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Games I Played in 2017

I started 2017 with a 4 week old child. I took the first 3 months off to look after her, and the games I played were fever dreams, played at all hours with a child asleep on my chest or while my family slept in another room and I struggled with sleep deprivation. I played bits and pieces of lots of things. Here is a list.

Street Fighter V

I'm terrible at fighting games, but I did really enjoy learning how to play them with SFV. It's a good game for playing just a few minutes of, although the load times are rather long on the ps4. This version of street fighter is wonderful, a beautiful implementation, and I hope to play it more in future.

Hearthstone

I find Hearthstone to be a fairly weak card game compared to Magic and Netrunner, but it is simple, free to play, and plays well on a tablet. At night, with my tablet or phone resting on the bed, child asleep on my lap, I played many rounds of Hearthstone. I don't feel like I have a good understanding of the game, still, having played on low brain power, but it killed a lot of time.

Invisible Inc

I didn't play much of this but it's a perfect parent game! Plays well with no sound, lets you save anywhere, turn based, pause functionality - a textbook example of a game designed for a busy parent.

Super Meat Boy

My dip in, dip out game to feel like I can still play real games. A classic.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

My 3DS absolutely shined during some months, but the loud click as it opened sometimes woke up my baby. This Donkey Kong is underrated and not talked about enough. It's also very hard, in places, but I'm happy to say that I did complete it this year.

Gone Home

My favourite game of the year. Gone Home is a wonderful story - it's well paced and it isn't too long. I love the way that it's told: each room reveals something new, sometimes in scene, sometimes in audio logs. Right up until the end, you're not really sure what genre it is.

Limbo

This popped up on PSPlus so I gave it a go. It's very pretty and the puzzles are nice. Haven't finished it yet.

Cities: Skylines

One day, my wife went out with our child and without me for the first time. I had the house to myself for the first time, and I had nothing to do. I bought a packet of chocolate digestives, loaded up Cities, and lost the morning. It was wonderful - Cities is a beautiful game for losing yourself in. It is slow and methodical. You can't really do the wrong thing - you just pick a thing, fix it up a bit, then pick something else. The soundtrack is gorgeous.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

I've written a longer piece about this. Horizon was my back to work present, and as such I played it very slowly, no longer having any free time to play. It was a good game for me - open world, full of big quests and small quests to suit the time I had. Shame it didn't have the ability to save anywhere, but at least it had a pause function.

Stellaris

I have a few friends who play Stellaris every week, and they bought me it with the hope that I would be able to join them, but sadly I haven't really got my evenings back yet. Stellaris feels a lot like Cities and occupies the same niche for me. I'm told that I'm playing it wrong, and I should never pause and play at top speed.

Factorio

Before I start work each morning, I try to have a little free time. I work from home, so this is my commute. For a while, it was Factorio - every morning I would put in a few minutes working on my factory. I listened to Welcome To Night Vale as I played.

And I put time into this game! 130 hours, last count. This game taught me that I do, in fact, put a lot of time into games, here and there, and if I want to, I really can get through long games.

Tooth and Tail

What a concept, what a game! Tooth and Tail reminds me of the old Amiga games I used to play, in both look and feel. It’s a wonderful take on the RTS genre and I really want to play a lot more of it. I hope that it gets a competitive scene together.

Spelunky

Another great game to pick up and put down, Spelunky makes very few demands on your time and every game of it is disposable. It also really values your time - it even has a quick start button to get you straight into the game without having to hit the menu. Genius! This became a game I’d play when I had a spare 5 minutes at my PC.

Nier Automata

No spoilers here because I’m only through 2 of the endings, but wow, what a game so far. After Factorio taught me how much time I had, Nier was the game I chose to spend it on, and so far, 23 hours in, I don’t regret it. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to any game of the year podcasts because I’m terrified of spoilers.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

I’ve had this for ages but never completed it, and I picked it up again after completing Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. Like the other games, it occupied tiny spaces of my life, 3DS sat beside my bed, until I started my new job which offered me my first ever chance at a train-based commute. Since then I’ve played a mission whenever I’m on a train and I’m really enjoying it. Portable consoles really allow you to live with a game, and that’s a unique feeling. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Switch fares in this field in 2018.

Firewatch

Following on from Cibelle in my reviews, here's another game that doesn't offer much of a challenge and chooses to focus on story. It seems unfair to put the two together though: while Cibelle offers almost no gameplay, Firewatch is built on it. Campo Santo use the first person view coupled with some chunky animations to put you into the headspace of the character in a way that few games achieve. I’ve been a huge fan of Idle Thumbs, the podcast produced by Campo Santo members, for a long time, so I’m quite biased towards them, and it’s no surprise that I loved this game.

On recommendation from various sources, I played with the in-game navigation aid turned off. That leaves you with a map but no pointer to where you are, forcing you to learn the forest and navigate by landmarks. While not to everyone's taste, this feature made the game for me: I knew my way around some parts of the forest perfectly, a little like a ranger might. When I went into unfamiliar places, I got lost, and when I found my way out I felt relief. At one point the story pushed me to run in a new direction and I barrelled headfirst into a completely new bit of woodland. As the adrenaline wore off i found myself utterly confused and unable to find a landmark. This kind of experience is impossible to find in any game that includes the classic map that we've come to expect. This collision of gameplay and story was wonderful.

The story is told through radio contact with another ranger. That alone could be a boring twist on audio logs, but the developers have managed to make the conversations interactive and interesting. Overall, the story pieces are a pleasantly light touch: a significant portion of the game is spent playing on your isolation. It's not the isolation you find in System Shock 2, however - this time it's your choice to be out in the forest, and that puts a whole new spin on it. As the plot thickens, the fire rages across the forest, marking time with a blackening sky.

I'm hard pressed to find bad things to say about Firewatch. It is short, and I wanted more, but I don't think it's a bad thing to be left hungry by art. This game demonstrates that gameplay is not directly tied to challenge and difficulty, but is instead a function of player controls and art. It's a must for anyone who cares about games as a medium.

A Dig Through My Spotify Profile, Part 3

This is part 3 of a journey through my Spotify profile. If you haven’t, check out part 1 and part 2.

After albums comes a weird folder named Curated. A while back, presumably bummed out about not being at Glastonbury, I decided to organise an online festival. For a week, I encouraged my friends to make Spotify playlists representing the stage of their choice, and to my surprise, they listened. Spotstock ran for three years, producing wonders such as The Trouser Tent, The Martini Roso Stage, The Dubstep Room and At The Movies. I keep every Spotstock year in a folder. For a long time, I ran a small webapp displaying them all, but that’s gone now. Perhaps I should get it back online.

Finally, I have my monthly playlists. I can’t remember why I started this. It was definitely after I saw a friend do it, but I’m not sure who. It’s become my way of trying to recreate the way I used to listen to music. In the good old days, I would buy CDs and stack them up next to my CD player - that stack would rotate slowly and I’d listen to those same albums over and over. After a while, I’d get bored of them and they’d enter the rack, to be replaced by another album - sometimes old, sometimes new. By listening to the same albums over and over, I gained a deeper understanding of them. With the advent of streaming music, it’s too easy to flow from one album to the next, never really listening to the same thing twice. The unit of music that is the album has been pushed into the background by our current music climate. To counter this somewhat, I keep a monthly playlist of anything I’m listening to - if I like it, I stick it on the list. I have no other rules - some albums crop up month after month, sometimes I put a lot of music in there, sometimes I have very little. There is rarely any coherence. It’s not an ideal solution, as I often neglect to actually look at the monthly playlist, but it’s something. For example, my working music this month has been very varied. January 2017 was a slightly more themed month in which I was on a bit of a riot grrl binge. December 2010 kicks off with the soundtrack to The Matrix - what a find! I’ve been doing this since September 2010.

So, finally, that’s the end of my Spotify playlists. What a journey!

A Dig Through My Spotify Profile, Part 2

This is part 2 of a journey through my Spotify profile. If you haven’t, check out part 1.

Moving on, I have a folder of collaborative playlists. I can’t link any of these, as they’re semi-private, but among them I have Our Favourite Songs, which a group of us started some time prior to 2010. I have no idea how many people have looked at it over the years. We add things to it now and then. It is now 40 hours long, containing 619 songs. The quality of songs on there is extremely variable. I also have three related playlists from my friend Darren, who, upset at the lack of Boards of Canada on Spotify (mercifully rectified today), asked for our help in finding music that is “Like Boards of Canada”, “Not Quite Like Boards of Canada”, and “Not Like Boards of Canada”. They remain an excellent resource.

After that comes the “Other People” folder, a home for playlists made by other people. Here I collect things that people have sent me as well as a few things like a playlist from BBC 6 Music’s Anthems show. Movie soundtracks, such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Human Traffic live here, as does Ryan Davis’s Realest Summerjams.

I have a folder called Albums, which is largely redundant now that Spotify keeps better track of albums you listen to. Not much to report here, but I’m going to link you to Envy’s Set Yourself on Fire, because it’s good and you should listen to it, and Gescom’s Mini Disc, because it’s a fascinating concept album that you’ve probably never heard of.

Can you believe that I'm not finished yet? More in part 3.

A Dig Through My Spotify Profile, Part 1

I’ve been using Spotify for a long time. I’m not 100% sure when I started using it, but it launched in 2008 and when I gave out invites to my friends, one of them took a 2 character username, so I guess it must have been 2008 or 2009. I have been using playlists from the start - I even have collaborative playlists from before they stored the date in which each song was added. Deep in all of this, there are some real gems, so I thought I’d dive through them and dig some up.

At the top of my playlists I have Spotify’s Discover Weekly, which is always good for new music hunting, and my Starred playlist. Starring songs went away for quite sensible reasons sometime after 2013, but my starred songs still represent an excellent selection of my favourite music.

After that, everything’s in folders. I remember when playlist folders arrived in Spotify - it was a very, very good day.

I have an “offline” folder that I rotate things through, to make it easy to track them on my phone and quickly download them. A lot of stuff rolls through here, depending on my mood, but right now, my Holiday mix is all that’s in there worth mentioning.

My next folder is entitled “Things I Made”. This folder contains all my timeless playlists, ranging from a braindump of every bit of music that I find helps me be productive to quite carefully built mixtapes like Maccy’s Lovely Summer and Fun Spring Stuff. I also have a few gems like this collation of albums from a Reddit thread listing classic albums from the past 10 years.

To be continued in my next post!

Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

I wrote about Bloodborne on this blog a year or so ago, here.

In so many ways, The Old Hunters wasn’t about playing a game. For me, it was weeks of reading wikis, digging up lore, watching VaatiVidya - drinking in an absolutely endless quantity of information. I loved every second. Bloodborne’s story runs deep, deep down, and each area in The Old Hunters draws you into it further and further until you hit the very bottom. Finishing this expansion leaves you with a lot more knowledge, but a lot of new questions to go with it. It is a wonderful execution of the Lovecraftian mythos concept - the more you learn, the harder it is to comprehend the whole idea.

The Old Hunters takes place across a series of dreams, as far as anyone can tell, depicting various aspects of the Bloodborne story. The storytelling poured into each area is on par with Silent Hill 2, one of my all time favourite games for environmental storytelling. Each area is unique and packed with different weapons and new sets of enemies. There’s a hunter who mercilessly pursues you through one dream, a series of terribly sad blind patients in another - the range is incredible. The paths you can take through each area are as varied as ever: one of the hardest parts of the entire expansion is an optional well that doesn’t even contain a boss, or, at first glance, anything interesting at all. There’s a huge list of things to discover.

The bosses are fantastic too, being extremely challenging while remaining mechanically interesting and, of course, neatly tied into the lore. The first boss took an obscene number of tries for me - I didn’t count, but it was several evenings before I beat him. The rest weren’t quite so bad but still took me a while. The difficulty forced me into the multiplayer aspects of the game, which I’d avoided in Bloodborne itself, which is great - it’s nice when an expansion manages to build on the existing game and encourages players to explore more aspects of it.

If you’re into this sort of thing, you can see my Orphan of Kos kill on NG+:

Overall, The Old Hunters wasn’t a necessary add-on to Bloodborne, but it was extremely welcome, rounding off one of the best games of all time. A true joy from start to finish.