Best bits of Morning Ireland

In her recent blog post, my wife pointed out that the "it Says in the Papers" section of Morning Ireland is a really useful tool for giving you a super-condensed daily overview of the major stories in Irish media. And it's true. It's my favourite part of Morning Ireland (well, technically it's my second-favourite, right after Harem Lousch reading the weather forecast -- honestly, nothing brightens your day quite like hearing a Dutch person saying "schattered schowersch"). So I was pretty happy when my wife said "It Says in the Papers" was downloadable as a podcast.

Turns out that's not strictly true.

It's actually only available as part of the general Morning Ireland podcast, which also includes the news bulletins, the sport, the weather, as well as miscellaneous stories broken out into their own individual podcast episodes. In other words, there's a whole load of shit there that I'm not actually interested in and don't want to spend five minutes each morning deleting the extraneous crap from my feed just to get at the stuff I actually care about.

So I've created "Morning Ireland - The Best Bits", which takes the Morning Ireland podcast firehose and filters it down to just the bits I care about -- the news bulletin, It Says in the Papers (and Harem Lousch reading the weather).

To subscribe to it, just add the following URL to whatever podcasting software you’re using:

http://lowbrowculture.com/podcast/morningireland.xml

Obviously, the normal legal stuff applies -- I don’t actually own the license for the media, this is for personal slash educational use only, caveat emptor -- etc. etc. If you’re using it and you have any feedback, drop me an email.

Crossfit

A few days ago, I celebrated my one-year Crossfit anniversary. “Celebrated” is a bit of a weird word to use here, isn’t it? Would you say you “celebrated” being a year in a gym? I’ve never marked this in any of the gyms I’ve been a member of, so what makes Crossfit different?

For me, going to the gym has always been a solitary thing. You go, you set yourself up at your little station, you work out and you don’t speak to anyone. You’re in the zone.

Crossfit is different. Crossfit is about the sense of community. I go to Ronin Crossfit and, honestly, I’ve never found anywhere with such a consistently solid group of people. They don’t just make you feel welcome, they make you feel like you’re part of a team.

I’ll give you an example.

In February, they organised a sponsored 100 burpee challenge for Suicide or Survive (if you don’t know what a burpee is, consider yourself lucky). Lots of people said that one of the conditions of sponsoring me is that I had to make a video of me doing the burpees. I’m glad I did because it captured something I really love. Here’s that video:

Now, as you can see from that video, I’m not an athlete. I found the 100 burpees really hard and I was so slow it’s kind of embarassing. But did you see that? At the end of the video, when people had finished and I was still struggling and wanted to give up, people — real athletes who had finished ages ago — came over to cheer me on. One guy had finished his hundred and did my last ten burpees with me. He wasn’t showing off, he was showing solidarity.

Crossfit isn’t about being the strongest athlete in the room or beating other people, it’s about beating yourself. It’s about finding your own limits and pushing them. The other people are there to help you achieve this. And that’s the exactly what you see in that video. Without those people cheering me on, maybe I would have given up, I dunno, but I know I definitely would have taken much, much longer. And they’re celebrating with me because they know I hit a wall and kept going. And that’s not just reserved for special occasions. Even in our daily workouts, the person who lifts 40kg for the first time gets as big a cheer as the person who lifts 120kg for the first time.

That’s what I love about Crossfit. Here’s to another year.

Apple Ireland

Apple are famous for sweating the small stuff. They pay attention to the tiniest details, the things that hardly anyone notices but make a huge difference to a user's experience of their product.

Apple Ireland, on the other hand, appear to be a bunch of goddamn clowns. This could be a larger blog post about what it’s like to be an Apple consumer in Ireland (other possible topics: no TV shows in iTunes store, no visual voicemail on the iPhone etc. etc.), but let’s just limit it to one thing: the film section of the iTunes store

One of the things I really like about the film section of the iTunes store is the ‘themed’ bundles. For example, during fashion week, they had a sale on 25 films about fashion. Now it’s Halloween and they’re doing a sale on 25 horror films.

Click into this and you’ll get this list of films:

Can you spot the obvious mistake? That’s right, in this list of 25 horror films, there are only 24 films.

If you change iTunes store to United Kingdom, you’re presented with the full list of films. Apparently, we’re not getting Cabin in the Woods as part of this sale although it's still available in the Irish iTunes store for €16.99

But the fuckery doesn’t stop there! Even in the Irish store, you can see that The Blair Witch Project is in the €6.99 sale. Except when you click into it…

(Again, in the UK store, this film is listed at the 'sale' price.)

Apple Ireland have definitely adopted the Irish attitude of “Ah sure it’ll be grand”. I’m just not sure how well this works with Apple’s overall reputation as a company that sweats the small stuff.

EA Sports UFC

(This review first appeared on thumped.com)

I’m having real trouble trying to figure out who EA Sports UFC has been made for.

Was it made for the hardcore fans of UFC as a sport? I mean, it’s got 97 current fighters all realistically modelled, animated and rendered. Their Conor McGregor even has that God-awful gorilla chest-tattoo he got recently. This means that rather than just using a generic fighting model with a different ‘skin’ for each fighter, each fighter in EA Sports UFC moves and behaves like their real-life counterpart. They have the same strengths and weaknesses (or at least, they’re supposed to - lots of fans have been scratching their heads at some fighters’ stats, some of which seem wildly off-kilter). These are things that will mostly appeal to the hardcore UFC fighting fans, because they’re the only ones that will pick up on them. Plus the game copies the basic control scheme from the previous UFC games, so the hardcore fans who are familiar with THQ’s games will be able to hit the ground running with this game.

Unfortunately, if they’re targeting the hardcore fan, I can’t imagine it being anything but a bit of a disappointment. UFC is a visceral, vicious sport that’s all about cracking heads. But the fighting in the game feels weightless and floaty. Despite the amazing graphics engine, blows never actually feel as if they’re connecting, so a lot of the fights are spent just watching health meters because they’re the only real indication of how you’re doing. Only a few years ago, this same development team introduced a HUD-less fighting game, where you could tell how tired/battered your player was just by looking at them. It’s hard not to see EA Sports UFC as anything but a step back.

And it’s not just the floaty, toothless fighting game that will drive the hardcore fans bananas. The game’s transitions between the various stages of fighting (standing up, in the clinch and on the mat) are painfully disjointed and mechanical with no sense of grace or fluidity. The game is full of canned animations that bring everything to a standstill until the animations have completed. Then there’s also the fact that some of the sport’s more ‘simple’ moves actually require a fairly complex combination of inputs on the joystick, but some of the sport’s more difficult moves are just one or two button-presses. So it’s entirely possible to just spam flying knee kicks and win 90% of your matches (I tested this and won around half of my matches on ‘hard’ difficulty by just spamming the one move over again). In a sport that prioritises technique and finesse, this confusing mess of a control set-up is another of the game’s disappointments.

So maybe the game wasn’t made for the hardcore UFC fan. Maybe it’s there for the more casual fighting fan. People like me, who think that the whole arcade fighting game genre peaked with Rocky on the Gamecube, or maybe Fight Night Round 3 on the Xbox 360. In which case, EA have completely misjudged this game’s introduction. It starts by dropping you into an extended tutorial sequence that attempts to familiarise you with some of the basic controls before finally dumping you into an actual exhibition fight. But considering the sheer number of controls, it’s a bit like saying “Okay, press this button. Great. Press this lever. Great. Now these 200 other buttons. Great. Now fly this plane.” If you haven’t played a UFC game before, you’ll be overwhelmed by the controls and immediately left feeling frustrated as the game kicks your ass and asks if you want a rematch. And when you don’t know what you did wrong in the first place, a rematch is a grim, unappealing option.

The short ‘career’ mode is where the game should open up for newcomers. You choose a fighter (or create one yourself) and take them through the various stages of The Ultimate Fighter, an actual reality TV show where contestants compete for a chance to enter into the UFC. Between fights, you practice the moves you briefly saw in the tutorial, running drills until you can actually use them in some sort of sensible way. Then you fight one-on-one against a computer opponent to progress to the next round. Repeat, repeat until you’ve won your ‘contract’. As a relative newcomer to UFC games, this is where the game finally started to make sense for me. It didn’t make it much more enjoyable – the complaints about the weak-ass fighting system still stand and the opponent AI was underwhelming – but at least I could say I finally started to get my head around what some of the buttons did and when I should use them.

Being able to create my own fighter and bring him through career mode definitely helped with the enjoyment of the game. Rather than creating something sensible, I created a 300-lb man-child called “Dick ‘Jumbo’ Wang” from Bosnia and Herzegovina (the commentators actually use your nickname and surname in fights and having them say stuff like “Jumbo Wang is taking a heck of a beating” never stopped being funny for me), with easily the worst stats in the game.

As well as providing you with just enough customization options to make your fighter look like a mongoloid sex-pest like I did, you can give your fighter some tattoos. There are pages and pages of dragons and tribal patterns (no God-awful gorilla chest-tattoos, disappointingly). In amongst all these is, bizarrely, a “In Memory of Cheryl” tattoo. And because the game lets you spam the shit out of these tattoos, Dick Wang has an “In Memory of Cheryl” tattoo everywhere the game would allow it: on his head, on his back, three times on his chest, twice on each arm and twice on each leg. I have no idea who the fuck Cheryl is, but Dick Wang must really miss her. I guess this says a lot about how easily amused I am, but it also says a lot about the game. The thing that amused me most wasn’t the exhibition fights, it wasn’t the multiplayer and it wasn’t the career mode. It was creating Dick Wang.

In the end, EA Sports UFC doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It doesn’t know who it’s trying to please, so it ends up not really pleasing anyone at all. It’s not engaging enough to be the essential next-gen UFC game the hardcore fans have been waiting for. And it’s so inaccessible for casual fans that they’ll be reduced to putting together hideous monsters in the character creation screen just to extract some entertainment from the game. I’ve no doubt that the next iteration of the game will be much better, but until then, this is definitely one to skip.

Recent film reviews

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd Here are the most recent reviews I’ve written)

The Inbetweeners - ★½

I’m not sure the makers of this movie meant to channel Waiting for Godot, but that’s exactly what it reminded me of in places. Someone said that the Beckett play was one in which nothing happens, twice. Well, The Inbetweeners 2 is a film where nothing happens for forty-five minutes, then someone gets hit in the face with a lump of shit, then nothing happens again for another forty-five minutes.

If it wasn’t for the ten-second awob-a-bob-bob scene, there’d be nothing redeeming about this film.

Chef - ★★

Chef felt like Jon Favreau trying desperately to recreate the light, breezy feeling of Swingers. Instead, we get a film that breaks down halfway under the weight of its own self indulgence and we're left with a film where Favreau has Sophia Vergara as an ex-wife and Scarlett Johansson as a girlfriend and where it's apparently okay for two middle-aged men to sing "Sexual Healing" to a child they've locked in a van.

Pride - ★★★★

So the story of Pride might be told in broadest possible strokes, right down to the evil, cackling neighbour that bordered on panto-villain ridiculous. But despite this, it's still the most wonderful, joyful film I've seen all year.

(Update Wed, 8th October: As usual, my wife and I don’t agree)

Dark Skies - ★★

There’s hardly a single original thought in Dark Skies. Almost every scene has been lifted wholesale from other films. The usual suspects - a bit of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a little of Signs, and even some of The Exorcist thrown in for good measure. This wouldn’t in itself be a bad thing except the film is just lifting them as if it’s ticking off a list of scenes it feels it needs to have. As a result, it tries to create an atmosphere of tension that climaxes about halfway through the film. Then, having painted itself into a corner, it then decides to lift from Poltergeist with J.K. Simmons in the Tangina role.

Dull.

Dredd - ★★★★

Watching this film again, I was impressed that they managed to take an off-the-shelf action setup AND YET make it into a great Judge Dredd film AND YET keep it true to its comic-book roots AND YET make it seem gritty and realistic and big-budget AND YET keep it spikey and not round off the edges to try and capture a large audience.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I really love this film.

Madden NFL 15

(This review first appeared on thumped.com)

When Pete asked if I wanted to review Madden NFL 15, I initially said no. You see, I haven’t played a Madden game since the Megadrive, so I figured I’m in no position to talk about this game because I can’t tell you what makes this game better than the previous fifty-odd iterations. Plus I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a game of American Football except one time when I was in New York over Thanksgiving and went to a friend’s house and the football came on and all the MEN went into the basement to watch the BIG GAME and I joined them because the idea of a man NOT watching the BIG GAME was kinda making everyone uncomfortable. Basically, I’m nowhere near an expert on this. I probably shouldn’t be reviewing this game.

Besides which, if you’re the kind of person who is likely to buy Madden NFL 15, you’ll probably have bought it already. Likewise, if you’re not interested in either the game or the sport, I doubted anything I could say here would convince you. But Pete is nothing if not insistent, so I got ready to write a review based on the things I did know about, like the politics of the NFL surrounding the recent Ray Rice incident. Or maybe the study by the Wall Street Journal which shows that although an average game of American Football lasts almost three hours, the ball is actually only on the field and in play for 11 minutes. I was going to talk about Friday Night Lights, a TV series about high school football in Texas and how it’s the most criminally underrated show ever made. I was ready to write around the game, rather than about the game. You know, the kind of review a real wanker would write.

But then I actually played the game. And, you know what? It’s actually won me over. I really, really like it.

It took a while to grow on me though. Like most EA Sports games these days, Madden NFL 15 opens by dropping you into the middle of an actual game and expects you to fend for yourself. Since I haven’t touched a Madden game in 20-odd years, I hadn’t a fucking breeze as to what was going on and it demolished me. If I’m being honest, more than any other game in recent memory, these first five minutes in Madden NFL 15 left me feeling a little alienated. It seemed to be a game shouting “THIS IS NOT FOR YOU. GO BACK TO DESERT GOLFING ON YOUR PHONE, YOU LAZY FUCK.” I was ready to throw in the towel and dust off that wanker-review.

But something about the game made me want to persevere and figure it out. Along with Call of Duty, Madden is traditionally regarded as the game that the ‘core’ audience (whatever that means) tend to glom onto. And since I’ve already dabbled with a CoD addiction (300+ glorious, fun-filled hours in Modern Warfare multiplayer), I didn’t want to give up before I at least won my first game.

So I fired up the ‘skills trainer’. This is a series of drills designed to familiarise players with the mechanics of the game, starting with passing and blocking and so on. I guess this is mostly intended for people who are entirely new to the game but it still presumed a level of knowledge that I just didn’t have. To make it worse, the game doesn’t do a great job of actually communicating any information that might be useful to a new player. One of the first drills you run is practicing a lob pass. “Do a lob pass”, it says. Except at no point during these drills does it say how to actually perform a lob pass. So I failed my lob pass. And I failed. And I failed. I had no idea what I was doing wrong and the game seemed completely disinterested in telling me. It was only by chance when I was loading the game that I saw it in one of the random loading screens that flashes up for a couple of seconds at a time: briefly tap the button to do a lob pass, hold the button down to do a ‘bullet’ pass. This was like a eureka moment - once this was figured out, the game unfolded in front of me like a beautiful flower.

You see, I’ve realised that Madden is not the type of game to explain itself or hold your hand. In other games, like EA UFC, the equivalent of Madden’s ‘skills trainer’ is a series of extended quicktime event where even a complete beginner can easily rack up 100% scores and gold medals in no time. Madden NFL 15 is tougher. It’s not just a quicktime event - it’s knowing what to do and when to do it. And, starting out, you’ll fuck up the drills. You’ll fuck them up a LOT. You’ll be forced to restart again and again. And it’s only when you’re into double-digits of retry attempts that you’ll actually scrape a success. You’ll happily take your bronze medal and move onto the next drill. It’s not arcade game. It doesn’t try to compensate for your lack of skill or knowledge. And you know what? I appreciate that. It means that when I actually perform a dead-perfect lob pass, there’s an extra sense of achievement. I fucking earned that pass. And so that means I’m going to make a wild statement that might annoy some people. Okay? Here we go. If you’re like me where you have no interest in American Football and you know nothing about Madden (or have forgotten anything you did know), Madden is sort of like Dark Souls: an impenetrable melange of game mechanics where each tiny advancement feels like a massive success.

There, I said it.

Even for a non-fan like me, there’s a lot to appreciate about this game. I’m pretty impressed with the social integration. The game tracks each player’s stats and decisions in the game and add that to a cumulative database, so when you’re in a particular situation, the game can say “the majority of the community chose this play”. Similarly, players are encouraged to send in their favourite screenshots from the game to be used in the interstitial loading screens. So you’ll see a picture and it will say “submitted by @AssMan1993”. Probably more than any other AAA game in recent memory, Madden NFL 15 prides itself on its community focus. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s listening to its players and involving them in the game. For example, the game shipped with a bug that caused one player to be rendered as 1’2” tall. This glitch was fixed, but the massive viral popularity of the bug caused EA to turn it into an official game mode called “tiny titans”. That’s something I wish more games would take advantage of. The only other game I can think that does anything near as great a job of channeling the community is Dark Souls. Okay, I’ll stop with the Dark Souls comparisons now.

I said I wanted to play Madden NFL 15 until I won my first game. Well, I’ve done that. I reached the arbitrary goal I set myself for this game. And I think I’m going to keep playing this game. As a sport, American Football is still mostly Greek to me. I don’t know who any of the players are, what any of the positions do, or when to run a particular play. Christ, I even feel like a total fraud for just using the words “run a particular play”. And I’m sure this knowledge would really open up the rest of the game to me - there are entire game modes, like the fantasy football-type thing, that require this outside knowledge. But at this early stage, it’s all incidental shite that doesn’t actually matter. The important thing is that the basic game itself is actually lots of fun. And that’s what’s going to keep me coming back.

Show your work

I’ve been reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work, which is like this great little book that perfectly straddles the line between motivational anecdotal bullshit (e.g. the Ira Glass quote on the ‘taste gap’) and practical advice (e.g. ‘have your own domain name that people can associate with you’).

For the past year or so I’ve been taking part in a 1 Game a Month group here in Dublin. It’s a great group, full of lovely, helpful and enthusiastic people and I’ve learned loads about all sorts of different subjects I’m interested in: game design, programming, art, and sound. But I know people are frustrated with me there because getting me actually to let them see what I’ve done is like pulling teeth. I’ll keep it all to myself.

Around Christmas, I took part in a gamejam where I made a game where you had to navigate using sound. This was the first time I’d ever let anyone else play something I’d created and it scared the shit out of me.

I want to get better at this - showing people my works in progress. And most of all, showing people my finished work.

So here we go.

Amazon guts Comixology

Gerry Conway: The ComiXology Outrage

And so, as we could have predicted, Amazon wrecks Comixology.

What has it been, less than a month since Jeff Bezos bought the most promising tool for renewing the mass distribution of comics in the digital era? I’ll give the man this: he’s moved faster to undermine an existing technology for the benefit of his own company than General Moantors did when it sabotaged Los Angeles’s public transit Red Line for the benefit of the bus fleet they wanted to sell the City of Angels. Job well done, Jeff. My comics reading has gone through the goddamn roof thanks to Comixology. The convenience of having an entire comics store at my fingertips is a powerful thing for someone with poor impulse-control. Being able to buy and read a comic from the same app is beautiful and simple and is exactly why I spend way more time inside Comixology than say, Comic Zeal.

Splitting it into two experiences - buying a comic from the website, switching apps, downloading reading it in the Comixology app destroys this simplicity. It destroys what made Comixology so powerful. And to what end? To increase the profits on each individual sale at the expense of what I bet will be lower overall sales? It's a giant shame to see a smart company be so short-sighted.

(Of course, I realise this whole thing is such a Western problem. You'd expect a lot of people's monocles to fall into their tea over this issue. "You mean they changed it to make it harder for me to waste money with them?!")

Extras

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.

Why do I think this is a problem? Here's an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson from back in 1997, when Boogie Nights was first released.

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.

1

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.

Best games I played in 2013

Gone Home

Gone Home

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

lastofus

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.

GTA V

gta5

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.

linkbetweenworlds

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.

Tomb Raider

tombraider

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.

Rogue Legacy

roguelegacy

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.

Candy Box

candybox

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.

Ridiculous Fishing

ridiculousfishing

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.

Papers Please

papersplease

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

stanleyparable

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.

Proteus

proteus

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.