I should start by going out of my way to elaborate that this is not a best games of the year list, or any other such nonsense. I don’t own every console, I barely played a quarter of the year’s releases, and I spent a disproportionate amount of the year on older games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow of Chernobyl.
Instead, I’m just going to write about things that I wasted my time playing this year, and why I am not sad I wasted my time doing so. The only real theme to this list is impact: anything that engrossed me for a sufficient space of time, or something that resonated deeply, or long after I finished it. I have included the three biggest critical releases of the year, not just because I enjoyed them but because they did a lot of things wrong. Regardless they deserve to be talked about and weighed into any discussion like this. I regret not being able to play tantalizing releases such as Gone Home and Papers, Please but I am no journalist and my time and money are limited. There is an overall winner, but it is only taking that spot due to the sheer lunacy of the hours invested.
2013 was a good year for my interests. Some of the greatest video games I have experienced all came in a bunch. R&B continued its resurgence with both new and legendary musicians, making this year one of the greatest in nearly a decade for human music. Rap has also reached a more interesting place than it has been in a long time with much of the dull-minded aversion to being smooth and beautiful wiped away. Now if you want to hit a nice melody on the chorus you can do it without the fear that you will be removed from the big-cock-I’m-in-a-street gang-and-will-literally-murder-you-and-your-family club. Even when it was aggressive or violent, this year it was from the Miike Takashi School of Creative Perversion.
On the television too, I had a wonderful time with the most original American show in the last decade ending its run on top. Yes, Eastbound & Down (probably) ended Kenny Power’s story as fearlessly as it began. This was not a big movie year for me and while I am sure there are a bunch that I will love when I get around to seeing them—Blue Jasmine, The Counsellor—nothing I have seen this year warrants a recommendation.
Another year of FanExpo Canada has come and gone. As usual, the four-day event was jam-packed with people and panels, photo ops and paraphernalia. With so many things happening and so many attendees, there are bound to be a multiplicity of experiences. Here are mine.
The doors opened at 2:00 p.m. and as usual, there was already a line-up. I don’t like to brag, but I enjoy being able to go through the Media entrance and not wait in the lines outside. Although, never fear, non-media folks: I still have to wait in a line to get onto the exhibition floor like the rest of you. (I do think it would be nice if media got to go in about an hour before the show opens, just to prepare for photos and video shoots.)
This year, due to the addition of the Sports segment and the expected increase in attendance, FanExpo took up multiple floors in both the South and North buildings. This meant a bit more walking across the bridge between buildings, but it also made for less cramped conditions (at least on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday; I didn’t attend Saturday).
The Cybertronic Spree
Photo © Paul Hillier Photography
FanExpo Canada 2013 runs from Thursday, August 22 through Sunday, August 25 this year. The annual four-day event is crammed with stuff to do and see across multiple fandoms, like anime, comics, gaming, horror, science fiction, and now, sports. It can be a little overwhelming to plan out your days.
My favorite part of FanExpo is always Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear, but with so much to choose from, there’s always a bit of crossover. I’ve come up with my Top Ten Picks of this year’s FanExpo, which I think will satisfy all of your fandom-related urges.
By Paul Casey
If you have been reading music publications for any length of time, you will be familiar with the following:
“Much like the worst direction you can go in is no direction, so is inoffensiveness worse than taking a stand, and thus the boring album is in a way worse than even a terrible album. An album that is full-on awful will always get minimal scores, but an album that is accomplished but boring is going to attract the dreaded three-star review—so often the calling card of the most inessential music of all (if your album is best described as “pleasant” then you’re in serious trouble). A one-star album can’t be boring, because even if the music is godawful, it’s WHY it’s awful that is itself entertaining—a one-star review is inherently entertainment, which is why you’ll always read one when you’re skimming the reviews column. But who the hell wants to read the three-star reviews, particularly as they’re all identical (“IT’S NOT TERRIBLE, BUT IT’S LACKING. IT FALLS SHORT, BUT IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION”). And boring as fuck.
The opposite of enjoyment is not disgust; it’s tedium, because in a life so cruelly short, there’s nothing worse than being forgettable. The most disgusting pizza I’ve ever had was the one that accidentally had dish soap in it (SECRET FAMILY RECIPE), yet of all the ones I’ve eaten, it alone has survived the years as an amusing anecdote. It’s the middling three-star stuff you won’t remember. The albums from artists you respect that you’ve had forever but played once (REM are like your parents—you know they’re good, but you never listen to them). A reworking of ratings systems might help, but if we’ve gone this far without rating entertainment based on how entertaining it is, then why start now? The accepted method of rating albums isn’t terrible, of course, it’s just lacking. It falls short, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’d give it . . . 3 stars out of 5, let’s say.”
—”The 5 Worst Kinds of Album Every Music Fan Has Bought,” Cracked
By Luke Shaw
There are few things as satisfying as planning and executing something that can afterwards be relished as “faultless” in its delivery. Pre-planning a bold and elegant display of awareness, intuition, and raw smarts rewards the schemers ten-fold, when all the disparate elements converge over the course of a few seconds. Trip wires are short-circuited, guards are subdued, guests are pickpocketed, and a safe full of jewels is opened by agile fingers. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine has enshrined this principle in its advertising:
“Get in, get out, get rich.”
By Paul Casey
When Science Fiction reaches a large, mainstream audience it frequently stumbles. There are those out there, we are reminded until we expel body liquid, who are not particularly enamored with the idea of bizarre imaginings or Dystopian re-purposing of real events. These unreal things must be shrouded or hidden or compromised to meet the exacting standards of a public that drives Michael Bay pictures to earn hundreds of millions of dollars. They simply will not accept things that cannot happen, unless they get something tangible in return. “Gimme that walking arse shot or allusions to ear-fucking Megan Fox, whatever; just make sure that those grinning mugs don’t get their sense of reality altered! We’re running a business here. Don’t go abstract. Don’t make bold statements.”
When Irrational Games did Bioshock, it seemed to me, and some other folks, that here was a legitimate, big-budget step towards a new philosophy in video games. One that did not insist that the bare mechanics were the only thing worth evaluating. It made a powerful argument for world building, art direction, and quality writing and acting being able to do more than give finely tuned aiming and shooting a pretty wrapping. In Bioshock these things impacted the player’s experience to such a degree that evaluating one without the other seems foolish. That game had its issues, but its issues were a result of its ambition.
Bioshock Infinite is what happens when that ambition finds larger public, creative, and financial support. There is a storytelling depth here that very few games have approached. More importantly, it is a braver and more challenging piece of work than any of the other narrative successes in recent years. Its politics are not easily identifiable—though I am sure there are some lining up to suggest it fails because it contradicts some ideology or other—and its examination of human flaws leads the player to bad, honest places. If there is any clear message to be taken, it is probably that people who seek power are invariably the people who should not possess it, regardless of how righteous they appear.
By Luke Shaw
Image from http://daxgamer.com/
If you sliced the code open, you’d realize that there is a singular philosophy running through Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and that the entire game is a slave to it. Every piece of extraneous flab has been cut off with reckless abandon. It is not so much Occam’s Razor as Raiden’s Razor, a shimmering blade, crackling with electricity, held at the player’s throat, paralyzing you, unblinking and sweaty-palmed whilst you’re gruffly asked one question over and over as the sweat runs down your neck and fizzles to nothing at the touch of the sword: “Cut or be cut, cut or be cut, cut or be cut . . .”
Platinum Games have a long history of producing high-octane action games like the arcade bombast of Vanquish and the current benchmark for all things over the top, Bayonetta, directed and produced by Capcom veterans such as Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami. Now, teaming up with Konami and tasked with reinvigorating one of gaming’s most incorrectly maligned characters, Raiden, Revengeance sees Platinum not so much reinventing the wheel, as filing it down to a single, elegant edge.
By Paul Casey
Anita Sarkeesian has released the first video in her twelve part Tropes vs. Women series, which will look at the representation of women in video games. You should watch it. Not least because you can see how something so uncontroversial can cause so much phony outrage. There is little here that should surprise anyone who has been aware of their own existence for more than a few years. There is nothing that could be considered in any way “extremist.” Sarkeesian is sober, clear, and fair. She also possesses the required humor needed to make this subject palatable to a wide audience.
By Luke Shaw
We’ve got it better than ever, so shut up and enjoy the game.
At some point in 2011 I held an opinion that I had read frequently on Twitter feeds, website comment boxes, and Op eds about games. I was “lamenting” the lack of creativity in big budget games and griping about the apparent absence of quirky titles on the shelf. “Where is my Gitaroo Man 360?” I wailed. “Where is my turn based isometric battler loaded with pop culture quips?” I groaned, possibly dribbling a bit of coffee whilst mouthing these words. You see, I never really said any of these things; that’s a lie. I did type them however, on Twitter, and on a forum, and maybe in other places, too.
Now it’s the beginning of 2013, and we have confirmation from Sony that the PS4 will be out in quarter three or four depending on territory. Black Ops 2 made $500 million in 24 hours last year, becoming one of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world, let alone gaming franchises, and the juggernaut rolls ever on. First Person Shooter and Third Person Shooter after Sequel after Reboot. “The Industry” many say, “is stagnating, it’s lacking in creativity! All blockbusters are terrible, we want a million versions of Portal 2 and The Walking Dead!”