. In the House of Cards set, the first black card says "I can’t believe Netflix is using to promote House of Cards."
Having hauled 2,000+ DVDs to Italy and back again (and then, having hauled them across Dublin as we moved houses), I couldn't face it again. It's ridiculous, unnecessary work. I was carrying 20 boxes of discs whose digital information can, for the most part, be grabbed off Netflix. So I got rid of them. Went to the Dublin Flea Market and sold almost all of them.
But it's not just the stress of moving and storing these things that bothered me. The plain fact is that physical discs, as a medium, are dying. The industry is moving towards digital distribution. Here in Dublin, HMV closed down at the beginning of the year. Since then, it's become nearly impossible to find blu-ray discs for sale in any brick-and-mortar shop. Likewise, Xtravision have pretty much wound up its business in the Republic. Discs are dead.
And you know what? I'm mostly okay with this. Services like Netflix and iTunes Movies are the convenient future of entertainment in the home1. But my problem with digital distribution is that we're returning to the VHS era. A situation where you only get the film, no 'extras'. Even Apple, who offers sparse 'iTunes extras' on a handful of titles, can't play these extras through their custom streaming device, the Apple TV. To me, this feels like we've gone back 30 years, to before Laserdisc was introduced.
My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and magazines, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by audio commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturges' audio track on the 'Bad Day at Black Rock' laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.
Technically savvy directors who really want to record a commentary will find a way of getting one out out there. When Warner Bros decided against putting a commentary on the DVD of The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky released his own. Likewise, Rian Johnson released his own commentary for Looper when the film was still in cinemas. But these are the exceptions. How many filmmakers are going to voluntarily sit in a recording booth and talk for two hours? And if we're moving to digital-only distribution, is there anyone even anyone asking directors to do this?
In a post-Vine world, where making a film is now just a matter of taking out your phone and pushing a goddamn button, a good source of knowledge and education about the process of filmmaking is more important than ever.
I don't entirely agree with the price stucture of iTunes films -- Futureworld is €17 to buy in HD. Fucking Futureworld?! -- , but I've still bought a couple of films off them. Mostly to test out the service.
For the most part, this list is unordered. It's just a collection of games I really enjoyed playing, with no attempt to impose any sort of arrangement or ranking. With one massive exception. Gone Home is, by a huge margin, the best game I played in 2013. It's a short game. An unfussy game. One where the story is genuinely affected by what you bring into it. It's a story about a family and each member of that family. But you need to pay attention to things. Random notes, ticket stubs, receipts all tell the story of the family. It's possible to finish the game without discovering any of this. Such clever, mature storytelling made me think that maybe game developers are finally ready to move beyond stories about space marines or zombies.
Last of Us
Which isn't to say that stories about zombies should go away. They're played out, for sure, but they're not dead (sorry). When they're done well, they can be sublime. The Last of Us is another perfect demonstration of great storytelling helping players overlook some wonky gameplay mechanics. It's a small story told against a massive backdrop. And goes to show that we can empathise with a game character, and we don't need to be with a character for 8 hours for their death to have emotional resonance.
It doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of Red Dead Redemption (which could be my favourite game of the last console generation), and I'm a little disappinted they've lost (or, after Saint's Row, abandoned) some of the biting satire of the earlier games, but this was the first GTA I've actually finished. That has to say something.
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Closely tied with Wind Waker for my favourite Zelda game of all time. A Link Between Worlds cleverly plays with our nostalgia for the franchise and the series' own internal systems. It's familiar and yet different.
Post-Uncharted, things clearly had to change for Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. So they toned down some of the more ridiculous aspects of the franchise and brought the grit (so much grit). It lost some of the charm and whimsy along the way, but it was another example of great, grown-up storytelling.
Look at my steam stats and you'll probably see that Rogue Legacy is the game I've played most this year. It's a hardcore platformer -- Castlevania crossed with a Dark Souls. But as crushingly painful and un-fun as that sounds, Rogue Legacy has a huge playful streak. Every time you die, you have to choose your next character, one of three children of your now-dead hero. And they all have their own traits. For example, one might be myopic, so everything far-away is blurred. Or one might suffer from flatulence, so every jump causes a little toot. You'll choose a deliberately dodgy character just to collect a bit of money and see what your next heir will be like. Pulling yourself out of that "just one more go" cycle is tough.
Like Frog Fractions, Candy Box is about unexpected discovery. A simple text page slowly gives way to an entire RPG adventure told through ASCII. Our office lost an entire day of productivity to this game, as people got drawn into the strange things the players shouted at each other across the room. This was my favourite surprise of 2013.
Another game with a surprising depth (Oh God, I swear that was not meant to be a pun. I'm so sorry), Ridiculous Fishing is actually three games in one. The first game sees you casting your lure, trying to avoid fish as it goes down. The moment your lure touches a fish, it stops descending and then you have to play a second game - touch as many fish as you can as your lure comes back up. Once they're up, you need to blast them with your shotgun to score points. This was my favourite short-session game of 2013.
If there's a common theme to the games on this list, it's that the games I liked most in 2013 felt grown-up. In Papers Please, you're a border guard for an eastern European country in the 1980s. You have to check the day's rules to figure out who is allowed into your country. Your wages then go to paying rent or making sure your family don't starve. The game isn't 'fun' in the traditional sense. And I've never been so stressed in a game. But it's compelling in a deep, dark way.
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is a game about choice. Do you go through the red door or the blue door? When the game's narrator (best narrator since Thomas Was Alone) is saying "Stanley went through the red door", do you still go through the red door, or do you disobey the game? It's also a game all about player agency. But better than that - it knows it's about these things. It can poke fun at them. It's always one step ahead of the player. There's a glitch where you end up outside the map. I thought I'd broken the game, but the narrator kicked in with "So, you found a glitch. I bet you feel pretty proud of yourself." It's like a mystery box. Even writing about it now, I want to get back into it. To see exactly where its boundaries are.
I feel weird putting Proteus on this list when I already have The Stanley Parable and Gone Home. People will accuse me of having a boner for the First Person Walker genre. But Proteus is something genuinely special and I wish more people would try it out. You don't even have to "get" it, just try it. And I don't mean "get" it intellectually -- it's about the passage of time and life and death, big whoop -- I mean "get" it in an emotional way. And even the fact that I'm using words like '"get" it in an emotional way' about a videogame should give you an idea of exactly why I love this game so much. Try it.
You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
One of the things that made Soulja Boy's video review of Braid so fascinating (for me, at least) was that it showed a successful musician geeking out about something that nerds had almost taken for granted. We'd played this game. We knew it. On the other hand, Jay-Z's lyrics are increasingly about extremely exclusive experiences ("Let's get faded / Le Meurice for like 6 days"), but in the case of Soulja Boy and his Braid video, this was an experience that anyone with an Xbox could have.
Videogames used to be a great social democratiser. If you could afford a videogame, you would be getting the exact same experience as anyone else It didn't matter how many albums you'd sold or how much money you had in the bank. The only experiential difference came down to your skill at the game.
The recent controversy surrounding microtransactions in Forza 5 makes me think we'll be seeing the end of this. If I can't afford to buy a particular car with real money in Forza, then I have to grind and grind until I amass enough in-game credits. According to some calculations, this could take anywhere up to a couple of years for some of the top-end cars.
And that's what I find most troubling about microtransactions. They're extending class structure to something that didn't need one. Now, when I play a game, I'll know I could always pay more and be playing a better version of the same game.
Allie Brosh (of Hyperbole and a Half) gave an amazing interview to Terry Gross a while ago where they cover a lot of subjects, including her struggles with depression. It's the most honest and raw interview I've ever heard and I don't want to ruin it. But she also talks about why she draws in such a deliberately crude style, which I found fascinating.
The reason I draw myself this way is that I feel that this absurd squiggly thing is actually a much more accurate representation of myself than I am. It's a better tool for communicating my sense of humor and actually getting across what I'm trying to say than, say, being there in the flesh. ...
It's me on the inside. That's what I'm like when I view myself. I am this crude absurd little thing, this squiggly little thing on the inside. So it's more of a raw representation of what it feels like to be me.
We called our contact at Amazon and explained the idea for the sale to them. They thought it was funny but were also pretty annoyed - apparently monkeying with pricing on the biggest sales day of the year isn’t as funny to Amazon as it is to us.
I wish more companies were as playful or as honest as the Cards Against Humanity guys.
Agrippa (a book of the dead) is a work of art created by speculative fiction novelist William Gibson, artist Dennis Ashbaugh and publisher Kevin Begos Jr. in 1992. The work consists of a 300-line semi-autobiographical electronic poem by Gibson, embedded in an artist's book by Ashbaugh. Gibson's text focused on the ethereal nature of memories (the title is taken from a photo album). Its principal notoriety arose from the fact that the poem, stored on a 3.5" floppy disk, was programmed to encrypt itself after a single use; similarly, the pages of the artist's book were treated with photosensitive chemicals, effecting the gradual fading of the words and images from the book's first exposure to light.
If you ask me, Penny Arcade is a brand in trouble. Financially, they're doing well. Their three conferences draw huge crowds annually (although people are saying that's not necessarily a positive thing), but critically, they're facing a massive backlash for their handling of the whole "dickwolves" issue (which is far too long and complicated to get into here - read Rachel Edidin's article on Wired if you want to be depressed).
It goes to show the importance of context. If Penny Arcade was a struggling startup, the ad would make a certain amount of sense. Almost every startup has had someone working a job like that (although maybe they'd be slightly ashamed and wouldn't describe the role in such a humblebrag). And no-one would think twice about it. Except Penny Arcade aren't a struggling startup. They're a multi-million dollar corporation with fingers in lots of different pies. Besides the successful conferences I've already mentioned, they've got advertising, videogames, a 'tv' show, books, merch. They're not struggling for cash. And yet, they're looking for a lynchpin of their entire infrastructure and they're looking to pay them peanuts.
I realise this whole thing is of little relevance to anyone who reads this blog, but I just want to add my voice to say please, don't anyone take this job. Even as a worst-case, there are thousands of other start-ups out there who have this exact same role with the exact same shitty remuneration, but at least you would go home knowing you weren't being exploited by a misogynistic, tone-deaf conglomerate.