Home-made board games →

Every Christmas, Stone Librande makes a board game for his family to play. This is a perfect demonstration of why I'm so enamoured with board games - it takes a broad spectrum of extremely specialized skills to make a video game, but with enough imagination, you can easily make a board game with nothing more than bits and pieces you have lying around the house. I especially love the evolution of Librande's "Maze Game" from a basic cardboard prototype to a gorgeous, intricate wood-and-tile version.

Games, 2012

I already talked about my favourite films of 2012. So now it's time to talk about my favourite games of 2012.

FTL

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FTL is a deceptively simple game. You make your way across the galaxy, dealing with emergencies that come up. But it's less frantic than it sounds. The game is rarely frantic. Any time you lose, it's not because you weren't fast enough to click on something, it's because you made a bad strategic decision ten or twenty turns back. The best Star Trek game never made.

Dishonored

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Just in terms of world-building, this game deserves some serious credit. The story was pretty disposable -- a dystopian world, there's a rebellion, you're its last hope, nothing you haven't seen before -- but the depth of the world was incredible. Each character had a fleshed-out back-story, whether you interacted with them or not. And the game does nothing to force this on you. A lesser game would say WE PAID WRITERS A FORTUNE FOR THIS SHIT, SO WE'RE GOING TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE HEARS IT. Not Dishonored. Bless them.

Super Hexagon

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Remember when I said that I'm not particularly good at games, but muddle my way through anyway? Super Hexagon is the perfect example of this. I've sunk a worrying amount of time into it and still haven't beaten it on its third difficulty level (of six). But that's okay, because I can feel myself getting better at the game, even if it's only in millisecond increments. It's the only game on the front screen on my iPhone. That says something, right?

Journey

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Journey gave me a completely unique experience. As you make your way through the game's dreamlike environment, your game may or may not intersect with the games of other people. You can't touch these people or interfere with them. The only thing you can do is to 'chirrup' at them -- a little sound, with a symbol appearing over your head. Each player's symbol is unique, like a fingerprint. You don't know who these people are and the only way to identify them is with this symbol. You could play through the game and intersect with lots of other players dropping in and out of your game. Or you could play through the game with one other person.

That's what I did. I played through the entire game with one other person. Completely organically, we developed a way to communicate with each other through these chirrups. We'd fly around the levels and make different noises to say different things, like "over here!" or "where are you?". We'd show each other cool things we found in the level. It was lovely. The last level is a cold, snowy mountain. As we made our way towards the peak, the cold started to affect our characters. We couldn't chirrup as loudly any more. It was harder to stay together, with the wind blowing us around. We had to huddle together to keep our energy from completely disappearing. And even though we couldn't communicate with chirrups any more, we didn't need to. What we had to do was obvious. We had to stay together. That was all. Right at the end, you have to make it across a narrow ledge with the wind trying to blow you off. At the very last moments, before the turn into 'safety', I made it. I turned around, but my friend hadn't. He'd been blown off.

I couldn't believe it. I was distraught. I put the controller down, not knowing what to do. I waited there for fifteen minutes and he never came back. He was gone. That last part of the journey was the saddest thing I've ever experienced in a game. During the game's credits, you are shown the symbols of each of the players you encountered and their PlayStation username. I messaged that guy straight away. I can't imagine another game invoking a real, human-level connection with another person quite as well.

Mark of the Ninja

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This was the most perfectly-judged game I played this year. The stealth mechanic was spot-on and actually meant that there was a sense of being a "ninja" (as opposed to most other games, where "ninja" means "guy with a sharp sword and throwing-stars"). I finished this game over the course of two sessions and immediately started a new game, on the newly-unlocked difficulty level, where your character has his field-of-vision limited to what's in front of him. Oh wait, did I say "perfectly-judged"? Fuck those dogs.

Halo

In the fiction of the Halo universe, Master Chief is a supreme badass. Look at him in that trailer there, taking on twenty-foot tall space monsters like he hasn't got a care in the world. Look at the way he moves, stringing together action after action after action. It's balletic. Brutal, but graceful.

When I play the game, Master Chief is a braindead meatbag who is more likely to die in the first five minutes by throwing a grenade at his own feet because the person controlling him is trying to figure out what each button does. The kind of idiot who jumps into a firefight with one bullet in the clip, so he spends the next 10 seconds getting riddled with bullets as he stands there, reloading. He's a moron whose neck muscles are made of jelly, so he spends almost the entire game looking either straight up or straight down.

This is because I'm not great at Halo1.

I've accepted that I'm not great at certain games. Most games, to be honest. I'm okay with this. I muddle through. I'll die a lot and eventually limp across the finish line. My death-count in VVVVVV stands in the couple-hundreds, but this is fine, because I'm getting through the game at my own pace. This is how I get my money's worth.

Except with Halo, this approach seems wrong, like it's missing the point. The main character, Master Chief, is not supposed to be the kind of person who just "muddles through". I realise how stupid and overwrought this sounds, but I don't feel like I'm doing justice to the character. The Halo story I'm playing out is wrong: my Master Chief doesn't deserve any awe or respect.

And this is why it takes me months to finish an 8-hour game of Halo.

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I have no battlefield tactics and poor muscle co-ordination and I get twitchy when I'm nervous, so I tend to accidentally hit R3 a lot (binocular view) and will suddenly find myself zoomed into the nose of the enemy standing not two feet from me. It then takes me five seconds to remember what button I'm supposed to hit to get me out of binocular view, by which time I'm probably dead.

Movies, 2012

One of the resolutions I made at the beginning of 2012 was that I would document every single film I watched. I actually stuck to this resolution.

Here are ten of the best I saw this year:

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

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Are you fucking kidding me? I spent my entire life avoiding this film, thinking it would be a big, bloated mess, only good for background noise during your post-Christmas dinner nap. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was mesmerized by this film.

Silver Linings Playbook, 2012

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If you'd have told me that David O. Russell would give us us one of sweetest, most tender depictions of depression and mental illness I can remember seeing, I would have called you a fucking jackass. But that's exactly what he did.

The Master, 2012

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I'm still not sure exactly what I saw or what it's saying, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it.

Moonrise Kingdom, 2012

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My favourite Wes Anderson film since Rushmore.

Magic Mike, 2012

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Balls to the haters, this was fun. When I went to see it, I was one of only three men in a crowded screening. That was one of the most hilarious cinema experiences I've ever had and I thank Magic Mike for giving me that.

Dredd, 2012 / The Raid, 2011

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This is my blog and I'll lump these two in together if I want to. They had similar setups, but as action films go, they both did great jobs of scratching totally different itches. And they were the two best action movies I saw all year.

The Cabin in the Woods, 2011

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Why do they even have that button?

50/50, 2011

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A great little film that could have been lost underneath the egos of the actors involved. Fortunately, it wasn't.

Argo, 2012

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Even if the film wasn't any good (it was), this would be on here for Ben Affleck's beard alone.

Indie Game: The Movie, 2012

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A lot of documentaries this year didn't seem to have anything to say and were content to just be a collection of unconnected vignettes (Queen of Versailles, for example, has no through-line, the makers just happened to be in the right place at the right time). Indie Game: The Movie did a great job of shining a light on the vast wealth of human emotions that go into something as apparently frivolous as an independent video game.

DIY Bacon

This changes everything.

Battery Movies

What's the benefit here? I'm not sure I buy the argument that long-form storytelling gives the material room to breathe, or even shows particular fidelity to the writings of Tolkien, Rowling, etc. I fear the real motivation is more cynical than that. It's the movie equivalent of pumping chickens full of water – bulking out the produce to maximise revenue.

-- Worst ideas of 2012: the rise of the multi-part movie

pulchritude

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A paradoxical noun because it means beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language. Same goes for the adjectival form pulchritudinous. They're part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the very opposite of the qualities they denote. Diminutive, big, foreign, fancy (adjective), colloquialism, and monosyllabic are some others; there are at least a dozen more. Inviting your school-age kids to list as many paradoxical words as they can is a neat way to deepen their relationship to English and help them see that words are both symbols for things and very real things themselves.

-- David Foster Wallace, word notes in the Apple dictionary for "Beauty"

Making a video game without video →

There's something truly wonderful about JSJ. It's a performance-piece that brings video games back to pure play. And it's so beautifully simple. In the video, Doug Wilson talks about how he came up with the idea for the game and how it was an "oh!" moment.

Plus, now is probably a good time to pimp their Kickstarter, which will help release JSJ to a wider audience.

10 ways to make Dublin better →

2 Elect a city boss

Dublin accounts for 40 per cent of the population, but nobody speaks for the city in the way Michael Bloomberg does for New York and Boris Johnson for London. Civic governance is incredibly weak, with an array of public bodies, from Dublin Port Company to the National Transport Authority, exercising power in the city. Any chance of metropolitan cohesion was squandered when Dublin was carved up arbitrarily between four local authorities in 1994.

These are some great suggestions. For whatever reason, the city seems to be experiencing an increased period of self-reflection. And that's a good thing. Articles like these can only help.

John McAffee's insane life →

In the pre-dawn hours of April 30th of this year I woke to the sound of a bullhorn yelling un-intelligible orders. I ran naked outside and saw a military formation whose uniforms identified them as GSU, creeping slowly down my driveway. I laid down the pistol that I keep for protection and, contrary to Josh Davis’ assertion that I said “Motherfuckers”, said nothing and went back inside. I woke Amy, the 17 year old with whom I was living, and calmly told her to get dressed – that the GSU was invading the property.

Did you know John McAfee has a blog? Did you know it's the most insane-slash-interesting thing ever?

Nike+ FuelBand micro-review

I picked up a Nike+ FuelBand in San Francisco a couple of months ago. It's a nice piece of kit. On the wrist, it's comfortable and, more importantly, unobtrusive. In black at least, it looks just like a charity wristband, so hardly anyone even notices it. The tiny little light-up display is both adorable and looks futuristic as fuck.

But I have a couple of minor problems with it.

  1. What the fuck is Nike+ Fuel? I've set a daily goal of 2,0001, but what does that actually mean? Is 2,000 a little or a lot? If I'm using this as a way to track my activity or to lose weight, I'd love to know exactly what this is supposed to represent2.

  2. This isn't FuelBand-specific, and is more a problem with all phone peripherals, such as the Jawbone Up: If your peripheral has shitty battery life (the FuelBand gets less than a week per charge), can you not figure out some way to charge the peripheral off my phone? I've already have three things charging beside my bed each night, so if it's between your stupid peripheral and my Kindle or my phone, you're not going to win. Even some sort of pass-through between the phone charger and the phone that would siphon off enough to charge the peripheral would work for me.

Overall, it's not bad. It would never replace my Nike+ app on my phone (I've logged 1,493kms run - I am locked in), but it's a great supplement to it.

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Sub-problem: how am I supposed to refer to these units? "Nike+ Fuel Units"? That's a bit of a mouthful, no? 2: This is like the problem when buying things off Xbox Live - the currency is "Xbox Points", which doesn't translate easily to euros, dollars or pounds. They're obfuscating how much you're spending. Why would Nike obfuscate the amount of exercise you're doing?

Welcome to Flavour Town →

What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?

Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are? If you hadn’t come up with the recipe yourself, would you ever guess that the shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease onto the plate contains either pretzels or smoked almonds? Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?

Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?

If you read just one restaurant review today, make it Pete Wells' review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in the New York Times

Ashamed

To her family, I want to say: I am ashamed, I am culpable, and I am sorry. For every letter to my local politician I didn't write, for every protest I didn't join, for keeping quiet about abortion rights in the company of conservative relations and friends, for becoming complacent, for thinking that Ireland was changing, for not working hard enough to secure that change, for failing to create a society in which your wife, your daughter, your sister was able to access the care that she needed: I am sorry. You must think that we are barbarians.

-- I am ashamed that Ireland's medieval abortion law still stands - Emer O'Toole - guardian.com

The Best

An interesting side effect, which I hadn’t anticipated, was that I developed a blind trust in the things I used. I trusted my lamp to be bright enough to light up the wheel well of a truck when its tire went flat, and it was. I trusted my wallet to hold cash, boarding passes, and IDs without deforming or falling apart, and it did. I trusted that my towel would dry quickly, because it was designed for travel, and it did. I trusted the zippers on my backpack to stay closed as I hiked through the night, and they did. These might seem like stupid things to worry about, but when you have trust in everything you own, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s liberating and an amazing feeling. My life was markedly better because of it.

I've got a bit of a bag problem. By this, I mean that I seem to accumulate bags, because I have this wild, irrational fear of not having the correct bag for any given situation.

(Look, I already acknowledged it was wild and irrational. Shut up.)

For Christmas last year, my wife got me a GoRuck GR1. It is, hands down, the best bag I've ever owned. It's the perfect size for a weekend away. It's the perfect size for carry-on luggage on an airplane. I've used it in the worst weather Ireland can throw at it and it's never once leaked or even gotten soggy. When I had my bike accident, the bag completely protected my MacBook Pro. Again, the best bag I've ever owned.

And I haven't bought another bag since I got it because I haven't needed another bag.

So I totally understand what Dustin Curtis is saying. It's always worth doing your research and spending a little extra money, if necessary, to make sure you get the best.